Feral Objects:  A Proposition for a Speculative Animism

For The Milk of Dreams (Venice Biennale 2022), curator Cecilia Alemani posed a series of questions about the nature of humanity and ensuing future responsibilities, asking ‘what would life look like without us?’ For the British Art Show 9 2021/22, Anne Hardy exhibited her installation Liquid Landscape (2018), in which crushed drinks’ cans and nitrous oxide cannisters, appeared scattered across the floor. These seemingly valueless objects had been cast in concrete and aluminium, their matt grey patina often appearing indistinguishable from their originals. Persistence, (a Venice Biennale collateral event) showed Louise Nevelson’s large-scale sculptures made from multiple wooden offcuts. These leftover scraps and broken domestic objects, sourced from skips and bins, become monumentalised through the processes of sculptural making.

If the feral is that which was once domesticated but has now returned to the wild, then feral objects are the stuff that loiters in forgotten urban spaces, on paths and in alleyways. Discarded objects blown against fences in abandoned parks and derelict playgrounds. Feral objects disrupt of the life cycle of consumerism, questioning notions of value. This session considers potential futures materialised through artworks, reimaging the present as a world populated by things, a place where the sensibility of materials become carriers of potential. Reconsidering Alemani’s question ‘what would life look like without us?’, this proposes a world activated by things, a post-humanist animism.

Session convenors: 

Paula Chambers, Leeds Arts University  

Dawn Woolley, Leeds Arts University 


Claudette Lauzon, PhD, Simon Fraser University  

Drones Gone Wild, and Other Unruly Bodies of War 

 In one of the opening scenes of Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film Interstellar, set in 2067, the protagonist Cooper is driving through a rural landscape with his children when his pickup truck gets a flat tire. Suddenly a drone appears—Cooper identifies it as a solar- powered Indian Air Force drone—and they set about chasing it through cornfields. It never becomes clear why a decommissioned drone is flying over the American mid-west; however, it’s suggested in the narrative that it may have been forgotten in the drawdown after a global resources war and thus left to its own devices, a feral beast flying aimlessly around the world for ten years until Cooper manages to wrangle it with his digital lariat. This paper is largely inspired by this wandering drone, which provokes the question: What happens when drones fly off course? Lose their way? Reject or fail their mission? Specifically, I am interested in art and cultural practices of the past few years that feature drones behaving randomly and unpredictably. How might such art practices—from the likes of Wafaa Bilal, Roman Signer and Laurent Grasso, among others—be understood to inform and complicate mainstream narratives regarding the presumed virtuality and virtuosity of drone warfare? This paper argues that certain contemporary art practices call attention to the fictions that sustain drone technology as a so-called precise, virtual and decorporealized site of military engagement, and challenge these fictions by concretizing the bodies and spaces of war in all its messy, unruly materiality. 

Philip Welding, Leeds Arts University 

Where the wild things art: reframing feral objects with photography  

This paper reflects on the relationship that the photographic image has with the feral object. This idea will be explored through photographs of objects taken for a project called BEINGS. Objects come into being with an intended purpose; a reason to exist. This ‘stuff’ then sloshes around the everyday, like detritus: sometimes being useful (as intended); sometimes just being stuff, divorced from intended purpose and unadorned with another. Is this the lot of the feral object, to have no purpose? Or are they something more potent? In BEINGS, objects and environments are what they appear to be; a cheese pot, a ladder, a piece of laminate flooring, a road. However, they have also been set adrift and transformed. Photography is complicit in the object’s transformation. The photograph sees these objects as something new; makes new relationships between them; monumentalises them. Where these objects collide, they create something new that is without a particular purpose, but which takes on a new sculptural form. Sometimes this occurs through human intervention. Sometimes the objects are arranged specifically for the photograph. In this context of remixing the everyday, some subjects instead sit as-found. Sitting in the glow of their reconfigured counterparts, they are somehow altered by association. They have a sculptural potential radiating beyond their use-function. As objects collected together in a photobook, they are also constituent parts of a larger whole, like the matter from which they are themselves made. This process of objects transforming from ‘things’ into art will be explored with reference to Michel de Certeau’s ‘Practice of Everyday Life’, Heidegger’s ‘Origin of the Work of Art’ and the notion of the readymade.  

Sandrine Welte, Ca‘Foscari Venice  

Acting Earth – Installing Propositions for Alternative Cosmologies in the Venice Biennale 2022  

Two works in this year’s Biennale “The Milk of Dreams“ stand out for their transformative nature. Speaking to all senses, Delcy Morelos‘ Earthly Paradise (2022) and Precious Okoyomon‘s To See the Earth before the End of the World (2022) mark a ceasura in traditional modes of looking at artworks for engaging the beholders as sentient beings. Whereas Delcy Morelos‘ large-scale immersive installation of ‘aromatic earth‘ unfolds around the visitors as an olfactory-haptic experience, Precious Okoyomon plunges the art-loving crowds into the daunting, jungle-like setting of a living sculptural topography that involves plants, rocks and water. Smell and sound blend into an apocalyptic scenario, inviting contemplation on the role of humanity amidst nature taking over. Living in Venice, I had the chance to return to the Arsenale over the course of the past six months, thus witnessing the continuously changing nature of both installations, irrespective of human intervention. In a reversal of roles, the artwork emerges as an actant, writing its own biography. The spectator becomes a temporary addendum, accommodated and hosted by the piece. It is the autonomous artwork, which conceived and interpreted as a living entity, thereby questions human supremacy in an alleged ‘anthropocene‘ while demanding a re-evaluation of non-human agents. As such, both installations offer lenses onto the world that re-posit the rational, Humanist self in favour of alternative cosmologies where agency is conferred to non-human entities. By framing the installations through a New Materialism-approach, light shall be shed on a potential future in recognition of diverse actors. The paradigm of linear ‘human‘ history is thus challenged and overturned, as a voice is lent to the work-as-thing and animated object. Proceeding from this ontological turn, affect studies and phenomenology will furthermore serve as a theoretical grid for inquiring into how art works make themselves ‘felt’ and ’comprehended’ as complex sensual entities rather than inanimate objects. The paper seeks to address this radical shift in ecology and cosmology through the lens of both installations. 

Carole Griffiths, Coventry University 

Art-House, Home of Dis/Content 

The Art House Home of Dis/Content (2022) is a small, curated house filled with sculptural kitchen objects dispersed throughout rooms addressing the ferality of poetic states of domesticity. I use this architectural vessel to identify a familiar ‘thing’ and the ‘functional’ object to readdress our daily lives as, Sheryl Turkle (2007), suggests “we find it familiar to consider objects as useful or aesthetic, necessities or vain indulgences.” The feel and aesthetics of any object are frequently a trigger for something related to domestic experiences. According to Turkle, an object can be used as a “marker of relationship and emotional connection.” Edmund Husserl phenomenological considerations (2012) discusses the use of material within an object as the ‘intentional essence,’ and how it corresponds with the ‘what,’ which can often be referred to as ’identity’. Is this then what gives an object ‘quality’ and ‘consciousness’? A sculptural object’s function can elicit meaning and thus facilitate a contextual exchange. I discuss how sculptural reconfigurations of kitchen utensils create a poetic chaos of gestural and material processes, autobiographic and universal meanings. The intention is to embody a sensory and inclusive response to the performative language of making through functional object inquiry.  Merleau Ponty (2002) talks of the idea of embodiment: “to look at an object is to inhibit it, and from this habitation to grasp all things in terms of the aspect which they present”. Through selecting the kitchen utensils, I reveal surface-level hidden truths; silent acts of frustrated desires and oppression, and in turn question how a domestic theatre emerges through bodily experience. By extruding part- utensil, part -body can we capture revealed moments through an inanimate object? Can domestication become a new form of classification if we see a space that can be ‘homely’ and a place where things happen? Is it these personal observations and reactions that are frequently influenced by rituals within this context? I question these discourses based on object relationships and discuss intimacy, through the re-animated within a new space, and place through making. This presentation highlights awkward encounters of the kitchen utensil through, fragmentation (Prosthesis), and the uncanny anthropomorphic. The metaphorical “kitchen” and the items that make it up show the mismatch between social conditioning and making. I address how domesticity elicits representations of bodily functionality via the active components of a feral utensil and explore ideas of materiality and meaning via the use of language and play. Through the reading of (or an analysis of) the abstraction and re-figuration of functional kitchen utensils in Art-House: Home of Dis/Content reliving acts of interactions of the conscious world through feral encounters, clarifies the complicated nature of incongruous juxtapositions of domesticity and ritual. I emphasis the critical context of how such transformations can cause a kitchen object to become feral by invoking unruly memories. 

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