Figure vs. Gestalt


The slippage from figure to body requires a system of representation. The two figures of the snakes appear as bodies because they represent real snakes; figures in a book are visual references to the real (or sometimes ideal) things they depict. Going beyond simple resemblance, Gestalt theory combines the sense of completeness and unity of a shape that is more than the sum of its parts with the notion of representation, in so far as ‘Gestalt’ represents the order or the belonging-together inherent in the shape of a thing. The status of the represented in Gestalt theory, however, is not clear. In the Working Notes to The Visible and the Invisible, Maurice Merleau-Ponty asks himself: “What is a Gestalt?” and answers that it “is the Etwas of which the fragmentary phenomena will be the manifestation”. Although the Gestalt “is not a spatio-temporal individual … it has a certain weight that doubtless fixes it not in an objective site and in a point of objective time, but in a region, a domain, which it dominates, where it reigns, where it is everywhere present without one ever being able to say: it is here. It is transcendence.” By looking at the experience of a Gestalt, Merleau-Ponty concludes that “my body is a Gestalt and it is co-present in every Gestalt; it also, and eminently, is a heavy signification, it is flesh”. [3]


Both as representation and as Gestalt, the ‘figure’ is tied to a body, but also to a visibility, in which an image in one way or another resembles a body. Or, in other words, if the notion of ‘figure’ is understood as representation or Gestalt, seeing is conflated with knowing, and knowledge with the (visual) presence of a body.


If we apply such understanding to a drawing such as Place Roger Prijou-Valjean, which presents us with a figure, the drawing should represent something that we can know about the site. If I do not focus on the lines but rather on the pattern of corner points, despite its bend the figure is regular enough to reveal a constructive principle, which we could call, for example, ‘stacked squares’. With this particular drawing, I may be giving a geometric analysis of the square. However, in a different drawing, such as 43–49 Rue de la Glacière, the conclusion is not so simple because no constructive principle is apparent, while the same mapping process has taken place. The only thing I ‘know’ in this case is negative: I know that there is no constructive principle apparent in the figure. However, despite this, the figure is a particular visual presentation quite distinct from the others. We may also say, going back to the question of Gestalt raised by Merleau-Ponty, that in 43–49 Rue de la Glacière less of my body is ‘co-present’, making it less of a Gestalt than Place Roger Prijou-Valjean – or a Gestalt in trouble. Now, this may be the case, but in terms of ‘figure’, I would not make such a distinction; that is, both drawings are comparable with regard to their status as figure.


The difference that is made between these two drawings is not due to the act of drawing; it is, in fact, already invested in the material – i.e. the sites on which the drawings were made: Place Roger Prijou-Valjean follows a classical design, while 43–49 Rue de la Glacière is modernist in nature. Thus, it is the material that makes us see a Gestalt in a figure; it is not the figure itself that is always already a Gestalt. Moreover, it also becomes apparent that in a classical pattern, such as Place Roger Prijou-Valjean, perhaps because of its emphasis on Euclidean geometry, the body is already anticipated and made ‘co-present’, while a modernist site refuses this conclusion. It may even be said that the produced appearance of a garden as ‘wild’ forest, as is the case with 43–49 Rue de la Glacière, is akin to the notion of the monochrome, insofar as both forest and monochrome threaten to make the Gestalt disappear into a ‘ground’, which amounts to a negative ‘co-presence’.


Just to complete the picture, a postmodern design such as Les Jardins de l’Arche, for example, perhaps not surprisingly operates less on the notion of the Gestalt and more on that of the figure. It is as if the gardens anticipated not situated bodies, but potential drawings evoked through a play with an often fragmented geometry. Having said this, just to repeat, it is not the sites that make a difference to the figure as evoked by the drawings; the sites may confuse them, or rather us, with a Gestalt that they offer as a more easily obtainable refuge.


Going back to the question of visibility and knowledge, then, the notion of the ‘figure’ that I am proposing is constructed independent of the register of the body. If knowledge qua representation, however, is dependent on the body, the meaning of knowledge and, in fact, that of seeing, has to be re-negotiated, in particular in the context of a practice such as mine that calls itself ‘artistic research’.


Jean-François Lytoard conceptualizes three different types of ‘figures’ [4]: (1) The “image-figure” as figurative representation, such as when opposed to a ground, the most conventional use of the notion of the figure in art theory; (2) the “form-figure” as the constitutive principle, such as the constellation or the Gestalt of a image-figure; it “is present in the perceptible, it may even be visible, but is in general not seen”; (3) the “matrix-figure”, which is invisible since it is the differential principle of disruption of the binary relation of the visible and invisible and indeed any binary relation. The matrix-figure’s “formal condition”, as Rosalind Krauss notes, is a “rhythm or pulse”. [5] Writing about the artists of the “optical unconscious”, such as Max Ernst or Marcel Duchamp, she states that: “the pulse they employ is not understood to be structurally distinct from vision but to be at work from deep inside it”. [6] As a consequence, according to David Carroll, “each of [the three aspects of the figure] is a complication of the visual nature of the figure”. [7] Although all types of figures essentially belong together in what Lyotard calls “the figural”, the “form-figure” and more especially the “matrix-figure” disrupt simple visibility within representation. In other words, inscribed in visibility is disruptive visuality, which is not of the same order.

Drawing the Trans-body

Michael Schwab



In his book The Order of Things, Michel Foucault defines the ‘Classical Age’, sandwiched between the Renaissance and Modernity, as an era that believed that it was possible to arrive at a universal order through the naming of things. In such a representational order, things are mapped through their names onto the idealised surface of a ‘tableau’. Such tableaus have been used in all areas of knowledge, including geography. The Principal Triangulation of Great Britain (figs 1 & 2), for example, a surveying project carried out during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, mapped – that is, defined – key points of the British Isles in relation to each other.


Triangulation is a basic geometric procedure that allows a third point (C) to be constructed from any given two points (A and B), provided that the two angles to it (α and β) are known. (fig. 3)


I have used a practice similar to triangulation in the research that led to my book Paris. In its main chapters, the book brings together ten drawings made during a residency in Paris. Each is based on a different public space in the city of Paris, or rather, on the trees that are planted in it. (fig. 4)


Using triangulation, I measured the distances between trees, which were employed as source data for the drawings. The chapters are: Place Roger Prijou-Valjean, 43–49 Rue de la Glacière, Square Avé Maria, Square Henri Cadiou, Rue Piat, Maison de Solenn, Les Jardins de l’Arche, Cours Valmy, Place de l’Île de Sein and Place des Vosges. (fig. 5) The drawing for Place Roger Prijou-Valjean is described in Paris in the following passage:


Place Roger Prijou-Valjean was one of the earlier drawings made during this stay in Paris. I lived not far away at the Cité Internationale des Arts. What I like about this drawing is the simplicity with which it starts and the way this simplicity quickly gets out of hand only a few trees into the drawing. The resulting drawing would have been so much clearer if the square did not follow the ever so light turn of the road as it annihilates geometry.


The square sits like a balcony between the road and the residential buildings behind. It appears to be a small local centre mainly for old age pensioners and dogs.


For the first drawings, which I did in Argelès in the south of France, I literally counted the amount of feet that fitted between one tree and another by placing one foot right in front of the other. This was a very slow process during which I often lost count or equilibrium. However, in Paris I had perfected my surveyance: I had built myself a small but helpful tool allowing me to measure the distances between the trees in much more comfort. The new tool was made of wood and resembled an oversized capital ‘a’. Flicking the ‘a’ around with my wrist, just like a sea captain would use a compass on an oceanic map, I could measure distances in paces rather than feet, allowing for a swifter and more precise execution of the measurements. I learned later that a similar device is used by the regimental Sergeant Major to measure the distance taken in a marching step, the distance between the ranks and to layout marker points on a parade ground. Carried only by the regimental Sergeant Major, the device is also an indicator of rank.


It might have been the circumstance of me using a tool that made people believe I was a professional surveyor. A woman, who might have been in her late sixties or even early seventies, sitting on one of the benches scattered between the trees at the back of Place Roger Prijou-Valjean, asked me if I worked for the council and if the square might be in danger of demolition. A man of similar or the same age, who had seen me from his front window, came across the street and enquired what my motivations might be.


Art makes you interact differently with an environment. When you use a field easel or a camera on a tripod, you mark a spot and stay long enough for this spot to gain prominence. People who see you will always think they know what you are doing, as the tools of your trade will give away as much. However, when the creation of art loses its appearance, and becomes interwoven with the space within which it works, people start wondering. [1]


Given the way in which the images are constructed, each drawing can be seen as a map of a particular site. However, the drawings do not look like maps; if anything, they look like images of something seen under a magnifying glass. This was quite deliberate. Real maps, such as the Principal Triangulation of Great Britain, can be used to identify particular sites in a landscape, but all those sites appear similar, while the overall shape is of no importance. The drawings in my book, on the other hand, are made to look different, as if something of the site could be captured in the shape of the drawing.


I refer to the drawings that I made in Paris as ‘figures’, a notion that has been important in my work. In the glossary, we find the following entry for ‘figure’:


The drawing proposes a figure that emerges when the site disappears. The site has the potential of becoming a figure through an interrogation by perception, rules and the act of drawing. The figure is able to contain the transformation of a site into a figure; it is the site in transformation. The figure is arrived at by developing a positive expression in the negative space of a site; it is not the negative space taken as positive, not a cast that is taken of the trees. The figure is the realisation of a potential not acknowledged by the site. The drawing is potential to the site, at the same time as the site is potential to the drawing. The figure is the hinge that connects these potentialities. The drawing can only make real the given by giving a figure through which the potential of the given can be imagined. By understanding the figure we can, back on site, start seeing how the site can transform into a being. This is why the drawings look like they have been made under a microscope. [2]


The notion of the ‘figure’ as well as a certain use of space may be familiar from historic and often scientific books, where illustrations are labelled as ‘figures’. (fig. 6)


Looking at Benard Direxit’s print, one can see that a frame that is part of the illustration indicates the borders of the plate from which the image is printed, while on the plate and within the frame two separately identified shapes are apparent, representing snakes and labelled ‘Fig. 1. L’Ibiare’ and ‘Fig. 2. Le Visqueux’. A reference to the word ‘figure’, however, does not need to be made explicitly for us to understand the illustrations as figures, as the other two examples indicate. One also finds in books, in particular when the illustrations are more schematic and embedded in the text, no references to plates, but only to figures.


In the context of such illustrations, the term ‘figure’ strictly speaking means ‘number’, while when objects are depicted a slippage seems to occur, since we could talk about a shape or form that is shown as a figure, as if what is shown amounts to a body. While the image of the snakes as well as that of the plant give a strong sense of bodily figure, the drawing of the Anciennes Fortifications, although a figure, stops short of slipping into a ‘body’.


In the context of art, the notion of the ‘figure’ is a troubled one. When we talk, for example, about ‘figure-ground relationships’, we mean to say that the shape ‘sits’ on and differentiates itself in a particular way from the ground, a relationship for which, strictly speaking, no reference to a body is required. However, such reference is almost always made, because the model for a figure that stands against a ground is, in fact, the human body. Moreover, I can refer to myself as a ‘figure’ when I say, for example, that ‘I have a great figure’, which refers to my body as an image of itself.

Figure as Disruption

A map such as the Principal Triangulation of Great Britain is an image that appears to carry its truth in its ‘image-figure’ – that is, in the triangulated distances between British landmarks. As a map, it is not supposed to be looked at in relation to its form or Gestalt – although it can be; nor is it supposed to make accessible what it cannot show: the inscription of concepts into a landscape. The representational idealization that comes with any map flattens such questions, and only if we were to be overly exact would we question the map’s representational reality.


For example, the seven-mile long ‘Salisbury Base’ on the Principal Triangulation of Great Britain is the original baseline, measured in 1794, from which the Principal Triangulation commenced. (The five-mile long Hounslow baseline measured in 1784 appears not to be on the map.) In 1824 the survey of Ireland was started, which in 1827 utilized another baseline in the north at Lough Foyle. According to T. Pilkington White’s report from 1886, when compared to the ‘Salisbury Base’, it “differed from the measured length by less than five inches”. [8] In other words, the Principal Triangulation of Great Britain, although quite accurate, was not perfect and was subsequently replaced by the more exact 1935–1962 Retriangulation of Great Britain.


It is clear to us today that no map can ever be exact, but this is only partially the issue. What, in the context of the present argument, matters more is the fact that the Principal Triangulation of Great Britain, claiming to be a true representation of the British Isles, does not question the way in which it negotiates truth as an image, or the representational simplicity with which it foregrounds accuracy, which is instrumental for the mapping, control and representation of the British Empire. This point may be familiar from discussions around photography, which has also been said to speak the truth due to the mechanical nature of its apparatus while its role in positioning subjects has not always been considered.


The map, just like a photograph, is an elaborate construction that results in a ‘naturally’ truthful image. As Jacques Rancière demonstrates through the case of Roland Barthes, it is not a question of deciding whether one focuses on the ‘semiologist’s’ position of the early Barthes, which sees the meaning of a photograph as constructed (Mythologies, 1957; The Rhetoric of the Image, 1964), or the more ‘natural’ position in his late work on photography (Camera Lucida, 1980), in which the photograph collapses into an index of history; rather, Rancière challenges us to think of the two contradictory elements together in the image as “raw material presence and … as discourse encoding a history”, [9] or more generally, as “a product identical with something not produced”. [10]


Rancière, just like Foucault, sees a historic shift away from the representational order – or ‘regime’, as Rancière calls it – into the modern, aesthetic regime of the arts, [11] where images obtain a certain autonomy as the result of such inner, double workings. Rancière sees images in the aesthetic regime of the arts as ‘pensive’ – that is, as thoughtful or actively thinking, even – due to the fact that “the aesthetic regime … destroys any pragmatic criterion for isolating [their] singularity”. [12] In other words, images in the aesthetic regime of the arts produce a thought from within themselves, without reference to another world that they double.


However, in the light of what I said above about the figure, Rancière’s analysis appears to be limited, because he seems to prefer to operate within images, or more precisely photographic images, where pensiveness appears as a disruption of what is in effect an image-ground. Relating the image-ground to the notion of the aesthetic that Rancière picks up from post-Kantian philosophy is, although possible, perhaps not quite justified. However, it helps to highlight, first, a difference between image and figure, and second, a reflective operation that appears in the disruption of representation. An image looked at as a map, such as the Principal Triangulation of Great Britain, refers back to the triangulated British countryside, but it can be looked at as an image in its own right; that is to say, aesthetically. Artistically, however, we can engage with such images to heighten their aesthetic character and to question the operators within the image and the quality of truth that they produce. By not relating the figure to an image-ground, a drawing like Place Roger Prijou-Valjean disallows a simple explanation of the figure through a disruptive relation to the image-ground.

Dynamic Drawings


The figure is neither the representation of a body nor of its absence, despite the fact that it sometimes appears as such. Rather, both figure and body (as representation) exhibit an plastic relationship, which allows figures to slip temporarily into bodies and vice versa. Since the Paris drawings are still, this slippage is perceived to take place as the eye scans the image, at times reconstituting a body and at others failing to do so. This creates a sense of a dynamically offset figure, which might conveniently be related to the operations according to which the drawing was made in the first place: moving through the trees until the figure dissociates.


For Rebody (fig. 7), an acoustic-visual installation and performance piece made in collaboration with Gerhard Eckel and David Pirrò for the 2010 Orpheus Research Centre in Music (ORCiM) festival in Ghent, I used the same operations as in the Paris drawings, but this time on moving material: the motion-tracked body of the dancer Valintina Moar during a performance of Bodyscapes, an earlier collaboration between her, Eckel and Pirrò.


Here, it is much more difficult to relate to the process of drawing, which is almost completely cancelled out by the moving body. This type of movement, which is not in the eye, but in the world, reinforces the body, making it far harder to suspend it. When this suspension fails, we very quickly see animation in the dynamic drawing – that is, an animated body. As with the Paris drawings, in order to calibrate the work so that it sits between figure and body, the choice of source material is important – I left out, for example, certain turns and the walking movements of the erect body, which are perhaps too familiar or too organized to be easily suspended. In addition to a careful selection, I also inscribed a varying radial transformation into the construction process, moving points to a higher or lesser degree onto a circle. This latter aspect produces fixtures that distort the synchronized movements of the tracked joints, opening up a gap between moving body and figure that is very different in quality from the Paris drawings. Moreover, different sections of the video show different amounts of radial transformation, creating a space between a complete dominance of the circle and its absence. In fact, the video starts with the drawing mapped onto the circle and finishes with a circular figure that is the result of a dance movement and not that of a radial transformation. (fig. 8)


Rebody is an exercise in refusing to fulfill the body as the destiny of the motion-tracking apparatus. Through the radical transformation, it forcefully opens up a space for the figure, initially just below the circle, which as the work develops converges with the not-transformed yet still not-recognizable image of the body as figure.


For the sound component, Eckel used the drawing to create what he calls ‘acoustic textures’, which he sees as neither music nor as sonification. In Rebody, he achieved such textures by focusing his algorithmic apparatus less on the drawing of the lines than on the movement of the points, which results in an acoustic focus on two types of movement: (1) that which originates from the dancer’s movement and (2) that which results from measurement error. (Another important element of the composition is the at times clearly audible sample rate of the motion-tracking apparatus, whose playback we slowed down.) Both drawing and sound attempted to bring out potential characters from the source material.


A text that I presented during the 2010 Research Festival in Ghent when the piece was premiered read:


Dynamic drawings are drawings that continuously reconstitute themselves; they are to be distinguished from animated drawings whose constitution is permanent since they simply move in time. It is the necessary re-drawing of the drawings that gives dynamic drawings their particular quality, since during the re-drawing of a drawing the drawing process is exposed or, rather, re-exposed. The drawing process is made evident through repeated re-exposure. At least two aspects may be observed. Firstly, a sense of the conceptual regulation of the drawing appears, which promises in time to reveal all that we need to know in order to make such drawings. In this sense, dynamic drawings belong to the field of Conceptual art. Secondly, however, dynamic drawings make a space visible within which they operate. Although dependant on the drawing process, this space is also determined by the material of the drawing, in our case the motion-tracked data of the dancer Valentina Moar during a performance of ‘Bodyscapes’. This second factor transforms the dynamic drawings into detectors, indicators or screens for the movement of the material. The material’s quality, however, can become known if the concept of the drawing is reflectively subtracted from it, which is only possible after the drawing process has entered the understanding. As a result, the material remainder is left a-conceptually exposed to our visual understanding. In this second sense, dynamic drawings belong to the field of post-conceptual art, which renders material accessible to thought despite its non-intelligible constitution.


Dynamic drawings expose both the drawing process and its material. They simultaneously operate within two cognitive domains, the conceptual and the a-conceptual. The conceptual aspect does not represent the abstract pole while the a-conceptual represents the concrete pole, which in the case of Rebody may conveniently be seen as body; rather, it is the a-conceptual that is more abstract, because dynamic drawings, in demanding understanding of the material, push thinking into the abstract. In comparison to the concrete and regulated drawing process, it is the material that is most abstract, but only if it is thought. If the material remained simply the cause for an experience mediated through a drawing, such access to the abstract would not be given. ‘Rebody’ offers such access that allows the transformation of the material into thoughts, which by definition cannot be represented conceptually and is thus not offered in a direct manner to the understanding. The dynamics of the drawings does not stem from the movement of the dancer; rather, it is the continuous re-drawing of the drawings that is the un-doing of conceptual and the re-doing of abstract thought done by those who think. This is because the thinking of a movement is a rupture of a given movement; that is, a rupture of experience. As the dynamic drawings give space to movement they expose movement to thought.

Dissemblance and figuration


Although looking at pre-modern work, Georges Didi-Huberman’s book on Fra Angelico attempts to explain imperfections in some of the artists’s frescos, not as the result of a minor hand, such as an assistant, but as purposely introduced disturbances that could spin off a thought, “helping a believer visually to move away from the visible”. [13] As Didi-Huberman writes:


this problematic of dissemblance [has] to be called figuration, inasmuch as Fra Angelico himself must have termed figurae all those zones of blotches he liked to spread across his work. For as late as the fifteenth century, ‘figures’ signified the reverse of what we understand by the term today. Today, everyone understands that to figure a thing means to represent the visible aspect of the thing. For Fra Angelico and the religious thinkers of his entourage, however, it meant rather to take one’s distance from the aspect, to displace it, to take a detour away from resemblance and designation. [14]


And further: “[T]he primary virtue of dissemblance consists of imitating, not the aspect but the process.” [15]


It is naturally difficult to utilise Didi-Huberman’s work on a 15th century artist for a description of images in the historically much later aesthetic regime of art, to use Rancière’s register here, but the link may be permissible if one focuses on what that link brackets. Images from both the pre- and post-representational regimes (the ethical and the aesthetic regimes according to Rancière) will have to show ways in which their non-representational elements positively contribute to the meaning of the work, since they would otherwise be nothing but bad representations. The notion of the ‘figure’, which may have been limited to mean ‘figurative representation’, can thus be re-approached as a productive thinking process that challenges visibility. Just like the blotches in Fra Angelico’s work, the outline with which the figure intersects the image-ground allows for the production of a thought, which would be lost as thought if it were identified representationally.


The strength of the image as map lies precisely in its ability to identify all points of its ground, cutting though their potential dissemblance. The strength of the image as figure, on the other hand, lies in an intellectual activation that does not require foreclosure through an explanation of what it is. Both modes, however, utilise triangulation, albeit in a different sense. While for the map a distance within the visible is set up that allows for the triangulation and identification of another, visible point, the distance in the figure is between the visible and the invisible, which ‘identifies’ not a visible point but an active process or thought that, as Heidegger would say, “opens up a world”. [16]

Besides representation


Although it may be the case that representation, i.e. the image-figure, is disrupted by the figural, to use Lyotard’s notion, it is far less clear whether the figural has to appear as disruption; that is, if a figure can be presented (in an artwork, for example) that can, at least to a certain degree, leave aside the question of representation. Or to ask the question in another way, is a type of abstraction possible that is not an abstraction from a representation, but an operation within the abstract itself?


The figure, as I understand it, is a more localized phenomenon that relates to a ground within itself. This observation may not affect the “pensive” activity that is proposed, but it very much affects how we think about it. That is, if the body is co-present in the different identities of both figure and ground, we may continue to repeat a body in its absence in the image-ground, which is then disrupted in a second step. If this were the case, by highlighting the figure’s disruptive qualities, both Rancière and Didi-Huberman would be repeating the Modernist preference for the ground, and Rancière’s exposition of the aesthetic regime of art would do nothing more than explain how a body in absence can still work.


To move beyond the presence or absence of body, which the figural might still be complicit with if one looks at Rosalind Krauss’ interpretation, for example, of both Marcel Broodthaers [17] and Robert Smithson, [18] I recently introduced a new notion into my research: Second-Order Artefacts. The definition is simple: First-order artefacts are man-made objects. Second-order artefacts are those elements within first-order artefacts that exhibit a different, one may say non-human, logic. The best examples of this are the block-shaped pixelations that appear on a jpeg image when a poor compression ratio is used, traces of algorithms, or their noise. (fig. 10) These conceptual disruptions of first-order artefacts (for example, photographs) to some extent revisit points made above in relation to Fra Angelico. My research question is: how can second-order artefacts be looked at in isolation – i.e. in themselves and not as disruptions of a representational space – without becoming first-order artefacts, or in other words, representations. Modernism up to and including Conceptual art may be seen as a historic phase that attempted to create first-order representations of second-order phenomena, compromising, however, with the reintroduction of representation, what I see as their particular quality: their disruptive force or, put positively, their ability to be what thinking can be when it goes beyond representation.


Brain, my contribution to ‘Wissen im Selbstversuch/Knowledge in Self-Experimentation’, an interdisciplinary research project at the University of the Arts in Berne, focused on this point of cognition/imagination. Brain utilized a series of EEG measurements that were transformed, using triangulation algorithms comparable to the Paris drawings and Rebody, into three-dimensional computer drawings as the blueprint for a set of resin models. Strictly speaking, one could argue that each of these drawings represents my brain activity when exposed to particular stimuli – in this case, an image from the history of art. (fig. 11) But there is no real way by which source image and drawing can be compared. Although we can imagine that a drawing represents a particular state of brain activity, this is more wishful thinking than scientific reality, given the artistic selective process by which the source data was reduced and transformed and the lack of scientific analysis to support any representational claim. Rather than forcing these drawings into a representational role, then, it seems easier to imagine that my brain continuously produces such figures, second-order artefacts or dynamic drawings while it thinks at the same time, since what is produced is the imagination of my brain and not its representation.


Although these objects are created through some form of scientific apparatus, if I can interrupt my desire to know what of my body they represent, I can potentially look at them as bodies in their own right, because, being three-dimensional objects, they do not look like images. At the same time, I am not quite prepared to accept that what they are suits the concept of ‘body’, of which, through knowing my own body, I would expect to know more.



A body is only the first approximation of a figure. A figure as second-order artefact should be understood as a trans-body: it offsets bodies (and offsets its own becoming body) without itself strictly speaking being a body. The trans-body can be thought of as practice, however, only when understood post-deconstructively beyond identity, subjective experience or objective reality. Artistic research is the becoming of a practice of thought on the occasion of a contingent non-thought.


If the body is in question, the making of the drawings has to be reconsidered. It is not that my body moves through a space, which it measures, such as when making the Paris drawings, or by which it is measured, as in Rebody or Brain; it is rather that a contingent site (Parisian square, dancing body, working brain) has become a figure through the act of drawing, and a trans-body that does not allow my body (which is, after all, walking, dancing and thinking) to remain the bodily origin of a figure. Rather, the drawing as figure links with the potential figure of myself. Through art, we as bodies are challenged to think of the figure that is presented as work, which if taken as a thought requires my own body’s transfiguration in order to allow me to think up an intellectual proposition in relation to a set of sites, human bodies or not.


There is a point at which this stops being philosophy (if it ever appeared as such): the disruption is not an experience that I try to trace conceptually and ‘understand’; it is a mere artistic speculation about possible ways of thinking of a site furthest away from the inscription of my body and its experience into a site, which would be the repetition of a limit imposed on thought not by the site, but by myself and the assumption that I have experience of a site through a body. We work, after all, with material that, although different, does not differentiate itself as ‘mine’ and ‘for me’, subject and object. Strictly speaking, none of the works mentioned attempt to have a relation to experiences (true or otherwise), because experiences have to be undergone by a body.


We should not forget that the ‘body’ is not just the site of experience, but also an institution. In the same way that we inscribe any institution into an experience, when we think that there is experience, we also transform worlds into institutions (or rather into one institution), if we propose a world vis-à-vis a body – ours – as experience. Everything, including these drawings, is a challenge to think about the dormant potential of the world, before it is re-constructed through what we call ‘our experience of the world’. That is, we have to propose a potential that is independent of a concrete site represented in the drawing. The aim of the drawing is to present practice as the only remaining concrete element. This is the becoming practice of art through research.


Art is nothing but the institution of ‘a body of work’. We may define artistic research as non-art, but the practice of artistically not making art, which is defying practice’s return into a body, starts from one’s own art as a site into which, through research, distance is installed in the expectation of a figure that replaces the body of art with the trans-body of practice. Thus, the figure transforms the site that is art, while the trans-body attempts to resist experience for as long as possible; i.e., it resists the re-inscription of the body into the work, which is the continuous threat of the re-appropriation of practice by art.


The trans-body of practice has no cause in art; nor does it exist for the production of art. Practice as trans-body does not strictly speaking belong to anybody: a notion such as ‘my practice’ is nonsensical and claims possession of what cannot be owned, or what, if owned, is owned only as art and as body. Not limited by the body, the figure transgresses identity restricted by representation, offering a practice that may be called ‘expanded’.



Barthes, Roland: Mythologies, London (Vintage), 1993.


Barthes, Roland: “The Rhetoric of the Image”, in: Image, Music, Text, New York (Hill and Wang), 1978, pp. 32–51.  


Barthes, Roland: Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, London (Vintage), 1993.  


Carroll, David: Paraesthetics: New York and London (Routledge), 1989.  


Didi-Huberman, Georges: Fra Angelico: Dissemblence and Figuration, Chicago and London (The University of Chicago Press), 1995.  


Foucault, Michel: The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, London (Routledge), 1989.  


Heidegger, Martin: “The origin of the work of art”,  in: Basic Writings from “Being and Time” (1927) to “The Task of Thinking” (1964), London (Routledge & Kegan Paul), 1978.  


Krauss, Rosalind, and Yves-Alain Bois: Formless: A User’s Guide, New York (Zone Books), 1997.  


Krauss, Rosalind: “The Im/Pulse to See”, in: Vision and Visuality, Seattle (Bay Press), 1988, pp. 51–75.


Krauss, Rosalind: A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition, New York (Thames & Hudson), 2000.  


Krauss, Rosalind: The Optical Unconscious, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London (MIT Press), 1996.


Lyotard, Jean François: Driftworks, New York (Semiotext(e)), 2002.  


Merleau-Ponty, Maurice: The Visible and the Invisible, Evanston (Northwestern University Press), 1968.  


Rancière, Jacques: The Politics of Aesthetics, London and New York (Continuum), 2004.  


Rancière, Jacques: The Future of the Image, London and New York (Verso), 2007.  


Schwab, Michael: ‘First, the Second: Walter Benjamin’s Theory of Reflection and the Question of Artistic Research’, in: Journal of Visual Art Practice 7, no. 3 (2008), pp. 213–223.


Schwab, Michael: Paris, London (Copy Press), 2008.  


White, T. Pilkington: The Ordnance Survey Of The United Kingdom, Edinburgh: Blackwell & Sons, 1886,  


This text is based on a talk for the conference Drawing in an Expanded Field at the Academie Royale des Beaux Arts de Bruxelles on 25 February 2011. It has been translated by Philippe Hunt for La Part de l'oeil.

fig. 1: Principal Triangulation of Great Britain, c. 1860

fig. 3: Triangulation

fig. 4: Place Roger Prijou-Valjean

fig. 5: Michael Schwab, Place Roger Prijou-Valjean, 43-49 Rue de la Glacière, Les Jardins de l’Arche, 2006, details.

[1] Schwab: Paris, p. 24f.

[2] Ibid. p. 85.

fig. 6: images from the author’s collection (print by Benard Direxit c. 1700, page from Curtis’s Botantical Magazine 1824, anonymous page: Anciennes Fortifications, n.d.)

[3] Merleau-Ponty: The Visible and the Invisible, p. 205.

[4] Lyotard: Driftworks, p. 57.

[5] Krauss: The Im/Pulse to See, p. 65.

[6] Krauss: The Optical Unconscious, p. 217.

[7] Carroll: Paraesthetics, p. 39.

[8] White: The Ordnance Survey Of The United Kingdom.

[9] Rancière: The Future of the Image, p. 11.

[10] Rancière: The Politics of Aesthetics, p. 23.

[11] Ibid. p. 22.

[12] Ibid. p. 23.

fig. 7: Selected frames from Rebody, 2010.

fig. 8: The first and the last frame of Rebody, 2010.

[13] Didi-Huberman: Fra Angelico, p. 224.

[14] Ibid. p. 3.

[15] Ibid. p. 96.

[16] Heidegger: The Origin of the Work of Art, p. 168.

[17] Krauss: A Voyage on the North Sea.

[18] Krauss and Bois: Formless, p. 76.

fig. 10: jpg artefacts.

fig. 11: Source image and its resultant second-order artefact. Part of Brain, ongoing.

fig. 2: Principal Triangulation of Great Britain, c. 1860, detail