Dancing with tools

I like to think of the works for animated figures, sound, light, space and human bodies forming part of this project as compositions. The term is lovely and ambiguous. Classic definitions such as: The act or process of composing specifically : arrangement into specific proportion or relation and especially into artistic form1 is close to how I think about the artworks in this project.

Elaborating on how the term as it pertains to this project: Does the compositional process include the compromises I made in order to realize figures? Does it include the code I wrote to upload to the microcontrollers driving the actuators in the figures? Does it take into consideration that I consider my work as dependent on the audience’s illusionary perception as the main provider of experience? Is my attempt at influencing those perceptions part of the composition? Grasping the ontological borders of a term such as composition is like grasping water.

The compositions created as part of this project can broadly be described as a time-based sequence of events featuring motorised and therefore mobile (in the sense that they move), physical objects that are placed in relation to each other, and in relation to audio played back over a speaker system large or small and often featuring one or more human body. The room or space in which these elements are placed becomes an integral part of the composition, as are the lighting, the temperature, the seating arrangement, the number of audience members, how the audience arrives, how the audience leaves, what information is imparted to the audience before and during the performance, and through questions asked of and by the audience after.

Compositional process

The process of creating a new artefact/composition has generally been related to ideas for the creation of a kinetic figure. It starts with a dream of an object moving. The object does not have an immediately recognisable shape, yet I experience kinship with it. I imagine what I am going to feel when I encounter the figure in the ‘real’ world. I anticipate the emotional attachment and impact of the yet unseen figure. I am excited by thinking about what that attachment will do for me, how it will move me. Something starts when I fantasize about the object. When first imagining it, the movement of the object is entirely intertwined with its shape. Its shape is defined by its movement, but its movement is also defined by its shape, they belong together. I feel excited when imagining this new character and the emotional attachment to the yet unseen object. In the early stages of creating figures and sounds they still reside only in imagination and they are fuzzy. The details feel vivid like they often do in a dream, but like a dream, upon further scrutiny, the details are in fact not detailed at all. There is still plasticity, malleability. It can change like my emotional affection can. Shapes can adapt to the whims of my affective imagination. What am I actually imagining during this phase of creation? Is it an object, or the feelings that that object could impart?

I am aware that when dreaming of these figures, the dream is limited, limited in the sense that I am always guided by what I think will be possible for me to realize in some fashion. My mind does not wander free, it is strongly influenced by pragmatic considerations. I think about the materials I have available, I think about the technological skills I have, I weigh up the time it would take to learn a new skill, and I try to predict whether the creation respects the constraints placed on it by the laws of nature, my engineering ability, the facilities available to me, the time required to create it, financial considerations and utility as a compositional element to take part in a greater whole. In this project this early idea-phase is one of constrained freedom. The dream is also guided by feeling there is some sort of overall goal for the research project as a whole, and what part the part of the overall structure of the project the current activity relates to. The dream adheres to premises I experience as resulting from this structure. I imagine its world following those rules. These seem to me to be guided both by emotive drive; the goal being what I want to feel when encountering the realized artwork, combined with the goals set out for the research project as a whole, and for this artwork or composition specifically. Ideas also have contexts.

In this project I have defined the main artistic endeavour as the creation of kinetic figures that can be used in time-based compositions with a view that they may impart a feeling in the audience of having intent in some form.

I start by creating one or more figures, proceeding to feature them in a time-based composition. This order of doing things, for one, reflects the uncertainty of what the final figure will be. I know that the vision of the finished figure that I have had at the onset of the process, exists in a different realm from the figure realized in physical space, and through experience I know that it cannot directly be translated. Although my fantasies are based on my interpretation of what my senses pick up about the physical world I inhabit, my experience when it comes to the actual construction of a figure is that what feels very important and exciting in the vision may be replaced by something else found in the process of realizing the figure. I am not able to preconceive accurately how something will work mechanically or aesthetically, therefore realizing any figure is a process both of loss and discovery.

I have no clear idea of where the limits to my construction ability intersect with the feeling of urgency for progression, and I have no clear and exactly where the limits of my construction skills are.


I can imagine alternative approaches; maybe a more traditional “composery“ way of doing things, placing greater emphasis on organization in time, using notation of some sort of symbolic writable language to order as yet unseen and unheard material, including ideas for figures, accompanying sound, lights and other elements in time. And only when this is done, create the necessary materials, figures, performers. In fact, part of my process is like this already; the first phase of imagination and fantasy does not occur as snapshots, rather I envision movements, development, different types of kinetic expression in some kind of time-based form. However, this form is not pursued in the same way that the physical design of the figure is. It depends on the affective qualities of the figure when it crosses from the realm of imagination to what I take to be physical form. I know that it will not have the same qualities I imagined it would have, therefore compositional formal considerations have to wait and relate to the kinetic figure as it transitions from imagined to what I think of as non-imagined space. I prioritize the physical implementation of a design, seeing how that matches up with my imagined figure, and then I create a chronology for the movements and activities of the figure. Maybe it would have been an interesting exercise to create a form for the organization of time first, in much greater detail, and the work until I was able to realize that form. But for me the question arises if such an approach can fulfill the same utility when applied to the compositional material, the figures, the sound, light and space, that does not adhere to types of material where established notational conventions exist?

The consideration of form, the rise and fall of what I sense as intensity, is a primary concern throughout the process of creation. But I find that when working with materials where the convention for temporal organisation is yet to be established, the organisation of time must relate to the “will” of the figures. It is the composition that must accommodate the figures rather than the other way around.

A dance I

The next step in the process, has mostly been guided by the construction methods I have become familiar with. Having very limited experience as a sculptor, I decided early on to pursue computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacture (CAM).

After feeling that I have defined the sculpture clearly enough in my mind, I would normally start designing the parts in a 3D CAD software. Mostly the parts will be designed with a view to be able to use manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing, but also to sketch out other materials that will need to be treated differently such as metal, water, various types of actuators, electronics, screws and fasteners, wires and rods and to create a bill of materials.

Every point in the process is fundamentally influenced by the technology used for design and manufacture. From the first visions of what a sculpture can be, being strongly informed by my current experience with the tools I intend to use for its realization, to the implementation being guided by the functioning principles of the technology used for its creation, and also by limitations of my knowledge of that technology.

This dance between two partners; one being the premises laid by the tools I have chosen, the other my imagination, with the knowledge of the tools permeating the imagination. As the compositions are informed by other artworks and other art I have encountered; they are also informed by the tools. In the same way as the tools used in any art form; the pencil, language, the black box theater, the grand piano, fundamentally guides the creative process of any artist. So it is for me using computer assisted design and manufacture.

The order of things

This order of doing things reflects that I experience a large level of uncertainty as the figures are created. There is as mentioned lack of detail in the vision that I feel is caused by the attempt at teleporting such a vision from its realm into a tangible object in “the real". What constitutes detail in the first realm is not the same in the second. I experience that realizing something into the physical world changes that thing and all its potentials. The physical object is not the same as it was when it only existed as a vision.2 The physical realization of an object also changes the function, the very core being of the object, from what it was when it was a vision only. What I imagined it would do, the impact I imagined it would have when it was only imaginary is never what it does as a physical entity. Its actualisation into a physical entity has transformed it, both from imaginary into a body external from myself, and also ontologically.

Am I doing when I dream?

This raises questions around what I am doing when I am dreaming of the figures, and the compositions they inhabit in my mind. Am I doing art? Am I doing different art than ‘real world’ art? What about all the dreams that are never realized? The experience I have in encountering the dreams, are different than what I experience when encountering the figure as a physical presence. Maybe the creation of the figures, with the experimentation, the maintenance, the breakdowns, the compromises, also influences the experience. When I dream about the figure, very rarely do I dream about all the time the sculpture will exist as inert material, before software and electrons breeds movement and an (impression of) life into it. (I also spend very little time dreaming of electronics going up in smoke, debugging code, finding out that the motors do not have enough torque, the days spent shopping for parts online and so on. All those things that are also central to the process as it takes place in the ‘real’. These things are what the vast majority of time is spent on in the real, but never in the dream.)

What I dream about is the finished realized entity, magically conjured up before my mind's eye. An immediate access to the thrill and affective impact of the artwork. Yes, the craft, the process, expending effort, the coffee cups, and focus on the implementation of a figure has its own reward; it is very pleasurable, but most of the time is not spent being engaged with the figure as an artistic experience. Does this mean that I am doing more art when I dream of the figures before their realization? After all those periods are at least much more condensed, doing away with all the “trivialities” inherent in dealing with the physical world.

Dream potentiality

An interesting aspect to the question: what I'm doing when I dream about art? Regards potentiality. The Airstotlian outlook that the knowledge and skills you have in, say, carpentry, represents a potentiality in the form of the possible buildings you could build, and that just because you are not at a certain moment engaged in woodworking does not mean that you have ceased being a carpenter. Bruno Latour on the other hand questions the concept of potentiality. For him things are as things are. Actants are fully deployed they are what they are with nothing in reserve. According to Harman he cannot concede unrealized potential. 3

To view a thing in terms of potential is to grant it something beyond its current status as a fully specific event.4

When I dream about creating a figure, does that fantasy represent potentiality in the form of this sculpture the dream could lead to? Or is it a fully formed self-sufficient actant in its own right? What exactly is the relation between the dreamed figure and the tangible realization of it?

That Deluzian notion of virtuality and actuality seems to represent the relationship between the dream and the realized object in a way more closely related to my own outlook. In the end it hinges on the status of objecthood, what constitutes an object?


I put the question of potentiality to my colleague Craig Wells in facebook chat(my comments in white):

Whats your stand on potentiallity by the way?

Latour and harman seem to reject it

I side with Deleuze and his notions of virtuality, which is activated within in encounter, contingent relation

Every object has the capacity to do things unthinkable when it’s activated inside an event, potentiality as “inherent morphogenic capacity”

Is an idea virtual according to this? I mean it could be realized, but what if it is not?

if it is, its the result and the idea, if it is not, it remains just virtual?

The actual and virtual are co-related, so an idea yes is a virtuality until it’s realized in an encounter with something

Until it’s “put into action”

Objects have a bundle of virtuality’s, like a cup, the virtuality is an action or a verb, to pour, to hold, to tip, they are event-based motions

Hmm I have a real problem with the word object, its very unspesific!

Yes, it is, that’s why objectile makes more sense

Deleuze mentions this in the fold

Bergson or Deleuze?

Just think an object is just a stability of qualities or attributes

Nope does not exist

There is no stability

A cup?

A bike?


A house?



It’s not stable?

a cup degrades, the house will fall, a bike will topple and rust

Every time you leave the house you think you will come home to pile of rubble? Yes of course things deteriorate and an object is simply just an ecological relation, but the object exist in the mind as a stability, it doesn’t have to be eternal and untimely, just a durability to revisit, objects change form, they undergo transformations yet they are still objects in that they are not subjects - without objects thought itself would not be able to categorize and problem solve. It relies on things to function

That seems to indicate that objects are also virtual

There are no objects, they only exist in the mind

Yes, they possess an abundance of qualities that can withdraw or reveal, they exist in the mind as a stability because of human time image

If we could witness an object over 300 years

We see it’s a process

Like the arche fossil

That’s why Whitehead trumps most others

Reality if built on a nexus of processes overlapping and folding and at some of these junctions we perceive a stability for a moment of time

Let’s say 5 years

A cup in the garden

And then the ecology

Gets hotter

And the cup belts


So really

Objects are just ecological Relation junctions that seem stable to our limited time consciousness

It’s like is it possible to have a thought that contains no objects?

Hmm this is pretty much in line with my own thinking, an object is an interpretation, held in the mind, as you say, with the minds refusal to acknowledge what the mind at some level knows: that there are no objects just continuum.

Yes exactly

And consciousness is immensely objective, we need objects to have intention. Towards things, to give our small existence direction

To have orientation

The only time they say they thought loses its grasp of objects is in acute madness

The problem then, is that pretty much all philosophical frameworks seem to break down if there are no objects. Something actual is an object, something virtual is an object... but there are no objects.

potentiality is something objects have...

I love it, all human thought is fantasy because it is based on something that cannot exist: objects.

Yes there stabilities are certainly mind dependent but materialism is different because it assets that material has will, can transform, so objects are tools in the sense that we use them, rely on them yet they can let us down whereas materialism is a matter of expression, the non-humans potential to become other

Where we find ideas


And witness forms inside encounter and shape them, restrict them and harness them

And present them

And that’s why I side with

Hmm will is interesting, human or material, it seems difficult to reconcile the existence of an object with will, such as yourself, with the non-existence of objects. My feeling for a while has been that all things exists contradicting itself. Object, non-object for example.

The forms of life, trees, hills, ocean, flowers, sky, etc. give rise to the life of forms

The essence of an object and a subject is that really it’s fragile and can always pull away and reveal something that wasn’t expected, as Bruno Latour writes “we are not actors because we are always surprised by what we think and do” and yes something can be defined by its relations but can never be reduced to them, there’s always a cavity of potential to break any relation

The beauty of thought itself is these very contradictions, that kind of materializes fruit, to have things side by side and seeing equivalencies, similarities, variations but most importantly difference for itself

If we can grasp that the only thing that repeats is difference then we really understand the transformative capacity of existence, that even identity or an essence isn’t so ruing we can put our finger on, because as soon as we point at something and we think we know it, it’s already changed

To me, I’m a material undergoing changes from encounter, there’s a superject in that there’s a collection of traces from my past encounters but also these are changing

Contingent encounter is what I like to use, I will write about this a lot

If the object only exists in the mind, how is it different from the idea?

Yes, I have also come to appreciate the road of speculation around what constitutes reality and celebrate that there will be no end to that road. Its an uplifting thought.

Well that’s the thing, Husserl says the same

Objects are ideas

Ideas of endurance



You mean the nonexistent endurance, persistence and stability?:-)

Objects are also shaped by human action, tools, banners, cups boats, we use them to get things done, I mean in practicality, the object of a hammer is stable in relation to our time consciousness but to other time spans it’s completely larval


So, it’s a question of relation and relativity

The relativity of reality, for us relative to our mental constructs?

Of perspective


We build alliances with things and objects and we surround ourselves with these things, dwelling inside an assemblage of parts and forms, functions, and qualities

Just like inside the mind

At any moment an idea or a theory can collapse

Or mutate

Become redundant

I find it interesting that I have yet to read any texts that make the kind of reservations we make here, accepting that the ideas within the texts are constructs and can exist only in a relative fashion.

Yes, I mean, we are ultimately doing hard core philosophy

And doing through a lens of practice

Which makes it solid in the sense that it doesn’t rely purely on ideas but witnessing things unfold

And contemplating practice rather than contemplating Merely ideas

For me there is certainly a feeling freedom in having the feeling and accepting the feeling that there simply is no solid foundation anywhere to be found. One can harvest and navigate freely.

Yes, exactly and having a knowledge of concepts to freely riff on is ultimately the best way to see these things as just materials too


So reading is the same act as making and writing is the same as composing or whatever