Sylvia Lavin


On her book Kissing Architecture

Cover Interview of August 09, 2011

The wide angle

One of the most compelling themes in contemporary art theory is the controversy surrounding the question of “medium specificity.”  That is, whether or not anything but habit and convention determine the conceptual shapes and extents of works of art, whether there is anything irreducibly painterly about painting or architectural about buildings.

This has drawn the attention not only of some of the most interesting thinkers in this field, but has come to concern a wide variety of fields.  Because the limit or boundary between things, things as such, which was once understood in positivist and essentializing terms, and then understood in relation to constructed disciplines and regimes, is now being rethought in order to produce a generative tension between cultural autonomy and political engagement.

How things separate and combine, whether as apparently different as art forms or nations, how they get reformatted as they flow through global currents of money and politics, and how they manage the specificities of their material ontologies while at the same time fold easily into virtual and digital mediums, constitutes an urgent set of issues for contemporary cultural theory.

Another question that arises from what Rosalind Krauss has called this “post-medium condition” concerns our understanding of experience.  If works of art are neither what classical art theory deemed “positive” nor “arbitrary” in their nature, there must be a corollary transformation in our understanding of the ways in which works of art shape experience.  If the work of art addresses the viewer/subject not through the essential organ of taste or through the over-determinations of convention, can the work of art then induce a new category of experience that relates affect to intellection rather than pits them against each other?

Many of these ideas are explored by Deleuze, Sloterdijk and others with respect to the philosophy of art generally.  But I argue that image-architecture in particular affords an especially useful model of experience.  Because image-architecture is rendered vivid by immersion and intensified by the ways in which it multiplies the forms of attention required by the viewer.  The experience of image-architecture is specific in the way that it permits new feelings, new thoughts and new social realities to develop, and diagrammatic in the way it models an expanded notion of experience as such.