Wednesday, March 31, 2010

午後遅くに称名寺薪能の記憶、– Memories of a Late Afternoon Performance

The functional system, which constitutes the Noh theater, the traditional theater of Japan is nomadological in the deepest sense in the way it harmonizes or structures its many elements to achieve a ‘performance’ made up of discrete units of music, dance, architecture, costume, and literature. It is structural insofar as it is the product of the relations of its parts. It is different from other forms of drama not by virtue of emphasis on one element or the next, for instance the ostensibly actor driven modern theater, or dance in a ballet or musical production, but in its dynamism. Most other forms of drama are more or less determined before they even begin, usually by an artistic and executive team and are thus more classically geometric. The structure of Noh however is determined internally, that is not from anybody directing the performance from outside, but from within the world of Nohgaku 能楽 itself, in the same way a piece of improvised jazz emerges from the collaboration of musicians.

Artistic decisions occur on the stage. The intricacy or inner tension that exists between these manifolds or elements of music/acting/time-space is what creates the dynamic and excitement of the individual performance (Komparu, 8)[i]. In the physical space of Noh, all the performers, including the musicians, occupy the same level of the stage. The Noh stage also partakes of the ritual and cultural space of the audience and surrounding environ, especially in the case of Takigi Noh 薪能, which is performed outdoors in torch light. In the case of Takigi Noh we may go as far to say that the cicadas vibrating and the leaves motion on a hot spring afternoon are also-or can be included in the greater melieu depending on our awareness and other affects. The experience of Noh opens up a space, a phenomenal continuity and places us within it. The space is not an “ambient (flat) Euclidian space or, in Weyl’s words, an (infinite) ‘residential flat’ (flat is a fitting pun here), where (phenomenally) geometric figures or (physically) material things are put.”[ii](Plotnitsky, 8) In early times, the Noh Butai was also the worship pavilion of the Buddhist and Shinto shrines, a loci for the intersection of all kinds of communal forces, where the inner and outer worlds broke down; or what Deleuze calls ‘any space whatever’.

Perhaps it is best put in the words of Kunio Komparu: “The noh stage, as a space of complete openness where a shared experience occurs, permits no separation of self and other, however momentary, by the intrusion of “enclosedness.”(Komaparu, 111) How similar this is to Deleuze’s idea of a “decentered and divergent” harmony (Komparu, 11) This divergent harmony is at the heart of Noh music as well and describes the subtle lines of flight of its discrete elements. While Komparu’s chapter the Music of Noh is well worth a read, I will try my best to attempt to summarize it here and try to point to its phenomenal implications. The music of noh also exists within the gaps or as Komparu calls it ma, which roughly translated means blank, time or opening (you can think of space as well). Like many Japanese words its meaning is ambivalent and relies on ambient context. Words and Kanji or Chinese script are believed to have a pulse, hence the art of Shodo, calligraphy and carry their own spirit or energy. The different musical parts of Noh are simple. It is primarily rhythmic music, with eight beats constituting a single unit, or what we in North America think of as measure. In our terms one quarter-note full beat actually corresponds to 1/8 note of sounds and 1/8 note of silence, respectively the down and upbeats or positive and negative time. Each measure begins on the upbeat, the silence which links the musical units together.

Not only does it connect the beats of the percussion, but ma allows for other divergent sounds to rush into the space of the piece, cascade into the void like a torrent flowing from the mountains creating exhilarating effects. The human soul is touched by the infinite and becomes a part of the composition. In a rather simple manner it opens up a space and creates a kind of composition that is more sophisticated than a simple piece of music. The Kake-goe かけ声 expresses this infinite and irrational or subconscious possibility. Kakegoe are vocables or meaningless words that are called out in between beats. In the spaces without Kakegoe one still anticipates. It has in that sense the characteristic of inflection described by Bernard Cache: “Preceding the vector, inflection makes of each of the points a possible extremum in relation to its inverse: virtual maxima and minima. In this way, inflection represents a totality of possibilities, as well as an openness, a receptiveness or anticipation.”[iii] And this is why it is significant to understand that what happens in Nohgaku is only half the performance. The other half if we can even summarize it is all that does not happen exerting a peculiar kind of virtuality.

Here are some videos for further interest...

[i] Komparu, Kunio. The Noh Theater: Principles and Perspectives. Warren, Conn.: Floating World, 2005. Print.

[ii] Plotnitsky, Arkady. "Manifolds: On the Concept of Space in Riemann and Deleuze." Virtual Mathematics (UK). Print.

[iii] Cache, Bernard, and Michael Speaks. Earth Moves: the Furnishing of Territories. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 1995. Print.

Kiki Smith

For me what make life and art interesting are the smooth and the striated. The inherent tensions, conflicts, opposites, pain, pleasure, pristine beauty and savage ugliness are what create the life force in the world and in art. Deleuze states, “ what interests us in operations of striation and smoothing are precisely the passages or combinations: how forces at work within space continually striate it, and how in the course of its striation it develops other forces and emits new smooth spaces.” Life and art cannot have the smooth without the striated; both experiences are born out of each other.

The work of the artist Kiki Smith greatly interests me and engages this contradictory process of smooth and striated. KiKi Smith is an American Feminist artist. Her work is imbued with political significance and embodies the conflicting images and metaphors of women living in today’s world. Kiki transports the female experience in her work by playing with a disturbing sense of integrity within the human body while revealing all of the awe and mystery of what it means to be a woman. An example of this is her depiction of the human body in her art: she will use handmade-paper or paper mache juxtaposed with truly visceral representations of flowing menstrual blood, dangling fetuses or placentas. Kiki Smith creates tension within the mind of the observer by engaging the smooth, (the delicate paper) with the striated (menstrual blood and placentas).

I think that what makes any work of art interesting is the engagement of the cognitive responses: combining the charged visceral aspects of a piece with the contemplative, overall theme or through line. To me this concept embodies the smooth and the striated.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Intervention At the Armory Show

This year's Armory Show, much like previous years', was organized around a particular, limited domain of consumption and transaction. Its invitation and admission procedures strategically classified attendants into two groups: VIPs (collectors, patrons, and professionals), and the general public. As the Armory Show focuses largely on connecting galleries with collectors, both the schedule and the physical layout of the event are organized to identify each party and facilitate their interactions. To this end, the show starts off with a series of VIP functions establishing the event with community and asserting their preferred status. Each day then begins with a period of "private" viewing, maintaining this relation. The location itself, a giant warehouse, is not organized by artist, region, or curatorial process but by gallery, each restricted to a fairly uniform stall, dozens deep across several columns, creating the sense of a bazaar or farmers' market.

After the private viewings, the general public is admitted for a range of fees including "student" and "group". Thousands of visitors each day are allowed the same opportunities to consume the show and its contents much as if they were attending the MoMA. Particular to the Armory show, however, is the spectacle of its palpably active economy. The vast majority of attendees will not directly participate in a sale or see any explicit signs of a purchase. However, they are visitors to a moment of exposure of the contemporary art market, voyeuristic conductors in the field of socially, culturally, and economically competitive fervor.

Individuals roamed casually through the space in groups of two or three, pausing momentarily to take in a piece or a fellow attendee, often seemingly overwhelmed by the sheer volume available to consume. Amidst this multilayered, ethereal orgy of consumption and transaction, a tall woman appeared in full body paint, wearing only a thong. A crowd immediately formed around her, observing, interacting. Those who had been drifting, guided moment to moment by their overloaded span of attention, quickly diverted, forming a focused, attentive cluster like ants to a sugar cube. Of course, she was immediately approached by an employee of the show and interrogated. "Are you exhibiting?" he asked. "Well, look at me." "Are you an exhibitor?" "Well, I'm here." After a short discussion, she was clothed to just the other side of legal decency and escorted out. The cluster of spectators chattered on for a bit but quickly dispersed back into smaller groups, pursuing their previous patterns.

— Brian Johnson

Monday, March 29, 2010

Speed and Politics & The Smooth and The Striated

In this post I wanted to discuss a paragraph on page 480 in The Smooth and the Striated where Deleuze references Paul Virilio’s writings. He uses this moment to briefly detail the smooth and the striated as related to power. The smooth is not a haven from what Deleuze calls “diabolical powers of organization,” mostly referencing military and authoritarian powers. In Speed and Politics, (which is the text Deleuze is referencing) Virilio outlines his concept of “dromology” whereby political speed is diverted, harnessed, or otherwise plotted out by institutions of power. His ideas are well complimented by, and become clearer in relation to Deleuze’s. The striation of the smooth or the reimparting of the smooth on top of striated can be seen throughout Speed and Politics as techniques of power. For a practical example, Virilio describes the reimpartation of smooth space on the battlefield created by the armored car. Once the battlefield had become so rigidly striated with the embedding of fronts, bombardments and dugouts, within the already striated topology of the area, which contained tactical coordinates like the high ground and cover, war came to a stand still. The armored car’s introduction onto this space neutralized the borders made by landscape and by tactics allowing for a new, smooth, form of war. As Virilio writes on page 56, “The war of attrition had, from lack of space, spread out into Time; duration was survival. All-terrain (or rather sans-terrain) assault extends war over an earth that disappears, crushed under the infinity of possible trajectories.”

Kafka envisions these same processes in The Trial and The Castle. In The Trial Kafka’s main character, Joseph K, is assailed by a smooth power which cannot be combated since it cannot be defined. K does not know who is charging him or why he is being charged. Although the general form of a trial can be made out, it is spread out and amorphous in location and form. K cannot refute a claim which is not defined. On the other hand, we could look at the Barnabas’ father in The Castle, who attempts to petition for forgiveness from the authorities at the castle. These attempts are consistently turned away or redirected since there is no offending instance on the books. The punishment enacted upon the family exists within a smooth space that the striated space of bureaucratic power can easily deny even exists. Power’s use of both the smooth and the striated are essential to our readings of the terms, and to Deleuze’s handling of them. Our relationship with power (or more aptly its relationship with us) is inherently striating, even when employing the smooth, in that power seeks to define our relations. By turning to the smooth we turn away from power, even if the smooth is then striated by the mobile power following in our wake, or by us in an attempt to construct alternative power structures and/or simply a secure space of our own.

-Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa

Response to "Smooth and Striated" by D&G (Scientific Concepts, Metaphors and Ontology)

I find it intriguing that chapter 14 of A Thousand Plateaus, Smooth and Striated, is organized in the form of a comparative analysis of a number of binaries. Each of the binaries presumably has roughly the same relationship between its members as the one in the Smooth and Striated pair. In their analysis, Deleuze and Guattari one by one examine the oppositions of felt and fabric, sea/desert/steppe and city, Eucledian and Riemann space, nomadic and sedentary lifestyle, optic and haptic vision, etc. The common and most important thing about all of these pairs is that their members are opposed to each other with respect to their structure, or their spatial and/or temporal organization: while one of the pair is amorphous the other is organized, while one is fixed and ordered the other is in a continuos flux, etc. As with other books by Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus is a complex text which invites many different interpretations and which perhaps provides more questions than answers. Naturally, I have my own set of questions. I wonder what motivates the authors to seek (and to find!) the smooth/striated dualities in different fields of human activity - from painting and music to mathematics and physics. How are such connections being made? Apparently, they are identified through analogy, or structural resemblance. But what would be the purpose of make such connections? It could be for the sake of creating a conceptual or cognitive metaphor, i.e., for facilitating understanding of a certain idea through other ideas from different conceptual domains, such as the scientific domain (so that the opposition of smooth/striated is explicated through the comparison with the opposition of Eucledian/Riemann).

However, in a different context Deleuze seems to insist that his use of scientific concepts is not for the sake of a metaphor: "Of course, we realize the dangers of citing scientific propositions outside their own sphere. It is the danger of arbitrary metaphor or of forced application. But perhaps these dangers are averted if we restrict ourselves to taking from scientific operators a particular conceptualizable character which itself refers to non-scientific areas, and converges with science without applying it or making it a metaphor" [Time-Image, 1989: 129].

It follows from the above that the purpose of comparing different binaries for Deleuze and Guattari is to extract from them certain idea or relationship that is operating in each singular case. If I understand Deleuze's project correctly, his overarching goal is to identify the constitutive forces that underlie the existing reality, or the plane of immanence. Different human activities, philosophy, sciences and arts, are brought into existence by these forces and at the same time reveal the forces through their respective tools: philosophical concepts, scientific "functions" and artistic percepts and affects (e.g., basic bodily forces, "the desire to sleep, to vomit, to turn over, to remain seated as long as possible" revealed in Bacon's paintings, or the "unheard-of force of a sunflower seed" exposed by Van Gogh).

If the meaning of the smooth/striated binaries in A Thousand Plateaus is to identify the smoothing/striating force, I wonder what is the Deleuze's (and Guattari's) onthological position with respect to such force(s). Do they exist in reality independent of human knowledge and understanding? Is this the nature of the universe? Or do such forces exist only in human perception and understanding? Are they mental constructs (just as concepts and scientific functions are) that we create in order to understand the reality, perhaps instinctively, responding to a biological need for producing thought similar to spider's need to produce a web? [Cf. Nietzshe On truth]. Finally, I am interested in the author's tendency to assign value to one or the other member of the opposition. Although it is rarely stated explicitely, the discussion seems to favor the smooth member in each pair (e.g., nomadic space vs. sedenatry space, etc.) in a certain complex balance of immanent ethics. The authors apparently lean toward the chaotic impulse of the smooth and nomadic, which overturns the striated and fixed space and produces new degrees of freedom and new possibilities of creation. But the new possibilities of creation lead to the new orders of striation as is the nature of rhythmic forces, and it seems pointless to favor only one part of the innately dual rhythm which is ever bound to transform into its opposite.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thoughts on Bernard Cache's Earth Moves

Beginning his text announcing that "architectural images seem to be a good starting point" (2) for distinguishing between and navigating around the myriad visual elements that are present in our daily lives, Bernard Cache continues his text with an exploration of the philosophical and formal nature of architecture. But delegating the text to this definition - assigning Earth Moves the category of a "formal and philosophical study of architecture" - would be far too limiting, for he indeed discusses a great deal more than just forms and thought. Architecture is indeed inherently about forms and shapes, and is therefore also about geometry and mathematical interests. Cache discusses the city of Lausanne, a Swiss city located near the shores of Lake Geneva. The topography of the city has been profiled by filmmakers like Godard, who in a short film about Lausanne describes the city to have a visual problem or inconsistency that is to him Cezannian in nature - broad, disconnected spaces that make navigating the terrain problematic.

Cache chooses to profile the city of Lausanne due to its unique topography and geography that somehow dictated the construction of roads, buildings, works of art, and so on. However, Cache goes on to remind us that "in no case does the identity of a site preexist, for it is always the outcome of a construction" (15). For Cache, no destination has a predetermined future or path along which it necessarily will or must follow, an assertion that should strike a familiar chord with readers of Deleuze: one of the French philosopher's key concepts is a subscription to process ontology, which privileges being as becoming, as transformation, as constant change. Gilles Deleuze tends to prioritize difference over identity, a concept that is almost directly paraphrased in Cache's affirmation that once a being is defined or once a place has a definition, it is no longer capable of evolution. Remembering Todd May's definition of Deleuze's main question "how might one live?", Cache's own question regarding the development of architectural projects on a topographic space could possibly be summed up as "how might this space be altered?"

After attending class and discussing, albeit briefly, Cache's text and its significance to the world of critical architectural theory and Cache's relationship to Deleuze (they were contemporaries, even though Cache's text was not published until almost 12 years after it was written and only because Deleuze cross-referenced Cache's ideas in his own work, thus giving him notoriety), I found myself developing a new appreciation for Cache's approach to architecture and the interrelated realms of science, mathematics, and representational art. It was interesting to learn that not just Deleuze's ideas on the individual - or what he would call the becoming-human (so in this case, the becoming-site?) - are what influenced Cache, but also Simondon's embrace of individuation and his subsequent rejection of preformism, a rejection that he came to after his studies of physical matter led him to dismiss this idea of substance. A rejection of preformism can also be said to be a rejection of the preexisting identity of a geological site, something that Cache adamantly repeats throughout his text and his argument. I must say that this idea is quite appealing to me, especially because it expresses the possibility of unlimited potential, a potential that one would not normally assign to an inanimate object. In some ways, a rejection of preformism and an embrace of individuation opens the door for so much creativity, even if the site is already altered to a certain specification or a temporary definition of what it is at that moment; once a concrete structure is formed on a specific site, this does not mean that the structure is permanent or the only way to define the site. Instead, defining a site as capable of endless possibilities allows for impermanence, creativity, and growth in the eternal becoming-site.

You can also find this post on You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet!, my personal blog.

..Katharine R.

Friday, March 26, 2010

“The Smooth and the Straited” in Improvisational Comedy

Longform improv is, in it’s nature, the creation of a smooth space or thought. The performers walk onto the stage with no a priori concept of what will occur. Ideally, improv is free flowing, the humor arrives organically through grounded human interaction, as opposed to forced jokes and gags.

As it is practiced, however, it is inevitable that improv becomes striated. The moment a performer walks into a theater and is told “you’ve got 20 minutes” the line (the act itself) is suddenly trapped between two points (the externally dictated beginning and ending of the set).

Furthermore, most teams do go into a set a specific form that they will be using. I don’t see this as a bad thing, necessarily, or something that takes away from the essence of improvisation. These forms are barebones structures. They do not dictate the action, so much as give a sense of order and mutual understanding to the players and audience alike.

Many of my favorites moments both performing and watching improv is when the barriers created by the forms are mangled, disrupted and broken down over the course of a show. These moments can come from a player recognizing connections within the set or, often more satisfying, unintentionally finding them.

These moments are the smoothing of a striated space. And this is typically the type of art that I enjoy the most.

I have always been a fan of structure, even though I don’t necessarily like to follow it. No matter what the craft is, I think that it is important to have an understanding the most commonly practiced form. As a filmmaker I think it is important to understand Hollywood screenwriting and conventions. This does not mean that I want to make the next Bourne Identity, but I do think that it is extremely important to understand the system I am working in, and in understanding it finding creative ways to break out of it. This is where I personally see the fun in art, seeing a challenge, whether it is the tools I am using or a set of parameters, and finding a creative means to expand.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Changes in Public Space: The Smooth or The Striated?

"The Smooth and the Striated" by Deleuze and Guattari and Animate Form by Lynn reminded me a discussion which has been taking place in Lithuania almost for 20 years.

As we all know, the monumental tradition was very viable in the fields of fine art and architecture in the Soviet Union. The ubiquitous monuments were expected to mythologize historical events or personalities which were considered important in the fabricated history of Soviet Union. Using such propaganda, the Soviet authorities were constructing a political identity in the different occupied nations (in other words, this process of “monumentalization” can be called the construction of the historical memory). For the same reason, in the capital of Lithuania, the main public square was also renamed to the Lenin’s name square in 1953. As it was common, in the centre of this square the monument in honor of the first and most known Soviet dictator Vladimir Iliych Lenin was built.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the monument was immediately removed. However, for almost 20 years the square has been left abandoned. Till now the square has not been renovated due to never-ending discussions about how it should look in today’s independent Lithuania. Eventually, in 2006 the municipality of my city announced a call for an architectural competition, expecting to get new visions for how the square could be changed in the near future. As a result, a few architectural projects were selected by politicians to be further developed. However, the winner has still not been announced and the renovation has not been started.

The interesting reasons and consequences of this situation caused this blog entry. In fact, after reading Deleuze and Guattari text I was thinking about a few possible ways to talk about the aforementioned situation in the light of thoughts about "The Smooth and the Striated."

On the one hand, after the first round of the architectural competition selected projects could be easily divided into two categories, each supported by different groups of people. The projects subsumed to the first category are based on a traditional ideological-architectural approach, whereas the projects subsumed to the second category are based on a contemporary architectural approach.

First category of projects mainly stands for the vertical, clearly visible, symbolic traditional monument, which is expected to territorialize and focalize the space of the square, in the words of its supporters, clearly representing the past by bringing back the memories of their suffering and struggle.

The majority of the older generation, people who were strongly suffering from the communistic genocide, support this model of the space renovation. As you can notice from the image above, the model I am talking about is just another vertical symbolical monument representing the past, bringing back the representation of history again. Therefore, I think it could be a perfect example of the striation and the territorialization of space. First of all the proposed model is going to be clearly centered and vertical, moreover, lines or trajectories of the square’s visitors are going to be predetermined and subordinated to the focal point: the monument. Therefore, the nomadic trajectories and actions are not going to be possible in the square. Even the sights of the viewers are going to be pre-orientated to the unreachable sky – the top of the monument. Moreover, the monument is clearly symbolical, representing religious and national symbols.

On the other hand, there is other category of selected projects, which is mainly supported by the younger generation and which proposes a totally different vision of the square. According to the authors of such projects (below you can see the favorite model), a lot of green public space should be left around or within the square in order to enliven it and make it a friendly place for community gatherings and spontaneous activities and games.

The authors of the project, you can see above, propose to leave the square almost empty with a shallow hole in the middle, which can be used according to he needs and desires of the possible square visitors. In case of this model, the square, for instance, could be spontaneously turned into the friendly place for the skateboarders or it could just be experienced as a place for reading or playing games. To my mind, in terms of Deleuze and Guattari, the second model stands more for smooth than for striated space. In this case, the possible trajectories of movement of the square visitors are going to be unlimited in every direction, the proposed space has neither top nor bottom nor central motive, it does not assign fixed and mobile elements but rather becomes a horizontal plane for continuous variations and potentialities of being in the square. In this sense it is going to be more directional than dimensional space. Incidentally, it is not so representational compared with the first category of the projects. It remains a “body without organs” instead of an organism or organization.

Thus, at first, I found it surprisingly easy to use the antagonism between the two virtual models of the square as the illustration of Deleuzian and Guattarian thoughts about the opposition between smooth and striated space.

However, I feel that the topic would become more complex if we take into account the present situation; in this sense, actions which are really happening in the square right now. As I have already mentioned, due to the collision between two incomparable approaches (first based on historical-nationalistic position and the second one based on contemporary and democratic approach to the space) the consensus about the future of the place still has not been reached.

In the meantime, the square gradually turned into an arena for political-symbolical fights and for a number of unexpected juxtapositions. For instance, a few months ago a group of members of the association of previous political prisoners and deportees (mainly older people) have organized a demonstration and have placed a small symbolical model of their desired monument in the middle of the square. On the other hand, a lot of informal not regulated activities are taking place in the empty, non-renovated, square, too. For instance, recently, an informal flash-mob action was organized in the square. The uncontrolled group of people spontaneously gathered in the square and were blowing the soap bubbles for a half of an hour. Surprisingly, a large number of contributors participated in this event. In light of previous examples, I am curious what we can call this mode of transitional space? In my opinion, the current state of the square makes it a place without a known future, without a known trajectory in time, a space which is filled by events, far more than by form and structure.

According to Deleuze and Guattari, the smooth space does not mean homogenous, quite the contrary: it is an amorphous, nonformal space. In this connection, can the present transitional square be called the smooth and deterritorialized space? And if yes, does it mean that the implementation of any of further selected architectural models (does not matter either first or second one) can only make the place more striated?

Or maybe this example does illustrate that all inhabitated places are in constant temporal becoming from smooth to striated and from striated to smooth again? As Deleuze and Guattari write: “a smooth space emanated, sprang from a striated space, but not without a correlation between the two, a recapitulation of one in the other, a furtherance of one through the other”.

Lukas Brasiskis

Space and the Architectural Image

In his chapter on the architectural image, Cache introduces the idea that “strictly speaking, architects design frames," mapping Deleuze’s concepts of the fold and of sets and subsets onto architecture. He defines architecture as “the art of introducing intervals in a territory in order to construct frames of possibility” [1]. Separation of space, then selection of vectors, and finally arrangement of interval become the functions of architecture.

While useful in many ways, this seems to me an overly simplistic definition, as if architects simply delineate inside from outside, creating a subset and choosing from what Cache terms a multiplicity of vectors to create walls, windows and buildings. Perhaps I am misinterpreting his definition, but Cache seems to mention only in passing that architecture shapes the way in which we navigate spaces. He touches on this when he says that “it is the flatness of the stage that makes choreography probable, just as it is the flatness of the stadium that increases the probability of athletics” [2]. But don’t architects, in their work, create spaces and not simply frames and subsets?

Cache’s definition of architecture certainly doesn’t preclude the idea that an architect (or architecture) creates new ways of interacting with space, it simply doesn’t emphasize what seems to me to be an integral objective of architecture. Think of the way that the design of a gallery or museum encourages you to move through it in various ways. This is not simply about function – regardless of what a building or space is meant to do, it shapes the way in which we interact with that space, presenting various (and hopefully variable) possibilities for navigating the world. I just wanted to point this out, perhaps as an addition to Cache's definition. I'm certainly not overly familiar with architectural theory and so maybe this has been written on at length already.

As an interesting supplement to my argument I thought I'd share this project I came across a while ago. A group called Magma Architecture created an installation for an exhibition of their work at the Berlinische Gallery in Berlin. I think it happened a few years ago. It's worth checking out, the article about it can be found at:

-Ashley Arostegui

[1] Bernard Cache, Earth Moves, p. 22.
[2] Ibid., 24.

Earth Moving, and Vice Versa

I barely remember my life without my skateboard. All things environmental and architectural are thrown through the lens of the concave and convex meeting of plys of Canadian maple on a polyurethane conglomerate wheel, suspended in a polyurethane tension above a street and space most likely not contoured for use by said vehicle. I couldn’t help but consider all of Cache’s writing through that same lens — there are a devastating amount of points of intersection between the ideas he posits and the seemingly simplistic manners in which the skateboarder exists with the urban, or even suburban, architectural schema.

Cache states that “fuctionalism in architecture means that the form serves the function […] there is an essential difference between the frame of probability and the effect that is produced within it” (29). Consider also, for example, the idea of inflection, in his drawings of inflection (40), are the basic foot movements employed by skateboarders in order to propel the board into the air. A roll of the foot, a sweep of the ankle and a series of frictions are an individualized interface in a primary space defined through topography and material construction. The resulting action is an art of the here and now — not separate from the “artist,” as the artist is the actor, but a conglomeration of time, space, talent, skill, geography and topography.

These ideas can also be seen in some of the more advanced artwork growing from skateboard culture. Using the detritus of broken boards, artists like Brandon Shigeta’s sculptures as not only as representations of the architectural, curvaceous, interaction of skateboarding, but also with the media themselves — the wood and the color of pressed hard rock maple.

to be cont...

--Mike v.W.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An Ocean of Animate Forms

Greg Lynn’s Blob and Mary Mattingly’s Waterpod

In the first chapter of his book Animate Form (1999), Greg Lynn outlines formal properties of virtual architectural, aesthetic and scientific practices that take into account contextual and environmental factors using, among many other analogies, the very helpful and illustrative metaphor of a boat’s hull on the water. Lynn’s outline calls for a very radical and far-reaching (and Deleuzian) move away from the Cartesian habit of imagining that creations like artworks, performances, buildings and architectural models are created in a vacuum free of determining forces other than our own. Rather, such works should be conceived, designed and carried out in anticipation of the ever-shifting context in which they will invariably exist. He calls for a “shift from a passive space of static coordinates to an active space of interactions [that] implies a move from autonomous purity to contextual specificity” (11). With its development of, and frequent returns to the aforementioned nautical metaphor, Lynn’s argument anticipates the ongoing Waterpod Project conceived, developed and overseen by photographer, designer and environmental artist Mary Mattingly, which, it seems to me, explores and activates many of the suggestions Lynn makes regarding how artistic and architectural practice ought to evolve.

Though it has been built – indeed, an exhibition documenting its maiden voyage in the summer of 2009 is currently on view at the Midtown Manhattan gallery Exit Art – Mattingly’s Waterpod began as an architectural model created using computer rendering software to, as Lynn writes, “develop a systematic human intuition about the connective medium” (20). Using this technology, Mattingly created a digital plan for a boat that could support a self-sustaining community while traveling over another self-sustaining system, or an “architecture [that is] modeled as a participant immersed within dynamical flows” (11). The Waterpod, then, is not only a relatively static space where artists can create, exchange ideas and present their works, but a living architecture designed to be a traveling community of artists who can collect rainwater and solar energy, and grow their own food while being in constant movement over a surface that couldn’t be construed as static even on the calmest of days. Mattingly’s water bound ecosystem – a fusion of sorts of the post-apocalyptic floating communities of the spectacular blockbuster flop Waterworld (1995) and Captain Nemo’s tyrannical underwater utopia aboard the Nautilus in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1869) – achieves a sustainable stability by “embrac[ing] a sensibility of micro and macro contextual specificity as a logic that can not be idealized in an abstract space of fixed coordinates” (15). The micro-context aboard the Waterpod is the set needs of its inhabitants, a community of artists and activists whose vessel is also built to respond and adapt to the changing conditions of the macro-context (oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, etc.) that it is designed to navigate. By making literal many of Lynn’s very ambitious suggestions for the future development of architectural and artistic practice, Mattingly’s Waterpod project represents a rigorous test of those theories, offers insights into their potential applications, and suggest ways in which animate forms have evolved in the decade since Lynn’s writing.

-Ben Sutton

Here's a short tour of the Waterpod from Rocketboom:

A Practical Abstraction (Vagueness)

Something that has always struck me when reading Deleuze and Guattari (as well as many of their predecessors) is the emphasis placed on a practical use of their concepts. After all, John Rajchman reminds us that Deleuze encourages “uses” and not instead “applications.” By taking this statement into consideration with what is stated by Michael Speaks in the intro to Earth Moves one can begin to see an emphasis on a kind of “practice” (or practical work-creative work) that demands a fluid and varied movement (uses) and not instead a direct and linear tracing of one stagnant concept onto another (application).

Thus, in
Earth Moves (1995) Bernard Cache is developing a “use” (a practice) for concepts that have been presented by Deleuze and Guattari, not by laying them on top of predefined and established architectural premises, but by building (destroying) and developing new architectural “practices.” For Cache it is the concept of “the Fold,” which maintains an utmost importance “in the shaping of the form of practices (including techniques and logics), rather than the shaping of individual architectural forms” (xvi). Cache thus takes this concept and employs it (uses it-puts it to work-sets it in motion) “as a way to rethink the relationship between body and soul, past and present, and between furniture, architecture, and geography” (xvii). In this way Cache is using the concept of “the Fold” to deterritorialize the very territories upon which he practices.

Lastly, it should be stated that along with this “practical” method comes an appeal to the "abstract – “
it seems that the more one confronts the continuum, the more important it is to remain in touch with the most abstract experience possible, even if the meaning of “abstract is not quite clear” (Cache, p. 49). This is a necessary abstraction for those who wish to actualize inflections, for those who wish to open themselves up to chance (for those who wish to ride the wave and create). Cache (like Deleuze) establishes the artist as the one capable of “working with abstraction” and consequently being able to create a formal practice amidst the vagueness that surrounds (the artist- a practitioner of the abstract).

-Vanessa Meyer

In Defense of Science (Fiction): Mathematical Concepts in Philosophy

The use of modern scientific concepts in popular culture is often incongruent with the specific context in which they were developed. However, the adaptation of science and mathematical concepts in philosophy can, as we have seen in Deleuze's writings, be very helpful in both expanding the conceptual foundations of science/math as well as work towards moving the reader towards a different understanding of the phenomena that those concepts attempt to describe.

If the modern notions of space-time in popular culture suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding of the proper relationship between Newtonian models and relativistic models, it seems that it is important for philosophy texts to be able to honestly tackle the issue of destabilizing models of a fixed universe from its reader's understanding. This is where the value of Deleuze's writings seem to have a potentially positive impact on the public understanding of modern science. These philosophical discussions should never replace scientific discourse, but they do seem to have their place in enabling a certain mental internalization of difficult and complex models that are perhaps never to be individually experienced by our limited senses.

Deleuze seems to allow us to internalize some of these complex ideas especially well in the area of geometry in his continued attempts to displace a Cartesian frame of existence with a fluid and interrelated plane upon which we would live as nomads. Throughout his writings he speaks of rate, change, vectors, manifolds, and heterogeneous planes. Could this not be a deeply abstract way of clearing our minds in such a way as to be more receptive to the seemingly esoteric developments of modern science?

Bernard Cache takes on the project of explicating the conceptual distinction between a geographic and architectural space in dynamic versus static terms. For Cache, geography and geometry are not merely static coordinates, but "frames of probability" in which possibility can exist (Cache 23-30).

In this sense art and architecture can allow for the experience of abstract concepts that are present in modern science and math. It seems that Delueze would ideally want his three realms of science, art, and philosophy to work to reinforce, challenge, and produce together as opposed to sand boxing themselves apart. What is so crazy about using a microscope to crack a nut? Maybe that nut was always a little to hard to crack without it.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Scientific Concepts in Popular Culture

Many scientific concepts developed in the last hundred years, especially those in modern physics and astronomy, are counter-intuitive and extremely complex. A few of them, such as the twin paradox, black holes or the event horizon, seem to have been assimilated by popular culture: they are immediately recognized in the media and provide convenient plot devices for literary and cinematic works. Even so, many of such popular notions have little to do with the original scientific concepts and function either as metaphors or as symbolic justifications of ideas that are often irrelevant from a scientific point of view. Most scientific concepts make sense only in the specific context in which they have been developed and are useless when removed from that context.

One example is the concept of time dilation which in public’s view has granted credibility to the idea of time travel. Wikipedia, an Internet resource created and sustained by the collaborative effort of hundreds of thousand of Internet users may provide a good estimate of the collective consciousness of contemporary society. The Wikipedia article related to time travel states: "one-way travel into the future is arguably possible given the phenomenon of time dilation based on velocity in the theory of special relativity (exemplified by the twin paradox)". Despite this claim, the notion of time travel is meaningless in the context of the relativity theories in physics.

Relativity theories formed by Albert Einstein deal with inertial, i.e. constant in speed and direction movement of objects (special relativity) and with gravity (general relativity). A major postulate of the special relativity theory is the constancy of the speed of light for all observers. The consequence of this postulate is the elimination of the concept of absolute time from modern physics. Special relativity states that simultaneity is relative to a frame of coordinate axes (i.e., the position of the observer). Two observers in relative inertial motion to each other will always disagree regarding which events are simultaneous. Neither observer is wrong in his determination; their disagreement merely reflects the fact that simultaneity is an observer-dependent notion in special relativity. (The disagreement is negligibly small at typical speeds for macroscopic objects that we encounter in our every day life). Because a "present moment" is a set of events that are simultaneous from the point of view of a given observer, the relativity of simultaneity means that there is no absolute present (and therefore, no absolute past and future). This view is in sharp contradiction with the Newtonian physics, in which time is assumed to be absolute regardless of the frame of reference.

The time dilation referred to in the Wikipedia article is the “slowing down” of a clock as determined by an observer who is in relative motion with respect to that clock. Because of the relativity of simultaneity, when two observers are in relative inertial motion to each other, each of them has their own opinion regarding which events are simultaneous. In order to make a comparison of the rates of clocks carried by the two observers, we must assume a certain notion of simultaneity as a point of reference. If the first observer’s notion of simultaneity is used, it is found that the second observer’s clock runs slower than his by a certain factor. Similarly, using the second observer’s notion of simultaneity, it is found that the first observer’s clock runs slower by the same factor. Thus each inertial observer determines that all clocks in motion relative to him run slower.

The so-called "twin paradox" illustrates the phenomenon of time dilation. Suppose that one of two identical twin brothers flies off into space at nearly the speed of light. The special relativity theory states that each of the twins will observe slowing down of his brother's clocks with respect to his own clock. When the space-going twin returns, according to his clock, he will be older than his Earth-bound brother. The other twin, however, will find his brother younger then himself according to the Earth-bound clock. How can the space-going twin be both younger and older than his Earth-bound brother? The paradox, however, is only apparent because this situation is in fact not symmetrical for the two twins. To return to Earth, the spacecraft must change direction, which violates the condition of inertial motion central to special relativity. A full treatment requires general relativity and shows that the space-going and the Earth-bound twins’ estimates of time will agree after the return of the spacecraft: the space-going brother will appear "younger" than his Earth-bound twin.

The confirmation of special relativity and of the time dilation phenomenon has been obtained from the examination of subatomic bodies at high speeds and from the measurement of small changes by sensitive instruments. In particular, ultra-accurate clocks were placed on a variety of commercial airliners flying at one-millionth the speed of light. After two days of continuous flight, the time shown by the airborne clocks differed by fractions of a microsecond from that shown by a synchronized clock left on Earth, as predicted.

The time dilation is therefore a confirmed phenomenon of physical world. But what can we say about the possibility of time travel? Is the retarded aging of the space-going twin in the "twin paradox" thought experiment, a time travel? If so, is the time discrepancy between the airborn and Earth-bound clocks also a time travel? It must be, because the difference between the two cases is only in the amount of time elapsed. But if the clock disagreement is a form of time travel, what are the starting and final points of this time trip? Does the airborn clock travel to the future? Or is the Earth-bound clock transferred to the other clock's past? What are the future and the past then? These questions cannot be answered. The notion of travel in time as it is commonly understood presupposes the displacement of the time-traveling object along an absolute time axis, from a unique present moment to a uniquely-defined future. This is of course incompatible with the special relativity theory, in which the meaning of past, present and future is continuously redefined for every observer in a relative inertial motion.

Misconceptions such as the belief in time travel result from the collision of traditional Newtonian concepts of absolute time and space embedded in our understanding of reality with the apparent paradoxes of relativity of space and time in modern physics. Until the idea of the space-time continuum is assimilated by popular understanding such confusion is inevitable. On the other hand, under the conditions of our every-day existence the relativity effects are negligible. Applying such concepts to our daily experiences is then not unlike using a microscope for nut cracking.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Forces at Work: The Poetry of Ammons and Frost

In the discussion/lecture of last night (3/10/10), and in the intermix of my own instruction regarding Transcendentalism (Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson, etc.), I could not help but consider the poetry of AR Ammons (particularly the poem Identity) and Robert Frost’s poem Design.

Ammons’ poetry concerned itself with finding and exploring forces at work in nature. Concerned heavily with these forces, and similar to the Transcendentalists a century before, much of his work drew parallels between what we see in nature and the conceptual struggles of man. Similar too was a concentration on contextualization, which, so far at least, seems prevalent in our readings of Deleuze – the interrelations of opposites, the relationships between the object and its ability to produce a new becoming. The Uexküll readings on ethology further the importance of connections between milieus as areas of importance and worthy of study.

Considering Deleuze’s idea “There is no longer a form, but only relations of velocity between infinitesimal particles of an unformed material. There is no longer a subject, but only individuating affective states of an anonymous force” (128) then the ideas of interactive force must come into play in the construction of anything. This consideration of force I believe is rather inherent in Ammons’ work. The aforementioned "Identity" tackles this idea in its analysis of a simple spider web. Ammons states that “possibility is high along the peripheries of / spider /webs: / you can go all / around the fringing attachments // and find / disorder ripe, / entropy rich, high levels of random, / numerous occasions of accident.”

Similar too, is Ammons’ observation that order / diminishes toward the / periphery / allowing at / the points of contact / entropy equal to entropy.” Is this the milieu-shaping self-reflection/self-consciousness we discussed re: Uexkull, Spinoza and Deleuze last night?

Some conflicts in this application do exist – the idea that the web itself is a “form” that is unique to the genus of spider, but the concentration of the poem is on the ability of the spider to fit within a greater schema that steps outside its own perception – its web is there only to serve its purpose yet other purposes are inherent within a greater world view. Maybe through this interpretation of identity as milieu, the spider’s identity serves as a particular force acting within the non-static worlds in which it must be spun.

This is similar to Robert Frost’s poem "Design", where he posits that the event of a spider eating a moth on a “white heal-all” proves that there are design elements that are beyond our understanding at work in nature. This might be some of the earlier thought that helped set the stage for a truly modern understanding of science – a world evolving outside the simplistic understanding, i.e. our human milieu.

--mike vw

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Art as Commodity?

Commodity is defined as some good for which there is a demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market. Can Art be a commodity? Can artists and their chosen practices be bought and sold? How do artists balance creating, pure, meaningful work with paying the bills and living in a free, capitalistic society?

Herbert Berghof, an Austrian-American theatre performer, director and writer stated the following: “If we truly want a theatre, which is more than a commodity, we must omit the buying and selling and function as free artists. And, if we agree that freedom can’t be bought, we must face that it is based on responsibility to our fellow man.” Mr. Berghof was also a socialist, born in Vienna who was accustomed to the theatre system in Europe, where actors are continually employed. He immigrated to the United States in 1939 and also enjoyed great success in the Hollywood movie industry. He made a lucrative living practicing his art in the United States.

What made me think about Mr. Berghof was the following Deleuze quote, “…this minor practice is produced through a manipulation of the elements of the major.” Deleuze further states, “ What defines majority is a model you have to confirm to…” Mr. Berghof is an example of an artist who participated in mainstream Hollywood in order to fund and create his “minor art”. Herbert Berghof created H.B. Play Writes Foundation with the money he earned from working as an actor in the film Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. From this one Hollywood acting job he was able to purchase an old garage on bank Street and turn it into a theatre; he created “minor art” in this space.

Deleuze states, “ A minor art is involved in the invention and imagining of new subjectivities as well as turning away from those already in place […] It is once inside and outside the major, in the ‘world’ but not quite of it.” Mr. Berghof in spite of his bitterness at the mismanagement of Broadway Theater and mainstream Hollywood, was able to practice and create art on his terms. Would this have been possible to achieve without his financial success in the great Hollywood machine? Mr. Berghof was a man who was in the “world” but not quite of it.