Friday, September 26, 2008

Jacques Rancière: Aesthetics is Politics

Everything you wanted to know about Jacques Rancière but were afraid to ask…..
Sophie Berrebi

The essays by Jonathan Dronsfield and Steven Wright included in this issue were first presented at the conference Aesthetics and Politics: With and Around Jacques Rancière co-organised by myself and Marie-Aude Baronian at the University of Amsterdam on 20 and 21 June 2006.
One of the elements that triggered the organisation of the conference was a passage of his then recent book Malaise dans l’esthétique (2004). In it, Rancière discussed several exhibitions of contemporary art that had taken place around the year 2000.[1] The way he approached these group shows was particularly refreshing in a context marked by heavy discussions about curatorial practice et al.: Rancière responded to exhibition concept, presentation and individual works without dissociating the one from the other. In other terms, and while his writings were already proving to be influential to the contemporary art milieu, he wove these exhibitions into his text, reacting to them more as a random albeit attentive visitor than as an expert. This attitude inevitably provoked the desire on the part of the reader to stroll alongside him and ask him everything we ever wanted to know about his views (but were afraid to ask).

The format of the conference developed out of that desire for a conversation, and Jacques Rancière proved to be extremely generous in his response, agreeing to a two-day visit to Amsterdam to give a lecture and respond to a series of papers discussing aspects of his work.
The plenary lecture Rancière delivered on the evening of 20 June, entitled ‘Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art’ was attended by an audience of more than 150 people ranging from students to artists and academics. The following day, during an intense day-long conference, academics of different backgrounds presented papers derived from their encounter with Rancière’s work. Sessions on literature and politics, on performing and contemporary arts succeeded one another, separated by panel discussions in which Rancière gave informal replies to questions raised by the speakers. More than once these replies triggered animated discussions, although, predictably perhaps, a climax was reached in the discussion which ensued from third panel dedicated to contemporary art. A substantial part of that panel is reprinted here, with papers given by Jonathan Dronsfield and Steven Wright and the exchange that followed, which was kindly recorded by a member of the audience.

In addition to the elements of the conference that are reprinted here is ‘Jacques Rancière and Indisciplinarity’ an interview conducted with Jacques Rancière by Marie-Aude Baronian and our colleague from the University of Amsterdam and ASCA, Mireille Rosello. A version of this extensive interview, which took place several months after the conference, was published in Dutch by Valiz (NL), in a volume of studies on Jacques Rancière that appeared in the Netherlands in late 2007. In this exchange, Ranciere discusses his position with regard to democracy, politics, film, literature, art and research.
Finally, my short article ‘Jacques Rancière: Aesthetics is Politics’, also reprinted here, was prompted by a visit to the pavilion of Central Asia at the Venice Biennale in 2005. It was originally commissioned and published by the Dutch art magazine Metropolis M No. 4 (2005), pp. 64-71.

[1] Notably, Bruit de Fond, (Centre National de la Photographie, Paris), Let’s Entertain, (Walker art Centre, Minneapolis, and Centre Pompidou, Paris) and Voilà, le Monde dans la tête (Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris), all three organised in 2000. Volume 2. No. 1. Summer 2008 ISSN 1752-6388

Monday, September 01, 2008

Educating the synthesizing power of imaginal (thinking in images) thinking

Seeing Meaning Looking at Images and Understanding Sunday, August 31, 2008
Visual Philosophy
“A consciousness that proceeds by sight…is a greater power for knowledge than the consciousness of the thinker.” Sri Aurobindo, A Greater Psychology

When I first used the term “visual philosophy” a student in the class said, “Wait a minute, are you talking about aesthetics?” It was natural to think I was referring to philosophy about art and beauty because we don’t generally think of art and images in their capacity to express ideas, to evoke a philosophical stance through a visual depiction. Beyond simply communicating information, an image shows how to see the information. We equate seeing with understanding.

We are drowning in information and need the wisdom to know how to filter it. Insight sees the significance within the whole. Wisdom depends on perception. The metaphors of seeing attest to our underlying trust in what we ”see with our own eyes.” We “believe what we see”. As we enlarge our picture of reality, our understanding grows.

Observation lies beneath the methods of art and science. As science separates the world into smaller and smaller parts, art should be equally important in pulling the whole back together, to see the forest as well as the trees. Ideas expressed visually can include the multiple variables that we live with in actual experience, the influences from every direction that controlled experiments leave out. Artists enlarge the range of what we are able to see. By sensitizing people to significant pattern, capacity for insight is developed. Understanding how feeling represents the meaning of what we see tunes our intuition and our trust in its guidance.

Educating the synthesizing power of imaginal (thinking in images) thinking may allow us to evolve a new level of intelligence. Arguing for the superiority of visual communication, Barbara Stafford writes “Perceptually combined information… avoids the intellectual limitations of linearity.” She believes that in the graphic world of the internet, artists will be more important in explaining reality, understanding the display of knowledge, allowing an immediate apprehension of connections.

Art reveals consciousness. It offers multiple windows on the deepest and broadest aspects of being human. This is a physical improvement in the most evolved parts of our brain. Like any other activity, the parts of the brain that are used are strengthened. More benefit comes from the self-understanding arising from what you choose to see. Perception is not passive. It’s always scanning for what will be useful to us. Joseph Campbell said, ”The eyes are the scouts of the heart.” We are drawn to what resonates with our own inner state, often mirroring it, sometimes compensating for it. Given that neuroscience has shown that feelings precede and direct thought, letting the eye make choices from the world of art could likely take us deeper into understanding our feelings than talking about them.

The mission of visual philosophy is to see more, to become aware of the complex web of relationships that visual intelligence deals with best, and to express meaning visually. Knowledge of all kinds can be communicated with images. Even in regard to invisible realms and deep level patterns, artists can help us understand consciousness more fully by what they reveal of it. Posted by Susan Waters-Eller at 3:35 PM