Advisor: Catherine Howe
Some words, limning an aesthetic
I am a young female artist raised by scientists. I make oil paintings that are the byproduct of an improvisational process, motivated by humor, a skosh of sexuality, and a love of obscurantism. Multiple beautiful things include themselves in the object, and sometimes the result of so much thinking is a mess. I hope this disclaimer helps rather than hinders the consistency between my images and my words. It may help to replace “deterration” when it occurs with “my work”.
Is a constellation of things. Firstly, it is to remove from the earth, so that it concerns the ultimate decentering, applying the abstractions of astronomy to the body. The terra root also applies to the source of pigment: not just pre-industrial, human-scale minerals, but synthesized from organic life in deep and surface strata. It examines the development of objective approaches to a phenomenon of electromagnetism whose perception is mediated by nested levels of skewed information. Secondly, It is an abbreviation of a post-Marxist philosophical term, deterritorialization, or a virtualizing movement of the natural to the cultural, terms whose absurdity constructs posthumanist aesthetics. Thirdly, deterration derives from “deter”, or negative persuasion, a contrarian application of arguments against themselves. From a combination of motivations and movements comes an interest in drawing lines between loci of art and science, particularly as pertaining to light and color, to justify a decadent practice of painting representations of human bodies.
Deterration is motivated by a disinterest in depicting anything but the body. That the body will also include significant objects parallels a post-human movement toward the investment of all matter with intelligence. Humanity is defined by its evolution on this specific planet, but has also neotenized into a more plastic diversity, so that we are capable of imagining that culture and nature can be separated. The cultural object of a painting enables the communication of a dis-oriented abstraction, beginning with a suspension of the facist orientation. A painting posits a singularity to be confounded, or, as Massumi puts it, “If the singular confound is self-varying, then making something of it or doing something with it requires the artist to yield to its self-activity.” (173)
Often the term is translated as “black hole” in Deleuze and Guattari, but “singularity” is a more flexible way of defining what sucks: the grave or too-serious, what dead-ends thought, limits movements to the spiral, slows time, has an event horizon, and the whole other slew of analogies more or less literal. For D&G the planosphere is filled with micro-black holes, which visually manifest as eyes, mouths, any point of interest or figure on ground. “Singularity” is also a term for the historical end of technology, the point at which artificial intelligence can design itself and the future is completely unpredictable. Just as we may always already be falling into a black hole without subjectively realizing it, we can also never perceive an infinite rate of change.
Deterration holds that there is no inherent uni-directional gravity, but a democratization of directions. Gravity is a quality of matter. It is not the actual depiction of humansin space (which would require an extensive cyborg support system for earthlike conditions) and being depicted as the eye would observe; they are figuring, or embodying abstractions, yet refusing transcendence or depth. The double meaning of gravity in art is its inherent seriousness, the weight of implied meaning. Jokes rely on seriousness.
Deterration promotes floating signifiers as a contradiction of what is already contextual in painting: orientation, unity, significance. Without what Tor Norretranders calls Exformation, or subconscious information – a serious interest in scientific realms whose terms often overlap with those of art – the juxtaposition would lose its absurdity. As Deleuze and Guattari put it in their introduction on the “Body Without Organs”, “Theories of arbitrariness serve … a reduction of expression of the signifier” (D&G 69) Merleau-Ponty discusses in detail the puzzle of tilted or inverted vision: viewing a field upside-down delays memory and isolates sensory “chaos” (23) “to invert an object is to deprive it of its significance.” (294) Is this an act of kindness? Deterration suspects that dark energy is a measurement or computational error but tries to generate a force counter to the universal constant of attraction.
Emissions occur only at quanta determined by molecular structure. These quanta are functionally infinite, given the number of elements and their sets of energy levels, but those of carbon and smaller predominate. Organic compounds, however, are capable of simulating and approximating nearly every other wavelength, as well as infinitesimally varying the movement of electrons. For most of the universe, the cyan of hydrogen emission and the red of its absorption predominate. Absorptions occur on similarly quantized wavelengths. Blackbodies, or fully-absorbing objects, are only an idealized way of imagining the emission curve of a light source, because “objects” are arbitrarily chosen on a plane of curved space and because even the sun, our model for the concept of a blackbody, is scrambling its energy levels toward a smooth curve and primarily measurable through its surface. The sun is yellow-green, which is to say that its radiation peaks in the middle of the visual spectrum. This is why yellows are bright: they are white light with a sharper emission curve; a smoother curve looks gray or brown. White light, as we know it, is really lime-green light; an objective “white” may actually be black.
The farther photons travel, the more they will tend to Doppler shift. Receding objects red-shift, and light from objects moving toward each other will blueshift. As the universe is expanding, the default is for objects to redshift, so the distance between object and observer (on very large scales) can be measured by finding a characteristic emission curve and measuring how much its energy is shifted lower. Interstellar gases emit very specific colors. Often these are photographed separately and then combined RGB+ into the particularly beautiful space photography we know. Their beauty is synthetic, depending on the treatment of color as data, arbitrarily increased or decreased in energy. This adds a less segmented infinity to possible colors: most blackbodies already consist of a mix of complicated molecules producing a different absorption spectrum from any given part, the smallest being a single photon.
The diagrammatic machine of spectra as a form of measurement depends on a line of greater or lesser exactitude, with a lesser exactitude appearing smoother and an impossible exactitude recording each individual molecularly generated photon of a specific wavelength would appear as a spike — the most striated possible image.
Color is movement
Space is structured based on the observation that the further away something is, the faster it is receding from the observer (monad). Color temperature contradicts the Leonardan establishment of atmospheric perspective. Blue light comes from higher heat, and objects absorbing more energy appear red. This means that one can apply a depiction of space with color that is the reverse of that imposed by the adaptation of the animal eye to an earthly atmosphere under sunlight: distant objects are “warmer” and closer are “cooler”. This also contradicts Baudrillard’s colored characterization of cultural phenomena, with a distancing affect taking on “coolness”, and underlies a more obviously illustrated technological/cultural re-valuation. This movement of bodies takes on an emotional implication appropriate to exaggerated color and an abstraction of relationships between agents.
Any reflecting body’s color will consist, firstly, of the light coming from objects around it, of what it absorbs, and then of how that specific emission spectrum is shifted by its movement toward or away from the viewer. Pigments, deterritorialized pieces of earth, approximate this complicated result through molecular analogy. Our definitions of colors are “embodied in specific pigments” (Ball 13); deterration applies assumptions programmed into our understanding of color since science, and the mechanical or cyborg eye, has colonized it.
The most permanent and flexible pigments are compounds of transition metals: ionic crystals. Since every bright color signifies the absorption into matter of energy (which may be broken down to nonvisible infrared), it is easy to understand howpigments such as mercury red can be fugitive, slowly transformed by the quality that makes them effective. Some colors, like pink, are only possible through the combination of two peak wavelengths. In iron red, an electron moves from O- to Fe. Prussian blue is the lower energy, complicated version. When white light hits red cadmium sulfide, electrons are released, and it becomes a semiconductor, like reflecting metals. Shininess is due to the interaction of mobile electrons in pure metals with photons, and no absorption occurs at all, so a maximum-albedo, mirrored surface is the opposite of a blackbody, or one that provides no interior temperature information. Many organic compounds are still built around a metal.
One can’t discuss color without addressing color vision. Knowledge about color enters through the human eye, a famously relationally complex organ, affected by embodied information from text and description. Most of the simulations of colors are possible because of the limitations of the retina and the adaptation of the brain. Additively, Red+Green=Yellow because two wavelengths and one stimulate the red and green cones identically. In fact the peak reception of cones is not evenly spaced: the so-called “red” cones’ response peaks in gold, so that the perception of red is mostly through a lack of perceiving shorter wavelengths (Ball 30). Rhodopsin, the pigment in the retinas’ rods, goes from purple to yellow to white as expands, taking in energy, and needs Vitamin A to retract again.
Many colors in nature are generated by physical structures just below the eye’s perceptive ability. Pigments such as smalt that worked this way, however, proved to be chemically unstable. All color is the result of molecular structure, but molecular structure in turn relies on what quantum physics metaphorically calls quark “color spin”. Is all quality really quantity or all quantity really quality? There is such a thing as “too small to see”, but really no such thing as “too large to see”.
Merleau-Ponty addresses another meaning of phenomenological color in the idea of Gedachtsnicfarbe: the coloring of memory. Color is a mental object, a psychic energy vibration. Obsession is the lowest energy level of the mind: red, a color not directly perceived by any retinal rod but rather implied by lack of blue and green.
In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari describe social scale using the chemical metaphor of molecular versus molar measurements. Deterration reverses the metaphor: color is literally molecular, and shape molar. Their concept of a plane of immanence or consistency which is the “abolition of all metaphor” (D&G 69)
Another scientific literalization of society is the rhizome, a structure they oppose to the tree, an analogy for the growth of different fields of knowledge. Deterration is a process of uprooting or exhuming the rhizome: what Massumi considers a stupefying misinterpretation of social as spatial.. “We can conceive of the possibility of laying [multiplicities] cut on a plane… it gathers in all the dimensions to the extent that flat multiplicities are inscribed upon it.” (215) Images are pulled from multiple perspectives, chosen for bearing some affect that will compete with or vitiate the other images with which it is awkwardly entangled. To see connections between them just because they share an image is a kind of insanity. The contrary image resembles Massumi’s description of synaesthetes’ “biograms”: “geometrically strange: a foreground-surround, like a trick center twisting into an all-encompassing periphery”(187), “deformed by experiential overfill… hypersurface” (190)
To Merleau-Ponty, this affect is associated with schizophrenia. Delirious causality or hypersens is polymorphous semantic arousal. Just like space seen through an other’s eye, it is an “impartial space” in which all objects are equal, “permeated by another spatiality” of significance. Permeation implies atomic distinctions where there are none. (M-P 329)
A painting as an object is a mirror of the mental phenomenon of the face. The hardest thing a figurative painter ever learns is how to see a face without the symbolic flatness a human observer projects from their own sensory apparatus, but to make a painting at all is to re-assert the facist machine. “It is precisely because the face depends on an abstract machine that it is not content to cover the head” — but even on the head it is partial, its imperialism forcing itself into over-representation. (D&G 171) “The synaesthetic form of experience is faced, in something like the sense in which writing is handed.” (Massumi 188)
“Figure”, in French, is another word for face. “Even when painting becomes abstract, all it does is rediscover the figure and the ground” (D&G 175), the singularity and the wall. So what happens when, given that the painting is by default a singularity, it contains nothing that is not both figure and ground, maintaining maximum empathetic weight? It’s an absolute-value positivation with no negative space, no “background”. Can there be figure without background? All background is really other figures. Occasionally there are singularities between the convexities, points generated by the convergence of lines. It becomes a map, a body without organs.
Filling the plane with figures argues their vision of the world as without-background — not only that every object is its own agent, but that objects themselves are merely partial opacities in a space curved by matter of greater and lesser patterning, with a tropism for multiplying representative patterns — life, organic or not. The collective Assume Vivid Astro Focus de-facializes art, creating immersive environments of overwhelming pattern and disoriented figuration.
Deleuze and Guattari compare the optical and haptic in aesthetics to smooth and striated spaces in geography, turning the Leibnizian monad to a de-situated nomad. “The law of painting is that it is to be done at close range, even if viewed from far away… it is a bad painter who backs away from the painting she is working on” (493): This is an instance of the duo being completely wrong in one of their lines of flight outside their field, as it is one of the didactic imperatives that painters are to step away from their paintings as often as possible, to better see errors by multiplying pov.
In order to volumize contradiction, faces in deterration are eliminated, animalized, scrambled, inverted, and transformed into landscapes of hyperbolic scale. “Freckles dashing toward the horizon, hair carried off by the wind, eyes you traverse instead of seeing yourself.” (D&G 170) The represented face is not to be feared, but hopefully not assumed, either. “There is something absolutely inhuman about the face”(170), and this inhumanity hinges itself as a segment to the use of imagery at the furthest expansion of the technological eye: vast clouds of burning gases, imperceptible by direct observation, in which, like most chaos, the visual apparatus can always see faces anyway. Faces are hypnotic, potentially inescapably attractors of gaze, so that the “subject …does not so much see as get snapped up by black holes” (D&G 175)
How do we know a fact about vision? They are based on extending our eyes through nonhuman mechanisms, and through scientific methods, which rely on isolating variables. A strand of affinity runs between the construction of scientific and artistic fact, in that both cannot generate facts without making hybrid objects, artifacts, that exclude all but one phenomenon to the senses. Only cyborg society creates facticity. Art is an isolation of the variable of cultural activity.
Deterration is not a rehashing of the modernist envy of art towards science, which inspired artists to exhaust an exploration of the real by communicating their subjective perceptions. It abducts the concerns of science studies, an obscure radicle of the postmodern project, which has an ideological interest in re-examining non-modern concerns, such as vision, with a post-human political perspective. In this, the complications of how information such as this text’s first half become knowledge are its interest. Science studies discovers that the less reflexive science is, the easier it is; that it is easiest to understand cosmic background radiation, and hardest to understand not just the brain but the brain in the process of examining itself (Norretranders 272). Of course this is a false dichotomy, because science is a social activity and a self-examination, and truth is generated only by a careful tuning to awareness of errors and intersubjective deliberation.
In Situated Knowledges, Donna J. Haraway reclaims a distributed feminist vision from the Renaissance-born privileged observer. “Vision can be good for avoiding binary oppositions,” (176) she says, supporting a tendency one notices to slip into a singularity language programs into us of taking it seriously. “Vision in this technological feast becomes unregulated gluttony; all perspective gives way to infinitely mobile vision.” Nomadic vision celebrates contention. Deterration manifests it in its democratic selection of imagery, not intending to distinguish between imagery from photography, false-color conversions of non-visual-spectrum radiation, invented forms, and images through the artist’s eye. No longer the radical feminist denial of the power of all forms of observation, or “the eye fucks the world to make technomonsters.” (176) Is Haraway aware of the gender reversal implied in a fucking eye, considering the eye is more vaginal or yonic than phallic? The world becomes phallus, the brain a womb for hybrid children.
Lorraine Daston’s philosophical examination of the term shows that “objective” in the pre-modern era referred to Platonic realm of forms, never anything sense-observed. (112) A mode of self-effacement, the term as we still characterize it with both attractive and repulsive weights was applied to art first as the gateway to impartiality. The scientist archetype developed during the enlightenment, now undermined by a postmodern project, itself rejected by Bruno Latour’s contradiction “we have never been modern”. In the 19th century the lowest common denominator (LCD) replaced the Kantian expert for credibility, and skill was “increasingly suspect” (119); the personal context of reporting was removed. Communication is better without language, as Norretranders argues as well.
The artist is objective, and does not have to appropriate mythical non-embodied objectivity from modernist science. Objectivity is based on the desire for interchangeable observers. Actually, not only will different people generate a different image, but the same person’s depiction will differ, even when (perhaps especially when) the objective desire is absolute. The more images there are, the more defined the object becomes; things are the sum of their interactions. It is not transparency that representation desires but an opacity, an ability to reflect, determined by the varied absorption of other objects.
A request that paint be an analogy for the thing painted, like paint as flesh, may disrespect the painting, as a hybrid object immanetized with the represented. In response we allow the material to speak, rather than making it an analogy. How does abstract expressionism not do this? It still follows the human idea of what objects are, denying plastic media their autonomous desire to represent, their hybrid dependence on others. In the event horizon of art’s singularity, we cannot find ourselves arguing that anything cannot be done. Within that plane, however, illusions can represent stratification of preferences.
The hybrid is an object whose function is the isolation of a variable out of the reality of suppleness/plurality/multiplicity, rather than the “non-view” of the mind as bodiless organ. Paintings are hybrid objects proliferated by the compromise between the self-imag[in]ing social machine and multiple natures. Deterration asserts middle-class values through hybrids of high and low cultures. “We can get through to the individual only through the hybrid procedure of an example, stripping it of facticity” (M-P 73). Hybrids are always connected to the reduction and isolation of phenomena. Art didacticism is much like science: creating the objecting by artificial invention of monochrome, geometrical objects, casts, skeletons. The art object itself is didactic, based on a utopian desire, a process of learning or teaching.
We live in two dimensions more than three, since the primacy of visual input and the organizing requirements of the brain can, at least in hybrid cultures, make far more sense of planes. Depth is invisible, not directly experienced, so that we are even unused to thinking of paintings as three-dimensional, a particularly optical, facist sculpture. We prefer 2-d visualizations for clarity. This may be he scientific basis of reduction of inputs (didactic hybridization), which trump honest confrontation with complexity. Deterration pursues the humanist luxury of complexity through experimental limitations.
The more slippery radicle of Deterration is “persuasion-not”, a prevention through fear. This concerns what we consider content, and how a painting justifies itself. Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the “body without organs” concerns the illusion we can have of formal analogies between different media. If a sheaf of paper marked with ink or a screen of glowing pixels can describe an aesthetic, then painting, too, can engage with the cyborg. As Massumi puts it: “Every medium, however ‘low’ technologically, really produces its own virtuality (yes, even painting).” (175) Deterration is a literalization of the term “body without organs”, while the disembodiment of vision it relies on is the organ without a body.
Codebreaking, in relation to the grounded spatial analogies of computer science (Hayles), manifests in an attitude that all is allowed, and a contrarian approach to painting convention that can result in a convergence with naivety. Said contrarity embraces superficial confusion, since by celebrating the brain’s preference for two-dimensionality we celebrate superficiality. On the plane of immanence, an object’s context and history is superficial, too. Deterration collages the influence of Murakami’s flattenings, Neo Rauch’s propaganda-abducting juxtapositions, and Odd Nerdrum’s floating cosmic bodies. Visual influences are a post-process judgment.
Deterration does not desire ironic distance or fear significance. Rather, it achieves significance through evasion, rather than avoidance, of beauty, representation, metaphor. Self-contradiction and positional mutability generate an image and object without an intentional end besides an interesting collection of affects. Every painting begins with a metaphor/figuration/sign, which the introduction of arbitrary space imagery aims not so much to conceal as to divert and sublimate the bluntness of personal analogy.
Oversignifying, or turning up a good thing, stretches the stickiness of representation towards nonsense. The way to induce overwhelming sensation is through the most empathetic of imagery, burying the unbearable in found connection and intensified multiple directions: controlled explosion resists collapse to a point. Crazy-singing pop-metal guitarist Marnie Stern embodies this aesthetic. The painting should dissuade the viewer from believing its singularity. Simply by being a painting it posits singularity, so what it depicts can be as varied and nomadic as possible. The painting grows, operates autonomously; the artist is the painting’s tool.
Her action is more an experimental tweaking of an autonomous process than a molding of dumb matter. The artist’s joining the confound helps catalyze a particular co-emergence of color, illumination, form, and space-time… it brings a singular variation out into integral, unfolding expression. (Massumi 173)
Massumi’s vision of this kind of art is vague, optical, masculine; far better, then, to pursue paradox through use of the haptic: the visual touch. “Art as an autonomous process of bringing an enveloping self-variation into its own truly singular expression is a catalytic fusion.” (174)
The political undercurrents of these structures of thought are often lost in the lines of abduction of terms and figures, removed by the territory of the most decadent level of the machine. But the compromises and intuitions imply a movement of demanding the possible. Radical change of the facist, equalizing system is a desire, preconditions for which construct an alternative.
To fulfill the political undercurrents of these choices, there must still be a visual rhetoric relying on the power of representative illusion, supporting Merleau-Ponty’s and Ings’ implication that depth is better understood through shallowness. The nomadic multiplicity is better served by a mutual support of wall, globe and hole as well as everything in between, with multiple forms of eyes and povs in the given singularity.
elides a fantasy of representation by breaking the “artistic” code of space and color with a convincing (through beautiful visual rhetoric and the figure) network of images. It transmutes earthy humor into mindfuck. It espouses a humanist anti-humanism in its violation of scale and imaginative feasibility, but is more closely post-human, both in terms of becoming animal and becoming machine. What we see through technology is just as animal as everyday perceptions. Celebrate the attraction of simulacra and instinctive post-human surreality. The further from the traditional image of something it is, the more it represents it.
It is uprooting/exhuming, removing space from the rhizome, a flattened multiplicity. The de-literalization extends to collapsing cultural space, the “high/low thing”, imagining out the gravitational implications.
James Elkins claims that the “drunken conversation of science and painting…is to imply that the two sides have some infatuation with each other that compels them to keep talking without really connecting or making too much sense.” (34) As a photon could have traveled in an infinity of ways between emitter and absorber, more than the “standard art-science narrative” as a line of flight is possible. Besides, we want a nonsense engine: stop making sense. Applying science studies to paintings means an emphasis on realism, with a connection that both must redefine or partialize the real.
Contrarity embraces overstimulation in affect, beauty, significance, subject, emphatically shifted color. It depicts an interior objective vision, co-written by Photoshop and RGB scientific imagery. It is the deliberate adoption of ideas antithetical and irrelevant to the painted object’s context, the most extreme line of flight from intimate molecular humanity to structures weighted with the affect of human insignificance. Depicting the schizophrenia of capitalism as a marketable item is a Guattarian attempt to demystify the machine’s language, introduce a recursive subversive analogy to a new way of thinking. It’s just too much.
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Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges” (page #s from this publication), P. 172
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© 2009 Janet Bruesselbach