The Plasticity of Process

(abstract submitted to the "duration [before and] after media" conference, hosted by ocad university)

Amsterdam Surf

The Plasticity of Process: Intuition as Method in Research-Creation

Sean Smith and Barbara Fornssler
European Graduate School
Department of Biological Flow


"One might as well discourse on the subject of the cocoon from which the butterfly is to emerge, and claim that a fluttering, changing, living butterfly finds its raison d'être and fulfillment in the immutability of its shell. On the contrary, let us unfasten the cocoon, awaken the chrysalis; let us restore to movement its mobility, to change its fluidity, to time its duration." (Bergson, The Creative Mind, p.17)

In contrast to the rational intellect and spatialization of time that currently characterizes Western metaphysics, philosopher Henri Bergson proposes the continual flow of time that is duration, with intuition its proper method of knowing. In seeking to account for change and becoming, Bergson foreshadows the "minor" science of Deleuze and Guattari some decades later. This "hydraulic" model of minor science becomes the initial condition of possibility for a project of research-creation by the Department of Biological Flow titled "Walking is In(di)visible." Beginning with a surf on the waves of pedestrian gait in urban space, we have attempted to develop a number of interrelated processes to a state at which they have just ceased to be fragile enough for one's imagination to take over and build upon their frameworks. Rather than each artwork in the cluster standing as a discrete point from which a trajectory may be neatly considered in retrospect, "Walking is In(di)visible" emerges as a continual folding of past praxis into present process while drawing future questioning into an expressive now. In presenting works from this series we seek to open a dialogue with Bergson's notions of duration and intuition, engaging themes of the everyday gesture, folding density, the plasticity of craft, and the politics of consent.



The Department of Biological Flow cordially invites you to:


A play in three acts.

April 28, 2011

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

In biology, the imago is the last stage of development of an insect, after the last ecdysis of an incomplete metamorphosis, or after emergence from the pupa where the metamorphosis is complete. As this is the only stage during which the insect is sexually mature and, if it is a winged species, has functional wings, the imago is often referred to as the adult stage.

Imago is Latin for "image".

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Act One. "Kino-Butterfly"
   emergent from "The Butterfly Project"
   a public performance work with Tara Ostiguy and Cara Spooner
   @ Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto

Intermezzo. "Gait Surfing III"

Act Two. "Someone Might Be Listening"
   @ 'Techosapien' - OCADU Wearable Technologies student exhibition

Act Three. "Lorenz Security Ltd."
   @ 'Fashion/Unfashion' - Toronto Alternative Arts + Fashion Week

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Attire for the evening will be faux kino-gait.

capital, gee

Courtesy of Google

Gmail Motion:
"Familiarize yourself with some of the basic functionality of Gmail Motion using this printable guide of sample gestures. With it, you'll be able to start writing and responding to emails – with your body – in no time."

"Language must be paid for, in energy at the very least; it is never free. We will need to determine after this if it gives the given. Meanwhile, they're not exactly giving it away. And if you believe they are, you might as well believe in perpetual motion" (Michel Serres, The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies, p.117).

Courtesy of FIBACourtesy of FIBACourtesy of FIBACourtesy of FIBACourtesy of FIBACourtesy of FIBACourtesy of FIBACourtesy of FIBACourtesy of FIBACourtesy of FIBA

sportsBabel, August 2009: "Print is, of course, an expression of the eye taken in linear sequences. But it is also a folding and capturing of the hand and its sensual laying of pen to paper, hammer to marble, remington typekey to carbon paper substrate, plastic keyboard to digital sensor to random access memory chip to immaterial hard drive memory sector. And though translation does not belong exclusively to the domain of print, we must bear in mind that even in the most seemingly disembodied form of communication as a written manuscript, the act of crossing a threshold through translation will bear to some degree this folding and capturing of the body. As such, it will also fold and capture time."

Courtesy of Google

"Touch is topological and prepares the planes and smooth varieties for a relaxed, metric, Euclidean gaze, the skin covers with a veil what the eye cannot see. … Pure touch gives access to information, a soft correlate of what was once called the intellect" (Serres, p.83).


(a gesture of thanks to r and j)

@Propeller: Here and There (and the threads in between)

Here and There, Courtesy of Propeller Gallery

Curated Exhibition organized by Propeller Centre for the Visual Arts in collaboration with One Hour Empire

Canada is commonly perceived as a nation of immigrants: people displaced and uprooted by events that are out of their control. They exist and work here while their hearts and minds are still there. This double life is not just an immigrant experience. You may live here in your parents' home but have a fantasy life there in the World of Warcraft. You may spend your daily grind here in the city while you live in the outskirts of town. You may suffer from illness here but imagine being healthy there. You may face yourself here in a mirror and under a microscope there.

The premise of the show is the juxtaposition of your two places in the broadest sense of place. Artists often use different forms when dealing with here and there while sometimes the differences are only in the content. We expect to see two separate works for HERE and THERE but we will also consider a single artwork if you feel it better presents your double life.

* * *

The Department of Biological Flow will be showing work from Kino-Gait Study No.3 and Process Transduction, as well as performing the installation Living Room in the Year 2046. Come on down and join us Thursday night, or check out the show before the 13th! :D

Ace Travel Company

Courtesy of Lygia Clark

tractor beam pulls to insectly skies
tractor pull, gridly

but the insects move far more beautifully than this.


don't read this as transcendence, historian!
wake up!

love couldn't be any more immanent
if it bit us right in the neck
like a mosquito or a
zombie avatar clone Deleted.


shield your eyes
with static veiling,
a dark potential is our present house

a question, unsayable.

fleshly, sung from afar.

silently singed,
we roll out the sparkles
grounded with lygia Like
in a real-life basketball dream.

Marching Across Time

Courtesy of Adam Magyar

"If 'everything is ruled by lightning', as Heraclitus suggested, the PHOTO-FINISH imposes the instantaneity of its violence on all the various 'artistic representations' and modern art, like war — BLITZKRIEG — is no more than a kind of exhibitionism that imposes its own terrorist voyeurism: that of death, live." — Paul Virilio, Art and Fear, p.43, emphasis in original

* * *

The photo finish. One might argue that the precision demands of high performance sprinting are such that one requires exactly this apparatus to adjudicate the race winners. But what happens when the same technological diagram is lifted from the sports stadium and brought to the public square, as with the Urban Flow artworks produced by photographer Adam Magyar?

Courtesy of Adam Magyar

adam magyar
#1600 (detail)
new york
recorded time: 46 sec. (26×240 cm)

If one is standing at the finish line in the official capacity of determining a race winner in the 100-metre dash, one's perspectival gaze sees a pack of disciplined sprinters approaching, each partitioned into their own lanes — in other words, how we might understand Deleuze and Guattari's striated (sports) space. As the race continues one is constantly modifying the embodiment of this perspective, turning the head and shoulders ever-so-slightly to match the changing relation between adjudicating body, approaching runners, and finish line proper — the latter of which constitutes the "true" object of everyone's gaze.

One is practically an extension of the finish line at the penultimate moment (or climax) of the race, the minute difference in radians between one's optical line of sight and the white marking of the terminus barely distinguishable over the final split seconds. Indeed, as the race comes to its conclusion one's body is almost perfectly still: to ensure the best possible result for the tracking shot we attempt to stabilize the optical field, only the eyes moving side-to-side in tandem with the nearly-orthogonal flux of runners crossing the finish line (cf. Brian Massumi's notes on "mirror-vision", Parables for the Virtual, p.48).

The axis of rotation has moved from shoulder+neck+skull to eyeballs: this new origin and its shorter radius allows us to sharpen the image as if we were describing a gestural microscope zooming in to a higher level of resolution. A threshold has been reached in the geometry of competition. Ontogenesis, or recomposed bodies in a reconfiguring athletic space (cf. Erin Manning, Relationscapes, p.15).

Even with this higher resolution available, however, as the runners increase in speed it becomes more apparent that the body-as-camera vibrates too much to function with a high degree of precision as a solution for adjudicating sport. Eventually we use a string or ribbon held across the finish line by two witnesses to complement the strictly visual determination of the race victor. That is, the ocular appraisal is confirmed with a visceral tug on the fingers as the string rapidly contours the breast of the first runner to cross the finish line. The hapticity of close vision, the affective tonality of the competition environment, and the increase in both absolute and relative speed all contribute to the intensity of this very temporary smooth sprinting space.

Or more precisely, a striated space that has become smooth in a pre-programmed yet emergent fashion.

Courtesy of Beijing and Berlin Marathons

samuel wanjiru (ken, beijing olympics) - paula radcliffe (gbr, new york city) - qi shun (chn, beijing paralympics)

But speed and progress move on. Even the ribbon or string is no longer adequate for high-performance racing, its obsolescence and retrieval marked poignantly by the ceremonial status it carries today at the finish line of the much slower marathon. In fact, if we make this ribbon a wider surface we can actually leverage this slowness as sponsorship inventory for vectoral capital.

And the question of adjudication is complicated when we introduce timing to the technological diagram of the sporting competition. As we have noted earlier:

The act of timing … brings a particular and peculiar violence upon the sporting body, since the disciplining ceases to be a local disciplining of the self and crosses a threshold to become a general formula for efficient production by imposing the tyranny of the clock. Put another way, timing a race serves little purpose if it is only done once. In the absence of other times with which to compare, this temporal measurement becomes a number without context and therefore meaningless.

No, the purpose of timing is to create an archive for comparative purposes: times of past performance, benchmarks for future performance, markers of record performance. Optimal time becomes the alibi for a most brutal violence to the sporting body that goes beyond a self-discipline to broader networks of power and economy constraining the self (November 2008).

We introduce a genealogy of stopwatches and other electronic timing devices to complement the photo finish mechanisms that are rapidly replacing the human eye in adjudicating race winners. Eventually the two forms — time+image — merge in the fully automated electronic photo finish system, which uses slitscan photography to dilate the minute spatial differences between runners that have been obscured by speed.

The slitscan system freezes the image as if it was an instant in time, though it is in fact of a duration: the elements to the right of the frame are "older" in time relative to those on the left. This should not be understood as duration in the Bergsonian sense: we are describing contiguous slices of time laid to film one after the other — 2,000 every second, to be precise.

Photo Finish

In addition, the slit photography system used at the sports stadium appends what we might refer to as a chronometric ruler to the photo finish image produced by the sprint race. This graduated edge allows one to apply spatial principles to the fixed durational segments of time on film, measuring how long apart the runners were given the fixed point in space of finish line+camera lens. The "truth" of the performance shifts from the track to the scoreboard, just as the contouring of the breast by the ribbon cedes to the hard perpendicular line of time.

Though this chronometric ruler is absent in Magyar's photos, we recall its lesson well: as the blurred backdrops to his public tableaux visually confirm, high-speed slit photography smooths space in the service of striating time.

Courtesy of Adam Magyar

adam magyar
#292 (magnified detail)
hong kong
recorded time: 1 min. 32 sec. (26×240 cm)

Though the imagery itself is quite beautiful, this quote from Magyar in the project documentation is key to our investigation:

With the slit-scan technique, a fraction of a moment is recorded through a 1-pixel wide slit several hundred times per second. The time and space slices recorded this way and placed right next to each other generate an image without a perspective; it is the passing of time itself that turns into space by moving forward in time from the right side toward the left in each image.

In other words, the events recorded on the right side of the image took place earlier than the ones on the left, also meaning that the people in the photos never existed together in the form shown by the image. So the people in the right-hand side of the image had grown several minutes older by the time the people seen in the left side passed my camera.

As a result of this time-space connection, all the people and vehicles in the photos are heading in one direction (emphasis added).

Three questions:

1. By re-aligning the variation of every moving body to the side-view mug shot, has "art" created the process that makes databased identification within smooth open spaces more reliable and efficient? Or was the "military" already there first?

2. How do we understand the "sense of solidarity" proposed by the Walking As One project, for which Magyar's work was commissioned?

3. When Agamben calls us "to link together image and body in a space where they can no longer be separated, and thus to forge the whatever body," is he asking for the rich diversity of kinetic poiesis that is gesture to be rendered a march across time to the camps?

Courtesy of Adam Magyar