The Performativity of Matter: Decolonial Materialist Practices in/from the Global South
Location SOAS Senate House - S320
Date and Start Time 03 Jun, 2018 at 11:00
Sessions 3


  • Ángeles Donoso Macaya (BMCC - City University of New York) email

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Short abstract

The presentations in this seminar center on artistic/political practices from the Global South that open up matter's performative potential to counter the invisibilizing effects of the Western humanist knowledge apparatus and create alternative logics of meaning and living.

Long abstract

Karen Barad claims, "[P]ractices of knowing cannot be fully claimed as human practices, not simply because we use nonhuman elements in our practices but because knowing is a matter of part of the world making itself intelligible to another part . . . We do not obtain knowledge by standing outside of the world; we know because 'we' are of the world." Barad's stance illuminates how hegemonic practices of knowledge follow a clear (humanist) divide between the human and the material. This divide has a geopolitical correlate: as a rule, the South becomes raw and mute matter waiting for a meaning sanctioned by the "human" North. Yet there are numerous artistic and political practices that recognize in matter an active agent of knowledge, challenging both the Western subject-object opposition and the very division of power between North and South this opposition implies. These decolonial ways of approaching matter liberate matter's performative potential to create alternative logics of meaning and living. We are thinking, for instance, of contemporary political practices that follow cosmovisions based on non-instrumental relations between the human and the non-human, such as the Quechua sumac kawasay, or artistic practices such as Araya-Carrión's (Chile) or Zaharah Al-Ghamdi's (Saudi Arabia), which bring to the fore the eloquences of matter as agent of history and as witness of the enduring effects of neo-colonialism. This seminar welcomes proposals that, working from (neo)materialist, feminist, post-humanist and/or indigenous perspectives, explore practices that counter the invisibilizing effects of the Western humanist knowledge apparatus.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Re-Shaping Wealth: Matter as Dissident De-colonial Agency In the Work of Chilean Visual Artist Alejandra Prieto

Author: Cesar Barros (SUNY New Paltz) email

Short abstract

This presentation explores the work of Chilean artist Alejandra Prieto. I see her works as facilitations of thought-actions of matter that enable the latter to assert its presence, enacting a material decolonial voice that thinks the contemporary economic structure of plunder and exploitation.

Long abstract

Throughout the Twentieth Century Latin American working class movements fought for the socialization of national natural resources, trying to expropriate them from Northern corporations and national elites. In the sixties this movement was supplemented by the impulse to industrialize in order to achieve independence from the neo-colonial interests of the north. As the Century came to its end and as the neoliberal global division of labor became common sense among the newly empowered elites, Import Substitution Industrialization policies became a thing of the past, while national natural resources were re appropriated by elites and Northern corporations who ever since have deepened and accelerated the exploitation of these territories. These struggles were always framed by an economics that saw matter in very straightforward, simple, terms: materials were first and foremost resources, commodities—abstract objects of exchange, both a sign of dependency and a source of wealth. While their condition of commodities cannot be denied, this conceptualization is certainly partial and conducive to extractivism. In this context, many indigenous communities and other actors have come to supplement this economics and to counter its effects introducing posthumanist ways of conceptualizing and relating to matter. In this presentation I want to explore the work of Chilean visual artist Alejandra Prieto with coal and lithium as one such articulation. I see her works as facilitations of thought-actions of matter that enable the latter to assert its presence, its material sense-meaning, enacting a material decolonial voice that thinks the contemporary economic structure of plunder and exploitation.

The contemporary archeology of recyclables: One's trash is another's art

Author: soJin Chun email

Short abstract

Aturquesada is an object-based performance project and street interventions. Artist, soJin Chun negotiates and barters with bystanders the value of monochromatic art objects, reflecting on the process of allocating monetary value based on commodities of desire in a global economic system.

Long abstract

On "Speculative Futures: Social Practice, Cognitive Capitalism and/or the Triumph of the Capital", Matias Viegner examines Martha Rosler's Meta Monumental Garage Sale staged inside the Museum of Modern Art (New York, 2012). As the title suggests, the installation takes the form of a massive garage sale, using second-hand items, elevating their status and value. If artists can appropriate trash to transform and reintroduce them into the art market, then it demonstrates how "trash itself is an integral part of capitalist economies." Trash also represents the temporary fulfillment of fleeting desires.

Objects produced within the global capitalist system have a transnational trajectory, including the extraction of natural resources, their manufacturing through cheap labour and their introduction into the market. Consumer objects take on migration histories, as they witness the conditions of production and their life in the consumer market.

In response, the project Aturquesada, takes other people's trash bringing them back onto the streets to consumers, through a system of barter. By branding recycled objects through a monochromatic scheme in the colour tealquoise, (a term used to describe an ambiguous shade of green between turquoise and teal), the objects are repurposed as art, while being removed from an art context that would reinforce their value. This project raises questions such as: how do objects become accomplices to class distinction through their production? How does the global capitalist market create narratives of desire and representation through the fabrication of objects?

Matters of Matter: domestic drawings and the turning of leaves

Author: Renate Dohmen (Open University) email

Short abstract

The paper explores what a decolonial, post-humanist aesthetics may constitute. It takes female domestic drawings in Tamil Nadu and the performative engagement with an indigenous understanding of matter it entails as focal point and references the work of de Santos Sousa and Deleuze & Guattari.

Long abstract

The paper explores what a decolonial, post-humanist epistemology that engages performatively with an indigenous understanding of matter may constitute, taking the female, pan-Indian tradition of drawing threshold as focal point. The traditional domestic visual practice which is carried out twice daily by Indian house wives in front of their homes and other buildings, has been marginalized by the hegemonic understanding of art in the Global North as well as the post-colonial nation state of India. This disregard demonstrates the effects of what the sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos has termed the 'epistemological cartography' of the abyssal . Created by the 'abyssal line', a metaphorical boundary which divides social reality into zones of visibility and invisibility, it positions 'Western' hegemonic knowledge on the side of the visible, while other life practices based on popular, plebeian, peasant and indigenous knowledges are relegated to its other, invisible side. For de Sousa Santos the present-day challenge is to develop post-abyssal conceptual and cultural frameworks that bridge the nature-civilization divide that mark the abyssal, as there can be no global social justice without global cognitive justice. Drawing on Deleuze-Guattarean aesthetics and its grounding in the non-human and Guattari's ecosophy which posits of a fundamental unity of the social, the animal, vegetable and the cosmic, the paper seeks to reframe this ancient yet contemporary visual practice which, so far, has been considered a quaint, superstitious folk practice of little significance, to allow it to gain visibility within a differenced, post-abyssal epistemology of value.

Becoming a seismograph body

Author: Marie Bardet (Unsam) email

Short abstract

How "dancing body" experiences (Federici 2016) which have been historically marginalized as thought practices open up to a materialism of gestures that departs both from a substantialism of the body that drags the dualism of Western modernism, and from a substantialism of the individuality?

Long abstract

"From dance we learn that matter is not stupid, it is not blind, it is not mechanical, but has rhythms, has language, and it is self-activated and self-organizing," (Federici 2016 s / n).

I propose to take this affirmation of the feminist thinker Silvia Federici in In Praise of a Dancing Body as a challenge to think a renewed materialism from dancing experiences and feminist epistemologies.

Reflecting on how bodily practices (historically marginalized as thought practices) open up perspectives for a materialism between gestures that departs both from a substantialism of the body that drags the dualism of Western modernism, and from a substantialism of the individual, psychic and social. Specifically in order to think about the collective in terms of transindivuality (Simondon 2015).

For this, I propose to go through the experience of concrete practices of dance improvisation: Become a seismograph body ("We know now, for instance, that the Polynesian populations used to travel the high seas at night with only their body as their compass, as they could tell from the vibrations of the waves the different ways to direct their boats to the shore." (Federici 2016 s / n). Learning to orient oneself far away from the hegemony of the focal and frontal visual sense, by doing listening . Becoming a vibrating compass, attentive to the range of an amodal sensibility, becoming seismographs of forces (particularly gravitational) in progress, are some of the proposals contemporary dance, and improvisation in particular have (Bardet 2012: 115-136).

Tecnologías Deculoniales

Author: Marton Robinson (University of Southern California) email

Short abstract

Tecnologías Deculoniales is an investigation on systematic practices of representation based on the use of archive, data, and memory as a source in the assessment of a conceptual proposal that questions colonialism and postcolonialism.

Long abstract

I understand my visual practice in a global context, where the local problems (my place of residence) affect the production of my work. After moving to Los Angeles, CA, I find myself in a new conflict of personal and national identity, "I'm not American," "I'm not African-American," "I'm not Latino," which has forced me to investigate systems and diasporic mechanisms of representation in the construction of my new hybrid identity. With this research, I am forming the project "Deculonialidad," which is formulated from the lack of literacy in reading text and image within a globalized culture. With the use of archive (memory), text and image I seek to break with the prevailing discourse in recognition of the other as strange.

The research is an interest in work that elicits an embodied perceptual and phenomenological engagement with the viewer while examining decolonial deconstructivist impulses surrounding blackness, nationality, and anti-imperialist epistemes.

Utilizing archives material (literal, genealogical, and conceptual) as an interchangeable platform for addressing these issues, this essay will explore the variants of the archives and its applications in correlation with postcolonial endeavors. Here, the (in)material application of archives and/or archiving of the body recalls historical problematics including, but not limited to, social rituals of public shaming, ethnological practices, and assimilation. Functioning as the cultural equivalent of the colonialism that formulated its construction, the archive here resides as a by-product of both power and cultural domination.

Forget the post-colonial state! we have arrived!

Author: Debbie Whelan (University of Lincoln) email

Short abstract

The current polemic in Southern African architecture revolves around a 'South African style' yet has achieved little. This paper presents the new vernaculars, constructed without recourse to officially recognised doctrines, but ones which are truly representative of a new middle-class South Africa.

Long abstract

The architecture of the everyday is constantly evolving, subscribing to the requirements of society and determined by material and fashion. In settled, established countries with obvious and long-determined social stratification there is limited scope for drastic change in the quotidian vernacular, restricted as it is by standard norms derived from tradition, in addition to a strictly imposed legal framework which controls building design and implementation.

However, for societies which have recently experienced significant change, new vernaculars are more overt. In South Africa, a rapidly expanding black middle class is unilaterally establishing its own hybridised, often experimental vernacular, utilising a neo-classical toolkit to replicate affluent homes constructed in themed gated estates, defying the now marginalised colonial aesthetic and its reactionaries. At the same time, the architectural profession ponders appropriate buildings forms for the sub-continent. This paper discusses these hybrid vernaculars, suggesting that the role of the articulate profession in the polemic of relevant architecture is redundant in the face of the production of mass architectures by the inarticulate new middle class.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.