diffracting a wall
windscreen wiper on
diffraction is a mapping of interference, not of replication, reflection or reproduction, of the effect of interference46
It is a mapping of interference.
When I think of ‘interference’, I think of patterns of waves,
cancelling out or enforcing each other.
Thinking ‘diffraction’, I think of a prism hit by a ray of light, which is split into a variety of colours.
To read (be with) kelp diffractively could mean to read (be with) in different perspectives (ways).
How does the notion of interference work in this context?
Karen Barad’s ‘reading of something diffractively’ is influenced by thinking matter in quantum-physics. Electrons sent through two slits in a plate create interference-patterns on a wall behind. Barad reads something through two disciplines (physics and feminism) to let them interfere with each other - and to see what the outcome might be. It’s an image to think with.
What does it do to an artwork to read it through the lens of critical realism (a documentary approach in art, and a term coined by Benjamin H.D. Buchloh writing on Allan Sekula’s work) or through the lens of social practice? (Allan Sekula didn’t apply the term ‘critical realism’ himself, but preferred to talk about his work as social practice)
The main difference might be the focus on result or process respectively.
The image and text assemblages presented in books or exhibitions are clearly critical to existing economic systems. However, 'critical realism' implies a questioning of images' capacity to tell a (documented) truth about reality, too. To follow Sekula on his travels and encounters, meeting obstacles, negotiating access, one perceives the person in encounter with others - implementing criticality by collecting a variety of perspectives.
Buchloh talks about resulting images, Sekula about being immersed with a camera at hand.
To return to my own work:
Approaching Agential Matter through theories of new materialism creates in one case focus on the materiality of entities (or the material-discursivity of their asthetics) involved in a resulting presentation (objects, words, sounds, technology and images spread in space and encountered by human bodies), and in another wants to follow material relationalities in the tracing of socio-political issues (about harvest of a natural resource, discussions of ownership and rights, innovation-driven development, toxics, knowledge systems etc).
The interest is to make the one work through the other in changing collectives of various spaces, and to bring immediate presence as close as possible to the representational, to underline sociomaterial entanglements.
The question of how to put it in Allan Sekula’s work might be a difference between the doing of the artist relating to his specific context of people and places, and the doing of his art work relating to a(n art)public (‘s understanding of politics). In reality, maybe, there never was a difference - in the sense of separation - to begin with.
It is both.
difference as not opposed to sameness nor synonymous with separatedness47
If something is different, it doesn’t mean that it is opposed. The two things come together in one. It’s not opposed; it’s not a duality in that. It’s not separated. It should be looked at together.
This would mean that both aspects expressed in the two terms applied to Sekula’s work are part of what the work does. If Sekula wouldn’t have engaged in the way he did - using the camera as a tool in dialogue engaged in social practice -, his works would not be able to address public issues and concerns in the way they do, which means to act as a critical approach to a shared reality. The camera is partaking in dialogue on site, and by way of its looking produces images at the same time. It becomes a tool to fulfil two different purposes.
When I apply cameras in my work in the field, or in the studio, the use of them in the respective space provides me with a more clarified position in it - I show what I do. The use of the SLR-camera with its size, weight and visibility demands a different presence - it secures my ground as much as it helps to focus my gazey21. The use of small action-cameras enables a different performance by keeping a distance between my body (or eye) and the eye of the camera. In several situations the cameras perform the task of observation (almost) without me, they are asked to do what they want to do and show me what they seey22, when I pull them behind me walking along a pier, or moving along the shore in a kayaky23.
The first time they were applied was when diving: attached to one leg, as far away from the eye as possible, but still part of the body.
a disruption of the binary48
When the pointing towards differences rather leads to a notion of togetherness in an encounter, it is the consequence of the disruption of binary thinking. The disruption of opposition, the disruption of dualism. Not a cut but a joint.
Finding out by DNA-sequencing that makroalgae actually are not plants, but an evolutionary blend of various categories established throughout a long history of science, creates a stumble stone when we want to use a term to apply to them. It destabilizes our language, and it destabilizes our (thinking) images. Things start to move, and we become aware of the affectivity of encounters.
result is the process49
And the reverse: process is the result.
Who is the audience? And who’s the participant?
Also these questions set up a binary to begin with.
Are people we encounter in Sekula’s work objects of his gaze, partaking in a collaboration or involved in a transformation as audience of an artist’s (dialogical) work?
To look at my own work: independent of if I encounter others in field- or studio work, in the public or the gallery, I regard those involved in dialogue as participants in the process of an art work.
The artwork can take shape in a dialogue, one to one, without any audience present or any documentation of it to represent it somewhere else. It can happen with a group of researchers of a marine biological field station, with workers of a landing station or harvesters of kelp, or with a scientist in the office of a university herbarium.
Still, I wouldn’t necessarily announce it as art.
When I enter others’ spaces, my observation of the thing in focus is different from what those see, who inhabit them. The caring about and caring for in a necessarily different manner (as I am neither marine biologist nor worker at a landing station), can be perceived as ‘disruptive intervention’ (Puig de la Bellacasa in Matters of Care) in the given context and is made explicit in saying and doing. The mere giving time and space to observe - to slow down the pace of knowing - can function as disrupting a concept of effectivity. Artwork and research collapse into each other in a displacement.
Recording or any other kind of documentation, and even more so the presence of an audience, is adding a layer, which changes the situation. It constitutes an instance of yet another observation. No observation without changing effect. This can be the point (to create focus for instance), but if it isn’t, then it is a better choice not to document (or invite an audience). In case of the landing station use of the camera in observation of kelp and its processing through the machinery helps to frame my presence on site as research activity, additionally to the physical processes with kelp itself.
Two interventions on site were considered, but not implemented:
A diagram drawn in space at the laboratory in Bodø, in a similar manner as I did in the studio, and based on the marine biologist’s gestures and doingsy23. This never happened due to changes in employment.
The second was a version of Common Notions with elements drawn from knowledge of workers and harvesters on specific qualities of kelp at different locations, seasons and stages in the processing, for an audience at the landing stationy24. Health and safety restrictions, new ownership, a new person in the decisive position and resulting difficulties in communication got me to put this idea to rest.
The landing station is a place where a Norwegian past of local identity, strongly connected to work and natural resources, meets with globalising developments. Even if those developments have been going on for a long time, they have accelerated throughout the last years. Research on the internet led into intricate entanglements of interests for kelp and algae for various reasons and on a global level. Conflicts regarding harvest and its impact on the environment have mainly local focusy25. The landing station itself appears as a time capsule, it seemed to be a place where almost nothing had changed throughout decades; meanwhile development of the world ‘outside’ seemed to press on increasingly.
The first time I followed my curiosity regarding seaweed in Norway was in 2012, after research on makroalgae in Greenland and Iceland, fascinated as much by their physiognomic traits as their place in cultural history and as focus area for newer economic interests for peripheral communities in the North. I visited the factory at Karmøy and was with a trawler to follow the harvest. I regarded kelp as a potentially interesting material for sculptural work and wanted to learn more about it - and how to get it.
In 2016 access to the factory was more difficult.
But it was finally agreed upon that I could stay at the landing stationy26, in agreement with those working there. My expectations to what I would do there became reduced to mere observation of harvesting rhythms and quality of kelp in relation to locality on the map, and according to conditions, and changes throughout the seasons. A search for the best quality for sculptural purposes, changed into search of the search itself - to put it like that. I stayed at the landing station several times throughout a year (basically from April 2018 to April 2019) to experience a full seasonal cycle.
What I am left with is photo and video material, which I still struggle to use. The White Book Documents X seem a temporary result. They keep me restless. The conversations on kelp, harvest, machinery, marine biology and the experience of rhythms and physicality of the site were most important. But still it troubles me that I couldn’t find a better way to communicate with the company in the south. To work on site with a major intervention was no option.
From that, plans changed altogether to a stronger focus on a new studio and the art space as the place of work, parallel with more focused reading of new materialist theories. From an ‘unconditional being in the middle of things’ to ‘modernism by default - prompted by distress’ (an expression taken from Sekula to criticize modernist withdrawal from conditions of life and politics of his contemporaries in the seventies).
The art or gallery space is a particular kind of framing that makes encounter and observation explicit. I’m interested in it as a working station, a displaced studio, as place of encounter, not necessarily just with the usual audience. I was not interested in representations of sites I had worked with, but in the concept of transfer of their agencies.
Looking at the setting of Relay X: There is a gliding transition between being together with a group of people out for harvest X, bringing the harvest to the gallery by boat, preparing the harvest in bundles for conservation in the sea, and bringing one bundle of kelp at the time into the space each morningy25, for its presence throughout the day. To point out opening and closing hours is just a formal affair, as a public basically can be there at any time - one will merely encounter different conditions of accessibility. Technology is running 24 hours the day, projections and screens are on in constant loops X (even if the sound is not audible outside). One change marks a shift from day-open to night-closed: when the video screen closest to the outside shows a still image throughout the nighty26 - resembling a commercial screen, reminiscent of the screens you would encounter at the airports in the North to announce for innovative aquaculture technologiesy27. The still image substitutes pro.vocations, the videowork in essayistic style about various entanglements of kelp and human interests in it X, which one can listen to by head-phones in day-time as long as entrance doors are open. (The same still image as used in the night, was applied as start-up image for the marine biologist’s talk in the end of the week, picking up on the aesthetics of conferences, which blur a line between scientific research and economic interests.)
The window front allows a continuity between outside and inside throughout the night (as it also does throughout the day, just in opposite direction). The space performs in its awaiting of the next day. Any space of activity vibrates by the absence of it.
The packing of stuff in the end of the ‘exhibition’ becomes the last doing on the site of the gallery. Matter, which was on display, gets recycled X. The setting up and the packing of stuff provide as much a discursive space as the time of ‘showing’.
It is this fluidity, which makes space for an ecology to form. These processes are the work of collectives. They can be found, and they can be created.
I hope to find and create shared spaces, where material agency can be perceived, and discourse happen. And as dialogue also happens with the materiality present, certain activities offer possible involvement in material processes X.
When I present something, and call it result, I only can present interlacing processes, superimposing each other. No process can easily be separated from any other process and it wouldn’t be the goal or make any sense. A frame is there to rather allow leakages, than keeping things contained.
Any ‘showing’ creates detachment by setting up a subject-object relationship. It needs to be a collaborative effort in collective imaginings (see also note 45) to overcome the separation. On the other hand: to remain in silence with an object in space enables a complete dissolution of object-subject separation in the act of contemplation. A constructed working station gives also the space for an audience to comfortably remain silent meanwhile the artist is busy with something else.
no more rain
subjectivation by interdependence in ecological systems50
Something, or someone, becomes subject by relating to others. Ecological systems are social and material alike and provide spaces for encounters.
This thinking formed the base for Oslofjord Ecologies, a project initiated in 2016 by artist Kristin Bergaust, researching the ground of possibilities to critically address social and environmental sustainability, with artistic means. Its focus was on a certain geographical area, but the definition of what these ecologies constitutes was kept open to scrutinize with Felix Guattari in mind. He is adding a third layer to the social and material, which is the mental one, and he does this with concern for capitalist developments. These three ecologies can’t be separated and belong to the same. He points this out with a concern for the impact of mass media on social life - which in the translators’ introduction is mentioned as a ‘penetration of people’s attitudes, sensibility and minds’ - and a prevailing lack of ability to relate to reigning environmental problems as consequence. (He wrote Les Trois Ecologies in 1989). The three ecologies affect each other, and images are embedded in them, not merely about or separate from them. He calls for a ‘resingularization of existence’ and asks:
How can I maintain a relative sense of unicity, despite the diversity of components of subjectification that pass through me?
There are various ways and qualities in the experience of interdependence, which is the cause for subjectivisation. They are not always comfortable.
Spinoza talks in his Ethics about encounters between (human and non-human) bodies as moments of compositions or decompositions. He describes encounters as the consequence of bodies striving for more power. Power increases with composition, and decreases – at least for one part – in the moment of decomposition. This is how one can identify an encounter for one part as good or bad. It doesn’t necessarily mean the same for both, but it absolutely can – in mutual empowering or mutual destruction.
To be able to relate to conditions and potentials in a relationship between for example kelp, sea urchins, airplanes, temperatures and human bodies (me), one (I) first has (have) to acknowledge their interdependence. This means to acknowledge that each of our subjectivities is made up of a relation with all the others.
(heavy) rain (again)
exercises in collective cognition51
An exercise is a task or activity done to practice or test a skill.
Cognition is a process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.
Exercises in cognition can be more fruitful when carried out collectively. Then more differences can come into play. Sensitizing for differences (and allowing their disagreement) is training a skill.
Based on the assumption that collectives are composed of social and material entities, any act of cognition is necessarily a collective endeavour - even if walking alone along a street. In the same sense as reading is a process of collective thinking.
In spite of highlighting the material aspect as active part in the collective, there is at first a focus on a group of people from various (disciplinary) background, I want to address with exercises carried out with the Kelp Diagram Collective X. These exercises are meant to address switching between individual and collective cognition in relation to a wider collective with other-than-humans. (see also note 45) I expected from these collective doings new impulses for my own search.
In a similar manner was the performing of pro.vocations as cardgame sessions X conceived, with following conversations about content and format and the relating of both, and focus on language and image as bearer of meaning. Fieldwork with marine biologists, or at the landing station, are likewise exercises in collective cognition. But here I ask for permission to take part in an already ongoing process.
All those are examples of exercises in collective cognition with a varying level of hierarchical structures, not exclusively but also established by knowledge. Sometimes I’m the host, sometimes I invite myself in to others' collectives. Even if my reading voice in the cardgame sessions becomes part of a pedagogical-like situation, is the aim at the same time to challenge this positioning by a rather monotone voice and open rules for play. I want to challenge resistance.
In case of the Kelp Diagram Collective the exploration of sensual experience in a common doing was thought of as on equal level for all involved - researchers, artists, harvesters and the marine biologist alike. To achieve this seemed more complicated than anticipated.
the subject as a consequence rather than a starting point of epistemic experience52
An epistemic experience occurs from encounters. What would happen, if each and any encounter would be regarded a starting point for epistemic experience? Rather than something that comes in the way for it (like noise or disruptions)? An un/doing or dis/continuity. In any moment of encounter, experience is gained, and takes part in forming the subject. Being is knowing.
The subject that was, before the actual encounter, is a subject that had formed in other encounters, and is brought into the new. It is the source and the outcome of epistemic experience. It gives something into it as well. It’s not just taking something out of it. It is both.
It is a constant taking and giving.
A constant forming and being formed.
What with an unwillingness to be formed in particular ways?
What if certain epistemic experiences are not welcomed?
Is this the place for conflict?
(see also note 50)
Michel Serres’ analysis of a soccer game53
That’s a very particular note.
It was meant to remind me of certain moments in the project.
It is about the player’s situatedness when entering the game and how she transfers into sensing and holding and enacting all the potentials that constantly shape and reshape from changing relations in the frame of the soccer field.
It is a similar constellation to sitting on the hook on a rock in the sea, entangled with kelp to withstand the waves, and getting adjusted to their rhythm, to be able to understand when it was the right time to loosen the grip to cut. (in the frame of the Kelp Diagram Collective)
It is like sitting by the table close to the open window in the shed at the centre of the landing stationy28, listening through head phones to sounds, simultaneously picked up by the microphone on the pier, close to the water, and the sound picked up by an other microphone placed on the shelf close to the fridgey29 (when moving I heard myself sitting there).
And finally, in the same manner as the player is hold in place by the elements of the game, is the performer in Common Notions hold in place by the rhythm of sounds and appearing and disappearing images, a closing door off-screen on the boat, and outside in the corridor at USF, and the increasing sound of water to boil in the pot beside of the tabley30.
the subject as a privileged pivotal point of knowledge, truth and being54
It’s the negation in the line, which is important.
refuting the concept of an individual autonomy, the concept of intentionality, and the notion that the human body could be used and controlled like an instrument55
What is the least necessary level of intention to enable collaboration, and can this intentionality take shape or direction in the doing?
This means an enactment of potential of any given situation, and is in this understood as a collective endeavour. Can intentionality be the non-intentional?
These questions arise when enacting an anarchiving process in a group. A certain frame is given by a decision on what the archive is, at the outset. The Kelp Diagram Collective was thought of as an attempt in anarchiving, after a series of exercises to build an archive. This archive came together in two days at the outer coast, before moving to an abandoned retail shop in Svolvær. It comprised seaweed, objects, images, sound and video. A performative reading and writing in space of Emanuele Coccia’s The Cosmic Garden disrupted doings in space.
Turning to the part of the note about refuting control: I think of the body as a sensing instrument, when merely auto-responding to encountered perceptions, not executing something pre-decided (apart from relating to a script). The concept of control seems for me bound to a strict subject-object relation, meanwhile the giving up of control seems important for collective doing.
Furthermore, to regard an instrument (for example a camera) merely as thing to be controlled misses the point that things are part of hybrid collectives whose entities always have an impact on each other (a camera ‘doing its own thing’ when twisting and jumping along a pulled line, resisting the forces of the line and stones met on the way).
an engagement with the field, in all its messy complexity56
To engage in a messy field is what we do all the time. To engage in a messy field, to acknowledge this, acknowledges that the purely neutral laboratory or studio or white cube is not possible. None of them ever manages to keep this messy complexity outside, even if we think of not engaging with the field at a certain moment. We always do to a certain degree, just by being alive. It’s affecting us. It’s there. It becomes part of us.
agencies don’t exist as individual elements57
no, surely not
They exist between entities.
the local possibility of uniting the hybrid collective58
[at LIAF, at the landing station, at the research vessel or the marine biological fieldstation, at the laboratory, in my studio, whereever - a hybrid collective of humans, non-humans, technologies, phenomena and ideas]