Art and Posthumanism

Essays, Encounters, Conversations

2021
Author:

Cary Wolfe

A sustained engagement between contemporary art and philosophy relating to our place in, and responsibility to, the nonhuman world

Looking at biological and social systems, the question of the animal, and biopolitics, Cary Wolfe explores how contemporary art rivets our attention on the empirically thick, emotionally charged questions of “life” and the “living” amid ecological catastrophe. He shows how a posthumanist engagement with particular works and their conceptual underpinnings helps develop more potent ethical and political commitments.

How do contemporary art and theory contemplate the problem of the “bio” of biopolitics and bioart? How do they understand the question of “life” that binds human and nonhuman worlds in their shared travail? In Art and Posthumanism, Cary Wolfe argues for the reconceptualization of nature in art and theory to turn the idea of the relationship between the human and the planet upside down.

Wolfe explores a wide range of contemporary artworks—from Sue Coe’s illustrations of animals in factory farms and Eduardo Kac’s bioart to the famous performance pieces of Joseph Beuys and the video installations of Eija-Liisa Ahtila, among others—examining how posthumanist theory can illuminate, and be illuminated by, artists’ engagement with the more-than-human world. Looking at biological and social systems, the question of the animal, and biopolitics, Art and Posthumanism explores how contemporary art rivets our attention on the empirically thick, emotionally charged questions of “life” and the “living” amid ecological catastrophe.

One of the foremost theorists of posthumanism, Wolfe pushes that philosophy out of the realm of the purely theoretical to show how a posthumanist engagement with particular works and their conceptual underpinnings helps develop more potent ethical and political commitments.

Cary Wolfe is Dunleive Professor of English at Rice University. He is author of Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the “Outside” and What Is Posthumanism? and editor of Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal, all from Minnesota. He edits the Posthumanities series for Minnesota.


Contents


Preface


1. In Lieu of an Introduction: A Conversation with Giovanni Aloi


Part I. Systems: Social, Biological, Ecological


2. Lose the Building: Meaning and Form in Diller and Scofidio’s Blur


3. Time as Architectural Medium: Koolhaas and Mau’s Tree City


4. The Installation That Almost Ate Me


Part II. “The Animal”


5. From Dead Meat to Glow-in-the-Dark Bunnies: Seeing “The Animal Question” in Contemporary Art


6. Apes Like Us


7. Condors at the End of the World: Rethinking Environmental Art


8. Each Time Unique: The Poetics of Extinction


Part III. The Biopolitical


9. What Is the Bio- of Biopolitics and Bioart?


10. No Immunity: The Biopolitical Worlds of Eija-Liisa Ahtila


11. The Miracle of the Familiar: A Conversation with Eija-Liisa Ahtila


12. The Biopolitical Drama of Joseph Beuys


Notes


Index