In a somewhat questionable marketing endeavour, the Eastern Cape Region has been sign posted, ‘Frontier Country’ and indeed this is what it is. Historically it is the site of the 9 Frontier Wars and much brutal conflict and living here presently can still seem the edge of nowhere by comparison to many major South African metropols. With Grahamstown at the heart of it, it is also a cosmopolitan space not without vestiges of past pain but - like many colonial outposts in a post-colonial time - it is no longer a satellite to an absent motherland, a mere microcosm of elsewhere, but also a world unto itself.

A potential space of intellectual, debate rather than military conflict – geographically isolated from metropolitan trends – a melting pot of many places, a crucible. In more recent history, this frontier space has been a site of culture, of experiment. Home to an annual arts festival, how is it that Grahamstown with a population of just under 140 000 can command so much creative imagination in novels, plays, poetry and art? Frontier, Border, at the end of the world but not about to fall off – merely at a vantage point to observe a view to come.
- Rat Western

DISCHARGE 2012             COLOUR COLLOQUIUM 2010             SYNTHETIC DIRT 2011

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Don’t think, look!

by Josh Ginsburg & Francis Burger

Click to enlarge

‘Don’t think, Look!’ is an experimental text produced collaboratively through a series of conversations. The primary aim of the exercise was to map out a region of intersection between our respective artistic practices, where each of us attempt to create structures that facilitate the dynamic play of an excess of ideas. Marked by a shared interest in complexity, language, and the activity of thought, a mutual territory was generated through the creation and performance of such a structure as an emergent strategy. On a technical level, emergent strategies are processes that stage and manage systems within states of free play, harnessing the creative capacity of contingency through the use of reflexive feedback mechanisms. In this way, emergent processes are inherently circular: the mechanism as a whole is refined as a result of the activities it propagates within. Every action contributes not only to its independent end, but also to the development of the system at large.
Our ambition has been to apply a rough appropriation of this logic on the level of ideas and thought, experimenting throughout with the proportion of action and reflection.  Gathering an abundance of ideas around a loosely designated subject area (our region of intersection), we allowed our thoughts and ideas to play out, to proliferate and collide freely, while we watched. What this amounted to was a simulation, a staged interaction, where our thoughts and ideas were thrown into a process. We stretched, tested and performed them in different arrangements and contexts, prompting them to show us what they could do.

In a certain sense, the character of such an exercise suggests the possibility of being in more than one place at the same time – to switch with ease fr
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om a state of play to a state of observation without allowing either process to cease or run independently. Perhaps the most interesting and exciting moments of this particular process have been those where the seemingly dissimilar states of action and reflection conflate – where reflection is recognised to be itself a form of play, a creative, exploratory act.  These moments constitute something of pure process, ecstasy in the capacity to bring reflection into play. The resonance of this sudden simultaneity was echoed throughout the experiment as a way of acknowledging thinking as an activity and encountering thought as an act.

Measuring our conversation as it flowed, we traversed our idea space much like musicians in an improvisational exchange – allowing for chances to be taken, for things not be clear, for discord, and equally for moments of unplanned alignment. Rather than demanding definitive understandings at each moment in the process our willingness to move with the ideas (even to misunderstand them at times) provided opportunity for something outside what we could say clearly to one another to emerge – a sense, impression or showing of ideas and intersections.

Offering our thoughts and ideas as a series of fragments, joined by a set of relational paths, the resulting map is intended as an overview of our mutual territory. The process of mapping began with a conversation and a sheet of blank paper between us that filled with haphazard notes and diagrams as we spoke. We filmed our
activity from above using an improvised rig and made a separate audio recording. Our second session evolved to include dual sets of printed cards – a stock of ideas, keywords, images, quotes and diagrams. Although intended as preliminary prompts to explain our ideas to each other, the cards led instead to the emergence of an impatient game as we matched each other’s ideas, labeled new additions and formed speculative groupings.

The basic arrangement of the map above was generated from this second session (illustrated below). Following the idea that our territory should acquire a transport system, the coloured lines that traverse the map were generated after applying a fitness test of sorts to each of the keywords. The dashed line, alternatively, follows the footpath between ideas that developed as our territory took shape. A more
detailed account of this is made available through the sequential numbering of each included keyword or idea.

Skating [C4] J: The thing that I picked up while I was just going on a little search was the relationship between emergence and then issues of an impression, or a sense, or to show – that is, things that arrive as the result of intersections between many independent elements. So, for example we spoke briefly yesterday about Jared [Ginsburg] speaking about skating down a hill in a continuous line, relative to moving in short broken hesitant fragments. And conversely, the idea of having fragments and using them to construct something continuous.
Surface [C4] J: ...the implication of moving across a surface, touching on a range of discreet things, and having something else arise as the result of that.
Depth [D3]
The inverse of a mind map [B4] J: opposed to a standard mindmap which shows ideas radiating from a centre, the inverse illustrates a group of ideas that imply a centre – they show something, a centre that you can’t necessarily put your finger on.
Driving through rather than walking through [D2] F: It’s a movement that speeds things up, it’s also one where you touch less intensely on everything...your experience of the landscape is not necessarily tempered by the speed, it’s just different.
Time [C3] J: ...What’s important here is the assumption of value in relation to duration.
Excess of ideas [D3] F: I want to add something in terms of skating, about recognising thought, that with the openness of these processes (that allow such a broad and diverse amount of things in) there is the tendency to get exceptionally confused at certain points, where the proliferation becomes turbulent. It’s distressing in a way...with this for me there is an attempt to test the notion of confusion being thinking, to test the romance of it, or whether or not the intensity of it could be valuable. I think that that is what we’re interested in with this as well, in terms of complexity and the attempt to harness it. J: Yes, it definitely is, I think we’re talking about an abundance, put that down as well, proliferation or… F: Excess of ideas. J: Yes, I’ve got something here from the Dadaists related to a sudden increase in the amount of media that people were interfacing with, propaganda media largely, around WW1. Obviously there has been an exponential ramp from there until now but it feels as if people are now being increasingly over burdened even saturated by information and endless gigs of new data. There’s an abundance of information that arrives with new issues of quantity. I think some of the issues embedded in our discussion embrace that quantity.
Death by eternal boiling [D2]
The rhetoric of walking [D3] F: I like the idea of ‘pedestrian speech acts’, as Segrest says, ‘discreet phatic actualisations’, as a time based encounter, with the capacity for a rapid adjustment of one’s route.
Delay [B4] J: …the delay between the time of experience and the time of reflecting on that experience...but also an egg timer that is turned consistently as it approaches the end of its run...
F: An extra facility to delay the delay.
You have to kill it to analyse it (Montaigne) [C2]
Reflexivity [B1] J: ...We have to build a bridge between time and surface, and now between time, surface and reflection.
Programmed contingency [B4] J: ...In a real time jazz improvisational context there is almost no time and infinite time, because there is almost no reflection, unless you get caught out and are suddenly made aware of yourself. Morton’s device (“Not ‘do this’, but ‘do something’”) addresses this moment of self-consciousness by ‘doing something’ as a rule, rather than performing a routine action. He is always working on that moment, on how he can be thrown back into play.
“Go there, go elsewhere, disregard completely” (Shane Cooper) [B4] J: ...a set of rules that Shane Cooper told me about, they’re not formal. He was trying to explain the concept of free jazz – which is in a sense what Morton does, a very specific kind of improvisation, he said that at any given moment, after a trigger, one of three things can happen: the one is to ‘go there’, which is to respond directly to the event or trigger, the other is to respond directly but in opposition to it, the third is to disregard it completely, as if it didn’t happen, which is possibly the most interesting of the three - computing a stimulus, and then somehow forgetting it.
Unlearning [B5]
Imagining the relationship between an activity and the activity of reflecting on it [B3]
Phatic function [A3] J: ...What’s a phatic? F: I don’t really know how to use the word, but a ‘phatic’ something or other facilitates a pause. If I encounter someone in the street and want to stand with them for a moment I’ll greet them and ask them how they are, prolonging the encounter or even a silence between myself and this person.
Girth [D4] F: ...girth isn’t really the right word, it’s more the size of your belly but I see it as the expanse or reach of your territory, versus the depth of it.
Density [C4] F: What’s interesting to me is that these exercises don’t feel deep, but they do feel exceptionally dense.
Surface vagueness (Burnham) [C5]
Mysticism [D5] J: By bringing things into play that we don’t understand, and looking for ways to negotiate them, we open the door to the mystical, questions of the unknowable, unanswerable kind...
Bricolage [C7] F: ...building things up according to sense, and style.
Physics envy [D5]
Things that cannot be put into words [D5]
Showing [D5]
Saying [D6]
Sense [D6]
Specific order of words [E7]
Wittgenstein’s clicker [D9]
Pointing, clicking [D7]
Don’t think, look! [D7]
Empiricism [C7]
Fort! Da! [B8] F:’s a ‘game’ where a child throws a wooden top out of his cot with a string attached to it and then reels it back in again alternating between ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ sounds...Lacan attaches it to language via Freud, who associates the words ‘fort’ (there) and ‘da’ (here) with the child’s sounds...what I like about the image is the idea of throwing words out and reeling them back in again, collecting connotations and contexts, like your experiments with using the word ‘aesthetic’ to determine it’s meaning.
Collecting contexts [B8]
Collage [C6]
Observing unusual combinations [C7]
The magnetised collector [B9]
The poetics of independent fragments [C5] J: On the other side of the coin is the poetics of independent fragments, with the potential for temporary collisions and combinations, looking for moments.
Ellipsis [E5] J: It’s really just about a word that’s missing but you don’t even you piece things together... F: Parapraxis is particularly interesting. J: What is it? F: I can’t remember, but it’s worth looking up.
The Lost Ones (Samuel Beckett) [D8] J: ...the way that I navigated Beckett’s text, after becoming frustrated, was similar to the way that I listen to music,
I stopped trying to piece it together.
F: What’s significant for me, in combination with the issue of ellipsis is its relation to suspension, which, in the case of meaning, comes with a connotation of the suspension being dropped at a point, the arrival of understanding. In this case, the drop is unimportant, something else happens.
Emergence [E11] J: It’s funny in a way, if you just look at the outskirts of our system here: process, emergence, reflexivity... It’s quite nice, I’m hesitant to build on to these things which are actually quite familiar, they’ve arrived out of the back end of this, while they would usually be the starting points.
Sin curve, saw graph (zig zag vs. wave) [D9]
F: ...the desire thing, the Deleuze thing about pleasure being a curse on desire, the idea that our purpose is to attain happiness and pleasure, because what we’re actually achieving are orgasms or climaxes that we’re subsequently dropped by. We’re attached to the speed and the drama of this process, but Deleuze says ‘No, no,
no, just go like this...’, rather see the climax as a way to sustain the process, it only happens to prevent you from exhausting yourself - it allows the process to continue. It’s not an end, it’s a necessary allow yourself to just move, without needing to peak and start all over again [see Deleuze 2001: 96]. J:’s almost a means of managing those peaks in a way, to see them in the context of a process...Although I’m wondering about the natural extension of that being a flat line... F: It’s the ether, it’s where you don’t want to get to. J: Why not? I think its a great place to be...
Derrick [A7] F: ...a way to replace the idea of self-satisfaction, contentment, happiness, pleasure etc. with far more arbitrary kick-starts, that just tap us or prick us and keep us going...
Motivation [A7] J: The way we’ve arranged the map has a strange continuum across here that needs to be circular, it needs to wrap around...
Wilderness [A9] J: ...the desire was for a garden, but the sense is that it’s a forest so it’s necessary to accept being in the forest, to suspend what you expect to know of the territory by virtue of convention and allow yourself to become immersed, to let the process play out...we can only address the language game from within the language game, we’re in it...
There is no meta-language (Badiou) [B11] F: ...what it’s pointing to is that when things are manifested in language, they’re not travelling through something else, they didn’t come before and then get translated into language and emerge as communicated ideas, it happens there, in language - it’s flat and it’s arbitrary.
The arbitrary nature of the sign (De Saussure) [A11]
Lacan’s toilet doors [A10]
Experimentation [C8]
Gunpowder [C11]
Play [D11]
Process [C11]
I have to allow the experiment to occur in order to evaluate it [C9]
Shapes without meaning that emerge on account of a deliberate act [A8]
Making the conditions of making [A3]
Canned chance [B7] F:’s quite neutral in a way, and quite cold.
Picturing thought is something new [C2] J: It’s really just about reflection as an actual creative act, that when you remember something, a memory, it’s actually a creation, it’s not a question of recounting...and art as a space that can accommodate reflection as a thing.
Thinking about thinking [B2]
The image of thought [C1] F: ...the attempt to impose a recognisable image of what thinking looks, feels or tastes like... J: this stage I feel like I’m reading The Lost Ones, I don’t feel the need to reel things in.
What does thinking feel like? [B3]
Taste for thinking [B2]
Our heads are round (Picabia) [D1]
Feedback protection loop [B1] J: ...a mechanism to stop things so that you don’t die from eternal boiling.
Learning [B1]
Teaching [B2]
Writing without knowing (Deleuze) [E10] J: This is actually about an openness to the process generating things, a release into something...
Release to (Heidegger) [D11]
The bridge built and crossed (Coetzee) [E1]
Occupying time [E2] F: I have this, it comes from Deleuze on Pierre Boulez about striated and smooth space-time, the one being counting in order to occupy time and the other occupying without counting [see Deleuze & Guattari 1987]...the Segrest quote is about the ancient Greek performance philosopher Diogenes...
Performance philosophy [D2]
Research as performance [A1]
Simulation [A2] J: ...even what we’re doing now is an attempt to find the idea by simulating it... F: ...simulation hasn’t really even been in my vocabulary, so this is a breakthrough for me since it corresponds exactly with the kind of staging that
we’re up to...neither of us have a problem with going into this effectively staged conversation actually ‘faking it’, it is a simulation J: ...I read simulation quite differently, and I don’t think that we are very affected by the recording. F: Yes, we would talk like this in any case because we’re used to reflecting on our processes in real-time...I suppose what I’m pointing to is the absence of an idea of authenticity, or that you can’t ‘capture’ contingency, or the random, which amounts to the absence of an inhibiting self-awareness. Basically it’s not something that has to happen undocumented or unrecorded as an impromptu performance, it can happen on stage.
Synthetic Dirt [A4]
Fear of technology but not of furniture [A5]
F: ...what appealed to me about the brief was that it was synthetic dirt, the manufacture of something that has the pro’s of dirt, like it’s fertility, but not the con’s - you can have a lot of it and you can put it on your computer. So, it’s also the ethics thing, like you pointed to at the conference with your comment about a fear of technology or computers but not of tables or chairs, it’s a nervousness that prioritises and ultimately sanctifies the excessive nature of these dirty processes as a fundamental characteristic, the slippage is what becomes significant, which is interesting but maybe dangerously or rather irresponsibly romantic...
Ethics [B4]
The best way out is through [D4] J: ...why simulation is relevant to our process is that we feel, in a way, and this is Helen Keller actually, that the best way out is through. It’s got to enact itself in order for anything accurate to be shown, even if we knew what we wanted it feels as though it would be impossible to get there without allowing those properties to affect how we get there.
Chance [A3]
Strategy [A5] J: ...there’s a strange relationship between Helen Keller’s ‘best way out is through’ and the negotiation of surfaces, whenever I read it I think of a blind person trying to get out of a room, there’s stuff everywhere and they need to negotiate a way out. My picture of it is as literal as that, where you just start walking. You bump into something, you carry on ... this is linked to our earlier discussion of the amazing amount of content that is smashing us on a day to day basis, and our surface response to this, navigating across it by saying ‘well, what else do you want to do? Just start moving’. That is our way out, but our emphasis is on asking: if this is happening, how can we reflect on this activity in a constructive way? F: ...What I saw immediately when you put Helen with surface was a hole, you just go through the hole, simple.
The owl of Minerva (Hegel) [D1] F: ...It’s a reiteration of the same thing, that only once things have ended can we start to draw out their elaborate significance. What complexity theory in general suggests, I think, is that no, actually, we don’t have to wait for it to die, we just have to accept that we’re not going to have that same sort of orgasmic totality that we got from looking at it when it was dead. When I was in Salzburg the head of the academy gave a six-hour lecture on art-history, when she arrived at the period of her own experience as a practitioner she couldn’t talk about it, she stated it, that she couldn’t talk about it because she was too closely involved with it. I thought about it and it struck me, the sudden absurdity of it - ‘I was too close to it so I can’t talk about it’, which is absolutely understandable but makes me think that there is something radically wrong with our processes. Surely, those are the things that you can talk about.
Map of the city [E4] J: ...So what can we say when you are in very close proximity to things? F: Well, you can say smaller things, close-ups, I mean, right now, could you summarise what we’re talking about? But yet we’re talking. The thought feels different, it tastes different, it smells different, it is different. Ultimately you choose what you’re most inclined towards, what’s great with complexity theory is that it’s a way to not kill the thing, but to still attain these...these peaks or saw graphs and not just a flat plateau of vague snippets.
Fluidity [E10]

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