Plant Activation

A Nonsense Lab Artist Con-fessional, Part Two

Con-fessional: Artlab-Retina

2. Plant Activation

Processes fold into processes. Some occur imperceptibly, while some are entered into as a sort of energetic system. Still others require a dynamic generation of their own and a particular machine from which they may emerge.

Suburbia: an idyllic dilation of spacetime for the walking subject, wrought from enlarged optics and ever-efficient motors. But bordering on a pathology, no? One does not require an advanced degree in rhythmanalysis to readily perceive here a qualitative shift in everyday dwelling and commerce. Simply defer one's acceleration and go for a walk. Soak up the affective tones that float in a weird energy field of synchronized motions and petroleum afterthoughts.

It is four months before the experiment will begin. The end of the road seems far off in the distance, yet here it is: the end of the road has come to me. I'm approaching the cul-de-sac near my temporary home for this project, an approach I have made several times already while in residence. But on this evening I perceive it freshly anew: as the tiny neighbourhood street yields to the loop of the cul-de-sac it becomes apparent that I have stumbled upon a mass produced gallery-reactor component in the wilds of suburbia.

Con-fessional: Loop

Is it the mathematical form-as-such of the circle with its ocular connotations that have been perceived here? One suspects not, for I am walking along a tiny pedestrian corridor that connects two of the vast asphault conduits carved for automobile use. I do not take the god's eye perspective — if we could even describe a singular vertex of the gaze here rather than an open field of view — but instead the much less acute angle from eye level on the walking body to street level, which varies ever-so-slightly as I emerge from the pedestrian corridor and approach the bend in the road.

Or is it rather the feltness of a certain intensity that has been perceived and retrieved from the body — a certain history of automobiles turning counterclockwise around the loop, a certain domestic gaze whose radiance converges upon a roughly-described middle, the total assembly a certain pattern that repeats itself throughout the great suburban tracts and lends them an organic homogeneity? This is what I discovered in the wilds, only verified thereafter by checking the proper schematics.

Con-fessional: Gmap

Perhaps we can sample the unique rhythmic energy of this space to generate a boost for our experimental processes? Rather than slowing down in the face of accelerated living, can we attempt to meet speed with speed — at least fleetingly? Ultimately we are not concerned here simply with acceleration-as-strategy, but rather with developing abilities to modulate tempo as necessary. Further, our interest lies with developing a corresponding ethics of such: when to accelerate or decelerate, and how do variously contingent communities organically put these decisions into praxis? How are various techniques transduced? How to plant seeds without growing roots?

Con-fessional: Imago-Missing

Department of Biological Flow
Imago (Kino-Butterfly - Someone Might Be Listening - Lorenz Security Ltd.)


Plants, tempos and cross-pollinating processes: this sounds like an opportunity for mecha butterflies to emerge from the experiential fold. The species Homo generatus lepidopterae makes explicit the energy located within the relation, the movement of bodies between surface and volume, and the potential for strange attraction in the awkward motions of gaited flight.

How to write a program for the mecha butterflies, appropriate to the task at hand, not so gaseous as to become meaningless yet not so solid as to stifle the potentials of contingency? As with any tide of intensity that in-forms, you only get one shot to perform the generation into existence, only one chance to make a first impression.


Department of Biological Flow
Process Machine for Plant Activation (Homo generatus lepidopterae)
(youtube video - 26:39)


[1] The two Department of Biological Flow particles will begin the process at opposite points on the circular orbit. [2] One particle begins walking around the circle counter-clockwise toward the other stationary particle, who holds the relay baton. [3] A camera will serve as the relay baton. [4] When the moving particle reaches the stationary particle it shall bump the stationary particle into motion along the same orbital trajectory. [5] The baton shall be passed backwards each time two particles collide. [6] The orbital velocity shall increase with each revolution until both particles are in motion, at varying speeds. [7] Once both particles are in motion the orbital velocity for either particle may decelerate, so long as the overall energy in the system stays relatively constant (ie. if one particle slows to a walk, the other must accelerate to a run). [8] The performance ends when the plant has been activated.


Con-fessional: Plant Activation

Department of Biological Flow
Process Machine for Plant Activation (Homo generatus lepidopterae)


Suburban fatigued, traces of the performance captured, the mecha butterflies return from the techno-organic wilds to the concrete enclosures of the institutional curriculum — the latter which gets its name from the Latin currere or running. We run in search of knowledge, or at least to generate a certain future potential between us — but how to store the energy? What will the archive bear? What can be folded from one performance to the next, and so forth — embodied, relational, imagined?

Con-fessional: Exhaustion

Department of Biological Flow
coffee, antacid, eye shadow and duct tape on synthetic dropsheet


The finish line just out of reach: fluttering, experimental, exhausted.

Bunker Archaeology

A Nonsense Lab Artist Con-fessional, Part One

"Thinking involves the microperceptions that are the virtual content of the not-yet out of which potential worlds are composed. Thinking exposes the overlappings of the actual and the virtual, their complex inadequation. Research-creation works at this in-between of immanence and actuality where multiplicities converge into affirmations. Creativity folds out of thought even as it proposes thought to itself. Thought is an untimely proposition."

          — Erin Manning, "Creative Propositions for Thought in Motion," 2008


"See and be seen. Interpolate and interpellate. In a gesture of fragility and exhaustion, the Department of Biological Flow considers questions of tempo, intensity and ethics in public space and interrogates opportunities for movement in the contemporary vision machine."

          — advertisement for D S NFORMAT ON exhibition




Con-fessional: D S NFORMAT ON

Threnody from the Vision Machine

Sean Smith and
Department of Biological Flow




1. Bunker Archaeology

Where does a process begin? When does it begin? How?

Is there a starting point? If so, one cannot be easily identified in this case. There is no neat and tidy cause and effect to this story, that much is certain, no neatly ordered program of experimentation. There is no hermetically-sealed laboratory of controlled thought from which hypothesized results emerge — though there is a white cube involved.

Con-fessional: Artlab

We are describing the smooth white cube of a university art gallery, uniquely marked by its inscription within the concrete white cylinder of an institutionalized exoskeleton. From a god's eye perspective — which is to say when viewed from straight above, perpendicular to terra firma and flattened — it appears as a square inscribed within a circle — and are these two forms not irrevocably bound together within the precise numerics of royal science? Circle within square within circle, and so forth: centrepoints and radii and equidistant segments and entirely too rational tangents — the latter which gets its name from the Latin tangere or touching. Circles and squares are precise only insofar as how they come into touch with one another.

- - -

A tangent: Humans cannot perceive "perfect" versus "imperfect" circles, nor can we create one of the former, materially, in the absence of technical assistance. We're always on the move. Rather, we've extrapolated a concept of the circle from the morphogenetics of matter-flow as they concresce into semi-stable patterns of an apparently perfect roundness. We locate this concept in mathematics and then in our instruments, which return the favour by producing perfect circles in our thought.

But matter-flow isn't perfect: it is turbulent and distorted and always decaying imperceptibly. Our circles, both those we perceive in "nature" and those we reproduce in embodied "social" forms, are always delightfully misshapen as their particles push one another in ways both predictable and unpredictable. This isn't to say these circles are any less significant and powerful, save their inability to be god-like. Instead they make explicit that their power derives not from their ideal mathematical form-as-such, but rather because they participate in generating the future-past of a certain intensity.

Our perceptions and gestures can never quite reach the concept, but our circles are still precise insofar as how we come into touch with them — or insofar as we perceive the intensity of the approach.

- - -

Where were we then? Right, the map. This gallery and its institution aren't just any square inscribed within any circle: the eye in the sky perceives its likeness in the form below, the narrow corridor that connects the concrete perimeter to the rest of the curriculum a sort of optic nerve that channels objects of information into and out of the enclosure, canals or conduits to this smooth gleaming white space and those processes given the label "art".

Or change the channel, god-like. The eyeball sits spherically in its ocular socket and the surface can be sliced in so many ways. Perhaps the map is an orthogonal projection and one sits on the gray matter, looking out with that orientation we call "forward". The god's eye view stares directly through that which is rocklike and solid to find the liquid abyssal beyond.

In return, the critique of ocularcentrism shifts fluidly away from the iris (with its colour and aperture) and towards the retina (with its pattern and exposure). The latter is not only a primary locus of biometric identification but the threshold at which light information is converted to electricity, which is to say, converted to the network mode of circulation.

Con-fessional: Retinal Scan

Subjecte 020063867: retinal scan, right eye. "Due to its unique and unchanging nature, the retina appears to be the most precise and reliable biometric. Advocates of retinal scanning have concluded it is so accurate that its error rate is estimated to be only one in a million." (Wikipedia)


The blood vessels that give the biometric identifier its differentiating pattern trace branchlike back to the origin and scotoma of the optic nerve, portal to contingent authority and integrated spectacle. Punctum caecum ēlectricus. Perhaps the focal point of the gallery should be viewed from slightly off-centre, then, where the optic nerve would be located in this orthogonal perspective? Perhaps this is where the story will unfold and be told, with the blind spot as zone of political action.

Did I mention this space looks like a military bunker — or maybe a nuclear reactor?

Con-fessional: Bunker

This was my artlab for four days in January 2012. This is where the experiment took place.

watered textile

casey moire

toronto raptors head coach dwane casey 'strobing' during an nba telecast

in physics, a moiré pattern is an interference pattern created, for example, when two grids are overlaid at an angle, or when they have slightly different mesh sizes. the term originates from a type of textile with a rippled or 'watered' appearance.

- - -

wondering about moiré patterns as a possible means of understanding striated, smooth and holey spaces, as well as offering ways of thinking about opportunities for movement within layers of modulating enclosure. wondering about moiré patterns, interference and strobing as shifting relations within a politics of exposure.

following deleuze, guattari and virilio, is there a hydraulic model to be identified in optoelectronics and information patterning?

Approaching High Noon

Courtesy of Kirk Goldsberry

Kirk Goldsberry has mapped every shot taken in the NBA over the past five years,
in order to create a statistical baseline "average" profile of shooters in the league.

"We can see right away that Deron was good from his right and actually had a pretty off night from his left where he is usually pretty good. However, given his shot tendencies over the last few years, CourtVision would predict Deron Williams would end up with 30.2 points from Sunday night's constellation of shots. My models predict the average points per attempt from every player in the league, from every shot location, so I can plug in these 29 locations and predict an expected success for Deron from these locations. CourtVision predicted 30.2 points; Deron ended up with 36. So, Williams made 2 or 3 more shots than he would have on an average shooting night. In other words, he was +20% from the field that night" (Goldsberry).

- - -

The rise of econometric analysis in professional sport makes explicit shifts that are taking place for working classes across a spectrum of industries. From now on, two figures will shadow every labourer whose output may be measured by some quantitative analytic: the Average and the ExpectedValue. As the econometric models continue to improve — or tighten — the length of the ExpectedValue shadow will continue to shorten, as if the klieg lights and fibre optics were approaching high noon.

LKL 5908


Thought-holograms from the Paris of the 22nd century.

The race begins as a point. Mile zero, time zero.

It is a teeming, trembling point, however: 45,000-strong and electric. Anticipatory, the point smudged out along the line it is about to suggest with its quantity of moving bodies. The point cannot be easily contained, even though it has been corralled. The point is a seething mass.

The point is a constellation of data points, actually, Achilles' heels morphed forward in the foot to the shoelaces and their expressive prosthetic transmitters.

As the gun fires to begin the race, this teeming point of running-bodies instantly dilates. There is a bifurcation of time at the very moment the marathon nominally begins, unique for each of the 45,000 strong. Two times: the "real" lived time of the race clock as the overall event unfolds, and the relative time of each moving body — indexed by radio frequency tag — as it finally crosses the start line to officially enter the event space and "begin" the race. Clock time versus chip time, the latter increasingly falling behind the former as one moves back through the corrals to the open entry gate and its unranked hordes.

Only clock time counts for official race results and ratified world records. Chip time does not serve any purpose in the adjudication of race results — at least in terms of authoritative measurements of the complete extension of the course. It seems it exists solely as an apologia to 99% of the runners that they are not the fastest in the world.

Indeed, the sole juridical function that chip time serves concerns the part-event, with its checkpoints and split times and implied paces segmenting the broader context. As Roberto Madrazo reminds us (in the name of St. Rosie of Bostonia), each checkpoint must be crossed in order, from start to finish. And if there are points of failure in this linear process — points at which chip time is not registered, either due to electronic defect, noise or subversion (ie. skipping a checkpoint) — any subsequently successful measurement cannot have been arrived at "too quickly" to be believed.

Madrazo cheated all too well!!

normal distribution curve, marathoning....

The race begins as a point but it very soon becomes a line, or more precisely, a curve. The race is the embodied manifestation of the normal distribution curve spreading out over asphault and concrete and steel and rock. From outliers to six-sigmas to outliers, from swift loping strides at the front of the pack to a mixed cacophony of running gaits and styles in the middle to the plodders who bring up the rear: each mile that passes expresses the modulation of kurtosis and skew as thicknesses of running-bodies.

The x-axis of this normal distribution curve, time, finds its striations also embodied in the race proper. Pace rabbits run with the pack holding signs with a desired race completion time on them (eg. 3h:15m, 3h:30m), embodying that given time and helping foster a rhythmic continuity for the overall machine — or perhaps a discontinuity, if understood in terms of an attractor effect. Time has been striated by the body moving within the statistical figure.

But this normal distribution curve is anything but normal. It is rather quite abnormal — not in the sense of deviant, but in terms of the carnivalesque. Costumes and clusters and chatterings identify the runners at the back of the pack, far back beyond even where the slowest pace rabbits will tread. The moving striation of time has become flimsy back here with the plodders, the affective tone of the topology much different than with the other end of outliers chasing down the finish line. An affective, generative tone still exists back here no doubt, and it is this tone that allows for the flimsy to not necessarily disintegrate, that helps as many of those at the back of the pack ultimately complete the asignifying pilgrimage of the race journey.

And in the middle of the pack, and at the front of the pack.

These are not points nor lines we are describing after all. They are certainly not surface-images, either, no matter how hard Spectacle attempts this reduction. They are volumes, actually. Running-bodies are resonating volumes of muscle and bone and nerve, blood and breath and sweat, psychic vibrations of fleshy affect amplified with the in-between energy of 45,000 other runners and the cheers of encouragement from spectators, who share in this radiance-by-exposure while reflecting a certain amount of energy back into the process.

Each of these runners knows a priori that the muscle and bone and nerve cannot sustain their mutual rhythm for the entire Pheidippidean journey. At some point the body wants to fail. And that seems to be the shared understanding of everyone in the race: once I hit that Wall, I just hope the energy of the crowd brings me home. The "energy of the crowd," again, as two-fold: energy from the shared suffering of the other runners constituting one's several-in-passing, and energy from the abstracted Babel of barricaded and cheering spectators.

It is this collected energy that keeps the running-body moving after it has decided it is no longer up to the task. Individual determination emerges from this collected energy to ignore a certain individually-experienced pain and complete the race.

keep moving.

In contrast with the #occupy movements around the world, who teach us contemporary lessons about taking and holding a space, the marathoners, with their smudged point of teeming mass yielding to a distended statistical curve of running-bodies, perhaps teach us contemporary lessons about taking and holding time.

The politics of chip time prove to be a sham. It is the affective politics of a temporary community running beyond one's presumed limits which reveals new understandings of that most Spinozan question: What can a body do? Points, lines and images play tricks with time: the teeming mass of energy dilates to diffuse an effective tremor lasting a couple of hours or until the very last person crosses the finish line. This elasticity of energy is not due so much to the speed at the front but rather the slowness at the back of the pack. There is an exit strategy to these affective politics, measured out at 26.2 miles, however long that takes.

Though almost everyone has some new understanding of what a body can do, not everyone makes it to the finish line. Lactic acid cramps or dizziness literally collapse the running body in a tragic heap of limbs as the final miles unfold. For some the exit strategy came too late, long after a collective affect could make the ultimate difference. Nothing was left in potential.

Desired exit or no, everyone hurts. The sore limbs are still in discord with the warm psychic vibrations of fleshy affect. A mild narcotic euphoria overcomes the body and most of the pain — the intensive stress-related pain, at least — disappears within hours. The rest lingers in the muscles and joints for the next few days, hinted at less and less frequently as other gestures replace the runner's gait. But it is this pain that consolidates the memory of the event, the living archive of the temporary commons woven from physical and psychic trauma.

Pain remembers pain, after all.

[THX 1138 ~ LKL 5908 :: Chi26.2 = woot!]

blindsided (an experiment in remembering and forgetting)

blindsided - original photo by pia ednie-brown

an experiment in recalibrated perception

by chance i come across a brilliant land art installation in a small thicket of trees on the periphery of our cabin retreat. simple, elegant, fragile, rich: it has been created by three danish artists as a site-specific gift to our temporary community.

it is also the last thing that i will see for the next hour or so.

a blindfold is placed over my eyes. black and moderately worn, it is the type of blindfold preferred by the frequent airline traveller or perhaps by one who lives sufficiently north that the sun rarely sets at certain times of the year. i can see cracks of daylight at the bottom of my visual field, even though i am craving deep darkness. we begin to move.

i am guided by my left hand as we begin walking away from the art installation, back towards the main cabin area. i hear voices off in the distance — noni's in particular stands out from the lake area off to the far right. or at least that is what the rough map in my memory is trying to tell me. where are my coordinates?

the touch on my hand stays cool even though my body bakes with many fevers of exposure. what are the politics of consent in this context? i wonder briefly, although it may not have been at this point in our journey. while my consent is not one of language, it is present nonetheless.

there is a pause. i wait and wait before i realize i am meant to figure out some sort of puzzle. that's it, there is a short step in front of me, i feel it with the edge of my foot. we've intersected a small wooden boardwalk: i don't remember that from my mental map … where are we? i am gently assisted onto the step and then off the other side. there are more voices now and i feel even more acutely exposed, naked to my context or how my body-in-relation is being perceived, if at all. the field as i understand it has been compromised by this invisibility.

we keep walking. though the voices and their conversations do not seem to break rhythm, i feel more acutely aware of a collective gaze that connects to-them-to-me in some way. the relational field has been altered irrevocably, or maybe it is just in my mind.

we stop once again. this time the hand gently pushes down on my shoulder and then i am sitting at the end of a picnic table. the voices continue to pretend that nothing unusual is taking place, and maybe that is the case with these thinkers and creators — maybe it is only unusual for me.

wait, did i already say that?

slowly, my shoe is untied and removed, followed by my sock. i think it is my right foot first, though i cannot be sure at this time. the other foot follows. i feel a brief tremor of thrill or fear as i wonder if anything else will be removed. once again my left hand is taken — an already familiar comfort — and the bare skin of my soles feels the cool grass underfoot. once again we are walking.

noni asks why that man is blindfolded and barb tries to explain, though i can tell by the sound of her voice that she's not quite certain either. exposed. the ground underneath my feet changes from grass to hardscrabble dirt and tiny pebbles. the level path begins to slope away — we are heading down to the water's edge, i think. another pause, another puzzle: but this time i am more prepared and gently feel around with my foot for the large step in front of me. we proceed.

we enter a rowboat. i can feel its hydraulic imbalance underneath. i am sitting at the front of the boat, in the navigation seat. ha, ha! we push off from shore.

paddle, paddle. are we headed to the other side of the cove? another tiny thrill, far from the madding crowd. my exposure levels are stabilizing out here on the water and again i wonder briefly about the question of consent. i don't know where i'm going and my quality of touch has been radically reconfigured.

we don't make it to the other side of the cove, but rather describe a sweeping arc that leads back to the floating trampoline about 25 feet away from shore. we dock with the trampoline and i am helped aboard from the rowboat. erin and brian are there, alanna's laughter sings from off to the right, and i think somebody else was present as well.

i sit there like some sort of praying mantis or character from a pulp fiction movie. erin asks something about what i am doing, i don't remember what exactly. i reply that i don't think i'm supposed to talk. (and that is all i said for the duration of the exercise.) i'm just here/hear in a listening role.

now back on the boat, though this time i hold the oars. awkward gesture for me, even at the best of times, and now is not the best of times. i paddle off, my guide now sitting behind me in the boat. and off and off, i have no idea where we are or where we are going. i think we actually run slightly aground at one point, don't we?

as time passes i become convinced that my guide has quietly slipped out of the boat and left me there paddling blindly. turns out to be true, only i find out later that i was actually abandoned much earlier in the passage — though who can be certain of time in these imprecise storytellings?

and is it really abandonment we are describing anyway, or a stretching of the relational fibres toward a tentative autonomy?

noni breaks the silence of my contemplation, chattering and laughing with abandon. i try to hone in on her to find my way back to the dock but it sounds like she is running back and forth along the shoreline, a beacon in motion. i find out later that this perceived movement was relative: i've in fact been rowing in circles the entire time.

after much exercise, the sirens finally guide me back to the floating trampoline. i ferry the discussion back to shore — clever idea, erin. she is sitting in front of me, i think. she puts her hand on my left shoulder as she gingerly navigates her way to the back of the rowboat. i paddle, and the extra weight of my cargo isn't as noticeable as i'd thought it would be. i do not sing opera en route, as we would do in the dark later that week.

i am helped out of the boat and guided uphill to the other trampoline, from water to land. two trampolines: did you feel the difference?

i'm jumping, tentatively. brian is with me. was erin or saara there as well? i want to say one of them but i can't be certain then, and i do not remember now. i do hear noni's voice as she joins us on the trampoline and i hope i don't crush her in my awkward bounding about.

have you ever tried doing yoga on the subway? start there and then add unpredictable vertical oscillations on trampoline elasticity — or something like that. my gesture in staying on my feet can only be described as supple arthritis. except for those times i fell.

time to go, but it was fun. i exit the trampoline netting, am led back over to my socks and shoes, and my blindfold is removed. or maybe we walk back over to the front door of the lodge first, i can't be sure. though my other senses have been spoiled, i never fully let go of vision.

maybe next time.