A Withdrawing Vital Material


Taking the plight of the British honeybee as a point of departure, this article considers the coded implications, organic materiality, and medium-specificity of honey by firstly looking to selected early artworks that have treated it metonymically or allegorically, and then to a number of modern and contemporary practices that indicate a shift towards its own ontology and ‘sculptural’ qualities with regards to ethics and ‘green aesthetics’. From Piero di Cosimo’s The Discovery of Honey by Bacchus (ca. 1510) to Joseph Beuys’s Honey Pump at the Workplace (1977) and beyond, art historical humanism is juxtaposed with current theories pertaining to ‘ecology without Nature’; that is, by also considering the philosophical post-humanism of Timothy Morton, Jane Bennett and others, the disciplines of art history and ecology are brought into closer proximity to conceptualize (in)tangible acts of cross-pollination. If ‘vital materiality’ consists of a fusion of objects with subjects, but equivocally their mutual dissolution, then the environments and conduits for this ‘new materialism’ are many and varied. The text lends meticulous attention to a particular human-animal paradigm so as to test a broader relationality (or political ecology) among what Bruno Latour would refer to as everyday ‘actants’.

A Withdrawing Vital Material


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