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).

Pure Immanence and Algorithmic Era: An Aberrant Nuptial

The era of absolute immanence has come: algorithmic governmentality has already taken every glimmer of unexpected, transforming potential human possibility into a programmed and programmatic code. The different fields of  knowledge have grounds to fear that thought is imprisoned in circuits, locked in foreseeable paths: the principal reason for this dread is no doubt the rise of social and economic consequences of this process, which today are under our eyes. A political fight against this scenario, already described in Deleuze’s “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” is today a transdisciplinary request. To answer this necessity, I suggest restarting from one of the most powerful and fascinating tools offered by Deleuze and Guattari: the conceptual persona. This personage is related to literature, but thinking of it as a character does not provide us with its deepest sense.

In this presentation, I aim to show that the conceptual person is foremost an encroachment of virtuality (ideal, but nonetheless real), a special faculty of impersonal thinking that cannot be captured by Big Data. To show this, I will argue that its forefather could be found in another, sharper aspect of literature, usually described as a pact that the narrator asks his or her readers to accept. Through this agreement, the narrator is able to build     a coherent plot that can, if wished, parenthesise minor elements of what  we  might  think are necessary in our everyday life, such as moral conduct (i.e., The Man Without Qualities), the judicial system (i.e., The Merchant of Venice, Crime and Punishment), trust in technological progress (i.e., Brave New World, 1984), the everyday productive routine (i.e., La Coscienza di Zeno), and so on.

This strong mental experiment allows us to reconstruct the idea of transcendence in absolute immanence, through at least two fundamental strategies: (1) the third person’s logic; (2) the valorisation of affects and perceptions instead of concepts. After this trip somewhere else, to another time, to a different social and political order accomplished with an I that is at the same time an it, we come back with red eyes, able to look at the world from a different point of view—which, according to What is Philosophy?, is the becoming.

Conceptual personae are precisely the line of attack suggested by Deleuze and Guattari to figure out a way to introduce the becoming in the being. As we will explain in detail, the tactic used by the two philosophers is to cross the heterotopy literature–philosophy by experimenting with concepts as concepts of affect, and affects as affects of concepts, to keep on moving, as people and as a society: as people, because our desires, thoughts, and possibilities are more than a list of numeric data; as a society, because by crossing this way it is possible to conceive of a new form of a Spinozian multiplicity that is based on affects and is uncountable.

Outside Interior : ?Interior

An encounter between interior design and Deleuze has created ?interior—a stuttering that produces a pause between stimulus and response to open an interior in an outside. Practising with Deleuze as an interior design academic, curator, exhibition designer, and writer, concepts of interior and interiority are challenged and transformed. Deleuze’s claim to a hatred of interiority (“Letter to a Harsh Critic”) foregrounds self-givens assumed as natural in dominant and dominating ways of thinking that inform and shape practices where interior is equated with enclosed space and interiority with an inherent subjectivity and a pre-given subject; where interior and exterior are coupled as a binary machine—   as either/or. However, one also becomes sensitive to a refrain of “interior,” “interiority,” “inside” and “in” throughout his writings in relation to exterior and, more specifically, “the inside as an operation of the outside” (Deleuze, Foucault), “the Outside interior” (Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?), and “the ultimate folding of the line outside, to produce an ‘expectant interiority’” (Deleuze, “A Portrait of Foucault”).

For Deleuze (and Guattari), “the choice is between transcendence and chaos (What is Philosophy?). The choice invokes different exteriors and ways of practising—between assuming the pre-framed and already given as something to be given value and hence reproduced, and practising in the midst of forces, change, and chance to produce something new. This is the difference between making relations “to” something that is assumed as pre-existing and substantial, and making relations “in” movement. Another conceptual shift that is critical in this move to “Outside interior” is to understand relations as external to their terms as distinct from being between terms/identities, where subjects and objects are effects rather than causes.

?interior is a pickup from Deleuze. It steals and misquotes his ?-being that interrupts the dialectical relation—and hence negative implication—between being and non-being to enable being as a problematic. ?interior moves from posing interior?—a “what” question that directs one to define and answer in a categorical and universal way. In contrast, ?interior—with the question mark coming before is not even easy to say; one stammers verbally and mentally. ?interior effects a pause before the assumptions of “interior” and opens it up to an outside of contingency, chance, and variation.

Preparing this paper, I have been caught in an encounter with the figure of  Narcissus    in Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition where he writes: “We must first contemplate something else—the water, or Diana, or the woods—in order to be filled with an image   of ourselves.” An outside interior nuptial. Deleuze’s ideas of sensation, contraction, contemplation, and imagination highlight regimes  of  representation  and  recognition as secondary; in doing so, they open an opportunity—in the pause, in the middle—to intervene and experiment.

“The desert, experimentation on oneself, is our only identity, our single chance for all the combinations which inhabit us” (Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues).