'If a man has learned to think,' wrote André Breton, 'it hardly matters what he is thinking. At bottom, he is always thinking about his own death'. 1 Breton's comment provides an apt point of entry into my work if we substitute 'making' for 'thinking' here, and discuss 'death' in terms of continuity and fragmentation, the sequence and its abolishment.
To be part of society is to be told, from an early age, about continuity. The nature of language, to make sense, to be judged in terms of truth-value, 2 attempts to explain reality. But, as Asger Jorn notes, 'truth is always composed of several truths that are mutually insoluble, linked in a sort of paradoxical complexity; a complementary system of mutually contradictory truths'. 3
The question I seek to address relates to the balance between order and chaos. The tension between 'the grid and the texture'—an appropriation of Hakim Bey's 'Net' and 'Web' 4 into visual (and musical) formal terms—is the tension between order and chaos, between the human and the machine. The grid is the structure, the container, the potential of a system. The texture fills and sometimes submerges the grid: its behavior and gestures introduce spontaneity within a given and known structure. The texture is the concrete form of an abstract structure or theory.
Net, Web, and counter-Net are all parts of the same whole pattern-complex—they blur into each other at innumerable points . . . Every 'catastrophe' in the Net is a node of power for the Web, the counter-Net. The Net will be damaged by chaos, while the Web may thrive on it . . . Here we have an aesthetics of the borderland between chaos and order, the margin, the area of 'catastrophe' where the breakdown of the system can equal enlightenment. 5
Bey's description of the borderland, a single point where chaos meets order, is seemingly in opposition to Jorn's notion of multiple truths. My tendency is to bring apparent contradictions into dialog, and, where possible, reconciliation. The aesthetic of the expressive need not be in opposition to the geometric and ordered. Jorn's truths, by their very nature, should be able to include Bey's polarization.
Contradictions and ambivalence fill my world. I see in the realization its potential for disappointment; 6 I am both working towards and intimidated by well-articulated attempts; 7 I wish to expand and extend my language, and simultaneously to discard my trust in it; 8 I resist the conditioning of language, while thinking categorically; I fear isolation, and see it as a desired, even essential condition.
This confusion, this muddle of contradictions, is the engine of my curiosity. It feeds a mode of questioning, rather than of arguing or proving. A four sentence piece — [Silence; Is it golden?; If it is - enjoy it; If it is not - listen longer] — by Phil Gebbett, a member of the Scratch Orchestra, is a powerful, simple and poetic short work that challenges both language and continuity. 9
I developed the 'is it' question into a note-taking form, a form evolved mainly in art critiques, which are often attempts to articulate in words what cannot be articulated in words. This 'groping in the dark', searching for appropriate words, is, in addition to the subject it refers to, a linguistic exercise. But Gebbett’s short piece is not reacting, only observing. It advocates only one thing: be attentive and appreciative. It is very interesting how a binary situation can be completely open, not preferring one over the other. Alongside lists of notes in the 'is it' form, Gebbett’s piece informed several typographical explorations I conducted. ↪ Rhythmical Writing, expressive vertical strokes emphasize the rhythm of the writing act, rather than legibility; Terminal Orchestra is a typing chat-based piece for eight performers in which each participant logs into the server and is assigned a role to perform. The roles range from content-oriented to rhythm-oriented and differ in the durations and the intervals' specification level. One role is required to generate specific predetermined content (but in no specific order or duration) through four keys on the keyboard, which are the four parts of Gebbett's piece. The spaces, the formal manifestation of 'silence', are treated as a material, as objects with the same absolute value of 'Truth' like any other material. The piece's characteristic is partially set by the flow, interface and instructions: The rhythm, through spacing, creates order; the random and semi-random inputs are somewhat chaotic. But on top of that, it is a process of learning and constant adjusting, primarily to the other participants. How constructed in advance each part role will be, if at all, is part of the political exercise of group improvisation.
Open form is a term in use mainly in music and refers to a partially determined and open-ended structure. The specific and accurate are less my concern, unless it is accuracy in portraying the chaotic nature of the world.
An example is Intersections, a GPS tool that converts the map into a nodal relative network on a square grid. I wanted the instructions to be as minimal as possible, to give only the next action to be taken. This reduced instruction might be interpreted as punitive, but I see the removal of terrain simulation as generous, in revealing the way the machine ‘sees' the map, unmediated by the approximation of space. The grid is the repressive tool of cartography. In this app, the grid and the reduction opens the structure, resists the absoluteness of the map.
A different type of open structure, and a different visual method, continuing the tension and relation between the human and the machine—to what extent are people free to make choices?—is giving a concrete form to an abstract idea. In ↪ Methodology is a Girl, a remaking of Vogue magazine by a model, the magazine is the structure. The model, going page by page, fills in the grid with her performance, and verbal description for how each pose should be captured or cropped by the camera. The constant adjustments between the model and the camera, and their interaction, create and preserve the tension, allowing for authentic expressiveness and vitality. ↪ Someone Say Something Intimate is a human network model that performs all the possible interactions between the parts in a group of eight people (8bit) through the act of 'cheers', of clinking glasses. The script the actors are following is the binary counting of all the 256 possible combinations. That sets a situation where people described as nodes in a network — algorithms executing code. Perhaps the question shouldn’t be whether they are or not—in the world of ambivalence the answer forever will be yes and no—but rather, where; in what situations or frameworks.
A characteristic of both videos, and a common thread I seek to preserve throughout my work is the quality of a sketch. I see no separation between sketching and execution. They are the same. Every execution is an exercise or a sketch, an attempt to articulate, whether in making, or in speaking. In a sense, the language used to describe a work—the level of verbal articulation the work has opened and allows—is the work. I see the mutual relationship between the idea and the object an endless chain that goes from one to the other and simultaneously moves constantly forward. Any articulation attempt, formal or verbal, is a step towards expanding language and vocabulary, opening up new possibilities.
A substantial, and widely heralded example of open form, minimalism and the infinite sequence, is Earle Brown's December 1952. The piece was originally a sketch for a mobile device. In the end, the single sheet of card stock, what started as a sketch, became the piece. The main concepts in December 1952 are mobility and flexibility:
. . . to have elements exist in space . . . space as an infinitude of directions from an infinitude of points in space . . . the score [being] a picture of this space at one instant, which must always be considered as unreal and/or transitory . . . a performer must set this all in motion (time), which is to say, realize that it is in motion and step into it . . . either sit and let it move or move through it at all speeds. 10
I suggest this flexibility can be understood as a different kind of mobility. The ability, will, or even the impulse to move on, re-form, change, not just in the physical sense, but also as an approach or tendency, as a state of mind of openness.
In Frank Herbert's Dune, a science fiction novel that takes place on a desert planet, in order for Paul and his mother to cross by foot an open area in the deep desert, without attracting the giant sand worms populating the planet, they need to avoid making any noise that will be interpreted as human, avoid creating any noticeable patterns. To achieve that, they need to move in an arrhythmic, non-repetitive way, which is a challenge that grows exponentially. In process terms, it means continuous reinvention. Order (here, a walking rhythm; 'metronome') serves as the reference point for what to resist in order for survive.
In Carlos Castaneda's Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan, The latter suggests a set of principles or tools, in order to navigate through reality. Most of those tools are tedious or nonsense activities designated to distract the mind from trying to find logic for different phenomena and events. Others are more metaphors, or rather concepts, such as to use death as an advisor, which is to act from the notion of limited time. A slightly more elusive concept is 'being inaccessible'. This might has a negative connotation, as accessibility is widely seen as desirable, but this is just symptomatic of the main struggle Castaneda, and the reader, face while trying to understand happenings occur, through language.
Both the ↪ 'arrhythmic movement' metaphor and the concept (or tactic) of inaccessibility are tied to mobility. There is a political overtone that goes back to Bey, relating to navigation through power structures and mechanisms. In the incubator of the creative process, the conflict is internal rather than external, but the essence, the state of mind, is the same in both: the ability to move, or rather leap freely, from one position to another, again, not in the physical sense, but rather consciously; to evade from being easily defined; to be ahead, or to be outside of definition. 11
The conflict between closed (defined) form and open form also calls into question the division of interior and exterior spaces. Separating the outer from the inner implies a third part, the person who experiences the space, and in a sense creates the space. The experience is always an output of the subject experiencing it. Therefore, interiors and exteriors can serve two meanings: an 'external' meaning, of physical space experienced with other beings, and an 'internal' meaning, the subjective, emotional reaction of the individual. 12 In the latter, the buffer between the self and the world outside is the body. An emotionally moving landscape viewed through the car window could be an example of different levels of the blending of the physical and emotional interiors and exteriors. Listening to music is an experience of physical architecture, in relation to the room, and musical structure, which is an 'architecture' in itself.
This blending is tied directly to the continuity of time. Moving through space is, in the usual sense, a linear activity, but our consciousness is involved almost constantly in the past and the future. The former can be subdivided to events that actually occurred, as far as one can know, and events that could have possibly occurred this way, a merging of the past and the future. Simultaneous to the mind wandering back and forth, in the background, or foreground (or in a 'split-screen'), the present is constantly streaming.
The Situationists were extremely aware of the role mobility has, and of the mutual effect physical and emotional spaces have on each other: 'The main emotional drama of life, aside from the perpetual conflict between desire and reality hostile to desire, seems to be the sensation of the passage of time.' 13
↪Geometric Composition no. 1,2 is a projection work that encompasses my entire visual method. The intention was to capture or freeze a memory, flatten multiple planes of a moment perceived in time to become a single image, divided by the geometry of the space. The memory I was trying to capture is the experience of the landscape I viewed on my way back home to see my mother in intensive care when her immune system collapsed, and, two weeks afterwards, on the day she was gone.
The process of creating this piece was a series of inputs and outputs, processing the original space and time experience through different software and interfaces: the capture of the actual landscape with a mobile camera through the car window; the projection of the ride video from multiple sources, into the space; The capture and cropping of the projected space with a DSLR video camera; the projection of the framed capture of the projection in the space back into the space; the capture and framing of the space; the processing and rendering through post production software; and the projection back onto the gallery wall. All hardware and software have different algorithms, different color ranges and profiles, different resolutions, different frame-rates; it is a process of compression, an exhaustion of the original material. Every step consists of loss and re-invention of information. The result, in a somewhat surprising way, and like memory itself, is intangible, lucid and filmic in the colors and the image quality.
The compositions operate on all three physical axes: the gallery walls and the different planes divide the space vertically; the camera's focal point along with the back projection sets the depth and movement in the z axis; the horizon and the flow of the landscape itself sets the horizontal movement, so there is a constant tension between the geometric structure that the architectural space and the framing are forcing, and between the moving image: the complementary relationship between the infinite, chaotic flow, and the attempt to make order within it.
How much can we engage with the world? Where does one locate himself in relation to space, to other people? The elementary properties upon which video, animation and post-production software are based—position, scale and transparency—are the means by which I contemplate this question. Their adjustable value on the timeline is what defines relations over time. The other main method those software are based on is the use of multiple layers. Layers can be added, merged, overlaid. I like to see the world through layers, and often myself as an external, transparent layer; a floating wandering layer; or as Borges puts it, 'an abstract perceiver of the world':
I imagined it infinite, no longer composed of octagonal kiosks and returning paths, but of rivers and provinces and kingdoms . . . I thought of a labyrinth of labyrinths, of one sinuous spreading labyrinth that would encompass the past and the future and in some way involve the stars. Absorbed in these illusory images, I forgot my destiny of one pursued. I felt myself to be, for an unknown period of time, an abstract perceiver of the world. 14
The separation between the self and the external world (through the body) is a product of language. It is impossible to imagine one's relation to the world if this separation were to dissolve. What will this project on laws of gravity, possibilities of moving through time and space, through 'solid' objects and materials; what will it project on one's perception of time, on one's perception of other beings (aka other 'bodies')? The potential of the elimination of this separation, of boundaries, is a terrifying and exciting concept at the same time:
Freedom is a difficult, unknown concept. It is a painful one, yet it is peddled as something beautiful, sweet, reposing . . . Freedom is a destructive concept that involves the absolute elimination of all limits . . . [it] is an idea we must hold in our hearts, but at the same time we need to understand that if we desire it we must be ready to face all the risks that destruction involves, all the risks of destroying the constituted order we are living under. 14
Alfredo Bonanno’s words are clear-eyed, slicing, yet sensitive, compassionate, vibrant and optimistic. Perhaps this is what is needed in order to preserve both the sequence and its abolishment, without being crushed under either one or the other - to be able to keep this tension, to keep it as a tension.
1. Quoted in Michael Almereyda's Chris Marker: Deciphering the Future
2. Speaking in terms of 'truth value' based on Gottlob Frege's essay On Sense and Reference, appears in Translations from the philosophical writings of Gottlob Frege
3. From Asger Jorn's, Against Functionalism, originally was given as a talk at the International Congress of Industrial Design (10th Triennale of Industrial Art, Milan, 1954)
4. From Hakim Bey's TAZ on the Net and the Web: "...the Net [...] can be defined as the totality of all information and communication transfer. Some of these transfers are privileged and limited to various elites, which gives the Net a hierarchic aspect. Other transactions are open to all—so the Net has a horizontal or non-hierarchic aspect as well. Military and Intelligence data are restricted, as are banking and currency information and the like. But for the most part the telephone, the postal system, public data banks, etc. are accessible to everyone and anyone. Thus within the Net there has begun to emerge a shadowy sort of counter-Net, which we will call the Web (as if the Net were a fishing-net and the Web were spider-webs woven through the interstices and broken sections of the Net). Generally we'll use the term Web to refer to the alternate horizontal open structure of info- exchange, the non-hierarchic network, and reserve the term counter-Net to indicate clandestine illegal and rebellious use of the Web, including actual data-piracy and other forms of leeching off the Net itself."
5. Hakim Bey, TAZ
6. This tension exists all the time and everywhere, whenever there is a thought to be translated to action, whether it is in a piece of music, within a romantic relationship, or in broader context of society. In a speech from 1996 that later received the name 'The Anarchist Tension', Alfredo Bonanno said, as an answer to a common critique about the effectiveness of anarchism as a governing system: "...anarchism is a tension, not a realization...". Noam Chomski often talks about "anarchism as a tendency" (Online source: The Kind of Anarchism I Believe in, and What's Wrong with Libertarians), a tendency to constantly put the existing systems and power structures in question. I favor the idea and the possibility of realization; in the realization itself, however, the action, including the failure, is the key to move forward: "So we continually need to maintain a relationship between this tension towards something absolutely other, the unthinkable, the unsayable, a dimension we must realize without very well knowing how to, and the daily experience of the things we can and do, do. A precise relationship of change, of transformation."
7. From Karel Martens' Printed Matter, p.195: "For me, fluency is not necessarily better than hesitating. As I already mentioned before, a form can hide an idea, is able to overwhelm the idea. In some ways it is an authority, representing the content. The same happens with words. look at politics. Slick words usually represent slick ideas. For that reason, for me, the word and the form need to be honest and not more beautiful than necessary. So, again the form needs to give access to the content instead of veiling it. It should express something from the content. Content is never completely perfect, and the package also needs to express that. Because of that, imperfection and/or complexity is more believable to me than perfection or an exaggerated simplicity. Easy talk seldom represents interesting thoughts. Just as you should be alert to fluent speaking, so you have to be alert to slick design. A long time ago in the Netherlands there was a radio reporter who stuttered. You might say such a guy can do everything except be a radio reporter, but he was unbelievably convincing. Messages can be convincing, and sometimes more than that, even when they are not perfectly performed."
8. Correspond with the statement: "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world" from Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The Tractatus (Treatise) is an indexed sequence of statements (consisting of 7 main thesis statements and elaborations in the form of sub statements) attempting to present and solve the relation of logic, language and science.
9. Scratch Orchestra was an experimental ensemble group of musicians, performers and visual artists in late 60s London, formed by Cornelius Cardew, Michael Parsons and Howard Skempton. On another note, Cardew was influenced by Wittgenstein, and Gebbet's piece, which can be seen as a concise statement on the nature of existence, starts where Wittgenstein concluded his multiple statements Tractatus Logico-Phillosophicus: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."
10. From Earle Brown "Prefatory Note," Folio and 4 Systems
11. The idea of be ahead of definition is borrowed as well from Hakim Bey's TAZ
12. See 'ambiance' and the concept of 'Unitary Urbanism' in Situationists theory.
13. From Guy Debord's Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency's Conditions of Organization and Action as translated by Ken Knabb in Situationist International anthology
14. Jorge Luis Borges, The Garden of Forking Paths
15. Alfredo M. Bonanno, The Anarchist Tension
Almereyda, Michael. Chris Marker: Deciphering the Future, Film Comment. May/Jun2003, Vol. 39 Issue 3, p2. 1/2p.
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Bey, Hakim. T.A.Z. : the temporary autonomous zone, ontological anarchy, poetic terrorism. Brooklyn, NY : Autonomedia, 2003.
Bonanno, Alfredo M. The Anarchist Tension. Trans. Jean Weir. Elephant Editions, London, 1998.
Borges, Jorge Luis. Fictions. New York : A.A. Knopf, 1993.
Brown, Earle. "Prefatory Note," Folio and 4 Systems. New York: Associated Music Publishers, 1961.
Cardew, Cornelius. Scratch Music. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, 1974.
Castaneda, Carlos. Journey to Ixtlan: the lessons of Don Juan. New York : Simon and Schuster, 1972.
Frege, Gottlob. Translations from the philosophical writings of Gottlob Frege, (Edited by Peter Geach and Max Black). Oxford: Blackwell, 1966.
The Joy of learning. Dir. Jean-Luc Godard. New York Film Annex, 1968. Videovhs.
Herbert, Frank. Dune. London : New English Library, 1985.
Knabb, Ken. Situationist International Anthology. Berkeley, CA : Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006.
Martens, Karel. Printed matter \ Drukwerk; (edited by Robin Kinross, Jaap van Triest & Karel Martens). London : Hyphen Press, 2010.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, (Trans. C.K. Ogden), New York, Harcourt, Brace & Company, inc.; London, K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & co., ltd., 1922.