Contemporary Aesthetics does not publish book reviews. However, to inform our readers of new publications of interest, we do publish brief descriptions extracted from information provided by the publishers. These notices do not necessarily represent the views or judgment of this journal. Readers are invited to send us such information about books they think will interest other readers of CA.
Co-operative Aesthetics. A Quasi-Manifesto for the 21st Century, edited by Gioia Laura Iannilli (Aesthetica Edizioni, Sesto San Giovanni, 2022), 186 pp.
The idea of co-operativity underlying this book runs on a spectrum spanning the dynamics typically found in elementary – but complex, institutive – structures of experience, and those informing current practices of organization of reality that are also oriented by a humanistic, ecological and socially engaged impulse. This kind of co-operativity both recognizes an anti-isolationist foundation to experience and implements this same principle in situations where it seems to be lacking or not sufficiently perspicuous. This book gathers some of the most relevant contemporary voices, both of “theorists” and of “operators” of a co-operativity that, in a very broad sense, can be characterized as an aesthetic dimension of experience or that, in turn, somehow co-operates with it. Without claiming to be exhaustive, this quasi-manifesto simply lays out the beginning of a path that, hopefully, will involve more and more fields. Co-operativity is, by its very nature, polyphonic. And polyphony typically preserves the specificity of individual voices, which converge but do not necessarily coincide. Co-operativity, therefore, will be addressed from various perspectives and with different approaches, within this field community, by professionals involved in the drafting of this “quasi-manifesto.”
Nicholas Gamso, Art after Liberalism (Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, March 2022), 232 pp.
Art after Liberalism is an account of creative practice at a moment of converging social crises. It is also an inquiry into emergent ways of living, acting, and making art in the company of others.
The apparent failures of liberal thinking mark its starting point. No longer can the framework of the nation-state, the figure of the enterprising individual, and the premise of limitless development be counted on to produce a world worth living in. No longer can talk of inclusion, representation, or a neutral public sphere pass for something like equality.
It is increasingly clear that these commonplace liberal conceptions have failed to improve life in any lasting way. In fact, they conceal fundamental connections to enslavement, conscription, colonization, moral debt, and ecological devastation. Now we must decide what comes after.
The essays in this book attempt to register these connections by following itinerant artists, artworks, and art publics as they move across comparative political environments. The book thus provides a range of speculations about art and social experience after liberal modernity.
While the book gathers a set of essays by Nicholas Gamso, it ends in conversation––between Gamso and artist-organizers (and founding members of Decolonize This Place) Amin Husain and Nitasha Dhillon. The conversation is available here: Reorienting Toward Each Other: A conversation with Nitasha Dhillon and Amin Husain.
Michael Ranta, How Pictures Tell Stories: Essays on Pictorial Narrativity (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2022), 175 pp.
In the humanities, narratology has become a growing field of interest in recent decades. Quite frequently, storytelling has been associated with verbal discourses, but, as this book argues, other media, such as the visual arts, often tell stories too. While among art historians the narrative aspects of visual art have constituted a prevalent focus of interest, systematic and theoretical treatments of narrative and temporal imagery have remained largely absent.
Three chapters in this book originally appeared as articles in Contemporary Aesthetics:
“Master Narratives and the (Pictorial) Construction of Otherness: Anti-Semitic Images in the Third Reich and Beyond” (Vol. 15, 2017)
“Stories in Pictures (and Non-Pictorial Objects) – A Narratological and Cognitive Psychological Approach” (Vol. 9, 2011)
“Implied World Views in Pictures: Reflections from a Cognitive Psychological and Anthropological Point of View” (Vol. 5, 2007)
Ursula Lang, Living with Yards: Negotiating Nature and the Habits of Home (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2022), 216 pp.
Yards are not quite wild, yet rarely tamed. Across diverse residential landscapes in North America and beyond, yards are regulated by the state and markets, defined by imaginary property lines on maps, and sometimes central to privilege and exclusion.
As urban life is reimagined for greater sustainability, resilience, and adaptation, Living with Yards invites readers to more fully engage with the possibilities of how we can coexist with our urban habitats. Ursula Lang uses the yard as a faceted lens through which to examine the multiple and contradictory ways people live in urban environments, and how perceptions of those environments are shaped by contemporary environmental policies and projects. Visual ethnography and narrative illustrate how inhabitants of Minneapolis live with their yards as sites of social and environmental care while also negotiating difference. Throughout, Lang’s subjects engage in diverse and creative everyday practices of cultivation and property ownership, often quite distinct from the environmental policies and projects in place.
The process of reimagining cities as more sustainable and equitable must include knowledge of how people live within urban spaces. By conducting in-depth visits to more than forty yards and sharing her results, Lang provokes us to think about what else these realms of daily life might become. Living with Yards chronicles the interplay between the yard as habitat and our inhabitation of it, exploring the changes and innovations a better understanding of urban living might spark.
Tonino Griffero, Places, Affordances, Atmospheres (Routledge, 2021), 226 pp.
This book offers a diverse understanding and practical approach towards the growing area of atmosphere research, in the context of philosophy, geography and architecture. It begins by tracing back to the model of experience called the “pathic.” Drawing on the phenomenology of theorists Hermann Schmitz and Gernot Böhme, introductory chapters offer a grounding for the beginnings of pathic research. The chapters go on to apply pathic framework to a range of practical cases from theatre studies to education. Atmospheres are often defined as affects one feels in a “lived space” and researchers are becoming more interested in the emotions we feel in natural and artificial environments across day to day life. By providing a critical re-evaluation of phenomenology and aesthetics, the book brings a series of unexplored and controversial subjects to light, opening up a new context for thinking about our everyday life and experiences inscribed within aesthetics, politics, literature, spatial practices and pedagogy and effectively merging abstract philosophy and concrete practice.
Imperfections. Studies in Mistakes, Flaws, and Failures, eds. Caleb Kelly, Jakko Kemper, Ellen Rutten (Bloomsbury, 2021), 344 pp.
This open access book synthesizes the swiftly growing critical scholarship on mistakes, glitches, and other aesthetics and logics of imperfection into the first transdisciplinary, transnational framework of imperfection studies.
In recent years, the trend to present the notion of imperfection as a plus rather than a problem has resonated across a range of social and creative disciplines and a wealth of world localities. As digital tools allow media users to share ever more suave selfies and success stories, psychologists promote ‘the gifts of imperfections’ and point to perfectionism as a catalyst for rising depression and burnout complaints and suicide rates among millennials. As sound technologies increasingly permit musicians to ‘smoothen’ their work, composers increasingly praise glitches, noise, and cracks. As genetic engineering upgrades with swift speed, philosophers, marketeers, and physicians plea ‘against perfection’ and supermarkets successfully advertise ‘perfectly imperfect’ vegetables. Meanwhile, cultural analysts point at skewed perspectives, blurry images, and other ‘deliberate imperfections’ in new and historical cinema, painting, photography, music, and literature.
While these and other experts applaud imperfection, scholars in fields ranging from disability studies to tourism critically interrogate a trend to fetishize imperfection and poverty. They rightfully warn against projecting privileged (and, often, emphatically western-biased) feel-good stories onto the less privileged, the distorted, and the frail.
The editors unite the different strands in imperfection thinking across various disciplines tools. In fourteen chapters by experts from different world localities, they offer scholars and students more historically grounded and more critically informed conceptualizations of the imperfect.
This book is available as open access through the Bloomsbury Open programme and is available on www.bloomsburycollections.com.
Sarah Worth, Taste. A Philosophy of Food (Reaktion Books, 2021), 256 pp.
When we eat, we eat the world: taking something from outside and making it part of us. But what does it taste of? And can we develop our taste? In Taste, Sarah Worth argues that taste is a sense that needs educating, for the real pleasures of eating only come with an understanding of what one really likes. From taste as an abstract concept to real examples of food, she explores how we can learn about and develop our sense of taste through themes ranging from pleasure, authenticity, and food fraud, to visual images, recipes, and food writing.
Silvia Casini, Giving Bodies Back to Data: Image Makers, Bricolage, and Reinvention in Magnetic Resonance Technology (MITPress, 2021), 312 pp.
Our bodies are scanned, probed, imaged, sampled, and transformed into data by clinicians and technologists. In this book, Silvia Casini reveals the affective relations and materiality that turn data into image—and in so doing, gives bodies back to data. Opening the black box of MRI technology, Casini examines the bodily, situated aspects of visualization practices around the development of this technology. Reframing existing narratives of biomedical innovation, she emphasizes the important but often overlooked roles played by aesthetics, affectivity, and craft practice in medical visualization.
Combining history, theory, laboratory ethnography, archival research, and collaborative art–science, Casini retrieves the multiple presences and agencies of bodies in data visualization, mapping the traces of scientists’ body work and embodied imagination. She presents an in-depth ethnographic study of MRI development at the University of Aberdeen’s biomedical physics laboratory, from the construction of the first whole-body scanner for clinical purposes through the evolution of the FFC-MRI. Going beyond her original focus on MRI, she analyzes a selection of neuroscience- or biomedicine-inspired interventions by artists in media ranging from sculpture to virtual reality. Finally, she presents a methodology for designing and carrying out small-scale art–science projects, describing a collaboration that she herself arranged, highlighting the relational and aesthetic-laden character of data that are the product of craftsmanship and affective labor at the laboratory bench.
Casini’s earlier work has been published in Contemporary Aesthetics, Volume 8 (2010) and can be found here: https://digitalcommons.risd.edu/liberalarts_contempaesthetics/vol8/iss1/22/
Arts in the Margins of World Encounters, eds. by Willemijn de Jong, Eriko Aoki, John Clammer (Vernon Press, 2021), 251 pp.
Arts in the Margins of World Encounters presents original contributions that deal with artworks of differently marginalized people—such as ethnic minorities, refugees, immigrants, disabled people, and descendants of slaves, a wide variety of art forms—like clay figures, textile, paintings, poems, museum exhibits and theatre performances—, and original data based on committed, long-term fieldwork and/or archival research in Brazil, Martinique, Rwanda, India, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
The volume develops theoretical approaches inspired by innovative theorists and is based on currently debated analytical categories including the ethnographic turn in contemporary art, polycentric aesthetics, and aesthetic cannibalization, among others. This collection also incorporates fascinating and intriguing contemporary cases, but with solid theoretical arguments and grounds.
Mary Bittner Wiseman, A Grand Materialism in the New Art from China (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020), 198 pp.
In A Grand Materialism in the New Art from China, Mary Bittner Wiseman shows that material matters in the work of Chinese artists, where the goal is to call attention to its subjects through the directness and immediacy of its material (like dust from 9/11, 1001 Chinese citizens, paintings made with gunpowder, written words) or the specificity of its sites (such as the Three Gorges Dam). Artists are working below the level of language where matter and gesture, texture and touch, instinct and intuition live. Not reduced to the words applied to them, art’s subjects appear in their concrete particularity, embedded in the stories of their materials or their sites. Wiseman argues that it is global in being able to be understood by all thanks to its materials and the stories that accompany it, and the art is contemporary in having to make the case for itself that it is art. Finally, it satisfies Arthur Danto’s characterization of art as any representation that puts its subject in a new light by way of a rhetorical figure that the viewer interprets. The material art from China is the paradigm for an art that is global and contemporary.
Dr. Zoltán Somhegyi, Reviewing the Past: The Presence of Ruins (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2020), 274 pp.
Though constantly in decay, ruins continue to fascinate the observer. Their still-standing survival is a loud affirmation of their presence, in which we can admire the struggle against the power of Nature aesthetically manifested during the decay.
This volume takes a thematic approach to examining the aesthetics of ruins. It looks at the general aspects of architectural decay and its classical forms of admiration and then turns towards ruins from both classical and contemporary periods, from both Western and non-Western areas, and with examples from “high art” as well as popular culture. Combining the methodologies of art history, aesthetics and cultural history, this book opens up new ways of looking at the phenomenon of ruins.