Wednesday, July 17, 2019
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Aesthetics Equals Politics

The essays in Aesthetics Equals Politics make the case for a reignited understanding of aesthetics—one that casts aesthetics not as illusory, subjective, or superficial, but as a more encompassing framework for human activity. Such an aesthetics, the contributors suggest, could become the primary discourse for political and social engagement. Departing from the “critical” stance of twentieth-century artists and theorists who embraced a counter-aesthetic framework for political engagement, this book documents how a broader understanding of aesthetics can offer insights into our relationships not only with objects, spaces, environments, and ecologies, but also with each other and the political structures in which we are all enmeshed. The contributors—philosophers, media theorists, artists, curators, writers and architects including such notable figures as Jacques Rancière, Graham Harman, and Elaine Scarry—build a compelling framework for a new aesthetic discourse. The book opens with a conversation in which Rancière tells the volume’s editor, Mark Foster Gage, that the aesthetic is “about the experience of a common world.” The essays following discuss such topics as the perception of reality; abstraction in ethics, epistemology, and aesthetics as the “first philosophy”; Afrofuturism; Xenofeminism; philosophical realism; the productive force of alienation; and the unbearable lightness of current creative discourse. Excerpt from the Preface of Aesthetics Equals Politics: New Discourses across Art, Architecture, and Philosophy, edited by Mark Foster Gage: “…this book speculates about how aesthetics might become the primary discourse for a next generation of social and therefore ecological, spatial, and political engagement. In contrast to commonly held opinions that these issues are antithetical to the aesthetic, this book explores the belief that such political and ontological problems might be best addressed, even exclusively, as aspects of aesthetic experience, particularly for creative practices that actively seek to be socially engaged through new formats. This book, as such, is an act of speculation regarding how a reignited discourse of aesthetics and the extended space of its influence can prompt new understandings of not only objects, spaces, environments, and ecologies, but also with each other and the political structures in which we are all enmeshed.” Contributors to the book include – Mark Foster Gage, Jacques Rancière, Elaine Scarry, Graham Harman, Timothy Morton, Ferda Kolatan, Adam Fure, Michael Young, Nettrice R. Gaskins, Roger Rothman, Diann Bauer, Matt Shaw, Albena Yaneva, Brett Mommersteeg, Lydia Kallipoliti, Ariane Lourie Harrison, Rhett Russo, Peggy Deamer, Caroline Picard Aesthetics Equals Politics is published by the MIT Press and is available for sale at mitpress.edu/AestheticEqualsPolitics.

Paintings of Toxic Landscapes Where Politics and Aesthetics Are in Perfect Balance

A selection of paintings by Greg Lindquist on view at Lennon, Weinberg, Inc. demonstrates how an artist may prevail over the challenges of fitting an aesthetic sensibility to the requirements of a political issue without sacrificing one for the other. In a static medium like painting, the aesthetic and the forensic will inevitably compete for that medium’s limited conceptual space. Typically, attempts to bring both art and message to maximum effectiveness end with either an aesthetically weak but effective political message (see Ai Weiwei’s Laundromat), or a visually compelling work that expresses little polemic nuance beyond commonly held postures (as in any of Robert Motherwell’s elegies to the Spanish Republic). Many artists willing to assume this most difficult of studio ambitions end up producing one or the other. And though I might hold a minority view regarding the significance of keeping the two in balance — admittedly, much political art draws accolades on the merits of its position alone — the success of an artist in keeping both art and argument vital in a single work is a rare accomplishment worthy of note. In addressing the issue of air and water pollution from coal-powered plant emissions, Lindquist offers images addressing environmental concerns that work on several levels beyond the project’s symbolic mixing of coal ash into the paint. The work Lindquist shows in this exhibition is absorbed in stages, the first related to aspects of the landscape that surrounds power plants. Viewers are made immediately aware of the unflattering viewpoints from which he composes his scenes. In the smaller paintings, his approach is conventional but for the color. The second group of canvases on view consists of larger, strangely decorative paintings that direct one’s gaze to the ground rather than the horizon.