Political Affect and Becoming-Child: The Case of Marlene Dumas

Marlene Dumas is a prominent artist of our times whose work, consisting largely of figures and portraits of minority subjects, such as people of colour, women, and children, has been characterised as both emotional and political. In this paper I would like to examine Dumas’s work through the lenses of Deleuzian theory, by making use of the latter’s affective dimension.

Specifically I would like to analyse two paintings produced during the period around Dumas’s own pregnancy, Helena and The Baby, as materialising processes of becoming- child, and examine the latter under the light of contemporary theories on the political significance of affect. Combining Deleuze’s non-human, machinic agency and becoming as affective imperceptible process with the idea of “ugly feelings” as indicators of obstructed agency, I would like to explore how the above artworks contribute in new ways of sensing, perceiving, and intervening in the world.

Abstracting the world from elements of signification and meaning, Deleuze and Guattari reveal the latter as an interplay between affective functions and relations of movement and rest, speed and slowness. Children, according to them, can act as mediums carrying us away towards worlds of affects and intensities, leading us to liberating minoritarian processes, namely becomings, potentially guiding us from child-becomings to becomings that are molecular and ultimately imperceptible.

Following Deleuze’s view on aesthetics as creation of experience rather than representation and perceiving the children depicted in Dumas not as subjects or molar entities, but as powerful affective sites where vulnerability and defiance become assembled, I would like to consider her works as providing us with new ambivalent models and ways of sensing and encountering states of dependency, weakness, and need. By shedding light on the emotional weight of dependency, Dumas permits us to perceive the unavoidable state of relationality, that we are already immersed into, and therefore creates an affective political base for the deconstruction of subjective models built around the concept of personal sovereignty and of social models centrally relying upon the value of individualism. On the other hand, creating a space of child-becomings opens up a potential for a politics of care.

Moreover, Dumas’s works offer a new perspective on the importance of minor negative emotions as potential liberating forces revealing cases where the power to act is obstructed or taken away altogether.  The  immersive  figures  of  the  above  paintings, by expressing emotions of irritation, hostility, mistrust, and subtle anger as possible reactions to power subordination, affirm the effectiveness of radical passivity and create states of in-betweenness where the meaning of what is considered socially productive emotion becomes transformed.

Ultimately by bringing to the fore the child’s subtle and complex affective power, Dumas puts the viewer in a process sweeping away the poles of  the adult–child distinction in a zone of indiscernibility that transforms both, liberating them from the tyranny of measuring themselves in relation to the universal, majoritarian ideal of subjectivity. Ultimately by destabilising our conceptions about the passivity–action polarization and producing new ways of affective interaction, Dumas is potentially altering dominant conceptions of what constitutes socio-political agency.

A Life as an Open Landscape. Systems of Codetermination in Three Robotic Shows

Combining A. Naess’s vision of “ecospheric belonging” and Guattari’s concept of an “ecosophy” as a science set “to create new systems of valorisaion, a new taste for life . . . ,” this paper looks at a string of robotic shows by SRL from the late 1970s. These shows uniformly address the possibility of relating to an environment and the question of artefactual autonomy but at the same time critique these very same notions. Whereas they spell out the very problem of being “alive” and constituting an “organism,” they also attest to a certain level of participation that reveals a radical exposure to a world’s ontological vulnerability. The robotic performances remain indifferent to any rhetoric that engages in the imposition of levels of being. We have not so much alliances of beings different “in nature” but an incessant exercise in co-determinative practices. The robotic shows put on display infra-subjective ways of co-alignment between heterogeneous systems in inviting us to think of the possibility of an eco-philosophical body across the continuum of what is nominally known as the “living” and the “non-living.” Within this scenario, it is no longer the organism that determines the formation of a biome but the responsive potential of a given entity (or non-entity).

The conceptual core of this argument encompasses (1) a shift from ontological scenarios that favour actuality to ones favouring ontologies of the virtual, and (2) a shift from forms of artistic production designated as “artwork” toward forms that are “onto-ecological”— that is, amalgams of philosophical, political, and ontological features that carry within themselves an ethics of sustainability. The “ecology of the virtual” speaks to an infra-bodily and infra-human level of analysis that operates across individuals nominally present as “human” and “artefactual.” In being so, it accounts for pre-personal ways of partaking in  a world. Here Guattari puts forward an ontological proposition to bring forth reformed notions of ethics, aesthetics, and politics that ultimately fuse into a concept of an artwork as an ecological space of radical exposure. Robotic performance puts on display exactly one such space that allows us to begin refiguring the concept of “artefact” positively and inclusively. Here an “ecology of the virtual” works as a responsive system that reverses the distinctions (in degrees of being) made within an already constituted world and prompts us to think “between natures.” The concept allows us to reach toward an ontological region that can be perceived as matter-forming, allowing for a co-habitation of nominally incongruent worlds.

Within this shift, what we habitually call “an artefact” and “a human” undergoes dispersal. Hereby the possibility of positing an entity or a non-entity is thought in terms of a radical attunement. Bodies are conceptualised in terms of their capacities to generate co- determinative responsive systems that do not seek to bypass their constitutive ecological vulnerability. The ecology and aesthetics of the virtual similarly speak to a level of analysis that operates across beings to evoke infra-individual ways. Here Guattari’s ecosophy prompts us to turn to the generative force of the arts to envision modes of being and non- being maximally open toward the virtual as a region of ongoing ontological constitution.

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.

The Struggle Hears and Plays All That We Forget Is Still Happening

Deeply moved by the recent social movements of strikes against austerity that have troubled the quietude of Quebec’s society, we desire to explore the affective territories opened by these recent struggles.

If art is a “capture of forces” (Deleuze 2002), music can be understood as a way to make heard the sound of events, their vibrational materiality. Music: a mode of thought in its own right that allows reflections of the sonic dimension of actuality but that also creates new virtual, incorporeal universes (Guattari 2013). Our proposition asks, How can music express the sound of politics, the ambiance of the different manifestations of power, and the sonic dimensions of particular political struggles? Such refraction of loss and endless potential is, as Guattari insists, art in its instinctual procession—a procession that invites a variety of subjectivities, including those closely located in human, musical, and environmental spatialities. Sound can in some ways be thought of as a dark precursor of political dynamics—harmonic nodes vibrating from the rebirth already present in the birth of the common. The countless subjectivities in social movements express themselves sonically, with music tracing feeling’s material repetitions, dramatising its arc, playing on and between its overt over-concreteness, thereby displaying the potentialities of an unclear, subconscious process against the authority of “a clear subject” (Guattari 2000). The sound of politics is in the echo of its undeniable materiality, in the decay where its materiality is modulated: not in the front-page headline but in the ink that bleeds through from an edition that was never printed.

We propose a collective experimentation that aims to hear, think, and create around the sound of the strike movements, their refrains, their rhythms, their resonances, in an attempt to share the intensity of the evanescent common that occurred. Our performance will consist of improvisatory co-compositions utilising guitars, a cello, amplifiers, a projector, voice, and sound alteration technologies. The focus on the sonic texture being composed will be maintained by slowly increasing the presence of darkness in the room as well as designing visual projections that function more as negative space than as visual objects. Paying attention to these tools, to their non-beginning, prehuman locations, we are interested in improvising with movement, repetition, language (French and English, performatively) and sonic reformulations of the immanent physical space of the conference. We seek modes of research-creation that stretch sound and sound-capture between a political event’s many non-happenings and its leftover insistent scar of “one thing having happened.”


Deleuze, Gilles. 2002. Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. 2nd ed. Paris: Editions du Seuil.

Guattari, Félix. 2000. Three Ecologies. Translated by Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton. London: Athlone Press.

—. 2013. Schizoanalytic Cartographies. Translated by Andrew Goffey. London: Bloomsbury.