Almost nothing

Observations on precarious practices in contemporary art

This book proposes a new reading of contemporary art between 1958 and 2009 by sketching out a trajectory of ‘precarious’ art practices. Such practices risk being dismissed as ‘almost nothing’ because they look like trash about to be thrown out, because they present objects and events that are so commonplace as to be confused with our ordinary surroundings, or because they are fleeting gestures that vanish into the fabric of everyday life. What is the status of such fragile, nearly invisible, artworks? In what ways do they engage with the precarious modes of existence that have emerged and evolved in the socio-economic context of an increasingly globalised capitalism?

Works discussed in this study range from Allan Kaprow’s assemblages and happenings, Fluxus event scores and Hélio Oiticica’s wearable Parangolé capes in the 1960s, to Thomas Hirschhorn’s sprawling environments and participatory projects, Francis Alÿs’s filmed performances and Gabriel Orozco’s objects and photographs in the 1990s. Significant similarities among these different practices will be drawn out, while crucial shifts will be outlined in the evolution of this trajectory from the early 1960s to the turn of the twenty-first century.

This book will give students and amateurs of contemporary art and culture new insights into the radical specificities of these practices, by situating them within an original set of historical and critical issues. In particular, this study addresses essential questions such as the art object’s ‘dematerialisation’, relations between art and everyday life, including the three fields of work, labour and action first outlined by Hannah Arendt in 1958.

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