Deleuze, Flat Aesthetics, and the Diagrammatic Genesis of Art and Architecture

The notion of diagram, or abstract machine, was developed by Gilles Deleuze as a relatively consistent yet multi-modal concept throughout his oeuvre. The diagram obtained a-signifying yet generative capacities when discussed in relation to literature and art (as in Deleuze’s works on Proust and Bacon), acquired organisational capabilities when utilised in unpacking institutional apparatuses (as in his work on Foucault’s apparatuses), and developed topological tendencies when operated in the explication of ecological life (as in his geo-ontological works developed together with Félix Guattari).

In recent art and architectural discourse, Deleuze has become one of the primary figures whom architects and artists seek for theoretical support in their uses—and sometimes abuses—of diagrammatic processes of creative production. Despite the popular upsurge, however, the multi-modal nature of Deleuze’s diagram has been appropriated into academic and professional discourse reductively for legitimising unrelated formal exercises, for garnishing underdeveloped conceptions, and for allying artists, architects, and theorists with the so-called fashionable trends of French theory. Although effective in certain cases even with this myopic application—creative abuses are always welcome—the multifaceted notion of diagram developed by Deleuze has a lot more to offer for understanding and enriching the genesis of artistic and architectural production if pursued to the very limits of its radical implications.

This paper pursues a rigorous explication of diagrammatic operations embedded in a comparative analysis between Francis Bacon’s artistic assemblages, especially Figure with Meat (1954), and that of the Vogelkop bowerbird’s architectural assemblages, especially the sophisticated bowers of Western New Guinea. Using comparative conceptual diagrams, the presentation will unpack how certain architectural and artistic diagrams are drawn on paper and canvas, while others act upon individual bodies and variable operations and yet still others function through a developmental matrix composed of embodied perceptions of extensive landscapes and trans- individual affects of intensive fields. In the end, this paper is an experimental attempt to explore the possibility of whether Deleuze’s flat ontology—which excludes self-proclaimed supreme actors such as transcendent Gods and omnipotent humans, and defines an immanent Spinozan cosmos in which all individuals and assemblages are differential modes of a univocal substance on an equal ontological footing—can give birth to a flat non-anthropocentric aesthetics.

The Third Milieu: Deleuze and the Universe of the Fixed Time-Space

French composer Pierre Boulez first introduced the concepts of smooth and striated space-time in his musical oeuvre. Later, Deleuze and Guattari further developed these musical theories, applying them to a wide range of non-musical purposes throughout their philosophical works, particularly in the homonymous chapter (plateau) included in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1987). However, the question that arises from these concepts is how these two systems communicate, transform, and alternate and at the same time remain different without becoming the same (Deleuze).

This paper seeks to explore a third milieu, adjacent to the smooth-striated that would allow the perception of the communication, transformation, and exchange processes between these two heterogeneous systems: the fixed space-time, which was also introduced by Boulez and later analysed in more depth by Deleuze, particularly in his essay “Boulez, Proust and Time: ‘Occupying without Counting’” (1986).

The methodology used for this research involves the creation of a series of drawings and diagrams using analogical and digital techniques with the aim of further exploring these ideas. Moreover, this paper argues that there is a strong relation between the functions of the fixed time-space and Deleuzian diagrams (drawing/graph/map). Furthermore, these diagrams would operate beneath the smooth and the striated and they could connect these two heterogeneous systems as the fixed space-time would do. Consequently, the fixed-diagram would function within a multiplicity, as a multi-linear system of conceptual diagonals that introduce a particular type of temporal homeostasis on the system, which would not alter the functions assigned to the individual assemblages of the smooth-striated.

Finally, the outcomes of the research have resulted in a series of maps, plans, landmarks, and itineraries that function as traces in the process of becoming involved in the interaction between the smooth-striated and the fixed space-time.

Deleuze and the Paintings

When the so-called performative turn in the arts appeared in the 1960s, it seemed that painting, and in particular figurative painting, has been carried finally to its grave—an end that has often been announced since the emergence of photography and, later, the emergence of abstraction.

Therefore, it comes as a surprise that Gilles Deleuze chooses Francis Bacon, a so-called figurative painter, to describe the power of painting. In Portrait of Lucien Freud on Orange Couch (1965) we see two large areas of colour, and a sitting figure in the middle; this figure is not just anyone, but another figurative painter: Lucien Freud. His face and hands are blurred, deformed, unrecognisable.

For Deleuze the performativity or the power of painting does not exist in the rush from figurative to abstract painting, but in the transfer from visual dogma—whereby paintings have merely existed to be seen—into a haptic sensation (Deleuze 2003, 155). “Haptic” doesn’t mean the tactile sense only but, in reference to the ancient Greek háptein, a general fleshly being-touched (Deleuze 2003, 122–23; Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 492–99).

The process of paintings becoming haptic is accompanied, as I want to show in my lecture, by two crucial aspects. First, there is a shift in the classic distinction of form and content to form as force. There exists no empty canvas because everyone’s canvases are always already covered by clichés, representational images, and well-established relationships; namely, by an inherited image of thought that shapes us. To overcome it and create something new it’s necessary for the painter “to erase, to clean, to flatten, even to shred, so as to let in a breath of air from the chaos” (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, 204). In the act of painting, forms and clichés have to be attacked to provoke forces. Second, the form as force is possible not only for abstract painting but also—and perhaps especially—for figurative painting. Bacon’s portrait of Freud is indeed a figurative portrait, but one that has abandoned its representational character by showing that the form is always already an assemblage of formless forces. What intervenes here is the diagram: it confuses figurative forms and turns them into an isolated figure (Deleuze 2003, 157) without figurative, narrative, and illustrative character (Deleuze 2003, 2). A multiplicity of forces is created by the act of painting itself.

My lecture should not be a theoretical approach to paintings. In contrast, the starting point of thinking will be the aisthesis of concrete projected pictures, in order to involve the audience in the act of painting: being affected by pictures, getting part of a picture, destroying its clichés, its figurative forms, becoming a figure. The process of becoming haptic will thus be practiced in a performative manner in the lecture itself as a mode of artistic research.

References

Deleuze, Gilles. 2003. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Translated by Daniel W. Smith. London: Continuum.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

—. 1994. What is Philosophy? Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell. New York: Columbia University Press.

Re-Notations III: Schumann’s Kreisleriana, I Molto Agitato

What is a score? What is notation? What is the function of notation? These ontological questions assume that we can capture some essence of a particular thing. But essences can transform and thus we have to dismiss the concept of essence, or transform it with difference à la Deleuze. The answer to such questions is therefore an invitation to experiment with transformations.

If we say that a score under normal circumstances has the potential to release a certain sound world through the engagement of performers, then we must say that the Re-notations project does not release an audible world but a visual world of patterns through the engagement of particular diagrammatic relations. Thus, notation has been transformed in the sense of direction, aim, and function. The notation employed by the Re-notations project does not aim for performance and sonification, rather it contemplates the materiality of performance; it looks back on a particular musical situation, a specific musical location, and fuses time and spatial elements. Is it still notation? “Is” is the wrong word. This way of looking (notating) is both deterritorialisational and reterritorialisational. By extracting the specific stratum of the musical situation in question and replacing/releasing it into another notational context, the “music” or certain music forces escape for a moment and we experience the interplay of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation (both of notation itself and the music being notated). At the same time—the multidimensional potential of music is intensified—music is always becoming (even the classics).

Re-notations is a project/machine that re-notates classical piano masterpieces from a specific angle and with an entirely different aim from the original. It is notation that folds itself onto other notations, other scores, other musics, examining their signifier–signified relations with materiality. Re-notations are always in-between, they do not have their own music; they relate, they repeat, they allow escape. Re-notations focus on the materiality and physical context of the works examined and give us a specific perspective on music, a perspective that maps out the activity in space and time of the physical materials involved: hands and fingers on specific locations on the piano keyboard. Through this, the intensity and density of the involved activity is revealed as an overcrowded space of movements.

A pattern emerges, but not from design or from an author but from a specific diagrammatic relation. Music seen from this perspective is constantly occupying the same locations where actions keep folding one another, repeating differences. A performance of spatio-temporal multiplicity is disclosed. Each keystroke (depression) is accounted for as a link between a spatial location on the keyboard and a temporal axis. Exhausted location, excessive quantity, superimpositions, and interpenetration become the subject of this notational act where the relationship between hands and keyboards, time and materiality, are put to the foreground. The “score” is becoming an abstract, virtual, diagrammatic “recording” of the physical and material situation the music demands: a limited number of space-points are occupied and activated in specific temporal order. This order becomes obscure within a multiplicity of condensed locations. This is the escape of a clandestine stratum of a musical multiplicity (a slice). Thus, notation reverses or diversifies its direction and becomes an active post-performance activity, not instructional, not authoritative, but speculative, reflective, and itself performative.