SENSE AND COUNTER-SENSIBILITIES: ART AND OBJECT RELATIONS AFTER OBJECT ORIENTED ONTOLOGY.
The idea of a counter-sense object offers us a new set of perspectives on the valences of objecthood in both philosophy and art. Unlike Timothy Morton’s definition of hyper-objects, which are always already withdrawn from anthropocentric understanding, a counter-sense object is that which directly engages with, and complicates, how humans have made an object into what it is. In this regard, what defines a counter-sense object is the paradox that emerges when materials from the environment are made into something else entirely in order to serve human needs, and in this very process, an object ventures beyond its intended purpose to become its very opposite.
The most often used example of a counter-sense object is oil. Once it was merely the by-product of marine plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. It was transformed from an inert object into a sense-object when it became the centerpiece of energy production in the modern world. While this was perhaps, already non-sensical in many ways because there are a multitude of other means that would allow us to produce energy on a global scale, it was oil that was transformed into a counter-sense object when we passed the “peak” of its availability. This is due to the fact that oil not only costs more to locate, mine and transport with each passing decade, but because it is now an object that can only promise us the prospect of diminishing returns.
With so many mounting crisis in the world today related to objects and object-relations, productivity and commerce, and exchange and trade laws, we can say that we are not just entering a time when we need to make a global assessment of counter-sense objects in the realm of technology, ecology, geology and so on and so forth, but that we also need to understand the contradictions that lie therein. This is because we need to know when a practice, policy or presupposition about “progress” has run its course, and to change our collective and personal outlooks accordingly. Toward this end, a growing number of artists have been taking up this charge in recent years under the idea of object-oriented ontology, which is deeply invested in understanding the phenomenology of objectness. This has only further intensified with the emergence of praxis-based oriented ontology, which helps to focus our attention on the long-term implications and transformation of object-relations, something that all of the artist in this exhibition have in common.
David Emitt Adams
We can see this perspective at play in the work of David Emitt Adams, whose ongoing project of documenting the sites, canisters and the remains of oil mining operations represents a desire to help raise our awareness about the paradoxes of petroleum. Afterall, it currently takes two tons of tar sand to produce a single forty-two gallon barrel, and shale oil requires one ton of rocks to be ruined in order to fuel a car for just two weeks. Sadly, these are the “optimistic” alternatives to how harmful our standard practices are for extracting oil. Of course, this means that hitting peak oil was only the beginning of an energy crisis that has always been tied to politics, the environment and ultimately, the crisis of “progress”. Following from these conclusions, David Emitt Adams piece “Power” shows us how this pyramid of unrequited reserves is beginning to run dry along with how sensible it may or may not be to continue down the path of replacement options rather than seeking out new alternatives.
Christine Cassano’s art practice provides us with cartographies of power in relation to technological development, urban sprawl, the environment and our ability to map the world around us in relation to the world inside of us. Her use of circuit boards, arial photography, mirrors, lines and conduits demonstrate the diachronic play that is inherent in counter-sense objects at both a micro and a macro level. When we encounter her works, they help us to understand how the modern obsession with energy, data-processing, speed, expansion and the drive toward perpetual growth has inherent limits, and that we may already be pushing past these limits today by turning more and more of the infrastructure of modern life into a substratum of counter-sense operations. Her works help us to make sense of the process of translation between senses and sensibilities from the most ancient of fossil forms to the most advanced technologies that western civilization has yet invented.
Lena Klett’s work explores the hypothetical aspects of objects, origins, traces, signs and symbols. In this way Klett’s art practice provides us with a cartography of the natural world by inquiring into histories of space, place and operative sequences of measure. These kinds of discrete interventions return us not only to the intersection of sense and sensibility, but they help to make us aware of how aesthetic experience is implicated in issues of habitation. Of course, habitation has a politic attached to it as soon as we begin to think in terms of co-habitation, occupation and the kind of spatio-temporal domination that extends from the colonialism of nation states to the colonization of nature. From this perspective we can say that Klett’s work helps us cognize our place within a greater ecology of objects relations, whether they are partial objects, hyper-objects or counter-sense objects.
The artwork of Claire Warden speaks about the signs and cycles of the natural world as much as how we represent our place in it. Projects like Mimesis and 99 Moons have to do with those greater cycles of habitation, the imprints that we leave behind and select traces of our existence that have been transformed into iconic images. Moving between mirroring effects, figure and ground relations and any number of geometric configurations, Warden’s work underscores the structural organization of different civilizations as much as the geometries that unpin the visible manifestation of the universe. In this way, her work helps us to think about our place between the cosmos and the creaturely, the personal and the political, and how existence itself is increasingly politicized the era of the anthroposcene. The confluence of these object relations sit at the very heart of the discourse around counter-sense objects by using photographic processes that allow us to discover new ways of imaging and imagining the world around us.