Folding textures resurface in the perfect walls of architectural space and the physical limits of skin. Folds bubble up from under the categorical and across emergent series, lifting solid into dust and stretching fluid into contours. This multiple dynamism emerges in and with situated qualities and gestures, but also resonates beyond them, folding new tendencies and affective attunements into and out of exhaustion. This means that folding in and with media operations activates intensive movements that pull beyond the material limits, into fleshy, kneading aggregates, into textures that surge a new skin onto an inhabited past.
The dynamics of pressure and tension between mark and page in the trajectory of drawing a line, and between plastic clay and kneading membranes in wedging operations, activate ways of thinking and feeling with the surface, not only as an objective space but also as an intensive one. As elaborated in the exposition, the tensions that are felt in the bulging, stretching, and fragmenting membranes as they are kneaded into clay charge drawing surfaces with the intensity of pressure or weightedness, slack, brittleness, stretch, and release, informing multiple new potential activations in drawing space. The surface thus guides movement into and out of exhaustion, into and out of intensity, and across medially and materially situated serial iterations. In turn, emergent terms, contours, and techniques exhaust and resurface new hapticalities. This means that the media or material traces of emergent processes are never stable or contained but open to feeling with how the non-pulsed begins to hold a rhythm or the way dispersed affects emerge into contour. The emergent series is a technique for moving on the verge when habits begin to steer into new refrains, where affects recombine and intensify to open the potential for gestures and contours that exceed tendency, or where existing forms, edges, and continuities exhaust into a smooth, slack skin. This means that the format of the emergent series can never be determined in advance – each serial iteration depends on exhausting itself into smooth undifferentiated unknowing so that it can once again gather into and align in new striations, contours, and trajectories. These serial textures both activate and dramatise a research milieu for folding minor tendencies into new corporeal morphologies.
The process of writing also merges new rhythms, meanings, and sounds of words into the research milieu, where it primes affects to stick to movements of thought before intention and before reflexivity. But the closer that words get to articulating alongside, the more they encounter an impossible translation, and the more they break down. In the process, the excess of words and phrases – or the way that language pulls from across tendencies of speaking and writing before articulation – edge both feeling and meaning in new directions. Meanwhile, the inadequacy of composed words to capture feeling in the dynamics of inhabited movement urges further specification, elaboration, and movements with concepts. Therefore, co-composing text with material or medial operations opens to multiple readings and re-readings, writings, and re-writings across multiple spacetimes, edging new tendencies of wording in and with an inhabited corporeal.
Attunement also emerges in the infinitely extensive digital surface of this exposition, where images and text multiply and resonate in conceptual and intensive series. Image surfaces are coded in size, position, orientation, and opacity but also compose with the affects and rhythms in operations of kneading and drawing. The coding of rotation allows images to pivot over one another, generating emergent rhythms and orientations alongside the rotations of kneading clay, while variable opacities open to composing with layers and visible depths, floating, and blending new textures on the surface. And the variable scale of images resonates with the affects of plastic clay swelling under the pressure of an elastic balloon so that enlarging the image bulges, inflates, and lifts the image surface with it. So as the research process develops, it exceeds subject/object, binaries, physical form, and the presumed fixity of documentation images by privileging emergent sensitivity and attunement with them. Language, trace, concept, and technique emerge in smooth and striated differentials, and in the process tune and surface a multiplicity of combinations between them, which fold infinitely back into one another. So however momentary and partial, the field of emergent series opens an intensive and desiring path to engage in noisy multiplicities and to fall into exhaustion, only to be pulled back out again in intensities of singular articulation.
I would like to thank Giaco Schiesser and Erin Manning for their insightful comments, as well as Christoph Brunner, Amélie Brisson-Darveau, and Verena Ziegler for their openness and generosity in our various collaborations, which provided the germ for the exposition presented here. I would also like to thank the Swiss National Science Foundation for funding this research.
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Sticky currents: Drawing folds in serial exhaustion
Nicole De Brabandere
This exposition engages the concept and affective dynamics of folding operations toward developing a research milieu with media practices and techniques. The field of serial folding pulls at the limits of research formats but also listens for the underside of articulation as it swells into surfaces outward from the inside. In The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, Stefano Harney and Fred Moten (2013) describe the force of the fold as a hapticality of the undercommons where one folds into new inhabitable skins and even colours: in the undercommons ‘everything can fold in dance to black’ (ibid., 97). Harney and Moten (ibid., 98) specify that this undercommon hapticality or blackness happens in exhaustion and creates a space where one has ‘the capacity to feel through others, for others to feel through you, for you to feel them feeling you’. Starting from a media milieu, Deleuze (1997, 160) similarly describes exhaustion as an ‘any-space-whatever’ or a space without physical moorings, where there is ‘equality between the straight line and the plane, and between the plane and the volume’. So whether in a space of materials, qualities, or dancing bodies, exhaustion activates a movement wherein the edges and boundaries of things find new interiorities, where techniques, contours, and qualities dissolve, slacken, or give way to viscosities that are in excess of their forms. In Harney and Moten’s (2013, 99) words ‘absolute nothingness and the world of things converge […] [in] the churning waters of flesh […] [in] constant recombination’. In this sense, the undercommons operates in registers that are at once beneath the objective containment of skin but that also extend far beyond it. Manning affirms:
When the skin becomes not a container but a multidimensional topological surface that folds in, through, and across spacetimes of experience, what emerges is not a self but the dynamic form of a worlding that refuses categorization. Beyond the human, beyond the sense of touch. (Manning 2013, 12)
How then can one develop a milieu of folding operations that exceeds both physical and categorical givens? Or in what way can folding operations open to an investigation of hapticity that moves with the skin but beyond tactility and beyond the sense of touch? Bergson (1910, 7–9, 17–18) makes it clear that any sensation in touch is intensive and activates a change of state rather than a quantifiable change in magnitude. This means that emergent affects in touch or tactility are not localisable to a sensation of a specific area of the body but must be thought of in dynamic relation with consciousness and attunement. So as the slightest breath against the skin might feel hot, cold, or all enveloping, pressures of greater magnitude quickly and continually become dulled and subsumed into the inarticulate and the unfelt. But it is the very non-quantifiability or indeterminacy in feeling that poses an opening for developing the fold as a space of exhaustion, and for affective potentials that exceed categories of sensation such as tactility or vision.
The aim of this exposition is then not to quantify affects in folding operations but to intensify them so that they lure tendency into new paradoxes, resonances, and pre-subjective relations. This process generates a space of serial becoming that is only ever partial and only ever momentary since it is in continuous variation as it falls into and pulls out of exhaustion. In an emergent serial field, affects continually draw relations into coherence, leaving traces that never contain them. So to engage in an emergent series as a research process is to engage with how noise or disorder thins into clear audibility and how series always gives way to the extra-serial or to exhaustion. The process of folding with emergent series both traces and generates a worlding wherein skin folds into texture, depth folds into surface, and surface folds into contour. As the creases, pores, and calluses of the body fold into new inhabitable potentials, they surpass their containment in shape-shifting intensities.
It is in this sense that the hapticality of folding can be activated as an artistic research practice in-the-making, where serial exhaustion activates corporeal movements that multiply, condense, and enlarge the contents, dimensions, and potentials of the research field. In particular, this exposition activates folding operations across techniques and media registers including drawing, wedging, or kneading clay and writing. All these operations generate surface tensions as they press, contour, lift, and layer in relation. This movement with surfaces also pulls indefinitely with extremities that go beyond the spatial limits of the page, beyond the frame of the image, video, or exposition screen and into the infinitely folding, infinitely uncontainable interiority of plastic clay. In this indeterminacy of spatial limits, the surface becomes an intensive field that activates movements between media, material, and inhabitable potentials. As these material and medial operations move across media they also move with a discursive milieu, so that writing, material, and movement practice mutually inform and inflect. Although the exposition spatially fixes a series of documentation images and videos on the two-dimensional surface of the digital screen, it emerges anew as a field of relation in movement, in the scrolling over, the zooming in and out, the rhythmic synchronicity and dis-synchronicity of multiple videos playing at once, and the many potential orderings, durations, and affects of engagement. In engaging the surface of the exposition space as a relational space that connects concepts and processes in multiple ways, the research field folds back into, through, and across itself, exceeding any single trace, any single object, any single work.
The concept of the Baroque fold is particularly relevant to engaging the emergent affects in operational techniques since they are inherently energetic movements of relation. Baroque folds are a topographical field that co-composes in plastic and elastic dynamics of affective attunement, never generating a distinctive form but as a texturology of multiple forces folding (Deleuze 1993, 115). So Baroque folds do not exist in themselves, as a particular subject, object form, entity, or trace, but are in a constant state of energetic reconstitution with an emergent corporeal. The folds of the Baroque are a pressing, stretching, kneading, and bulging along emergent contours, flatness, or stasis. This multiple potential dynamism becomes especially clear in the way Deleuze describes the excessive folds of clothing depicted in Baroque painting and sculpture. These voluminous folds allow bodies to overcome contradictions of form and feeling: the bodies that wear the clothes are never betrayed, their ‘heads bob like swimmers’ on wave-like, folded expanses (Deleuze 1993, 121). And the folding, energetic density means swimmers never sink, but are always enmeshed and enmeshing in a buoyant density that sustains them on the surface, or that always edges them into new surfacings.
This energetic surfacing of folding or recombining intensities becomes felt in operations of drawing texture, where the mark is not the same as the fold but where the marking guides movement into contour. Valéry (1938, 77) insists that artists or draughtspeople must find their way through textures, such as a crumpled napkin, or forms that cannot be obviously recognised or replaced in retracing by informing the drawing space with movements of seeing. Textural space in drawing disperses and diffuses tendencies of seeing form and contour into a minutia and multiplicity of movement so that it emerges with the felt affects of multi-directionality. The hapticality described by Harney and Moten might then also be a texture of haptic volumes that surge both throughout and over the top of a substantive mass, or that dissolve geological layers in the stirring indeterminacy on the infinite undersides of billowing dust. In Whitehead’s terms, the texture of subjective experience is a processual integration of both conformity and non-conformity in a throbbing coherence of related components, which are physical (related in an objectified nexus) and mental (propositional) (Whitehead 1978, 191–92). To feel the folds of texture, one must then feel its contrasts and continuities, or the way it thins, thickens, and unravels in a kind of proposition or invitation to a corporeal morphology. And as folding operations converge as emergent hapticalities they float non-quantifiable, non-categorical, affective energies beyond containment and beyond any single sensory or operational mode, including seeing, speaking, touching, pressing, and pacing. But words do surface and intensify along side them:
Folding draws charcoal bits into rolling pressing
Bounce shivers a contouring, caving membrane
(the edge powders loose volumes)
One can begin to feel the way moving contours exhaust themselves into emergent texture in operations of drawing a swatch of frayed acrylic thread composed into a coarse weave. The hard density of the moving graphite tip secures over, then under and alongside, first tightly, then loose in the loss of direction. In the movement to navigate the texture, contour becomes momentary – a traced fit of a possible movement with, along, and over. And each start also generates a loose negotiation between seeing and marking, which is ready to draw, redraw, draw over, and double-back in quick pivots and oscillations. Drawing texture becomes a choreographic practice wherein texture, drawing surface, and moving in an emergent direction co-composes in pivoting, traversing, and lingering. In this suspension, touch attunes with vision, and vision collapses into feeling and the corporeal lightness after seeing into the shadowy depths under overlapping threads and then landing in a thin, hard trace on the drawing surface. This affective lightness is further intensified as movements increase the speed with which they change direction, surging an excess of energy that dissipates the heaviness of a clear visual path. So these repeated scratchings do not just graze the surface, but permeate inhabited layers of sensing and feeling, beyond a containable, localisable corporeal.
The fine definition of a line-tracing contour
thickens under pressure, receding noisily,
which could also be silence or broken syllables forgetting meaning.
Then vibration sparks a current, lifting the fine hairs on the surface of the skin
so that they become sticky, but are still yet ungrasping.
Contours holding shadows, hold loose powdery volumes.
The intensity of folding textures is particularly palpable in operations of kneading or wedging clay. The process of wedging clay requires pressing and folding the clay in a rocking movement with the entire body. In the rock forward, the weight of the body presses the clay against a canvas surface, stretching it outward, the palms also pressing it inward, to retain its form as a graspable mass. The clay is pressed forward only in so far that in the rock back the hands, wrists, and arms can pull and fold the clay back over itself. In the process, the clay spirals in multiple, bulbous pleats, composing and recomposing a homogenous consistency. The movement of wedging clay holds body and clay within an orbit of cohesion and release, in a rhythmic, plastic energy, spiralling to infinity.
So as in drawing texture, the qualities, energies, and affects of folding plastic clay propose a way to activate a corporeal morphology. But instead of generating virtual potentials in the indeterminacy of direction as in drawing texture, in the kneading the substance of the clay sustains an undetermined surfacing potential as it infinitely recombines in aggregate plasticity. The kneading clay surface becomes an energetic texture in the felt momentum and weight of the kneading process. In the kneading, plastic clay always holds open an interior void, a minor dimension of pressing into sides, which goes deep only in so far as it activates an emergent, energetic surface.
Knead a sheet of textile or plastic into clay and instead of the clay folding endlessly into an infinity of pleats (as in the wedging procedure described earlier), the fabric makes the weight of the clay felt as a pressure that is distributed over the surface of the textile, edging it towards solidity, then twisting and bunching and sliding unpredictably through the mass. At a certain threshold, the membrane bunches and gathers into its own edges or runs a pull in nylon coatings, making seams that press through the bulk, extruding bare fleshy skins.
skin, pulls, separates and holds it
from folding infinitely
back into itself.
The textile becomes a threshold of synchronicity and contrast, hold and release, a moving with and against. The surface presses, splits, and peels, intensifying the relation of the skin organ pressing against the materiality of interior flesh and bones, making interiority felt with the weight, volume, and plastic consistency of kneading clay.
Plastic skins press weight, press movement into sides,
always into sides, into insides, then into surfacing contours.
kneading tight and loose, skins pressing tight, bulging, pleating, never full frontal.
Alanna Thain (2008, 5) explains that to be ‘against full frontal’ is to generate relations of non-relation, or relations that move in the energetic field of intensity before the trace, before naming. ‘Against full frontal’, then, always emerges from the sides, in groping at new edges, in edges that lift into topographic contours then recede in a fizzling mass of fitting and starting, never fully separating from the energetic textures from which they emerge. But however partial, haptic folding pulls from across an inhabited field, infusing tendency with the intensities of movement in space, duration, tone, and volume. To feel the folds of texture, one must then feel its contrasts and continuities, or the way it thins, thickens, and unravels in a kind of proposition or invitation to a corporeal morphology. As the surface moves into contour, it is always a plastic mutuality of surfacing and sinking, thinning into fine beams of shadow or receding into blinding light. The energetic complexity of the folding, textured surface continually recalibrates and re-emerges with the movement of dancing contours into new convergences, of dancing shadows into highlights, and of sound into dust.
Folding generates a body in serial recomposition, always from within the amodal: ‘the limit of the series […] can be anywhere in the flow: between two terms, between two voices or the variations of a single voice – a point that is already reached well before one knows that the series is exhausted’ (Deleuze 1997, 158). The series in folding textures opens the potential to exhaust form in movement and movement in form so that both are indistinguishable in their mutual composition and exhaustive decomposition. And in turn, exhaustion dissipates the directional energies of the textural field so that movement can re-emerge from the inhabited past in any which way. Importantly, the emergent potential of these transversal edgings sustains an improvisational milieu with wording and meaning and across media.
Then elastic skins hold the excess in smooth, taut, flatness
coaxing delicate touch more than any finger could pulling pressure in from the sides
spreading weight in perfect full contact – fast and simultaneous with the cheeks becoming humid
then beams of light curl out from the underside, an underside where weighted tack
normally never lets the light
sticks the damp clay surface
then splitting under plastic spread, perfect tears outline drifting foil islands.
Then edging into kneading, into aggregate rhythms,
breathing light into the smallest of surfaces.
The grip closes in and folds into knuckles, bulging knuckles that bend,
plastic in the mass of clay
smooth, plastic fingers
creasing the surface from the inside, out
Folding the smooth and the striated
Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts of smooth and striated space help us to understand the doubleness of folding operations or the doubleness of a contour falling into exhaustion, into hapticity. The smooth and the striated suggest opposite and extreme poles on the continuum between haptic space and empirically mapped, contained, and ‘rational’ space (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 493). The smooth and the striated are not discreet or abstract entities, nor are they fully articulable, since they constantly blend into each other in a relational ecology, which activates ‘necessary passages’ and ‘transformations’ between them (ibid., 493).
Deleuze and Guattari describe smooth space as a haptic space of close vision, with orientations, landmarks, and linkages that are in continuous variation, heterogeneous, qualitative, directional, intensive, and fusional – these are traits that are always in a continuum with the striated (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 484–93). For example, the surface of the page in drawing texture is haptic since the page does not passively receive traces but actively participates in and fuses with the visual and material unfolding of both tracings. Meanwhile, the page itself poses an abstract, striated, two-dimensional space with which to activate morphological, haptic relations. Thus, while in the immediacy of the drawing process, there is an intensive haptic zone of giving touchable, feel-able skin to visual movement that is not reducible to measurable scales and quantities but remains in relation with the consistency of objective, striated dimensions. And the smooth and striated are not limited to material qualities. Drawing becomes a technique of striation and hapticity depending on the concept as well as the qualities of the relations it activates. Drawing texture might then be called a smooth technique, while drawing formal proportions that need to uphold a consistent scale, placement, proportion and distribution of shadow and highlight would be a technique of striation.
So the smooth and the striated are concepts for thinking and feeling with the limits of attention and perceptibility with an emergent corporeal rather than being fixed to stable entities. Each is sustained only momentarily before oscillating toward the other, since movement with emergent hapticity is always morphological. In drawing, this oscillation is felt both in the rendering of the trace and after the marking has ceased. Completed drawings quickly become haptic as vision follows the tensions of tucks, tensions, and overlaps that are distributed into weight, shading, and heavy outlines. One feels the quickness with which movement goes from smoothing to striating in the example of clay modelling. In the modelling process, the undifferentiated mass of smooth plastic clay takes shape through a series of movements of pressing the clay with the fingertips. The clay has to be pressed and repressed to distribute the counter dynamic of bulging that is activated with each touch. Under the pressure of touch, skin becomes an atmospheric intensity, an indetermined space that passes in smooth, frictionless movement as it gathers intensity across flesh, bones, affect, and memory. In the process, skin becomes a space that passes between smooth, frictionless movement and striating, concave intents as fingers lift from the forming mass, and the articulating pull on the fingertips as they lift from the tacky surface. What is felt as striated or smooth is then always in a dynamic flux with inhabited textures in a technical and material ecology, wherein multiple striations coincide with multiple smooths in a single gesture. What becomes clear is that the smooth and the striated are as much formal and material articulations as intensive feelings that suspend articulation in indefinite feeling. This mutuality is what keeps the relation between the smooth and the striated in continuous flux, meaning that what is felt as a striated articulation can quickly become smooth.
Striations are procedural constraints that intensify a differential relation with the smooth, within a material and media ecology. As the tensions of threads, the structure of paper fibres, the plasticity of clay, the subtle sheen of graphite, or the powdery texture of charcoal fold with the body into movement, they oscillate continually renewing cohesions. The material qualities of charcoal, paper, or fabric inform how the smooth or the striated become felt, but do not ultimately determine the kind of space that they generate. The drawn line or finger imprint is thus neither intrinsically smooth nor striated, but these intensive poles tune affective emergence in undetermined dynamics of pressure, relief, contour, and dimension. Marks and threads lift and sink to activate the affects of the untouchable depths in volume, as well as the emergent streamlining over the extensive contours of the surface. It is the shifts in felt tension or intensity in each instant that redistribute what constitutes the smooth and the striated, and how new events of cohesion and intensity are tuned by emergent distributions along the differential between them.
The fibrous tensility of the weft separates
in smooth plasticity
smooth panning encircling kneading, slowly getting closer, getting flat
folding, tuning motion, then slowing, out along the side.
And elastic is smooth as it stretches layers of red, blue, and yellow pressing pigment into flows swelling interior
then snapping liquid fingers back into orientation, back into dead skin.
The room spins, corners and walls blend smooth,
then all the surfaces begin to knead (you must lend your skin to feel it)
then solid again when the motion slows.
And in writing pivoting momentary orderings and inclusions, partially terming
landing short along the side
sounding flat edges.
Turning, tuning, terms that ride into contours, then return a warm slack,
then breathlessness starts to hold a beat.