Neo-Vorticist Assemblage

A Nonsense Lab Artist Con-fessional, Part Four

"Let us try to understand in the simplest terms how space escapes the limits of its striation. At one pole, it escapes them by declination, in other words, by the smallest deviation, by the infinitely small deviation between a gravitational vertical and the arc of a circle to which the vertical is tangent. At the other pole, it escapes them by the spiral or vortex, it other words, a figure in which all the points of space are simultaneously occupied according to laws of frequency or of accumulation, distribution; these laws are distinct from the so-called laminar distribution corresponding to the striation of parallels. From the smallest deviation to the vortex there is a valid and necessary relation of consequence: what stretches between them is precisely a smooth space whose element is declination and which is peopled by a spiral. Smooth space is constituted by the minimum angle, which deviates from the vertical, and by the vortex, which overspills striation. The strength of Michel Serres's book is that it demonstrates this link between the clinamen as a generative differential element, and the formation of vortices and turbulences insofar as they occupy an engendered smooth space; in fact, the atom of the ancients, from Democritus to Lucretius, was always inseparable from a hydraulics, or a generalized theory of swells and flows. The ancient atom is entirely misunderstood if it is overlooked that its essence is to course and flow. The theory of atomism is the basis for a strict correlation between Archimedean geometry (very different from the striated and homogeneous space of Euclid) and Democritean physics (very different from solid or lamellar matter). The same coincidence means that this aggregate is no longer tied in any way to a State apparatus, but rather to a war machine: a physics of packs, turbulences, "catastrophes," and epidemics corresponding to a geometry of war, of the art of war and its machines. Serres states what he considers to be Lucretius's deepest goal: to go from Mars to Venus, to place the war machine in the service of peace. But this operation is not accomplished through the State apparatus; it expresses, on the contrary, an ultimate metamorphosis of the war machine, and occurs in smooth space."

          — Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, p. 489


Con-fessional: Artlab-Retina

January 8, 2012, 8:56pm: Fragile. This thing will *not* stay together 2 weeks. I'm giving you a 1-week warranty or your money back. We'll call it "Toward a Theory of Relative Decay Coefficients Concerning Various Materials, Processes and Affects".



4. Neo-Vorticist Assemblage

Razzle dazzle. There you are, naked on the high seas, bobbing gently in the face of impending doom. It is World War One and there you float, regally, on one of Her Majesty's great military ships. There you are, naval gazing, and if the enemy vessels can see you, as they inevitably will, there is no where to which you may run.

Norman Wilkinson has an offer for you. The British painter wants you to make yourself even more exposed than you already are, draw attention to yourself with garish diagonal stripes on the gunwales, as if a black and white noise pattern in some 1970s children's comic book. This is the offer of dazzle camouflage: revealing rather than concealing in a gesture towards visual confusion.

Con-fessional: SS Empress of Russia in dazzle camouflage

SS Empress of Russia in dazzle camouflage


Dazzle camouflage isn't meant to hide the subject being perceived or blend one into the background so as to be rendered imperceptible. No, the idea of the zig-zags was rather to distort visual acuity as it concerned the edges and contours of the boat, such that the relation itself was split or made indeterminate. One's optical measures from a periscopic firing solution would suggest a depth between the two that was different than that required of the artillery shell or torpedo on its way to the target (with its tactical tactility). Additional diagonals would simulate the crest of the sea itself to provide a misleading estimation of speed, both position and velocity thus rendered fuzzy in the approach.

No one seems quite certain if dazzle camouflage actually worked in practice, and it is certainly difficult to conduct accurate field tests in the heat of war. But whether or not there was a demonstrable effect is immaterial: the sailors felt safer in the painted gunships, and perhaps a placebo is all that matters when such a daring gamble is at stake — the security of a deadly cosmetics in service of a deadly phallic gunplay.

(Which is perhaps an opportune moment to point out that it was in fact women, graduates from the Royal Academy of Arts, who actually designed most of the patterns unique to each boat on small wooden models — before being scaled up to "life size" by a foreman and painted. Always already prior to the enlarged image, a crucial support of the war effort as a sort of secretive chess queen, intimately interfaced with the most fearsome war technologies of the day.)

Artists, then, as part of the wartime operations. Not in terms of the representational effort, capturing for archival posterity the tragic events and glorious sacrifices made at the front lines, but in a decidedly more strategic role, deliberately breaking up the figure in a defensive gesture — of course, until the counter-offensive was volleyed in return.

Con-fessional: Semiotextile

Department of Biological Flow
wearable theory


It was another British artist, Edward Wadsworth, who ultimately supervised much of the dazzle camouflage effort during the war. He would also become the watchword linking these techniques to the post-war Vorticist movement, itself a response to the transformations of space and time emerging in Cubism and Futurism. A vortex is a circling field of intensities whose affects converge, or perhaps to avoid being so linear, circulate, concentrate and accumulate. To plot them discretely, as if they were lines on a canvas, would be to range off in all sorts of directions. And yet this accumulated effect is to culminate in a certain zone of negative intensity, punctum caecum or aporia in the eye of the storm, a negative spacetime that effects a sort of gravitational pulling-towards, a vanishing point not like that of the perspectival gaze but of an experiential field in motion whose tactile qualities fold into the visual (and which trembles in microturbulent response). The attempt of Vorticism was to capture through circulation, concentration and accumulation a certain focal point of movement-energy on the canvas.

Con-fessional: Wadsworth

Edward Wadsworth
Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool
oil on canvas


From rolling ship to flat plane: upon returning from the seas to the canvas Wadsworth and the Vorticists seemed content to resume once again with figuration, though certainly in a more dynamic form than before. All vectors attempt to converge concentrically upon a single vortical locus and all eye movement tracked to a vanishing point of energy, the dynamic forms-in-becoming best perceived with one's eyes blurred out of focus, just ever so slightly. The zigs and zags of Wadsworth's drydocked vessels find themselves recaptured, in-tensionally, as the painted diagonals of an art movement, a new aesthetic for the young Britons returning home from war.

Con-fessional: Gravitational Potential

But what if the intensity of those moments before gunfire could be reinvested as well? What if the eye itself is precisely the war zone of experience under research consideration? What if the thin cosmetic layer stretched over one's gestures and contours of performativity could be swirled and folded, along with the stench of collective fear, into a timely bunker synaesthesia as imminent as it was intimate?

Bring the neo-vortex to the nuclear gallery-reactor! Lift off the flat surface of the canvas to assemble a dynamic volumetrics of performed archive and expressive material, whose vectors shoot high and low, pitch and yaw. These would range off in all sorts of directions, and yet their accumulated effect would be to culminate in a certain zone of negative intensity — a blind spot if one was to arrest this process in motion — before being catalyzed into a frenzied energy field of exponential affects thereafter.

Plug in, mecha butterfly kraftwerker!


Con-fessional: Artlab-Vortex


Perhaps this is how the story will unfold and be told, with the blind spot as zone of political action.


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