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November 27, 2004
Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view
"Experimental method does sometimes manipulate things" – no, it always manipulates things. Tell me of an experiment that doesn't involve the manipulation of a variable and the recording of the effect of that manipulation. Even in the case of experiments that seek to be purely the observation of 'natural events', those events are manipulated such that variables may be isolated and their relationships, as events occur, quantified. So every form of experiment is engineered, constructed, manufactured. And for every experiment, there is possibly an alternative configuration, a different engineering solution.
"Some of the most famous experiments in modern physics are gedankenexperiment – thought experiments – that don't actually require any prodding of stuff at all." – it depends on what you think that stuff is. A thought experiment considers a possible world in which variable A is somehow related to variable B. Some mechanism is posited that explains how the variables interact. Again the whole thing is engineered, this time as a simulated set of variables and functives. However, those simulated objects must still be constituted as mathematical, computational or conceptual objects so that they may be manipulated. For the thought experiment to have any 'scientific validity' that engineering must hold up to scrutiny, must work, in the same way as any engineered structure must work.
And here's the final twist: are physical experiments and scientific thought experiments different in kind, or only by degree? In the former case, a model is applied to the physical world in order to see if something is missing or inaccurate. The model predicts what will happen. Even when we are just seeking to gather empirical data, we apply a model, assuming that the things that we are measuring are the things that we think them to be and not some figment of our imagination (consider if the sense data that we are tracking turns out not to belong to the object that we assume it to be part of, and in fact is just there by coincidence). In the case of thought experiments, we are again looking to see if the relationships that we posit can be seen to necessarily result in the effect that we posit as the result of the interactions – or is there something missing from our model? Perhaps the only difference between scientific thought experiments, which I am calling simulations, and physical experiments, is that the former deals with a restricted and less complex environment.
Notice the shift of terminology there, from talking of scientific thought experiments to referring to them as simulations. At the moment i'm reading the section of What Is Philosophy? (Deleuze and Guattari) that deals with the difference between science and philosophy. Science we are told is concerned with functions and variable. Philosophy is the realm of concepts, which are quite different. I'm still working on this, but it seems that the key difference is that functions and variables represent reversibles, and concepts are irreversible. Anyhow, D&G seem to reserve the term 'thought experiment' for a mode of experimentation that works with concepts, and is therefore the domain of philosophy. This implies that they see a commonality between experimentation in science (be it physical or simulated) and experimentation in philosophy (with concepts):
To be sure, there is as much experimentation in the form of thought experiment in philosophy as there is in science, and being close to chaos, the experience can be overwhelming in both. What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari 1994, p. 127
The different modes of experimentation are defined by their relationship with chaos. In the case of philosophy, the aim is to pass through chaos such that an impossible world is actualised, a formerly inconcievable state is reached. In the case of science, experimentation posits a set of possible states that can be interchanged for each other through the operation of a function along variables. The model opens itself to chaos through its application, and on the discovery of missing elements, assimilates them back into the model as further possibilities, as further variables. In this way science progresses, whereas philosophy differentiates.
But in reality science and philosophy are mixed. Scientific models can suddenly breakdown upon their engagement with chaos. And creation (or differentiation, its pseudonymn in D&G) then occurs:
But there is also as much creation in science as there is in philosophy or the arts. ibid p.127
The tendency of science, it could be said, is to sometimes creatively fictionalise the sense of progression by reinventing its model in a new but familiar form. Philosophy, of course, also suffers from this delusion, and must itself be more prepared to abandon the concept of progress. Art, the third of the trinity of disciplines, suffers from a related delusion, in this case the idea that it proceeds without experimentation, simply through a sensus communis of good taste experienced as genius:
There is no creation without experiment. ibid p.127
November 07, 2004
Writing about web page http://www.warwickartscentre.co.uk/?page=mead.html
It is rare for an artist to produce a work that is both stunning visually, having effect beyond the visual, and philosophically fascinating. In his exhibition New Life, currently installed in the Mead Gallery at the University of Warwick (ends 4th December 2004), Dave Burrows has done just that.
The artwork is stunning:
Firstly, what does this exhibition feel like? Stepping inside the large white room, taking up half of the Mead's extensive gallery space, you are quickly drawn past a manifesto-like statement of propositions and into a three dimensional, immersive work that explodes space and compresses time. Across the room debris is strewn, both in concentrations around remnants of building, and between the concentrations. You are in what appears to be a children's bedroom, filled with brightly coloured almost familiar items: flip-flops, toys etc. Between the concentrations, and extending out to the edges of the exhibition, fragments and dense layers of grey crunchy dust (as if from things or persons vapourised) are everywhere. You have to walk through the work itself to see it. You have to enter its moment. Illustrations of the aftermath hang on the walls, including opposing images of a girl and a boy. They act to extend the work out beyond the walls of the gallery. It is spatially a vast and unbounded work.
And philosophically powerful:
We are familiar with, conditioned to, artworks that are spatially constrained. Containment is a powerful mechanism in painting, as in Francis Bacon, who as Deleuze says, confines his subjects spatially (the pope in his chair). But this work seems, at first, to be uconcerned with spatial limits. There are concentrations within it, repetitions and rhythms. There is an entire cartography of intensity. But it seems more unbounded than any painting. We sense that the repetitions could extend out infinitely: the same moment but different again and again.
Narrative usually acts within a work to extend it temporally. A common rule of art is: spatially limited, temporally extended. Landscape is often used to fade out the containment to infinity. But the problem has always been that definition decreases as the distance increases. David Burrows has an interest in mirrors, and the way in which they can, if used correctly, break out of containment without a loss of detail. Perhaps the paintings at the boundary of this work are really mirrors? It certainly feels more extensive than any painting. This combines with repetition to extend the work to infinity. If there is no spatial containment, can there be narrative?
On wandering around the room I was for some time searching for narrative, in fact searching for variables that I could manipulate to play back some kind of narrative implicit in the representation of this explosive event, analysing the phenomenon as if it were the result of some kind of nuclear physics. Variables and functives like those in a scientific experiment: reversible. This is saying something about the limitations of science, and how art deals with the pure event, the event of total loss. There is, fundamentally no "external framing or exoreference" which, as Deleuze and Guattari claim (What Is Philosophy? p.119) is necessary for science. Instead there is the presence of the irreversible Chronos as opposed to the reversible Aion (Deleuze, Logic Of Sense, p.77). Anyhow, David seems to have played upon this desire for narrative sense. Slogans that could lead to some story are graffitied in random locations. The bodies of the children are suggestive of some kind of sick story. But I never got the story. Never grasped the variables. Never worked out how to replay the event. It is, as I think David said in his recent talk at the Mead, an irreversible event (thermodynamics). As described by Deleuze…
Chronos is the present which alone exists. It makes of the past and future its two oriented dimensions, so that one goes always from the past to the future… Deleuze, Logic of Sense, p. 77
…just the aftermath. Hardly identifiable to discourse. No mythology. The familiarity of the artefacts, and the familialism of the children, is just there to tease us. There are no symbolic figures to transcend this event, its got no papa-mommy (Becket via Deleuze), other than the presence of the event itself: immanent.
But there is more. Two concentratory dispositifs hang from the ceiling of the event. Yet again they reverse the normal artistic relationship between time and space. In this case space is confined, while time is opened out. They pass simulateously into its future and reach back into its past. Mobiles suspending familiar objects, either sucked up in the explosion or collapsing as debris. This is the second dimension of the event, of the moment. An indeterminacy. A dice throw…
Aion is the past-future, which in an infinite subdivision of the abstract moment endlessly decomposes itself in both directions at once and forever sidesteps the present. Deleuze, Logic of Sense, p. 77
…the 'time of the artist' as David Burrows called it. The determinacy of the exhibition, with even the movement of the audience within it making little difference, is punctuated by the hand of the artist holding the moment in these two trajectories. And they draw you in to examine the objects in their suspended animation. You begin to notice the constructedness of the objects, the craft in them, the time of their assemblage. And then are opened out onto a second, intersecting line of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, a second line of time/space containments and explosions folded onto the first. A double event.