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Article

How Does an Aesthetic Object Happen? Emergence, Disappearance, Multiplicity

Cultural Sociology. 2018. Vol. 12. No. 4. P. 478-498.

Studying visual and plastic arts, social researchers tend to assume that an aesthetic object is pre-given to a viewer who does not participate in the process of the object’s becoming. They problematise the aesthetic status of an artwork, but not its objectness. This paper shows that audience perception, considered as interaction and situated practice, does not merely define the meanings and emotions attached to a certain object, but plays a constitutive role in the objects’ physical state and its very existence as an object, i.e. as an integrated unity extracted from its surroundings and affording a direct, intensive encounter. Synthesizing the conceptual resources of Hennion’s pragmatics of taste, Simmel’s aesthetic theory, gestalt theory, and social phenomenology, I explain various ways whereby an object in the situation of perception happens and achieves a certain mode of existence or fails to happen and disappears. The paper is based on three empirical examples derived from the ethnographic study of the open-air land art/architectural festival ‘Archstoyanie’. The first case illustrates how an object is extracted from the environment and the festival’s infrastructure; the second, how the visitors destroy the incomplete boundaries of an object so that it dissolves into the surroundings; and the third, how an object maintains its integrity despite its inner complexity and multiple centres attracting the visitors’ attention.