Silence, Power and Climate Change - 3D virtual exhibtion by g.bustamantek

Silence, Power and Climate Change

Wed, 07/31/2019 to Fri, 01/31/2020


Since Materialism was rescued by movements such as New Materialism, address the relationship between political theory and images has become essential. In order to do this, we are developing a project in which we join concepts and images relevant in political theory, such as gender and matter, with the production of images and their reinterpretation using the theory of Bildakt and the theory of New Materialism.
In relation to silence, for example, how do we see this problem from an initial and theoretical point of view?

Since Thomas Hobbes posed the conception of modern state as an artificial person created through words, which bring into existence and provide a body to that which would otherwise lack it (modern state, in this case), modern political theory has failed to consider the possibilities of generating power that silent matter has. Such absence of consideration might result from a deficit, the misunderstanding of its strength in terms of both social resistance and the generation of freedom (Hobbes shall indicate that civil liberty consists in acting upon the silence of the Law).

The word and the strength of rhetoric shall appear as creators strengthening reality, while silence shall be emptiness, a non-word, a non-sound. The latter part of that statement is still surprising because silence has played a central role in challenging authority, the same authority that stems from words and exercersizes its power through them. In that sense, silence, would be essentially an anti-power expressing a moment of freedom for those who are subject to the power of others.

That deficit in political theory has not existed in art or literature. Both of them have nourished political theory. The question that arises is why that artistic-literary dimension (that of silence) has not been considered by political theory.

It might be possible to uphold that, in political history, silence would be equivalent to a horror vacui, in which word and sound are assumed to be an expression of the “being” embodying the creative capacity of the sovereign (may that be a mortal or mythological god). That is the reason why Leviathan’s image is that of a Mortal God grotesquely expressing through people the denial of emptiness. This would be a denial of power: if this new mortal god is pure power and the entire social artificiality is owed to him as a possibility, his representation must reflect it. However, from a linguistic point of view, its main feature would be its capacity to create through the word. The word prevents the emptiness generated by silent social anarchy; an an-arché that is neither linguistically nor symbolically ruled, and consequently causes the exacerbation of freedom in relation to its ruler. In this sense, silence would be anti-sovereign.

Modern political theory takes language and the use of images corresponding to religious tradition. The latter, already present in Renaissance thinkers, will intensify with Hobbes, where biblical imagery converges syncretically with the hermetic tradition. In this tradition, there is a hermetic god who is capable of acquiring human form through the use of the word, gathering all demons in his body to guarantee the peace of animal-humans.

Our hypothesis is that the aforementioned disregard for silence in political theory has been marked by an understanding of action as something eminently linguistic and anthropocentric. Conversely, other Humanities might have been more open to understanding non-animal and non-living agency, in which the conveyance of meaning would not be linked to active linguistic communication. If so, we believe that the convergence of bildakt and the new current of New Materialism (Bennett et al.) makes room for the consideration of silence as a component of political action. This would be relevant, since it would contribute to a new understanding of action realized by matter and its relevance in its multiple forms, seen from a perspective of power generation in society.

Since J.L. Austin’s classical work (1962) regarding “speech acts,” some progress has been made in the understanding of images as “image acts,” (in relation to Bildakts by Horst Bredekamp, 2010). Images and language are both considered as creators of reality as opposed to reproducers of something that already exists. Images have been essential for the understanding of both politics and social order. They have played a part in the consolidation of political order as well as in challenging a standardized understanding of power. Regarding consolidation, we only need to consider the famous cover of Leviathan by Hobbes, symbolizing the new emergent power of State. In relation to the criticism of power, from Bizancio’s iconoclastics to the ‘60s counterculture, challenging the image of what is accepted as a means of domination has been a key element in social transformation. Therefore, the battle related to the positioning of image has been extremely relevant in the struggle for power. As signaled by Bredekamp, from Ulmer Verein and the latter works of Martin Warnke, Klaus Herding, and Franz-Joachim Verspohln, passing through Alfred Gell’s works and even the latest contributions by Sabine Marienberg and Marion Lauschke, among others, art history has reset to a history of social struggle. This work aims to explore the convergence of the New Materialism theory on materiality and image theory, so as to explain the absence of matter as a political actor, and of silence, both as image and as sound. Images could be a form of expression of silence by means of non-anthropologized matter.

From a theoretical perspective, as signalled by Bredekamp himself, Bildakt was originally linked to emancipating theories in social sciences, such as those by Wolfgang Abendroth and Heinz Maus. Meanwhile, the New Materialism project by authors such as Bennett, Frost, Barad, and Coole, among others, radicalizes Foucault’s idea (present in Butler as well) on the extension of contemporary power to control over bodies and biology, and the possibility of resistance to that power by that same matter. To do this, we would need a theoretical investigation depicting that power corporeality and the possibility of resisting it by forms that are not subsumed in its categories. If art is, (in the sense of Greco-Latin tradition) Ars, this would be an appropriate means to explore the potentiality of misfits: certain forms of matter and silence.

This is an ongoing project in which silence is addressed as a means of resistance against the power that has been exercised in the sphere of human agency in relation to both gender and non-human and non-animal entities. This first exploratory presentation deals with the problem of Laguna de Aculeo.

Laguna de Aculeo is a lagoon located 70 km away from Santiago de Chile. For many years, this lagoon was a famous tourist attraction. However, it is now completely dry due to the overexploitation of water resources and a severe drought caused by climate change. This is the place where the photos were taken.
The text accompanying the photos was written by Gonzalo Bustamante, a Philosophy professor at the Adolfo Ibañez University School of Government.
This work is part of Gonzalo's artistic-theoretical project, in which Teresa Aninat is participating as a visual artist, together with Karen Petz, the coordinator and organizer of the project.


-Bustamante G. Phronetic Science: A Nietzschean Moment? .Journal of Political Power (Routledge). Version online: 10 June 2016. Print: Journal
Journal of Political Power , Volume 9, 2016
-Bustamante G. Machiavelli: Die Philosophie der Animalität als Freiheit als Nichtbeherrschung, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie. 2017. /(forthcoming, 2020, vol II).

selected works

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