Since each of us was several, there was quite a crowd. Here we have made use of everything that came within range, what was closest as well as fartherest away. (Deleuze & Guattari, in the introduction to A Thousand Plateaus, 3)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sifting & Sorting

I feel the writing of a new post is way over-due and it's not because my interest in the project is in any way dimmed. Quite the opposite, I seem to have passed the initial stage--where all is new and anything is possible--to one where I am continually sifting and sorting through ideas and definitions and finding myself as lost as ever.

Continuing on from my thoughts on the void ('Smooth Thought'), I find myself looking for possibilities to explore it further. That in itself maybe a problem, am I attempting the impossible (as in searching for definitions of Deleuzian concepts, which are impossibly 'unfixed' as they are continually in a process of 'be-coming'!)--how do you explore 'nothing'? A problem of perspective, perhaps.

Take everything out of the universe and what you have left is 'vaccum'. But even in a vacuum there is something--'dark energy' (a term from astronomy I heard in an interview on ABC Radio National between Richard Fidler and Tamara Davis on the expanding universe). It seems the definition of space is  a  problem even in science. Newtonian space is external and fixed whereas for Einstein, it is mutable and bendy--space time and matter are interconnected and inter-defined.  But can space exist if there is nothing inside it? Even the astronomer can't answer. Geometry may remove the concept of 'time' from 'space'  but now space and time are linked together and considered as one 'big block' we move through; interestingly Tamara Davis spoke of it as "the fabric of space time".

Perhaps here is my problem, the words themselves are beguiling but the concepts are mind-bending (I asked a mathematician recently how she would define the void mathematically, her reply: I don't go there).

There  are a number of models of space-time, different kinds of space (and time) with different properties, all acceptable in one sense or another and so, no easy answer. To deal with this I return to a concept of space that I used in a previous project. One more relevant to this project. And thus find a way which holds onto the idea of what is a continuing process of change (temporality) that underlies this project.without rejecting the possibilities offered by the other models. Add to this the possibility of coincidence, the chance encounter and I think I am entering into the realm the 'performance'.

Meditation Square #5 (2010) detail

In The Practise of Everyday Life, French philosopher Michel de Certeau proposed an operation of language in relation to place and space, proposing 'place' to be an ordering system, akin to language and, 'space' to be a practised place with characteristics of speech and the spoken word. Hence space is unpredictable, transient and ambiguous, continually in a process of formation and never resolved.

1. This morning, while looking for another book, I came across the catalog for Space Odysseys an exhibition at the AGNSW in 2001. A friend had reminded me of it when commenting on my posting, 'Smooth Thought' but I have been unable to find the catalog until now.
Opening the catalog, Afraid? is written on the first page followed by, Don't try to understand and then, Just Believe (from Jean Cocteau's 1950 film Orphee). Good advice!

2. On a recent visit to Brisbane and the Asia Pacific Triennial (APT6) I came across a work by Charwei Tsi Mushroom Mantra--the Heart Sutra inscribed on living and slowly decaying fungi. As I was seeing this work three months after it had been installed, the mushrooms were shriveled but the calligraphy still visible. Both installation and a performance.

3. The book I was looking for (and found) this morning is about the work of performance artist, Barbara Campbell, Flesh Willow. Campbell stitched the text used to implicate the Mary Queen of Scots in her second husband's murder onto 60m of ribbon, then made it into a skirt. In her performance, Cries from Tower (1992) Campbell slowly unwound the shirt while wearing it standing high above the audience. (I saw a video recording of the performance in 2001.)
In the introductory essay to Flesh Willow , Sarah Miller comments: "...Campbell's work is never about excess. She assembles precisely what is necessary...Performance is ephemeral, and despite its documentary or material traces, chooses to inhabit the space of memory and personal engagement".

And this is what I hope to achieve!

Space Odysseys Art Gallery of NSW 2001
Flesh Willows Power Publications University of Sydney 2006

Image top: Wolf Quilt 2009

Note: Sue Pritchard in her essay 'Creativity and confinement' (Quilts 1700-2010) mentions Mary Queen of Scots 19-year imprisonment and her embroidery which makes a connection between Barbara Campbell's performance mentioned in this post and the link I make with Judy McDermott's work in my posting, quilts and prisons, in my associated blog, 'The Big House'.


  1. Hi, at last, Sarah - I have been away all March after February went I don't know where - the void? I borrowed the first part of Deleuze from the library but it's hard and I think it will have to wait for another life. I keep coming across references to 'the void'and mean to collect them for you but of course I don't have a pencil etc and then I forget. I read John Berger's 'I send you this Cadmium Red' and on the first page he says that the 'Klein' blue represents 'the void' for him. Now I am reading Tim Ingold's 'Lines' which I find very challenging and liberating - a bit like Deleuze 'Rhizome' idea - hmm - I like the way you can stitch a seemingly simple piece which somehow represents/is inspired by your complex reading.

  2. Hi Sarah -
    This is really interesting - I too am looking into the way in which time and space 'bends' (but with technologies that connect two spaces physically apart, like with videoconferencing) - and an interesting question emerges, which we take for granted when we for instance skype or speak on the phone - that one can be simulatenously 'here' and 'there' all at once - sometimes more there than here.

    It seems as if more and more hybrid realities are becoming the norm, and that living in a state of distraction or disjuncture while moving through a series of augmented spaces are the everyday of existence. On the mobile phone, on email, on facebook. But really we can get just the same sensation reading a book, getting lost in the pages, or watching a film and flinching when the baddie comes on the screen - so maybe it has always been with us in one form or the other.

    But I am interested in how our bodies then relate to space IN TIME - how can we inhabit? The idea of the trace is potent (like your shrivelled mushrooms, or the outline of Andy Goldsworthy's body on the raindrenched soil). Traces are a way in which we mark our existence in time IN PLACE - if we look at our lives as continual performance (like Goffman's The performance of self in everyday life, or Butler's Gender Trouble etc) and the ways in which we inhabit space as markers of that performance (leaving the blind closed, the bed unmade, the couch seat sagging and warm, the tea leaves in the bottom of the mug, etc etc).

    But, if I am on the phone with you - how can I mark my existence 'there' in place ? I cannot inhabit, or ... can I?


    ps. "I send you this cadmium red" is my favourite picture book.

  3. Alison and Emma: I have been hunting for 'I send you this cadmium red'!

    Emma: I have been thinking about your comment since I first read it and I intend to pick up the points you make in a separate posting in!

    THank you!