A Politics of Sensation? Rendering Visible and Active and Reactive Forces in the Work of Elizabeth Price

This paper seeks to address two things. First, this paper will analyze Deleuze’s definition of the work of art as “a being of sensation and nothing else.” Second, this paper will ask whether Deleuze’s theory of art can be conceived in terms of a politics of art and, if so, how? In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari write, “The composite sensation, [art] made up of percepts and affects, deterritorializes the system of opinion that brought together dominant perceptions and affections with a natural, historical and social milieu.” For Deleuze it is always a question of “freeing life wherever it is imprisoned,” of shattering lived perceptions and dominant opinions through blocs of sensation that exceeds the lived. In Negotiations, Deleuze states that “any creative activity has a political aspect and significance.”

As a self-positing compound of percepts and affects, the work of art as a being of sensation breaks with sensation as the effect of an object, or the feeling of a subject and redefines sensation asbeingquabecoming. Here Deleuzeand Guattari redefine art fromthe position of a break with any kind of subject/object philosophy; the work of art is constituted as an exploration of zones of indetermination that go before and beyond lived experience in a process of continual becoming. To explore the implications of Deleuze’s definition of art as a being of sensation, I will return to the question of sensation as it is presented in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of  Judgement. After a consideration of  sensation in terms of common sense(s), recognition, representation, and experience in Deleuze, through Kant, I want to ask if, and how, going before and beyond lived experience and undoing this triple organisation of perceptions, affections, and opinions can be conceived in terms of a politics of art?

Regarding certain art practices Simon O’Sullivan writes, “This turn . . . away from straightforward signifying strategies and away from a certain kind of politics of art might be characterized as a turn (back) to what I would call the aesthetic potential of art . . . art is not politics in the typical—or molar and signifying—sense. It operates under a different logic.” To consider the question of a politics of sensation I will turn to The Woolworths Choir of 1979, a video work by British artist Elizabeth Price. The Woolworths Choir of 1979 operates both aesthetically and conceptually and engages with the social, political, and economic conditions in which it is situated. The focus here will be to address the political force that operates through a primarily affective register—what O’Sullivan might consider its “aesthetic potential.” By isolating elements of Price’s work my aim is to explore where the political force of sensation lies, and how it operates concretely in this work. In doing so I will draw on Stephan Zepke’s term “critical sensation” to consider the political potential of Price’s rendering visible of the multiple active and reactive forces at play within the ideological, institutional, and affective circuits that condition experience.