Aesthetics is a complex, material-discursive system. In addition to receptive and productive modes of sense-making and practices of meaning-making, aesthetics encompasses epistemological and discursive activity through which its modes of praxis and politics are teased out and deliberated. In this research, aesthetics and politics are approached as ‘concepts in a struggle that vary according to the social setting and historical conjuncture’ (Rockhill, 2011: 47- 48).
Aesthetic work is a name for practices that focus critical attention on the political space between what we sense and how we make sense of it. It is not a manifesto but a way of operating that does not revolve around binaries or specific centres of institutional gravity. It is a strategy for challenging the systemic violence of the current social order by challenging its underpinning aesthetic order and generating new ways of knowing, producing and acting in common.
Aesthetic work is work; it directs critical attention to the politics of sense and sense-making. It generates conditions for a collective interrogation of that politics, and for forms of collective meaning-making and embodied action. It brings different modes of meaning-making into proximity to generate new ways of knowing, producing and acting in common, generating connective tissue between diverse modes of sensing and sense-making.
Aesthetic work has the fluidity of the aesthetic; it is intra-active and emergent, ‘an ongoing process of meaning making through action where the emergent meanings [shape] the action simultaneously’ (Curnow, 2016: 35). Aesthetic work may take the form of art, but it may also take the form of pedagogy, architecture, hacktivism, modes of protest and any form of social action that takes as its focus a critical engagement with the space ‘between sense and sense’ (Rancière, 2010: 139). It does not rely on ‘the prestige that accrues to art as an activity set aside from the mainstream of social existence’ (Charnley, 2011: 50) but recognises the value of art as a space and a condition of activation. The performative frame of art, its prosthetic excess, becomes a resource that can be used within a broader, non-ontological idea of aesthetic work, across an ‘ecosystem of transformative fields’ (Bruguera, 2012).
The form given to the aesthetic work of this research, specifically in relation to The Laboratory of Common Interest, was influenced by Yepes’ idea of an ‘aesthetic event’ (2016: 124), an emergent phenomenon, an assemblage of disparate elements that ‘intra-act’ (Barad, 1998) to produce
. . . a complex relationality that creates its own time and space, assembling diverse elements: the materiality of the objects and actions presented, the discursive content of those objects, the affects and sensations they elicit, the discourses that frame the latter, as well as the discourses and frames that the spectator/participant brings to the above elements (Yepes, 2016: 125).
Bruguera, T., 2012, Criteria for Arte Útil, Grizedale Arts Blog,
Available at https://www.grisedale.org/writing/blog/8710/ [Accessed November 13th, 2020].
Charnley, K., 2011, Dissensus and the Politics of Collaborative Practice, in Art and the Public Sphere, 1:1, March 2011, pp. 37-53.
Curnow, J., 2016, Towards a Radical Theory of Learning, Prefiguration as Legitimate Peripheral Participation, in Springer, S., De Souza, M.L. and White, R. (eds), 2016, The Radicalisation of Pedagogy, London: Rowman and Littlefield, pp 27 - 49.
Rancière, J., 2010, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, trans. Steven Corcoran, London, New York: Continuum.
Rockhill, G., 2011, Rancière’s Productive Contradictions: From The Politics of Aesthetics to the Social Politicity of Artistic Practice, in Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy, pp 28 – 56, Available at https://philarchive.org/archive/ROCRPC-2v1[Accessed November 22nd, 2020].
Yepes, R., 2016, C’undúa: Activist Art in Downtown Bogotá, in Field, Journal of Socially Engaged Art Criticism, 3, Winter 2016, pp 123 – 149, Available at http://field-journal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/FIELD-03-Yepes-Cundua.pdf [Accessed April 10th 2020].