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The “Disappointing Object:” A Challenge to Dominant Epistemologies Through the Art of Jimmie Durham


In the writing that follows, I argue that the artistic oeuvre of Jimmie Durham constitutes a critique of dominant epistemological worldviews. This project approaches Durham’s writing and artwork using dedicated sections as lenses through which to analyze and interpret his visual and linguistic output. The individual sections cite sociological and historical sources such as Michel Foucault, Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer; anthropological sources that address materials such as stone, dirt and debris, including Mary Douglas, Tim Ingold, Leslie Marmon Silko and Nurit-Bird David; art historical sources such as Laura Mulvey and Rosalind Krauss; literary/philosophical sources that discuss intimacy with objects and materials of interest to Durham, namely the writing of Roger Caillois and Francis Ponge on stones; as well as sources discussing colonial encounters with differing cosmological ordering systems and methods of engaging with materials––namely those material operations categorized as “fetishes”–– supported by the scholarship of Peter Pels and William Pietz. Though the sources are mainly used to address Durham’s work through sections, the sources themselves cross over categories or disciplines, and are therefore deployed throughout. This weaving together of scholarship aims at addressing Durham as a complex artistic producer who functions within the elite establishment of the art world while simultaneously critiquing dominant modes of structuring knowledge and aesthetic production. Durham’s sculptures and writing foreground the human manipulation of language and material as a central stage for negotiation with what is deemed correct, developed, or logical material use–– further investigating the human tendency to place nature and culture in dichotomous positions. The stone, as an object, is thus launched as an agent of critique.

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