Survivalist Camps

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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:


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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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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.

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  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.
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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.

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Art and New Knowledge

In order to obtain university patronage, art must position itself as research that produces new knowledge.

Art as new knowledge?

I suppose you could just about argue this when the notion of art is retroactively fitted to various societies that traditionally don’t have a conception of art as such. Even then there are problems. Take Australian Indigenous art – a complex, multi-layered, differentiated phenomenon if ever there was one, but if we just focus on traditional art practices, we can see that art (whatever that means in this context) was intimately linked to systems of knowledge – all manner of ceremonial events were linked to the production of objects and performances that to our eyes represent forms of art. Dreamtime stories, representations of identity, culture and place were all integral to these forms of production. However there was clearly no major concern with new knowledge – it was about maintaining and communicating existing knowledge.

Leaving aside the problem of the ‘new’, we can nonetheless acknowledge that in traditional Indigenous society there is no pronounced clash between regimes of knowledge and regimes of aesthetic production. This is not the case in modern Western societies since at least the Enlightenment. Within the context of the latter knowledge is linked to scientific understanding and is carefully distinguished from the realm of aesthetics. Kant’s critical philosophy is representative. He distinguishes three broad spheres: rational understanding; ethics; and taste (aesthetic judgement). Reason produces knowledge. Ethics produces enlightened political society. Aesthetics provides a vital bridge between general regimes of reason and ethics and the particular sphere of lived experience. It represents a space of reconciliation. It does not produce knowledge as such. Nor does it produce ethical practices. Instead it serves as a non-conceptual and non-ethical basis for the other elements in the system. It is particular value is in its difference – its resistance to appetite, the instrumental, the abstractly conceptual, the practically good.

Now Kant’s categorical, differentiated system may be problematic. It certainly positions aesthetics as at once both consequential (a ground to reason and ethics) and inconsequential (cut off from knowledge, ordinary life and practical values), but at the same time this conception remain vital to contemporary art. Consider, for instance, traditions of Conceptual Art, which constantly play at the limits of rational systematization, that undermine broader regimes of the conceptual as much as distilling dimensions of order and system within art. Yet now we seem prepared to forsake this ambivalence in order to secure scholarships and academic careers. Artist-researchers are now conveniently and cravenly prepared to abandon the awkward, contradictory, productive and unproductive position of art, insisting that it simply and unproblematically produces new knowledge. Wouldn’t it be better, even in practical terms, to insist that art be valued in terms of its own difficult merits, rather than in terms that compromise whatever vitally defines it?

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Quick Thoughts


In his Discourse on Inequality (1753), Rousseau describes a history of the degeneration of humanity via increasingly corrupting social forms. Instead of providing a means of improvement and emancipation, society emasculates our natural capacities and leaves us in thrall to unjust laws and despotic regimes. Paradoxically, Rousseau argues, this gradual shift from the state of nature to destructive social artifice occurs precisely via means of our species’ most vaulted attributes: conscious reflection, reason and free will. Humanity changes and evolves at an historical level, rather than remaining stuck within the frame of instinct. Instead of blindly repeating unconscious predetermined patterns, we have the capacity to learn and consciously modify our modes of existence. Language, property, the rule of law all emerge as systems of artifice, separating us from nature and leading us further and further away from happiness and any genuinely equitable relation between people.

While we can certainly distinguish between learning and instinct and while we can certainly recognise the tremendous acceleration of human capacity and influence on the planet, this need not necessarily entail that nature is entirely left behind. On the contrary, if we regard nature as a complex play of permutations then human reflection, reason and free will are simply adaptive, evolutionary features. If we invent it is because nature has provided us with the capacity to invent. Our reflective capacities are in a sense our instinct. And just like instinct they embody a dimension of blindness. We can think, but does that always mean that we can think for the best? Does it mean that we can solve all the problems that confront ourselves and the wider environmental system? The tragedy of reason is that it cannot shake off its relation to the profoundly unreasonable. Reason is an epiphenomenon and an hallucination. It does not represent any absolute break with nature.

Society and Aesthetics:

From at least Schiller (The Aesthetic Education of Man, 1794) onwards we can recognise a faith in the capacity of aesthetics to serve as a moral ground for society. Through beauty people come to recognise the good and the true – to experience it intimately. So this fragile space of experience pushed to the margins of ordinary affairs comes to prove vital and formative. It can only do this in its separateness – in its resistance to function and end.

Plato has such a different view. An iconoclast, he regards poetry and the arts as inimical to truth. They are far from the ideal. They are copies of copies. He does not speak of the aesthetic as such, because the notion does not exist in his time. Sensible experience was positioned differently – not as a basis for truth (empiricism), not in relation to dumb, extensive matter (Descartes) or the unknowable thing in itself (Kant).

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Strands of an argument:

There is no horizon to the social.

The social does not have its basis in individual experience.

There is never any sense of a contract being signed.

If there are effects of individuation and rational agreement then they emerge from the social itself.

The social is not a rationally established entity and it is not dependent on rational legitimation.

The basis of the social is elusive because it is always already there. Even to consider the social depends upon socialisation.

Experience itself is social, however solitary its forms.

Solitariness cannot escape a social basis and inevitably engages in dialogue with the social.

Experience is mechanically decomposed into individualised features – the senses, inner emotional life, etc., but does this adequately capture how much of individual life is given in the relation between people? Think of the sense of touch. It is not only as a single body that I touch. I have been touched before I had any sense of individual identity. I am touched even when unconscious.

Enlightenment aesthetics places the emphasis on the individual sense of the beautiful (and the sublime), which then serves as a means of reconciliation between the universal and the particular, understanding and experience, etc. This demonstrates a wider commitment to the notion of society as an amalgam of discrete individual atoms – as a supplementary phenomenon, rather than as a constitutive state and force. But so much of aesthetic experience (broadly conceived) occurs in groups (ritual events, etc.)

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My understanding – although I must read him properly – is that Hobbes broadly distinguishes between the state of nature and the social contract.

The state of nature is radically asocial. Individuals appear as Cartesian material bodies, confronting each other as separate and non-aligned extensive forces – as a set of differentiated and distinctly antithetical interests. There is nothing good that properly links people together. The state of nature renders us all wild and ravenous beasts. The only good is the particular good – that we survive and continue to eat. The only bad is that we perish and are eaten. The latter is at least general. It is a shared interest and this is what ultimately provides the basis for individuals to forsake their individual interests and enter into social relations. They accept the social contract and monarchical power in order to not constantly risk dying at the hands of others.

The social contract then emerges from fear and from a repression of ravenous impulses (at least at the level of the individual; there remains of course tremendous scope for collective violence). The social contract is an imposition that suspends the conditions of nature.

Yet how valid is this distinction?

Is collectivity really alien to ‘the state of nature’? Don’t all kinds of non-human animals collaborate in all kinds of ways? And even as a human, is it ever possible to clearly delineate absolute individual autonomy? If we encounter separateness and distinct, interested identity it is more as an epiphenomenon that has its basis in layer upon layer of social being (starting with the relation to parents, etc.). If there is any such thing as ‘the state of nature’ then it would have to be characterised by non-identity and constant relations of intimate exchange rather than any sense of radical individuation.

Equally, where is there any sense of a social contract? Whoever had an opportunity to reflect carefully on their best interests and sign or not sign up to the society in which they are born? We find ourselves within the social contract from the outset, just as a child finds themselves caught up in parental bonds before they have any opportunity to realise any potential for independence.

The historically and culturally variable rules that characterise any specific social system are not a guarantee of human exceptionalism. They stem from and are related to all kinds of systems of interaction that need not be specifically human – that align with the never purely determined ‘state of nature’. If nature is understood as the potential implicit within any given material-existential context then nothing we as humans can do can escape from nature. The social contract is as natural as the state of nature is riven through with artifice and invention.

Quite simply, our position is complex. It is neither given nor entirely freely determined. It is neither natural nor entirely artificial. There is no state of nature. There is no social contract. There is something else.

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The Event 014





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The Event 013


As you know, I’m currently interested in ‘the event’, which is less a
reference to Deleuze and Badiou than a nod to Parkrun and all kinds of
local sporting festivals that are focused less on competition than on
framing scenarios of communal individual endeavour. Although, it must be
confessed, I am unconcerned with the communal and even less interested in
individual triumph or despair. Nonethless I imagine a thoroughly private
and invisible event, perhaps beginning at 3am in a carpark in Pt Kembla
and then zigzagging north via roads, tracks and scarcely legible forest
paths towards some blank ending in the Royal National Park. This event is
dark, unheralded and offers nothing especially redeeming.

To be honest, however, I am thinking of something even more unformed.
While he notion of ‘the event’ suggests an objectified, inherently
structured amalgam of time, direction and effort – something rule-governed
and determinable – the event that actually concerns me is the one that
begins without warning, that lacks all definite shape, that opens up
unpredictably. This other event (at the limit of the formal event) is
less wrought than determinedly and waywardly followed. I find myself
within it without any means of defining its contours or any scope for
lucid conclusion. In this sense the event only takes shape when it
discovers its dissolution.

At one level the event is an artifice, a resource, a necessity. At
another level it is indescribable. It is nothing like an event at all.

It within the sense of the event’s evident impossibility that the
commitment to the event begins.

There is an intimate relation between the event and the non-event. They
are drawn to one another. They lend one another meaning and can never be
simply opposed.

So, more practically, what am, I suggesting? A set of minor experimental
actions in which form and the risk of formlessness coincide.

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The Event 012

I am right handed. My left hand is untrained, crude and imprecise. Only very occasionally does it act on its own. Its ordinary role is to follow.

Just now, however, and for the next few weeks, I have a cast on my right hand (more about this in a moment). So I’m having to do everything with my left hand. Simple tasks have become complex. Some things I scarcely attempt at all. I was called upon to sign my name when I left the hospital. I offered only an unrecognisable scrawl.

So here I have decided to practice writing with my left hand. Each night I will write all the little letters of the alphabet and all the capitals, plus all the numbers from 1 through to 29. This will create a 9 by 9 grid of 81 elements. Skipping a line I will then write the date. I wonder if I can improve much before my cast is removed?

Here is my first day’s effort:

Day 1

Why is my right hand incapacitated? I have Dupuytren’s contracture. This is a thickening of the fascia tissue beneath the skin, a condition that commonly affects the hand and leads the fingers to close in on the palm, rendering the hand a pathetic and inept claw. After a finger curls in about 30 degrees surgery is needed to correct the problem. A long zigzag incision is made from the base of the palm up to near the tip of the finger and the offending fascia tissue is removed, taking care not to damage nerves.

Not so long ago there was a view that Dupuytren’s contracture was caused by alcoholism. It is now recognised that it is linked to Viking or Celtic heritage. It affects mainly older people. I was unlucky to initially get it in my mid-thirties.

This is only my second surgical intervention. The rule is to delay surgery for as long as possible. There is a strong likelihood of recurrence and the risk of nerve damage increases with each surgical episode.

I am trying to conceive this surgery and my recovery as an event – to lend it some coherent shape, to draw something from it, to discover something within it. It is in many ways – most ways – just an inconvenience, something that I’m obliged to put myself through – to endure. My aim here is to turn necessity back on itself, to lend it a sense of artifice and freedom.

I entered the hospital at 7am. My 87 year old father had walked me there from his apartment in Darlinghurst. He complained that I was walking too quickly. He squinted in the early sun as we headed down Roslyn St to St Luke’s private hospital. They took his details as next of kin and then checked me in. I had to change in to the weird backwards smock that you always have to wear at hospital and put on little baggy slippers with no soles, then shuffled off to my pre-surgical bed (berth 109). Cartoons were playing on the television. After a while it shifted to the news. I don’t remember pressing anything to change the channel. I’d been enjoying the cartoons, which were composed of static figures with large faces and blinking eyes.

The anaesthetist dropped in, asked me some basic medical questions and then inserted a canula in the top of my left hand. He had a strange way of prepping me for this. He asked me to close my eyes, take several deep breaths and not to worry about the ‘slight scratch’ on my hand. Once I opened my eyes the canula was in.

Shortly afterwards two hospital orderlies, one thin and the other covered in tattoos, rolled my bed deftly through the corridors to the surgical ante-chamber. I was left there for a little while. I watched the operation of the automatically closing door. I had a warm blanket put over me. The started some liquid flowing down a tube into my left hand. I could see air bubbles passing down the tube and wondered vaguely if they knew what they were doing. Nobody spoke to me, but somebody said something about getting started. Then I was gone. Absolutely no recollection of drowsiness – just absolutely absent time until I woke up a bit after midday back in my pre (now post) surgical bed.

The television was on, but no longer cartoons or the dull cycle of morning news stories. There was some kind of siege happening in Martin Place. Man Haron Monis had walked into the Lindt cafe and taken some uncertain number of hostages. Two female hostages were holding up an Islamic banner at the window. It had started just about the same time that my operation had started and was happening only a kilometre or so away. Of course there is no genuine point of correspondence between my surgery and this major newsworthy event. They were occurring at the same time, that is all.

I was eager to recover from the general anaesthetic and get out of hospital as soon as possible. I had to get a framed photograph to Articulate Gallery before 4pm. The doctor visited me and the nurse checked that I could walk a straight line to the toilet and then I stumbled off back to my father’s place, grabbed my stuff and caught a taxi to the gallery. The taxi driver was listening to live talk back radio on the siege but he asked about my hand. I said I’d just had surgery. He asked me if it was for cancer. I explained that it wasn’t. Then he told me about the melanoma that he’d had removed on his arm and how the cancer had returned to his lymph nodes. He’d recently had radio therapy, which burnt horribly and had destroyed the nerves in his armpit. The traffic was bad so I had time to hear the story in detail. He eventually dropped me at the top of Palace St, Petersham. I crossed Parramatta road and deposited my picture at Articulate. I spoke briefly with the curator, Bill Seeto, then I walked to Petersham station and caught the train back to Woonona.

I went to bed early. I was unconscious when the siege started and unconscious when it ended (at 2am).

Here is my bandaged right hand:

Right Hand

Here is my intact left hand (although you may notice the incipient Dupuytren’s contracture):

Left Hand

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The Event 011

The last week has been very humid. There have been late storms every day. There is some slight cooling when it rains.

On Tuesday night I attended a lecture/seminar by Erin Manning and Brian Massumi. Have heard their names mentioned for some years, but know very little of their work. I was aware that Massumi had translated Deleuze and written influentially on the notion of ‘affect’. I knew that Manning was an artist-theorist. But that was about it. I went along then to get a sense of their work – perhaps even an introduction. I guess I got that, but not quite in the terms I expected.

It was more a performance than a formal scholarly lecture. A bit like Marina Abramovic and Ulay forcing gallery visitors to squeeze between their naked bodies (Imponderabilia, 1977), Brian and Erin stood at the door and offered short written quotes from a hat as attendees entered the seminar room. Additionally these quotes were arranged in patterns on the seminar floor. The quotes seemed to be from a recent theoretical work. They were all about engaging with the concrete materiality of the present moment – yet they were also very abstract.

The seminar began with Manning and Massumi standing about 10 metres apart from one another in the midst of a scattered sea of perhaps one hundred attendees. There was no sense of a neat, spatially delineated gap between speaker and audience. They took turns reading brief sections from their work, leaving pauses between one finishing and the other starting up. After a short while one of the audience members, who was sitting on a stool just near me, seized the pause and read the quote that she had been supplied. Others took the hint and did the same. People read out their quotes in turn (and sometimes in tandem) for close to 45 minutes. People generally stayed true to the words that had been supplied them, but one person (Malcolm Whittaker) declaimed, “Phillip Hughes, 63 not out” (a reference to Australian test cricketer, Philip Hughes who had died from a blow to the head from a cricket ball less than a week before).

I looked at my quote. It said, “Disseminate seeds of process.” I must confess that I had no intention of reading it out. Quite a number of people had the same quote and did read it out. Solemnly intoned, it sounded like a cultish mantra. I couldn’t help thinking of Reverend Jim Jones’ and the poisoned Koolaid.

I should note that both Manning and Massumi have very impressive hair. They have long, curly manes. Hers is red. His is grey-black. At one level their hair suggests an allegiance to the hippie 60s. At another level it celebrates distance from that era – it suggests that they are reinventing long-hair and the hippie counterculture rather than remaining scrupulous to whatever those things represented in the past.

Once 45 minutes or so was up, Manning an Massumi brought the reading to halt. They sat together on stools and suggested a conversation with the audience.

They listened to people’s perspectives on the reading event and talked about creativity in terms of notions of emergence, the senses, abstraction and the like. I was very uncomfortable sitting on the floor during this time, hoping uncharitably that the whole thing would end soon. It seemed to me that all this talk of the specificity of ‘the event’ said nothing at all specific about any specific event whatsoever. Somebody (Sarah Miller actually) had the temerity to mention the long traditions of artistic practice that seemed to inform Manning and Massumi’s approach (from at least Cage onwards), but while they acknowledged all kinds sources of inspiration from Whitehead to Dewey and Nietzsche, they were determined not to refer to actual historical movements within art. Although they were apparently concerned to re-situate philosophy within the contours of the lived event, they seemed to do precisely the opposite – to say nothing at all about anything historically or even experientially concrete. Instead they focused on describing what they regarded as the general contours and generative character of creative practice. This unfortunately ended up sounding like a bad hallucinogenic painting, full of bright colours and spurious circles.

The event ended with the two being introduced or not introduced. It was hard to tell.

In summary, my misgivings with the event:

  • Manning and Massumi pretended to create an opening for the audience, but they supplied the words and the audience largely adhered to the script (however apparently scriptless)
  • Everything centred on Manning and Massumi – even the conversation
  • Gimmicky; no genuine respect for the audience (who, believe it or not, might not be experts in their work)
  • Feigned respect for the event; actually plain that every event would be conceived in the same philosophical terms

No fucking storm tonight, just when I really need one.

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The Event 010

How is the event characterised?

  • Difficult but easy: an ordeal (typically physical), but straightforward
  • Necessary and unnecessary: engaging with the real (discovering experience), but imaginary (artificial)
  • Structured, but never obtaining adequate form (elusive)
  • Commitment and withdrawal
  • Hope and hopelessness
  • Manifestation and loss
  • Work ethic, but deeply lazy
  • Obsession framed
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The Event 009

My original aim was to complete 13 sets of the 13 exercises that make up the 7 Minute Workout. This neatly square result appealed to me. I imagined a grid with ticks in all 169 boxes (I was determined to place a tick each time I completed an exercise). However, after the fifth set I realised that I had little chance of maintaining a consistent standard for the 8 notionally remaining sets. So I decided to complete just 7. That figure is square in the sense of being 7 sets of 7 minute workouts. Altogether I completed 91 x 30 second exercise intervals. Allowing for a 10 second rest between each exercise and a one minute rest between each session of 3 sets, the overall time was 61 minutes and 30 seconds – or roughly an hour. My performance deteriorated markedly in the pushups over the final two sets, so I think that an hour was enough. Despite its gruelling nature the experience produced no sense of illumination. It provided a sense of structure and purpose to a largely wasted day, but offered no broad prospect of redemption.

7 Minute Workout

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