Between the Roots of History and the Canals of Venice: A Rhizomatic Proposal for Transnational Human Subjecitivity in Contemporary Art Practice

By David Mills.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In 2008, several art exhibitions have voiced a sense of post-human lostness, perhaps engendered by an uncertainty regarding how to proceed beyond the necessary, but largely negative post-colonial and poststructuralist critiques of Western hegemony. “Martian Museum” at the Barbican, the 55th Carnegie International, with its “Life on Mars” theme, and the “After Nature” exhibition at The New Museum, each in its own way, problematizes human identity in view of the encounter of the subject with the Wholly Other. This presentation will explore that possibility that a genuinely transnational art situation could reconceptualize the human subject in ways that do justice to hybridity, heterogeneity, and globalisation, moving us beyond both Western hegemony and the post-colonial and poststructuralist critiques thereof. According to Deleuze and Guattari, most systems, especially within the capitalist state, tend toward stratification and hierarchical stasis. By contrast, emergent systems function as “assemblages” that are self-organized without hierarchy or centralized control. Hierarchical systems are arboreal, rooted, fixed, branching out from a central location, whereas emergent systems are rhizomatic, without fixed beginning or end, spreading laterally through varied, continuous, and unpredictable connections. Even today, ostensibly international artworlds have been largely arboreal constructs. Is a genuinely transnational, rhizomatic artworld possible, thereby opening up new plateaus for the human subject, or is art today still too deeply rooted in the Western state? Daniel Birnbaum, Director of the 53rd Venice Biennale, and no stranger to the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, has described his intended structure for the Biennale as a tree, depicting future artistic developments as rooted or anchored in the history of art. This raises the question of whether exhibitions like the Biennale can function rhizomatically in a transnational context, or whether they will inevitably tend toward the arboreal, the hierarchical, and the centralized. Thus the Venice Biennale itself provides a fruitful case-study.

Keywords: Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Rhizome, Transnational Art, Venice Biennale

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 4, Issue 6, pp.11-22. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.163MB).

Dr. David Mills

Professor, Philosophy, Honors Program, Cedarville University, Cedarville, Ohio, USA

I research and teach at the intersection of philosophy, art, and religion, and am interested in exploring the ways in which these cultural practices have interpenetrated throughout history, especially in the rise of Modernism and beyond. My Ph.D. is from the Pennsylvania State University, in the discipline of philosophy, but with a particular focus on the philosophy of art and the philosophy of literature. At Cedarville University, I direct the interdisciplinary Honors Program and teach cross-disciplinary classes in the history and theory of art, philosophy of literature, and the history of philosophy, especially post-Hegelian Continental thought.

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