Book review: Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari by Simon O’Sullivan

Photo from Ola Stahl

It’s the greatest artists (rather than the populist artists) who invoke a people, and find they ‘lack a people’… Artists can only invoke a people, their need for one goes to the very heart of what they’re doing, it’s not their job to create one, and they can’t: Art is resistance: it resists death, slavery, infamy, shame. But a people can’t worry about art. How is a people created, it’s through its own resources, but in a way that links up something in art… or links up art to what is lacked. – Gilles Deleuze

If you woke up this morning and said to yourself, “I need some post-structuralism in my life,” then this is the book for you (ok, one of many books…). In Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation, author Simon O’Sullivan tries to reinterpret the philosophical (and political/scientific) ideas of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in terms of the visual arts. Deleuze and Guattari were in fact rather conservative when it came to their direct views on art, but O’Sullivan manipulates some of their key concepts– the rhizome and the minor history, to name a couple– towards artistic ends. The emphasis in this book is very utopian:  art is supposed to be about the collective whole, which therefore makes the creation of art a political act. For art to challenge and liberate us, it needs to break with the dominant norm.

Art Encounters seems to be a very personal project for O’Sullivan, who reveals some of his own personal background (i.e. his growing disenchantment with the directly art-related ideas of Derrida, Lacan, and other philosophical-art historical greats) to set the stage for how he uses Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas to reinterpret modern and contemporary art. Indeed, he outright says that the book is an exploration of different art encounters he has experienced.  It is a fairly easy read– as easy as post-structuralism can get outside of Hennessy Youngman’s interpretation— and he is very thorough in explaining the original concepts and his interpretations.  Continue reading