Jason Gaiger (Oxford): ‘Parthood and Composition: A Mereological Approach to Installation Art’
With reference to Pierre Huyghe’s Untilled, commissioned for dOCUMENTA(13) in Kassel in 2011-12, this paper examines some of the complex mereological issues that are raised by works of art that have a multiplicity of disparate constituent parts. Although questions of composition and parthood can also be raised in relation to traditional art practices, such as painting and sculpture, artworks that consist of a plurality of dissimilar elements that are spatially and temporally dispersed present some rewarding philosophical challenges if approached in mereological terms. The central problem here is how we are to understand the relationship between the one and the many. What allows us to identify the various elements as parts of something that is ‘whole’ or ‘one’ (ὅλον) as opposed to a mere aggregate or what Aristotle terms a ‘heap’ (σωρóς)? Since this cannot itself be another element of the work, on pain of infinite regress, there must be something else that provides the required unity, but in the case of works of installation art such as Untilled, whose constituents are highly diverse, it is hard to see how an appeal to the concept of form can fulfill this function. By prescinding from origins, at least initially, adopting a mereological approach allows us to ask whether there is an internal ground or principle that unifies the parts into a complex whole and how such a ‘principle of unity’ might be identified.