Micheal Golec: Facts between Pictograms and Photographs in Lester Beall’s Rural Electrification Posters, 1937-1941
In analysing Lester Beall’s posters for the U.S. government between 1937-1941, Michael Golec demonstrates the twofold character of facts in art and design appearing even when they are applied to guarantee distinct messages. Commissioned by the governmental agencies to develop a series of posters to increase the electrification of rural farms, Beall introduces pictograms in his first series to represent electrification as “facts of the future.” Its simple forms facilitate the travelling of this facts without loss of their integrity. The same holds true for the use of photographic images for the second campaign of 1939. Following the revaluation of photography as a means for the documentation of social reality, as represented by the FSA photographers under the guidance of Roy Stryker, the medium served here as the authentication of facts. Golec holds, that Beall by reducing the complexity of the photographic images, to create a pictorial integrity of his posters, even despite of the use of a seemingly documentary medium, reinforces the ambivalent factual character of the pictures. So, paradoxically by heightening the communicative character of the design and hence stressing the idea of facts as integral realities outside of artworks, Beall’s posters reveal the ambiguous character of pictorial facts creating their own specific qualities. Golec concludes, that facts in works of art and design have a twofold character resulting from their belonging to different spaces, which although meant to accomplish and address different facts, inevitably travel, overlap and bleed into each other. Thus oddly these facts refer or represent reality and simultaneously are a thing made (factum) that present and hold their own pictorial reality.
Rachel Wells: Fact and Responsibility – Approaches towards the Factual in Contemporary Art
Rachel Wells turns to the examination of three recent artistic practices, which integrate facts in their work not as an antagonistic other but as a constitutive element to their efficacy and ethics. She argues, that in introducing news, factual actions, or objects with traces of factual events, Alfredo Jaar, Jeremy Deller and Martin Creed use facts in order to retract from the position of art as an expression of artistic freedom and subjectivity and thus as the opposite of fact. Instead, she states that by introducing the factual the artists underline each in their own way the instability of given eptistemological and ethical frameworks. Far from being a mere relativist pose, Wells understands this denial of a stable subjectivist position as a reconfigured sense of “decision”—perhaps in the sense of Nancy’s articulation of a “decision of existence—that lets the factual take precedence over the control in and of the artwork as a heightened form of responsiveness and responsibility. Whereas Jaar uses the factual to engage overt political action, Deller presents facts that avoid taking an overtly critical perspective forcing the viewer to think about political events. Creed in contrast seeks for the interpretation of the past altogether, would avoid to take over the responsibility of taking a position. Whereas David Hume stated famously, that reasoning concerning matter of fact is founded in causality and Immanuel Kant concludes, that responsibility and freedom begins where causality ends, Wells understands the positions of Jaar, Deller and Creed as an attempt to reconcile the realm of the factual and the realm of the moral. Responsibility would then arise exactly out of the insight in the impossibility to ground moral stances in rationality and causality and in an attempt to use causality to demonstrate this impossibility.
Robert Jackson: The Facticity of Things – Reframing Slotawa’s Practice with Meillassoux and Harman
Robert Jackson examines the work of the German artist Florian Slotawa. Beginning with his first works, “Hotelarbeiten”, Slotawa recomposes and reconfigures the order of ordinary objects – in this case, the furniture of hotel rooms. In reconstructing these rooms in another order without altering these objects in any way, photographing them, and then subsequently restoring them to their previous configuration, the artist reveals the ordinary function of the objects and by withdrawing from their function shows their material and factual character. To elucidate the specificity of Slotawa’s intervention, Jackson critiques Heidegger’s conception of facticity in its exclusive account of Dasein and its being-in-the world, in contrast to the factuality of “things-within-the world.” Drawing on Harman’s extension of finitude beyond Dasein to all things, he encourages us to see Slotawa as engaged in “facticity of things” that is characterized by dispossession, lack of reason, and radical contingency. As Jackson argues, Slotawa is trying to find a way to dwell in a world that has no room or possibility for the given coordinates of dwelling; a world that is a fact without reason. In concluding he explores a reading of Slotawa that explores the intersecting yet radically different approaches to thinking about a speculative realism in the work of Harman and Meillassoux, and their differing attitudes to the finite and the infinite, facticity and factiality, contingency and necessity, without presuming to assume that either of these accounts cover the speculative facticity of things revealed in Slotawa’s work.
Kerstin Thomas: The Still Life of Objects – Heidegger, Shapiro, and Derrida reconsidered
Kerstin Thomas revaluates the famous dispute between Martin Heidegger, Meyer Schapiro, and Jacques Derrida, concerning a painting of shoes by Vincent Van Gogh. The starting point for this dispute was the description and analysis of things and artworks developed in his essay, “The Origin of the Work of Art”. In discussing Heidegger’s account, the art historian Meyer Schapiro’s main point of critique concerned Heidegger’s claim that the artwork reveals the truth of equipment in depicting shoes of a peasant woman and thereby showing her world. Schapiro sees a striking paradox in Heidegger’s claim for truth, based on a specific object in a specific artwork while at the same time following a rather metaphysical idea of the artwork. Kerstin Thomas proposes an interpretation, which exceeds the common confrontation of philosophy versus art history by focussing on the respective notion of facticity at stake in the theoretical accounts of both thinkers. Schapiro accuses Heidegger of a lack of concreteness, which he sees as the basis for every truth claim on objects. Thomas understands Schapiro’s objections as motivated by this demand for a facticity, which not only includes the work of art, but also investigator in his concrete historical perspective. Truth claims under such conditions of facticity are always relative to historical knowledge, and open to critical intervention and therefore necessarily contingent. Following Thomas, Schapiro’s critique shows that despite his intention of giving the work of art back its autonomy, Heidegger could be accused of achieving quite the opposite: through the abstraction of the concrete, the factual, and the given to the type, he actually sets the self and the realm of knowledge of the creator as absolute and not the object of his knowledge. Instead, she argues for a revaluation of Schapiro’s position with recognition of the arbitrariness of the artwork, by introducing the notion of factuality as formulated by Quentin Meillassoux. Understood as exchange between artist and object in its concrete material quality as well as with the beholder, the truth of painting could only be shown as radically contingent. Thomas argues that the critical intervention of Derrida who discusses both positions anew is exactly motivated by a recognition of the contingent character of object, artwork and interpretation. His deconstructive analysis can be understood as recognition of the dynamic character of things and hence this could be shown with Meillassoux to be exactly its character of facticity – or factuality.
Kamini Vellodi: Two Regimes of Fact
In her contribution, Kamini Vellodi reflects on the chances of a methodological shift in the discipline of art history thanks to this expanded rethinking of fact by concentrating on the notion of the “pictorial fact”, or “matter of fact,” in Gilles Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism. Vellodi argues that Deleuze’s matter of fact can help us to overcome the still prevalent self-conception of art history as discipline, which has to trace historical facts, understood as given entities that “represent” already accomplished events, that provide the foundations and target for subsequent interpretation and elaboration. Following these assumptions, facts are antecedent to art historical investigations; they are seen as empirical material, independent from the art historian, something, which he or she has to collect in order to reconstruct the authentic essence of the artwork. This reductive notion of facticity in art history dominates not only the understanding of material and historical facts of artworks but as well the understanding of their formal qualities, as Vellodi shows. In the representational regime, as Vellodi calls it, forms in artworks are reduced to their function to represent an antecedent “fact”, hence an external meaning. Instead, she counts to augment this regime of fact – which might be important concerning questions of technique, dates etc. – by a second conception of fact that foregrounds the dynamic qualities of those material qualities of the artwork, which cannot be explained by their representational function, but are sensed in presence of the artwork. Vellodi proposes to follow Deleuze’s notion of “matters of fact” as proper pictorial ligatures acting as living forces and hence affecting the perception of art by challenging prevailing notions of the artwork. Facticity in this sense is understood as the material quality of the artwork realized in sensation and hence radically dynamic and contingent. This notion of “matters of fact” bears ramifications for a philosophy of painting as well as for art history, as Vellodi shows. Art historical practice would in consequence be forced to take account of the difference of each artwork acting as dynamic force beyond and even against already acquired facts. If one follows Vellodis analysis, one could draw the consequence, that art history should be practised as a never completed activity trying to create facticity by forming differentiated new relations to each work of art in its specific material appearance.
Aron Vinegar: Art History and Visual Culture without World
Aron Vinegar’s essay explores art history and visual culture’s dependence on a phenomenological conception of world, which is based on a hermeneutics of facticity, intentionality, and ontological difference. He argues that the ‘basic concept’ of world has structured the field of art history and visual culture in implicit and explicit ways, thus dictating many of its commitments and concerns. One of the primary limitations of this commitment to world, is that it has resulted in art history and visual culture’s tendency to concern itself with a very small portion of existence, usually human existence, in its emphasis on hermeneutics and facticity, thus foreclosing on a more generous and speculative ontology, ethics, and politics. The concept of “world” suggests an overarching totality, an interconnected field of meaning and sense, often indicated by a tacit and resonate tonality. But there is no overarching “world” or “world-view” that can provide us with an overview of or container for the myriad worlds of things. An art history that is willing to consider that the world does not exist would acknowledge and embrace the fact that there is no overall focus, which can encompass things and events in all their spatio-temporal complexity. It would entail a practice attentive to a “supple and inflected bathmology” (Vinegar prefers this phrase to “flat ontology”) in its refusal to emphasize “privileged ontological scenes” predicated on hierarchies of ontological difference, and subsuming things and experience within the structures of phenomenological intentionality. To initiate such a practice, Vinegar suggests an embrace of what he terms “ontological indifference,” a robust notion of habit, and a temporal logic that would be fully attentive to a pluriverse of multiple existences and eruptions of substance, which extend well beyond ‘our’ realms of significance and meaning, cares and concerns, laughter and joy, losses and mournings.