edited by Cornelia Sollfrank, Felix Stalder, and Shusha Niederberger. Diaphanes (distributed by The University of Chicago Press), May 2021. 256 p. ill. ISBN 9783035803457 (pbk.), $30.00.

Reviewed September 2021
Jaime Groetsema, Technical Services, Archives and Special Collections Manager, Allen Ginsberg Library & Naropa University Archives, jgroetsema@naropa.edu

sollfrankThe Aesthetics of the Commons is an ambitious and timely collection of essays that would find a relevant home in many library collections. Though the book may come from the seemingly simple project of “relating two broad frameworks with one another”— “the commons” and “aesthetics” — the range of essays written in response to this effort is impressive and wide-ranging.

The editors and authors of these texts ask readers to reimagine “the commons,” generally considered shared public lands, as instead that of a collective, digital space with shared systems, those that are in turn built upon methods of experimentation, transdisciplinarity, and embodied art making. Many of the lenses of this book work against institutional, normative, and hierarchical forms and attempt to move beyond the confines of typical digital systems by asking what it means to work with or make digital objects.

The resource-laden introduction alone could be an important reading for art students that engage with political and digital art making practices or those studying critical theory, while many of the essays, like Olga Goriunova’s “Uploading our Libraries,” Judith Siegmund’s “Which ‘Aesthetics of the Commons’?” and Christoph Brunner’s “Concatenated Commons and Operational Aesthetics” deal specifically with libraries and archives as sites of knowledge that either produce or fracture. These inferences could prove insightful for librarians and archivists working with digital tools, digital art, and digital record keeping.

Other essays like Jeremy Gilbert’s “The Commons, the Public, and the Aesthetics of Solidarity,” Daphne Dragona’s “Commoning the commons,” and Ines Kleesattel’s “Situated Aesthetics for Relational Critique” view the collective and democratic possibilities of the commons through larger ecological and social material and connectivity, in which the artist plays a crucial role in questioning and interpreting the purpose of the commons.

Yet, as Dragona puts it, “... the different approaches mentioned are not understood as categorizations. They do not exclude each other; on the contrary, they complement each other and to an extent overlap.” What comes out of this collaborative book are multivalent approaches to art making in a heavily digital and mediated era. With these somewhat imposed structures, artists, as always, find ways to question, enhance, and remake the material world around them, and so ensuring at the same time the commons is maintained as a space of freedom from the profundity of negative forces that seek to categorize, monopolize, objectify, and curtail the possibilities of the creative spirit and the production of culture. This book is a much-needed reference for thinking through the commons and modes for which new forms of art making can occur.

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