Perpetual Doubt, Constant Becoming

The philosophical proposition of the rhizome offers a “structure” (or anti-structure) that goes some way to describing the often unnameable, intangible processes required for the production of art—establishing a set of conditions that support the necessity for unknowingness and uncertainty as methodology.

In taking the rhizome as a basic principal for consideration in the generation of physical work, employing emergent processes rather than construction by design, my practice engages this key concept from Deleuze and Guattari in multiple ways:

In aiming to be composed “not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion,” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 21) the work consists of many strands, structured from hundreds of thousands of rubber bands, that wrap, stretch, loop, hang, and twist around and across an architectural space. The work exists in the space between, growing among things, opportunistically inhabiting and encompassing architecture as part of its structure where the work “forms a rhizome with the world” (ibid., 11)—rather than existing separately to it.

The work does not rest within a single discipline: the lines act like drawings in three dimensions—it consumes and melds with architecture, the push and pull of effusive colour in space emphasises painterly qualities while often referencing, in it’s analogue form, digital technologies and the vastness of “the web.” The practice exists more broadly within the expanded field of sculptural installation where ideas and processes for generating art are not separable into constituent parts but exist in symbiosis.

The entangled network of filaments from which the work is constructed are like threads of visual organisation connecting any point to any other point in a meshwork and bit-coding of information. The seemingly abstract, annotative qualities of the work act like a mapping in the space of its own making. The vibrating strands become a fluid diagram—“a shifting map” (ibid., 19)—of the performative act that constituted its construction.

There are different timescales embedded in the work. The piece may take minutes, hours, or days to install, although the strands, with their handmade morphology, have been hundreds, thousands of hours in the making.

The elastic band is a unit of variable measure, therefore the work lacks exactitude as its overall length is immeasurable and is relative to the amount of tension and weight exerted upon the ropes. The strands are still being made, but there is no definable amount, no given end to the making of the material: “It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle from which it grows and which it overspills.” (ibid., 21) There are many beginnings and ends lost among the mass metreage of loops that expand or contract across space.

Nomadic in nature the work can be packed down and reinstalled (almost) anywhere. Taking form for a finite period of time until rolled up ready to be remade in a unique, but relative, form in another time and space—much as worm-casts represent the aftermath of movement through the ground and exist for a while on the surface until they become washed down again by rain. They can reform, but each time, differently.

The title of the work reflects the overarching uncertainty of process through which one may burrow to arrive at the production of an artwork. The work is a processual murmuration where any seeming point of arrival quickly loses itself as it melds into a point of departure—the journey to seek form continues—arrested momentarily only by fleeting instances of articulation.


Deleuze, Giles, and Félix Guattari. 1987. “Introduction: Rhizome.” In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi, 3-25. London: Continuum.

‘Hippies use side door’: l’humorisme comme précurseur sombre

Gilles Deleuze, dans Logique du sens, définit l’humorisme comme un art des surfaces, une opération destinée à montrer les effets du devenir plutôt que chercher les causes profondes du présent; il est une mise en série des simulacres au lieu d’une représentation des modèles et des copies. L’humorisme peut être lu alors comme le précurseur sobre, qui met en relation des potentiels et les fait réagir. Ainsi résulte l’évènement visible, l’éclair qui illumine la surface. L’humorisme comme précurseur sobre conduit à une explosion ou chute qui, Deleuze le rappelle dans Francis Bacon, a toujours un rôle actif: il peut être une clinique plutôt qu’une simple critique destructrice. Donc, il faut se demander si l’humorisme, rapporté par Deleuze surtout à la littérature et à la philosophie (les Stoïciens, Sacher-Masoch, Carroll), est présent comme précurseur sobre même dans l’art.

Ce travail voudrait répondre par l’affirmative à cette question, utilisant comme exemple principal l’œuvre d’une artiste allemande, Cosima von Bonin, à laquelle a été dédiée l’exposition du Mumok (Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien) l’année dernière. Son exposition s’appelait “Hippies use side door” et elle incluait beaucoup d’œuvres différentes de l’artiste mais en lien entre elles. En particulier, on peut lire comme une série, la répétition du même sujet: des animaux en peluche qui servent de simulacres et qui sont pris sur un moment d’improductivité (plusieurs se reposent après le travail, certains vomissent après une fête, d’autres dorment tranquilles sur des missiles). Ces animaux rendent visible ce qui en réalité est toujours devant nos yeux, mais que nous ne sommes pas habitués à regarder, c’est-à-dire les paradoxes du capitalisme: le système qui a comme loi la production, produit des moments d’improductivité.

Von Bonin réussit cependant à éviter une rechute dans une critique au système peu originale, il ne s’agit pas ici de construire un anti-art. L’œuvre de l’artiste allemande, en utilisant l’instrument de l’humorisme, dépasse donc la dimension critique pour arriver à celle clinique: en effet, il n’y a aucun jugement sur l’improductivité des personnages et aucune condamnation de la fatigue du travail imposée par le capitalisme, il y a seulement une mise en série du repos. Ce dernier est éclairé par l’humorisme, car il nous indique une ligne de fuite imprévue et créatrice: le repos.

Donc, dans Deleuze autant que dans Von Bonin, il ne s’agit pas de chercher une logique de la négation, mais plutôt de découvrir une esthétique de l’attente. On peut donner un exemple de cette esthétique à travers une comparaison entre le masochiste deleuzien et l’œuvre que Von Bonin a appelé “Idler, Lezzer, Tosspiece.” La perversion masochiste, qui est caractérisée par l’humorisme, est selon Deleuze une expérience d’attente et de suspension: le masochiste attend un plaisir qui est toujours en retard et il s’attend à la douleur comme condition de plaisir possible. Par ailleurs, le petit homme blanc, qui est représenté par Von Bonin, est assis sur une chaise en hauteur dans une position d’attente, qui est confirmée par l’élément humoristique présent dans la scène: une araignée a fait sa toile sur le nez de l’homme. Dans les deux cas, il s’agit d’une méconnaissance de la réalité (le masochiste construit un plaisir-fantasme; l’homme blanc ignore les couleurs qui gravitent autour de lui), qui n’est pas une négation du réel, mais plutôt une perversion de la loi. Cette loi est celle du monde capitaliste, qui nous impose le principe de la frénésie et de la vitesse dans le travail autant que dans le temps libre. Au contraire, Deleuze et Von Bonin montrent, à travers l’humorisme, une clinique fondée sur la suspension dans l’action, c’est-à-dire, une esthétique de l’attente.


For the installation Proto-Objects, Michael Schwab commissioned four independent collaborators to respond to his artistic analysis of his own brain activity. This was recorded as he was exposed to a succession of one hundred pictures, randomly chosen from the history of art (from 1420 to 1912). The initial EEG scan took place as part of the research project “Wissen im Selbstversuch/Knowledge through Self-Experimentation” (2009–10, PI: Yeboaa Ofosu, see at the Hochschule der Künste Bern (CH) and was carried out by Dr. Thomas Koenig at the Universitätsklinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie Bern (CH). The raw EEG data was statistically analysed and geometrically transformed with the help of Padraig Coogan, Leon Williams (both Royal College of Art, London, UK), Michael Klein (Universität Heidelberg, D), and David Pirrò (Kunstuniversität Graz, AT). This work resulted in the construction of one hundred three-dimensional “proto-objects,” each corresponding to what is deemed significant in Schwab’s cognitive response to each particular picture.

The name “proto-object” was first used by Schwab in a book chapter (Schwab 2012) that utilises Hans-Jörg Rheinberg’s research on “experimental systems” for possible epistemologies and methodologies of artistic research. Rheinberger makes a distinction between two spaces, the graphematic and the representational space (see Schwab 2013). Surprising events that lack explanation are produced in experimental settings and traced in the graphematic space as “epistemic things.” Epistemic things are gradually transposed into the representational space where they register as knowledge. According to Rheinberger (1997, 28) appropriating François Jacob, epistemic things announce future knowledge and, thus, drive history. However, in the context of techno-scientific experimental systems, and despite being rooted in the graphematic space, the future of an epistemic thing lies in the representational space—that is, research must feed into science.

The installation Proto-Objects speculates that this economy is reversible, following a two-step procedure. The material installation transfers an actualised technical object back to an epistemically underdetermined space, a virtuality suggested by a multiplicity of images from different disciplinary backgrounds. In this installation, Einar Torfi Einarsson transforms Schwab’s proto-objects into scores to be interpreted and played by the cellist Séverine Ballon; the contemporary artist Florian Dombois uses the one hundred objects to develop a “language of things,” in which he writes poetry; the architect Miguel Figueira modifies Van Gogh’s Pont de Langlois (1888) on the basis of the proto-object corresponding to that painting; and Taslim Martin uses one proto-object as the template for a creamer and sugar set.

Needless to say, there are no “real” proto-objects outside their presentation as manifold, “the real object is reflected in a mirror-image as in the virtual object which, from its side and simultaneously, envelops or reflects the real: there is ‘coalescence’ between the two . . . a double movement of liberation and capture” (Deleuze 1989, 68). Keeping what Deleuze says here in mind, the installation Proto-Objects may be seen to suggest alternative modes of signification within artistic experimental settings.

The book Proto-Objects published for this installation is available on issuu


Deleuze, Gilles. 1989. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: Athlone Press.

Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg. 1997. Toward a History of Epistemic Things: Synthesizing Proteins in the Test Tube. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Schwab, Michael. 2012. “Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” In Intellectual Birdhouse: Artistic Practice as Research, edited by Florian Dombois, Ute Meta Bauer, Claudia Mareis, and Michael Schwab, 229–47. London: Koenig Books.

—, ed. 2013. Experimental Systems: Future Knowledge in Artistic Research. Leuven: Leuven University Press.