Superfolding: The Accelerationist Nature of Cultural Evolution

The paper will argue that it is time for the discipline of architecture to awaken from the slumber of anthropocentrism and shake off the baggage of nature/nurture dichotomies. It will propose that we drop anthropomorphism for geomorphism and reconfigure ethology to become a theory of capacity. Rather than localising it in individuals, behaviour is to  be treated epigenetically as a function of condividuation by way of traversing phyletic lineages and organismic boundaries. Against a Darwinian nucleocentric view of evolution as a “struggle for survival,” the paper will build on (still controversial) theories arguing that in most cases an evolutionary novelty arises because of “creative” symbiogenesis. The virtually limitless connectivity between heterogeneous beings puts alliances before filiations, contingency before necessity, and contagion before heredity. Put succinctly, a novelty would be inconceivable were it not for aberrant nuptials.

The recent interest in the brain is not to be dismissed as neuro-reductionism, but as the locus of the most promising research trajectory that places biology and history—nature and culture—on the same footing. After all, only humans are biologically “compelled”    to modify and redesign their environment in an innovative and historical manner. The (neo)Lamarckian evolution by other means exposes the vulnerability of exclusively Darwinian explanations. Passive adaptation (evo) is always already complemented by active modulation (evo-devo). While geno-reductionists insist that genes are responsible for our behaviour, it has now become undeniable that the environment itself contributes to the phenotypical expression of genes. The acquired habits may be said to be passed on after all.

The ecological school of perception founded by James Jerome Gibson was ahead of the epigenetic curve by asking not what is inside your head, but what your head is inside of. Epi-genesis is a theory of development in which forms are influenced and modified by environmental factors. No wonder that it should appeal to architects (as quintessential niche constructionists) who could be said to sculpt brains by way of sculpting neither the genetic, nor the epigenetic, but the epiphylogenetic. The distinction urges us to rethink the long-lasting legacy of privileging episteme over tekhne. The “what” invents the “who” at the same time that it is invented by it. Strictly speaking, architecture as a sedimented epigenetic mnemonic device has a higher order of “autonomy,” which makes it epiphylogenetic. If epigenetics is the concept of nongenetic heritability (such as language acquisition), then epiphylogenetic means that the rhetoric of we-build-cities-and-cities- build-us is to be taken not metaphorically but literally. In superfolding, synthesis is not analysis in reverse.

Live Sculpture

Live Sculpture is an interactive and performative video-sculpture, built as an auto-poietic and communicating mirror. When the viewer’s body stands in front of Live Sculpture, it is scanned and filmed in real time by a webcam installed behind a Baroque frame and then reanimated and reshaped in a full-size video projection simulating a three-dimensional marble sculpture. The new live image of the viewer-sculpture is entirely built from an ever-changing interactive mesh, which tunes in and reacts to body movements, the environment, light, and the speed of the viewer. My artistic research has always investigated changes in “liquid space” through a variety of techniques, technologies, and devices. The liquid space is unfolded in Live Sculpture by the subject herself, on one side, reshaping the human into something alive and vibrant and, on the other, challenging the notion of sculpture.

As a self-producing structure (Maturana and Varela 1980), Live Sculpture reveals strata, details, and nothing beneath: always in transformation, never reaching another side, never affirming. The interactive mirror—“mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”—gestures to infinity and its “Baroque trait twists and turns its folds, pushing them to infinity, fold over fold, one upon the other” (Deleuze 2006, 3). However, if the viewer might find intimacy in the continuous Droste effect, Live Sculpture remains “a Baroque chiaroscuro, a trompe-l’œil that fools ‘trompe’ no one, yet no one cares to touch its depthless folds. This is the space of the fully accepted, repeated but never shared illusion of unity that is difference” (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos 2013, 77).

 

References

Deleuze, Gilles. 2006. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Translated by Tom Conley. London: Continuum.

La Cour, Anders, and Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, eds. 2013. Luhmann Observed: Radical Theoretical Encounters. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Maturana Humberto R., and Francisco J. Varela. 1980. Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. Dordrecht: Springer