Sam Lewitt

Materialism

Sam Lewitt will be co-leading a seminar with Jenny Jaskey on materialism for graduate students in the Hunter College Department of Art & Art History. He will also select and introduce the next volume of the Pocket Institute book series. Each Pocket Institute contains a single essay that, due to the nature of its initial circulation or the author’s academic or professional discipline, may otherwise be hard to find
or easy to overlook.


Materialism
Professors: Sam Lewitt and Jenny Jaskey
Tuesdays, 7–9:40pm
Students: Amra Causevic, Clara Chapin Hess, Olivia Divecchia, Michael DiPietrantonio, Tom Morrill, Chris Murtha, Jason Rondinelli, Stewart Stout, Maya Yadid

Materialism has meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people throughout the history of thought. Some have claimed the term as an orientation toward matter’s physical constituents as the substantial ground of being. Others see materialism as concerned fundamentally with social relations—how humans produce and reproduce the material requirements of life. Using works of art, literature, film, and critical texts as our guide, this class will examine historical and neo-materialist approaches to art practice and aesthetic theory. Readings will include Karen Barad, Alexander Bogdanov, Christoph Cox, Keller Easterling, Elizabeth Grosz, Hans Haacke, Manuel de Landa, Catherine Malabou, Andreas Malm, Karl Marx, and Alfred Sohn-Rethel, among others.

 

Reading List (updated every week as the class progresses):

Sam Lewitt, “A Questionnaire on Materialisms” in October, No. 155

Christoph Cox, Jenny Jaskey, Suhail Malik, “Introduction” in Realism Materialism Art

Alexander Bogdanov, “What is Materialism” and “Materialism of the Ancient World” in The Philosophy of Living Experience

V.I. Lenin, “A. Bogdanov’s Empirio-Monism” in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism

Keller Easterling, “Introduction” in Extrastatecraft: The Power of infrastructure space

Karl Marx, “A Critique of the German Ideology”

Melanie Gilligan and Marina Vishmidt, “Economic Subjectivities and Crisis”

Karen Barad, “Posthumanist Performativity”

Biography

Sam Lewitt says that historical materialism got him through high school. Karl Marx’s position—that people’s ideas arise from their circumstances, rather than the other way around—also turns out to be a good way to think through your materials as an artist. “Artists,” Lewitt writes, “try to capture materials as they flow through the system: paint, plastic, printers, software, hammers, cameras, gestures, jpegs, words, lists, whatever.” Lewitt’s captured materials may best be described as systems of meaning—archives, mediums of communication, and technologies both cutting-edge and obsolete—as they find physical form. Materiality here is not only stuff (fuel ash, Volkswagen TDI 1.9 engine blocks, ferrofluid), but how that stuff gets framed and interpreted by subjects and institutions, including physical infrastructure. In a recent traveling exhibition, More Heat Than Light, for example, he rerouted the power grid of each of its venues (three kunsthalles and an AirBnb) so that electricity meant for lighting would go towards copper-clad plastic heaters instead. Sam Lewitt’s work has been exhibited at the 57th Venice Biennale; Wattis Institute, San Francisco; Swiss Institute, New York; Kunsthalle Basel; Fridericianum, Kassel; the 2012 Whitney Biennial; Miguel Abreu, New York; and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne, among others.