Do objects care?

This week’s article for discussion, Indifferent Objects by Laura McLean-Ferris which appeared in Art Monthly about eight months ago, is about the art world’s recent obsession with objects and what objects are thinking about this (not a lot, it seems).

Lots of arty thought expressed in here

Lots of arty thought expressed in here

Compared to the last article we had to read, this one was much easier to understand so there won’t be much of a vocabulary list here.

This article looks at the ‘object turn’ in art which refers to the fascination in objects for many contemporary artists. These artists are using objects as material (Joana Vasconcelos), depicting objects in unusual settings to make them interesting (Judith Hopf) or trying to convey a message through a relevant, unusual or contentious object (Henrik Olesen).

Can you see what this is made from?

Can you see what this is made from?

The article gives specific examples of artists who have used objects to highlight moments of historic or political change or to channel some sort of historical message. One such example given is an installation by artist Danh Vo who acquired three chandeliers from the ballroom of the Hotel Majestic where the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973, an act which symbolized the end of the Vietnam War. He either hung these chandeliers in galleries of dismantled them to use the pieces as a metaphor for the shattered bodies of that war.

A symbolic chandelier

A symbolic chandelier

Other artists who have used objects in their art include Henrik Olesen who used an image of the poisoned apple that Alan Turing ate when he committed suicide after going through ‘conversion therapy’ for homosexuality in a piece of art.

The use of objects in this way in art is a very powerful way to highlight an issue or tell a story.

The one phrase in the article that I did need to research was Object Oriented Ontology, or OOO to those who know what it means. Object Oriented Ontology, a term coined by Graham Harman, is a branch of philosophical thought that, in contrast to Kant’s notion of human consciousness being at the centre of everything, states that there is no relationship between objects and consciousness. It puts modern philosophical thought back into the realms of the real. I prod therefore you are. Objects rather than being the product of thought, exist independently of thought. They are all equally valid and they are all equally valuable. Everything can be thought of as an object, even me writing this now. Perception is irrelevant. The world is composed of objects and they are all the same.

My shirt is as valid as the Crown Jewels

Graham’s shirt is as valuable in the world as the Crown Jewels

This kind of makes sense to me. Of course objects exist and of course objectively they all have equal value. However, I prefer the philosophical thinking, which is related to OOO, of the Speculative Realists. These people believe that the world exceeds what we can know about it and it is that excess, or that strangeness, that we should explore and highlight.

Is that what these artists are doing? Are they looking at the unknowable about objects or highlighting that aspect of them that we connect to issues, events or emotions or aspects of our lives today? Or are they just trying to understand them?

At the end of the article, McLean-Ferris asks: despite the ‘object turn’ in art of recent years, do the objects care? Or is it that they are just unable to care?


Jackson, R. (2011), ‘The Anxiousness of Objects and Artworks: Michael Fried, Object Oriented Ontology and Aesthetic Absorption’, Speculations, (II), pp. 135–168

McLean-Ferris, L. (2013) ‘Indifferent Objects’, Art Monthly, 368, July–August

Object Oriented Objects on Wikipedia. Available from: [last accessed 29 April 2014]

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