George Gessert: Green Light: Toward an Art of Evolution (2010)

10 January 2011, dusan

Humans have bred plants and animals with an eye to aesthetics for centuries: flowers are selected for colorful blossoms or luxuriant foliage; racehorses are bred for the elegance of their frames. Hybridized plants were first exhibited as fine art in 1936, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York showed Edward Steichen’s hybrid delphiniums. Since then, bio art has become a genre; artists work with a variety of living things, including plants, animals, bacteria, slime molds, and fungi. Many commentators have addressed the social and political concerns raised by making art out of living material. In Green Light, however, George Gessert examines the role that aesthetic perception has played in bio art and other interventions in evolution.

Gessert looks at a variety of life forms that humans have helped shape, focusing on plants—the most widely domesticated form of life and the one that has been crucial to his own work as an artist. We learn about Onagadori chickens, bred to have tail feathers twenty or more feet long; pleasure gardens of the Aztecs, cultivated for intoxicating fragrance; Darwin’s relationship to the arts; the rise and fall of eugenics; the aesthetic standards promoted by national plant societies; a daffodil that looks like a rose; and praise for weeds and wildflowers. Gessert surveys recent bio art and its accompanying philosophical problems, the “slow art” of plant breeding, and how to create new life that takes into account what we know about ecology, aesthetics, and ourselves.

Publisher MIT Press, 2010
Leonardo Books series
ISBN 0262014149, 9780262014144
233 pages

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Yve Alain Bois, Rosalind E. Krauss: Formless: A User’s Guide (1996/1997)

9 November 2010, dusan

“In a work that will become indispensable to anyone seriously interested in modern art, Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss convincingly introduce a new constellation of concepts to our understanding of avant-garde and modernist art practices. Formless constitutes a decisive and dramatic transformation of the study of twentieth-century culture. Although it has been over sixty years since Georges Bataille undertook his philosophical development of the term informe, only in recent years has the idea of the “formless” been deployed in theorizing and reconfiguring the very field of twentieth-century art. This is partly because that field has most often been crudely set up as a battle between form and content, whereas “formless” constitutes a third term that stands outside the opposition of form and content, outside the binary thinking that is itself formal.

In Formless, Bois and Krauss, two of the most influential and respected art historians of our time, present a rich and compelling panorama of the formless. They map out its persistence within a history of modernism that has always repressed it in the interest of privileging formal mastery, and they assess its destiny within current artistic production. In the domain of practice, they analyze it as an operational tool, the structural cunning of which has repeatedly been suppressed in the service of a thematics of art. Neither theme nor form, formless is, as Bataille himself expressed it, a “job.” The job of Formless is to explore the power of the informe. A stunning new map of twentieth-century art emerges from this innovative reconceptualization and from the brilliantly original analyses of the work of Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Lucio Fontana, Cindy Sherman, Claes Oldenburg, Jean Dubuffet, Robert Smithson, and Gordon Matta-Clark, among others.”

First published as L’Informe: mode d’emploi, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1996.

Publisher Zone Books, 1997
ISBN 0942299434, 9780942299434
304 pages


PDF (updated on 2013-1-15)

Timothy Morton: Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (2007)

18 September 2010, dusan

“In Ecology without Nature, Timothy Morton argues that the chief stumbling block to environmental thinking is the image of nature itself. Ecological writers propose a new worldview, but their very zeal to preserve the natural world leads them away from the “nature” they revere. The problem is a symptom of the ecological catastrophe in which we are living. Morton sets out a seeming paradox: to have a properly ecological view, we must relinquish the idea of nature once and for all.

Ranging widely in eighteenth-century through contemporary philosophy, culture, and history, Morton explores the value of art in imagining environmental projects for the future. Morton develops a vocabulary for reading “environmentality” in artistic form as well as content, and traces the contexts of ecological constructs through the history of capitalism. From John Clare to John Cage, from Kierkegaard to Kristeva, from The Lord of the Rings to electronic life forms, Ecology without Nature extends the view of ecological criticism. Instead of trying to use an idea of nature to heal what society has damaged, Morton sets out a new form of ecological criticism: “dark ecology.””

Publisher Harvard University Press, 2007
ISBN 0674024346, 9780674024342
249 pages

Reviews: Keegan (Studies in Romanticism, 2008), Philips (Oxford Literary Review, 2010), Holmes (Journal of Ecocriticism, 2012).

Author’s blog

PDF (updated on 2012-10-31)