Immaterial Matter

In Barbara Bolt, Felicity Colman, Graham Jones & Ashley Woodward (eds.), Sensorium: Aesthetics, Art, Life. Cambridge Scholars Press (2007)

Ashley Woodward
Dundee University
This chapter explores Lyotard’s aesthetics in relation to the artist Yves Klein. Through the different activities of philosophy and art, Lyotard and Klein both explore the nature of sensibilité through an investigation of matter. Both paradoxically conclude that matter is in a sense immaterial. Lyotard understands matter as that part of an artwork which is diverse, unstable, and evanescent: in music, this corresponds to nuance and timbre, and in painting, to colour. Following Kant’s aesthetics, Lyotard interprets matter as that which defies conceptual grasp or rational calculation. From the point of view of the concept, then, matter appears as immaterial – it is nothing at all. Klein develops his meditation on matter firstly through his monochrome “propositions,” calling attention to pure colour (in particular, blue), which he theorises as stabilisations of energy. Beyond this, Klein invents “immaterial” works, such as the famous Void exhibition (an empty room in a gallery), and his Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility. Klein understands these immaterial works as presenting matter in its “prime state,” as energy diffused in space. This chapter develops the confluences between Lyotard’s and Klein’s reflections on “immaterial matter,” and seeks to show how the results achieved in each area of activity (philosophy and art) can contribute to the other. Lyotard’s aesthetic theory provides the basis for a new interpretation of Klein which provides an alternative to his common reception as a Conceptual artist. Klein’s work, on the other hand, not only acts as a profound example of Lyotard’s theory, but functions as a corrective to Lyotard’s emphasis on the negative and privative nature of sensitivity to matter by demonstrating the creative and life-affirmative potential of such sensitivity.
Keywords Lyotard  Yves Klein
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