In 1960, Belgian artist Rene Magritte painted La Corde Sensible. In the background is a natural landscape, characterised by mountains and by a river. At the front is a champagne glass topped by a cloud. It prompts questions: does the cloud have its own weight? Is the glass mediating between the liquid state of the river and the gaseous state of the cloud? A few years later in 1972, the Viennese group Haus-Rucker-Co depicted a similar provocative scenario in ‘Big Piano’. In place of a champagne glass, a ladder with many steps – each with a different sound – reaches towards a cloud, which is a site of immersion and the loss of orientation.
These two examples, along with other artistic manifestations from the same period, reveal the rise of an aesthetic sensibility, which for the first time, questioned traditional physical and perceptual boundaries seemingly fixed by tradition, pursuing a sort of material evanescence. They illustrate a process of formal and conceptual dematerialisation. Generally, one may say that, from the second half of the twentieth century, the discipline of aesthetics experienced a radical change: shifting away from semantic or hermeneutic interpretations back to its original meaning: aesthetics as aisthesis, the ancient Greek word for perception. This implied a rediscovery of the body, the rehabilitation of the senses, and a renewed interest in phenomenology.