F.5 Byung-Chul Han and Contemporary Art

Fri Oct 22 / 11:30 – 13:00 PDT
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chairs /

  • Maxwell Hyett, Western University
  • Julian Jason Haladyn, OCAD University

"The smooth is the signature of the present time. It connects the sculptures of Jeff Koons, iPhones and Brazilian waxing" (Byung-Chul Han, Saving Beauty). Contemporary cultural theorist Byung-Chul Han is known for his concise and accessible books. Through the relatively recent influx of English translations, his ideas have become a significant part of recent inquiries about ideas and practices that define life in the digital world. Looking at the consequences of social and technological changes, Han questions basic assumptions about the choices we make and the type of world we believe we are living in. This panel invites papers that use Han's ideas to interrogate and explore aspects of contemporary art, understood globally. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, papers that take up his core concepts: the smooth, transparency, excess positivity, the achievement-subject, good entertainment.

Maxwell Hyett is a writer, artist and cultural theorist, currently completing his PhD at The Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism at Western University. His work explores modern and contemporary issues of perception, iteration and excess that inform and condition possibility within artistic and art historical spheres. Hyett’s publications include the essays “Use(ful/less) Schematics” in Drain 15.1 (2018), “The Poking of Christ: Death, Fakes and the Digital” in tba: Journal of Art, Media, and Visual Culture 1.1 (2019), and “Amateur Mortality” in Culture, Theory and Critique 61.4 (2020) as well as collaborative book reviews in Dada/Surrealism and Canadian Society for Continental Philosophy.

Julian Jason Haladyn is an art historian, cultural theorist, and professor at OCAD University. He is the author of Duchamp, Aesthetics, and Capitalism (2019), Aganetha Dyck: The Power of the Small (2017), Boredom and Art: Passions of the Will To Boredom (2014) and Marcel Duchamp: Étant donnés (2010), and co-editor, with Michael E. Gardiner, of the Boredom Studies Reader (2016).

F.5.1 Reification: Between Museumization and Pornography

Jessica Ragazzini, Université du Québec en Outaouais/Université Paris Nanterre

The book Le Désir: Ou l'enfer de l'identique, is a must for research on the theme of the double. The double is studied by Han in a relatively broad sense. Limiting ourselves to the question of the doubling of the body in photography and performance, this paper will aim to reflect on the impact of Byung-Chul Han's theories in relation to hyper-visibility. Indeed, from page 59 of his book, the philosopher makes a comparison between the exhibition of the reified living body in pornography and museum presentations. If this comparison seems surprising, consider the museum’s exposed bodies that become objects of art by performance and the photographic act. In a comparable way, pornography exposes bodies as objects of consumption by photographic or filmic exposure. In the two cases, the hyper-visibility split the living bodies to transform them in the artifact, which exists only for the glance of others. This monstration is produced by the human hand holding the camera and broadcasting these images. The simulacrum is proposed in a continuous visibility that the viewer can appropriate as he wishes. Today, becoming an object is no longer simply an artistic question. Referring to the words of Barthes and Kafka, Han points out that the digital window has generated a daily reification through hyper-visibility. The other side of the coin is the simultaneous creation of a disinterest in the flesh that no longer needs to be fantasized; its double has now replaced it. The proposed communication will be organized in two parts; it will first consider Han's remarks on the question of the bodily double and then study its forms of hyper-visibility in the museum space, in pornography, and on social networks.

Jessica Ragazzini is lecturer at the Université du Québec en Outaouais and a doctoral student in Art Studies (co-led Université du Québec en Outaouais/Université Paris Nanterre). Her background in philosophy is applied to transdisciplinary research focusing on the tension between the reified body and the humanized object in photography. Since 2018, she has been a research assistant for the research group Origine et actualité du devenir objet du sujet : se recréer au musée, dans les expositions. In 2019, she was associate curator of the exhibition La Robe de chair au Musée national : expositions et reconstitution, presented at the Galerie UQO, where she is also the coordinator. With researcher Mélanie Boucher, Jessica Ragazzini co-curated a session at UAAC 2020 entitled The Body Double: Between Arts, Sciences and Museums. In addition, she has given several papers and published on the themes of reification, humanization and marginalization.

F.5.2 Hypervolition: Our Sacrifice of Choice

Jevonne Peters, Western University

Advanced segmentation and customization (called hyper-personalization) are often touted as the future of experiential marketing, and comes in the form of personalized experiences, tailored search results, and recommendations on what to do based on past behaviour and traits. The personalization is achieved through the deployment of algorithms that observe us and extract scraped information to abstract what it deems to be relevant. Byung Chul Han describes what we are experiencing as an "aperspectival panopticon," in that the surveillance is no longer from a central location, but is omnipresent. Issues of interest include what is considered normal and who determines it, the effects of the mass adoption of these technologies, the corruption of algorithms by capital, and the subtle control on the various levels of collectivism within societies. This research critically examines our relationship with technology, our tendencies to customize experiences for ourselves, and introduces a new term, hypervolition, which is defined as the inability of consciousness to distinguish our true desires and choices, from our algorithmically deduced and imposed desires and choices. I define the Jevinian orders and phases related to the term, which extends Foucault's concept of disciplinary power, and Han's ideas on the neuronal within the framework of Jean Baudrillard's hyperreal. I also express the concepts through the artworks My.o.T, Inter Alia, In Plain Sight, and The Resistance that attempt to creatively immerse a viewer in the ideas.

Jevonne Peters (Jevi) is a researcher, developer and emerging experimental inter-disciplinary artist. Her research-creation practice explores our individual and societal relationships with technology, privacy, governance, immersion and speculative fiction. Jevi is an Honours Business Informatics BASc McMaster University graduate and studied Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (PCert) at MIT. She completed a study of Art and Design at the GBC School of Design, graduating with honours, and studied Digital Media at OCAD University. Jevi graduated with an MFA in Digital Futures at OCADU, where she served on the University Senate. She was also a member of the OCAD University Board of Governors and was dedicated to the betterment of communities, earning her the OCAD University Excellence in Student Leadership Award. Jevi is currently pursuing a PhD in Theory and Criticism at the University of Western Ontario and has been appointed as a Member-at-Large for the College Art Association Annual Conference Committee.

F.5.3 Representations of Imagery: An Analysis of Byung-Chul Han's "Smooth Image" and Hito Steyerl's "Poor Image"

Elyse Longair, Queen's University

Representations of imagery will lead us through society's development and understanding of images. It is important to recognize the impacts of the Internet and the barrage of visual language on our perceptions of reality, specifically, how screen culture has shaped the way we are not only linked to images, but define the experience, meaning, and beauty through our understanding of what images are, and can be. For Guy Debord, in The Society of The Spectacle, the essential question is "What is an image?" Which in turn is defined as "The spectacle is capital accumulated to the point that it becomes images" (17). Key theorists Hito Steyerl and Byung-Chul Han extend Debord's examination of the image into our post-internet world. Steyerl suggests, within In Defense of The Poor Image, that the poor image, emerging through the acceleration and deterioration of images online, creates a new value and hierarchic scale to view images. In Saving Beauty, Han questions our obsession with the hyper positivity of the smooth image, reinforced and perpetuated through "liking" images with a push of a button. If an image at its most basic level is a representation, what do the smooth image and poor image represent?

Elyse Longair is currently pursuing the Screen Cultures and Curatorial PhD at Queen's University. In 2021, she received an MFA in the Interdisciplinary Art Media and Design program at OCAD University. Longair was an RBC Emerging Artist in 2020–21, at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery. Her work has been included in group and solo exhibitions nationally. Primarily working in collage, her work aims to explore how fragmented worlds of a reconstructed past may question our notions of time and reshape our thinking of the future.

F.5.4 To Be Discarded with Regards: Rethinking Foucault's "The Technology of The Self" with Han's "The Aesthetic of The Smooth" and Contemplative Lingering

Lingxiang Wu, Independent Artist

Today's digital communication platform performs like a giant meat market within the phantom of Neoliberal capitalism. Visual content is stripped naked to accelerate information exchange, thus stimulating instantaneous gratification of desire, even artworks. Yet, we feel more satisfied while walking alone in a park instead of scrolling online with the rest of the world. In response to the transformation of our global socio-economic landscape in the 1980s, Mitchell Foucault once asked, "What are we in our actuality?" Amongst the rapid advancement of contemporary digital technology and our everyday engagement with social media, it is dire for us to revisit his question. Using Instagram as a subject, this paper investigates the entanglement between the self and the algorithmic reflection of the self. Through Byung-Chul Han's critique on contemporary digital communication, this paper examines how Foucault's concept of the "Technology of the self" is challenged by Han's articulation on "transparency" and "the aesthetic of the smooth." The disappearing of the self is the result of drowning in the endless cycle of overproduction and overconsumption orchestrated through the exploitation of the self. The fatigued knowledge of the self translates to a lack of substance and resonance in trending digital content such as Fluid art. However, art still possesses the ability to create intermissions from consumption instead of feeding into it. In the ongoing project Digital Landfill, artistic methods like collage and rotoscope make way for detours in visual communication. The play of seduction manifests the possibility of creating a digital place free of the capitalist urge to perform. As a reflection on the project, the paper emphasizes the need for contemplative digital spaces to release us from the agitated state and reestablish the technology of the self as a defence mechanism.

Lingxiang Wu is a Chinese visual artist currently based in Toronto, and he received his MFA degree in Interdisciplinary Master's of Arts, Media, and Design at OCAD University in 2019. Wu explores contemporary life that is integrated seamlessly between urban and digital spaces, attempting to get a grasp of the reasons behind those fleeting moments of boredom, feelings of misfit, and anxiety over productivity, within the highly connected digital network. Through experimentation with various mediums such as photographic collage, video, animation, and installation, Wu is interested in using artistic methods as visual detours. Re-imagining the digital/urban space into a dynamic visual experience where viewers can look into and dwell within, encouraging the moments of contemplative lingering.