Garden of Small Nuptials

Accompanying the conference Aberrant Nuptials is an image of Bernini’s sculpture Daphne and Apollo, which famously depicts the moment when Daphne, fleeing Apollo, “launches down a line of flight” into strange and unnatural becomings. In the original sculpture in the Galleria Borghese, exquisitely carved forms appear to oscillate between the marble’s frozen translucence and the movement of flesh and hair becoming roots, bark, branches and foliage. Before commencing carving in marble, Bernini experimented with full-size clay models. The Vatican museum holds two such clay models for the Ponte Sant’Angelo angels, comprised not only of clay but also of plant fibre, hair, and bundles of reeds. They still bear the impressions of Bernini’s fingerprints. The physicality of the materials and immediacy of processes—modelling of wet clay over plant and other organic matter—compel wonder. For it makes evident the fact that the world, in its most mundane sense, holds within it potential for remarkable transformation, whereby even some dirt, clump of straw, or stone can take on the character of a wing, flesh, or the transcendence of mystical experience. Deleuze, in quoting Leibniz in The Fold reminds us that “each portion of matter may be conceived as a garden full of plants, and as a pond full of fish. But every branch of each plant, every member of each animal, and every drop of their liquid parts is in itself likewise a similar garden or pond.”

What is the connection between this account of  matter—a garden and pond teeming with life—and a thematic of strange and unnatural nuptials such as might occur between heterogeneous systems, organisms, geographies, and mythologies? Australia, as an ancient continent, could be said to be teeming with such aberrant nuptials, where primordial strata permeate life and experience. Consider the ancient figurative Gwion Gwion cave paintings whose vibrant colours are produced by “living pigments” of red cyanobacteria and black fungi. These organisms sustain a process of symbiosis and equilibrium while simultaneously etching the paintings deeper into the rock. The sticky substances, secreted by the rock-adapted fungi and cyanobacteria, aid adherence to the rock and resistance to dehydration, keeping the art in a state of perpetual (re)incarnation—a “living” prehistoric art (Mircan and van Gerven Oei, Allegory of the Cave Painting). The movements between biological and chemical secretions and metabolisms reveal an art that is simultaneously dead and alive, prehistoric and contemporary.

In a movement from the ordinary to the remarkable—gestures in clay and ochre mark   out strange anatomies, as allegories of metamorphoses and flight shape becomings. Rock becomes flesh—a biofilm of bacteria—as hair becomes plant, filaments, and fibres. Secretions of sorrowful tears and sticky liquids sustain gardens of living pigments to catch intensities of light, with each work a register of shifting fidelities.

My suburban garden in Melbourne contains various species of indigenous and exotic trees, plants, herbs, shrubs, and weeds, as well as beehives, silkworm colonies, a fishpond, and various native and exotic birds and insects. It often forms some unexpected relationship or encounter with my sculpture. Indeed, much of my work is made within the vibrating hum of the beehives against the outside wall of my studio. The installation I’m presenting, Garden of Small Nuptials—an etiolation of some of the plants and elements found in the garden—marks a moment where an imagined line of flight carried by the light and heat of the sun, shifts into a relationship with death—(a necessity for biosecurity and passing borders.) Through chemical processes, life unfolds in different forms. Horizons shift and reorient—but as with any etiolation in nature, plants spread their “shoots only where determinate effects take place” (Zourabichvili, Deleuze: A Philosophy of the Event).

Genius and Genesis

More than thirty years after Rosalind Krauss published her critique of originality in the journal October, the pursuit of a workable concept of genius might seem like a pointless task. Genius, despite its continual art-market appeal has no place in the discussion of contemporary or even historic art-making, where it is rightly rejected as an obsolete concept belonging to a different time. Kant wrote about genius, as did modernists such as Fry or Greenberg—whereas, we are all post-Kantian now.

No one in the art world today believes in the concept Rosalind Krauss exposed as myth. She argues that the avant-garde’s search for originality had a meaning other than the revolt against tradition or the rejection of the past with which it is synonymous. Originality here stands for origin, new beginning, and birth. It is embodied in the figure of the genius, where absolute origin is identified with the artist’s self, uncontaminated by tradition and capable of continual regeneration. Yet, if one looks at the example of the grid, the actual practice of avant-garde art shows that the concept of originality emerges from the ground of recurrence and repetition. Artist after artist seems to have fallen for the same structural properties, mistaking the grid’s opaqueness, purity, and silence for the promise of a new beginning. Paradoxically, originality is enacted in the creation of a structure that can only be repeated, more so, a structure that is riven by processes of representation from within. In light of Krauss’s critique, the current work of one of GiG Munich’s exhibiting artists, Tim Bennett, is intriguing, even troubling. For, at his recent exhibition at Jo van de Loo, Me-is–—ter (a play on the German word, Meister, master), he seemed more than happy to repeat the avant-garde’s mistakes. His paintings were made by pouring tinted plaster through gypsum board in a manner that recalled Jackson Pollock at the height of his fame. These were accompanied by three abstract sculptures consisting of equal sized marble blocks, chipped away in best modernist fashion, the broken pieces saved and reassembled at the top, some painted in bright pastel colours. Both the work and the title evoked the concept of genius, indulging in its familiar narrative. Bennett’s manner of working—craftsman-like and matter of fact—only heightened this impression.

Using Tim Bennett’s exhibition as a starting point, this paper re-examines the narrative of genius, taking into account, on the one hand, Krauss’s critique of originality, and on the other hand, Giles Deleuze’s reading of Kant’s Critique of Judgement from a genetic perspective, “The Idea of Genesis in Kant’s Esthetics.” Since the publishing of Krauss’s essay, genius has been equated with the originality of the avant-garde, the dismissal of one necessarily entailing the dismissal of the other. By making genius a spokesperson for the principle of genesis, Deleuze reconfigures Krauss’s binary coupling of originality and repetition, in favour of the productive indeterminacy that is one of the topics of the current conference. Central to my argument is Deleuze’s definition of genetic principle as the free and indeterminate accord between imagination and understanding that comes prior to any further legislation by the faculties. The paper discusses how such a revised notion of indeterminate genesis affects our understanding of contemporary art.

Chaosmic Nuptials: The Secret Language of Mondrian’s Jazz

In A Thousand Plateaus, the work of abstract painter Piet Mondrian is mentioned three times. The work and thought of Kafka, on the other hand, forms an unbroken refrain throughout the text, and for Deleuze and Guattari “No one is better than Kafka at differentiating the two axes of the assemblage and making them function together.” However, it is possible to contend that A Thousand Plateaus is an extended play of variables referring pre-eminently to Mondrian, as a constant variable, and that to read the book is to hear Mondrian, so that as a point of departure here the statement becomes “No one is better than Kafka Mondrian at differentiating the two axes of the assemblage and making them function together.” How does this work?

Listening to the diagonal in Mondrian’s work (which is never there), makes it possible to discern that he is painting something else—the trace(r) of a “plurality of straight lines”; the intersection of sound and non-sound (which is neither sound nor silence); or “absolute speed.” Absolute speed can be found in a jazz club/time machine (“Everything in the bar moves and at the same time is at rest”), which decimates time not by travelling but by staying where it is: a time-space vector, a bit of time in its pure state approaching the superlinear system of music—a haecceity. In the mode of “new music,” Mondrian’s works depict a future event that has already transpired, but what will it be?

This paper/riff uses A Thousand Plateaus and Dialogues II to map Mondrian’s secret language, to deterritorialise the paintings (or rather to hear the deterritorialisations already at work in the work), by following as many lines of flight as possible to their infinite dimensions in and beyond the canvases. Thus, while it is possible to construe Mondrian’s abstract compositions as rigid utopias or as othering grids, invoking the line of death and abolition (as I have done elsewhere), a proximal listening to the compositions reveals hidden forces in the works—their true power. The artist stealthily uses the language of binaries (non-sound/sound, non-colour/colour, male/female, abstract/concrete, culture/ nature) to create a nuptial assemblage, so that when he invokes “the new music,” he does so with the nuptial line of flight in mind, combining binaries in a double capture—neither the same neutralising and eradicating the other, nor “opposites” merely “coupled.” The concrete-abstractions, as Mondrian refers to them, are hence interpreted here as painted jazz, audible compositions in a time-space zone of indeterminacy that hosts aberrant nuptials across n vectors of “binaries.” The geometric canvases arrive fast and slow as nodes of becoming, functioning as the milieus for a swarm of becomings, or chaosmos. This writing is hence an attempt to sound the artist’s secret language, to make the book machine/s of Deleuze and Guattari form a bloc with the war machine of Mondrian’s compositions somewhere outside and between the perpendicular.

Political Affect and Becoming-Child: The Case of Marlene Dumas

Marlene Dumas is a prominent artist of our times whose work, consisting largely of figures and portraits of minority subjects, such as people of colour, women, and children, has been characterised as both emotional and political. In this paper I would like to examine Dumas’s work through the lenses of Deleuzian theory, by making use of the latter’s affective dimension.

Specifically I would like to analyse two paintings produced during the period around Dumas’s own pregnancy, Helena and The Baby, as materialising processes of becoming- child, and examine the latter under the light of contemporary theories on the political significance of affect. Combining Deleuze’s non-human, machinic agency and becoming as affective imperceptible process with the idea of “ugly feelings” as indicators of obstructed agency, I would like to explore how the above artworks contribute in new ways of sensing, perceiving, and intervening in the world.

Abstracting the world from elements of signification and meaning, Deleuze and Guattari reveal the latter as an interplay between affective functions and relations of movement and rest, speed and slowness. Children, according to them, can act as mediums carrying us away towards worlds of affects and intensities, leading us to liberating minoritarian processes, namely becomings, potentially guiding us from child-becomings to becomings that are molecular and ultimately imperceptible.

Following Deleuze’s view on aesthetics as creation of experience rather than representation and perceiving the children depicted in Dumas not as subjects or molar entities, but as powerful affective sites where vulnerability and defiance become assembled, I would like to consider her works as providing us with new ambivalent models and ways of sensing and encountering states of dependency, weakness, and need. By shedding light on the emotional weight of dependency, Dumas permits us to perceive the unavoidable state of relationality, that we are already immersed into, and therefore creates an affective political base for the deconstruction of subjective models built around the concept of personal sovereignty and of social models centrally relying upon the value of individualism. On the other hand, creating a space of child-becomings opens up a potential for a politics of care.

Moreover, Dumas’s works offer a new perspective on the importance of minor negative emotions as potential liberating forces revealing cases where the power to act is obstructed or taken away altogether.  The  immersive  figures  of  the  above  paintings, by expressing emotions of irritation, hostility, mistrust, and subtle anger as possible reactions to power subordination, affirm the effectiveness of radical passivity and create states of in-betweenness where the meaning of what is considered socially productive emotion becomes transformed.

Ultimately by bringing to the fore the child’s subtle and complex affective power, Dumas puts the viewer in a process sweeping away the poles of  the adult–child distinction in a zone of indiscernibility that transforms both, liberating them from the tyranny of measuring themselves in relation to the universal, majoritarian ideal of subjectivity. Ultimately by destabilising our conceptions about the passivity–action polarization and producing new ways of affective interaction, Dumas is potentially altering dominant conceptions of what constitutes socio-political agency.