Alien Agencies: the unstable dance between art, techno-science and new matter


Session Title:

  • Media Art, Mediation and Contemporary Art

Presentation Title:

  • Alien Agencies: the unstable dance between art, techno-science and new matter




  • Panel: Media Art, Mediation and Contemporary Art

    The recent ‘new materialist’ shift that Janis Jeffries refers to in this panel that is taking place in the arts, humanities and social sciences seems at first radical: a new kind of “ontological theatre” in a world of continual becoming (Pickering) ; a universe in which self-sufficient objects “withdraw from us” and our “correlationist” bent of defining the world in relation to human subjects (Harman and Meillasoux); and finally, the confrontation with “vibrant matter” and the “politics of thingness” (Bennet) seems poised to remedy the longstanding obsession with discourse, language and theory without grounding that has long plagued the humanities (and indeed, with conceptualism, the arts). Indeed, if the recent discourse of Documenta 13 is any indication (a focus on ‘artistic research,’ the objectless of objects and the nonhuman), it seems we have entered a new world. But this new world may be deceiving for, as  Tim Ingold writes, “the growing world of literature that deals explicitly with the subjects of materiality and material culture seems to have hardly anything to say about materials.” Moreover, discussions about the discourse of materiality are not the same as dealing with what curator and historian of science Thomas Soderqvist calls “the bony materiality of things themselves.” When looked at more closely, the new materialism is indeed a misnomer: a conglomeration of different intellectual traditions that have little to do with each other and have radically different political and epistemological stakes, yet seem to be called forth as a new kind of turn. This intervention will briefly pick up a current ethnographic project entitled Alien Agency which examines how it is that artists actually work with unstable ‘nonhuman’ materials embroiled within techno-scientific practices – tissues, sound and the technological registers of the sensorium. Is materiality really what is at the centre of artists working with techno-scientifically stamped instruments, techniques, procedures and institutional settings? What levels of reflexivity occur when dealing with the material agency of things and processes in artistic practice? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what are the stakes (if any)  for the new materialist and, indeed, sensorial turn from the perspective of artists and makers themselves, particularly if we view artistic acts, as Guattari argued, as the ability to “generate far off balances from everyday life.”