ECOLOGIX: Towards an Eco-Logic of Dissensus

Indeed, this is it. As warnings of anthropogenic climate change, planetary temperature ascension, and the depletion of global water sources surge in tandem with cautionary tales of continued financial crises and political stupidity, the Earth has been conflated with a human- centred world, one divided, categorised, and made disparate through all-too-human regimes of representation. In this world, we have become inflexible; we partition off the real into separate and hierarchical categories in the name of human will and desire. In this world we have destroyed and neutralised eco-logical thought; that is, we have quashed the ability to think in terms of relations in the name of common-sense consensus and accord.

The task facing us as we spin into the future is thus not one of producing further agreement and unity, but rather one of dissensus. The world of which we speak does not exist “for us,” but is, instead, an indifferent field of resonant and sympoietic machines of matter, lively and uncontainable in its becomings, connections, and assemblages. The world is not our friend, nor is it our enemy. Human beings are part of the world, yes, but the world is not human, nor is it centred upon any sort of essential “human-ness.” Such a world therefore requires thought that is adequate to the world’s intensities, what we might call, following Félix Guattari (2000), an eco-logics, or here, ECOLOGIX.

ECOLOGIX is an ongoing research-creation platform that operates as a transversal process of dissident re-singularisation. The ECOLOGIX project was catalysed by an artist-in-residence position I held in 2016, which led to the development of a new research trajectory for me that was/is trying to grapple with the ways in which connections are made (or not made) between individuals and groups, theory and practice, concepts and material “reality,” and the operations of mediation that make these connections sensible, perceptible, and thinkable in the first place. The ECOLOGIX platform, as a (w)hole, is difficult to re-present, difficult to re-cognise, as it is, after all, positioned as a platform. Platforms are generic; they uphold things; bring things about; they allow things to happen, and do so modestly without drawing too much attention to themselves. Platforms are launching pads from which ideas may take off, in turn burning the platform to the ground. Thought of in this way, the ECOLOGIX platform is not a representation, or even a series of representations that can be conceptualised as totalised or totalising, but instead as a launch pad to experiment with each partial locus of expression in terms of its potential vectors of subjectification, (re) singularisation, and individuation. It is these dissident vectors of potentiality that might offer a divestment from violent over-determinations—the world made for us, in our all- too-human images of thought—in turn producing a-signifying ruptures wherein repetition itself becomes a process of creative assemblage, “forging new incorporeal objects, abstract machines, and universes of value” (Guattari The Three Ecologies).

Inspired by the conference theme and the question of how communication might occur between heterogeneous systems, this performative presentation will draw from the ECOLOGIX project in order to highlight, affirm, and (and potentially) frustrate the “zones of indeterminacy” created within artistic research in order to produce more adequate, or in Guattari’s words, eco-logical, modes of thinking. In this presentation, I will give a sense of the broader ECOLOGIX research platform, both in its conceptual and material iterations, by sharing some of the theoretical and methodological considerations that influenced the project, which will be interrupted by fragments of the various artistic interventions that “took off” from this platform.

Zigzagging: Bound by the Absence of Tie

The paper will unpack Deleuze/Guattari’s machinic conception of consistency, which is determined neither by the autonomy of the vitalist whole (organicism) nor by the geometric expression of the whole in its parts (mechanicism), but by the dark precursor’s zigzagging between the Scylla of submissive empathy and the Charybdis of dominating abstraction. In the words of Deleuze: “it is not a matter of bringing things together under one and the same [universal] concept, but rather of relating each [singular] concept to the variables that determine its mutations.” The argument starts from the hypothesis that the current digital turn in architecture effectively reproduces the Cartesian duality of mind and body, removing the former from contexts of engagement with the environment while treating the latter as no more than a kind of recording mechanism, converting the stimuli that impinge upon it into data to be processed. It is for this reason that we want to revamp the legacy of Deleuzian transcendental empiricism in general and Gibsonian ecological perception in particular.

The American psychologist Gibson vehemently rejected the reductionist information-processing view, with its implied separation of the activity of the mind in the body (abstraction) from the reactivity of the body in the world (empathy), arguing instead that perception is part and parcel of the total system of relations constituted by the ecology of the life form or its mode of existence (metastable plasticity). Let us make it, after Guattari, ecologies in the plural: environmental, social, and psychical (transversality). Life forms perceive the world directly, by moving about and discovering what the environment affords, rather than by representing it in the mind. Hence, meaning is not the form that the mind contributes to the flux of raw sensory data by way of its acquired schemata. Rather it is continually becoming within relational contexts of pragmatic engagement. Empathy and abstraction are mutually constitutive.

Everything starts from the sensible to be consequently extended to that which makes sensibility possible; that is, sensations mobilise the differential forces that make thinking possible. This is what Deleuze means by “pedagogy of the senses”—we are completely at the mercy of encounters (epigenetic turn). To quote the late media guru Kittler, “It’s funny, this thing turning back on itself. It’s called feedback (and not, as should be noted, reflection).” The cognition is extended and not interiorised or centralised, embedded and not generalised or decontextualised, enacted and not passive or merely receptive, embodied and not logocentric, affective and not unprovoked. If architects ever stopped to consider how much of life is guided by ego-logic (intentionality) and how much by eco-logic (gratuitous encounters), they would certainly pay far more attention to relational properties or the bind by the absence of an a priori tie.

Machinic Companions: Exploring Nonhuman Perceptions, Temporalities and Expressions

Scientific research needs objects and apparatuses for investigations, but usually forgets them when it retrospectively constructs objectivity. Karen Barad refers to this as a “quantum entanglement” between the object and the “agencies of observation.” In a guided screening of my film prendas—ngangas—enquisos—machines (16 mm, Cuba, 2014), I will trace how research tools are not to be understood as somnambulant immobilities but as intensive ecological and relational forces with autonomous qualities. The camera, for example, is undoubtedly a moving “body” with expressive capacities, formed by the entanglement of the different rhythmic worlds, rather than just cultural and technical equipment. It breathes. It doesn’t “capture” reality but dynamically disturbs it, or moves conjointly with its surroundings. It never remains at one speed or one affect throughout a film, but each change of speed and each affect, every tiny turn inside my head, becomes a real movement. The camera maintains a state of constant change and becoming together, or at the same time. It doesn’t conflate, but creates human and nonhuman assemblages by actualising symbiotic sensibilities in motion. Describing machinic (opposed to mechanistic) relations or alliances, Deleuze and Guattari come up with the seductive wording “machinic phylum.” Unlike biology’s classical animal or plant phylum, the machinic phylum decodes kingdoms, classes, orders, and families, and crosses them diagonally. The machinic phylum is natural and artificial, a “destratifying transversality.” The machinic phylum is helpful as it enables us to understand technology not just as tied to a human “evolution” but also as a living system that folds, unfolds, and refolds organic and machinic matter into one another. Learning from and accessing nonhuman perceptions, temporalities, and expressions turns a camera into a machinic companion and the making of art into a situated practice of ecology.

Dialogue II: On Visual Art or How Does Art Think?

This dialogue brings together philosophers and artists to address issues at the core of Deleuze’s ontology of art. It will be oriented around the question of art’s contemporary work as a critical production of thought. This is a question that, explicitly or implicitly, connects all our speakers—from Eric Alliez’s notion of the diagrammatic regime of thought between art and philosophy that distinguishes itself from an aesthetic regime of forms, to Ian Buchanan’s desire to excavate the schizophrenic construct of the social from Deleuze and Guattari’s ontology of art, and Anne Sauvagnargues’s wish to articulate the Guattarian category of the ecological image as one capable of accounting for our digital transformation of contemporary art; from Peter Stamer’s construction of his cinematic idea of Deleuze, to Marc Ngui’s diagrammatic thought-drawings of A Thousand Plateaus. This question of art’s thought is one that traverses Deleuze and Guattari’s writings on art, distinguishing their position from any aestheticisation, formalisation, or historicisation, and forging a platform from which any privileged relation to the “visual” as a historically legitimated category is intensively problematised. How does the (visual) work of art think, and how can we in turn think this thought? How does this thinking illuminate the question of a singularly artistic research? Is this a question whose horizon is that of the contemporary and, if so, why? How can Deleuze and Guattari’s works revitalise the increasingly fraught status of the categories of image and visual?

Kamini Vellodi, chair