[-empyre-] R: divisibility and failure

Erin Manning emanning at alcor.concordia.ca
Wed May 6 08:22:36 EST 2009

Thank you Ashley and Stamatia for your stimulating and thoughtful  
posts. My own work has tended for the past several years to move  
between movement and movements of thought, always in some kind of  
continuity with ideas of relation, technique, affect, sensation and  
the political. Concerns at the core of my practice have to do with the  
development of enabling constraints (productive conditions) for the  
constitution of participatory environments (be they artistic,  
political or philosophical, and at best, all of these mixed together).  
Rather than thinking the theoretical/philosophical and artistic/ 
political as separate realms that are enhanced or distracted by one- 
another in their chance meetings, I think of art as a field of  
imminent thought that expresses itself through techniques relevant to  
the process at hand, be it technology, texture or movement (to name a  
few). Similarly, I conceive of philosophy as another field of  
conditions or series of techniques that tend to express their immanent  
potential through language. When philosophy and art come together, it  
is not the case that philosophy drops its concepts onto a fully-formed  
practice (or vice-versa that art meets philosophy fully-formed). When  
art meets philosophy, concepts are transduced across both fields,  
creating new emergent events and processes. The coming together of art  
and philosophy is an event that belongs as much to the practice of art  
as it does to the articulations of philosophy.

If we return to the question of movement and technology through this  
prism, it seems to me that new openings are crafted for generating  
vocabulary for techno-movement. All movement proposes new techniques  
for moving. A turn of the head proposes a shift in the shoulder which  
affects the knee which might become a spiral, even while this very  
turn may also invite a simple step across. Thinking movement as  
opening for technique (and here I am thinking not of dance technique  
but of technicity, in the sense Simondon gives the term) suggests that  
there is never an adequate (pre-formulated) response to incipient  
movement. Every movement will therefore to some degree resist its  
choreography. While much movement will be shaped by its pre-existing  
potential (a step tends to lead to another step, a jump tends to lead  
to a landing that tends toward a shift in weight from one foot to  
another), the technicity of movement evolves through enabling  
constraints that exist at the limit between improvisation and  
choreography. Movement improvisation is here conceived not as a purely  
open system, but one that works, always, with the conjunctive and  
disjunctive vocabularies of its moving predecessors. A movement will  
always be informed by its having become possible. This is particularly  
clear in the learning of a new movement, be it a complex jump or a  
child’s first step. Once the movement has made its way into our  
vocabulary (once its technique has become body) it is difficult to  
move without feeling its effects on every other movement of its kind.

The interval between displacements –the incipient preacceleration of  
potential movement – is where movement concepts are created. They are  
concepts in the sense that they are thoughts in the making (movements  
or, in Whitehead’s vocabulary, feelings forming). These concepts,  
while in movement, are not yet fully-formed as movements of thought.  
For Deleuze, a movement of thought is created through an encounter not  
with an object of recognition (a pre-existing movement, in this case),  
but with the very force of thought itself (the potential of movement  
to create a newly configuring moving body). In the immanent field of  
movement, the force of potential creates not only the momentum for a  
future displacement, but the very opening through which thought begins  
to take form. This movement of thought, alive in its incipiency, is  
the gift movement makes to philosophy. It is also, I think, the  
opening for a complex and interesting discussion about technology.

One of the key problems in the relation between bodies and  
technologies (and we could also say, bodies and philosophies) is the  
question of where the concept begins and ends. If the concept of  
movement begins at the level of choreography (a body already  
positioned in spacetime), what technology corrects or conforms to is   
a set of parameters based on the idea of a pre-existing vocabulary not  
only of the moving body, but of a body’s relation to spacetime (I  
write about this in a piece called Dancing the Technogenetic Body in  
Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy). If, on the other hand, the  
technology becomes one more instance of a moving body (as Ashley  
suggests), with the body and technology co-constituting the spacetime  
of experience, it will be their combined generative potential that  
creates the immanent concepts for techno-movement (and, importantly,  
this techno-movement will be the creation of a new body for  
experimentation). The rigour in this practice, it seems to me,  
involves becoming as sensitive as possible to the interstices where  
body/technology fold into one another (instances that may reflect  
missed opportunities, mistakes, etc).

The challenge, technologically, is of course that technology as we  
know it does not encompass and cannot move-with the virtual (as  
Bergson/Deleuze defines it). Technology, in its deployment in software  
programs, requires pre-established parameters. This need not mean that  
the body-technology interface cannot create virtual openings (immanent  
preaccelerations). It simply means that the technology cannot in and  
of itself either recognize them or work with them. Technology cannot  
work with what is not actually at hand. Yet, ironically for dance- 
technology practitioners, the virtual is what dance requires to make  
movement’s elasticity and force felt (through barely perceptible  
micromovements that create affective resonance across and beyond the  
moving body, in effect moving spacetime). To move is to move-with the  
force of movement forming.

Both Ashley and Stamatia propose interesting approaches to addressing  
the virtual within the realm of the digital. Ashley, you seem to work  
creatively with the openings the intersection between moving bodies  
and moving technologies afford, thus creating a technological process  
that uses the body-technology interface to create new modes of  
thought. You write: “Artistically, my practical experience with cuts  
and gaps in technological comprehension have for the most part been  
instances of artistic and creative inspiration and impulse. An  
unintentional technical divide adds texture and real-time composition  
to digital re-presentation.”  Stamatia, you suggest that the digital  
cut creates the potential for numbering numbers – a new technique for   
thinking the in-between of modes of experience that live and access  
the cut produced at the creative intersection of the rational and the  
sensible. “I would like to suggest that, through the use of  
technology, numbers themselves start to reveal their openness and  
their capacity to generate experience.”

I think both these ways of thinking generate new techniques for  
creating concepts at the intersection of movement, technology and  
philosophy. Key, I think, is remaining attentive to the challenge of  
the indecipherable of movement itself. Movement cannot be adequately  
mapped, rendered, organized – either technologically or  
philosophically. Movement as such cannot be known (to know movement  
would be to know the world, to be omnipresent to its infinity of  
processes). What can be known, experienced, mapped, is the event. But  
only after its having-become. To dance the event’s having-become is  
what, in my opinion, has flattened many dance-technology experiments,  
exposing them to the has-been of their affect (which is affective in a  
completely different way). To move with movement moving is a  
proposition toward the development of techniques that create modes of  
capture that seek not to identify movement’s having-passed but that  
move-with movement’s own incipiency. How to do this technologically  
requires, I think, a different approach to technology, where  
technology is less a tool than an active assemblage of potential  
techniques that feed from and move with a becoming-body.

To finish on a less abstract note, I want to lay out this challenge in  
a current project of mine, a project I see as potentially leading me  
down that very road where the parameters of technology become an  
active and limiting constraint for the imminent movements of a  
becoming-body. The experiment is called In Moving Colour and builds on  
a fabric collection entitled Folds to Infinity. Folds to Infinity  
consists of 2 intertwined collections designed to create both clothing  
and architectures (for images, see www.erinmovement.com). The first  
collection is composed of 500 pieces of brightly coloured fabric cut  
and serged into shapes that fold/connect into garments of all kinds  
(dresses, pants, coats, hats etc) and out into architectures. The  
folding/connecting is facilitated by buttons, button-holes, hooks,  
eyes, and magnets (found on both sides of the pieces of fabric). The  
second iteration of Folds to Infinity consists of 200 pieces of  
different grades and textures of black fabric, cut in large  
rectangles, also immanently foldable and connectible. This second  
collection I call a volumetrics, since it tends toward the creation of  
volumes rather than the creation of extendable webs and surfaces. It  
is connectible through buttonholes, elastics (pulled through the  
buttonholes and fastened by removable toggles), magnets and buttons.

In Moving Colour uses Folds to Infinity as a proposition for movement.  
It is a choreographic object, in Bill Forsythe’s sense, in that it  
creates conditions for participatory movement focused around a series  
of enabling constraints. The project is to create a mobile  
architecture that harnesses the magnetic energy in the collection  
(more than 4000 rare earth magnets), transducing this electromagnetic  
energy (through sensors embedded in the architecture, not the fabric)  
to a software program that alters the threshold environmental  
conditions in the space (as modulated by the movements of the  
participants). As participants move the fabric (hence moving the  
magnets), creating garments and architectures, the system will respond  
by tweaking the atmospheric conditions of the space (but always below  
the actual threshold of perception, thereby allowing the participants  
to move and explored unconcerned about their actions having direct  
effects on the space). For now, we are focusing especially on light,  
but also experimenting with sound.

Linking back to the conversation about technicity and technology, my  
main concern is to develop strategies for creating technological  
platforms that do not inherently limit the process of creative  
evolution of the work. Part of the challenge of this has to do with  
the costs associated with the creation of software platforms and the  
purchase of new technologies (often much of an artwork’s investment is  
in the technology, which makes the technology central to the ensuing  
process). Another issue is that of pre-established parameters: because  
all technological software working in this kind of set-up will need to  
begin with a series of pre-established parameters, there is the risk  
that we will devise a system that, over time, limits what the body (of  
the participant) can do. I have already seen – in the varied  
performances of Folds to Infinity – how different responses to the  
collection and its changing mobile architectures (themselves always  
site-conditioned) can be. To presume to know how people will move in a  
given instance is, in this case, to risk closing down the potential of  
the artwork. Still, I believe there are definitely creative ways of  
working with technology such that it co-evolves with the processes at  
hand, opening the work to new vistas of potential. Bringing the work’s  
movements of thought into articulation technologically is thus to some  
degree a philosophico-artistic endeavor, a sensitivity to the  
different technicities in motion both in their actual specificity and  
in their virtual potential.

I would be very curious to hear your experiences and thoughts on this.



On 5-May-09, at 11:48 AM, stamatia portanova wrote:

> Thank you for your suggestion Tim. I think that the concept of  
> 'affect' can raise an interesting point in relation to what Ashley  
> was saying about digital programmers and engineers and their  
> definition of the mishap. Thinking about it, I do not see the  
> digital cut as a mishap in itself, (unless we want to adopt a purely  
> technical point of view). The way I see it is as an affect, or as a  
> creative sensation, in itself. One of the differences between an  
> artistic (or philosophical) and a scientific parameter, or even  
> better between a creative and a purely technical one, is exactly in  
> how and where creativity and affect are conceived. A very important  
> acquisition of cybernetic research (despite its kind of old- 
> fashioned sound), or at least of a particular strand of cybernetic,  
> is the recognition that creativity resides in all the different  
> points, elements and relations of a system. This point of view is  
> very similar to Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the
> machinic, and it leads us to consider the body itself as a machine  
> (and to define the machine as a body), without recurring to any  
> mechanistic or vitalistic equation. If we adopt this point of view,  
> than it becomes more difficult to hold on our 'human analogical'  
> models of qualitative continuity, to keep the 'human body' as the  
> main parameter and consider affect and creativity as merely  
> responding to its criteria. In short, we are necessarily led to see  
> digital discreteness as a failure in itself. In this sense, we are  
> left without any means to positively evaluate technology, apart from  
> its unsuccessful mishaps or imprecise discrete renderings, and we  
> might be missing something. Perhaps we might be missing the  
> necessity to shift our critical point of view and its ontological  
> basis when it comes to technology, in fear of adapting our humanity  
> too much to it. Of course human bodies are still there, with all  
> their characteristics, together with technical
> apparatuses of all kinds. But in parallel with the exigency of not  
> taking for granted social and cultural definitions of the body (male/ 
> female, etc), we might want to not take for granted its human  
> definition either. A different concept of affect would emerge here,  
> that comprises the digital as an affect in itself, without any need  
> to make it 'pass' through the human adaptation of the mishap. For  
> this reason, I like Whitehead's definition of affect as a  
> 'prehension' a lot, because it highlights Deleuze and Guattari's  
> point that an affect is non-human, non-living, non-organic. It  
> simply indicates a resonance between entities (humans and humans,  
> humans and numbers, numbers and numbers). For Whitehead, for  
> example, electrons 'experience' protons, and a feeling can unfold in  
> relation not only to qualitative, but also to geometrical events. A  
> way to reconcile the two points of view, then, could be to move from  
> the necessity of a 'humanly lived experience'
> (because in that case, organically speaking, the digital will always  
> appear as one step behind), to an experience that acquires its lived  
> or purely material connotations, according to the different entities  
> involved in the process. The 'experientiable' digital, as a  
> different, autonomous affective level, is 'translated' into the  
> qualitative code of our living, human organisms. The conception of a  
> 'digital affect' can have important practical consequences, because  
> a different attitude towards technology, towards for example  
> divisibility, without giving it any negative or positive  
> connotations a priori, can maybe open our experimentations towards  
> different directions. Divisibility could, for example, just be  
> considered as a quality, in the same way of, for example,  
> 'stretchability'. If you can indefinitely stretch the space-time  
> fabric of a process, you can also infinitely divide it, without the  
> two aspects confusing into each other (despite what many
> mathematical theories argue, about infinite division becoming at one  
> point continuity). I would therefore opt for a terminology that  
> leaves aside definitions like loss or gain, failure or success. I  
> totally agree with the fact that thinking of the digital as merely  
> 'programmed' by us means to take this 'us' for granted as a pre- 
> existing predefined entity.
> I am very interested in the relation between digital divisibility  
> and the continuity of the mouse trace, as dependent on the gesture  
> of the human hand. I know of an interesting example of video-dance,  
> by a Belgian film maker, Antonin De Bemels, who composed his digital  
> dance videos with the 'scrubbing' technique, a sort of scratching,  
> like in djing, but with audiovisual material, therefore combining  
> discreteness and qualitative continuity.
> But going back to the other example of Dance Forms, what happens if  
> we analyze the kinds of movements that are 'prompted' by the  
> software in their materiality, even if they happen in a discrete  
> grid or box? Isn't it true that, if we abandon the field of  
> representation, every movement becomes interesting in itself, apart  
> from its definitions? Can we aver really conceive a totally free,  
> infinite movement outside any box? Or perhaps it is 'in' the  
> different boxes in which our own anatomy, culture, technologies  
> enclose us, that the potential of movement reveals itself?
> --- Mar 5/5/09, Timothy Murray <tcm1 at cornell.edu> ha scritto:
>> Da: Timothy Murray <tcm1 at cornell.edu>
>> Oggetto: [-empyre-] divisibility and failure
>> A: "soft_skinned_space" <empyre at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
>> Data: Martedì 5 maggio 2009, 16:32
>> Thanks for such informative and stimulating posts, Stamatia
>> and
>> Ashley.  You've provided us with a fantastic opening
>> for this month
>> on "Critical Motion Practice."
>> Your differing emphases on "divisibility" and the
>> choroegraphic
>> embrace of technological failure brings to mind the
>> precedent in
>> sound art of the 'aesthetics of failure' through
>> which crashes, bugs,
>> viruses, distortion and even machinic noise comprise the
>> 'material'
>> of composition and sound performance.   What I gather from
>> both of
>> you, moreover, is that you relate your interest in the gap
>> or glitch
>> not merely to the wonders of digital technology but to the
>> technologies of the body and its representation.  I'm
>> looking forward
>> to hearing more, and to thinking about how such
>> 'failure' figures as
>> 'affect.'
>> Best,
>> Tim
>> -- 
>> Timothy Murray
>> Director, Society for the Humanities
>> http://www.arts.cornell.edu/sochum/
>> Curator, The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell
>> Library
>> http://goldsen.library.cornell.edu
>> Professor of Comparative Literature and English
>> A. D. White House
>> Cornell University
>> Ithaca, New York 14853
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Erin Manning
Concordia Research Chair
Faculty of Fine Arts
Concordia University
1455 de Maisonneuve W.
Montreal QC H3G1M8


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