Here the Poster and announcement of the symposium I am organizing, starting tomorrow!

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Matter, Memory, and the More-than-Human

Relational Aesthetics and Politics in the Age of the Anthropocene

Symposium: 16:00-19:00, Room 5.K12 (Nov. 27, 2014)

Workshop: 10:00-12:00, Room 5.K03 (Nov. 28, 2014)

In times of renewed debates on the status of the object and the real in the arts the question of a new radical empiricism is at stake. How is experience not human but always more-than-human or ecological? We ask: how such an ecological approach is political and what are its aesthetics?

Current enthusiasm about new forms of realism, like speculative realism, strikes the art field with immense force. What we perceive is a certain return of the “object,” similar to architecture’s return to the sketch-board, after three decades of conceptually driven discourse and its discomforting pitfalls. Finally, some might argue, we overcome the predominance of discourse and encounter “things” beyond language. What seems crucial, is the status of the real in these new aesthetic and philosophical debates.

With this symposium we want to extend the rather dialectic procedure with which this debate continues and investigate how the relations between matter, memory and the more-than-human enable a multi-shaded formation of the real, inclusive of the materialist sensibilities of Marxist, post-structuralist and radical empiricist philosophies of the last century. Making such an inquiry an aesthetic concern motivate us to reconsider the status of the empirical in relation to the experiential. Rather than following phenomenological traditions the symposium puts particular attention to early pragmatist philosophies like William James, Alfred North Whitehead and Ralph Waldo Emerson, providing a different, radical empiricist, version of the real.

Finally the question would be, how such a take on realism in the age of the anthropocene affords us to re-assess what a more-than-human politics might look like and what forms of organization are in need for its realization.

Speakers:

Heather Davis (Penn State University)

“Ancient Archives of the Future: Strange Temporalities of Plastic”

Ridvan Askin (University of Basel)

‘Every pumpkin in the field, goes through every point of pumpkin history’: Emerson and the Memory of Matter’

Stamatia Portanova (independent scholar)

“The Genius and the Algorithm. Reflections on the Postdigital Aesthetics as Capitalist Neurosis”

Joel McKim (Birkbeck University of London)

Object, Matter, Energy: Towards a Philosophy of Infrastructure

Organization: Christoph Brunner (ZHdK)

Link

Where: Zurich University of the Arts, Toni-Areal, Pfingstweidstrasse 96, 8005 Zurich

Themes:

Accelerationist Aesthetics

Digital Aesthetics and Affect

Ecologies of Practices

Aesthetic Politics

New Materialism

Process Philosophy

Anarchitecture

Speculative Realism

Relational Aesthetics

Activist Philosophy

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I am very exited to participate in this conference. Here is my abstract:

Affective Politics of Timing: Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors

In his video-installation The Visitors artist Ragnar Kjartansson constructs an immersive nine-screen video-piece of a collaborative sound performance. Eight musicians dispersed throughout Rockeby Farm Mansion in upstate New York, play instruments and repeatedly chant the lines of a short poem by Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir.

The piece deals with duration, repetition and immediation through its insistence on time as collective and affective force holding the work together. While recent responses to affect in contemporary theory have led to a critique of its emphasis on immediacy, I will attempt to reconsider immediacy as opening a problematic field rather than becoming another object of critique. The power of suspense and duration in The Visitors provides a vital ground for addressing its aesthetics as an affective attunement of heterogeneous elements cued into specific timings. Using Brian Massumi’s differentiation of three kinds of memory (active memory, conscious memory and a memory of the future) I will investigate how The Visitors enables a collective sense of emergent ecologies of timing, an affective politics of timing. Immediacy according to this fine-grained conception of affect is not an instant independent of its milieu, on the contrary, its very power of existence consists of disjunctive times constantly attuning and being attuned. Change, and the potential thereof, emerges through the eventual encounter, its re-activation and unnoticed but active tendencies. The political question then is: how to inflect, activate and enable situations capable of more potential to actively become part of our immediate concerns and how to develop a sense of care for their effects?

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Practices of Experimentation: Research and Teaching in the Arts Today is the new book I co-edited. It comprises articles and artwork from members of the Department in Art  & Media at Zurich University of the Arts. The title alludes to an approach we have been fostering throughout the book: How to not make a book not on the level of representation and about what people stand for (i.e. their discursive positioning) but to activate what is happing? Aligning with Isabelle Stengers’ concept of “ecologies of practices” the book wants to think through what is happening - thus foregrounding practices and what they can do or might become rather than what they are in a representational manner. The result is a fine mesh of interrelations and open threads allowing for novel assemblages every time you start engaging with the material. The book unfolds into five “materials” (or subject matter): 1) Laboratory-Experiment, 2) Interfaces, 3) Art-Theory-Science, 4) Teaching-Research, 5) Carte Blanche. The latter “material” comprises  four contributions from authors outside the department: Ute Meta Bauer (MIT), Heiner Goebbels (University of Giessen), Germán Toro-Pérez (ZHdK) and Richard Wentworth (Royal College Art). To give you a better idea, below you find the table to contents.

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After submitting a shift proposal (the more performative format) for the next Performance Studies International Conference in Leeds, June 27-30 2012, we, Bianca Scilar Mancini, Alanna Thain and myself, have been accepted with our proposal Ecologies of Siting. Here is the abstract:

ABSTRACT

Ecologies of Siting

The relation of ecology and economy coincides with the concerns of our inter-institutional Research–Creation series “Technologies of Lived Abstraction”, which culminated in July 2011 with ‘Generating the Impossible’. 55 participants explored the limits of a collaborative creative process through techniques of improvisation across heterogeneous backgrounds, following no scripts, without a predetermined landing site, and responsive to the durational intensities of encounter. An always-dissolving collective dedicated ten days to a critical multidisciplinary creative process that involved both a movement of thought and a production of an aesthetic residuum, i.e., an art “object”. This shift is a creative recapitulation of that event’s echoes (where porosity was already a compelling prompt). An “Ecology of Sitting” is based on a process of the improvisation of differential disciplinarity, a contagious attentiveness to how we define environment and landscape as an event-location.

This porous shift will radically experiment with performance methodologies for the improvisation of thought, a critical alternative to and reactivation of the (in)attentive audience of the traditional conference format.  Addressing the notion of concepts, bodies and the environment as variations of duration, we will seek modes of provoking sliding forces always improvising in the ways they generate confounding ecologies to challenge dualisms of body (agent/actor/performer) and environment (site/ location).

The radicalism of our proposal lies in our trust in the event of the encounter, and our conviction that authentic collaboration cannot be catalogued prior to sharing and exchange between participants. What we share are procedures and techniques for the improvisation of thought.

We propose biweekly working group meetings where participants accumulate conceptual or artistic residuum (defined here as the experiential liveliness of duration) from discussions shared through virtual meetings and tasks, as ecologies of improvised thought.  Drawing on a Guattarian ecosophical rejection of a human/non-human dualism, our performance technique of “attentiveness” will be geared towards (re)discovering an “agency of assemblages”, rather than an “acting upon” of the performance of the encounter. “Ecology of Sitting” resists a predetermined utility based on the economies of institutions (academic or arts), and reopens zones of collaborative attentiveness as a method of opening to unexpected connection.  As a set of techniques, we use a creative diagrammatics (Deleuze) drawn from movement work and event-based visual practice.  The goal is to produce a distributed attention that challenges the distinction between rehearsal and event, in an anarchival approach.

While reading in parallel two fairly important texts for my work: Deleuze’s talk “What is the Creative Act?” and Toni Negri’s collection of letters published in English as Art & Multitude I feel compelled to juxtapose them with the aim to work out resonances and productive dissonances. A general statement of Negri provides the fundament:

“Art, as we have said, is labour, living labour, and therefore invention of singularity, of singular figures and objects, linguistic expression, invention of sings. There, in this first movement are lodged potenza of the subject in action, the subject’s capacity to deepen knowledge to the point of reinventing the world. But this expressive act only achieves beauty and the absolute when the signs and the language through which it expresses itself transform themselves into community, when they are embraced and contained within a common project. The beautiful in an invention of singularity which circulates and reveals itself as common in a multiplicity of subjects who participate in the construction of the world. The beautiful is not the act of imagining, but an imagination that has become action. Art, in this sense, is multitude” (xii)

In this paragraph Negri condenses the founding principles to establish art as a creative and political act of a multitude. Three important blocks occur at this intersection: 1) The function of living labour as production,2) the potenza lodged in the expressive act of a subject in action, and 3) Beauty as expressive act through a community, i.e. art as expressive act of the multitude. The repeated critique on the concept of multitude is going to be sidelined in what follows, since the concept of the collective takes a more prominent role in my work on Simondon. Another difficult part that I am dealing with in another place is the role of the subject in relation to action or the expressive act. Even though it might seem like Negri and Deleuze conceive of a subject as the locus of creation in both texts that are discussed here, I deem their concept of the subject closer to Guattari’s notion of the production of subjectivity. Hence, subjectivity is a process of creation where acts become expressive but alsways already as a collective that assembles the subjective form of an event. Such a notion of the subjective form refers to Alfred North Whitehead for whom the subjective form is the expressive moment of an event before it perishes, it is concrescence.

For Negri it is crucial to abandon a notion of the natural as separate from the human. What he calls abstraction defines the state of encounter with “nature” as always already artificially shaped by human presence. This general state is lodged in the overall transformation of labour from abstract to immaterial labour as bottom-line of his work with Michael Hardt. For Negri “living labour is nothing but immaterial production, whether it is intellectual or affective” (xiii). Enmeshed in workings of abstraction the subject and in particular the human subject cannot be accounted for as natural.

Both, Deleuze and Negri point out the importance of a necessity or the work/labour that emerges out of a struggle. For Deleuze in relation to philosophy this means not to engage with thinking in general but to invent and create concepts. In a similar way, Negri points out that the work of constitution has to engage with what he considers as the “truth of the factitious” (3). This truth is not a hermeneutic truth but a truth that is constituted by and through the real. The real is not an empirical matter of fact but rather to speak with Deleuze and Latour a transcendental-empirical matter of concern. Negri considers ontological experience “as a truth of abstraction, and the recognition of this as a condition of experience” (5). In other words, for Negri the constitution of truth as factitious means that truth will be always constituted by means of abstraction. Abstraction defines not a pure transcendentality but manifests abstraction as a mode of existence (I will at greater length deal with the notion of “modes of existence” through the work of Gilbert Simondon an Étienne Souriau in a later post and in my PhD-Thesis).

The potential of an anthropomorphizing notion of the subject shifts once we address the process of constitution as partaking in seeking the real. The real is always synthetic as Isabelle Stengers would probably say. As such the seeking of the real is not a desire for final truth. As Negri says: “There are no longer natural determinisms or historical vestiges, nor finality of fulfillments which hold: the space has become entirely a-teleological” (11). To seek the real means to seek it “until it falls into our hands: an encounter, an event” (10). Hence, it is not a final real but a singularity as part of a wider collective that is defined as the quality of art as living labour for Negri: “The abstract is the sole community in which we exist” (11). Such an abstract defines part of Negri’s use of the concept of multitude. Labour, so my own interpretation, is not necessarily only a human concept. How could it be solely human if the human itself does not hold sway as a natural entity? If the human defines an individual or an individual of labour it would lose its factitious mode of existence. From this perspective, labour is not human as such but a collective abstract process with tendencies towards autonomous production. This mode of production defines what Negri calls the beautiful as collective act, an imagination that has become action. Imagination, again, has to be regarded as synthetic and factitious. It is not human but abstract and therefore collective.

For Negri a truth that will be constituted moves trough processes of empirical traces. He proposes: “So let us begin by putting together the most simple things. Both the space of our habitat and the time of our conscience require objects in relation to which we can re-take the measure of our life” (10/11, my emphasis). The objects might be the creation of works of art. Art does not have to be a physical object but marks a mode of existence. Its presence has an incurrence into the ontological experience of the event. Negri defines the abstract as collective. This mode of collectivity is a pre-individual and potential one. For what comes along as abstract might be also called the “autonomy of affect” (Massumi 2002)[1]. The autonomy of affect as the abstract collective relational bond for potentiality to surface in its actual effects requires another component as helpmate to its emergence: space-time. Talking about the differences between philosophy, art and science, Deleuze evokes their common limit as space-time: “All of these disciplines communicate at the level of something that never emerges for its own sake, but is engaged in every creative discipline: the formation of space-time” (Deleuze 2007, 320). Deleuze extends the linking collectivity of abstraction towards its potential holding together in space-time through different modes of expression (which is another notion for disciplines). The seeking as encounter or event is a shock in a double sense: A virtual shock as much as an actual shock neither of them coming in first but both vibrating across their continuum. A shock occurring in space-times delimiting and at the same time populating the limits with potentials. Such is the creative practice that does not allow to speak of creation as such but only to “speak in the name of … creation” (320). To speak in the name of creation accounts for the act of creation as autonomous, as part of an abstraction of living labour. In that sense, as Deleuze alludes to Malreaux “art is the only thing that resists death” (328). To resists death means to engage in the process of constitution of a truth as a collective matter of concern. Negri’s conception of the multitude aims at dealing with the singularity of each mode of existence and their potential for a transindividual force of expression. Only through that abstract collectivity a work of art might achieve beauty, not as the beautiful opposed to the ugly but as a felt increase of potential for a different future to come. Such a collectivity requires always a struggle and a crisis, the continuous movement of thought, a pragmatics of of discomfort, a discomfort that does not stop to ask questions, similar to the idiot invoked by Deleuze and one of Stenger’s main protagonists. Such a struggle defines the relation between the human and the work of art expressed through Deleuze referring to Paul Klee as the people that are missing: “The people are missing means that the fundamental affinity between a work of art and a people that does not yet exist, will never be clear. There is no work of art that does not call on a people who does not yet exist” (329).

[1] Brian Massumi  grants affect an autonomous state to avoid any one-to-one mapping of affect and effect or affect and emotion. Affect exists but autonomously incurs into actual occasions (events) without pre-defining its actual effects. Without affect’s autonomous state, there would be no elbow-room for novelty (Massumi 2002, 23-45).

Deleuze, Gilles, “What is the Creative Act?,” in Two Regimes of Madness, Cambridge Mass.: Semiotext(e), 317-329.

Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2002, 23-45.

Negri, Toni. Art & Multitude. Cambridge: Polity, 2008.

I am very happy to announce that the latest issue of Latvian/European bi-llingual (English and Latvian) journal Acoustic Space on Art as Research has come out. It includes papers from the art as research stream at the SLSAeu Conference 2010 in Riga. In particular I would like to point out Sher Doruff’s article “Artistic Res/Arch: The Propositional Experience of Mattering” which was the keynote for the stream.

My own article “Research-Creation // The Generation of Novel Textures” deals with a first outline for research-creation as point of entry and constant practice of interlacing thinking and feeling in creative processes. In the first section I develop the concept of research-creation as alternative to the constant binarization between art and research that haunts the filed of creative production I am currently interested in. In an second part I propose four movements to approach the practice of research-creation:

1) Generate Spaces of Experimentation

2)Experiment by Dint of Technic and Technicity

3) Embrace Failure as Productive

4) Think-Feel Collectively

The article has undergone further thinking and elaboration since it was produced but it captures in dialogue with the first issue of Inflexions on “How is Research-Creation” a port of entry into my thesis work.

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Below a video explaining the Political Equator, a concept I heard first of in the work of Teddy Cruz. There will be a conference June 3&4 in San Diego/Tijuana. Their website will provide full detailed information as of May 14.

Below the abstract for my mini-presentation at the 2011 Netaudio Festival and Conference:

How do collectives constitute and endure themselves beyond social or interpersonal strata? In a time of “social” media as potential motors of political change, the attention paid to what constitutes the “social” in social media is often considered as a mere connection between humans by means of technology. Marshall McLuhan’s statement “the medium is the message” aims at undermining the conception of media as bare means to human ends. The medium itself determines how a message is expressed and does not merely transmit its content. The medium becomes active and renders what is expressed. I assume that this assertion is difficult to sustain if one tries to consider the Internet as “a” medium. Instead of considering the Internet as medium I would like to address its technologies as enabling for practices of immediation. Immediation accounts for the embodied experience of any aesthetic expression and sensation and locates the event of immediated experience in everyday life. Through immediation the human and the nonhuman become part of a relational logic where the boundaries between subject and object blur and are negotiated to form transindividual collectives. These collectives are as much social as they are political or ethico-aesthetic.

In light of social media the medium is not the message. Rather processes of immediation entangle embodied experience with immediated collective forces. A collective is not the formation of a group composed of individuals, but an affective relational experience amongst different modes of existence: technologies as much as ideas, perceptions humans and other bodies.

One has to consider the constitution of a collective as the co-emergence of social formations with their environment. Collective means to become enmeshed in a relational logic where each situation is negotiated between its participants. To make these relational becomings palpable, I will use as an example the SenseLab’s (senselab.ca) last event “Society of Molecules” (see: inflexions.org, no. 3 –Tangents). By means of physical and (im)mediated exchange different local nodes (molecules) were able to stage a series of collective events across fifteen countries in 2009. The potential to physically experience local events and at the same time to participate in virtual relations between the different produces the constitution of transindividual collectivity.

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I just finished reading a publication coming out of the 1999 exhibition by White Columns on Gordon Matta-Clark’s collaborative work with Caroline Goodden entitled Food. The most moving part was a letter from Caroline Goodden to Corinne Diserns describing the development of Food:

Food was born out of the hunger for change and the excitement of experimentation. ln a decade where avantgarde dance was saying “Take us of the precious procenium stage,” sculpture was saying, “Get us out of pristine white-walled galleries.” While artists in general were saying, “Let us live and work in some space (i.e. lofts),” some of us were saying “lets have some food!” In other words….change needed. Different space,different stimulation, different food.

Building on this excitement of experimentation a new model of inhabiting a space and time of collective creative practice across different modes of life strikes me a particularly enjoyable and inspiring practice. the reason I get so enveloped by the experiment of food lies in the absolute obvious relation Goodden makes between diverging practices of economy, survival, creative practice, community and acts of creation. From my point of view she outlines a mode of collective that includes manifold layers of life and starts from this relational nexus instead of just patching existing discourses together. In the end, it is not that important if the place was not sustainable. As Goodden points out:

The joy is the idea. The idea, as an idea, worked. It was a beautiful, nourishing, vital, stimulating new concept which was a living, pulsating hub of creative energy and piles of fresh parsley

The fact that an idea works and lives is the most enriching aspect I have experienced in my engagements with North-American and Canadian ethico-aesthetic experimentations. Working at an art school in Zurich, one of the largest hubs for art-object capital turnover, gives me an idea where I would draw lines of experimentation and invention that move and don’t leave a stone untouched and other ‘artistic’ practices that play safe games of accumulation. What might we be able to do with experimentation to radicalize in a manner that it concerns life and the potential for new modes of life? How can we make an idea work as an idea?

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As part of a twofold workshop on diagrammatic practices we (Sher Doruff, Claudia Mongini, Thomas Jellis, Diego Gil Tizzoni and Christoph Brunner) have spent a weekend at Alpenhof in Appenzell, Switzerland. During that event, which targeted the relevance of diagrammatic practices in relation to research-creation, we were exposed to a continuous play of appearance and disappearance of out immediate environment due to the play of mist. The relation between affect and percept as an intrinsically diagrammatic processes where experience with something is always a tentative edging into existence. More on the entire workshop is coming soon. Here is the first video:

Nebulous Diagramming (Kunsthof Appenzell) from Christoph Brunner on Vimeo.