Editorial #two

by Mira Hirtz and Johanna Ziebritzki

The statement ‹not the frames, but the things› might seem naive, even provocative: A clear separation between frames and things is of course not possible. The title works as a trigger and a probe to investigate the various reactions it may cause.

In reciprocal turn #two: not the frames, but the things we do not define what a thing is. Our focus lies rather on questions concerning the impact an art object has on its viewer and the relation it has to the art-frame. Is it possible to understand this impact as a property of the material dimension1 of the art object, a property that cannot be entirely explained by the contextualising art-frame? Since the material dimension is not fully separable from the contextualisation, we ask: what role does the material dimension play in composing impact on the viewer and what role contextualisation?

With our focus we follow approaches within the history of art that assume the art object to be both existing and necessary2: Minimalism for example, affirms the objecthood of artworks3 by emphasizing its formal and spatial aspect, meanwhile the Neo-Concrete Movement in Latin America4 has seen a social potential in the art object’s texture.

The current interest in ‘things’ neither originates in nor is limited to art theory: Bruno Latour’s ‹Actor-Network-Theory› within sociology, ‹speculative realism› and ‹object oriented ontology› within philosophy and the approach of ‹Anthropocene› within cultural theory all focus on ‘things’ in various ways. With issue #two: not the frames, but the things it is not our aim to fully describe this trend towards things in humanities5. Nevertheless we are connected to the trend because our interest lies in the impact of the art objects’ materiality on humans and human perception.

Art objects are ‘useless’ in the sense that they don’t fulfill an immediate purpose. Obviously framing helps make the structure, texture and materiality of the art object apparent to the perceiver. The aesthetic perception6 is characterized by the necessity to notice the gap between the art object and the viewer – a sensation that results from the art object being perceived in its material otherness as alienated, intangible or unwieldy.

If the aesthetic perception of an object in its materiality constitutes a ‹productive rupture›7, then what is it about material that enables this? Certain artworks, even though they are looked at with the eyes, trigger the tactile sense and are rather sensed bodily than taken in by the intellect. This tactile sensation precedes obtaining an overview and grasping the artwork as a whole meaningful entity. The question arises how art objects evoke this kind of perception. Art objects seem to be a living force with a will. But art objects themselves have no more will to act than any other objects have: that is none. It is much rather the aesthetic perception that reveals the art object as being apart from, yet somehow connected to the viewer. The connection – characterized by indissoluble distance however close the thing might be8 – comes to the fore. The relation to the art object therefore is a dynamic back and forth.

By becoming aware of her/his perspective the viewer’s position is destabilized. Thus the viewer may gain the possibility to talk about the object and its impact from the basis of her/his perception. How people communicate their relation with art objects, what is included in this communication and what is left out, and the stories thus told generate the art-frame that then again renders the perception of something as art possible. The perception of objects as art and the art-frame that allows for this perception to emerge thus are reciprocally dependent on one another, while the art-frame in addition depends on its relation to other frames. But the perception that lays ground for the frames is not arbitrary, rather it feeds on the materiality of things.

#two: not the frames, but the things gathers diverse responses to this provocative title. The contributions might serve as highlights: essays, videos, reviews, images and sound present different facets of the outlined themes. But as a matter of fact the contributions are in their diversity of content and format not merely highlights. Each one is an independent body of work connected via the common core-trigger: the supposition of the supremacy of things.

The contributions:

Overall the artworks presented offer access to the questions around materiality, even though they are digital artworks or two-dimensional documentations of physical artworks. The contributions which combine pictures of the artwork and a written comment enable the viewer to imagine the artwork in its materiality. Even though the artwork itself stays within the realm of the online presentation, the imagination can trigger a strong physical impression of the artworks material dimension (Jens Risch, LAYTBEUIS, papa pacini). A more immediate access is possible if one perceives sound waves as a material manifestation which creates a sound sculpture (Frank Bierlein). A literary piece on fog is occupied with the immaterial in two ways: its content that is fog and in its form of collectively written prose (Temporary Archipelago).

The essayistic texts are in their structure further remote from the physical immediateness that artworks have. They offer a reflection upon the empty space around the art object which instills a distance between the object and the viewer. Thus possibilities to bridge, reduce or deal with this distance become relevant. (Daniel Neumann, Lena-Johanna Herrmann).

For an investigation of the relations, one’s own body and its undeniable presence in the world is the nearest starting point (Bettina Neuhaus). Subsequently the question how entities are related gains importance. Various connections between and movements of material and the viewer are possible (Brock Labrenz). Where is the source of movement located? Does the viewer have the power to move or is he/she moved by things (Kirsten Maar)? In other contributions the focus shifts on the interrelation of the artwork, the viewer, and the art-frame and their reciprocal constitution (Gilad Ratman), whereby the category of ‘art’ plays a subordinate role when investigating the relations of things, bodies and their possible movements. These relations form complex systems which are to be questioned in their immersive and performativ effects (Veronika Christine Dräxler). Furthermore the use of newest technologies within art diffuse the distinction between the artwork, the viewer’s perception, and the art-frame: the experience of the artwork is gaining the status of an immersive sublimity (Michael Fischer).

If the interdependence of material and perception is analyzed in an actual historical or political context, it becomes apparent that each mentality and locality has its own grasp on the function of art objects. While the perception of contemporary russian art is still under strong influence of the tradition of icons (Elena Korowin), a contemporary artists-duo in Mexico subtly shows that art can be understood as nothing more or less than the occupation it is (Lukas Baden). Judgements that decide which objects are worthy to be presented in a museum are closely linked to political issues (Imara Limon). Therefore the questions what is art and what is not art, which spaces are the according visual parentheses for which art objects and what impact they have on the viewer for which reasons will constantly be negotiated. Especially since the discussion on denotations like thing, object, and frame apparently goes on (Mira Hirtz).

  • 1. With the term material dimension the haptic concreteness of objects is stressed.
  • 2. And not just a subjective projection in a philosophical sense or something to be dematerialized in an idealistic sense.
  • 3. see Michael Fried: ‹Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews› Chicago 2011.
  • 4. E.g. Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica.
  • 5. Performance research: a journal of performing arts, ‹Anthropomorphism›, 19 (2014); Antony Hudek: ‹The object›, Whitechapel Gallery, London 2014.
  • 6. As different to other kinds of perception. For this position see Juliane Rebentisch: ‹Ästhetik der Installation›, Frankfurt a.M. 2003.
  • 7. For this postition see again Juliane Rebentisch: ‹Ästhetik der Installation›, Frankfurt a.M. 2003.
  • 8. Walter Benjamin: ‹Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit›, Frankfurt a.M. 1963.