These artworks raise questions about how we perceive what surrounds us, and invoke a tentativeness that pervades not only their installations but also a person’s subsequent engagements with other environments. This raises questions about what potential can be found by placing a person in this situation of being disoriented through what Massumi calls ‘oversight’ in relation to duplicated surroundings. Beyond making apparent the limits of perception present in this action of overseeing, what might such an experience lead to? Is it possible to understand this disoriented situation of the body in relation to the environment as positive rather than one that needs to be quickly rectified? One possibility is put forward by Richard Shusterman, as he writes,

somatic self-examination provides a model of immanent critique where one’s critical perspective does not require being entirely outside the situation critically examined but merely requires a reflective perspective on it that is not wholly absorbed in the immediacy of what is experienced; a perspective better described as positionally eccentric (or decentred) rather than as external. Such perspectives can be achieved by efforts of disciplined wilful attention, but also often arise spontaneously through experiences of somatic dissonance where unreflective coordination is disrupted, which thus stimulates a decentred, reflective critical attention to what is going on.

What Shusterman calls an experience of “somatic dissonance” could be similar to an experience of disorientation, be it through uncoordinated sense dimensions or through the doubt of one's perceptual capacities. I agree with Shusterman that there is a possibility to use such instances to instigate a critical reflective attention, but where he says it is attention “to what is going on”, I would qualify this as what is going on in the relationship to our surroundings.

Shusterman’s idea of immanent critique allows for the development of self-understanding regarding our relationship to surroundings through an engagement with our mechanisms of sensation and perception. Within an event of disorientation, critically engaging with our sensations may reveal existing potentials. Massumi and Erin Manning propose as to what this kind of critique might do, as Massumi writes, “An immanent critique engages with new processes more than new products, from a constructivist angle. It seeks to energize new modes of activity, already in germ, that seem to offer a potential to escape or overspill ready-made channelings”. This idea of continuing what is “already in germ” is where I see a potential for such architectural coordinations to evoke new movements, behaviours, ideas, or understanding. The event  of disorientation and the subsequent process of reorientation could be catalyzed by architectural gestures in order to afford an opportunity to reconsider and inflect subsequent engagements. This is also reflected in the concept of ‘immediation’ that Massumi and Manning have put forward. In a conversation with Christoph Brunner on the topic of the 'immediations project', Manning states that “in the new project […] we are interested in drawing attention to how the stakes of experience occur in the immediate interstices of its coming to be.” This idea of remaining within the immediacy of the event can lead to the development of new forms of relation, as forms of critique and creation are composed in the process of engagement. This begins to reiterate the original philosophical proposition of immanent critique, finding potentials within a system that allow for the development of transformations and renewed self-understanding.

In regards to what Shusterman proposed, this immanent critique would not require a decentered position “not wholly absorbed in the immediacy of what is experienced” to gain perspective, but rather focus on what speculations might be generated within the event, as a participant in that event. In this way, there is no need to establish a distance from what’s actually happening, but rather to acknowledge our implication in an event and take advantage of its potentials. Participating in the event, on equal footing with the other participants (for instance, an architectural surrounding), this somatic dissonance could make available certain potentials for new actions to be carried out, rather than simply an opportunity for critical reflection at a distance. Massumi writes, “Our freedom is how we play our implication in the field, what events we succeed in catalyzing in it that brings out the latent singularity of the situation, how we inflect for novel emergences.” It is these inflections that can lead to change, that can begin to transform what might come next, or what will be taken up from one event and carried forward into the next.

Remaining within the immediacy of such moments or events holds us back from rushing to a completely reoriented position, or to a brushing away of tentativeness; to withhold, at least momentarily, from closing down on the sense of disorientation or somatic dissonance, and to be attentive to what potentials might be present. Or perhaps to simply be attentive to what senses are being activated, what is really happening experientially in that instance before reaching a fully-formed state of perception in the coordination of the different sense dimensions into a coherent image of the world.

Catalyzing immanent critique

Catalytic events of disorientation

Feeling disoriented can be commonplace and, if brief in duration, surpassed by getting one's bearings and continuing on with the intentional forward motion we tend to carry on. But within these events of disorientation there exists a potential that is often unfulfilled. The sensation of being disoriented evokes a process of reorientation. As a catalyst for the perceptual body-wide process of reorientation, such an event of disorientation can be drawn out, and to refrain from ending this process offers a generative potential. Holding back from a reoriented position, or to prolong this process of reorientation, can hold open a window of opportunity to change how we relate to what surrounds us. In light of this potential, the sensation of being disoriented could be reconsidered as positive, offering a state of being more considerate of the shift from sensation to perception. Engaging with this experience may also be a heuristic way to intricately pick apart the mechanisms through which we perceive surroundings and orient ourselves, mechanisms that are constantly at play though often below the surface of attention.

Considering the role that this event of disorientation plays in our ongoing process of relating-to the world begs the question of whether this happenstance occurence could be intentionally instigated. Could environments be designed to elicit a degree of disorientation, and thus the need to reorient oneself? What strategies for evoking this sensation, in a controlled fashion, might direct this process towards a new relation to what surrounds us? Through stories of disorientation, and a discussion of art historical examples, repetition and doubling come to the fore as strategies to catalyze this process. Working within the overlap between the sense modalities of vision and proprioception, artistic methods utilized in architectural art installations offer a way to evoke a critical rethinking of our relations to surroundings by taking advantage of catalytic potentials already present. This presents a practical example of a philosophical immanent critique, as seen through the lense of somaesthetics. Merging sensorial experience of disorientation with artistic creations  opens up possibilities for novelty to emerge.

Turning through oneself

Susan Gäensheimer describes how this doubling can become destabilizing through introducing uncertainty:

Both the original room and its double have their own specific function and, in their history, their own aura – the aura of uniqueness. The artist may at the same time be suspected of playing with his public, for the concept of aura is rapidly transformed into its opposite, the void. Gregor Schneider’s artworks are thus located on the borderline between these two poles. The act of duplicating and hence doubling negates the auratic, highly individual and thus unique character of the original. Doubling calls uniqueness into question and with it our orientation and our sense of security of what is irretrievable. It seems as if nothing is unique, nothing identical with itself.

In this way, the act of doubling begins to destabilize orientation in another sense, by introducing uncertainty into all interactions with surroundings. This calls into question not only our experience of the current architectural environment we might feel lost in or uncertain of, but all of our surroundings, perhaps everything that we identify as individually unique, is questioned, as we begin to doubt our ways of perceiving and identifying.


The destabilization such doubling evokes comes about by giving one a sense that something has been missed or overlooked, though not being clear about what this might be. Massumi describes this as an act of ‘oversight’, in the way that it calls our attention to qualities that might be overlooked, and in this overlooking falsely identified as unique. He proposes that the “eye is the organ of habitual oversight”, and in order to distinguish figures and make them stable and continuing, the eye is inattentive to parts of vision, but this results in overlooking a certain potential:

The overseen is unseen potential. The unity of identity, the simplicity, of the resulting object has been limitatively extracted from the complex chaos. That chaos continues to be seen, feebly: underseen in the form of identity. The chaos must continue for the object to have something to reemerge from, as anticipated.[...] Vision abstractly oversees order by synesthetically superadding habit’s abstractions to the singular immediacy of its ever-renewing chaos.

In relation to Schneider’s and Seator's works, architectural doubling calls attention to our habitual oversight of what surrounds us. The identities we believed to be unique are cast into doubt. The complex chaos Massumi describes, or the void that Gäensheimer describes, begins to come into view. Rather than a disorientation from a discontinuity between proprioception and vision, this disorientation acknowledges our inability to sense the full singularity of our surroundings through what is our typical manner of engaging with an environment. Introducing this doubt of our sensorial capacity and capability to fully perceive what surrounds us might lead us to rethink how we relate to and engage with environments. Acknowledging this perceptual limitation might afford an opportunity to see this unseen potential, and to consider ways to access it and carry it forwards.

The story recounted in the prologue is an excerpt from Brian Massumi's essay "Strange Horizon", describing his personal experience of spatial disorientation and a process of reorientation. Although he was able to make his way from the entrance of the building to his office through a maze of corridors, his proprioceptive and visual systems of orientation somehow did not calibrate. As a result he experienced a moment in which this calibration took place, in a sensation of the "misplaced image of the buildings morphing, not entirely smoothly, into the corrected scene."

This active experience of being disoriented through and with an architectural environment mirrors a personal anecdote recounted to me by my friend and artist Dr. Jondi Keane. When he got out of the subway in New York thinking he was walking the direction towards his destination, and realizing after many steps that he was going in the opposite direction. At that moment of realization, he said that it felt like the street turned back through itself, as well as an internal physical feeling of turning through himself, though no motion took place.

What took place was the process of reorientation, his coming on-line with the actual direction he was facing. I’ve had similar experiences, especially coming out of subway exits in not-so-familiar places, and it generally leaves me with a feeling of frustration as I tend to pride myself on having a good sense of direction. But allied to that feeling is, at its beginning, the feeling of being lost. The moment when I realized that I was going the wrong way, that something was amiss. This happens before the morphing Massumi describes, or the turning through oneself that Keane described. Having a good sense of direction, when I’m not in a rush to get somewhere and I do get lost, I tend to enjoy it. When we lived together in the sprawling metropolis of Bangkok many years ago, an old friend helped me realise the benefits of being lost. She told me that when she first moved to Bangkok, she would take a random series of buses in the city until she was lost, and then tried to find her way home. This was her method for getting her bearings in the city.

Rather than an installation towards referencing particular histories, characters, or ideas, the relationship between doubled rooms becomes paramount. In this situation we don’t doubt whether the rooms are doubles, but instead a disorientation develops in that we doubt our perception of the environment. Schneider works to make this difference between doubled spaces imperceptible to the point that there is no original or replica, but rather doppelgängers. Whereas a replica is always referencing its original, the doppelgängers can exist in their own right, as two originals that are identical. Schneider questions whether the relationship between the newly constructed and original rooms can be felt or perceived by a visitor. The relationship might be invisible, as the newly constructed room might completely occlude the original room. He states,

The disappearance of the artwork, that it could be overlooked, does not prevent it from being sensed or for influencing perception. Schneider draws attention to the habit of overlooking, of not sensing what is the difference.

Such duplication creates a sense of tentativeness in interactions with other environments, as doubt creeps into what we think are trustworthy perceptions of environments. Whereas Nelson’s doubling of rooms calls our attention to our (dis)orientation and to question the certainty of our perception of the world, the replication and repetition of Seator and Schneider result in raising questions about our ability to perceive what is real, as well as cast doubt on the idea of a singular original quality in any object we perceive.

Doubting the original

Massumi, Politics of Affect, p157.

Nelson’s works create situations in which a person would feel temporarily lost, and this feeling of being lost would lead to a doubt of our senses of perception, and possibly doubt about our ability to perceive an architectural surrounding ‘correctly’. The uncertainty that this instills in a person about the dependability of our mechanisms of perception may not be unique to this feeling of being lost. In artworks by some of Nelson’s contemporaries, the repetition of architectural elements and spaces that Nelson employed towards this feeling of being lost is used towards another kind of uncertainty that could help clarify what the use of this uncertainty might be. Whereas Nelson’s doubling of rooms calls attention to our disorientation and to question the certainty of our perception of the world, Gregor Schneider denies the possibility of knowing what is an addition or recreation and what is original in order to question whether a difference exists and if this difference is perceptible. These two techniques result in a similar destabilization that can evoke a reconsideration of how we relate to surroundings. Like Nelson, Schneider has duplicated identical rooms and environments. Schneider’s doubling operates differently in that it is not being used for making a person feel lost, but nevertheless similarly works at introducing uncertainty and instability into our relationship with the immediate surroundings. Schneider has doubled walls, windows, rooms, houses and their occupants in various projects. In his most famous work, "Totes Haus Ur" (1985-present), rooms were layered so that walls were built in front of walls. In one place, seven windows were built in front of each other.

In this house Schneider has built copies of real rooms, as he states, “many of the works are easy to describe: wall in front of wall, room inside room, ceiling under ceiling. The built rooms are made of walls, a floor, a ceiling, and they are copies of real existing rooms.” This fills the architectural environment with a feeling of uncertainty, a kind of doubt. Though the rooms are ‘real’ – built of proper construction materials and without any sense of being a stage set or even an installation – they are permeated with this uncertainty that is somehow destabilizing of what is ‘real’. In another of his projects, "Die Familie Schneider", two neighbouring row houses in London (2004, Walden Street No. 14 & 16) were made to be entirely identical by building rooms into the existing rooms. There were also people inhabiting the houses, all twins so that they were also identical in each house. Perhaps the culmination of this doubling, at least thus far in his practice, was his work “Neuerburgstrasse 21” (2014, Cologne Germany), in which he repeated the same bathroom twenty-one times in a sequence of interconnected rooms within one large room.

Glen Seator created doubled architecture some years before Schneider, three projects in particular: “Approach” (1996-97) and “Within the line of the studs” (1997) which replicated the façade of the building in which each installation was built, and “Fifteen Sixty-One” (1999) which replicated an east Los Angeles cheque cashing service into the Gagosian gallery in Beverly Hills. Similarly to Schneider, the method of construction and the materials for the construction have to be identical across the ‘original’ and replication in Seator’s work. This is evidenced in "Approach", where Seator replicated the street, sidewalk, and facade of Capp Street Project within its gallery space. Every detail was replicated, down to the graffiti on the telephone poles and the differences in the aggregate used in the concrete paving. Seator's work offers a kind of stuttering architecture, a replication in such detail as to repeat the material reality of the original.


The physical sensation of being lost is likely connected to the human sense of proprioception. Proprioception is the sensation of movement or strain in muscles, tendons, and joints, stimulated by bodily movements and tensions, and is sometimes referred to as “kinaesthesia”. Alain Berthoz writes,

Indeed, to the five traditional senses—touch, sight, hearing, taste, smell—we must add the sense of movement, or kinesthesia. Its characteristic feature is that it makes use of many receptors, but remarkably it has been forgotten in the count of the senses.

This sense offers information about how our body parts are moving in relation to each other, but also includes the vestibular system which gives us our sense of balance (through the otoliths in the inner ear usually in relation to vision). Disorientation, or moments of physical sensation like what Massumi and Keane describe, often come about through a discontinuity between vision and proprioception. For example, sitting on a train in the station and feeling like the train is moving when in fact it is the train outside the window which has moved (known as 'vection') comes about from the more immediate perception of vision overriding the slower process of proprioceptive perception.

Massumi writes, “[t]he alarmingly physical sense we feel when we realize we are lost is a bodily registering of the disjunction between the visual and the proprioceptive. Place arises from a dynamic of interference and accord between sense-dimensions.” These sense-dimensions are specifically those of vision and proprioception, which Massumi outlines as co-functioning towards orientation. I would agree with this explanation of the mechanisms at play in orientation, as well as with the belief in the predominance of proprioception in the correlation. What this leads me to, however, is a question about the potential arising through this moment of disorientation. Could this potential involve an opportunity for developing a different relationship to the surroundings we are with, and greater awareness of these mechanisms and their operations, present in such an event? The event of reorientation, finding oneself again after a moment of being disoriented or lost, is something that Massumi also describes:

Cross-sense referencing forms a third hinge-dimension of experience. This ‘lost’ dimension of experience is where vision’s conscious forms-in-configuration feed back into the vectorial tendency-plus-habit of proprioception, and where proprioception feeds forward into vision. Where we go to find ourselves when we are lost is where the senses fold into and out of each. We always find ourselves in this fold in experience.

Articulating uncertainty

This relationship between proprioception and vision was brought to my attention through my own experience of disorientation. In Mike Nelson’s installation at the Venice Biennial in 2011, titled "I, imposter", he created a circuitous route through the British Pavilion travelling through multiple rooms, up and down flights of stairs. He doubled one room, creating perfect doppelgängers that visitors meet on their journeys through the building. The installation was built so that there were two small rooms on the second level, which were in either corner of one side of the building. This room has two doors, one at the bottom of a short flight of stairs, and the other on the second level opposite that flight of stairs. Following the circuitous route through the series of rooms, I entered the first of these two rooms through the door at the bottom of the stairs. The second door in that room was locked. Exiting this room from the door I entered next to the stairs, I continued through a series of rooms and finally up another different flight of stairs to enter the second symmetrical room from the 2nd level door, the one that I believed was locked. The rooms had similar items in them, and the architectural design was identical. This second room also has an identical set of stairs leading down to a door which was locked. This made me wonder whether it was in fact the same room, but that one can only enter through the doors in one direction. For a moment I was lost, seeing the same room but feeling like I had travelled through the building in such a way that it couldn’t be the same room. It was then that I went through a reflective process, like Massumi describes as rolling one’s eyes up towards the sky to remove the visual cues and reflect on the proprioceptive memory. Retracing my steps, recalling the twists and turns in my path through the building, I deduced that this was a doppelgänger room on the other side of the building from the first. Nelson, in repeating the visual qualities of that room, creating a perfect duplicate of it and demanding a journey between the two through other rooms through doorways and around corners, was able to make me feel lost, and so doubt my perceptive abilities. That moment of feeling lost was both uncanny and exciting, but more important for my experience of the piece was that action of reorientation and doubt of my perceptive abilities as it brought out an awareness of my own process of orientation and reorientation.

A disorienting repetition

Nelson made this same gesture in another project, "The Coral Reef" (2000), doubling one room. The disorientation he creates by travelling through a series of small interconnected rooms is taken advantage of when he repeats a room that one has visited earlier, giving the impression that one has travelled full-circle and returned to the beginning of the installation. Reviewing this work, Claire Bishop writes,

At the furthest ‘end’ of the installation, the first room (the mini-cab office) was doubled: many visitors assumed themselves to be back at the beginning, and thus experienced the most unnerving confusion when they next encountered a series of rooms that bore no relation to the ones they recalled walking through only minutes previously. The doubled room also acted as a destabilizing déjà-vu, casting into doubt what one had seen in the rest of the installation. 

Nelson’s architectural doubling creates a vertiginous feeling that calls into question one’s sense of orientation. This leads to further questions about the certainty of one’s perception, as Bishop notes. This disorientation, or destabilization, instigates a tentative way of relating to the surroundings. Being unsure of our direction, of what we have moved through and when, establishes a different kind of relating-to our surroundings. In this event, there exists the disjunction Massumi describes “between the visual and the proprioceptive.” The lack of accord creates an uncertainty about our location but also about how to relate to the environment.

This disorientation evokes feelings of entrapment, something often experienced in a maze. Nelson’s manipulation of this relationship between person and surrounding architecture was to mirror his criticism of how ideologies frame our perception and experience of the world, of what surrounds us. In an interview he stated:

If you think what "The Coral Reef" structure purported to offer you and then ultimately did to you, it offers you these different receptions that presumably then would lead to something beyond. Each reception is indicative of a different belief structure.[…] In the end, ideas of escape lead to entrapment, which "The Coral Reef" ultimately does to you as well. You become entrapped within the labyrinth of corridors and rooms while trying to find your way. But, of course, you’re also trapped by the prevalent structure that sits above you. 

Whereas Nelson has made statements about the relationship between feeling lost in "The Coral Reef" and the ideas behind that project, in "I, imposter" Nelson has made no such statements. His reasons for this room repetition are not clear, but the experience of this doubling evokes this same disorientation and destabilization.

The overwhelming multisensorial design of the spaces he builds serves to draw attention to that sense modality and away from the proprioceptive reckoning of one’s movements through the rooms. Furthermore, the transition from room to room has been shown in recent psychological experiments to lead to forgetting. Radvansky and Copeland have shown in experimental situations that walking through doorways causes forgetting, believed to be caused by the spatial shifts affecting cognition which demand that a person update their understanding of the spatial environment they currently find themselves in. Adjusting to a new space causes a cognitive disruption, and so moving through multiple doorways has a (statistically significant) potential to disorient. The particular relation between this effect and the visual and proprioceptive dimensions is not yet clear.


There were simultaneously two kinds of encounter going on in this doubled room: the first was a direct encounter with the architectural space, materials and ephemeral objects, and the second was the confrontation with my sense of direction, memory, and relation to the architectural installation as a whole. This vertiginous experience of being somehow on unstable ground established a different kind of encounter, one that throws off-track the continuing intentional flow of movement and action through and with the building by introducing dissonance into the process of relating-to the surroundings. That feeling of doubt about my perceptive abilities remained with me for some time after leaving the installation. While I came to believe that there were two rooms, having found no documentation about this, it did stay with me that it could have been the same room. I doubted myself and my ability to properly orient within an architectural environment, but this was positive in the sense that I increased my attention to my orientation which was helpful for navigating the maze-like streets and canals of Venice. Some time later, I found documentation that offered some evidence that I was in fact right about the doubled room.