Forum Lectures #14: Fernando Domínguez Rubio

The Unnatural Ecologies of Modern Art

Mechanical Lungs. Photo: Fernando Domínguez Rubio

A museum is not a collection of objects but a collection of slowly unfolding disasters. Despite the spectacle of stillness and permanence that the museum offers, every single art object that we encounter in its rooms is slowly inching toward its own disappearance, becoming undone, heaving, cracking, oxidizing, and breaking apart. The purpose of this talk is to explore the unnatural ecologies that need to be engineered and sustained to keep art objects alive and “imaginable” as such. This exploration will take us into the vast, and yet largely uncharted, geography of spaces that the museum hides beyond the exhibition room—like conservation lab, the storage facility, or the machine room—, and follow some of the actors and forms of labor that populate those spaces and who have been left out of the main narratives of art because they have been considered to be without political, aesthetic, or historical value. By delving into these unnatural ecologies, the talk will reveal the massive economic, environmental costs required to preserve art objects alive, and raise the question of how far we, as a society, are willing go, how much material and economic resources, time, and labor we are willing to invest, in the name of keeping the modern imagination of art alive.

About Fernando Domínguez Rubio

Fernando Domínguez Rubio (PhD Sociology, U. Cambridge, 2008) is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego. His recent book, Still Life: Ecologies of the Modern Imagination at the Art Museum (University of Chicago Press, 2020), was the 2021 Winner of Mary Douglas Prize, awarded by the Culture Section of the American Sociological Association, the 2021 Winner of the Annual Book Award of the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present (ASAP)’s book prize and received and Honorary Mention for the 2021 Robert K. Merton Award, awarded by the Science, Technology and Society section of the American Sociological Association. He has also written numerous articles on material culture, art, and urban infrastructures. Additionally, he is the co-editor of The Politics of Knowledge (Routledge 2012) and is currently working on a number of projects, including an edited volume with Jérôme Denis and David Pontille entitled Fragilities: Essays On The Politics, Ethics And Aesthetics Of Maintenance And Repair (MIT Press, forthcoming), and an experimental volume based on the Encounters at the Edge series that he has co-curated with the anthropologist Marisol de la Cadena, the architect Uriel Fogué and the artists Orkan Telhan.

Forum Lectures

Forum Lectures is a series of lectures by Danish and international thinkers and cultural workers reflecting on how art co-forms communality. Forum Lectures brings thinking and shared study back to the university and invites for public lectures the last Tuesday every month at 17:00 - 19:00. Please note, that the Forum Lecture with Fernando Domínguez Rubio will begin at 19:00.

The initiative is hosted by the research group of the New Carlsberg Foundation research center Art as Forum. Our researchers are occupied by a.o. the infrastructures of the arts, collective modes of production, the entanglement of political theory and aesthetic theory, assembling strategies of curation, dematerialized art, acts of strategic separatism and temporality in digital art.

The lecture is for free and open for everyone interested.