[-empyre-] relational objects

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Thu Jun 11 00:05:57 EST 2009

Thank you for pushing on this contrast and making me think about what
I had kind of just glossed over.

I agree with Norah's idea about the critical necessity of decoupling
the trace from the original, even if we circle back to talking about
traces when we talk about originals.

I believe that "presence" is a real thing, and I am skeptical of
discourses which want to technologize the organs of perception as
tools of the mind (which, in turn, usually leads to a technologization
of the mind as a tool of X (nothing, itself, technocapitalism, etc).
Such things are fine metaphors to use from time to time, but I don't
know if, in themselves, they offer us any insights on how we ought to

It's interesting because we have great tools for measuring
temporality--clocks, archives, histories, models, etc--which make us
pretty good at saying "what happened" or "what will happen," but the
precise and constantly moving character of the present makes it very
hard for us to talk about "what is happening right now."  Not only is
it impossible from a representational perspective, but from
retrospective or prospective view, the present is always forgotten in
favor of details that are dictated by a context, or framework of
expectations.  It is easier, then, to say, because we cannot account
for the present, it must not be.  But in a way it is all we have.

Merleau-Ponty, as challenging as he is for me to read, seems to give a
good accounting of the present vis-a-vis perception.


On Wed, Jun 10, 2009 at 9:14 AM, sarah drury<sdrury at temple.edu> wrote:
> Dear empyre,
> First, sorry for the mistaken personal post to the list ‹ hope all traces
> digital and otherwise, of my dentist appointment and my shopping list, etc.,
> are vanishing from the archive...
> Speaking of archives, I would like to respond to several of the posts that
> have been made recently, in a flourishing of posts in the last couple of
> days.
> Davin writes:
>    "...In an odd way, the strength of the art is in the power with which it
> bridges the gap of difference between the event and the representation.
> Hence, I can see why the artist would experience longing for presence....
>    ."..We experience the "presence" constantly as a part of our being, as a
> dynamic tension between the singularity of the moment and the temporal
> (history or future).  We either yearn for presence via representation or we
> forget about it while immersed in it, but in both cases, this is what
> constitutes the existential nature of being..."
> In an extremely interesting contrast, Norah writes "Davin and others speak
> of the idea of an original and of the "gap of difference between the event
> and the representation." Perhaps the decoupling of trace and original is of
> use here. This also decouples the idea of a trace from the idea of
> document.... What is the essence (yikes, not a great word) or better said,
> what within a moment, a dance, an experience can be traced and represented
> and created anew with change being a central value, not stasis?"
> These two perspectives beautifully clarify two distinctly different
> discourses brought into play by this discussion of the 'trace', and I really
> appreciate having both views so clearly and directly articulated.  Davin's
> describes postmodern issues of representation, what can be thought of as
> "the photographic paradox": the image is simultaneously proof of the
> existence of a thing, and also proof that the thing itself is no longer
> present, i.e., proof of change.  He speaks about this paradoxical condition
> of the image/trace as the tension that drives our relationship to images,
> whether it is an artistic drive to re-present or a personal attachment to
> something or someone now in the past. In this framework, I think of
> representation not so much as a relationship between an original and a
> trace, as a relationship between something that is/was alive, live, in
> existence,‹and its trace.  It's a description of representation as our
> relationship to meaning, time, change, personal attachment.
> Of course, I am sidestepping more semiotic and critical discussions of
> representation, implying the link to an original as a relationship of value,
> and absence on the social plane, with systems of representation controlled
> by dominant subjects and access to representation denied to the
> disenfranchised, as Davin notes at the end of his post.  But looking for a
> minute only at the simple relationship between aliveness and absence
> represented in a photograph or other image/trace, is to see the trace as a
> cipher of aliveness and death, as a fundamentally compelling intensity of
> focus. In this case, the trace has a psychodynamic status, acceptance of
> both presence and loss at the same time.
> Norah speaks of de-coupling the trace from the original, essentially freeing
> the trace from archival backtracking to something considered real and
> present, so that what is carried forward creatively is a set of
> relationships that can be changed, adapted, circulated.  This is a very
> exciting and dynamic idea, in which the trace is an essential structure or
> process, not image-bound or bound by re-creation, but a set of relationships
> that "generate" other relationships.  Norah also uses the word "object" as
> a set of relationships, as de-objectified, maybe as a kind of choreographic
> presence‹not the the body-presence of its performers, but the trace of the
> presence of the dance itself.
> Both of these ideas frame the trace as a paradoxical "object" that persists
> through loss and change.  The trace is explored in the space between
> image-making and choreography, these two different disciplines that orient
> themselves so differently to archive and ephemerality.  I find both
> descriptions crucial, non-mutually-exclusive, and integrated in the
> understanding of the trace in creative practice.  It really helps clarify
> two of the multiple ways in which we are talking about "trace".
> Sarah
>> This is a fantastic discussion this month. Thank you to all the
>> contributors. I'm thinking about two things that may be relevant.
>> First, in relation to the idea of a trace, in our work we've been interested
>> in the idea of a generative trace (meaning that the trace generates
>> creativity more than preserves a past present). Davin and others speak of
>> the idea of an original and of the "gap of difference between the event and
>> the representation." Perhaps the decoupling of trace and original is of use
>> here. This also decouples the idea of a trace from the idea of document.
>> Even more traditional dance scholars who work on reconstruction of
>> historically important pieces have begun to question the existence of "an
>> original." What is the essence (yikes, not a great work) or better said,
>> what within a moment, a dance, an experience can be traced and represented
>> and created a new with change being a central value, not stasis?
>> Others note a desire for a "moment without feedback, without a document,
>> without a traceable trace." I understand and would say that this constitutes
>> the majority of my experience as a dancer. For those of us in dance, this
>> moment with out a traceable trace is the norm and while there is beauty in
>> it, it also holds our field in perpetual obscurity. But, in our field, the
>> endless, perhaps even Sissyphean effort to recreate past moments, while
>> important, has limited the scope of our inquiry. What has been liberating
>> for us in our work on Synchronous Objects has been the decoupling of the
>> ideas of trace and document. What if we do not try to recreate the
>> experience of the live performance but instead trace the principles, events,
>> ideas, and possibilities inside the event and re-present these principles
>> with the intent not of documenting but of sharing (creating relationships)?
>> This also relates to the issue of "the object" that is flying around a bit
>> this month and last. We in western cultures tend to think primarily of
>> objects as commodities but they are of course also generators of
>> relationships. Perhaps some of this is useful.
>> Secondly, I'd love to hear from this month's contributors and others on the
>> list about relationships between participatory art and participatory
>> pedagogy and perhaps even some of the rhetoric around cyberlearning these
>> days. I'm finding really productive connections between my research in this
>> area and my teaching and I'd love to hear from others about this as well.
>> Thanks
>> Norah
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