academia Cultural Turns InTheory

The Arts of Air

Steven Connor addressed The Arts of Air at a talk in 2007 at Art Basel. As an introduction, he references Ruskin and the view that everything delightful comes from life, earth and air. Rust means life, and polished perfection means death.

Absolute Air

In conceptual art, art refuses to be reduced to the fixed object, or mistaken for that one object. Art has always struggled with the enchantment of objects, when often process is preferred. Duchamp’s Air de Paris, 1919, presents air as the art object. This gesture establishes immateriality as material. Air is not a readymade, but rather a ready to hand emblem of unmaking.

Homage to Duchamp’s Air de Paris

 No object embodies arts desire to have done with objects more than air.’ – Connor

…If air is nothing, and art aspires to identify with that… then art is nothing… and can therefore be anything. Right?

Art does consist of nothing in particular. Everything else is miserably final and particular. Similarly, air embodies a multitude of traces, but no single state of being. Impression without presence. Only outerness.

The desire of the unattainable.

Neil Mulholland talks about the creation of ‘living gestures rather than museological landfill’, in his Notes on Ambient Art.


The fixed is limiting. I’ve been looking at works by Robert Barry who wants to make minimal impact on his surroundings. It is important to remember that the invisible is not the inexistent.

Object Air

‘Let us recall what we are sure we know about objects…’

Objects are dead/fixed/permanent

Objects have no relation to each other

Objects are not free to change nature

Objects are for our use

Objects stay the same, for that use

Objects are needed by subjects

Objects are what we know

… ‘All this is mistaken.’

Air is, in essence, an object. It is errored to think otherwise. Objects are finite but not final. They are not immune to relations. Air is needed for objects and objects guide activity and allow us to move beyond ourselves.

Rubber Duck, 2009

Conner turns to the subject of inflatable art. I found this an unexpected direction. I didn’t expect the article to detail such literal interpretations of Air Art. However the comical and impermanent nature of the inflatable obviously relevant. From Deller’s Sacrilege to Floretijn Hoffman’s giant Rubber Duck, the delicate form of the inflatable is intriguing as an example of the transitory object.

Air is not an ideal image for art, but an object for it to work on. Air, then, is not immateriality.


I’ve said ‘Air’ too much. I need to go do something…

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