The Poet-Engineers Reader
The Poet-Engineers
Or how to deploy an artwork’s truth procedure to contemplate its real effects
YUJI AGEMATSU ZIP: 11.01.18…11.30.18

Or how to deploy an artwork’s truth procedure to contemplate its real effects

Yuji Agematsu
American Artist
Nairy Baghramian
Dexter Sinister
Trisha Donnelly
Isa Genzken
Tishan Hsu
Pierre Huyghe
Flint Jamison
Jonathan Lasker
Sam Lewitt
Scott Lyall
Helen Marten
K.R.M. Mooney
Jean-Luc Moulène
R. H. Quaytman
Florian Pumhösl
Wacław Szpakowski
Cheyney Thompson

June 9 – July 24, 2021

In a world increasingly described and experienced as regulated by immaterial forces – the digital revolution – there exists a discrete counter force, one fueled by what can be referred to as a renewed materiality.

A tripartite condition of opportunity for artists has been in place for some time, but now might be the moment for an exhibition to focus on how 1. new materials, 2. advanced software, and 3. innovative fabrication techniques constitute a rare point in history in which, taken together, the availability of radical new tools offers the ‘Poet-Engineers’ working today a compelling invitation to explore unknown content and invent new forms.

Poet: a person possessing special powers of imagination or expression.

Engineer: a skillful contriver or originator of something: the prime engineer of the approach.

– New Oxford American Dictionary

Etymology of Poësis: to make / produce / composition

Some consider the advent of 3D printing, for instance, to be as momentous of an invention as what photography proved to be in the 19th century. As this new technology appeared and threatened painting’s centuries-old dominance of the realm of representation and image production, it also unleashed a liberating force that allowed art’s regal medium to start concentrating on its constitutive elements, and to address them, for better or for worse, as subject matter. Today, the artist can make the fundamental decision to print a photographic image or file in either 2D or 3D.

Consider: silicone, digital photography and printing, computer graphics, UV cured inks, aluminum alloys, new plastics, resins and rubbers, formal optimization software, CNC milling machines, laser technology, advanced construction materials, along with more traditional media and techniques such as drawing, painting, weaving, wood and stone carving, glass blowing, bronze casting – all are within reach of the artist working today.

Each work in the exhibition contains the ability to clearly reveal its articulation and constitute an adequate plastic solution to a more or less identifiable problem – the conceptual dimension – or comes across as generating and responding to its own inherent riddle. As we know, since Marcel Duchamp installed a urinal on a gallery wall over 100 years ago and called it art, a contemporary art object must be, at best, the material embodiment of an idea, whatever the idea might be. An idea, for instance, might emerge from considering and questioning the status of a given material or technique.

Here: idea = question = problem = riddle

In the search for the mark of the Poet-Engineer, an artwork’s display of spectacular fabrication and high production values can be misleading. It cannot simply embrace and fuse with the alluring capabilities of advanced engineering tools.

The Poet-Engineer is a skilled craftsperson, but does not specialize in a particular technique. The Poet- Engineer is a mindset.

The Poet-Engineer does not fetishize new tools. They tend to be a master of the oblique and of expression in the minor mode (Deleuze).

The Poet-Engineer is not interested in exploring for the sake of exploring. The Poet-Engineer, like Picasso once proposed, strives to discover and find solutions.

“Among the several sins that I have been accused of committing, none is more false than the one that I have, as the principal objective in my work, the spirit of research. When I paint my object is to show what I have found and not what I am looking for. In art intentions are not sufficient and, as we say in Spanish, love must be proved by facts and not by reasons…” (Pablo Picasso, Paris 1923).

The aim of the poetically-engineered art object is to reveal its inner workings as it asserts its achieved contours. This intimate, localized entanglement is the only basis for what might emerge as the work’s infinite truth, a factor upon which a faithful truth procedure can be initiated. As such, the crucial feature of this realized object is that it is addressed to all (Badiou).

One object, one solution at a time, poetically-engineered art is in search of singularity and against open- endedness and seriality. It does not circulate with ease and fluidity in the market place because its signature remains somewhat hidden, until it might appear in the last instance only.

The poetically-engineered art object does not find support in general ideas. It insists and relies on its internal operations, on its immediate shape and material facture to produce sensations. It radiates the unique intensity of its combined intellectual and material qualities. Assertions and beliefs emanate from the object; they do not descend upon it.

Because of its experimental nature and often complex material execution, the poetically-engineered work offers a way out of the impasse of today’s rigid aesthetics of the ‘face-off’ brought about by “hyper-expressionism” (Sohrab Mohebbi). As it immediately positions the self of the artist as an entity with direct access to truth, “hyper-expressionist” art tends to do away with the call for material and formal innovation. It is often anchored in conventional modes of representation and the use of traditional techniques, and therefore is prone to be the outgrowth of a certain lack of imagination.

The three-part condition offers the artist an opportunity to make ‘objective’ new work, the outcome of an unusual admixture of material and immaterial elements. New tools and materials necessarily contribute to the exploration of the unknown and to the attainment of potentially surprising artistic propositions. These rare circumstances constitute a genuine invitation to playfulness and to unleashing a degree of child-play in the artist.

Fascinating new fabrication techniques, mesmerizing materials, and vertiginous software tools exist somewhat outside the artist and as supplement to their immediately subjective impulses. They constitute a fresh environment that can be activated to innovatively solve age-old problems, in the same way that a hobbyist develops unusual crafts to fabricate new things. The resolved object exists in a space ‘between’ its maker and the viewer. As such, it contains a degree of autonomy, while it might also retain the subjective mark of its maker. It offers a generous and open invitation to be apprehended and contemplated on its own terms.

The newly invented object can be tested. It welcomes study and critique. It has the potential to produce knowledge because it is the repository of engaging and palpable qualities at the level of form and content.

The poetically-engineered art object proudly presents itself as decisive and distinct and is often unsettling. It produces sharp sensations and stimulates something akin to visual intelligence. This newly minted, crisp intelligence uses language to translate its inner logic.

The poetically-engineered object invites the viewer to indulge in its often sensuous surfaces.

What Alain Badiou writes of Jean-Luc Moulène’s objects could be said of any work of a Poet-Engineer’s:

“The artwork at hand rising up against the fatal violence of the world as it is, indicates the human spirit’s capacity to propose to all what we might paradoxically call an idealist materiality. ‘Idealist’ insofar as, in the works of the artist, certain entirely unknown forms impose upon disparate materials—through the use of images, scans, topologies, digital manipulations and complex tools—a sort of startlingly clear and striking self-evidence. And ‘materiality’ because, beneath the novelty of the form, beneath its mathematics and its digital glamour, lie the traces of old materials, timeless gestures—traces hidden by just a layer of brilliant color.”

The spirit of Leonardo da Vinci, the High Renaissance artist and polymath, is the guiding light of The Poet-Engineers.

This Reader will be regularly updated with new materials and live reactions during the run of the show. Following the close of the exhibition, a catalogue will be published by Sequence Press.

This exhibition project was developed in consultation with Reza Negarestani (philosopher / systems engineer), Sam Lewitt (artist), Leah Pires (art historian / critic), Michael Cavuto (Poet), Alex Kitnick (art historian / critic), Geoff Kaplan (graphic designer), Matthew Fanuele (developer), and Martine d’Anglejan, MDAC (producer).

Pyramid’os, 2020
Bronze, green patina
21 1/4 x 30 3/8 x 25 5/8 inches (54 x 77 x 65 cm)

The human body, its organs and its limbs constitute a lexical repertoire on which many tongues have drawn to form many picturesque expressions. From Leonardo da Vinci to Corbusier, the human body has also served as a reference, as a measure. It can be its own standard or part of geometry, or even serve as a unit in a space structured by its proportions.

Echoing this history and these uses, Jean-Luc Moulène has constructed a pyramid with the long bones of the four human limbs. The leg bones–femurs, tibiae and fibulae–join the arm bones–humeri, radii et ulnae–in the pyramid’s skeleton. Thus each of the four joints at the figure’s four vertices–elbows and knees–suffers a dismemberment to follow the laws of geometry.

The form erected by Moulène is empty in its heart. This absence reveals the margins to which the lower and upper limbs have been relayed, leaving to the heart, the lungs and the brain their dominant function. The artist defines his pieces as documentary sculptures. This composition bears witness to the representations that constitute our bodies.

— Balthazar Lovay

The basic movement fueling any Jean-Luc Moulène object can be streamlined to the following: it always comprises an integrated plastic solution to a conceptual challenge, that is it constitutes a kind of answer to a question, and is palpable as such among other modes of interpellation of the viewer. It follows that a Moulène work, at once open and closed, visible in its structure and perceptibly clear in facture, can be quasi-objectively gauged as more or less successful, a rare and generous feat in the contemporary art landscape.

With his vast knowledge of materials and techniques, his long-established interest in geometry, topology and other branches of mathematics, Moulène is as much of an engineer as any artist might be, an increasingly befitting disposition to our epoch. The French call him “technicien libertaire,” in English something like an “emancipated technician.” What this means is that he is constantly and freely looking for ways to solve given problems by apprehending and redirecting instruments and techniques, from the smallest and lightest hand tool to complex software and large-scale industrial machinery, to produce innovative art objects. In his work, imagination, pleasure, and relentless experimentation are put to use with little or no pathos, I might add crucially, to confer the appropriate contours on the object at hand. Once a final outcome has been reached and tested, it is time to look for and identify the next challenge, to fabricate the next object. And that following piece will not look or feel like the previous, simply because it will pose a new question and propose a logically different solution. In this precise sense, Moulène forges ahead and directly engages the myriad opportunities offered by new technologies and new materials, in dialogue with more ancient ones such as bronze, ceramics or marble, and thereby fulfills the potential job of the artist today.

— Miguel Abreu

excerpt from the Foreword in Alain Badiou, Matter and Form, Self-Evidence and Surprise: On Jean-Luc Moulène’s Objects (New York: Sequence Press, 2019)

Je disais donc que toute poésie est l’être qui entraine le savoir au-delà de l’avoir c’est-à-dire au-delà de la donnée de l’expérience directe de l’acquis de la connaissance énumérative et le poète celui qui crée au moyen d’une hypothèse image aperçoit à partir de la réalité un rapport jamais vu par un chemin qui est celui de l’invention musicale à la fois et de l’imagination scientifique comme s’il était doué d’un sens inconnu supplémentaire et c’est tantôt ce que je tentais de dire parlant du radar poésie

— Louis Aragon, Les Poètes (Paris: Gallimard, 1960)

Tentative English translation:
I thus said that all poetry is the being that leads knowledge beyond possessing, that is to say beyond the given of the direct experience of the enumerative knowledge and the poet, who creates by means of an image hypothesis perceives from reality a relation never seen before by a path that is both of musical invention and of the scientific imagination as if he were endowed with an unknown supplementary sense, and it is what I was trying to say earlier when speaking of the poetry radar.

Deposition c. (iii), 2021
Electroplated steel, silver, cuttlebone, aluminum
10 5/8 x 2 1/8 x 3 inches (27 x 5.4 x 7.6 cm)

Cuttlebone is a biogenic material. It is composed primarily of aragonite. Its chambered, gas filled shell is used for buoyancy control and its siphuncle consists of highly modified narrow layers connected by various upright pillars. The material’s early human uses include grinding it up for polishing powder, which was used by goldsmiths. The powder was also added to toothpaste and used as an antacid for medicinal purposes or as an absorbent. Today, cuttlebone is commonly used as calcium-rich dietary supplements for domestic animal species. As a carbonate rich raw material, cuttlebone has potential to be used in the production of calcitic lime. Because cuttlebone is able to withstand high temperatures and is easily carved, it serves as a mold-making material for small metal castings for the creation of jewelry and small sculptural objects. Jewelers’ prepare cuttlebone for use as a mold by cutting it in half and rubbing the two sides together until they fit flush against one another. Then the casting can be done by carving a design into the cuttlebone, adding the necessary sprue, melting the metal in a separate pouring crucible, and pouring the molten metal into the mold through the sprue. Finally, the sprue is sawed off and the finished piece is polished.

Cuttlebone as an integrated material in this new series of works takes on a center position. Using vertical forms installed to act as an environment or partial enclosure consisting of cold-rolled steel that is electroplated with silver. The result is an iteration of forms that indexes the multiple histories of their production while still sensitive to the future conditions of their display. Atmospheric qualities, the forms’ assembly, handling, exposure to light, air, moisture, subtly and continuously affects the unfolding of each surface. The dimensions of the channel are taken from vertical lighting ballasts. Silver electroplating is a large part of the energy and power distribution industries, which rely on plated surfaces to improve corrosion protection and surface conductivity, lubricity and solderability between forms and circuits. The channel, clip and cleats have been machined and fabricated as to be plated as all one piece — ensuring its total primacy, its assembly makes no distinction between sculptural form and the supports required for its display.

The integration of cuttlebone itself is derived from its use as a mold and formalizes the material as a diagram of flows, evidenced by metal throughways including notches and marks made for each dependent counterpart. Registration lines and keys, pouring channels, scaffolding which engages the natural structure of the form, breaking off shapes and fragments with a certain guide uses the inherited behavior of the soft, brittle, foam line nature of the cuttlebone versus its rigid and stable backing.

— K.R.M. Mooney

Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art

1. Art is not the sublime descent of the infinite into the finite abjection of the body and sexuality. It is the production of an infinite subjective series through the finite means of a material subtraction.

2. Art cannot merely be the expression of a particularity (be it ethnic or personal). Art is the impersonal production of a truth that is addressed to all.

3. Art is the process of a truth, and this truth is always the truth of the sensible or sensual, the sensible as sensible. This means: the transformation of the sensible into a happening of the Idea.

4. There is necessarily a plurality of arts, and however we may imagine the ways in which the arts might intersect there is no imaginable way of totalizing this plurality.

5. Every art develops from an impure form, and the progressive purification of this impurity shapes the history both of a particular artistic truth and of its exhaustion.

6. The subject of an artistic truth is the set of the works which compose it.

7. This composition is an infinite configuration, which, in our own contemporary artistic context, is a generic totality.

8. The real of art is ideal impurity conceived through the immanent process of its purification. In other words, the raw material of art is determined by the contingent inception of a form. Art is the
secondary formalization of the advent of a hitherto formless form.

9. The only maxim of contemporary art is not to be imperial. This also means: it does not have to be democratic, if democracy implies conformity with the imperial idea of political liberty.

10. Non-imperial art is necessarily abstract art, in this sense: it abstracts itself from all particularity, and formalizes this gesture of abstraction.

11. The abstraction of non-imperial art is not concerned with any particular public or audience. Non- imperial art is related to a kind of aristocratic-proletarian ethic: Alone, it does what it says, without distinguishing between kinds of people.

12. Non-imperial art must be as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star.

13. Today art can only be made from the starting point of that which, as far as Empire is concerned, doesn’t exist. Through its abstraction, art renders this inexistence visible. This is what governs the formal principle of every art: the effort to render visible to everyone that which for Empire (and so by extension for everyone, though from a different point of view), doesn’t exist.

14. Since it is sure of its ability to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the laws governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, Empire no longer censures anything. All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate and to enjoy. We should become the pitiless censors of ourselves.

15. It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognizes as existent.

Bricoleur Engineer (excerpt)

Levi-Strauss will always remain faithful to this double intention: to preserve as an instrument that whose truth-value he criticizes.

On the one hand, he will continue in effect to contest the value of the nature/culture opposition. More than thirteen years after the Elementary Structures, The Savage Mind faithfully echoes the text I have just quoted: The opposition between nature and culture which I have previously insisted on seems today to offer value which is above all methodological. And this methodological value is not affected by its “ontological” non-value (as could be said, if this notion were not suspect here): “It would not be enough to have absorbed particular humanities into a general humanity; this first enterprise prepares the way for others … which belong to the natural and exact sciences: to reintegrate culture into nature, and finally, to reintegrate life into the totality of its physiochemical conditions” (327).

On the other hand, still in The Savage Mind, he presents as what he calls bricolage which might be called the discourse of this method. The bricoleur, says Levi Strauss, is someone who uses “the means at hand,” that is, the instruments he finds at his disposition around him, those which are already there, which had not been especially conceived with an eye to the operation for which they are to be used and to which one tries by trial and error to adapt them, not hesitating to change them whenever it appears necessary, or to try several of them at once, even if their form and their origin are heterogenous and so forth. There is therefore a critique of language in the form of bricolage, and it has even been possible to say that bricolage is the critical language itself. I am thinking in particular of the article by Gérard Genette, “Structuralisme et Critique litteraire,” published in homage to Levi-Strauss in a special issue of L’Arc (no. 26, 1965), where it is stated that the analysis of bricolage could “be applied almost word for word” to criticism, and especially to “literary criticism.”

If one calls bricolage the necessity of borrowing one’s concepts from the text of a heritage which is more or less coherent or ruined, it must be said that every discourse is bricoleur. The engineer, whom Levi-Strauss opposes to the bricoleur, should be the one to construct the totality of his language, syntax, and lexicon. In this sense the engineer is a myth. A subject who would supposedly be the absolute origin of his own discourse and would supposedly construct it “out of nothing,” “out of whole cloth,” would be the creator of the verbe, the verbe itself. The notion of the engineer who had supposedly broken with all forms of bricolage is therefore a theological idea; and since Levi-Strauss tells us elsewhere that bricolage is mythopoetic, the odds are that the engineer is a myth produced by the bricoleur. From the moment that we cease to believe in such an engineer and in a discourse breaking with the received historical discourse, as soon as it is admitted that every finite discourse is bound by a certain bricolage, and that the engineer and the scientist are also species of bricoleurs then the very idea of bricolage is menaced and the difference in which it took on its meaning decomposes.

This brings out the second thread which might guide us in what is being unraveled here. Levi-Strauss describes bricolage not only as an intellectual activity but also as a mythopoetical activity. One reads in The Savage Mind, “Like bricolage on the technical level, mythical reflection can attain brilliant and unforeseen results on the intellectual level. Reciprocally, the mythopoetical character of bricolage has often been noted” (26).

But the remarkable endeavor of Levi-Strauss is not simply to put forward, notably in the most recent of his investigations, a structural science or knowledge of myths and of mythological activity. His endeavor also appears – I would say almost from the first – in the status which he accords to his own discourse, on myths, to what he calls his “mythologicals.” It is here that his discourse on the myth reflects on itself and criticizes itself. And this moment, this critical period, is evidently of concern to all the languages which share the field of the human sciences. What does Levi-Strauss say of his “mythologicals”? It is here that we rediscover the mythopoetical virtue (power) of bricolage. In effect, what appears most fascinating in this critical search for a new status of the discourse is the stated abandonment of all reference to a center, to a subject, to a privileged reference, to an origin, or to an absolute archè. The theme of this decentering could be followed throughout the “Overture” to his last book, The Raw and the Cooked. I shall simply remark on a few key points.


Submission by Anya Komar

Untitled, 2017
Two mannequins, clothes, shoes, fabric, leather, glass, metal, paper bag, spray paint
Overall dimensions installed: 75 5/8 x 78 3/4 x 39 3/8 inches (192 x 200 x 100 cm)

Genzken has created works of complexity that draw upon a rich body of autobiographical images culled from her entire life history. Her visage is captured in informal snapshots, more formally composed portraits, and staged, theatrical poses. Collaged and inserted among the materials and sculptural vocabulary that have typically defined her practice in recent years, these images and their inclusion seem to mark an accelerated interest on Genzken’s part in positioning, quite literally, her body, image, and, indeed, her self into her work.

This tendency has taken on a fascinating complexity in the very recent bodies of sculpture that Genzken started producing in 2012 that use commercially produced mannequins of various shapes, sizes, and colors as their elemental foundation. These Schauspieler (Actors) are stylized, humanoid forms that give structure to a parade of characters Genzken has costumed not only with her signature materials, including foils, plastics, reflective materials, eyewear, and fashion accessories, but in an ultimate act of self-identification and self-inscription, she also often clothes the models in spectacular garments from her personal wardrobe. Designer jeans and blouses and brilliant yellow and leather jackets custom made for Genzken and worn by her for years now take their place in her art as sculpture, alongside unusual garments she buys specifically for these works, each of which she identifies variously as characters, such as “Death,” “urban cowboy,” and “alien.” These powerful acts of autobiography, dense with physical and psychological significance, have escalated in recent years, taking on an increasing relevance as Genzken continues to dissolve the borders that separate the artist’s practice and her body.

— Jeffrey Grove, Isa Genzken’s Homage to Herself (excerpt), in Isa Genzken: Retrospective (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2013)

The Débutante

When I was a débutante I often went to the zoological garden. I went so often that I was better acquainted with animals than with the young girls of my age. It was to escape from the world that I found myself each day at the zoo. The beast I knew best was a young hyena. She knew me too. She was extremely intelligent; I taught her French and in return she taught me her language. We spent many pleasant hours in this way.

For the first of May my mother had arranged a ball in my honor. For entire nights I suffered: I had always detested balls, above all those given in my own honor.

On the morning of May first, 1934, very early, I went to visit the hyena. “What a mess of shit,” I told her. “I must go to my ball this evening.”

“You’re lucky,” she said. “I would go happily. I do not know how to dance, but after all, I could engage in conversation.”

“There will be many things to eat,” said I. “I have seen wagons loaded entirely with food coming up to the house.”

“And you complain!” replied the hyena with disgust. “As for me, I eat only once a day, and what rubbish they stick me with!”

I had a bold idea; I almost laughed. “You have only to go in my place.”

“We do not look enough alike, otherwise I would gladly go,” said the hyena, a little sad. “Listen,” said I, “in the evening light one does not see very well. If you were disguised a little, no one would notice in the crowd. Besides, we are almost the same size. You are my only friend; I implore you.”

She reflected upon this sentiment. I knew that she wanted to accept. “It is done,” she said suddenly.

It was very early; not many keepers were about. Quickly I opened the cage and in a moment we were in the street. I took a taxi; at the house, everyone was in bed. In my room, I brought out the gown I was supposed to wear that evening. It was a little long, and the hyena walked with difficulty in my high- heeled shoes. I found some gloves to disguise her hands which were too hairy to resemble mine. When the sunlight entered, she strolled around the room several times—walking more or less correctly. We were so very occupied that my mother, who came to tell me good morning, almost opened the door before the hyena could hide herself under my bed. “There is a bad odor in the room,” said my mother, opening the window. “Before this evening you must take a perfumed bath with my new salts.”

“Agreed,” said I. She did not stay long; I believe the odor was too strong for her. “Do not be late for breakfast,” she said, as she left the room.

The greatest difficulty was to find a disguise for the hyena’s face. For hours and hours we sought an answer: she rejected all of my proposals. At last she said, “I think I know a solution. You have a maid?”

“Yes,” I said, perplexed.

“Well, that’s it. You will ring for the maid and when she enters we will throw ourselves upon her and remove her face. I will wear her face this evening in place of my own.”

“That’s not practical,” I said to her.

“She will probably die when she has no more face; someone will surely find the corpse and we will go to prison.”

“I am hungry enough to eat her,” replied the hyena. “And the bones?”

“Those too,” she said.

“Then it’s settled?”

“Only if you agree to kill her before removing her face. It would be too uncomfortable otherwise.”

“Good; it’s all right with me.” I rang for Marie, the maid, with a certain nervousness. I would not have done it if I did not detest dances so much. When Marie entered I turned to the wall so as not to see. I admit that it was done quickly. A brief cry and it was over. While the hyena ate, I looked out the window. A few minutes later, she said: “I cannot eat anymore; the two feet are left, but if you have a little bag I will eat them later in the day.”

“You will find in the wardrobe a bag embroidered with fleurs de lys. Remove the handkerchiefs inside it and take it.” She did as I indicated.

At last she said: “Turn around now and look, because I am beautiful!” Before the mirror, the hyena admired herself in Marie’s face. She had eaten very carefully all around the face so that what was left was just what was needed. “Surely, it’s properly done,” said I.

Toward evening, when the hyena was all dressed, she declared: “I am in a very good mood. I have the impression that I will be a great success this evening.” When the music below had been heard for some time, I said to her: “Go now, and remember not to place yourself at my mother’s side: she will surely know that it is not I. Otherwise I know no one. Good luck.” I embraced her as we parted but she smelled very strong.

Night had fallen. Exhausted by the emotions of the day, I took a book and sat down by the open window. I remember that I was reading Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. It was perhaps an hour later that the first sign of misfortune announced itself. A bat entered through the window, emitting little cries. I am terribly afraid of bats, I hid behind a chair, my teeth chattering. Scarcely was I on my knees when the beating of the wings was drowned out by a great commotion at my door. My mother entered, pale with rage. “We were coming to seat ourselves at the table,” she said, “when the thing who was in your place rose and cried: ‘I smell a little strong, eh? Well, as for me, I do not eat cake.’ With these words she removed her face and ate it. A great leap and she disappeared out the window.”

Submission by Leah Pires

Untitled, 2015
Digital image, still projection
Dimensions variable
Edition of 3 + 2 APs
What does it take to make anything at all?
Plato’s craftsmanship as the blueprint of poesis-engineering

The term poet-engineer might be deemed as a pleonasm from a distinctly Platonic viewpoint. Furthermore, what does the figure of poet-engineer signify? A conception of poetry matured out of its extravagantly whimsical experiments in caprices of speculation and human imagination, or an idea of engineering tempered by teachings received from philosophy, literature, artistic practices, etc., such that when one talks about the figure of the engineer, one does not evoke the image of a mere technician doing nefariously repetitive optimization jobs to preserve the status quo? We can, of course, be more percipient and say that poet-engineer as a combined term is precisely the mutual tempering and augmentation of the figure of the poet and the engineer. But that doesn’t exactly work either because if we mean poet in terms of poesis and not merely poet in terms of what we ordinarily identify as a poet, then we should also extend the same courtesy to engineering: To not see engineering as a technique-shuffling optimization business, but to consider it in terms of what Plato has called demiurgen (a neutral word for craftsmanship). Yet once we do justice to the figure of the engineer as we have done to that of the poet, we no longer need, in principle, to use the combined term poet-engineer other than for the sake of a belated clarification. Why? Because engineering qua Plato’s idea of craftsmanship is already the ultimate form of poesis. It is the business by virtue of which reality is begotten into existence in the first place.

However, we should exercise a level of necessary caution here. The idea of engineering as Plato’s craftsmanship should not be trivialized in terms of what we today think of as craft and craftsmanship. This is because what Plato meant by craftsmanship is defined by the idea of participation (methexis) in mixture(s) (mikton). These two terms denote the principles of the mind as the organon of craftsmanship or structuration of nature or physis. We never have a purist encounter with things, every such encounter is a mixed one made of formal resources of logic and language, dialectics, mathematical models and their corresponding modes of epistemological inquiry, imaginative forms of phenomenological experiences, and sensory perceptions. In a sense, our encounters with things are with how particulars participate in forms, and how such participation are in their essence a participation in measurable and determinable mixes, and not as Socrates says, participations in ‘a miserable mass of unmixed messiness’.

In short, every form of making a world through our encounters with things is fully multi-modal. It is principally a mixture of modes of know-how (technê) and modes of know-what (epistêmê) with more complex combinations of the two wherein the hard distinction between technique and episteme collapses. Yet, the mixture of technê and epistêmê can also contain atechnos or nontechnical components which are routines or formulaic skills acquired through experience or empeiria which can be compressed into what can be called iterative recipes such as when the ingredient X reaches the temperature tempa, add the ingredient Y, let the mixture boil for t minutes, then reduce the temperature to tempb and add ingredient Z… (something like a cooking recipe). The nontechnicals, in this sense, primarily deal with skills or modes of learning by rote. As forms of rote learning, in their simplest forms they can merely involve repetition and recall, but in more advanced forms they incorporate record keeping of past procedures, inputs and outputs. Every new input or ouput will then be compared to the history kept and will be counted as an update of the record and a correction. An example of this update function will be something like dead reckoning navigation where every step will be counted as an update or rectification of an already formulaic or mechanical procedure of path finding.

Such routines or formulaic instructions that for instance go into algorithmic processes such as the annealing of a piece of metal in order to create a blade by the combination of hammering and changing the temperature in reiterating steps is an example of atechnos. If the techne is already a form of knowledge, atechnos does not intimate the lack of technê or know-how, but rather an epistemologically blind technique which is oblivious and imperceptive to its origin. Hence, atechnos or the formulaic instruction is not a primary ingredient of poesis or mixture qua the combination of arts and techniques of knowing (theoretical and practical). It is formal only by virtue of what we already know about the so- called techniques of nature (e.g., how such and such routines or algorithmic changes in temperature, pressure and cooling time produce this sort of rock rather than another). In so far as it is primarily based on what is being instructed rather than what is known or what is identified as a know-how that requires a justification by way of practical reasoning, atechnos in its essence is a non-technical—in a deep sense of technicity—ingredient of the mixture.

Non-technical ingredients then only serve the mixture belatedly, meaning they enrich the mixtute after theoretical and practical determinations with regard to the nature of things and how they should be approached. Any sort of prioritization of formulaic methods, accordingly, puts us back in the pre-critical picture of thinking and making things. It is only in the service of techne (know-how), episteme (know- what) and logos (dialectical relations between reasons), that the atechnos or rote methods of building— whether pertaining to a system of knowledge or the making of a concrete object—become necessary. And it is also as a part of mixtures whose primary ingredients are episteme and techne, that the negative and positive, disabling and enabling constrains of the atechnos are brought to light. To this extent, the art of mixture (knowledge and technique) which is the primary field of a poet-engineer as a whole stands in opposition to the prioritization of atechetonos or rote and iterative methods of knowing and building. Whereas the latter belongs to the domain of games in which rules of the game are already set, the former belongs to the horizon of playing where the play-vs-game approach shines through as the child receives a Lego kit for the construction of a gas station. The playing child who is the distillation of the idea of a poet-engineer will never follow the instructions, namely, the settled rules of the game, but instead toys around with the kit and its components. In that courageous suspension of the existing rules in favor of the open play or toy-approach to what is at her disposal, the child builds a new environment for originality, poesis and engineering.

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Breath, 2021
UV print, silicone on wood
48 x 62 x 4 inches (121.9 x 157.5 x 10.2 cm)
Tracing the affective flow of a new corporeality: in conversation with Tishan Hsu

For the last four decades, American artist Tishan Hsu has made a mark through his focused investigation into the embodiment of technology. His multimedia work exists in a terrain both familiar and unfamiliar, sublime yet accessible. From the early stages of his career in the 1980s, he’s been interested in technology’s impact on affect and its phenomenological implications. Making art was then an opportunity to respond to the accelerated changes of biological and digital infrastructure.

“I speculated that the world I would inhabit would be a technological one, for better or for worse. As a result, I wanted to get closer to technology, as a way of understanding it as a potential inspiration for creative production,” Hsu describes.

It is this desire to trace the corporeal conditions of the then new normal that has sustained Hsu’s unique visual language. From his choice of materials like tile, alkyd, ceramic, video and sound, he continually demonstrates an awareness of the rhizomatic trajectory of contemporary life. Much of this is heavily informed by his interdisciplinary education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 70s. And while at MIT, his studies in environmental design led him to seek linkages between film and theories related to artificial intelligence and posthumanism.

For Hsu’s first museum solo show, Liquid Circuit, at the Hammer Museum [and subsequently at Sculpture Center] which recently closed, curator Sohrab Mohebbi presented a survey of 30 key works ranging from reliefs to drawings and sculptures from 1980 to 2005. Like many of Hsu’s sculptures, the installation of the exhibition showcased a broad concern with the spatial dynamics of objects. It also focused on a prioritization of flow of concept as much as registering the technical aspect of Hsu’s elaborate and vatic body of work into a different frame. The exhibition highlights broad trajectories of Hsu’s career. This includes several drawings and works on paper that articulate a proximity to and a radical departure from the appropriation aesthetics of his contemporaries.

Hsu triangulates his interest in the formal yet idiosyncratic architectural techniques, cinematic, and spatial composition throughout the Hammer exhibition. Buoyed by the extra-dimensional sensorium of the brooding, harrowing breaths of the sound accompanying the roughly twenty-one minute video “Folds of Oil,” (2005), the physical space of the galleries were reconfigured to an almost augmented environment where visitors are characters in Hsu’s elaborate mise-en-scene. The vibrant, detailed and arresting color scheme of decadent yellow, deep red, teal blue, and blue streaks, resembling static transmission from CRT screens, resolves the palpable tension of wanting to view the installation as a constellation of grotesque forms as opposed to pleasantly fantastical and speculative objects.

Suggesting a personal and collective response to the shift in ontology engendered by introduction of a novel technopolitics, works like “Heading through,” (1984) and “Holey Cow,” (1986) voice an uncertain and acutely anxious disposition toward the velocity of progress. While “Ooze” and “Vertical Ooze” (both 1987) and similar ceramic tile platforms materialize chimeric, imaginative landscapes influenced by the fluidity and poetics of communication systems. The discrete quadrants of tile can then be viewed as units of data appropriated from the emanations of the screen’s surface. At the same time, alkyd, with its ability to hold color significantly better than other resins, now operates as a metaphorical substance for high fidelity images requiring ample processing power. Hsu obliges us to consider and imagine a world operating almost exclusively at the register of sensation.

With a background in environmental design, Hsu’s interest in biological structures is best reflected in the paintings “Cellular Automata 2,” (1989); “It’s Not the Bullet but the Hole 2,” (1991); and “Cell,” (1987). They also show the artist’s insight into just how deep our relationship to the hyper-accented networked culture permeates. Refreshingly, what Hsu excels in is his reluctance to embrace a reactionary criticality, instead opting to present the terms and conditions of a new reality through a personal, lived experience, free from contrived affects. In conversation, he admits that he “achieves meaning through the making of the work. And a lot of this is culled from an extremely personal place. It’s always about deconstructing and reconstructing the personal.”

Having studied art since the fourth grade, learning techniques of the American Realist, Impressionist and Abstract Expressionist style, the rigorous dedication to craft is excellently translated in Hsu’s paintings. The amalgamation of painterly knowledge, prophetic and interdisciplinary ideas, and use of industrial materials like steel in the titular work “Liquid Circuit,” (1987) images, we are reminded of the thresholds yet to be crossed and encountered in our digitally mediated life, even as much of his ideas unfurl in real time.

I never imagined I-Phone, I-Pad, or Instagram. I was focused on the changing nature of our relationship to the objects that surround us and that these objects would increasingly develop the affective qualities of our cognitive and haptic self. It was this transition that I wanted to capture.

With “Liquid Circuit” being your first museum survey in the United States, what was your process for the show?

Curator Sohrab Mohebbi wanted to focus on the earlier periods of my work ending around the mid- 1990s. Because I had not shown for a long period, where many people have never seen the work of the 80s and 90s, there would be a tendency to assume the show to be a retrospective. In contrast, the approach was to present the work as a process of exploration that is still ongoing where the focus is on the beginning. There is no culminating statement. He felt it was important to bring together several earlier bodies of work that had never been shown together and that I, myself, had never seen together.

Interesting. There certainly was a sense of each room being its own conversation, a snapshot of ideas in time.

The work at each step felt like a deviation from the previous work when I was doing it, a tangent to what I thought I was doing. I had always felt there were multiple tangents and singular explorations over the years and often felt frustrated, if not discouraged, by the lack of coherence or understanding that I could refer to, in generating newer work. Everything felt partial and in need of further clarification, and still does. If there are any concepts or themes that deviate, I feel it is that the work actually comes together or coheres in a way I hadn’t imagined. It was not about any one work or group of works, as I had thought or even intended, but rather the affective sense coming from seeing all of the work together.

The affective “sense” of the exhibition is something I could never have articulated in interviews like this and is only experienced by seeing the work, and particularly all together. The coherence has been the deviation from what I felt was a rather motley practice.

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zip: 09.01.18 . . . 09.30.18, 2018
mixed media in cigarette pack cellophane wrappers
on wood backed acrylic shelf, latex paint
30 units, each approx.: 2 1/2 x 2 1/8 x 1 inches (6.3 x 5.3 x 2.5 cm) shelving unit: 31 3/4 x 34 1/4 x 5 1/4 inches (80.6 x 87 x 13.3 cm)
Yuji Agematsu’s Clump Spirit

Are you also puzzled, Socrates, about cases that might be thought absurd, such as hair or mud or dirt or any other trivial and undignified objects? Are you doubtful whether or not to assert that each of these has a separate eidos distinct from things like those we handle?

Not at all, said Socrates. In those cases, the things are just the things we see; it would surely be too absurd to suppose that they have an eidos. All the same, I have sometimes been troubled by a doubt whether what is true in one case may not be true in all. Then, when I have reached that point, I am driven to retreat, for fear of tumbling into a bottomless pit of nonsense.

Plato, Parmenides 130c–d

The symbols of the divine show up in our world initially at the trash stratum.

Philip K. Dick, VALIS

(Katamari Damacy [Namco Limited, 2003], Image from MoMA)

In Katamari Damacy (2003), the strange and beguiling creation of Keita Takahashi, a trained sculptor who defected into videogame design, the player controls a five-centimeter-tall cylinder-headed cartoon prince tasked with rebuilding the heavens after his peremptory and all-powerful father King of All Cosmos carelessly destroyed them in a drunken transport of cosmic beatitude:

A sky full of stars…We broke it. […] So, so very sorry. But just between you and Us, It felt quite good. Not that We can remember very clearly, but We were in all Nature’s embrace. We felt the beauty of all things, and felt love for all. That’s how it was. Did you see? We smiled a genuine smile. Did you see? The stars splintering in perfect beauty […] now there’s nothing but darkness.

Like a little dung beetle, the prince must push around a ball to which items in the game environment adhere, forming a tumbling clump whose unevenness lends the gameplay a peculiar tactility and physicality. As the katamari grows, it becomes capable of ‘rolling up’ larger and larger items: from coins, matchsticks, and batteries to furniture, trees, farm animals, pedestrians and policemen, cars, buildings, and finally whole cities. In the closing scene, the tiny prince, now dwarfed in scale by the katamari, rolls it across the globe, picking up continental landmasses as it goes.

We might imagine placing the contents of Yuji Agematsu’s ‘zips’ at the opposite end of the scale, in a prequel level prior to the initial 5 centimeter diameter domestic-scale katamari capable of gathering thumb tacks, candies, pachinko balls, hairpins, postage stamps, and chestnuts until, upon attaining 10 centimeters, it can roll out into the yard. Perhaps they make up the sticky stuff that forms the original core and lends the katamari its adhesive power? In any case, Agematsu’s daily assemblages of detritus, each exhibited in a cellophane packet, partake in the ‘clump spirit [katamari damashii, ]’ that imbues Takahashi’s game—a cosmic disposition which places great hope in the obsessional collecting of heterogeneous stuff.

A clump is less than a set, in so far as it is subject not to the selectivity of the concept, but to a principle of universal adhesion (fundamental glomtology) combined with a situatedness and a tempo of accumulation which dictate its singular composition. The clump emerges as a kind of abject eidos, a quintessence via processes of material selection and agglomeration rather than conceptual purgation and generalization—something like the piles of moss, litter, and animal bones that fall through a fissure to cluster on the floor of a cave, invisible except to the most intrepid speleologist capable of fathoming such a ‘bottomless pit’.

While the objects agglomerated in Katamari Damacy are counted by category at the end of each round, those in Agematsu’s zips have tumbled through the pachinko of categories and straight out of the bottom into the streets of New York City, formless anonymous materials, orphans of the Platonic eidos. And yet each presents a moment in the city’s idea of itself, an ulterior distillate, the final product ground out of a multi-scale machine, a snapshot in which the city dreams itself in microcosm.

Most children at some point make the precious discovery of this magical domain invisibilized by the regime of school, home and family, consisting of stuff that obeys none of the rules by which domesticated objects come to know their place. But the child who, inspired by clump spirit, brings home a mossy twig, some stones and a dead beetle in a discarded cigarette carton, reclaiming materials through which they’re able to express that part of themselves for which there is no place at home, will surely be punished. Don’t play in the gutter is an edict disobeyed only by wayward urchins and chronic flanêurs, for whom the street is not a purposeful route from A to B, but an infernal machine entered into with unparalleled pleasure: becoming-anonymous in a transmission channel that traffics bodies and things, pooling, buffeting and sorting them in huge, heaving collective tides of anonymity.

As the great ideologists of this urban Paradise maintain,

within that order, every nature has its bent, according to a different station, nearer or less near to its origin. Therefore, these natures move to different ports across the mighty sea of being, each given the impulse that will bear it on.5

There is no need to ‘demand the impossible’, no need to find a beach beneath the street, because the sidewalk is already a shoreline where jetsam is stranded, ready to be rolled up. Identities are lost and found in this gran mar de l’essere which takes in everything, even the ‘wretched refuse’, chews it up, and spits it out at the place its destiny allots, meaning that everything always ends up in the right spot at the right time, along with its consort.

But at the eleventh hour Agematsu overturns the cruelty of this fatal ordinance whereby everything tempest-tossed by the city gets what it deserves: the bum in the street, the trash in the alley, the banker in the tower, and the artwork in the gallery. Doesn’t Duchamp say that the readymade is an object that has ‘changed direction’? The zips are undoubtedly a kind of second chance saloon, a last-minute change of fortune for the lowest of lowlife.

Unlike the antiseptic Duchamp, however (there was always something too pristine about his lucky finds), Agematsu is not window-shopping for ‘proof of the existence of the outside world’ world outside of art, which the readymade folded back into art. His gaze is lower, and he remains unperturbed by the ‘inevitable response to shop windows’ – having to choose, purchase, and finally pay the ‘penalty’ of ‘cutting the pane and […] feeling regret as possession is consummated’.6 Everything he rolls up and bundles in, all those finds he describes as ‘desirable debris’, have already been consumed and consummated. Every element has been bought and sold, has been contiguous with mouths, sleeves, ears, hands, pockets, and worse. Used, fingered, chewed, discarded, spat out. In their assembled form they continue to testify to the unending flow of de(bri)siring-production and consumption. Even the container doesn’t manage to stand apart to politely display its contents: they glom onto its cellophane panes, making it at once support, podium, and picture plane. These are the readyconsumed, duckrabbits of the idea, calendrical packets of confatality which, even when set primly into their monthly cabinets like exclusive clutches arrayed in the window of a pop-up Dérélicte boutique7, flicker between ignoble intimacy and distanced contemplation.

Two ostinati impart recognizable structure and style to the zips, by virtue of this existing street-level distribution rather than by artistic design. Extruded keratin filaments whose varying tensile profiles offer an abbreviated portrait of New York’s multicultural inhabitants trace arabesques through volumes of chewed gum, that nutritionally-void oral shock absorber, chomped into formless saliva-softened embryos by legions of stressed-out molars. Absorbed in contemplating these microsculptures, one can easily begin to hallucinate parodic masterpieces, as if hair and gum made up the essential armature of art history: Is that tiny twist of newspaper poised atop segments of multicolor gum a Lilliputian Calder? Do Miro’s mobile elementary forms recur, suspended from hairs, within the trash stratum? Could that precarious parallelogram of oily stuff propped on stiletto-like points be a remake of Dalì’s Premonition of Civil War—or is it that Dalì’s melting forms mimic chewed gum…?

Anticipating a world in which a masterpiece will be praised by saying that it is ‘as beautiful as the meeting of a ring pull and a toothpick on a lump of Juicy Fruit’, in becoming monolithic, the diminutive parodies the exalted. Or perhaps there already is a world down there where everything fine and elevated finds its guttersnipe döppelganger. But which is the model and which the copy? Which way does the traffic really go?

And at what speed? Superimposed on the order of the street, there is the order of discovery. Although ‘each thing has its own rhythm’, the tempo of the zips’ syncopated heterogeneity-in-isomorphy is that of the everyday. The most modest vitrine possible, the cellophane wrapping from a cigarette packet, reminds us that their production is connected to daily habit and the perennial newness of repetition.8 No action could be more symbolic of this than the ritual breaching of this pristine synthetic caul for the first smoke of the day. Each evening’s walk adds a level of selectivity since, even in the same environment, depending on the route taken, the resulting clump will always differ. (This acute path- sensitivity, charted by the maps and notes accompanying Agematsu’s zips, also plays its part in the compulsive gameplay of Katamari Damacy, a game made by a fugitive sculptor in which, each time you play, you create an original sculpture.)

In the ’60s and ’70s, the period most crucial to Agematsu’s artistic development, contemporary art, especially in New York City, moved into everyday life, into the street, and into the realm of consumer goods so as to get a breath of fresh air, but also, perhaps more secretly, to drive the quotidian to excess. In serialist work, the imposition of strict protocols employs humorous repetition to overturn the law of modern life,9 to break through its stereotypies and Sisyphean accumulations in search of a ‘more profound repetition’, in the hope that ‘in concentrating on this boundless monotony we find the sudden illumination of multiplicity itself’.10 Agematsu joins the infernal production line of contemporary existence ‘in order to make the two extremes resonate—namely, the habitual series of consumption and the instinctual series of destruction and death’.11 ‘I became an artist to be like a machine’, he says: without contempt, without judgment, and with monotonous regularity, processing the readyconsumed
to find within it a residual energy of transmutation.

A sky full of stars, we broke it… Each inorganic vivarium presents an absolutely singular world: fused hypercolor asteroids of boiled sugar candy, hair, fur and nails, grime corals, extraterrestrial fauna, and every so often a stammering shard of lettering or fragment of an image jutting out from the detritus like a billboard from the ruins of a devastated city, overshadowed by the dark chitinous claw of a giant insect bristling with cilia. A new world every time. At the end of each round of Katamari Damacy the clump of items that have been rolled up are hurled into the void where they finally coagulate, fuse, and explode, giving birth to a new star. And in the zips something is being reconstructed too, from whatever comes to hand. The serialist in the street is not just ‘a clerk cataloguing the results of his premise’. He is also an inchling Prince and King of All Cosmos rolled into one, forging new Ideas from whatever filters down to gutter level, stuff from which ‘a beautiful or mysterious object’12 may yet come forth… Oh! I feel it, I feel the cosmos!13 With these lowly constellations Agematsu rebuilds the heavens, clump by clump, day by day.

Originally published in Yuji Agematsu, Four Seasons, zip: 01.01.20 … 12.31.20 (Vienna / New York: Secession / Sequence Press, 2021)

Warped Relief (UC), 2021
Acrylic and pigment on folded metal sheet mounted on Dibond
63 x 84 inches (160 x 213.4 cm)

This new large-scale, folded metal sheet relief is an advancement of Florian Pumhösl’s work with this material. He furthers his interest in abstract structures, which now suggest containers rather than graphic delineation. The exquisite hand-mixed color brings to mind a seascape merging with the greenery of marshlands. The composition can be seen, moreover, as invoking a sea crossed by field lines, such as the geographic formations of a coast. This aesthetic vocabulary marks a formal engagement with the nature of boundaries through the core interaction of the line and the basin.

Linguistics and Poetics (excerpt)

[…] I have been asked for summary remarks about poetics in its relation to linguistics. Poetics deals primarily with the question, “What makes a verbal message a work of art?” Because the main subject of poetics is the differentia specifica of verbal art in relation to other arts and in relation to other kinds of verbal behavior, poetics is entitled to the leading place in literary studies.

Poetics deals with problems of verbal structure, just as the analysis of painting is concerned with pictorial structure. Since linguistics is the global science of verbal structure, poetics may be regarded as an integral part of linguistics.

[…] Linguistics is likely to explore all possible problems of relations between discourse and the “universe of discourse”: what of this universe is verbalized by a given discourse and how it is verbalized. The truth values, however, as far as they are — to say with the logicians — “extralinguistic entities” obviously exceed the bounds of poetics and of linguistics in general.

[…] Language must be investigated in all the variety of its functions. Before discussing the poetic function we must define its place among the other functions of language. An outline of these functions demands a concise survey of the constitutive factors in any speech event, in any act of verbal communication. The ADDRESSER sends a MESSAGE to the ADDRESSEE. To be operative the message requires a CONTEXT referred to (the “referent” in another, somewhat ambiguous, nomenclature), graspable by the addressee, and either verbal or capable of being verbalized; a CODE fully, or at least partially, common to the addresser and addressee (or in other words, to the encoder and decoder of the message); and, finally, a CONTACT, a physical channel and psychological connection between the addresser and the addressee, enabling both of them to enter and stay in communication. All these factors inalienably involved in verbal communication may be schematized as follows:

Each of these six factors determines a different function of language. Although we distinguish six basic aspects of language, we could, however, hardly find verbal messages that would fulfill only one function. The diversity lies not in a monopoly of some one of these several functions but in a different hierarchical order of functions. The verbal structure of a message depends primarily on the predominant function. But even though a set (Einstellung) toward the referent, an orientation toward the context — briefly, the so-called REFERENTIAL, “denotative,” “cognitive” function — is the leading task of numerous messages, the accessory participation of the other functions in such messages must be taken into account by the observant linguist.

[…] The emotive function, laid bare in the interjections, flavors to some extent all our utterances, on their phonic, grammatical, and lexical level. If we analyze language from the standpoint of the information it carries, we cannot restrict the notion of information to the cognitive aspect of language. A man, using expressive features to indicate his angry or ironic attitude, conveys ostensible information, and evidently this verbal behavior cannot be likened to such nonsemiotic, nutritive activities as “eating grapefruit” (despite Chatman’s bold simile). The difference between [býg] and the emphatic prolongation of the vowel [bý:g] is a conventional, coded linguistic feature like the difference between the short and long vowel in such Czech pairs as [vi] “you” and [vi:] “knows” but in the latter pair the differential information is phonemic and in the former emotive. As long as we are interested in phonemic invariants, the English /i/ and /i:/ appear to be mere variants of one and the same phoneme, but if we are concerned with emotive units, the relation between the invariants and variants is reversed: length and shortness are invariants implemented by variable phonemes. Saporta’s surmise that emotive difference is a nonlinguistic feature, “attributable to the delivery of the message and not to the message”5 arbitrarily reduces the informational capacity of messages.

[…] A distinction has been made in modern logic between two levels of language: “object language” speaking of objects and “metalanguage” speaking of language. But metalanguage is not only a necessary scientific tool utilized by logicians and linguists; it plays also an important role in our everyday language. Like Molière’s Jourdain who used prose without knowing it, we practice metalanguage without realizing the metalingual character of our operations. Whenever the addresser and/or the addressee need to check up whether they use the same code, speech is focused on the code: it performs a METALINGUAL (i.e., glossing) function. “I don’t follow you — what do you mean?” asks the addressee, or in Shakespearean diction, “What is’t thou say’st?” And the addresser in anticipation of such recapturing question inquires: “Do you know what I mean?” Imagine such an exasperating dialogue: “The sophomore was plucked ” “But what is plucked?” “Plucked means the same as flunked.” “And flunked?” “To be flunked is to fail an exam.” “And what is sophomore?” persists the interrogator innocent of school vocabulary. “A sophomore is (or means) a second-year student.” All these equational sentences convey information merely about the lexical code of English; their function is strictly metalingual. Any process of language learning, in particular child acquisition of the mother tongue, makes wide use of such meta- lingual operations; and aphasia may often be defined as a loss of ability for metalingual operations.

[…] The set (Einstellung) toward the message as such, focus on the message for its own sake, is the POETIC function of language. This function cannot be productively studied out of touch with the general problems of language, and, on the other hand, the scrutiny of language requires a thorough consideration of its poetic function. Any attempt to reduce the sphere of the poetic function to poetry or to confine poetry to the poetic function would be a delusive oversimplification. The poetic function is not the sole function of verbal art but only its dominant, determining function, whereas in all other verbal activities it acts as a subsidiary, accessory constituent. This function, by promoting the palpability of signs, deepens the fundamental dichotomy of signs and objects. Hence, when dealing with the poetic function, linguistics cannot limit itself to the field of poetry.

[…] As I said, the linguistic study of the poetic function must overstep the limits of poetry, and, on the other hand, the linguistic scrutiny of poetry cannot limit itself to the poetic function. The particularities of diverse poetic genres imply a differently ranked participation of the other verbal functions along with the dominant poetic function. Epic poetry, focused on the third person, strongly involves the referential function of language; the lyric, oriented toward the first person, is intimately linked with the emotive function; poetry of the second person is imbued with the conative function and is either supplicatory or exhortative, depending on whether the first person is subordinated to the second one or the second to the first.

[…] What is the empirical linguistic criterion of the poetic function? In particular, what is the indispensable feature inherent in any piece of poetry? To answer this question we must recall the two basic modes of arrangement used in verbal behavior, selection and combination. If “child” is the topic of the message, the speaker selects one among the extant, more or less similar nouns like child, kid, youngster, tot, all of them equivalent in a certain respect, and then, to comment on this topic, he may select one of the semantically cognate verbs — sleeps, dozes, nods, naps. Both chosen words combine in the speech chain. The selection is produced on the basis of equivalence, similarity and dissimilarity, synonymy and antonymy, while the combination, the build-up of the sequence, is based on contiguity. The poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of with musical time. Equivalence is promoted to the constitutive device of the sequence. In poetry one syllable is equalized with any other syllable of the same sequence; word stress is assumed to equal word stress, an unstress equals unstress; prosodic long is matched with long, and short with short; word boundary equals word boundary, no boundary equals no boundary, syntactic pause equals syntactic pause, no pause equals no pause. Syllables are converted into units of measure, and so are morae or stresses.

It may be objected that metalanguage also makes a sequential use of equivalent units when combining synonymic expressions into an equational sentence: A = A (“Mare is the female of hose”). Poetry and metalanguage, however, are in diametrical opposition to each other: in metalanguage the sequence is used to build an equation, whereas in poetry the equation is used to build a sequence.

[…] Measure of sequences is a device which, outside of poetic function, finds no application in language. Only in poetry with its regular reiteration of equivalent units is the time of the speech flow experienced, as it is—to cite another semiotic pattern—with musical time. Gerard Manley Hopkins, an outstanding searcher in the science of poetic language, defined verse as “speech wholly or partially repeating the same figure of sound.” Hopkins’ subsequent question, “but is all verse poetry?” can be definitely answered as soon as the poetic function ceases to be arbitrarily confined to the domain of poetry. […] The adaptation of poetic means for some heterogeneous purpose does not conceal their primary essence, just as elements of emotive language, when utilized in poetry, still maintain their emotive tinge. A filibusterer may recite Hiawatha because it is long, yet poeticalness still remains the primary intent of this text itself. Self-evidently, the existence of versified, musical, and pictorial commercials does not separate the questions of verse or of musical and pictorial form from the study of poetry, music, and fine arts.

To sum up, the analysis of verse is entirely within the competence of poetics, and the latter may be defined as that part of linguistics which treats the poetic function in its relationship to the other functions of language. Poetics in the wider sense of the word deals with the poetic function not only in poetry, where this function is superimposed upon the other functions of language, but also outside poetry, when some other function is superimposed upon the poetic function. […]

Originally published in Roman Jakobson, Style in Language, ed. Thomas A. Sebeok (Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press, 1960)

Trophy – Soft Core 1 (Paris, 2019), 2019
Foam and epoxy resin
31 x 14 x 15 1/2 inches (78.6 x 35.7 x 39.3 cm)

This complex object manifests a body without organs, using a 3D scan of the interior of a wild boar’s ribcage to make negative molds by which the final sculpture is then produced. The ribcage’s cavity is turned into a volume and milled. “There’s one in which the rib cage is more developed and the belly is a little more contracted,” Moulène notes. “With the other, it’s the inverse. It’s a bit like the phenomenon of breathing.” Rather than creating an arrested object, the resulting forms constitute the embodiment of a process.


Sam Lewitt: Thank you for sending these notes on the show Miguel.

On some level I think you can anticipate what my initial response might be. The below are obviously the result of my own limiting assumptions and general inability to take on board certain claims that I don’t find personally useful. Regardless, this all might sound a little arid and hasty – it is – but maybe there’s something interesting for you.

I see that you’re trying to avoid the dead-end fascination with ‘new materials/tools’ as a positive, more or less technocratic, way of framing your thoughts, but there are moments where what you sent come very close to this… more on this below. There are of course other paths, but it’s important to avoid the priestly administrators hiding in the bushes along the way. These tend to jump out when subjective personifications of some general artistic right of access to these new(ish) materials and technical systems gets heroically invoked – which makes me a little wary of beginning with the outright figuration of a subject called the ‘poet-engineer’. I’m more curious about how far I can go in trying to reflect on the material conditions of the subject’s emergence, in an effort to potentiate alternative ways of imagining how those conditions currently or could otherwise organize perception.

Miguel Abreu: On this question, the key for me is to try to keep things unstable and in a state of flux, that is not take side and locate the source of authority either with the subjectivity of the artist or with the pure “processing of a material condition.” Yes in the end, the artist is the agent that decides to engage a particular material, a particular technical process that shapes the work in some way, or manifests a question, or a problem of interest inscribed in or inherent to the material or technical process itself. It is the balancing act, the friction between the idea – idea here = question = problem = riddle – and the engaged material or technical process that produces the subjectivity of the work and of the artist simultaneously – it doesn’t really matter. And of course, the idea can emerge from the consideration of the material itself, or the mere technical process at work. I’m interested in testing the proposition that any realized, compelling contemporary art work has a paradoxical “idealist materiality.” The artist “idealizes” a material, a process by simply starting to engage it, by beginning to extract it from its ordinary use and existence in the socio-economic sphere and by somehow redirecting it. One of the ghosts of contemporary art, besides the “mirror” and the “monochrome,” is that there must be an Idea at work somewhere in, or fueling the object, so we might as well try to identify it!

SL: As with the outright figuration of the subject so with the guiding light of the ‘idea’ as the determining moment in all of this. I’d rather ask how habits of making and behaving with the means available govern and constrain tendencies of thinking, and how to grope toward what drops-out in the process. Without these ways of making and behaving no form would be available to art making as a specific kind of cultural activity complexly linked to other kinds of activities. Here again, I would hesitate re-installing the figure of the poet as an ideal type (I’m really not sure what this means, because of course there is a robust and complicated contemporary discourse in poetry….) in favor of attentiveness to what Roman Jakobson called the poetic-function of language itself. The poetic in this case would be an effect of a certain insoluble structure of communication, which draws attention to itself by virtue of specific formal conditions of inscription, utterance and auditing. This is how I would want to understand sentences you write like “Ideas emanate from the object; they do not descend upon it.”

MA: My above response would apply to what you say here as well. I would agree of course that “habits of making and behaving” can be the source of the idea working itself out through the production of the work, or arrested and identified before beginning the production of the work. I would like to discuss Jakobson.

The only reason I introduce the figure of the poet, is to distinguish the art work from an “engineered only” object. The poet-engineer is a paradoxical agent.

SL: If the poetic is an insoluble function of communication under one set of circumstances, engineering is a rule based and conventional way of solving for communicability. By ‘communicability’ I mean mainly the interconnection of functionally cast parts within a purposive ensemble. Under very different political conditions there were obviously attempts to dissolve one condition into the other – Here I think of Maria – Gough’s discussion of Karl Iogansen as the one figure from the laboratory phase of constructivism that actually went into production, attempting to use constructivist principals to re-engineer the production process on the factory floor. Certainly the beauty of an engineer’s solution to a problem can be called ‘poetic’ in its imaginative precision and there are examples of poets directly using engineering language as a model. In addition to this just about every artist I know is constantly engaged in finding practical engineering solutions within their work: designing fastening systems, making something stand, programing, stabilizing a reproducible support, etc. The point is that on some very mundane level it is mostly socially determined presumptions about use that frame the division of labor and the disciplinary compartmentalization of knowledge.

I understand much of the history of artworks and practices that result from ‘engineering’ protocols (algorithmic, or other rule-based systems, etc.) as attempts to displace or at least complicate authorship, not reinstate it. The idea here was to come up with a more democratic form taken by the artwork. As many writers have noted, the irony is that these practices were paradoxically legible to many of its recipients not as democratic, but as elitist and opaque, from the New Novel to Conceptual art and also process-based work. This is a loose thought: but it seems like one of the features of the last two decades of re-examined process-based abstraction – with great market success – has come to sit very comfortably alongside received romantic ideas about inspiration and creativity. I suppose this is principally because the former provides efficient techniques for producing enormous quantities of constantly circulating goods for an insatiable market in need of differentiating proper names as vehicles for pricing.

MA: Nicely put, but the key for me here is to simply evaluate how well suited these “engineered protocols” are to the content and final contours of the work. How necessary are they, if you will? In this sense, the most challenging and successful work – the most poetically charged – is the one that manages to achieve the highest level of intensity and singularity in using such protocols, such fabrication techniques and materials in making them an inherent and active part of the expression itself. The result, or the clear solution can then be critiqued as more or less engaging and interesting. Questions such as, how does the work destabilize the established order of things can then be fruitfully posed? How does its specificity open up to an emancipatory image of the world? If the effect of this thinking is to re- introduce and affirm authorship as well as a certain potential for artistic agency, so be it. It might be a good thing after all under the reign of algorithms.

Yuji Agematsu, Jean-Luc Moulène, R. H. Quaytman, Scott Lyall, and Cheyney Thompson are the artists in the show who most evidently use self-imposed, predetermined rules in the making of their respective work. The crucial question for them in particular becomes: At what point does the repeated use of these pre-established systems of meaning start to become too much of an immediately recognizable, and therefore passive ingredient in the constitution of the object? At what point does this repeated use diminish the expressive potential of the work?

SL: I think it’s important where you mention the obliquity of the approach to means of fabrication, but this would foreclose its summation in the genius of a De Vinci (?!). Do you really need Picasso to say that artists look for solutions to problems that are self-legislated as subjects for their work? In this context perhaps Duchamp’s old remark “there is no solution because there is no problem” is a necessarily bitter pill.

MA: I only quote Picasso to provoke you and others, but more importantly for his unquestionable talent to cut straight to the point! But not to worry, I firmly stand on Matisse’s side of the equation… Ah yes, papa Duchamp, of course. But the basic positive premise of the show is that, precisely, “there are problems to be solved.” This is just as true and assertable as its negation. But thank you all the same for bringing this vertiginous phrase to my attention. It is most helpful to have in mind. Warhol would have said exactly the same thing, don’t you think?

SL: Regarding the technical dimension, of which there is far too much to say than will fit here, let’s take photography as emblematic: The 100+yr old debate around the artistic status of photography had very often located the medium’s most radical dimension as the emergent potential to liquidate the very definition of the artwork, its experiential coordinates, its form of distribution and thereby the composition of its audience as it had existed to that point. It offered the potential to remake art as a category, not merely what was subsumed under it and its existing institutions. On some level this history feels antediluvian, but I bring it up because I’m skeptical that anything today carries the same kind of promise. I’m coming to suspect that to insist that a technical operation on its own carries emancipatory potential that just needs unleashing usually collapses into sheer technocratic fantasy or worse a crypto-social Darwinist faith that the best possible technical protocol will win in competition with lesser options if just given the chance to fight it out in the market. Anyhow, something like 3D printing is not so much a new way of making, but a fusion that marries multiple imaging and CAD/CAM systems, and historically represents nothing like the emergence of the photograph. The latter still seems singular in transforming the time of representation and its proximity to the experience of reality in a still relatively early stage of industrial growth, introducing a totally distinct support system for the image. In some sense, the interest in the modeling operations at work in additive manufacturing systems is that they have no given support or dimensional existence outside of sheer calculation.

Similarly, the seeming novelty of most fabrication techniques or ‘new’ materials, when they appear in artworks, is often the inverted reflection of those techniques’ increasing saturation in manufacturing and services. This is as true for steel in early 20th century sculpture, plastic composites in the 60s, inkjet printing 20yrs ago or higher-level machine learning more recently. What consistently appears in the guise of a novel aesthetic resource coincides with the increasingly common technical infrastructure of contemporary work. Less and less however is the integration of industrial techniques into the field of the artwork a matter of anticipating or projecting a specifically public sphere for labor. I’m interested in the fact that one reason for this – not the only for sure – is that much of this technical media have very recently become extremely specialized and materially exotic on the level of engineering. As such these materials and protocols exert increasing fascination within the optically inclined sphere of artistic production. I understand this as partially papering over the emergence of those technical media with a particular organization of labor, and in the past I have tried to somehow bring this back into view: even if negatively, as intermediary components for ubiquitous technical systems attempting to enact a round labor savings. Anyhow I think this narrative is changing. On the level of the global economy, the source of the increasingly depressed global demand for labor is more clearly the result of decades of economic stagnation and plummeting private sector investment in new tech, not the triumph of automation’s ability to save on labor costs. As writers like Jason Smith and Aaron Benanav have shown, the dream images of the tradeshow floor should be held in tight contradiction with un-automatable underpaid service jobs, abandoned infrastructure and crumbling cities. Here I guess the engineer and artist come into a more tense relationship of legitimation, which really can’t be solved by either side because the functions are too alienated. I’m more interested in exacerbating the contradiction between the two than facilitating a union.

Universal Affect, 2008
Oil on linen
75 x 100 x 3 inches (190.5 x 254 x 7.6 cm)
Dense Fictions

Painting has a unique capacity to illuminate how objects in the real world are experienced, because a painting, while alluding to a memory of real world objects and experiences, also conveys this memory through the medium of a very palpable material. A material which occupies its own space in the world and thus becomes itself a thing.

This is different from media such as television, film or photography, where the image is disembodied and there is nothing blocking the journey of the image to the viewer’s memory. These media function on a purely fictive level. The potential for the misappropriation of these media for the function of manipulating the viewer is great, so great is the tendency to believe the image presented. Only through the guidance of reason by the creator or the exertion of reason by the viewer, is belief in the image suspended and meaning extracted from the film, television program, magazine ad, etc.

Obviously, imagery of this nature floods contemporary life. So much so, that remembered images of real world objects and situations often supersede the actual experience of these objects and situations.

Since painting has the capacity to present the viewer with both a fictive experience and an actual experience simultaneously, it can examine the very mechanism of fiction as well as the urge of the human mind to attach random graphic marks to its memory of the real world.

By encouraging the empirical understanding of this medium (painting), hopefully, the viewer will be encouraged to be more investigative of other media, as well as encouraging a less fictive relationship to real world objects and occurrences.

Jonathan Lasker, Complete Essays 1984-1998 (New York: Edgewise, 1998). Written in 1984, and originally published in Effects: Magazine for New Art Theory, edited by Collins & Milazzo, No. 3 (Spring 1985/Winter 1986)

Paint’s Body

After reading the text by Rainer Crone and David Moos, I am confronted with the conflict of whether or not to play dead. Death being, of course, the ideal condition for the artist. Only once the artist dies can his work find its true place in culture, since the artwork must ultimately exist outside the realm of intent. It must, in the end, exist in the realm of effect, free of the artist’s manipulations in defense of his intent.

Nonetheless. because my desire as an artist is to have an affect, the quality of that affect is of vital importance to me, particularly in a social moment when so much seems to hang in the balance.

Art is currently facing a dilemma. Radicality in art is dead because its position has been usurped by the radical space of contemporary technology. The project of art today is therefore, as I see it, to locate the boundaries of the real in a world where meaning, space and even (in theory) the effects of mortality have been neutralized by technology.

When a society enters its decadent phase, as ours has, it eventually readies a zero point at which every sub- particle of each social component, each molecule, must be disassembled and analyzed in order to reconstitute an image of reality. At this point we enter “The Politics of Reality.” Reality is up for grabs. The ball is loose and each molecule is roaming free.

However our perception of reality is to be reshaped – if that is even to occur — it seems imperative to me that it shape itself according to the human metabolism, even if metabolic rate can no longer keep up with the pace of contemporary technology. Technology has expanded human flesh to the limit of endurance. Deep down we long to be the animals we truly are.

One of my intentions in making these paintings is to support the position of the human hand, and thus the integrity of human identity. It is true that these paintings freely ingest many aspects of our media- based and mechanistic society, but always as a foil for the expressions of the human hand and psyche. My work does not espouse the supremacy of the organizing force of intelligence — rather. it contrasts that force against the random effects of gesture in order to render the latter more affecting in the context of the former. As such, my painting is intended as an image of quintessential conflict.

Paint bears physical record to the expressions of the human hand. It conforms to the trail of the brush being driven by impulses of the psyche. In no other art medium is creation more permanently and intimately bound to the movements of the human body. Nowhere is the human more empowered to have a direct and immediate affect on the image of his world.

We are all, at present, more divided, less empowered, and certainly far less connected to the effects of our world than we should be. It is for this reason that I am deeply involved with the textures of a medium capable of universalizing so much lost intimacy.

Jonathan Lasker, Complete Essays 1984-1998 (New York: Edgewise, 1998). Originally published in Jonathan Lasker: Telling the Tales of Painting (Stuttgart: Edition Cantz, 1993)

Poetry and the Poet-Engineer

Because of my involvement with poetry, in my conversations with Miguel around The Poet-Engineers, I’ve tried to consider the ideas of poets from the last century and how they might inform the concerns being developed throughout this show.

William Carlos Williams wrote in 1944 that a poem is a small (or large) machine made of words, affirming the objecthood of a poem, the materiality of language, and the cultural mechanics inherent to the notion of poetics. The two texts that follow—one by Williams’ contemporary and the other by his inheritor—extend, complicate, and enfold this key insight of American modernist poetry while making clear the investment by poets of his generation for open and evolving forms that seek poetry beyond poems and poiesis beyond mere poetry, or what Roman Jakobson calls elsewhere in this reader the poetic function of language.

The first text is Louis Zukofsky’s infamously oblique “An Objective,” written in 1930 and a version of which appeared in the 1931 issue of Poetry that he edited, which came to announce the vague movement known as Objectivist poetry. “An Objective” is a highly enigmatic proposal for the poem as an object bound up with, and acting on, the totality of its cultural context, an object that both emerges out of while also expanding the conditions of the present moment. While history is perhaps too nebulous a concept to be the explicit address of the Poet-Engineer—its submergence in the complex of the contemporary is taken up as the more immediate concern—Zukofsky insists that our desire for the objectively perfect is inextricably the direction of historic and contemporary particulars, that our compulsion toward innovation is a thread that unavoidably knots the problems of the old and the new. The objective, then, is that each knot might also be its own solution, the key to its untangling and unleashing—an inclusive object lashed to reality’s unraveling.

Here: idea = question = problem = riddle

There are few thinkers who would understand the above equation as thoroughly as Guy Davenport. I’m not sure who reads Davenport anymore, but his incredible book of essays, The Geography of the Imagination, is on the shelf of any good bookstore. His encyclopedic and highly directed mind knew that when the riddle-solution of the knot is enlarged from a puzzle in the hands of an artist to its proper human scale, a vertiginous architecture of action, that the knot is just one node in an incommensurable labyrinth. What we’re calling here the Poet-Engineer Davenport would have called the Daedalian artist, named for the master craftsman Daedalus: architect, engineer, inventor, and artist. “The House that Jack Built” is his labyrinthine genealogy of the modern cult of Daedalus, a map that charts new paths while moving at the same time along an unfollowable route. He reads the figureheads of The Poet-Engineers—da Vinci and Picasso—alongside everyone from Homer and Dante, the aviators Wright, Blériot, Curtiss and Rougier, to Henri Rousseau, Tatlin, Stein, Apollinaire, Brancusi, Williams, Zukofsky, Ruskin, and most significantly, his idols James Joyce and Ezra Pound. The tension that defines the Daedalian artwork is between the prison of the labyrinth (the advancing brutality of the built world) and the perfect achievement of Daedalus’ masterpiece, an impossibly engineered honeycomb of pure gold that the bees returned to live in (the reunification of human inspiration with nature).

Davenport wonders What beast is there at the center of the labyrinth? Monsters return our gaze as much in this exhibition as they do throughout literature. Our understanding wavers between the labyrinth and the golden honeycomb. The lesson of Daedalus is the riddle of the Poet-Engineer: until we tread the maze wisely, it will remain a perplexity. It is alive. It will change from labyrinth to honeycomb only after you have seen its architecture and learned the harmony of its way.

An Objective (1930)

An Objective: (Optics) — The lens bringing the rays from an object to a focus. That which is aimed at.
(Use extended to poetry) — Desire for what is objectively perfect, inextricably the direction of historic and contemporary particulars.

It is understood that historic and contemporary particulars may mean a thing or things as well as an event or a chain of events: i.e. an Egyptian pulled-glass bottle in the shape of a fish or oak leaves, as well as the performance of Bach’s Matthew Passion in Leipzig, and the rise of metallurgical plants in Siberia.

Omission of names is prompted by the historical method of the Chinese sage who wrote, ‘Then for nine reigns there was no literary production.’

None at all; because there was neither consciousness of the ‘objectively perfect’ nor an interest in clear or vital ‘particulars.’ Nothing — neither a new object nor the stripping of an old to the light — was ‘aimed at.’ Strabismus may be a topic of interest between two strabismics; those who see straight look away.


In sincerity shapes appear concomitants of word combinations, precursors of (if there is continuance) completed sound or structure, melody or form. Writing occurs which is the detail, not mirage, of seeing, of thinking with the things as they exist, and of directing them along a line of melody. Shapes suggest themselves, and the mind senses and receives awareness. Parallels sought for in the other arts call up the perfect line of occasional drawing, the clear beginnings of sculpture not proceeded with.

Presented with sincerity, the mind even tends to supply, in further suggestion, which does not attain rested totality, the totality not always found in sincerity and necessary only for perfect rest, complete appreciation. This rested totality may be called objectification — the apprehension satisfied completely as to the appearance of the art form as an object. That is: distinct from print which records action and existence and incites the mind to further suggestion, there exists, though it may not be harbored as solidity in the crook of an elbow, writing (audibility in two-dimensional print) which is an object or affects the mind as such. The codifications of the rhetoric books may have something to do with an explanation of this attainment, but its character may be simply described as the arrangement, into one apprehended unit, of minor units of sincerity — in other words, the resolving of words and their ideation into structure. Granted that the word combination ‘minor unit of sincerity’ is an ironic index of the degradation of the power of the individual word in a culture which seems hardly to know that each word in itself is an arrangement, it may be said that each word possesses objectification to a powerful degree; but that the facts carried by one word are, in view of the preponderance of facts carried by combinations of words, not sufficiently explicit to warrant a realization of rested totality such as might be designated an art form. Yet the objectification which is a poem, or a unit of structural prose, may exist in a line or very few lines. The mind may conceivably prefer one object to another — the energy of the heat which is Aten to the benignness of the light which is Athena. But this is a matter of preference rather than the invalidation of the object not preferred. It is assumed that epistemological problems do not affect existence, that a personal structure of relations might be a definite object, or vice versa.

At any time, objectification in writing is rare. The poems or the prose structures of a generation are few. Properly no verse should be called a poem if it does not convey the totality of perfect rest.

It is questionable, however, whether the state of rest achieved by objectification is more pertinent to the mind than presentation in detail: the isolation of each noun so that in itself it is an image, the grouping of nouns so that they partake of the quality of things being together without violence to their individual intact natures, simple sensory adjectives as necessary as the nouns.

The disadvantage of strained metaphor is not that it is necessarily sentimental (the sentimental may at times have its positive personal qualities) but that it carries the mind to a diffuse everywhere and leaves it nowhere. One is brought back to the entirety of the single word which is in itself a relation, an implied metaphor, an arrangement, a harmony or a dissonance.

The economy of presentation in writing is a reassertion of faith that the combined letters — the words — are absolute symbols for objects, states, acts, interrelations, thoughts about them. If not, why use words — new or old?

The several definitions of An Objective and the use of this term extended to poetry are from the sixth movement of A. The lines referred to read:

The melody, the rest are accessory —

. . . my one voice; my other . . .

An objective — rays of the object brought to a focus,

An objective — nature as creator — desire for what is objectively

Inextricably the direction of historic and contemporary


Assuming the intention of these lines to be poetry, the implications are that a critic began as a poet, and that as a poet he had implicitly to be a critic.


The graceless error of writing down to those who consciously want a something else from poetry — not poetry — as some stay for their own vanity; to ‘sometimes’ think that minds elaborately equipped with specific information, like science, must always confuse it with other specific information, like poetry. That may be the case with unfortunates. The point, however, would be not to proffer solemnly or whiningly confusions to the confused, but to indicate by energetic mental behavior how certain information may be useful to other information, and when the divisions which signalize them are necessary.

Such a process does not need to be accurately painful; rather it should be painlessly complete — as certain people are complete and ready to go anywhere but to the doctor.


A poem. A poem as object — And yet certainly it arose in the veins and capillaries, if only in the intelligence — Experienced — (every word can’t be overdefined) experienced as an object — Perfect rest — Or nature as creator, existing perfect, experience perfecting activity of existence, making it — theologically, perhaps — like the Ineffable —

A poem. Also the materials which are outside the veins and capillaries — The context — The context necessarily dealing with a world outside of it — The desire for what is objectively perfect, inextricably the direction of historic and contemporary particulars — A desire to place everything — everything aptly, perfectly, belonging within, one with, a context —

A poem. The context based on a world — Idle metaphor — a lime base — a fiber — not merely a charged vacuum tube — an aerie of personation — The desire for inclusiveness — The desire for an inclusive object.

A poem. This object in process — The poem as a job — A classic —

Homer’s the wet waves not our the wet waves but enough association in the three words to make a context capable of extension from its time into the present. Because, there is, though meanings change, a linguistic etiquette, a record possibly clear to us as the usage of a past context — The context as it first meant — or if this may not be believed — an arrived-at equilibrium — or at least the past not even guessed by us arrived at an equilibrium of meaning determined by new meanings of word against word contemporarily read.

A poem: a context associated with ‘musical’ shape, musical with quotation marks since it is not of notes as music, but of words more variable than variables, and used outside as well as within the context with communicative reference.

Impossible to communicate anything but particulars — historic and contemporary — things, human beings as things their instrumentalities of capillaries and veins binding up and bound up with events and contingencies. The revolutionary word if it must revolve cannot escape having a reference. It is not infinite. Even the infinite is a term.

Only good poetry — good an unnecessary adjective — is contemporary or classical. A standard of taste can be characterized only by acceptance of particular communication and concerned, so to speak, whenever the intelligence is in danger of being cluttered, with exclusions — not with books but with poetic invention. The nothing, not pure nothing, left over is not a matter of ‘recencies, 5 but a matter of pasts, maybe pasties.

It would be just as well then dealing with ‘recencies’ to deal with Donne or Shakespeare, if one knew them as well as a linguistic usage not their own can know them. And yet contexts and inventions seem to have been derived from them.

One can go further, try to dissect capillaries or intelligent nerves — and speak of the image felt as duration or perhaps of the image as the existence of the shape and movement of the poetic object. The poet’s image is not dissociable from the movement or the cadenced shape of the poem.

An idea — not an empty concept. An idea — its value including its meaning. The desk, i.e. as object including its value — The object unrelated to palpable or predatory intent — Also the meaning, or what should be the meaning of science in modern civilization as pointed out in Thorstein Veblen.

No predatory manifestation — Yet a manifestation making the mind more temperate because the poem exists and has perhaps recorded both state and individual.

The components of the poetic object continued: the sound and pitch emphasis of a word are never apart from its meaning.

In this sense each poem has its own laws, since no criticism can take care of all the differences which each new composition in words is. Yet criticism would hardly be different if musical notations or signs were used instead of words. Example: any piece of original music and the special criticism it produces.

The components of the poetic object continued:

Typography — certainly — if print and the arrangement of it will help tell how the voice should sound. It is questionable on the other hand whether the letters of the alphabet can be felt as the Chinese feel their written characters. Yet most western poets of consequence seem constantly to communicate the letters of their alphabets as graphic representations of thought — no doubt the thought of the word influences the letters but the letters are there and seem to exude thought.

Add — the core that covers the work of poets who see with their ears, hear with their eyes, move with their noses and speak and breathe with their feet. And yet lunatics are sometimes profitably observed: the core that is covered, the valuable skeptic knows, may in itself be the intense vision of a fact.

Intention must, however, be distinguished from accomplishment which resolves the complexity of detail into a single object. Emphasize detail 130 times over — or there will be no poetic object.

Or put the job of explanation up to cabinet-making: certain joints show the carpentry not to advantage, certain joints are a fine evidence; some are with necessary craftsmanship in the object. The first type — showing the carpentry not to advantage — is always present in a great deal of unnecessary writing; the second and third are rare; the second — which is a fine evidence — is rare to this time; the third — which with necessary craftsmanship is hid in the object — is, whenever craftsmanship is present, characteristic of this time.


In contemporary poetry three types of complexity are discernible: 1 — the swift concatenation of multiple references usually lyrical in movement — almost any poem by Donne, for example; 2 — the conceit — Shakespeare’s ‘when to the sessions,’ his working out of love as bookkeeping, or Donne’s ‘Valediction,’ his ‘two twin compasses’; 3 — the complexity of the epic — Byron’s Don Juan, or most of it.

The word complexity is perhaps misleading. Ultimately, the matter of poetic object and its simple entirety must not be forgotten.

I.e. order and the facts as order. The order of all poetry is to approach a state of music wherein the ideas present themselves sensuously and intelligently and are of no predatory intention. A hard job, as poets have found reconciling contrasting principles of facts. In poetry the poet is continually encountering the facts which in the making seem to want to disturb the music and yet the music or the movement cannot exist without the facts, without its facts. The base matter, to speak hurriedly, which must receive the signet of the form. Poems are only acts upon particulars. Only through such activity do they become particulars themselves — i.e. poems.

The mind may construct its world — this is hardly philosophy — if the mind does construct its world there is always that world immanent or imminently outside which at least as a term has become an entity. Linguistic usage has somehow preserved these acts which were poems in other times and have transferred structures now. The good poems of today are not far from the good poems of yesterday.

From Louis Zukofsky, Prepositions + : The Collected Critical Essays (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 2000)

Submission by Michael Cavuto

The House that Jack Built

A hundred years before the death of Ezra Pound, a week short the very day, John Ruskin sat down in his red room at Brantwood among his geological specimens and Scott manuscripts, to instruct the English working man in the meaning of labyrinths, the craftsman Daedalus, and the hero Theseus. He was writing Letter XXIII of Fors Clavigera, his monthly tracts against usury and banks. This incremental work, a splendid pottage of autobiography, pamphleteering, preaching, and haphazard digressions worthy of Sterne, gave lessons in aesthetics and economics, morals and literary criticism.

Fors is a kind of Victorian prose Cantos, arranging its subjects in ideogrammatic form, shaping them with a poetic sense of imagery, allowing themes to recur in patterns, generating significance, as Pound did, by juxtaposition and the intuition of likenesses among dissimilar and unexpected things.

Ruskin, who sounded as provincial to Matthew Arnold as Pound to Gertrude Stein, was yearning in Fors Clavigera for a cleansing and re-ordering of civilization, in almost the same way Pound did in the Cantos. Both works trace a heritage of wisdom and tradition now obscured or abandoned. Both works direct our attention to the monetary historian Alexander del Mar, to the capacious minds of Louis Agassiz and Alexander von Humboldt, architects of systems of knowledge. Both works analyze the cultures of Venice and Florence, admire the energy of fifteenth-century condottiere, and draw morals from various kinds of Italian banks. Both teach us how to see the roots of the Renaissance in mediaeval art. Both are works by men with an extraordinary range of concerns who have the same, almost insurmountable problem of organizing their material into a large work.

And because both issued their work piecemeal (Fors in monthly installments from 1871 to 1887, The Cantos sporadically in magazines and books since 1917, with Cantos LXXII and LXXIII yet to be published), the assumption has been fairly common that Fors and The Cantos are serial commentary basically random in organization. Yet both works are strenuously unified. They both insist that economics must be a part of our literacy and a legitimate and pressing subject for the artist.

Watch how Ruskin in Fors XXIII goes about fixing the meaning of Theseus in our minds and you will see how Pound built ideograms of images and ideas.

A great captain, says Ruskin, is distinguished by Fortune’s “conclusive stroke against him.” We see this proof of adversity in the loss of Ariadne. But of Theseus, more later: we must turn to an engraving of Botticelli’s representing the seven works of mercy, “as completed by an eighth work in the center of all; namely, lending without interest, from the Mount of Pity accumulated by generous alms. In the upper part of the diagram we see the cities which first built Mounts of Pity; Venice, chief of all — then Florence, Genoa, and Castruccio’s Lucca; in the distance prays the monk of Ancona, who first taught, inspired by Heaven, of such wars with usurers.”

Ruskin then rambles around in what seems to be a shambles of subjects: Victorian fund raising, national defense, reforms in punishment, Maria Edgeworth’s novel Helen, until he can get back to Theseus, this time to his image in the British Museum, where he is a stolen antiquity only, unless we can see his meaning. Theseus’ stamp is common in our world, in, for example, the Greek fret we can see everywhere. The meaning of this design is now lost, conveying nothing to our eyes. It was, however, the Greek life-symbol, and ours.

Best try to understand it by remembering the cathedral doors at Lucca, near which, in the church porch, we can find this sixteen hundred-year-old inscription:

Hie quern creticus edit Dedalus est Laberinthus
de quo nullus vadere quivit qui fuit intus
ni Theseus gratis Adriane staminé iutus

(This is the labyrinth which the Cretan Daedalus built, out of which nobody can find his way except Theseus, nor could he have done it unless he had been helped by Ariadne’s thread, for love.)

This, Ruskin goes on, can be reduced from mediaeval sublimity to the nursery rhyme “The House that Jack Built.”14 The cow with the crumpled horn will then be the Minotaur. The maiden all forlorn will stand for Ariadne, “while the gradual involution of the rhyme and the necessity for clear-mindedness as well as clear utterance —

This is the farmer sowing his corn
That owned the cock that crowed in the morn
That waked the priest all shaven and shorn
That married the man all tattered and torn
That kissed the maiden all forlorn
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
That tossed the dog that worried the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built —

are a vocal imitation of the deepening labyrinth.

“Theseus, a pious hero, and the first Athenian knight who cut his hair short in front, may not inaptly be represented as the priest all shaven and shorn; the cock that crew in the morn is the proper Athenian symbol of a pugnacious mind; and the malt that lay in the house fortunately indicates the connection of Theseus and Athenian power with the mysteries of Eleusis, where corn first, it is said, grew in Greece.”

There was a Greek spirit in Shakespeare, Ruskin continues, compelling him to associate English fairyland with the great Duke of Athens. And Jack the builder neatly equals Daedalus, “Jack of all trades.”

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Applicate 3.1, 2020
Red oak wood, aluminum, hardware, motors, controller, power supply
25 1/2 x 28 1/2 x 5 3/4 inches (64.8 x 72.4 x 14.6 cm)

The sculpture features a moving wooden shelf that references the sizes of the works in the collection of the Jacob Lawrence Gallery at the University of Washington, Seattle. The shelf is programmed to move up and down according to the ideal viewing height for each work in the collection.

The collection is the property of the University’s School of Art, where Jamison is a member of the faculty. The collection is primarily comprised of faculty and former student artworks that have been “donated” or left behind. There are storage spaces in the basement and in other random parts of the art building in which these works are kept. The school remains unsure as to what to do with them. There is never an attempt to display them.

The Jacob Lawrence Gallery is technically in charge of those works; it’s their collection. In 2018, a collaboration between the Jacob Lawrence Gallery and the Director of Information Technology at the School of Art generated a Filemaker Pro database cataloguing the works.

Lang Belta is spoken by those who identify as outsiders, inhabitants of the Asteroid Belt colonies. Central to their identity, Belters lack the ability to possess the land that Earthers and Martians can. Belters are in a constant search for equity with Inners, but struggle because of the dispossession of land. A way that Belters express their collective belonging linguistically is by using the term “Beltalowda”. Here is a speech by Bosmang Camina Drummer. Their speech comes at a particularly volatile time where Belter solidarity is tenuous, as their identity is at risk of being colonized by the Earthers and Martians who are attempting to possess uncharted territories of space. Because this territory is not planetary, Belters believe that they have a right to its claim:

Oye, Beltalowda.
Listen up.
This is your Captain, and this is your ship.
This is your moment.
You might think that you’re scared, but you’re not.
That isn’t fear.
That’s your sharpness.
That’s your power.
We are Belters.
Nothing in the void is foreign to us.
The place we go is the place we belong.
This is no different.
No one has more right to this, none more prepared.
Inyalowda go through the Ring, call it their own, but a Belter opened it. We are the Belt.
We are strong, we are sharp, and we don’t feel fear.
This moment belong to us.
For Beltalowda! Beltalowda! Beltalowda!

Inners are “Welwalalas,” or, people obsessed with gravity. Anderson Dawes, a Belter leader who is suspicious of Welwalas, gives a speech below about being a representative of the Belt when Fred Johnson, an Earther who identifies as a Belter, nominates Dawes as the Belter representative for diplomacy and equity talks with the Inners:

Excuse me, no disrespect.
I just imagine the look
on the Inners’ faces
when they see who is sitting across the table from them.

I would be honored to represent the Belt.

It’s a beautiful dream he [Fred] has:
Earth and Mars at peace.
And the Belt,
equal partners in that peace.

But is it too much an Earther’s dream?

I do not doubt his heart.
Fred Johnson has proven himself
to be a true friend to the Belt.

But as much as I fear war between Earth and Mars,
I fear the peace more.
For that is when they will
turn their sights back on all of us.

The Inners are not like us.
Earthers cannot look upon a thing
but wonder who it belongs to, huh?

To make it their possession.

“Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” they say.
But that is not the way of the Belt.

We say, “The more you share,
“The more your bowl will be plentiful.
“And those that will not share…
“…are Welwala!”

And if we are all welwalas…
Kowmang gonyadie!

Earthers, Martians,
They see us as their possessions.
Animals to test their new weapons on.

And, make no mistake,
They will do it again.
We must protect ourselves against these weapons…

— Nick Farmer, who has constructed “Lang Belta” for The Expanse. The texts are based on the novels by James S.A. Corey, written by Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham.

Submission by Flint Jamison

Big Valve, 2016
Zinked metal, painted polyurethane, polycarbonate
72 7/8 x 72 7/8 x 13 inches (184.9 x 184.9 x 32.9 cm)

Throughout the seventeen years bridged here, Baghramian’s work successively moved closer to — and in the last five even entered — the body. While most of her earlier pieces tended towards architectural, abstract, or theatrical forms, in more recent years they progressively revealed organic alliterations, in the form of bones, teeth, vertebral columns, heart valves, and other fibers that ensure bodily functions between the skeleton and skin. The timeliness of using the body as a point of reference for three- dimensionality — its absence being the essential point of departure for all artistic sculptural practice — remains as unbroken as ever. Moreover, our present-day lives are being drawn deeper and deeper into a networked amalgamation of physical and virtual space, inevitably causing a sense of corporeal bewilderment, to which contemporary cultural discourses frequently answer with vast theoretical posthumanist speculations.

Big Valve is an erect formation of hinged acrylic glass objects, formally reminiscent of police protection shields and heart valves, which directs visitors further along their route, as if they were the blood requiring regulation in order to flow.

— Vincenzo de Bellis and Martin Germann, An Oeuvre by Proxy: Nairy Baghramian’s Déformation Professionnelle (excerpt), in Nairy Baghramian: Déformation Professionnelle (Munich: Prestel, 2018)

I Love–The Eyelid Clicks/I See/Cold Poetry, Chapter 18, 2010
oil, silkscreen ink, gesso on wood
32 3/8 x 20 inches (82.2 x 50.8 cm)
I Love–The Eyelid Clicks / I See / Cold Poetry, Chapter 18

This chapter draws on two sources, the photography collection of SFMOMA and the poetry of San Francisco poet Jack Spicer (1925–65). Apsara DiQuinzio and I decided to include our correspondence— which was written while I was working on the paintings—in the exhibition brochure. The following is an excerpt:

Dear Apsara DiQuinzio,
… The core issue of “Chapter 18” involves the following: how to bring the two “damned mediums,” as Spicer calls them—photography on one hand and language on the other—into a painting, one receiving the static transmission of the other and hopefully losing in the transmission some of its claim to authority. The painting further tries to counter the almost overwhelming pull of both the photograph and the text into the space of the viewer.

All but one of the photographs I am using from SFMOMA’s collection are by unknown photographers. Copyright considerations originally limited me to this group, but in retrospect the anonymity of these photographers is apt in relation to Spicer, paralleling as it does the eclipsing of self so evident in his practice. The exception in the group is a photographic drawing by Jay DeFeo that her estate generously allowed me to use. This particular image exerted such a strong pull, even though at the time I had no idea that Spicer and DeFeo had been close friends. This image imparts a disposition of Spicer’s poetry that I want in the paintings. For Spicer, the camera was often used as a metaphor for how the arrival of the poem occurred: “Poetry, almost blind like a camera.” In other words, the poem isn’t inspired by the deepest self or by ego, but rather is received the way a radio picks up signals. The self of Spicer is not entirely lost, however, being heard usually in the form of anger, or a mordant humor with which the poet is displaced from the traditional or assumed space of the author to a space in which one looks at the unfolding of the poem from outside the poem. As Spicer writes: “Invasion itself might be a better metaphor for poetry than inspiration.”3 When this happens, the poet has no choice but to transmit the invasion: “If this is dictation it is driving me wild.”4 This transmission or dictation is frightening, dangerous even: “It is as if we conjure the dead and they speak only through our own damned trumpets, through our damned medium.”5 The fairylike transmission back to Spicer, via the poem, is “you can’t see us in spiritland, and we can’t see at all.”6 The DeFeo image so accurately speaks to that reply and to the silence and fundamental dislocation the viewer of a picture experiences.

I am trying to “take dictation” from the materials at hand, but realize, and this is the hardest issue, that when words appear near images they supplant the painting. Language wins all the time over image. I want to delay or suppress this phenomenon through optical manipulation. This chapter is a battle between words and images. I realize that text on or above an image is a title, text over an image is an advertisement, and text beneath it is a caption. None of these orientations is right for this poetry. I also realize that a picture is not worth a thousand words and that its worth is based in its very departure from language. It is through this linguistic absence that the picture can counteract the radical unresponsiveness or indifference of nature/“the outside” toward the individual. One interesting footnote is that Spicer showed his poems hanging on a wall as if they were paintings at the Six Gallery. Having studied linguistics, Spicer, believed in the materiality of language—its flatness as opposed to its communicative function.

Sincerely, R. H. Quaytman

Originally published in Spine (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2011)

Allegorical Decoys (excerpt)

I seek to maintain and simultaneously disrupt painting’s absolute presence, to bring subject matter into painting without having to privilege a figure/ground composition. As the intrinsic isolation of painting reaches toward the sustaining contexts of its immediate surroundings (walls, rooms, studios, galleries, institutions, and geographies) subject matter falls out while contexts and constituencies seep in. My paintings exhibit an incremental development of ideas over time, together creating a hybrid logic—a logic that can only be articulated in retrospect. I deliberately use the entirety of my past work as a scaffolding from which to move forward, and consider all of my paintings as one ongoing archive. My work borrows from sculpture, photography, printmaking, digitalization, oil painting, book design, drawing, and writing. The methodology I have developed came from blind instinct, blurry reading, and a sharp attention to the experience of being in front of a painting, passing by it in a particular time and place.

— R. H. Quaytman, Allegorical Decoys (Gent: MER, 2008)

Mind’s Eye (L), 2021
Synthetic and biological material aggregate, micro-organisms, generative adversarial network, 3D print
Materials: glass, synthetic resin, silicone, copper alloy, colophonium, minerals, bone, calcium, protein, sodium, sugar, agar agar, bacteria
39 x 69 x 32 1/4 inches (100 x 175 x 82 cm)
Note on Mind’s Eye (L)

“I don’t want to exhibit something to someone, but rather the reverse: to exhibit someone to something.”
— Pierre Huyghe

Mind’s Eye (L) is a materialized deep image reconstruction, a mental image output from UUmwelt, first presented at the Serpentine in 2018. UUmwelt is a co-production of imagination between human and machine, using a brain-computer interface.

A set of elementary components – building blocks of a speculative situation – were given as images or descriptions to be imagined by a subject, among them biological entities, prehistoric tools, machines, code, and artworks. As the subject imagines these components, brain activity was captured by an fMRI scanner and an engineered deep neural network learned to recognize the brain-data patterns and then attempted to reconstruct the mental images.

Mental images can circulate from mind to mind, outside the realm of appearance, as synthetic telepathic conversation, or be externalized from the subjects’ minds and manifest themselves physically.

Mind’s Eye (L) is an artefact of the imaginary realm, a precipitate occupying the space. It lies in an ambiguous continuity between human visual imagination, artificial intelligence, data and matter.

The aggregate of materials modifies itself and the environment at its own pace.

“When what is made is not necessarily due to the artist as the only operator, the only one generating intentions and that instead it’s an ensemble of intelligences, of entities biotic or abiotic, beyond human reach, and that the present situation has no duration, is not addressed to anyone, is indifferent, at that moment perhaps the ritual of the exhibition can self-present.”
— Pierre Huyghe in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, 2018

Mind’s Eye, The Mind Among Things

In his book Beyond Nature and Culture,17 Philippe Descola refers to those who distinguish humans from the rest of nature by their interiority as naturalists. For the naturalist, the mind is what differentiates them absolutely from all other living beings and accords them a superiority which makes them, in the words of René Descartes, “master and possessor of Nature.”18 This way of conceiving the human is naturalistic because it relies on the concept of nature in its opposition to culture. Nevertheless, since the time of Descartes, humans have never ceased to question this exceptionality, and scientific research has ultimately come to challenge it. Can the mind be identified with the brain, regarded as an organ like the heart or liver? Can its faculties be explained by physiochemical processes like the rest of nature, or is there something that resists explanation, a je ne sais quoi that would testify to the existence of something immutable in human beings?

Questions like these, concerning the mechanisms of the mind, run through the oeuvre of Pierre Huyghe. At first he posed them from the perspective of culture: How do images affect our thinking? How do things like cinema and major events impact our ways of perceiving the world? The Host and The Cloud (2009–2010) was comprised of three gatherings in which people were exposed to “live” situations which they then reenacted, as if contaminated by them, until an opportunity for deviation arose. A ritual of separation, like a shamanic rite designed to release us from the implicit power of images. Huyghe’s work on this experiment, later turned into a two-hour film, was driven by one question—the question of metabolization. This term may be surprising: drawn from a biological vocabulary, it alludes to a conception of the mind as a set of physiochemical processes. Huyghe is asking: How do we metabolize images? How are they translated into thought, and how do they influence our actions? If we metabolize images, wouldn’t that make the mind an organ just like any other, matter in constant transformation?

A few years later, Huyghe began working with artificial intelligence. Collaborating with the Kamitani laboratory in Japan, he observed ways in which AI could be used to explore the mechanisms of the mind. Drawing on a large database of images, a neural network attempts to display the mental images that are formed when a person thinks of or imagines something. The process is as follows: the artificial intelligence selects a group of images, some of which are retained while others are dismissed, as in a conversation between two people, and the process is reiterated until the AI begins to become capable of producing an image of a bird in response to a person thinking about a bird.

In 2018, Huyghe began an experiment in which a person imagines something on the basis of a set of images. As they do so, the artificial intelligence searches, and itself tries to imagine what the person is thinking about. According to the artist, this constitutes a “co-production of imagination” between human and AI. This experience is embodied in the work UUmwelt, in which images scroll very rapidly across five screens that appear to be in constant transformation. Confronted by this quasi- cinematographic succession of images, the visitor’s eye tries to identify the images. It falls prey to a form of pareidolia in which, on the basis of its own cultural baggage, it recognizes elements: a beetle, a child’s face, a boat, etc. But each time, the image escapes, transforms, endlessly. Presented at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 2018, UUmwelt was connected to sensors placed in the exhibition space. The scrolling images were thus porous to their surroundings, constantly influenced by the environment: atmospheric variations, the movements of insects, etc.

Mind’s Eye is a sequel to UUmwelt. They were presented together as part of a vast sentient device at Luma Arles in 2021 entitled After UUmwelt. Images from UUmwelt have been selected and then reworked by another AI in order to extract a three-dimensional object from the two-dimensional image. This is therefore an attempt to materialise our ideas, perceived by an artificial intelligence. It is quite astonishing: the human mind, that mysterious capacity that differentiates us from all the rest of the living world, would be now before us, materialized in three dimensions. In Beyond Nature and Culture, once again, Descola argues that one of the reasons why Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is such a famous work is that it crystallizes naturalist thought as mystery. The Mona Lisa’s smile will forever remain an enigma, and that is why we go to see it again and again in the Louvre: it is proof of the inaccessibility of our mind which, unlike the rest of nature, can never be understood.

But let’s take a close look at Mind’s Eye (L). The artefact is an aggregate of different materials: so strangely do they succeed one another over a meter-long curve that rises from the ground as if trying to escape it, that it is difficult to describe its form in words. Silicone and agar agar, sugar and minerals, bones and calcium make up a hybrid assemblage between the synthetic and the organic. But this is no Bataillean informe that resists the hold of rationality. My cultural pareidolia allows me to see in it a witch’s profile like the one in the cartoon Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), or a sea mollusc with a transparent head. At first glance, what Mind’s Eye tells us is that an idea is always fugitive, plural, unreachable and fugitive. The AI tentative fails, composing a chimera which shows the resistance of the mind towards its commodification / reification. In a sense, this fits with the naturalist perspective that the things of the mind remain a mystery. But the fate of Mind’s Eye says otherwise. As time goes by, the work changes. In line with UUmwelt and After UUmwelt, as well as other works by Huyghe such as Untilled (2011–2012) and After ALife Ahead (2017), Mind’s Eye is porous to its environment: changes in temperature and humidity levels alter its texture. Inside, the action of the materials upon one another creates small air holes on the surface. The sugar disintegrates, and if ants pass by, they can eat it and hollow out its form. Just as our mind is porous to the world, Mind’s Eye is subject to the vagaries of its environment. Instead of the idea remaining impenetrable and stable, it becomes a thing among things, carried away by the contingency of the world, never stabilized or unified.

If culture has always been envisaged as a set of eternal objects, protected from the action of the environment, here the work of art becomes, like all other beings, a thing among other things that develops, modifies, and disintegrates in an incessant cycle. We might therefore formulate the hypothesis that Mind’s Eye rejects the naturalist position of human exceptionalism, and submits interiority to the same fate as all other living beings—that of being disrupted by the world, in permanent transformation.

Translated by Amy Ireland

Stock (Bombyx Mori), 2021
Archival pigment print in raw shantung silk wrapped frame
19 3/8 x 24 1/8 inches (49.2 x 61.3 cm)
Framed dimensions: 28 7/8 x 30 3/8 x 1 inches (73.3 x 77.2 x 2.5 cm)

“The poet makes silk dresses out of worms”
— Wallace Stevens

Note on Stock (Bombyx Mori)

Stock (Bombyx Mori) depicts isolated fragments of the anatomy of an average domesticated silk moth. These images are drawn from a 3D model of the moth produced with software made for the advertising and film/television industry. Lewitt has rendered views of this model into static prints, abstracting its surfaces with varying levels of detail and focus. Here tessellated camber comes up against fleshy reveal, false light spilling in at a resolution beyond any camera’s reach. Encased in raw silk frames, the material that supports and encloses these prints point to the intermediate product – the cocoon – of the work performed by the depicted creature. The moth model, native only to the environment of production software, is a precise kind of abstraction, sheathed in its silk frame’s promise of reality.

The broad connotation of the word ‘stock’ commonly evokes a store of goods or share of wealth. One immediate association with Lewitt’s work might be the invocation of stock images: context free pictures available for use in promotional material – held in reserve as intermediary to some yet to be determined meaning. The images in Stock (Bombyx Mori) might themselves be considered something like generic appearances of intermediacy, transitioning between inanimate goods and livestock.

This is appropriate to the subject of the silk moth, an ancient example of animal husbandry, whose instrumental role in generating silk issues from its natural process of transformation. Bombyx mori is a living inversion of the telos of means and ends, where its cocoon, the natural byproduct of metamorphosis, is the central element of the textile production process. The long history of harvesting this animal’s silk cocoons has caused such dramatic genetic changes in both morphology and behavior that the animal is unable to survive without human aid. Both caterpillar and moth’s bulky size hinder it from concealment, exacerbated by its loss of camouflaging pigmentation. It is also flightless and cannot feed. Fully dependent on patterns of human industry, the moth’s wings and mouthparts have atrophied to residual ornaments. Its survival depends on a highly designed and formatted environment that facilitates its orchestrated rhythms of reproduction.

The moth model in Stock (Bombyx mori) might then be understood as the technically fabricated appearance of a biologically engineered species. These images result from a calculated modeling of nature. But the nature that is modeled is itself formed by the technical needs of the production process. Lewitt treats these as inextricable and irreducible moments in a circuit, belonging to the same uneasy movement by which natural processes become encased in social forms, and social forms appear as if they were natural: presumably having sprung whole from some cocoon.

Stock (Bombyx Mori) might then be understood not simply as images of a model, but as models of an image, where life appears as an immense accumulation of calculations.


The emphasis on capitalism’s history helps us to see how the system has survived through its recurrent crises – and how the geographical conditions of previous crises and their resolutions are very different today. Such a perspective allows us to see how capitalism today is in some ways very strong, but in other ways quite vulnerable. The Popular Anthropocene has unintentionally brought the historical questions back into the political and scholarly conversation – the very historical questions that it cannot answer. The virtue of an older Marxist tradition was to foreground the specificity of capitalism’s contradictions in modern class relations and the dynamics of capital accumulation. It didn’t do such a great job around the question of nature – although there was always a significant minority view that insisted on ecological history. Environmentalist thought emphasized that there was an environmental history alongside the social and economic history. At the core of the world-ecology conversation is the argument that these two traditions – and not only these – have assembled the elements of a new synthesis.

Easier said than done! To pursue such a synthesis, one has to give up certain idealized concepts of how capital accumulation works, what class struggle looks like, and even what “environmental change” means. You have to give up your sacred objects – without abandoning enduring insights. It turns out that many scholars don’t like to give up their sacred objects. They often greet with special hostility suggestions that we reformulate established ways of thinking and studying class, capital, nature, and so forth. Here the cliché of separating the baby from the bathwater is relevant, as scholars often respond to calls for re-evaluation of their sacred objects as if such objects were indeed their children.

Capitalism in the Web of Life is a call for a conversation around the kinds of knowledge necessary to navigate our unfolding climate crisis. I had come from a background of writing something that could be called Marxist environmental history. I also wanted to move beyond those models, which I found increasingly limiting. I hoped to generate a conversation that asked, What does the history of civilization look like if we take seriously that every dimension of human experience – markets, states, classes, agrarian and extractive systems, family formation, you name it – was entangled with and within the web of life? In responding to the question, I wanted to offer open rather than closed formulations. I wanted to consider what happened to our views of history – and our philosophies of history – if we began with how human sociality fit into the web of life, rather than how it was separate from Nature. In other words, I hoped to explore how the distinctiveness of human power and re/production was always configured within both larger and smaller domains of extra-human life, from the biosphere to the micro- biome.

In pursuing these questions, I wanted to cultivate the insights of two Marxist scientists, Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin. Two observations were especially influential for me. One is that there are no basic units. Up to a point, this is entirely uncontroversial. In the history of modern science, “all previously proposed undecomposable ‘basic units’ have so far turned out to be decomposable, and the decomposition has opened up new domains for investigation and practice.” There are units of observation, for instance a particular country (the United States) or a specific historical process (modern slavery). But it’s impossible to make sense of these historical geographies by adding up relations in two different ontological containers, Nature and Society. (Or “race” plus “class” plus “empire” plus “nature.) To do so enforces an ontological claim about their separation – a philosophical claim directly implicated in the real abstractions of Nature and Society and the practices of domination enabled by them. Such claims lead either to social reductionism or to environmental determinism, or to a grand narrative of the human experience in which Society dominates at some points, Nature at others. An alternative is to situate every domain of human experience in its connective relation within nature as a whole. Human thought, action, and sociality, themselves products of a long evolutionary experience, become historical through definite patterns of environment-making as a double internality: humans are inside the web of life, and the web of life is inside, outside, and connective with every human social form. A popular way of saying this is that history is co-produced, or coevolutionary – which is true, but only if we let go of the basic units, the sacred objects, of Humanity and Nature.

Submission by Sam Lewitt

Talent 17, 2021
Gold nano particles and acrylic gel medium on ink printed glass, mirror
48 x 67 1/2 x 2 inches (121.9 x 171.5 x 5.1 cm)

Lyall’s Talents are comprised of two compressed sheets of glass. The back sheet is a mirror; the front pane is printed on the inside with a unique, yet potentially infinite progression of colored pixels to constitute a polychrome surface which brings to mind a monochrome. A mixture of gel medium and Nano-particles of gold is then applied by the artist’s hand to the outside surface to complete the work – the painter, perhaps, as window cleaner. Activated by the mirror’s reflective play of light, the pixels produce a diffused hue or colored aura. In containing gold, the mixture also recalls the etymology of talent (in Latin, the amount of metal in a coin). Akin to golden backgrounds in Cimabue paintings, the gold creates an effect of groundlessness, the fundamental reality of abstraction itself. Simultaneously reflective and absorbing, the painted Talent oscillates between a world-reflecting image and an adventure of embodiment. At its core, the work both engages and subverts the two essential categories of contemporary art, that is the mirror, and the monochrome.

From “The Surface of Design” to the Poet-Engineer?


Jacques Rancière’s “The Surface of Design” appeared, in English, in a book of collected essays, The Future of the Image (SD, 2007). Subsequently, some of the ideas returned in texts on art, aesthetics, and politics: Aesthetics and its Discontents (AD, 2009), Dissensus (D, 2010), and Aisthesis (A, 2013).

I can’t say whether these ideas are perfectly suited to your image of a Poet-Engineer. The essays have to do with a poet and an engineer, and I thought you might be interested. To enrich this interest, I felt it useful to provide some background on Rancière’s work. This is contained in section (i). The essay is summarized in section (ii). I follow with a series of links and distinctions whose aim is to discern contemporary relevance. Finally, I try to gather these strands, at first theoretically in section (iv), and in section (v) with a “hometown” case.

(i) Background: Rancière’s Aesthetic Theory

‘aesthetics mix technique and the passions of the soul’

(i.a) Rancière argues that aesthetic discourse is involved in producing a form of life. It relates to things that sustain a people in their common mode of habitation. Art is among these pertinent things.

Aesthetics is not itself an art (if ‘art’ is a form of knowledge and will). Neither is it simply a branch of philosophy that thinks the disjunction of ideas and emotion, or of raw sensation and subjectivity. Aesthetics is the name of a REGIME of thought whose goal is to identify works of art.

(Aesthetics) designates a mode of thought that develops with respect to things of art and that is concerned to show them to be things of thought. More fundamentally, aesthetics is a particular regime of thinking about art, and an idea of thought according to which things of art are things of thought (A, 4-5).

Of what are “things of art” the thought? The answer is neither objective nor clear. An artifact does not draw its property of being art by holding to a recognized form, or to some mimetic or mythic adequacy. Rather, an artifact draws its artistic status by belonging to a certain SENSORIUM. This is a specifically configured space which contains and distributes a wealth of elements in which the questions of art are specified.

Entirely material conditions—performance and exhibition spaces, forms of circulation and reproduction, but also modes of perception and regimes of emotion—make it possible for words, shapes, movements and rhythms to be felt and thought as works of art (D, 97).

The sensorium is, thus, a social diagram. We could speak of a matrix of shared sensation, or even of a plasticized social medium. Rancière calls these spaces, SCENES. They are complex weaves of paradigms, protocols, habits and cultural dispositions which envelop the diversity of arts institutions. Their fabric is publicly enacted (it is mutable), but meant to be common, and relatively durable. Perhaps like Laruelle’s non-aesthetics, Rancière’s idea is to take a scene (its actors, spaces, objects, and enjoyments) as so much scientific material. If so, then aesthetics is not the sphere of an art which survived scientific knowledge by clinging to obscure, inaccessible myths, “impossible” objects, or unsayable words. By carefully observing aesthetic scenes, we grasp the particular decisions and distinctions they use to elevate works of art — to separate art from other experience, and to value and preserve only certain works.19 Philosophers, at least since Kant, have grasped this regime, but they did not invent it themselves.

(i.b) Art is a historically assignable term. This is crucial to Rancière’s argument.

There have always been arts in the sense of the forms of know-how. There have sometimes been divisions such as that which sets in contrast the liberal arts and the mechanical arts. But art and literature, as we know of them today, have existed for only about two hundred years (D, 209).

Much of what we talk about as art, today, was once part of sacred custom. The appearance of art in its independence, in a process which reached its peak in modernity, responds to various cultural influences: the Enlightening effects of modern science; expanded literacy and critical thought; a realist turn in literature (novels); genre painting and popular theatre (…). Rancière also notes the appearance, to the public of 18th Century Europe, of many unfamiliar cultural artifacts imported in the course of colonizing processes. Further, at the time when art was constituted (when Hegel had declared it an end in itself):

… it became a commonplace in magazines, and was corrupted in bookstore trade and the newspaper—or so-called industrial literature. Once again, however, it was at the same time that commodities started traveling in the opposite direction, crossing the border separating them from the world of art, in order to replenish and materialize the very art whose forms Hegel considered to be exhausted (AD, 49).

Above all else, the AESTHETIC REGIME took note of and wanted to grasp these changes, which together had rendered a new experience: that of art as a singular pursuit which seemed to be directed at prosaic life, and not at courtly patrons, cultivated specialists, or traditional religious elites. (The conversion of palaces to art museums, like the Louvre, was important to this experience.) The problem was that art, having ‘merged’ with life, could not be conceived in its own specificity. Unlike traditional artisanal labor, it employed no specialized means or materials. Different from industrial-mechanical arts, it did not result in commodity products, and did not propose any practical uses. Rather, the things that would count as art reflected, in novel and intriguing ways, the sensible domain of a people who could see that they inhabited a world of accelerating change. Art and aesthetics appeared in a dream of happiness, freedom, and religious tolerance. These ideals had emerged in a sickening context of war and factional violence. Carried forward, they supported the modernist idea of a reconciled, secular social order. But excessive negativity persisted and seemed to adopt ever more surprising forms. Differences disrupt. They are sense occasions. And the word had unfolded in different differences: its unities changed into masses and multiples, its Spirit replaced by force and firepower. Dissatisfaction and disagreement carved many paths for modernist art. More generally, as Nicolas Bourriaud put it in an essay that conjoined Foucault and Manet, “what vouches for Manet’s painting is the definite birth of an individual exiled from his certainties regarding his place in the world.”20

There is no historical point of rupture: “But there was a slow re-configuration that provided the same ways of doing/making—metaphors, frottis, a use of light and shadow—with a new visibility and new forms of intelligibility on the basis of which new ways of doing/making arose” (D, 209). Rancière notes Germaine de Staël. But, contrast Benjamin’s concept, aura, which preserves a negative essence of art in relation to the vast reproducibility of photographs and other mechanical images, Rancière finds this idea self-serving: “a typical use of the negative term to announce an impossible positive feature.”

Art reflected a changed sensorium. Suspending the commandment of form over matter (or of active understanding over passive sentiment), it seemed to displace old tastes and biases, and pressed for surprising perceptual paradigms. Mood was fused with a questioning intellect. These are still the conditions for aesthetics, whose contemporary processes continue to presume that art is an inchoate (and reflexive) term. Mostly, aesthetics is about appearance. It draws our attention to the surfaces of things. (It does not have an iceberg theory of subject.) Aesthetics is how people change and exchanged their sense of authentic artistic appearance, and at times their doubts about the latter’s possibility. Again, it concerns the apparent surface as matter that is bound, so to speak, to change.

(i.c) Anything can count as a work of art. But this doesn’t mean that “anything goes.” The potential resources of a work of art (including its ‘cause’) are probably infinite. However, if art has unlimited potential, then aesthetics is the thinking of its SENSIBLE-EXCEPTION. There is no aesthetics without a cut. How is ‘anything’ exchanged for art, such that everything about it might seem to matter? By what device of transformation does ‘whatever’ gain the mask of a singular thing? Aesthetics is the thought of these processes at work.

A “sensible exception” occurs within what Rancière calls a PARTITION OF THE SENSIBLE—“the system of self-evident facts that simultaneously disclose the existence of shareable things and the delimitations that define the respective elements, parts, and positions within it.” The exception is within the shared sensorium, and is not an outside power of form. It is that which, appearing inside the sensorium, lacks the quality of clear self-evidence. It is something that is not immediately legible. It does not make sense if observed alone, but requires mediation by aesthetic thought. However, this thinking has no recourse to extant distinctions and cultural divisions. (The latter would be nothing but administrations.) In fact, the material on which aesthetics focuses is not just the “thing of art” but the subtle contrasts such a thing inspires. Aesthetics is a mode of active discernment. This includes comparisons of different works (distinctions that arise between paintings, for example). It also aims to challenge the ideas that merely reproduce art’s institutions—modes, like painting, by which “art proper” is distinguished from whatever is not called art, or whatever in art is called “impossible” (lost, unshowable, unsayable, ended). Art is bathed in a separative light, but one imagines a virtual lighting plot, turning on and off, and shifting, spotlights.

Scott Lyall, The Color/Power Ball (2008)

Rancière speaks of a strange AUTONOMY. However, unlike the autonomy of modernist scholarship, it is not an autonomy of things. Further, the distinctions we perceive as art are not reflections of empirical realities already at work in the shared sensorium—differences that function to divide and oppose, or to suture actors to discrete identities. Aesthetics is a science of indiscretions. Rancière’s autonomy of art is shown by the indiscretions of surfaces as such. Something appears that had not already been a part of recognized empirical reality. Something changes in the mirror image, not only as reflection but within reflectance (the manner of reflecting, its materiality). This “something,” which is clearly not impossible or negative, calls upon aesthetics to receive its signal, to describe and interpret it, …to call it names. (I called this superficial difference, talent.)

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Knockoff Venus, 2015
Screen printing and painting on leather, suede, cotton, velvet; stained and sprayed Ash; inlaid Formica; Walnut; cast Jesmonite
118 x 98 1/2 x 4 1/4 inches (299.7 x 250.2 x 10.8 cm)
Eucalyptus, Let us in

When archaeologists dig with hopes of unearthing nameable fragments, they seek to return latent abstractions to figuration. Bones, buildings, cups and spoons are entered into a new jig of re-articulation. Gathered and spat back out as collaged chronologies, the collected warmth of real-life perforations sieve these findings out of buried flatness and back into daily language. Once concealed by mud and foliage, sought-out areas become marked sites, places with contemporary traction.

The erased strokes of ancient activity are put back to work: vector grids symbolically allocate meaning or position to animals and humans alike. The enigma of labour necessitated by gravity – the haptic investments in making buildings stand upwards – is provided with a solid topological outline. Handwriting, numbers and vocabulary enter into new formal logic. The discovery might be intense or fragile and it is almost certainly ringed with a hallucinatory outline, which is at once a tracing of signs and alchemical process.

The drawing of a floor plan can also be read as the abstraction of an idea. Fantasy and philology allow mutation: sociological procedure, technological metaphor, erotic image, or surreal apparition bond as a muttering mass.

This might be something to do with making images that have an imposed itinerary quality, but are also disassembled to the point where they can be allowed to be non-committal if required. Flatness allows a literal description of movement, of A to B navigations, with the vector line being a suitably fast mechanism of delivery. But the point at which things become husked down to geometric memories of themselves is also the point when definition gets flabby: this tree is a drunken tree; that house has a pain in its side. Even the dismal colloquialisms of workplace melodrama can be exported, metaphors in essence: think of a spoon, jugs, stones, all invested with personality enough to converse with human crassness.

So of course it is a common idea that if we witness a foreign entity, we perceive it for the pure abstraction of its difference. A visible suspension of particles in the air – the smoggy, wispy blotch of smoke or burning – provides alien stimulation. There is something exotic in the fear and energy possessed by substance so closely linked with an extinguishing of inhalation. The puff-of-smoke is smoke-as-object, a clearly defined spectacle of the miracle of the atomic. So what is the essential nature of smoke? Obfuscator? Comic enabler? Sympathist?

When we apologize, the depth of sincerity can be deliberately fuzzy. A drip – of paint, of piss, of ice – is treacherous, but really sorry too. It is pure tragicomedy. In painterly form, the “apology” is a grim reflection of the human body, a caricature: beaded broken lines, little blobs and libidinous squiggles retain an elastic firmness. They are materially treacherous, with the paint itself playing plasticity made fixed substance; it is immutable and precisely without the warmth of flesh. But it is an extension of intension and we can apologize preemptively on its behalf. This is validation: Apologies! There is calculation and further archaeological gathering. Colour participates as though queered or gendered; the simple action of doubling forces tautological shortcut and collapse of definition; dysfunctional eyes are clouded by an auditory film and ears by a diagrammatic mapping of sensory importance. The mouth, the hand, the tongue are all involved. Our vast gray milkshake of information flexes and bends at will, a planktonic swarm of signs where merchandise, language, and spirituality all participate proudly in the stew of reality. There are 8 new works in the exhibition.

Eucalyptus is one of three similar genera; many species, but far from all, are known as gum trees because they exude copius “gum” (bloodwood/red gum/kino) from any break in the bark. The generic name is derived from the Greek words “well” and “to cover”, referring to the cap on the stem which usually conceals the flower before it blooms.

Exhibition press release, Greene Naftali, New York, 2016

Radial (i), 2021
Rotary motor, glass, water, steel, cast silver, grounding wire
46 1/4 x 17 x 4 1/4 inches (117.5 x 43.2 x 10.8 cm)

Radial (i), engages the use of rotary motion, a machine’s operation through the repeated and revolving movement from a center axis. In this instance, the mechanism is derived from a metal polishing and rock tumbler. The action is an automated approximation of phenomena that began when waves and streams tumbled Earth’s first sediments, a distributive process that occurs through the internal drives of tides and waves that shape and loosen, smoothing the surfaces of accumulated and hardened substances.

The works Circadian Interface I-III, Second Affordance II, and Radial (i) are an iteration of sculptural composites, made up of adjusted mechanisms and assembled forms one might encounter in daily life by way of their integration into the circuitry or physical edges of a building. The mechanisms are selected as characters of action. Their potentials trace a specific facilitation of movement, typically in relation to space, access, light and the adjoining surrounding. By “killing the use part” through new formal arrangements, they oscillate between illegible, abstract and mimetic forms.

Window glass is slumped in a kiln directly into a half round steel channel which in its initial context functions as a gutter or drain. Subjected to very high heat, now concave, the glass has solidifies back into the shape of its direct support. In previous iterations, an electromagnetic lock, a pneumatic actuator and now rotary motor sit at the end of a tray, set inside is the slumped glass, water, and an intricate tangle of metal and silver wire in which the forms oxidize slowly over the exhibitions duration. A causal relation between ferrous compounds found in steel and water. As one tries to penetrate the surface visually as much as its interior transparencies permit, it is also reflective, and gives back to the viewer the circumstances in which they behold it and evidences a system of emergent material relations.

— K.R.M. Mooney

Strike (i-iii), 2020
Cast bronze, olivine sand
Three parts, each: 8 x 9 x 10 inches (20.3 x 22.9 x 25.4 cm)
Overall: 30 x 12 x 10 inches (76.2 x 30.5 x 25.4 cm)

Based on social and material engagements, the works Carrier, Channel In C, and Strike i-iii are taken from objects that hold the capacity to emit, to have a voice and participate in public life. Strike i-iii follows the logic of works produced from 2016 -2020, an iteration of sculptures using source objects that in their initial context function as idiophones, for example a bell or chime: objects the whole of which vibrates to produce a sound when struck. Held up by the architecture required to materialize their production and here, display, Strike i-iii is produced from the striker of a tenor bell. Strike i-iii consists of a repeating form that enacts sound as an institutional modality by way of a tenor bell’s temporal register, aware of the encounter of a sound’s emotive means. The surfaces are not sanded, varnished or sealed, allowing the initial coloration that emerges by way of oxygen fusing with metal once the cast is poured and cooled to be reflected on its surface. A reminder that bronze itself is an assemblage of the alloys copper, tin and the conditions from which it was produced, constantly changing, resisting totality or precision on the surface.

— K.R.M. Mooney

Displacement [32028, 6, 12], 2021
oil and acrylic on canvas
81 1/2 x 62 1/8 inches (207 x 158 cm)

Displacement, 2021
oil and acrylic on canvas
81 1/2 x 62 1/8 inches (207 x 158 cm)
To These Arcs, Those Colors Measure This Touch, That Time

Ordet, Milan

Cheyney Thompson’s new series of Displacement paintings posits each canvas’s ground as a touch- sensitive surface. The works adopt a uniform structure of five-millimeter square black marks painted in a gridded pattern atop a white ground. Before the paint is dry, Thompson deploys an assortment of custom silicone tools against the surface, forcing the wet squares out of place. He adds no new material, but rather subjects the existing marks to this process of reorganization. The resulting transformations appear as extensions of squares into lines, glyph-like forms, and sweeping, sinuous fields of paint. Each painting has become a record of the tools’ interaction with the surface: the stops and starts, the kinetic limits of Thompson’s body and the entropic movement of the order of painted squares into noise. But, they are also pictures, as though this play of rupturous conjuring has been frozen into an unsettled pictorial field, still with the trappings of figure-ground, composition and space.

For the exhibition at Ordet, Thompson has introduced four sweeping arcs of bright red, yellow, green, and blue that are sprayed onto the white ground. They appear as distinctly colored lights illuminating each painting, one arc per corner. Together, they suggest that each canvas is not an autonomous piece, but instead, an element in a larger set as their radii are designed by relating the internal dimensions of the painting with the architectural dimensions of the gallery space and the positions of the neighboring paintings. Thompson treats color as both a sensual material and an organizing strategy.


Cheyney Thompson investigates the systems that inform the production, distribution, and exhibition of painting and the adjacent subjects that may cohere around artworks—mathematics, history, biology, and political economy. By imposing rigorous constraints on his painting practice, Thompson underlines the governing structures within which all contemporary art must unfold. In this corpus of work, the “artist” emerges less as a myth of the administered life than as a specter, felt or sensed as a body just outside the frame or an orienting bundle of intentions and intelligence that cuts a path through overlapping orders of abstraction.

C4, 1924
Ink on tracing paper
9 3/4 x 27 5/8 inches (25 x 70 cm)
Framed Dimensions:
15 3/4 x 32 inches (40 x 81.5 cm)

Wacław Szpakowski (1883-1973) was a Polish architect and engineer who created a distinct idiom of abstract drawing, first conceived in notebook sketches in the 1900s and developed systematically in a series of works made with an ink pen on tracing paper between the early 1920s and 1940s. Szpakowski worked in complete isolation, indifferent to the art of his time; yet his project is fundamentally modernist in its aspiration to find the simplest possible means for expressing the underlying order of the universe, one that approaches a scientific investigation in its formal rigor and systematic nature. Calling his works “drawings of linear ideas,” Szpakowski created symmetrical patterns of a continuous geometric line; invariably 1 mm thick and 4 mm apart, it always starts on the left side of the page and ends on the right. For Szpakowski, the line’s relentless trajectory across the surface of each sheet is merely a fragment of its endless rhythmical movement through space and time. He invited viewers to ‘decipher’ what he called ‘the inner content’ of his drawings by following the course of the ‘broken line’ across the surface of the page, “just like one composes the words of a text out of individual letters.” Seen today, Szpakowski’s work anticipates seriality, accelerated temporalities and the increasing density of visual memory. Resembling circuitries or digitally generated diagrams, the motifs of Szpakowski’s drawings evoke the new technologies of image production that affect perception, heightening the crisis of attention. Exploring the dichotomy of a focused and distracted, decentered gaze, Szpakowski’s project can be understood as a critique of the changing modalities of vision.

LOST CORE 05, 2018
Broken engine sand core package components, aluminum
26 x 38 3/4 x 7 inches (66 x 98.4 x 17.8 cm)

The LOST CORE works support the fossilized traces of the process that materially forms them.

The works are comprised of ‘sand core’ fragments retrieved from a BMW engine manufacturing facility in Landshut, Germany. Sand cores are used in industrial manufacturing to mold cavities and internal geometries of mechanical equipment.

For these works, mechanical precision cedes to the heaping and halting of material processes. The retrieved core fragments are trapped into molten aluminum, as is consistent with their industrial use, showing the layers of agglomeration and loss on a flatbed plane. What is formed by this tabular logic are moments of accumulation, layering and spacing – a tableau always involves counting elements – rather than the directed issuance of those moments into a unified product.

These works are ‘remains’. They result from the sedimentation of the cast off cores from a process of production that they are then used to crudely reconstruct. As reconstructed remains, they isolate the particular processes that differentiate the surface and form of the work – retrieving, framing, placing, pouring, seeping, stopping.

— Sam Lewitt

Server Rack (for Pigford), 2021
Wood, hardware, paint, hay bailing twine
Lever open: 63 1/2 x 20 3/4 x 38 1/2 inches (61.3 x 52.7 x 97.8 cm)
Lever closed: 59 3/4 x 20 3/4 x 56 1/2 inches (151.8 x 52.7 x 143.5 cm)
Colored Time

In 1895, H.G. Wells published The Time Machine, a book that began his renown as a science-fiction author, though he wrote in many genres. Despite Wells’ success being patterned with infidelity and misogyny—behaviors that decorate the biographies of many white male historical figures—The Time Machine is still considered the book that introduced time travel into the lexicon of science fiction. Many products of sci-fi have become realities within the past few decades, but a machine such as Wells’s remains elusive. We can feign time travel through international flight, but the ability to travel across centuries hasn’t left the realm of fantasy.

Having read the novel years ago, I recall its depiction of the familiarities of civilization made superfluous, as they ebbed and flowed against the exterior of the engineer’s machine. Wells’s ability to imagine species entirely different from humans as the only protagonists throughout most of the novel was impressive to me. It made me wonder if a reality beyond the vectors upon which humans draw barriers could ever materialize. Imagining oneself as the engineer in the novel, would the fascination of witnessing a world beyond one’s own be curious enough to prompt the acceptance of one’s consequential nonexistence? To put it another way, if you knew that the next stage of the Earth consisted of giant crustaceans building community amid sunset-colored skies with no concept of difference, would that be fantastic enough to aid you in accepting your own end, in order for the new world to be brought about? Maybe this is similar to the crisis of legitimacy that institutional gatekeepers face today, as they attempt to radicalize and racialize their public images by employing more non-white people and queer people.

American Artist. Data Server Rack, 2019. Wood, hardware, paint, hay-bailing twine.
University of Iowa, Stanley Museum of Art. Photo courtesy the artist.

I thought about Wells’s proposition while I traveled this year between Brooklyn and Detroit.36 As predictions of a climate disaster contend with Octavia Butler’s apocalyptic premise in Parable of the Sower, I wonder: If we were to presumably save the world, would everything still function in the same way? And if so, whose world would be saved, and why should I care to save it?

In the article “The Social Life of Social Death,” Jared Sexton uses the plot of the 1967 film In the Heat of the Night to cite the concept of “colored time,” a form of incarceration that is different from “white time.” The main character, Virgil Tibbs, describes it as “the worst time you can do.” Sexton goes on to describe colored time as “interminable, perhaps even incalculable, stalled time […] the slow time of captivity, the dilated time of the event horizon, the eternal time of the unconscious, the temporality of atomization.” This differentiation in time as a condition of Black captivity is important for reconciling a sense of time’s relativity within the frame of sociality. Though Wells prompted a consideration of how we, a singular humanity, might breakthrough time, into an other’s temporality, he did not account for the difference in temporality that already exists between people in the same geographical place at the same literal time, experiencing different epochs of possibility because of the linear narratives into which they are inscribed. Wells was not aware of the fact that—time just moves differently for some people…

Billboard installed at Library Street Collective, Detroit, MI.

On July 20, 2019, the artist Alisha B Wormsley debuted a billboard in downtown Detroit: “THERE ARE BLACK PEOPLE IN THE FUTURE.” The white text on a black background is easy to read and hard to mistake. It’s a clear proposition that mirrors the mundane insistence of vitality presented by the Black Lives Matter movement several years ago—but maybe for a sci-fi audience. In a statement about the piece, Wormsley says that it is “a response to the absence of non-white faces in science-fiction films and TV.”37 What Wormsley points out is: Culture that attempts to depict the future defines the possibility of the future in that moment. It gives us a glimpse into the future being planned for us if it continues unchecked. The mundanity of Wormsley’s billboard is important to note because the Black Lives Matter movement was labeled as “Black-identity extremism” for merely pointing towards the resilience of Blackness. Are there Black people in Wells’s version of the future, or do we exist in colored time? From what I recall, the novel anticipated the pipe dreams of contemporary technocrats like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos: the engineer of the time machine was the only person that made it out of the present alive.

American Artist. 2015 (video still), 2019. HD video; 21:38. Photo courtesy the artist

In my artwork, I juxtapose different temporalities to show that the ailments of science fiction are facts that are often too banal to register as the thing depicted through cinema. Most science fiction dramatizes the bourgeoisie’s fear of becoming the Other while the real thriller is addressing the fears actually created by the bourgeoisie. The artwork titled 201538 characterizes the use by the New York Police Department (NYPD) of predictive policing software, an approach introduced to the public by films such as Minority Report and used in the United States as early as 2012. The sculpture titled Data Server Rack39 compares the pouring of technology-focused venture capital into the Midwest with Black farmers’ struggle for settlements in the largest civil-rights lawsuit in the history of the United States. My work, like Wormsley’s billboard, reveals the machine that not only makes different outcomes possible for various individuals in the same singular frame but also announces—with criminal regularity—the casualties of colored time.

Catasphère (Paris, 2019), 2019
bronze, patina
20 3/4 x 23 5/8 x 19 5/8 in (52.7 x 60 x 49.8 cm)
Edition of 3 + 2 APs

As its title indicates, Catasphère can be described as the staging of a set of catastrophes. In this work Moulène arranges around an earth-like bronze sphere the five figures of French mathematician René Thom’s Catastrophe theory. For the artist, an intriguing aspect of Thom’s theory is that he himself chose to popularize it by representing it, that is by drawing and giving names to each of the figures of catastrophe in question.

A branch of bifurcation theory and a special case of singularity theory in geometry, Thom’s Catastrophe theory addresses phenomena resulting in sudden shifts in behavior arising from small changes in circumstances. Within a range of inputs corresponding to the terms or conditions of an equation, a functional equilibrium is achieved. If, however, a small change in the terms or conditions of the equation occurs, functional equilibrium may be destabilized, leading to unpredictable outcomes or phenomena.

At the level of potential allegorical readings, Moulène considers this work to function like an ecological manifesto.

The following are the five figures manifested around the sphere:

1. Fold catastrophe: a ‘tipping point,’ where the input information approaches a point at which the function can no longer continue as predicated, and a radical change occurs. This is the fold on the top of the sculpture.

2. Cusp catastrophe: A kind of double fold catastrophe that produces a “jump,” a kind of positive fold meeting a negative fold. This is the ridge on the side of the sculpture.

3. Swallow tail catastrophe: a triple fold catastrophe, in which two cusp catastrophes meet at an added parameter in space—typically producing a “jump” that results in a point. This would correspond to the point coming off of the sculpture.

4. Hyperbolic umbilic catastrophe: concerns a point on a surface that is equally spherical in all directions (umbilic). Thom suggested that this figure models the breaking of a wave.

5. Elliptic umbilic catastrophe: concerns a point on a surface that is equally spherical in all directions (umbilic). Thom suggested that this figure models the creation of hairlike structures.

Common representations of these reductive figures are usually on an x-y-z axis plane, but Moulène’s challenge was to calculate, combine, and transpose them onto a smooth sphere that can be continuously traveled with one’s finger without disruption, only to encounter bifurcations or discontinuities in six specific spots.

Nanofoil (SLStudio.clone_1/16/2), 2018
UV-engraved photonic structures in aluminum foil, polymer coating, casein painted frame
3 5/8 x 2 11/16 inches (9.2 x 6.8 cm)
Framed dimensions: 13 x 12 inches (33 x 30.5 cm)

Scott Lyall’s Nanofoils are made from Nanomedia, a process in which wafer-thin foils of cloned aluminum are altered at the level of their sub-visible particles, rendering structures that cannot be seen. But like certain plants and butterfly wings, these structures cause light to disperse and scatter. Whenever light encounters this exposed material, it shatters into billions of chromatic signals. The color is not derived from pigments or chemicals; it is the real-time appearance of the radiating light as it is scattered by the non-visible structures of the foil. This could be conceived as a performance by light. The scripts for such performances are made in a Clean Lab, but the works themselves are concrete, individual visibilities, or accidental masks of natural light. Crucially, as a structured material identity, the cloned foil is altered to become something new.

The Handicapper’s Faith, 2011
Oil on Linen
100 x 75 inches (254 x 191 cm)
Sleep and Poetry: The Consciousness of Animals

One of the pleasures of reading literature written centuries ago is that it illuminates forms of perception and viewpoints which may since have become atrophied. I felt this was particularly true when I recently read John Keats’s Sleep and Poetry. In that poem, Keats expressed his belief in the power of dreams, either in sleep or in verse, to transcend mortal reality by conjuring the realm of the divine, and thus to illuminate the spiritual universality of our consciousness.

The early 19th century was a time when one could still express such faith. By the 20th, the imaginative capacities of the human mind had become psychoanalyzed, turned into mechanical processes that express only existential human needs. In our age, human consciousness is losing ground in both the arena of epistemological certainty and the realm of spiritual transcendence which, in a universe of objective mechanical causes, is no longer believed to exist. Its once exalted status is being further eroded as we enter the age of artificial intelligence.

As a painter, I feel that the human mind as confronted by artificial intelligence may be compared to the medium of painting as it was confronted by the invention of the camera. Much as the camera appeared capable of objectively rendering an image better than painting could, the computer appears capable of objectively knowing our world better than we can.

In both cases the power of humans to depict their world, either by hand or through conception, has been devalued, or at least relegated to the less valued realm of imaginative as opposed to objective rendering.

It has been asserted that there is a lie in all mimesis. If this is so, it is as true for a photograph of a hillside as it is for a painting of a hillside. It is also true for computer programs no matter how sophisticated they may be. In each case, neither a thing (a camera, a computer) nor an animal can know another thing other than through its own inherent epistemological capabilities: mechanical processes for things and subjective perceptions for animals. In this sense, a camera or a computer is no less a subject in relation to another object than is a human being.

If mimesis is a lie, there is, furthermore, a lie in the existence of the camera and computer as they exist only to create a mimesis of a scene or a mimetic explication ‘of the physical properties of an object. They do not exist naturally. They do not exist for themselves. Human perceptions may be founded on lies, but in our being we know the truth of our existence. We are; the image of a thing is not. Since our consciousness is participatory in our being, its ontological purpose is assured. This we can take to be real.

Our perceptions of truth are thus often skewed to reflect the ultimate reality of our existence in nature, in the cosmic order of things. By our nature, when we perceive we seek a truth that is more than literal. There may be an untruth in any representation of a landscape, but in a painting there is the truth of natural materiality. The painted world enjoys the sensuousness of being able to perceive the material world through matter. Painting, unlike the bodiless images of photography, never leaves the natural world of things. The sunflowers of Van Gogh are at once a depiction of nature and nature itself -the physicality of existing materials like ochre and burnt sienna. Painting always refers back to its own constituent materials. As such, it is as close as culture ever gets to nature.

Mechanical perception – artificial intelligence – can never do more than understand things in their particularity. This is a function of its wholly literal epistemology. It is not equipped to understand things universally. Such an understanding (fundamental as it may be) is essentially imaginative. It is through the imagination that we can contemplate the possibility of a bigger reality. For this reason, it is important for us to maintain a connection to a vision independent of mechanical prosthesis: a vision which is purely animal. Our rationalistic obsession with objective intelligence is overvalued.

Perhaps it is time to enhance our appreciation of those qualities of consciousness which we share with other natural beings, the qualities of imagination and sublimation which we bring to our perception of the universe and which stem from our affection for the condition of being. This affection seems oddly inexplicable if being is viewed as stemming from purely material or mechanical causes.

It may be time for a rudimentary faith of the sort Keats expressed in Sleep and Poetry, a faith that being and consciousness have purpose and meaning. A faith in the transcendent capabilities of the human imagination, with its epistemological and its ontological understanding of reality.

Perhaps our universe is as some American Indians thought it; that our life here is a dream and when we die we go elsewhere to dream. li so, what reality could we conjure with the dreams that come to us in our sleep, and in our art?

Jonathan Lasker: Complete Essays 1984-1998 (New York: Edgewise, 1998). Originally published in Art & Design (London: Academy Group Ltd., 1996)

Scruff of the Neck (UL 11, F), 2016
Cast and polished aluminum, polished aluminum rods, plaster, beeswax and rubber
101 1/2 x 89 x 46 in. (257.8 x 226.1 x 116.8 cm)

The ensemble of fragmentary and fragile-looking sculptures titled Scruff of the Neck, maybe regarded as symptomatic of the close dovetailing of corporeal morphologies and context-specific installation strategies that have come to define the artist’s oeuvre in the past five years. Relief-like constructions, sometimes in pairs, are mounted on the walls at fairly wide intervals, either above or below eye level. In all incarnations of Scruff of the Neck, bulbous and organically shaped matte white plaster objects, partly coated with yellow bees-wax along the edges, are set in front of large uneven panes of cast and polished aluminum. These in turn are supported by dynamically mounted constructions of slender metal rods likewise polished to a silvery shine and affixed in two points to the gallery architecture. Along the sides of several of these pieces of sculptural debris, hook-shaped proliferations reach out into thin air, suggesting the possibility of interconnection beyond the individual structure; at the same time, the cantilevered elements indicate that the works have lost their foothold. In this configuration, each component of the complex of works holds out the prospect of a supplementation of what is there, while also, and in equal measure, marking a deficiency that is almost impossible to mask. In fact, the artist modeled Scruff of the neck on the morphology and materiality of dental protheses — more specifically, of bridges, of combinations of implants and mountings used to close gaps in a rudimentary set of teeth. Codes such as “UL 9/10, E,” “UR 8,D,” and “UR 1⁄2, G” included in the titles- their meaning will be familiar to dentists and some of their patients- emphasize this connection. The unmistakable references to armatures and artificial replicas of body parts, that serve the cosmetic correction of physical deficit, not only has implications for the status of the sculptural object but also the viewer’s experience of it.

— Vincenzo de Bellis and Martin Germann, An Oeuvre by Proxy: Nairy Baghramian’s Déformation Professionnelle (excerpt), in Nairy Baghramian: Déformation Professionnelle (Munich: Prestel, 2018)

Untitled, 2020
watercolor on paper
12 x 17 3/8 inches (30.5 x 45.4 cm)
framed: 12 3/8 x 18 1/4 x 1 inches (34 x 46.4 x 2.5 cm)
Untitled, 2020
watercolor on paper
12 x 17 3/8 inches (30.5 x 45.4 cm)
framed: 12 3/8 x 18 1/4 x 1 inches (34 x 46.4 x 2.5 cm)
Hello dear Miguel,

Ah it is an age since I last wrote — forgive me! Time dribbles and puddles around my feet, slowly soaking the shoes which seem slow at times getting anywhere. Sometimes I even forget the shoes!

I am so happy the package arrived with you and over the moon that The Boiled will be in your bookstore. This is just wonderful, thank you.

So, I’ve been thinking about the Poet-Engineers and the gorgeous paradox, or perhaps möbius-type phenomena of that term. A place where the empirical world shivers and becomes more malleable, more erotic, more wild. Bends into itself and returns.

Admittedly, I wanted to offer you something more ambitious work-wise, more tangled, but that aforementioned puddling of time is getting in my way. So, I’ve been thinking about paper, watercolours, line. Attached are some lines that chase their own tails (tales), that wriggle between abstraction and figuration, behind bars, propped up, weaving. The size of the actual painted area is A4 – the cheapest space one can buy! And yet so familiar through its mechanisation of printing and dispersal that its format is impossibly comfortable and beautiful. The same kind of sentiment I have for Times New Roman, which remains one of my favourite type faces for all its structurally stoic density. The tape used to make the line separations is mauve, made by 3M (a nerd’s common favourite), low-tack, maximum edge straightness, little flex. The type I use is manufactured on 50 metre rolls which gives us a fun equation: 50 meters divided by average stride length, 80 cm = .62, approximately 60 seconds. A one minute roll of tape! Somehow that makes me think of holding ones breath for a minute, about the input/output variables of respiratory systems and of course then the dumb collision of a common method of masking with the chemical unruliness of paint — so many addictive conundrums! Things that simultaneously behave and don’t. Patterns describe a problem and then tentatively suggest a solution (another line departure), hinting ever at the algorithmic relationship between known things – how there are shorthand surrogates for emotion, a pre-loaded index … the special circuitry of the describer, cataloguer, author ETC. The ludic organs of it all hanging out!

I worried that perhaps these works on paper didn’t fit your brief of plastic re-manipulation, but then I thought well, they are abstract machines themselves, an agglomeration of diverse “acts” and so therefore part of the bulb of language and therefore technology… there to be broken, to spread like oil, to be patched — part of a system! I thought about a potato with its tubers or a mushroom with its mycorrhizal magic ecologies as being perhaps the most technologically advanced and chemically sensitive things out there. I thought how everything I make begins with drawing anyway. I also got thinking on more elaborate tangents about how in plotting the lines or vectors of a shape in CAD or CGI — a banana or a car for instance — you play with the tessellated edge of volumes before they become softly animated shapes. Rugged geometries, baby outlines. A pre-render curved line exists only as tiny joined sections of straight edges, so the place before a curve happens is like zombie land, not skin nor flesh but en route. This en route state is most confounding because of its image paradox: it’s the place where information in the whole process of digital design is for an instant truly honest, exposed and yet, it’s not truly image/object form at all yet. It’s a ghost or an en route cipher. All the intention, the snags, the architectural markers, the numbers – they’re all there on screen but the image looks like nothing “real”. And at this stage compression also hasn’t happened yet so the physical slipperiness of the curve (if there were such a thing on the screen!) is less treacherous. The wonky curve isn’t sexy, just mid process. It’s like suspended space before manual diagram becomes densely optical catastrophe. Once the render is complete, all these markers disappear, the mathematical force lines or script that make up the commands have disappeared … the image is full-bodied! Now it looks even more real. Except it’s a great dishonest horror, a strangely ectoplasmic substance that reflects light, casts shadows, offers density. It’s so insane and fascinating! Such a dark comedy to this making of CGI/CAD… that behind the tightly constructed image elegance, there is a bloody mess of entrails and rampantly un-plotted vectors! A weird kind of surgical process that happens at a goddamn desk!

Ok, maybe that was a little off piste… so … to wrap it up, I was imagining these images as a kind of “fake substance” waiting for animation, layering skins and light in a theatrically mathematical jumble.

To describe material terms: they’re watercolour on paper size: 30.4 x 45.4 cm / 12 x 17 ⅞; in frame size: 34.1 x 46.4 x 2.5 cm / 13 ⅜ x 18 ¼ x 1 in. The frames are silver gilded on the front face using a white-gold leaf. This is applied in many layers such that you can see the layers and the sides are the visible Oak, with a matte wax finish […]

Happy to hear your thoughts, + warmest as ever,

— Helen Marten, email correspondence, March 10, 2021

Watch Wyoscan 0.5 Hz, 2012
digital watch with custom electronics that slow down the display
Dexter Sinister for Halmos

Time is like that — both point AND duration. This is how it can bend and warp. A week, a second, a season: all are specific and discrete, but none are the same. The present can be cut to any number of lengths, from a single vibration of a quartz crystal to the display period of a digital timepiece.

Watch Wyoscan 0.5 Hz is a reverse-engineered Casio digital watch. A tiny computer inside has been reprogrammed to slowly render the current time from left to right, scanning across its liquid crystal face, completing 1 cycle every 2 seconds.

You’ll notice that reading this watch requires more attention than usual, as the seven segments of each digit are lit one by one across its display. This speed may be adjusted until it reaches the limits of your perception. You and your watch are now in tune.

Watch Wyoscan was adjusted by Dexter Sinister and produced by Halmos with support from Objectif Exhibitions, Antwerp, and Yale Union, Portland.

  1. ‘We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood, the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.’ Otto Neurath, Anti-Spengler (Dedicated to the young and the future they shape) in Empiricism and Sociology (Springer, 1973).
  2. ‘The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.’ Wilfrid Sellars, “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man” in Science, Perception, and Reality, (ed.) Robert Colodny (Humanities Press/Ridgeview, 1962), 35-78
  3. According to the dictionary of artistic terms made of by the former Russian academy of artistic science also known as GAKhN, ‘facture is the very means by which a master works on the material of an artwork. An artist uses materials available to him in order to gradually achieve the desired formal expression by employing technical processes that are suitable for the given type of material; he uses one or another tool (brush, chisel, pen) and, with customary movements, approaches the desired form. Therefore an artwork carries traces of its working, similar to the creator’s handwriting, at every stage of its creation. The sum of these traces constitutes the artwork. When a monument is completed, facture is visible in it in its final form. Thus facture is both the process and the result.’ See The GAKhN Dictionary of Artistic Terms, 1923–1929, translator: Devin Fore, in October (2017) (162): 39–40.
  4. ‘Better’ only in the context of the platonic good which spans over theory and practice, episteme and techne for the production of more intelligible unities and therefore, more capable forms of intelligence acquainted and living with those intelligible unities.
  5. Danté, Paradiso, Canto I:100–142.
  6. Marcel Duchamp, Salt Seller: The Essential Writings of Marcel Duchamp, eds. Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson (London: Thames & Hudson, 1975), 74.
  7. Zoolander (dir. B. Stiller, 2001).
  8. The original containers used by Agematsu were ziploc bags, from which the series takes its name.
  9. See Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, tr. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 5, for humor and irony as two means for overturning the law via the power of repetition.
  10. Michel Foucault, ‘Theatrum Philosophicum’, tr. Donald F. Brouchard and Sherry Simon, in P. Rabinow (ed.), Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984 (New York: New Press, 1998–2001), 343–68: 362.
  11. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 293. ‘The more our daily life appears standardised, stereotyped and subject to an accelerated reproduction of objects of consumption, the more art must be injected into it in order to extract from it that little difference which plays simultaneously between other levels of repetition.’
  12. Sol Lewitt: ‘The serial artist does not attempt to produce a beautiful or mysterious object but functions merely as a clerk cataloguing the results of his premise.’
  13. Katamari Damacy (Michiro Hoshino’s refrain).
  14. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (Second Edition, 1956, page 369) traces this rhyme to Nurse Truelove’s New-Year-Gift (1755), but it is probably older.
  15. This paper was read 30 October 1975, at Yale, to inaugurate the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s Center for the Study of Ezra Pound and his Contemporaries.
  16. In Ray W. Irwin’s Daniel D. Tompkins: Governor of New York and Vice President of the United States (New-York Historical Society, 1976) one can see a reproduction of a broadside of the time of Madison parodying “The House that Jack Built.” The house is the New York State Treasury and jack is used in the sense of money.
  17. P. Descola, Beyond Nature and Things, tr. J. Lloyd (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).
  18. R. Descartes, Discourse on Method, tr. D. A. Cress (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993), 3.
  19. Laruelle’s term is non-aesthetics (or, alternatively, non-photographic aesthetics). This is clearly to distinguish his approach from aesthetics as a branch of standard philosophy. Rancière asserts this distinction, too, and would argue for a non-philosophical aesthetics. Mostly, he sees philosophical aesthetics as comprised by contemporary anti-aesthetics. Philosophy attempts to determine art—and to furnish it with its final instance—by the ways it decides the Real of thought—especially by privileging negative terms, by proclaiming “ends” (the historical impasse), or suppressing all concern for a ONE, entirely (the post-modern spirit of anti-totalism and biennial art “in the expanded field.”)
  20. Nicholas Bourriaud, Manet and the Object of Painting (2009)
  21. See: Christine Davis and Scott Lyall, eds, Public 51: Colour (2015), where an effort was made to infect an academic journal with a broad, aestheticizing mixture of approaches to artistic color.
  22. See: Gülru Necipoglu, ed. Histories of Ornament: From Global to Local (2016)
  23. This example comes from Benjamin HD Buchloh, “The Next Best Ready Made: The Aesthetic Object from Use Value to Sign-Exchange Value” (1990).
  24. Here, I demure from Rancière’s account: I think Malevich introduced a novel signifier, /Painting-Surface/, whose function was precisely to distinguish his paintings, to curtial their absorption, by the “new décors of life” (be they socialist-Uropian or merely bourgeois). It held to the status of a sensible exception by proclaiming an indifferent but persistent sign. But /Painting Surface/ was made of letters: it appeared—this is crucial—in Malvich’s writing; it has never appeared in the paintings, themselves, except by way of the notion of equivalents. Rather, it directs these latter surfaces to thoughts of distinctive and dissensual effects, indiscretions, and aesthetic play. It does not smuggle in an autonomous essence, and does not say what the work of art is not. It renders its subject as an algorithm. My choice to frame my work as a painting-analog stems from this potential in the mixture of paintings and other (virtual) surfaces.
  25. To refer to my early work again: it explored scenography as a method of including excesses and exceptions of a social diagram in a complex situational aesthetics. See, for instance, A Dancer Dances, the Color/Power Ball, or OK!lahoma.
  26. See his influential “Painting Beside Itself.”
  27. This same problem is sometimes used to account for failures of Situationism.
  28. Loosely, I am referring to Laruelle, who produced the term Philosophies of Difference to define an arc from Nietzsche to Deleuze, which includes Derrida, Heidegger, and others.
  29. For material on the history graphics-based security features, see the work of my friend, Alexandra Kaminska (with whom I worked on the Nanofoils).
  30. I intend the gender disagreement, here, not least to express my own pidgin French.
  31. Rebecca Comay and Frank Ruda, The Dash—The Other Side of Absolute Knowing (2017).
  32. Ibid
  33. Incidentally, these exchanges seem to relate quite well to Yve-Alain Bois’s ideas about Kelly and “the transfer method,” and of course to the sculptural approach of Brancusi.
  34. Alain Badiou, Matter and Form, Self-Evidence and Surprise (2019, Sequence Press)
  35. Ibid. My interest is to highlight the idea of self-evidence. This was Rancière’s term for the kind of discernment required of aesthetic thought. Here, Badiou is using it too.
  36. During the course of writing this essay, the author visited Detroit as a teacher of critical theory at the School for Poetic Computation (
  37. Alisha B. Wormsley (website), “There are Black People in the Future” < >
  38. The video 2015, made in 2019, contains a fictional heads-up display (HUD)—a device that displays critical information within a windshield or cockpit window—an early form of augmented reality. A precursor to the HUD appeared in 1900 in anti-aircraft gun sights. This is a reminder that most new technology is developed and funded by the military industrial complex. The NYPD announced publicly that it would begin trials of predictive policing software on June 29, 2015, the date the video takes place.
  39. Data Server Rack (2019) responds to the Silicon Prairie phenomenon: in recent years, an increasing number of tech entrepreneurs and computer programmers from San Jose have moved to the Midwest for job opportunities comparable to those in Silicon Valley. The relationship between the high-tech industry and agriculture has a precedent in Santa Clara Valley, California, where the fruit industry that prospered in the early twentieth century was eclipsed by the tech sector by the 1960s.
    Spanning the same two decades that many young, white, male venture capitalists have focused on the Midwest, the United States Department of Agriculture has been in a legal fight over loans that were denied to Black farmers for over a decade. After failing to adequately award settlements to petitioning farmers in the 1999 Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit, successive bills were authorized, allowing additional farmers to apply for payouts. The most recent bill, Pigford II, was settled in 2010, for which applicable farmers didn’t receive payment until 2013.
    This sculpture draws a parallel between the shape of a data server rack—a modest utilitarian device, usually unseen by consumers, that provides the infrastructure for the data cloud—and a handmade hay bailing machine—a niche tool to alleviate costs for farmers, made from wood and found materials, in order to create industry-standardized bales of hay.