Agency and affect are themes that need to be examined, questioned, and analysed with the possibility of having a variety of definitions and explanations. The notion of affect, which could also be argued to be considered as a theory, a methodology, or possibly a paradigm (Li, 2015) has been studied and expanded for quite a while now. Alongside the idea of emotion, it has also been a popular topic of investigation amongst sociologists and social theorists. Although, affect is generally understood as emotion and a ‘motivating force’ (Wrigley, 2016) in sociology - the combination of affect, emotionality, with agency has received increased attention; still Agency as a concept has a lot more ambiguity to it (Maxwell and Aggleton, 2014) and is interpreted differently.
One of the most intriguing and persuasive explanations of agency and affect is expanded in Intention, the 7th chapter of her book Travelling Concepts in the Humanities: A Rough Guide (2002). The author, Mieke Bal uses Caravaggio’s Narcissus painting and Jeannette Christensen’s Tiden lager alle sår (1996) installation as examples to contrast the concept of dynamic tradition with agency and narrativity. Bal argues that the traditional way of interpreting an artist’s work, either by reading an interpretation of philosophers and art historians such as Hubert Damisch (Bal, 2002), or solely by focusing on speculating the artist’s intentions, interjects with the artistic agency in the current time.
Tiden lager alle sår (1996) (Time makes all wounds) was an installation where the artist displayed gelatin (Jell-O) covered benches to voice the expression of 'killing time' ambiguously. Bal, explains that Christensen’s installation, had formed an ‘abandon’ without intention as without the artist’s anticipation the initially gorgeous and glossy installation had started to decay, decompose and rot over time. This had created a narrative between the work and the viewer, confirming the agency of the installation and its ability to create meaning (Grimaldi, 2012). It affected the visitor’s engagement and emotions with the piece as their experience shifted from touching and poking the installation to feel disgusted and repulsion. The reason why we know this is because we are exposed to documented photographs, newspaper articles, and reviews – all interpretations. If this installation had been displayed hundreds of years ago, we would not have the means to know whether the mould was intentional or not (Bal, 2002). Which is the point Bal makes with comparing the installation to the overly discussed and examined naked knee in Caravaggio’s Narcissus, which she believes is most likely a result of over-cleaning (Langdon, 2000).