Article: Perceptual Abstraction


My recent article in The Senses and Society on shared affective strategies in the work of bass-drone mysterio Eleh and Op artist Bridget Riley.

Paul Jasen, “A Transversal Lineage: Perceptual Abstraction from Eleh to Op Art,” The Senses and Society 9(1) (March 2014), pp. 16-32.

Abstract: This article proposes the term “perceptual abstraction” to describe the methods of artists who take bodily contingency as their medium. It focuses on the low-frequency drone work of an anonymous figure called Eleh. Like others in the Minimalist tradition, Eleh follows a processual ethic that begins from a minimum of structural elements and asks how they might reshape one another over time. What sets Eleh apart, however, is its singular focus on frequencies within, and sometimes beyond, the lowest reaches of human hearing. These tones play strangely on the sensorium because they can evade cochlear audition even while haunting other registers. This is bass as an agent of bodily mystification, and in Eleh’s hands it becomes a sonic strategy for modulating felt space and fleshy thought. If Eleh diverges from most Minimalists in these ways, then liner notes and cover art point to another, more like-minded body of work. Might Op(tical) Art – with its interest in “charging fields” and rhythmically unraveling retinal perception – share at least as much with Eleh, at the level of affective strategy? If so, could we posit an alternate, transversal lineage of artistic practices defined not by form or tradition, but by a desire to confound perception, by whatever aesthetic and sensory routes?