Framing The Object

October 5, 2014
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Aesthetic discussion and theory used to be centered around The Object, whether there was a question of the aura, the action (making the object) or the symbolic meaning. The focal point then shifted to the context and the medium, which can be said to dominate the postmodern theoretic art discussion. The object was accompanied by a critical perspective, a specific context or a societal aspect, undermining the claim for universal truth and inherent meaning, perhaps leaving the object less striking in its’ own capacity.
The thing is what we make of the world, but also something that shapes us in the world and how we perceive it, according to Elizabeth Grosz (Architecture from the Outside, 2001). In producing things we make it possible to cause change but it also allows ourselves to be affected by the world. Producing a thing is really a restructuring of the world and a recognition of this new constellation as a thing. Grosz separates instruments (as can be made by animals) from technologies, that are detached from our bodily functions and that we must learn to operate or think through. She argues that instead of seeing technology as something separated from human and nature, it’s rather that which extends them both towards each other and make them overlap. Objects are humans way of interacting witch, changing and understanding nature. Human function becomes extended through things. This equation leaves that which isn’t things outside of human intelligence.
Donna Haraway (Situated Knowledges, 1988) goes further and argues for the admittance of an agency in objects. The object is defined in relation to other objects, but mostly by it’s relation to the subject – ‘objects are boundary projects’. Situated knowledge and The Object as agent are participants in a conversation rather than trapped in a hierarchical observer/observed relation. This intricate ‘conversation’ is expressed in another way by Martin Heidegger (The Thing, 1971), in the way he portrays a jug by it’s various functions, material and metaphysical properties.
What separates the art object from any object, then? Without making this into a question of what constitutes art (because that conversation is a different and endless one), I will suggest that the frame as an object-making-object has a great deal of agency in that distinction. Not narrowing the frame to a material object surrounding paintings, but also including theoretical and institutional framework, as well as framing as a tool for interpretation (as used by feminist theorists as Lynda Nead and others) and so forth, we end up with a multifaceted object/tool that in different shapes can present alternative ways of understanding the art object. The idea of the frame – as the (material/theoretical/social/performative) mechanism of recreating the object as an art object in the mind of the observer (the subject) or the collective mind – becomes an allegory through which this transformation into art can be read, described or interpreted. 

One Response to “Framing The Object”

  1. Dear Molly, you might mean Jane Bennett above and not Donna Haraway? But in making this small error you create an opportunity to add Haraway’s take on objects into the fray. With Haraway I suspect it is less an emphasis on objects or things per se, than a discussion of point of view and how partial objectivity operates. Haraway challenges what she calls the ‘God trick’ where we assume we might attain a fully objective picture of a world. Your discussion is well put together and importantly brings in the question of the art object and its status. There is a great deal of literature that discusses the status of the art object, its presence, then disappearance then re-emergence. The role of framing her dis also crucial, not just with respect to art, but also in relation to technology. Martin Heidegger uses the term ‘enflaming’ to discuss the role of technology as gathering things together via craft, knowledge, and skill, making something present, though we need to take care about how we go about using whatever this is. Jacques Derrida also discusses the role of the frame in terms of what it leaves out, what is outside the frame; and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari describe architecture as the first art of the frame. Now I have named all these old dead white philosophers, so what about women thinkers and doers who have mediated on the frame, or else framing as an activity. Well, again, I think that Haraway might be getting at a kind of framing, that is, the framing of point of view in relation to Situated Knowledges. Can you think of some other examples, from artists, architects, thinkers?

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