Notes: Speculative Realism and OOO – a new shift in Art?

In the last issue of Elephant magazine (issue 31, Summer 2017) was an demanding article by Ben Eastham about a new focus in art on objects and materiality in art. After the detour in the ‘virtual’, non-materiality of digital and internet world, ‘things’ and physical objects are considered again as the new contemporary expression.

The author argued that collectors were never really concerned about the past shift from unique physical objects towards less commoditized forms as performance or video. Those always found new innovative ways of selling art.

Fascinating to read that even given instructions for the sequence of light turning on and off by Martin Creed (‘Work No 227: The Lights Going on and Off‘ ) were kept secret and purchased for an ‘undisclosed amount’ in 2013 by Tate. The artwork itself was estimated with a value of around £100.000. Eastham refers further to Graham Harman that even a verbal exchange can be an act of art.

One reason for the new shift towards objects is according to Eastham that art has ‘exhausted the radical, disruptive potential of immateriality’ (p.41). A notion that goes placed the artist into the notion of the modern avant-garde perspective.

Another aspect would be the shift in the anthropo-centrism exceeding the perspective by post-structuralist. A new perspective of acknowledging a world beyond the human being, and animal realms, makes space for a ‘speculative realism’. The post-Kantian philosophy that tries to overcome the relation between thought and being gives space for the so-called OOO, Object-oriented Ontology. A perspective that all things, either physical or fictional, are objects and not merely thought. Digging deeper into the topic of speculative realism gives me a sense of vertigo. Although, it seemed to have a played an influential role on Document 13.

One consequence from that is that the internet as immaterial world is not any longer considered as separate from the real world, it is a so to say a constitutive aspect of the world.  An ‘offline’ moving is happening. And moreover, the nealy invisible world of the internet is based on physical infrastructure. Although often kept as secrect and hidden, as Trevor Paglen explored in his projects.

The conclusion of the author is that the new shift to object and material awareness might be a consequence of the constant de-materialisation of the world. Material commodities disappeared to a great extent from daily life through digitalisation and a continuously independance of wealth from labor. The artistic labor as such might come anew into focus (p.42). And I would add against the artistic exploration of mass media consumption and rejection of artistic efforts as e.g. articulated by Allan McCollum and his ‘Surrogates‘ project.

The author sees the challenging task for contemporary art in the ‘reconciliation of digital and physical spheres’ (p.42)



Quite a topic that I find fascinating as it is not based on a binary perspective, either or etc. The ‘reconciliation’ as Eastham states and embracing a non anthropo-centric perspective seems to me a reasonable, perhaps obvious approach. I always struggled with dualistic thinking in binaries, especially looking at the at times very self-conscious interrogation by some theorists. With language one can make everything beautiful or bad, but with experience and embodied exploration one would for me be more authentic. It is definitely an area that need to get more attention.



  • Creed, M. (2000) Work # 227: The lights going on and off,  [5 seconds on / 5 seconds off], Available from: [accessed 04 July 2017].
  • Eastham, B. (2017) ‘OOO! The Return to Objects’, In: Elephant, Summer 2017 (31)  pp. 40-42.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: