The Autopoiesis of Colour in the Age of Machinic Shine


This paper will argue that the enduring mystery of colour has led to a scientific muddle, a linguistic aporia and an unspoken prejudice against chromatic excessiveness. Just in case it should be overwhelming in its elemental effusiveness colour is restricted by good taste that equates cultural maturity with a limited palette. Yet colour continues to break free of its constraints, it bursts out of the earth and sky in an audacious display of autopoiesis, tempting artists to reveal its power. The science of colour based on image, mimesis, physiology of the eye and individual subjectivity has somehow missed the phenomenon of colour altogether. Colour rather than being seen and calculated, shines out, shimmers and reveals a world in much the same way that thinking does. This new understanding of what colour ‘is’ is exemplified by shifts in emphasis from the colour wheel in its rationality, to the colour chart in its availability, to the LED pixel in its machinic shimmering intensity.


The ontology of colour and the phenomenon of shine stand apart and are incommensurate with the science of light, the psychology of seeing and the subject of vision. Understood phenomenologically colour makes things manifest by revealing them in their unique presence rather than merely facilitating communication, representation or spectacle. Before colour is seen, before colour can be looked at, colour looks at the painter, the media artist, the web browser in such a way that looking and seeing are provoked.  In its ordinariness colour is captured and quantified by the grasp of scientific technical rationality. In its extraordinariness colour demands a certain attentiveness, a responsive lingering on the edge of the visible and invisible.


Using Thierry de Duve, David Batchelor and Martin Heidegger it will be shown that these ways of being with colour are enabled by a formal evolution in painting whereby expanded painting addresses everything in the everyday world that carries colour from data screens to plastic utensils and even paint. Expanded Painting, unlike painting, no longer addresses an audience directly, instead it addresses a non-human respondent, the medium of painting itself.  By analogy, the medium of painting however deconstructed or expanded, has become the entity to ‘whom’ the work of colour is addressed.