#14 O’Sullivan: The Aesthetics of Affect

Friday, 13 January 2017, 18:00 – 20:30
Louise House, Dartmouth Rd, London SE23 3HZ
Chaired by Katie Tysoe
Free, fully booked

In January 2017 we will be reading The Aesthetics of Affect by Simon O’Sullivan (2001). This discussion will be chaired by Katie Tysoe.

DOWNLOAD: O’Sullivan, Simon (2001). The Aesthetics of Affect: Thinking Art Beyond Representation. Angelaki, Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 125-135.

Wassily Kandinsky [1923] Circles in a Circle. Oil on canvas, 98.7 x 96.6 cm.
Wassily Kandinsky [1923] Circles in a Circle. Oil on canvas, 98.7 x 96.6 cm.
Simon O’Sullivan is a theorist working at the intersection of contemporary art practice, performance and continental philosophy. The text is one of his first discussions that addresses artistic practice within an emerging and growing field of affect theory – that is an interdisciplinary investigation into what makes up experience and subjectivity. He reignited the debate between materialism and idealism within philosophy, otherwise seen as the debate between matter and mind, and applied this critical debate to the realm of aesthetics. O’Sullivan addresses a philosophically materialist thinking of our connection to the world by way of critiquing representation and art historical narratives. For him, aesthetics holds certain value for how we experience art. By reassigning a function and value to art through affect, it can become a portal to the sensational and perceptive, which, for O’Sullivan acts as an ethical imperative for both our experience with art and the world in which we encounter it.

My own interest in the text stems from an fascination with the sonic arts and situating sonic practice within a wider artistic field. Recent texts (Seth Kim-Cohen, Barrett) have tried to theorise sound as beyond materiality within the arts in order to reinstall a conceptual theorisation of our experience as representational. This basis is formed through linguistic and textual narratives with an orientation of ideas over matter. However, as I would like to discuss, how can we explore art and thus our experience of it in a way that reimagines how we are being in the world? How is sound particularly effective at enabling this access?

– Does art have a specific function or use that makes it important? P125

– Does O’Sullivan effectively address the representational within art through his critique of Marxist and Deconstructive accounts of art history? P125-126

– How do ‘affects’ relate to our own experiences with an artwork or art practice? P126

– Is experience central to our encounter with a work of art? P126

– Is the art object no longer useful at explaining our relation to art within contemporary practice? Should art be considered more like an ‘event’ or ‘zone’? p127

– Why is the production of subjectivity important for O’Sullivan? P128

– By restoring aesthetics and therefore affects to art, does O’Sullivan present an ethical dimension through his recourse to subjectivity? P129

– Can art enable us to reimagine our place and connection to the world? Is O’Sullivan theorizing art in a way that it bears a lot of responsibility? P129-130