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Writing (art history) as material practice

Reifenstein, Tilo (2019) Writing (art history) as material practice. In: Quarto Congresso Svizzero di Storia dell’Arte (Fourth Swiss Congress for Art History), 06-08 Jun 2019, Mendrisio, Switzerland. (Unpublished)

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The recognition, or perhaps better: diagnosis, of a material turn in art history and visual culture studies, proceeded with the effect that the objects under consideration were seen from new perspectives and that the scholarly practices investigating them received further supplementation through new apparatuses of vision and inspection, increased computer processing power and digital interfaces. In turn, the new devices and software marked the disciplines’ self-recognition and channelled certain modes of their enquiry. Thus, to beg the question of the relations between art and its materials also shines a light on the self-same relations concerning the enquiry and the contraptions or materials related to its practice.
Yet, one of the fundamental material practices of art history—writing, whether on paper or on screen—emerged seemingly untouched and unquestioned in view of the reconsideration that objects and modes of enquiry had undergone. The aim of this paper is to develop the characteristics of art-historical writing as a material practice in relation to conceptual artistic practices.
Art-historical writing necessarily not only negotiates the boundary of visual and verbal, but also manifests a particular material effect produced in the discursive framing of knowledge and meaning-making about artefacts, subjects, processes and their historic contexts. The paper explores theoretical approaches to writing art history as an epistemic practice that is necessarily marked by the contingencies and affordances of its materials like those conceptual practices that are primarily writing-based.
Setting out from the philosophically much-discussed phrase ‘this paper here’, the presentation follows a trail of assumptions about writing on paper and screen that often render both impossibly blank and infinitely inscribable. In a self-reflexive movement, the paper shows the written mark as neither able to refer to itself exclusively, nor detachable from its ground. And similarly, it positions the drawn lines, which are so often the objects of art-historical enquiry, as always repeatable and thus illimitable to any singularity on a particular sheet. Drawing on Jacques Derrida’s conception of writing and Vilém Flusser’s phenomenological understanding of gestures, the paper asserts that narrow medial limitations are placed on the understanding of writing practices when they are detached from the contingencies of particular implements and materials.
Art-history writing is here developed as an epistemic practice that insists on the inseparability of its materials and their ‘acts’. Just as art history does not reduce the artworks of its investigations to mere material objecthood or transcendent idea, so the practices of its scholarship cannot categorically divorce the mute scribbles on screen or paper from the transparent discursivity of its logos. The propinquity between the material work of the artist and that of the historian is explored through, among others, Jaś Elsner, Boris Groys, Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes and Hayden White, who have indicated that far from being ignobled by the comparison, the discipline is perhaps ennobled to deliver on the irreducible multiplicity of its ‘objects’ which hitherto sat uneasily with a scientistic pursuit of linearity, resolution and teleological determination that also treats writing as a neutral expedient. Ultimately therefore, the paper promotes a disciplinary self-reflection that seeks to avoid that the objects of the enquiry become incomparable to the objects left by the enquiry.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Additional Information: Panel: Une affaire sans importance ? L’exécution de l’œuvre à l’épreuve de pratiques conceptuelles (Valérie Mavridorakis & Ileana Parvu)
Status: Unpublished
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
School/Department: School of the Arts
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/3855

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