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).

Deleuze’s Aesthetics: Transcendental Empiricism, Philosophy of Nature and Philosophy of Spirit

My paper focus on what I consider to be the great paradox of  Deleuze’s thinking on art: the project of  thinking art while refusing both an ontology of  the work of  art and a phenomenology of its reception. Deleuze believes that with the recomposition of the canonical fields of aesthetics on a new plan and on a new picture of thought, he can join both senses of aesthetics that, since Kant, have been radically separated: the theory of the sensible and the theory of the beautiful. Deleuze’s aesthetics seeks to draw the plan that could capture, within each artwork, the transversal cut of sensation and judgement. However, this transcendental empiricism led Deleuze, from the 1970s on, to a theory of the self-expressive movements of the sensible, to a description of the mode of existence of artworks as epiphanies of forms of life. According to A Thousand Plateaus, art begins with territorial marks. They do not refer back neither to a sensation that captures them up and establishes them as impressions, nor to an object whose nature is to exhaust itself into its expression of marks. Deleuzian thinking of art does not imply therefore any empiricism, any theory of pure aesthesis. What exists for Deleuze is a self-movement of expressive qualities.

Besides the programme of a transcendental empiricism, Deleuze’s vitalism has also disrupted the centre of gravity of almost all questions that draw our system of thinking on art. Fiction, myth, expression—everything in the work of art is displaced towards the domain of  a pre-individual life, towards the domain of  a pragmatics of  assemblages    of enunciation as mechanical and collective forms of life. Deleuze’s pragmatics refers back to a theory of strata and stratification of the world where the assemblage emerges from codes, environments, rhythms. Concepts belonging to geology, biology, physical chemistry—such as coagulation, sedimentation, or molecular assemblies—fuse with semiotic categories to describe phenomena like the stratification of a statement or the deterritorialisation of a narrative or a character. Similarly, figures of life as bodies without organs, abstract machines, or lines of flight, are never biological metaphors transposed to the domain of the aesthesis or to the ontology of the artefact. On the contrary, they are strategies of intelligibility of the plurality of forms of inorganic life inside art.

As an architectural system to approach Deleuze’s thought, I adopt the discovery of a permanent displacement of Deleuze’s view on art. I will try to show that to read Deleuze’s thinking on art is to understand his programme of a transcendental empiricism and its transformation into a vitalism of the inorganic.

Becoming Landscape: Constructing the House

In short, the being of sensation is not the flesh but the compound of nonhuman forces of the cosmos, of man’s nonhuman becomings, and of the ambiguous house that exchanges and adjusts them, makes them whirl around like winds.
—Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What Is Philosophy?

It seems remarkable that in the great cosmic movement of sensation, the mutual becoming of universe and humans, and the individuating flow of virtual singularities an almost prudish element appears, which at first cannot suggest stasis more explicitly: this is the element of the house. One could assume that the house in its solidity, determinacy, and objectivity foils all endeavours made to expand the spatial discourse towards the horizon of intensive haecceities. Why, then, should the concept of the house be considered at all, when reflections on contemporary forms of our planetary being shall be made?

Deleuze and Guattari by themselves highlight the importance of the house. They not only build on it but also let the house assume a major role in postulating that paradoxically it is the static house that allows for the universe to be essentially dynamic. The becoming of affects (the nonhuman becomings of the human) and percepts (the nonhuman landscapes of nature) are only made possible using the house, which acts as a filter, membrane, and exchange between the cosmic force fields, making them tangible and perceivable, like wind entering the open windows of a room. In this context, landscape attains a fundamental new relevance. It no longer consists of inhibited and normalised faces, which are forced on a global conception of nature by the striation of a totalitarian state apparatus. For some time, landscape, environment, and ecology find themselves  as the dynamic matter of a universal war machine, whose fascistic over-formation will most likely determine the geological, atmospherical, and societal strata for centuries.     It is not by chance that for Deleuze and Guattari human and nonhuman faces are like bunkers, congealed and not-yet-fluidised mirror images of an all-encompassing dynamic of warfare.

In such a landscape we find the house as a knot within the global fabric of warfare. The house acts as a frame wherein the ambivalence of a global multitude immediately becomes manifest. Unfolding creative evolution and productive relationality—the question of how communication between two heterogeneous systems is made possible can only be made by most critically investigating this very house, bearing the plastic moment of local and global individuation.

In constructing transversally and intuitively, this lecture-performance makes present the house and its frame, showing an essential tool of artistic research. The human body will be put in fragments of the cosmos and the war machine. A continuum of sounding, dancing, and spatialising aspects creates a performative expression, which serves as a counterpoint to our immediate totalitarian landscapes, and—in deterritorialising them in-site—shows instead a landscape of fragility, suppleness, and intimacy. The performance, consisting of one performer, a piano, and a piece of artificial rock from a bunker built in the Italian Alps, draws the map of a landscape, whose form, practice, and life have yet to be encountered.

Time, Territorialisation, and Improvisational Spaces

The ongoingness of improvisational musical space is productively described by a creative engagement with Deleuze’s three syntheses of time. The first synthesis describes a process of contracting the past into the ongoing, living present and the projections onto an open range of future actions engendered by such a contraction; the second synthesis confirms the present as the now-actual instantiation of the trajectories that determine the past’s own contraction. Both these syntheses are in continuous dialogue with each other, as well as with the third synthesis, which involves recognising the “event” as a location where actions take place that engender movement into the future. Interactive musical improvisation consists of an ongoing flow of such events, which give meaning to past trajectories and partially determine future ones.

For any improvisational utterance this can be thought of as the continuous, ongoing instantiation of a living present territorialised by the particularities of its past—dimensions or manifolds. Because the kinds of improvisational utterances I am concerned with represent singularities within loosely-defined ranges of “types” (the real or imaginary syntactic constraints of jazz improvisation, for example), the notion of territorialisation (and de- and reterritorialisation) is particularly apt, since it involves bringing milieus, strata, and codings into communication, from an action-first perspective. For example, an external milieu of jazz syntax comprises notes, chords, rhythms, conventional gestures, histories, exemplary recordings, and so on, while an internal milieu comprises the semantic and syntactic connections between them: teleological harmonic motions, voice-leading behaviours, cumulative rhythmic impulses, motivic developments. Connections between the raw data of external milieus and the behavioural considerations of internal milieus are drawn within the territory to create meaning and expression. It is in the territory, therefore (and in deterritorialisations within the territory) that innovation happens, that conventions and performance practices are decoded and transcended, and that possibilities arise for differentiation, individualised/singular interpretations of codes, and plural communications across strata.

These actions occur in time, are constituted in time, and constitute the time of the improvisational performance. This paper engages the identity-generative aspects of Deleuze’s three syntheses to consider carefully the ways in which the singularities of the now-past that constitute the ongoing living present are assembled within the collective improvisational territory to project a virtual future (some version of which will become actual at the point at which it becomes a living present), and how through the ongoingness of that action the identity of the improvisational utterance is formed. By considering an improvisational utterance as a territorialising act, with multiple rhizomatic connections and multiple entry and exit points, we can consider Deleuze’s larger thematisations of repetition as difference and difference as identity in two ways: by foregrounding the internal repetition that characterises the types of improvisational spaces here under consideration (involving cyclical forms, creative variations, and call and response—this is Deleuze’s “refrain” taken in its most purely musical sense) and by locating a performative utterance along multiple historical trajectories, foregrounding the ways in which it defines the temporal space where its identity is acted out.