Fieldwork (the aesthetic)

A common critique of the aesthetic involves delineating its social implications. The aesthetic, it is argued, has served within modern capitalism as a means of naturalising aspects of class difference. As the old explicit delineators of social difference within the feudal system broke down new systems of difference were required. Amongst other means of differentiation, the emerging bourgeoisie distinguished themselves from the working class via dimensions of taste – experiential and consumption preferences that demonstrated affective subtlety, refined sensibility, etc. In this sense, the aesthetic – a sensitivity to the aesthetic – is positioned as a pseudo innate capacity, which provides an ideological alibi for social differentiation and economic inequality.

While this argument retains its force, the aesthetic cannot simply be positioned in these terms. Cast as taste, it certainly has an aspect of naturalisation, but there is also the sense that taste must be trained. The breeding of good taste is not simply a biological process, it requires social cultivation. The phenomenon of the European Grand Tour provides an explicit example of efforts to develop and train aesthetic taste. Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794) also positions aesthetic sensitivity as something that must be explicitly and deliberately fostered in order to reap socially integrative rewards.

The aesthetic represents a deeply ambivalent and uncertain category/capacity/field. Kant describes aesthetics as a species of judgement that charts a relation between the apriori and the experiential. The aesthetic represents a realm of mediation, negotiation and agreement. Our perception of the beautiful and sublime in the natural world comes to affirm an accord between our inbuilt capacities and the nature of the external world. This can only happen in his view from a disinterested perspective – beyond the corrupting influence of everyday human interests (appetites, instrumental goals). The aesthetic describes a perverse experiential mode – at once engaged and disengaged, at once outward looking, but only in terms of discovering analogues for the apriori. Hence all the of the difficulties involved in recognising the proper field of the aesthetic. Does it lie within some notion of what is proper to the aesthetic – within some sense of autonomy – or within its wider articulation with, in and of the world?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fieldwork Notes

What is the place of fieldwork within art? Can fieldwork be placed within art?

Art is a field. The field beyond art is a field.

A field represents an area at once open and delimited.

Can there be a field that is primarily concerned with questioning its delimitation, with insisting upon an openness that is at once true and endlessly compromised?

It seems that art would prefer to be something beyond a field while still maintaining a sense of integral identity – grounded in what? The notion of the aesthetic?

Contemporary ‘social practice’ art, for instance, takes shape precisely in terms of this dilemma. Art is not even mentioned and yet we are not speaking about social practice generally, but instead about a very specific genre of social practice that emerges from debates concerning relational aesthetics, socially-engaged art, etc. ‘Social practice’ imagines a potential for aesthetic action beyond the realm of aesthetics per se and beyond the institutional system of art. Yet at the same there remains a lingering desire to assess works of ‘social practice’ aesthetically/artistically, not simply in terms of their social efficacy and embededdness. The question is posed, how are these works to be judged? What separates them from the wider field of efficacious social action itself? And here is where the difficult problem of conceiving the field of aesthetics and art remains.

We have then a field which insists upon its openness, while equally insisting that there is a distinctly aesthetic field.

Some rough notes from a day or so ago:

Standard distinction between fieldwork and lab work. Malinowski – anthropology and fieldwork – an academic field that includes the apparently wider field as a vital part of its identity. No lab without the field.

And what sense can the aesthetic make of itself without the field? Starting with the senses, the confusion of openings to the world. The aesthetic is not innate but must be developed (Schiller). The Grand Tour as fieldwork and as studio – their necessary intimate relation.

The field is not simply what lies beyond the studio, but what lies beyond the conventional understanding and context of art. Art itself is a field (field as enclosed space of disciplinary operation), but art necessarily reaches beyond its institutional limits and autonomy (Adorno). The field is everything beyond art as well as art itself (Rancierre). Autonomy/Breach is constitutive of art. No art without the field’s encounter with wider fields.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Complex Fields

Jeff Wall Fieldwork. Excavation of the floor of a dwelling in a former Sto:lo nation village, Greenwood Island, Hope, B. C., August, 2003. Anthony Graesch, Dept. of Anthropology, University of California

Jeff Wall Fieldwork. Excavation of the floor of a dwelling in a former Sto:lo nation village, Greenwood Island, Hope, B. C., August, 2003. Anthony Graesch, Dept. of Anthropology, University of California

Jeff Wall’s ‘Fieldwork’ (2003) depicts archaeological fieldwork in British Columbia.

Two fieldworkers excavate the remains of a Native American (Sto:lo Nation) floor, now part of a field. No longer an interior, the floor has passed outside. The walls and roof have gone. There is only the floor, which is now largely indistinguishable from the ground.

What field? Has this place always been the field? Are fields always resolutely outside? Could they also contain interiors? What is the interior region of a field? How can it be conceived? And what of the forest? Is that also a field? Don’t forests lie at the edge of fields and isn’t entering a forest like stepping into a room? How is the general shadiness and interiority of a forest to be understood?

Actually the ancient floor is now a tiered hole with an archaeologist kneeling before it taking notes. He kneels on one of four mats that are arranged on each side of the square hole. The archaeologist is out in the field but immersed in his fieldwork. He fashions his own delineated space within the field – a space of private observation and writing. He attends to a discrete, excavated area within the larger field and fashions his own field of observation and description.

Another fieldworker stands at the margins. He watches the working fieldworker, while himself simply standing there beneath a lofted branch, his feet shoulder width apart, his hands in his pockets. He is immersed differently in the field – distractedly, inactively, within the prosaic tedium of slow, deliberate archaeological fieldwork.

They have a bunch of stuff lying around. They have created a little dirt track. They have colonised a little bit of the wider forest and turned it into an archaeological field. Once again, the exterior is shaped as an interior.

There is another fieldworker as well – the photographer. Wall photographs the fieldworkers each day. He conveys a sense of the culture and context of archaeological fieldwork in carefully composed formal-aesthetic terms. It is as though a painting of a Renaissance forest scene has been updated – no longer full of cavorting centaurs and nymphs, there are instead two archaeological fieldworkers; who despite themselves, despite their level of distraction or methodical calm, somehow still manage to summon up the memory of an earlier mythical field (accentuated by the subdued, meditative, untimely light). How is this enabled? It is perhaps at least partly by fashioning a relation between interior and exterior space – elaborating curious openings, borders, thresholds and rooms within forests and fields. All of this suggests the complexity of fields and fieldwork. Fieldwork involves much more than simply stepping outside.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Walk to major Australian galleries through areas of nearby bush or parkland. Preferable if this involves crossing a high hill. My clearest example: walk across Canberra’s Mt Ainslie to the Australian National Gallery. The aim is to mimic aspects of the European Grand Tour in miniature and alienated terms. We are not passing across northern Europe and the Alps to Italy. We are ascending a small eucalypt-covered hill and then wandering across parkland to the gallery. Can all manner of major Australian public galleries be approached in this way – through a preparatory journey that negotiates a relation between everyday life, natural space and art? My concern is to make explicit the often unstated relation between art and a complex exterior – and to explore this relation in playfully classical experiential terms.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Video piece (or maybe just audio). All manner of people lay claim to being Kiki Dee. They say simply “I’m Kiki Dee”, although of course they are not Kiki Dee. Kiki Dee is a British soul singer best known for her 1976 duet with Elton John, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”. Kiki Dee is her stage name. Her real name is Pauline Matthews. The name begins as a fiction – a distant memory of a fiction – and then is resurrected through further fictional claims to identity.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


One hundred and one ideas. I shall not judge them. I was tempted to call them dumb ideas, or DAFT ideas (Dumb Art Fantasy Tasks), but it seems preferable to leave them in their nascent, utopian state. No point in dismissing them quite yet. Allow them at least a fragile moment of expression.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some Contexts of Fieldwork

Artists as ethnographers – social practice
Artists along with scientists – artists on ANARE trips to the Antarctic (Mawson Station), etc.
Artists pursuing procedures rigorously in the field – sampling, systematic observation and documentation, etc. (affinities with science, but with an aspect of irrational fascination)
Artists walking (and more) – aspects of performance

the social field
the field of everyday life
the urban field
the environmental field
the disciplinary field (rethought as transdiciplinary)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


‘Field’ is a complex term with a wide set of meanings.

Etymologically – and most concretely – it refers to an open area of land. Yet this openness is complex. A field is less an entirely exterior wilderness than an area of grassland, paddock or pasture. It is at once open and bounded. It may be surrounded by hedges or fences. Or it may be circumscribed by other geographical features – forests, mountains, swamps and rivers. The combination of openness and determination shapes our experience of going into a field. We have stepped outside. We have stepped out into the world, but at the same time we recognise the limits of this exterior. A field represents a delimited expanse. Its vastness is never absolute. It is not the sublime vastness of the the sea or outer space.

It is perhaps because of the determinate character of a field that fieldwork is possible. One can fruitfully move within this space. One can keep animals, plant crops, conduct research, produce art, etc. Yet the appeal of any field lies not only in its potential productivity and domesticity, but in its openness and risk.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Fieldwork is a form of research. It involves leaving the lab and going out into the world. Fun to leave the lab, but also important. Research must be extended beyond the artifice of the lab. In this sense, fieldwork is pursued seriously and diligently. It follows a determined method and aims to provide fruitful insights. But what if I go out into the field in a less focused way? What if I have no clear plan in mind? What if I pursue a fanciful method or no method at all? What if the possibility that I am engaged in research never crosses my mind? Then what am I doing in the field and what can I discover there? What is the perverse value in not pursuing deliberate research?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Grand Tour

Rough notes.

Aesthetic experience may conventionally be associated with the so-called higher senses – sight and hearing – but it is intimately connected also with the lower senses – touch, taste and smell – as well as with features of experience that are difficult to decompose, which come in a larger, holistic form, involving not only the sensing of something external, but also active engagement, motion, duration, etc.

What is the European Grand Tour, for instance, if not a complex overall experience, in which the understanding and appreciation of classical culture is structured in terms of the contours and rich intricacies of a journey. I am particularly interested by the journey across the Alps that precedes almost every grand tourist’s experience of Italian culture. How does the experience of wild, mountainous nature provide a necessary precursor to journeying through Italy? How is the experience of the Alps positioned? How does it provide access to the aesthetic?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Survivalist Camps

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Survivalist Gaming

Mitchell sent me this:

Here’s a good article on survivalist gaming – – but
it doesn’t mention my favourite, called A Dark Room – a review:


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Flat Pack Feral

A fantasy of alienated feral existence is rendered in a concrete, neatly packaged and participatory form.

A wooden palette of cardboard boxes is placed at the edge of an area of Bundanon forest. Ikea style instructions explain that viewers should move the boxes up into the forest and then open them to explore their contents. The boxes contain bits and pieces of the detritus of a feral existence – a tent, sleeping bag, clothes, cooking gear, trash and pages from an incoherent journal. Additional instructions inside the boxes explain what to do with these items – how they should be arranged.

The campsite is assembled in the morning, left up for the day and night and then returned into the flat pack boxes and placed back on the palette early the next morning.

The aim is to play up contradictions and subterranean alignments between the disorder of a marginal existence and the regularities of commodity form – between entropy and systematic procedure.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment


Have released a new album out on bandcamp. It’s called Whenever.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Kim, Lucas and I follow creeks up from the beach to the escarpment.

Lucas re-enacts materialist film events with Louise.

I bought a banjo last night from Clive in Unanderra. He was in his pyjamas.

What are the implications of following? Where does following lead?
Instead of trying at every instant to do something new.
Instead of commenting wryly on the past.
Instead of feeling stuck.
Instead of lamenting the disappearance of the future.
Instead of attending to a restrictive past.
Instead of strictly following.
Instead of strictly going astray.
Instead of imagining that following is a simple process.
Instead of imagining that following is especially hard.
We follow. We follow following. We follow following wherever it leads.

Please some clarity.

I have recorded three albums of material in the past year. None of it is especially innovative. I am following memories, emotions, sensations. It is not really for others to listen to – or to listen to very attentively. I make it available, but in the same manner that smoke wafts over a fence. I am cooking in my backyard. Unavoidably this will have olfactory consequences for my neighbours. But we are all cooking. The smoke and odours blow both ways. None of us are amateurs, none of us are professionals. In the same manner music circulates through the neighbourhood. I am drawn to popular traditions. I’ll play things my own way. I’ll cut corners and cheat. But I am still following.

Similarly, we don’t try to reinvent the creek bed. We follow the creek. We follow the creek as best we can. This also involves walking away from the creek at times. When the path along the creek is blocked then we follow other ways. Whatever way suits. There is some ingenuity here, but the novel turns emerge from the process of following. Following does not have to be dully scrupulous. Nor does it have to obsessively veer off track.

Lucas and Louise’s film work reflects upon following. It stages a repetition that does not actually repeat. Alongside this there can be a less attentive following, a drifting following, a semi-conscious following. All these different modes of following are valid – not that they really need validation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Assemblage, what the fuck?

I’m sure I should be reading Deleuze or watching some interminable lecture by Delanda on Youtube (actually his lectures aren’t bad), but fuck it. I’ve gone straight to Wikipedia and straight to assemblage art because I have some vague sense of what that is – putting together found objects, the juxtaposition of incompatible bits and pieces from everyday life, etc. This leads me back to the roughly similar terrain of collage. I think of the photo-collages of Hannah Hoch and the mixed media painting of Georges Braque. Surely that is enough to go on – at least initially.

Two features of assemblage:

  • Composed of pre-constructed things that have been removed from their ordinary contexts. The various things both reference a surrounding, non-aesthetic immediacy, but also an unobtainable original context – an irrecoverable object past.
  • the various things are combined in a manner that not only unsettles the possibility of unity but establishes another, unlikely whole. There is a clear irony in linking fragmentation and disjuncture to the possibility of delineated composition. It as though only here, within the context of artistic assemblage, that both the arbitrary nature of the world and the impossibility of escaping this arbitrariness can be represented. The assemblage becomes a symbol of the non-organic, the non-whole, the irreconcilable.

Yet my interest is not precisely in creating symbols. It is to somehow find effective means to negotiate assemblage intimately – to traverse it – without any possibility of stepping back to take in the whole. My aim is to pass ignorantly into the assembled space.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments


Can you forgive me if I begin again?

There are single things, which can be either simple or complex.

Simple things cannot be decomposed further. Nothing at human scale is simple. At the smallest scale, the notion of simplicity becomes complex itself. Apparently simple constituent elements – atoms, particles, etc. – only attain simplicity within the context of their positioning in a field, so can they properly be conceived as simple, discrete things?

Complex things can be decomposed into further things. Complex things can be simple or complex.

Simple complex things are composed of clearly identifiable constituent things. A numerical set is a simple complex thing that is composed of a collection of numbers. A chemical compound is a simple complex thing in which a number of discrete chemicals enter a macro-level relation. Arguably, a compound is more complex than a set because the individual elements enter into combination, rather than remaining discretely configured.

Complex complex things are not composed of discretely determined constituent things. Everything within a complex complex thing is itself a complex complex thing. Futhermore, the various things do not enter into a single relation. There is neither a set nor a compound. The overall relation is itself complex and ultimately indeterminable. The complex complex thing is only provisionally a thing. It contains a variety of things and is itself various.

An assemblage – conceived as a form – is a type of complex complex thing. Its special character is a sense of juxtaposition. The various constituent complex complex things brought together within its problematic identity lack organic relation. They grew up elsewhere, but have now been thrust together. There is always within assemblage a sense of disjuncture and imposition.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment


Assemblage. What do I know of assemblage? Very little it seems. So I will start with this ignorance, but also, leaping ahead of myself, posit that perhaps ignorance is a condition of assemblage.

There are two conceptions of assemblage: one as a form, as something that takes shape, appearing as a thing, or more properly a collection of irreducibly complex things; then there is assemblage as a quality that affects everything, which indicates the multiplicity, incongruity and complexity of what passes for things. In the latter sense assemblage represents the untenable and provisional character of all objectivity. Nothing can be represented as a discrete component or as a discrete set of components that enter into a discrete relation. At the edge of all complexity is further complexity. No edge is guaranteed.

And it is in this sense of a limitless space of assemblage that ignorance becomes relevant because I cannot stand back from any apparent assemblage as a discrete thing or system. In engaging with assemblage I become another dimension of its complexity. I cannot help recognizing assemblages that take coherent shape, but their apparent objective integrity is immediately compromised by my work of designating them – constituting them. For them to appear as themselves, as something discrete, I must ignore everything that unsettles the possibility of delineation. Ignorance is necessary to lend assemblage apparent coherent form. It is also necessary in order move within any assemblage, for movement entails becoming embroiled in a complex landscape that appears inescapable. I am ignorant then both when I point at the assemblage (from an imaginary separate distance) and when I am caught within the assemblage and can imagine no way out.

But let’s try to state things more clearly.

As a form an assemblage has the following features:

• It is a multiplicity.
• The multiple elements of that make up this multiplicity are irreducibly complex. They resist analysis. They are not elements but assemblages themselves.
• The assembled elements lack any natural relation – they are juxtaposed.
• The overall multiplicity nonetheless takes provisional shape as a single thing.

As a quality assemblage has the following features:

• Multiple
• Irreducible to analysis – to decomposition into primary elements
• Juxtaposition of already complex elements

Very similar conceptions, but the latter is more consistent and radical. It does not permit assemblage to reside in any particular thing – to obtain any sense of coherent autonomy (objectivity).

But enough of this nonsense, ignorant as I am, the notion of assemblage set me thinking about something I once knew, or more accurately never dared to properly know, since I recognized the potential for loss. As a programmer I worked with all manner of programming languages – C++, Java, Scala, Python and a range of scripting languages – but I never learned Assembly. Assembly is the lowest level computer language, just mildly abstracted from machine code itself. Writing in Assembly involves engaging with the intimate detail of specific machine architectures – memory registers, buffers, etc. Data is represented in binary or hexadecimal form rather than as ordinary decimal numbers. Everything is slow, hard and prone to error. The good Assembly programmer gains the capacity to think like the machine, to comfortably negotiate its alien and opaque complexity.

How is this relevant to the notion of assemblage? Assembly Language provides a model for a particular kind of relation to a given field. Instead of representing the field via an abstracted map, it is engaged with in its complexity. This is complexity to the point of loss, to the point of obsessive, concentrated immersion. There is no possibility of simply standing back and seeing the whole. Each view of the whole is inadequate. Everything only obtains tangible shape within the details of particular configurations, encounters and negotiations.

The work of assemblage is a work of implication and loss.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment


Aesthetics is political, but is not itself directed to the political.

In the classic formulation of Schiller, the aesthetic paves the way for enlightened political society. It provides an education at the level of sensibility that is vital towards individuals coming together to establish a genuinely free political community. Aesthetic experience serves as a mediating force, it augurs the reconciliation of sense and rational abstraction, concrete particularity and general law. Yet this mediation depends upon it withdrawing from any particular context of action as such. It is not directed towards mechanical-instrumental ends or social-ethical ends. Its peculiar context of action depends up a suspension of ordinary contexts of action.

This suspension implies that anything can be subject to aesthetic configuration. If aesthetics has a formal aspect, it is not as a form that can be explicated in entirely formal terms. Aesthetics works over things. It distances them from themselves. It renders them mediate, but without ever passing into an abstract language of symmetry, harmony, etc. It delineates things.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Pen and a Pencil

Thanks to the person who very kindly sent me a pencil and a pen in an effort to encourage me to write more. Do my best, but I’m afraid that I follow my own patterns of wayward and sporadic writing activity.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


For the past year or so I have been playing guitar at night. Have discovered Open G tuning and have started playing fingerstyle. Whenever I come up with a tune I record it in a single take on my iPad. Early in December I put an album of material up on Bandcamp. It’s called Ultimatum. You can listen to it without buying it. Happy to arrange a free copy (not trying to make money!).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Minski’s Hospitality

Hospitality in socially engaged art.

To invite somebody in. To permit them to participate. To describe/circumscribe a context for participation.

This is, after all, your artwork. You are named. A group of you are named. The group has a name. People come along. Perhaps they belong. Usually they do. They figure out what they are supposed to do. They do it. Or they don’t quite do it. But whatever they don’t quite do also occurs within the work. It is ultimately yours. You ultimately permit it even if you disapprove because it adds to the work and, as I say, it is ultimately yours.

Apart from questions of ownership and estrangement – appearing on the doorstep and offering a partial, conditional welcome – there is also, however, the underlying sense that hospitality is unnecessary, that nothing like hospitality is happening, that there is no owner and there are no strangers. There is instead the social, which simply has to be activated, which remains a latent force, which art can somehow realise. So at one level all the protocols are suspended – the work of art struggles to occupy a position beyond hospitality, to represent instead the literal foundation of the social. People only have to come and they will see and act socially.

Of course I should have read Derrida on hospitality, but I haven’t. Instead I have read about one hundred pages in the middle of the Marquis De Sade’s Juliette. Juliette, villainous sister of Justine, who profits only from vice, who is doomed if she ever turns her back on vice, who is compelled to obey vice’s law. She is as bound by law as any other. She is as drawn to law as any other.

Anyway, in the middle of her book, after she has fled from France to Italy, after she has learned the art of poisoning, she meets Minski the Monster on the high slopes of a volcano near Florence. Over seven feet tall, with an 18 inch cock – a coprophage and cannibal – Minski would have slaughtered Juliette and her small entourage (Augustine, Zephry, and Sbrigani) if he hadn’t recognised a kindred spirit. Juliette and her travel companions were buggering one another at the lip of the volcano. So Minski is friendly. He recognises his own predilections. He insists they follow him on a long walk to his abode. They descend for several hours into a dark valley, cross a lake in a gondola and pass through several substantial castle walls until they find themselves into low ceilinged room strewn with bones.

Rabelasian in his appetites, Minski is outrageously rich and permanently erect. He has travelled the world, accumulating all its vices. He adheres to Nature, which represents nothing but his own libidinal, murderous urges. He ejaculates at least ten times a night and every creature he fucks dies (and then is eaten). He has torture machines to kill multiple victims with the pull of a single cord. He keeps a massive seraglio of victims, carefully grouped in terms of age and gender. The sick and the not so sick are regularly fed to wild beasts.

He is also, it seems, a philosopher – and he speaks specifically and for several pages about hospitality, about the absurdity of hospitality. This after he has inhospitably murdered Augustine – and Juliette has expressed concern that she may be next. They engage in dialogue, although not strongly Socratic in nature. Minski makes no show of ignorance. The laws of Nature – of enlightened human action – are writ large for him. If the weak are hospitable to the strong it is only in order to survive. If the strong are hospitable to the weak then their strength is compromised. There is no reason to admit strangers. He draws upon a variety of cultural precedents, describing examples of cultures that instantly destroy outsiders. The strong have no obligations to the weak. They are the weak’s calamity. That is how it has always been and that is how it will always be.

Juliette accepts his arguments – as though she is not already convinced. It is just that in this case she has found herself the weaker party. Hospitality – the rules of hospitality – would at this moment suit her, but philosophically she is convinced and knows all this herself.

Or does she? For why does she eventually leave Minski alive? She drugs him, steals all his wealth and escapes, but she does not poison him fatally. Sbrigani would prefer that she did in order to ensure their safe escape, but she decides that she cannot. What law does she obey? Surely not the law of hospitality. This is not her home after all. No she leaves Minski alive so that he may awake and return to his criminal ways. His criminality delights her. At least this is the argument that she makes. Yet it would seem that she, like Minski, cannot bring herself to kill a kindred spirit. She is pulled by the pathos of a perverse society. She is drawn to adhere to a paradoxical community. The laws of this community is that nothing matters but the individual’s pleasure (and imagination of pleasure). No other person counts. Not parents, not children, not ordinary ethical obligations. Each libertine resembles Minski’s keep – they are surrounded by swathes of wilderness and preserved behind numerous walls. They are alone. They insist they are alone. But at the same time they are always seeking allies and friends. They form societies (the Sodality Society), they talk to one another endlessly, they imagine that they can agree on the truth – on a truth that ultimately separates them.

Perversely then they do actually believe in hospitality – a difficult, endlessly negotiated, lie-strewn, bloody and carnal hospitality. The poor – those who can be placed in seraglio’s, those who are selected as victims – are not provided with any hospitality whatsoever. They are disregarded as people. They are beneath recognition and philosophical discourse. Their suffering serves the utilitarian purpose of enhancing pleasure. Their vibrations of pain exacerbate the discharge of the libertine and the community of libertines. Despite their denial of empathy, common feeling, the libertines do struggle to form a community. They are incapable of withdrawing from society altogether. They cannot, as I say, even withdraw from the prospect of law. Their criminality is simply an imaginary adherence to the dictates of Nature.

And I wonder if parallels can be drawn between the community of libertines and the community of socially engaged art – each just as violent in their determination of who and who does not deserve hospitality? Each also involving seraglios.

The tale of Minski indicates that there is nothing simple about social interaction. Nothing is simply mobilised. There is no necessity that things should end well, that a reasonable, aesthetically ground community should emerge. There are all kinds of possibilities. There are Minski’s exploits. There are Juliette’s travels. There is their shared grudging, uncertain, passionate and dispassionate hospitality.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Aesthetic Murder?

Can murder be aesthetic?

My immediate response is no. This is in terms of a conception of aesthetics that is fundamentally concerned with social realisation – for establishing the ethical grounds of society and looking ultimately towards a basis for agreement, for acceptance, for community. Murder wrecks all that so cannot be aesthetic.

Yet the notion of aesthetics is plural and slippery.

I had avoided watching any of the ISIS films, not wishing to be in anyway complicit with them, but I watched the first minute or so of the execution murder of the Jordanian pilot. I wish I hadn’t watched any of it all, but I did, partly because I felt I owed it to the pilot to not turn away. But there is nothing simple about any of this and watching something that you cannot effectively change/intervene within is inevitably voyeuristic and compromising. What upset me most was the quality of the filming – the multiple camera angles, the close ups, the crane shot. The thought of somebody setting up the film shoot, making sure the batteries were charged, turning the camera on, doing a white balance, making sure the sound was ok and then later editing the sequence of camera shots together was simply appalling. It was the thought of aestheticising a brutal murder, of thinking carefully about how it could best be represented, that seemed particularly offensive. Beyond the murder itself, it was the way that it had been conceived in aesthetic terms as spectactle (which also involved the mise en scene of wrecked building, cage, masked jihadists and burning torch) that was deeply disturbing.

So aesthetics can also mean something else – a Kantian disregard for questions of interest, a capacity, in this case, to step back from the horror of murder and regard it formally.

Within Kant, this capacity is linked to the very basis of community, the discovery within each of us a deep layer of universal agreement, a common recognition of beauty that is born of suspending all appetitive, destructive, instrumental relation to things. But the film of the Jordanian’s murder demonstrates that this suspension can also be aligned with disregarding the lives and interests of others.

I feel the need then to deny this stepping back from interest, to insist that aesthetics cannot be aligned with murder. I’m not sure that I can make this argument at a simply logical level.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


  1. Computational space is an abstraction. There are certainly x and y screen coordinates, but space is ultimately an epiphenomenon. Underlying the sense of space and spatial navigation are abstract structures – the array, the linked list, the tree.
  2. If the array is too evident then computational space becomes predicable. It is motion on a grid. The linked list and the tree enable more flexible possibilities.
  3. To generate space via navigation. Space itself is empty.
  4. To conspicuously employ the grid in order to undermine it. To disarticulate the image in order to derange space and reveal the grid.
  5. To replicate space within itself. To descend into the spatial unit recursively.
  6. To walk.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Going Outside

I must collect my thoughts in order to write this, in order to distinguish what properly belongs inside this account and what should properly be left out. Any delimited interior is of course an artifice. This account could have been constructed differently. It could have been composed of different elements in a different order. It occurs to me that this dilemma leads me in three directions:

  1. I become harshly restrictive. I rigorously discard extraneous elements to the extent that very little is left and the interior grows stale and atrophied.
  2. I discover the paradoxical aspect of every element. Everything outside belongs inside. Everything inside belongs outside. I am left with the indeterminable.
  3. I refuse to strictly enforce boundaries. I permit impertinent elements. I then worry that I have said nothing.

Each of these directions on their own and in combination can be incapacitating. Even now, I am tempted to delete the few sentences I have written so far and begin again. But I won’t, or at least not quite yet.

This account is concerned with the relationship between inside and outside. There are of course multiple insides and multiple outsides. There are rooms and backyards, shopping malls and refugee boats. There are doors, thresholds and exclusion zones. There is the tired and tiresome issue of distinguishing between what lies within the contours of art and what lies outside. And there is the awkward problem of conceiving the infinite potential of a finite space – that it is discovering aspects of outside on the inside. It is something like the latter that concerns me here and that will be the focus of my account. In my view, this is not simply an abstract problem.

Take the series of twelve notes in the standard Western musical scale. They are a finite set and yet there are infinite expressive possibilities. This infinitude is partly determinable in terms of formal parameters of melodic sequence, volume, timing, instrumental acoustics and the like. It also takes shape socially and artistically in terms of the relationship between player and instrument, player and musical genre, player and cultural milieu. So while I may only be able to unlock a relatively small portion of a particular instrument’s musical potential, I nonetheless recognise its infinite musical scope.

The point is that I look towards this apparent site of restriction for signs of opening. Of course there is a standard argument that creativity requires restriction. To be confronted with literally infinite options is disabling. But I am concerned with something more than this. I aim not only to find freedom within restriction, but also to recast freedom in terms of the mechanism of restriction. That is, the outside is summoned precisely through the logic of exclusion that manifests the inside.

Or at least this is how I have tended to think of things.

For close to two decades I was a programmer. I was passionate about the impersonal language of code. Many of my projects were about space. I spent a winter in Turkey photographing a small Turkish town on the Euphrates river that was soon afterwards permanently submerged by a large hydro-electric dam. I went outside to do this. When I got back I spent many months inside coding a system that would enable Myst-style first person navigation of the town’s winding cobbled streets and access to the lives of the local people. At a conceptual level, I was concerned to move away from regular, grid-based spatial representation to something more nuanced and knotted. The space was represented as a set of linked nodes.

Another project also involved travelling outside. I went to the Antarctic and videotaped footage of the Ross Sea. I then designed a system that cut up image frames into grids of image subsections. A related system played these sequences back, but with specific portions of the image (image subsections) playing back at different speeds, in different directions, etc. In this manner, an already infinite space was disarticulated. It was rendered in terms of the explicit limitation of a visual grid in order to project another infinity.

Later this dialectic to the outside became more complex and obscure. I designed drawing systems that employed images of the New Zealand alps as raw material. I wrote a 32×32 pixel computer icon tool to represent major historical events (the so called ‘War on Terrorism’). I spent a number of years designing recursive, grid based drawing applications – in an effort to open up space within the terrain of repetition.

Ultimately, however, I lost the will to proceed any further. I no longer wanted to spend more and more time at my desk coding increasingly elaborate systems. I stopped programming. I decided to work outside, but acknowledging that my thinking inside would inevitably affect what I did outside. I knew that I would be developing and following systems, but now they would involve procedures that I followed myself rather than entrusting to a computational agent. I would become my own mechanism.

Enough of this history of me. I want to conclude by briefly considering two images, which represent two different relationships between inside and outside – one from my final programming project, Loom, and the other from a series of detailed Illawarra water catchment maps.

Loom is a two-dimensional subdivision engine. It takes any regular polygon and recursively divides it according to set of simple subdivision rules. Over generations of subdivision fine polygonal patterns are developed. I find two aspects of this process compelling: firstly, the capacity of mechanical procedure to produce shimmering complexity; secondly the potential to produce a polygonal efflorescence that exceeds the initially finite conditions while adhering to them absolutely. In relation to the latter, it as though the outside takes shape within the inside; there is no need to look beyond the logic of restriction in order to escape it – it is matter of sticking to it closely, blindly, determinedly.

So this is an image that posits an outside on the inside, within the confines of the inside.

The other image maps the complex contours of a local water catchment system.

I am currently working with Kim Williams and Lucas Ihlein on a project that involves exploring Illawarra waterways. We are walking up creeks from the sea to the escarpment. Easier said than done. The creeks are close-pressed by urban, industrial and suburban development. Of course, we expected these impediments. That’s the point of the project, to trace the contemporary complexity of waterways – the faint lines of their original passage and the overlay of all manner of other stuff – buildings, trash, laws, etc.

Anyway, Kim was chasing up information and she came across these maps.

Here I can only write notes – running out of time today (I want to go outside before it gets too late).

The catchment boundary describes an irregular curved shape. The creek appears as a delicate tree within the catchment, with its upper branches in the escarpment and its trunk running out into the sea. The detailed branches indicate the potential for further subdivision, suggesting that the entire catchment area feeds into the creek. In this sense, the boundaries of the creek are ultimately indeterminate. They are delineated for convenience, but not absolutely. The internal area is infinitely subdivisible. Yet the catchment area is not fully enclosed. It feeds out to the sea, up into the atmosphere via transpiration and down into the ground via underground water systems. The boundaries of the catchment are only notionally determinable in terms of surface contours, not at the level of atmospheric or subterranean geological relations. Beyond its finite delineation and the infinite subdivision possible within that finitude, the catchment involves wider relations. It communicates more broadly. It has nothing but a provisional interiority.

At a ground level, while walking, the catchment boundary has some manifest aspects. It is linked to ridges and the top of the escarpment, but this boundary tends not to be experienced in strongly delineated terms. On the contrary, it takes shape as an uncertainty about which way the creek goes next. The catchment watershed is experienced as the creek’s disappearance. The catchment boundary is effaced just as it is encountered.

I still have to make sense of the relationship between these two images – these two modes of practice, these two articulations of inside and outside.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment