Here a space opens for an artistic materialism

Here a space opens for an artistic materialism. Parallel to the Marxist tradition runs an aesthetic one, from Cezanne to Miro and the Bauhaus artist Paul Klee. Crucial to Jorn’s reworking of Marxist thought is his radical revision of the locus and significance of the aesthetic. Art belongs to the infrastructure of society, not to the super-structure. Art is a fundamental kind of social production. Marxism breaks with classical tradition by assigning priority to action rather than contemplation, but its error error is to consider art only as a form of contemplation. Art is action.

Engels wrote that “the economic structure of society always furnishes the real basis, starting from which we can alone work out the ultimate explanation of the whole superstructure of juridical and political institutions as well as of the religious, philosophical and other ideas of a given historical period.” Jorn would agree with this, but with the proviso that aesthetic practice is part of the economic structure, not just one of the “other ideas” within the superstructure. The qualitative practice of art is as much part of the base of the capitalist social formation as its qualitative production process. The ontological failure of capital, its inability to perceive and produce its own reality, stems from the domination of the quantitative over the qualitative process.

Jorn breaks with privileging of science that he finds particularly in Engels. Jorn distinguishes between what he calls a worldview and an attitude to life. Both, he insists, can be materialistic, but they do not always go together. Even when science has a materialistic worldview, it does not necessarily have a materialist attitude to life. It remains Apollonian…
Aesthetic experiment is the necessary complement to scientific experiment, but it is not an imitation of science. While science extends knowledge and expands the material worldview, art creates a way of life by shaping material characteristics according to desire. If science concerns itself with objective truth, then art will search for subjective truth. “Rather an entangled and chaotic truth than a four-square, beautiful symmetrical and finely-chiseled lie.” But, crucially, Jorn sees subjectivity as non-individualistic. The art that matters is a subjective realism that extends beyond the individual and invokes a collective practice: “art, therefore, is not a representation, a mirror, of nature but a direct transformation of nature. Art is experimental social practice which transforms nature into second nature, but without reducing nature to essence or order.

McKenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International