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).

Tonality in Music as a Key Concept to Explain Life

What do I mean by tonality? Is there a closeness between tonality and affection? Why did Deleuze use so many musical terms such as “rhythm,” “vibration,” “resonance,” “tone,” and “ritornello”? (Deleuze and Guattari 1980; Deleuze 2002).

Each musical piece is a totality of sound waves. Produced by single or multiple sources, they interact between themselves and with the environment that they are in, creating an “atmosphere” by travelling distances and transmitting energy; furthermore, they go through our bodies. So what do we mean by tonality in music? Is it so crucial in understanding Deleuze? Is it so crucial in understanding life? Can an oscillation be related to what we call “the soul” in living beings? Can music, as a certain form of harmony in sound waves be considered as a model for explaining affectivity?

“Tonality” and “affection” are closely related terms that constitute the antithesis of all thinking based on human rationality. Furthermore, these two concepts may serve as tools to understand the animal question and its links to music (Heidegger 1995).

Animals can produce various sounds with rhythm, tonality, intensity, and variation, and so on; nevertheless, we assume that they do not have a language. There are scientific studies that prove plants are affected by certain types of music and react according to the levels of tonality and atonality, to expressions of affectivity. It is argued today that all living creatures have a language in their own way to communicate with one another (Gould and Gould 1994; Dawkins 1998; Grandin and Johnson 2005).

These are the pure basis of “having a soul” or “being alive” (vitality). This “being alive” does not lie in human logos (reason) only; it lies in the production of meaning inside the universe. Tonality (in music, in painting, in literature) explains the nature of this production and, for Deleuze, this can be examined in all kinds of art and thinking, but music differs from the others especially in its physical relation to the body.

Deleuze says that we need to understand that everything in the universe is a “becoming” and build our “becoming-animal” by “recapturing the forces” (Deleuze 2002, 56) through arts, literature, and music—especially through music—to travel distances inside bodies, to grasp the unity of the body/soul. How? (Deleuze and Guattari 1980, 237).

“Becoming-animal” can only be built by grasping the functioning of affects defined by Spinoza. “Becoming-animal” as the grasping of the nature of affects and the affirmation of life as a whole unites all becomings (Deleuze 1969). Those sound waves which are going through our bodies can be considered as mediums of transmitting energy between “bubbles” of life, as Uexküll (1957) once called it: as transmitters between worlds. Just as language is a transmitter of meaning and significance for humans, music can be a transmitter of meaning and affectivity for all living beings. Music is an infinite source to show why there cannot be a single and central point of view (human perception and sensation) from which to understand and explain the universe (Zourabichvili 2003). Following the analysis of the concept of devenir-animal, we may clarify the role of tonality in music in the elucidation of life in general.


Dawkins, Marian Stamp. 1998. Through Our Eyes Only? The Search for Animal Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1969. Spinoza et le problème de l’expression. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

—. 2002. Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Paris: Editions du Seuil.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1980. Mille Plateaux. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

Gould, James L., and Carol G. Gould. 1994. The Animal Mind. New York: Freeman and Company.

Heidegger, Martin. 1995. The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude. Translated by William McNeill and Nicholas Walker. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Temple, Grandin, and Catherine Johnson. 2005. Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Uexküll, Jacob von. 1957. “A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men: A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds.” In Instinctive Behavior: The Development of a Modern Concept, edited and translated by Claire H. Schiller. New York: International Universities Press.

Zourabichvili, François. 2003. Le vocabulaire de Deleuze. Paris: Ellipses.