Art + Law / SLSA Slides: connecting mundane law, everyday aesthetics and objectification
March 16, 2013 1 Comment
Here are my slides from the 15 May 2013 Art + Law Symposium. In my presentation I tentatively explored the co-constitutive roles of the discursive, the affective and the material dimensions in the everyday ‘noticing’ of mundane elements of the built environment. Essentially I tried to pull together some thoughts on how we can understand these daily encounters as processes of non-human objectification. My talk drew together a number of threads from my research case studies – trees, gravestones, quarries, metal theft, recreational trespass etc and presented four features of non-human objectification that appear to determine the ‘stability’ of objects (as practical, action oriented representations): Use, Valorisation, Representation and Affiliation.
This is still a work in progress – and will get refined and written up in due course – but it is likely to become the first step towards the development of a theorised account of how the various case studies and disciplinary strands that I’ve been working on (access/liability, bunkerology, legal geography) all fit together within an interpretation of human representational practices that objectify places and structures within the built environment, and of the relative contribution of law and legal cognition within that object and place reading.
What follows praises the gritty beyond-human realism of object oriented ontology, but then retreats to a human-centred account of object formation, as a representational practice. As such it adopts Karen Barad’s hybrid (realist/constructivist) position. I’ve a paper touching on this in the context of representation as a practice in bunkerology, due for publication in Environment & Planning D: Society and Space this summer. More in due course…
An abridged version of this presentation was used for my subsequent contribution to the Art, Heritage & Culture session of the Socio-Legal Studies Association 2013 conference at the University of York, on 27 July 2013. My presentation was nestled amidst talks on export controls for works of art, the legalities of expropriation of indigenous artefacts and attempts to police tomb raiding / treasure hunting. Actually, there was more commonality than I’d anticipated. The word ‘object’ kept cropping up in the other speakers’ talks (most notably in the legislation that they were reciting from), and clearly even though they were concerned with ‘high art’ (i.e. conventional aesthetics) the legal dimension (and theory/practice tension) being examined in these talks was often hinged around the difficulties of object framing within heritage law and the challenges thrown up by the differential affiliation and valorisation directed towards these artefacts by their different stakeholders. So it was pleasing to find that some of issues I’m concerned with here within the ‘everyday’ were cropping up in similar ways in these other quarters.
Here’s the overly ambitious abstract that I’d submitted for the SLSA conference. In the end, my talk was only able to cover a fraction of what I’d bitten off when I wrote the abstract!
“This paper will consider law’s ‘ways of seeing’ (Berger, 1972) and knowing the everyday material world of metal, stone and concrete. Specifically it will consider law’s contribution to ‘everyday aesthetics’ (Highmore 2011), and will do so by reference to the object/subject relationship entailed in everyday contemplation of four physical structures:
1) The Diana Memorial Fountain
2) Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Two Forms (Divided Circle)’ sculpture
3) A television transmitter aerial in North Wales; and
4) Graffiti art on a rock face in Snowdonia
The focus will be both discursive and object oriented, following Harman (2009), Bryant (2011) and Bogost (2012) in foregrounding the materiality of the objects themselves, and then considering how law’s concepts, preoccupations and representational practices contribute to cultural cognition of these structures, via processes of human speculation about, and interaction with them.
Yet, the analysis presented will be a grounded one, for I will show how risk assessment and other anticipatory readings of these objects entails practical rumination on the materiality and agency of things. Through this segue from high theory to daily practice I will show how the recent work of object oriented ontologists can, via both the relations-tracing focus of actor network theory and the requirements of object and event focussed laws, be (and already is) applied to concrete practical scenarios and material relationships.
The four examples will be drawn from my research into the pragmatic conceptualisation of place and objects by persons who own, manage, visit, cherish and/or otherwise engage with them. In each instance I will show how – via public safety anxieties, metal theft vulnerabilities, property misdescription and quarry ownership – law attempts to ‘know’ these objects, but also how other ways of seeing and desiring these objects exert powerful influence too, and the ensuing synergies and tensions that emerge from this.”