Essentialism and the Haecceities Series

The series of artworks called the Haecceities series began when I started to think about the limits of Abstraction in art. This meant identifying what is required to have a work of art once things that are not so required are eliminated. Because artworks must be produced as items that are meant to be recognized as art, this includes understanding what is necessary to apprehend as well as to make a work of art. This is a complex task for philosophy. Once these things are understood, the artistic problem is to determine whether or not they might be used creatively and, if so, how. What is required of even the most minimal artwork is stated in Subjects and Objects and considered more particularly in relation to art in Haecceities: Essentialism, Identity, and Abstraction. How these requirements can be used artistically is demonstrated in various ways in the works of the Haecceities series. Since the things that are necessary to producing the more reductive artworks possible are essential to that production, I call what I am doing ‘Essentialist Abstraction,’ or just ‘Essentialism.’ The Essentialist enterprise includes investigating the possibilities of what I call ‘radical identity,’ and it turns out that the more Abstract artworks possible have deviant identities, artistically and sometimes logically. Examples of such works can be seen in the Haecceities series. (On the notion of radical identity see Haecceities: Essentialism, Identity, and Abstraction.)

The indispensable artistic act is singling something out. Nothing is a work of art – no matter how Abstract or radical – that is not singled out in some way as something that the work is to be understood to be. What is singled out is an object, using the term ‘object’ in the widest possible sense, so that everything of every kind of thing is an object, and whether or not it exists or can exist. Accordingly, for any artwork there must be some thing, some object or entity of some kind, that the work is meant to be. (See the video On Haecceities: Essentialism and the Limits of Abstraction.) What is key, for Essentialism, is that something is an object if it can be an object of thought or have an understandable relation to thought. It is also important to recognize that every object has a particular identity that everything else lacks. This is true for any artwork of any kind of artwork. The exploration of identity in relation to the necessary conditions of making and apprehending works of art results in Abstract works of radical identity.

It must be possible to understand the intended identity of a work of art even when it is not possible to see, hear, or otherwise experience what the work is intended to be. Apprehension of any artwork’s identity depends on a public perceptual object. An artist must then produce a perceptual object(s) in or through which the intended identity of an artwork can be apprehended. And anyone wishing to understand that intended identity must attend to that object. This state of affairs is true even for a work of art that is not meant to be any perceptual object on which comprehension of its identity relies. Consciousness of such a perceptual object creates an ‘artistic complex’ that includes that consciousness and that object and that has certain essential elements. (See Subjects and Objects and Haecceities: Essentialism, Identity, and Abstraction.)

It is possible to investigate how to address, as they are utilized, essential elements of an artistic complex to produce a work of art, and to do so as that production is indexed to, or depends on, elements of an artistic complex in or through which the identity of the work is made comprehensible. The relation of an Essentialist artwork to the elements of an artistic complex on which it depends can be implicit or explicit, or some elements may be used explicitly and others implicitly. Because apprehending the identity of any artwork will be a constituent of an artistic complex that includes the essential elements of such a complex, no artwork can be more reductive or radical than one that employs such constituents in the determination of its identity. In particular, it is interesting to experiment with how to link the determination of an artwork’s identity to the act of understanding the identity to be determined. It should be noted that radical reduction is not equivalent to simplicity, and so an Essentialist work can be complex – both perceptually and conceptually.

Given the nature of the Essentialist investigation, one must use language to construct and exhibit the limits of Abstraction in art and to determine the possibilities of radical identity. This is recognized in Subjects and Objects, and carefully considered in Haecceities: Essentialism, Identity, and Abstraction. Language that is used to single something out with which all or part of an artwork is meant to be identified I call a ‘specification.’ The language specifies what all or part of the work is to be understood to be. Nothing is an Essentialist artwork apart from understanding such language. Looking alone is insufficient to comprehend identity.

What is specified will be logically particular, and so will be this thing and not another. The term ‘haecceity’ pertains to thisness, and an object’s haecceity is the property that it has of being that particular object. Accordingly, I call each specification that I have written to identify a limit of Abstraction, and to establish a kind of radical identity, a Haecceity. (The term is capitalized and italicized to distinguish it from the word as it is used normally or philosophically, and so outside of the context of the Haecceities series as a group of particular works of art.) Collectively these specifications constitute the Haecceities series. (See the video On the Haecceities Series.) Haecceities is then the title of a book pertaining to Essentialist artworks, and the specifications on which the more radical and Abstract artworks depend are themselves called Haecceities.

For reasons given in Subjects and Objects, and examined in Haecceities: Essentialism, Identity, and Abstraction, language that is used in an effort to determine a limit of Abstraction and a kind of radical identity must be visual. One reason for this is that visual language used in the service of Essentialism has an intellectual and aesthetic power that auditory language would lack were one to attempt to put it to the same use. However, using visual language in two-dimensional space presents problems to which I refer as the problems of number, distribution, figure and ground, and asymmetry. (See On the Haecceities Series.) All of these problems can be solved at once for linear specifications by using an algorithm that I created for distributing tokens of a specification in either two or four sets of correlated pairs of matrices that differ from one another according to the spatial orientation of the language that they contain. The same set of problems appears for circular language, but can also be solved for such language in ways exhibited in circular works of the series.

One can get an idea of how language is used in the service of Essentialism – both circular language and linear language in matrices – by viewing the images in the sequences of the series. It should be noted, however, that such things as the size(s) of the type used in a particular work; the size and complexity of a work’s matrices or circles; the screening of type in some works; and subtle differences of white in papers used in works, make photographing the perceptual objects of Essentialism extremely difficult. Accordingly, one must see the originals to understand and appreciate fully how these entities figure both conceptually and aesthetically in Essentialist Abstraction.

Jeffrey Strayer, 2019.