Kharchenko & Practical Transcendence
(published 26. March 2011)
The Young-Hegelian ideologists, in spite of their allegedly “world-shattering” statements, are the staunchest conservatives.
The most recent of them have found the correct expression for their activity when they declare they are only fighting against “phrases”. They forget, however, that to these phrases they themselves are only opposing other phrases, and that they are in no way combating the real existing world when they are merely combating the phrases of this world. The only results which this philosophic criticism could achieve were a few (and at that thoroughly one-sided) elucidations of Christianity from the point of view of religious history and all the rest of their assertions are only further embellishments of their claim to have furnished, in these unimportant elucidations, discoveries of universal importance.
It has not occurred to any one of these philosophers to inquire into the connection of German philosophy with German reality, the relation of their criticism to their own material surroundings.
— The Illusions of German Ideology, 1845
Marx opposes idealism and materialism from his opening statement. But what happens when materialism readopts so-called “transcendence”? What about when the starting place consists in the physical and the intended cognitive breakthrough returns one instantly to the physical? Does this posit a return to a lesser, earthly life, i.e. that of the Kierkegaardian Knight of Faith? Or, in contrast, what of transcendence as a naturalized process, from start thoroughly to end?
This account speaks to the work of 24-year-old Russian-German painter Yury Kharchenko. To his mind, artwork ought to be philosophical. Too clearly, this runs the bottomless risk of ideology: art as the platform for a phantom world of symbolic representation. Artwork would play out a life of the mind and, even more, a triumph of the mind that Kharchenko calls transcendence. This enlightenment departs away from a material grounding in paint thickness and pigment, in objective designs and the striving of human craft. Yet intriguingly, Kharchenko’s ardor withdraws at just the hint of “abstract” philosophy. He sees his artistic choices only through the lens of “concrete” philosophy. From this vantage, one ought not expound “to his mind,” but instead that exactly to his eye, artwork ought to be philosophical.
This unexpectedly resists the fight against phrases, resists what Marx faults as the view that our self-conceptions build our restrictions. But the sudden alternative does not, in defiance, turn away from the conceptual pursuit of transcending. This strain of concrete art philosophy all the more consciously pursues transcending. Yet its terrain can be founded as man’s activity and man’s attempt at a seemingly philosophic grasp of it. The scope of the concrete then implicates a constant relation to material surroundings. Material thickness, visible layering, and suggestions of perspective forge the physical reality of Kharchenko’s work. These facets demonstrate productive doing. That he views his works as partly inspired by spirituality buffers against art as “elucidations” of Christianity.
Nevertheless, a problem arises of spectator subjectivity. Namely, intuiting momentarily the physical properties and emotional directives of a work differs categorically from shaping and impressing them with one’s own hands: the role of seer is necessarily passive in relation to that of maker. However, the starting point of an individual confronting the concrete work coheres with Marx’s preferred hermeneutic. “In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. That is to say, we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh.” The individual who addresses the artwork effects his own activity, turning himself into a person who thinks deeper about the design before him or walks away. “We set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process.”
26 March, 2011