The Artwork as Assemblage. New Materialist Perspectives on Aesthetics


  • Hauke Ohls University Duisburg-Essen


Palabras clave:

Assemblage, New Materialism, Non-Human Agency, Installation, Aesthetics


To analyse an artwork using the philosophical theory of the assemblage is to expand one’s view of how artworks can be interpreted. In the various and often wildly differing concepts of new materialism, the assemblage acts as a way of describing the agency of matter in general. Following Deleuze and Guattari, who provided various definitions of the assemblage, the new materialist perspectives emphasize, for example, the active linking of heterogeneous parts and a dynamic conjunction of semi-autonomous formations that articulate new affiliations of entities and discourses.

In this essay, Xinhao Cheng’s multimedia installation The Naming of a River, 2014 to 2018, is described as an assemblage, thereby significantly widening how it is interpreted as the artwork. Cheng describes the manifolds of time-space-dimensions in his simultaneously scientific and deeply personal artistic research project on the Panlong River.

In the context of an assembled assemblage theory, formed by combining new materialist perspectives, The Naming of a River can be thought of as existing in an innumerable manifold of different versions. With each new connection made, the entire artwork changes completely. The relations exist not only between the material artefacts of the installation and the artist, but also between the institution, the recipients, and the river. The artwork is a self-productive setting that transcends spaces and times, an interpretation derived from approaches by Manuel DeLanda and Karen Barad. In this process, our understanding of what an artwork can be is significantly challenged.

Biografía del autor/a

Hauke Ohls, University Duisburg-Essen

Hauke Ohls, PhD, is Research Assistant at the Chair of Modern and Contemporary Art History/Art Science at the Institute of Art and Art Science at the University of Duisburg-Essen. His research focuses on theoretical, sociological, and philosophical questions of modern and contemporary art, especially political-ecological aesthetics, discourses on object, materiality and image as well as the relationship between art, economy, and neo-liberalism. Further emphases include the interface between art and music, writings by artists, media art, and transcultural art history. His dissertation was awarded the "Dies Academicus Award 2022" of the University of Duisburg-Essen. Since 2013 he has worked as an assistant to the artist Mary Bauermeister and since 2017 he has been appointed to compile her catalog raisonné.