There was a brief moment in the ‘Bay Area’ when writing and art might collaborate in a similar ‘spirit’. i was then, as now, only interested in writing about artists if i felt a philosophical connection. Linda’s work was one of those moments, and that was a while ago… at this moment, i’m actually not sure if providing the ‘figures’ cited below without images is inappropriate. the absence of images now seem like their own vacuo spatiae…. and she’s filled in those ‘full’ empty spaces since i wrote the following with many other works developed from the drawing series philosophically encountered below – that i think leaving them ‘imaginary’ is the best way to republish this essay now.
see below: deep listening to revolutions and death
Experimenta de Vacuo Spatio
I: All This and Not Ordinary, Not Unordered In Not Resembling
A Carafe, That is a Blind Glass
A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.
Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons
But neither this endeavor nor the attempts of mechanism should be confused with the relation that all Classical knowledge, in its most general form, maintains with the mathesis, understood as a universal science of measurement and order. Under cover of the empty and obscurely incantatory phrases ‘Cartesian influence’ or ‘Newtonian model,’ our historians of ideas are in the habit of confusing these three things and defining Classical rationalism as the tendency to make nature mechanical and calculable. Others are slightly more perceptive and go to a great deal of trouble to discover beneath this rationalism a play of ‘contrary forces.’ The forces of nature and life refusing to let themselves be reduced either to algebra or to dynamics, and thus preserving, in the depths of Classicism itself, the natural resources of the non-rationalizable.
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things
“Past and future quarrel over one and the same image of absence….”
We can think the invisible only as invisibility, but we can grasp it in its complex relation to the visible. To see against sight…
Edmond Jabes, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Book
Dif. Fig. 1:
At an altitude of 8500 feet in the mountains of southwestern Colorado, an hour from the nearest town, in a sloping meadow surrounded by pines at the end of 10 miles of dirt road, inside a studio built with her own hands in 1972, Linda Fleming meditates, less in the eastern sense, than in the sense of Descartes’ Meditations.
In a thought experiment that still weighs heavily on history, Descartes denied relevance to all previous knowledge and through this act of radical negation, formulated the famous axiom, I think, therefore I am. With this thought perception, he proceeded to deduce the rules and substance of a powerfully abstract form of scientific knowledge that helped to end two millennia of fantastic Aristotelianism, and ground knowledge in formalized statements as taut as the propositions of algebra. In the process, he evacuated knowledge of all physicality; the essence of all physical things was, for Descartes, spatial extension that could be perfectly described by patterns of unique points designated by paired numbers of the Cartesian coordinate system. In our time, he is generally despised for his efforts.
Fleming’s meditations are similar only in the general sense that she takes knowledge itself as the object. And in the sense that the nature of cognition is identical to the nature of being human. But the knowledge she investigates is not the type that is dominant in the 20th century but that of the 17th century, and may represent a type of knowledge which has faded during the last four centuries. Her position is in fact contrary to Descartes’. Her meditations are acts of reconstitution, of restitution. Of reversal of a long trajectory of scientific reductionism.
Dif. Fig. 2:
In the landscape of high alluvial desert across from the Sangre de Christo mountain range, sitting on a blue, plastic, milk crate, Fleming peers trough a magnifying glass at illustrations of the demonstrations of Experimenta de Vacuo Spatio, written in 1672 by the Baroque experimentalist and Burgomaster of Magdeburg, Prussia, Otto Von Guericke.
Looking herself like a scientist pushing beyond the limits of perception by making the small large, Fleming works from photographs of etchings taken of the original manuscript she borrowed form a bookseller friend. By rendering the image in graphite in a photo-realist depiction, she recreates it as an archeologist might the lineaments of buried artifacts, and restores a historical moment that had been lost to us. Her drawn marks are nearly exact duplicates of the etched marks; with one difference – scale. The original images are approximately 7.5 x 9.5 inches; four of her images are 51 x40 inches, and a fifth is 51 inches. The scale shift is dramatic; the first sign of a spreading difference, they impact the viewer with all the sudden revelatory power of rounding a blind curve to find an extraordinary landscape. This is a landscape, however, of global integrity, in which science, magic, psychology, architecture, people, paradox, sexuality, the symbolic, all reside in an odd polyglot symbiosis. “All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling.”
While Descartes took as the object of his inquiry the act of thought itself, Fleming takes as the object of her inquiry the physical rendering of the representation, of the iconismus, of the image of thought. It is through the iconismus, that she enters a past that represents itself and its world as still inhabited by both occult and rationalized sensibilities, where both are still suspended in imagination as discrete forces with, and, without paradox. Mice could still be born from hay-bail combustion. The blood was only just beginning to circulate. Quicksilver grew from seeds in the womb of the earth. The object of her meditations is not thought alienated from a world and a culture, not thought in remove from a tradition or from physicality, but thought as it is made- visually, physically, aesthetically – to reveal the complex relation between ridiculous, curious humans and a natural world that refuses to be squeezed into the squat propositions of scientific schemas.
…preserving, in the depths of Classicism itself, the natural resources of the non-rationalizable.
Dif. Fig. 3
Fleming herself, and her work, similarly refuse easy art world categorizations. She is a philosopher by innate proclivity; she thinks in the same way she walks to the high view over the valley, with an easy yet earnest and precisely placed step in command of a multiplicity of terrains. And she is an artist who interrogates the physical and spiritual, with equally rigorous attention, through the process of making. Her Archimedian fulcrum would be “I make, and I am.” In part, she is an empiricist like Stein, Seeking an “arrangement in a system to pointing.” But the term system is a decoy, displaced by Stein’s syntax that opposes the universalizing, homogenizing Cartesian grid, and replaces us in an off-kilter arrangement in an unfamiliar world facing a sudden appearance of things intriguingly foreign, nameless that leave us speechless. Though desperate to communicate the ineffable presence appearing before us, we can do nothing but point and hope others share our vision. It is this “experience” that Foucault intends: “The forces of nature and life refusing to let themselves be reduced either to algebra or to dynamics, and thus preserving, in the depths of Classicism itself, the natural resources of the non-rationalizable.” The natural resources of the non-rationalizable are the very object of Fleming’s meditations.
Dif. Fig. 4
Otto Von Guericke of Magdeburg, only a footnote in the history of science, has been shunted aside by “our historians of ideas” because he was resistant to the chorus chanting, “Cartesian influence” or “Newtonian model.” Their focus, the focus of both 17th century scientists and their later historians, was elsewhere.
Von Guericke invented the air pump, a mechanism used to evacuate air from sealed vessels, such as the bronze or glass “Magdeburg Spheres” he designed and from which he pumped air and created the vacuum. Experimenta de Vacuo Spatio, and the illustrations Fleming has recreated, depict demonstrations of the existence and characteristics of the vacuum. In 1657 the British scientist, Roberte Boyle, heard of the experiment Von Guericke performed in 1654, shown in Inconismus XI, in which he connected two teams of eight horses to his sphere to tear one hemisphere from the other. Boyle, following the work of an Italian physicist Torricelli, whose work demonstrated that the atmosphere had mass and was able to calculate its weight, interpreted Von Guericke’s demonstration to mean that the chamber of the Magdeburg spheres was forced closed by the weight and pressure of the atmosphere. In Newtonian terms creating a vacuum meant negating the internal force opposite and equal to the external force of the atmospheric pressure, meaning that the force the horses recreated was the force of the evacuated internal atmosphere and had nothing to do with the properties of the vacuum itself.
Pure absence, in the work of Boyle and others, was of no scientific interest. It was simply a non-consequential side effect of conditions external to the spheres. But for the imagination of Von Guericke and Fleming, the vacuum signifies a non-rationalizable natural resource. Rather than focus on the external condition of atmospheric force, both artist and scientist turn to the internal force of nothingness. And both wish to make full imaginative use of it. Just what is the void? And how does it create such immense power? In what world does its existence put us? Fleming’s drawings are recollected anachronisms that bring us up against the conundrum of the unassailable power of nothingness, and restore for our time that moment of brilliant discovery of the force of physical enigma – of humans coming up against it, and facing the “not unordered in not resembling,” anything we have previously known. Neither Von Guericke nor Fleming allows the presence of such forceful nothing ness to be explained away; both query and demonstrate, through their meditations, just what significance the vacuum might, positively, have.
Dif. Fig 5:
Hence, how now? If the nature of cognition, conceived as an event of both mind and body, is identical with being human, and if the image of thought rather than thought itself is reified, and if work is that which seeks to make a place in an arrangement always off kilter, “in a system to pointing,” and if this is necessary to sustain the nonrationalizable as itself a natural resource fully resistant to rational reduction, then Stein agrees with Foucault that “the relation of language to painting is an infinite relation. It is not that words are imperfect, or that when confronted by the visible, they prove insuperably inadequate. Neither can be reduced to the other’s terms…”
Fleming has insinuated herself somewhere into this infinite relation. But just where? Somewhere along the scored (etched) line the possibility of which was announced by Jabes: “A look is enough to score the invisible, as a diamond point, a smooth glass surface,” said a sage….
The Fact of her drawings, better, the event of her drawings, is very curious. To speak of the drawings as aesthetic objects gets us nowhere. We cannot just speak of them in formal terms as Fleming’s drawings. What would be the significance of a critical examination of drawings by anonymous artists of the 17th century? Are they original? They are simulacra, though at a larger scale. Do we interpret them as manifestos of a cynical postmodernism a la Baudrillard, or Sherry Levine? Call them, perhaps, re-drawings? Certainly not. Their intention at least is not to attack on overly romanticized originality, but to weigh-in in reversing a long tradition of reductive scientism. Are they merely evidence of Fleming’s perhaps singularly perverse obsession with old science-related imager? Not entirely. Are they a form of neo-conceptualism, pure idea which subordinates the physical object? Not in a strict way. Are they performances? They are performative, if we consider the meditative act of making them, though Fleming does not perform for an audience. Are they then a type of process art? Not in the way that term has been used historically. They are figurative, so they stand in good company in emasculating the legacies of abstract expressionism, but to say this seriously would be melodramatic. Are they some form of historical revisionism though appearing in disguise as works of art? They in part make that claim. They are none of these things. They are fugitive. These questions are meant only to clear a space for Fleming’s work.
The works of Fleming’s Experimenta De Vacuo Spatio are cognitive models closely akin to a model evolved in the philosophy of language; they are not, but are analogous to, speech-acts. What appears initially as a statement’ of purely iconic content, a ‘statement’ so literal that it registers only a one-to-one correspondence between spoken word and thing spoken about, like saying, or pointing to, “rock,” upon closer investigation has a far greater import. The significance of “rock” does not spread far. But if the rock were a diamond, then suddenly the simple act of pointing to it takes on many dimensions of value. The term, “mother,” cannot be spoken without waves of resonance causing power outages and/or trees to bloom in winter.
Fleming’s image-act of pointing to Von Guericke’s Experimenta De Vacuo Spatio, in a literality enhanced a thousand fold by being pointed to and enlarged, should send a ripple through an art world suddenly and oddly focused on drawing. But this is only a narrow frame of art historical situating, and says more about reception of the work than about the work itself. The work itself might be invisible without situating it against the discussion of rationalism and knowledge, of visuality and language, of history and aesthetics, that storm around the periphery of the insular world of art schools, galleries, and museums. Fleming insinuates herself as an artist into philosophical discourses, not as an illustrator of others’ ideas, but actively insisting on bridging multiple worlds within the two cultures of science and the ‘liberal arts.” it is this effort to contemplate, to meditate on the profoundly disconcerting fact, on the ‘isness’ of being in all it fully opague physicality, by struggling with the powerful forces of a vacuum, of absence, of nothingness, and peeling away the layers of quotidian clutter; it is this effort that reveals the paradox of representing being by the very real forces of non-being (the vacuum) and cuts to the quick of contemporary culture. Nothing is not enough; it is perhaps too much.
Affine: I) Of or relating to a transformation, such as a rotation or expansion, that carries parallel lines into parallel lines but may change the distances between points.
Affined: I) Linked by a very close relationship. 2) Beholden to another; bound.
American Heritage College Dictionary
The Baroque refers not to an essence but rather to an operative function, to a trait. It endlessly produces folds…. Yet the Baroque trait twists and turns its folds, pushing them to infinity, fold over fold, one upon the other. The Baroque fold unfurls all the way to infinity… The model for the sciences of matter is the “origami,” as the Japanese philosopher might say, or the art of folding paper…
When Leibniz invokes Harlequin’s layers of clothing, he means that his underwear is not the same as his outer garments. That is why metamorphosis or “metaschematism” pertains to more than mere change of dimension: every animal is double – but as a heteromorphic creature, just as the butterfly is folded into the caterpillar that will soon unfold.
Gilles Deleuze, The Fold
If the drawings that comprise Fleming’s Experimenta Vacuo Spatio are not what they appear to be, neither are the sculptures. Magdeburg Sphere is suspended above and at rest on a table; occupying these two symbolic positions, seal broken, its vacuum escapes, infusing space with a substance that alters it with “more than mere change of dimension” It is the space in which “nothing” becomes “something.”
Again we must step into an unfamiliar spacetime to draw form it an almost mythic resonance that animates Fleming’s sculptural researches. And, continuing to spread difference a la Stein, we must shift our frame of reference from the misleading associations of a formalist agenda that at first glance situate the steel forms she is investigating. To place them against that backdrop obscures their origins. Like the drawings, Fleming’s sculpture is located in a discursive field not only of the art world, but of Renaissance, Baroque, and Modern science, religion and art. This admixture is powerful and generates a resonance that shatters the too narrowly proscribed periodizations and delimited contents of art historical and critical discourse, and takes us beyond both temporal edges of the Modern Territories.
The drawings of Experimenta Vacuo Spatio arise from a different kind of dialogue with the artists and scientists of 16th and 17th century science, than does Fleming’s sculptural work. The difference is partly in the process, but more importantly in the reason/need that drives the difference between the knowledge and cognition of drawing and constructing. It may be that she plays the double role of both the theoretical and the applied scientist who today are so purposefully, institutionally separated (and we should note, were not in the time of Von Guericke). If drawings are analogous to predictive equations; then sculpture is the empirical proof. With Fleming’s sculpture, the analogy is more than an analogy; her sculpture derives from a set of inquiries into the nature of spacetime that has paralleled the thought of Baroque science, and contemporary quantum and cosmological physics. While riding along in parallel in history, messenger particles, consciously and unconsciously, or simply because it is the order of things, speed back and forth in the spaces between the orders of thought of Kepler/Fleming/Fermi. Bootstrapping inspiration from such virtual realms, she invents “models” that are as “real” as those of Ptolemy or Copernicus or Kepler; or Bohr or Fermi or Wienberg; and that because they give appearances to her experiments and investigations in spacetime, demonstrate the possibility of their existing at the point where the infinite and infinitesimal collapse scale altogether. Is the eight foot high and thirty foot long Insinnuation a model of galactic or quantum particle proportions? The term that resurfaces here to locate the mode of Fleming’s activity, derives from ancient astronomy; the transliteration from Attic Greek would be – sozain ta phenomena, or, save the appearances.
The thought process we need to enter is figured in Fleming’s appropriation of Kircher’s 1641 drawing of the inclination of the magnetic lines of force. In the center of Kircher’s illustration is an eye inscribed within a heart inscribed within concentric circles inscribed within the magnetic force lines. The eye folded within the heart is a familiar symbol of Catholic Christianity, but as used here, comes to signify the transition from a purely religious to a religo-scientific early modern Europe. The affinity of the eye/heart double folds the seen into the felt, as it folds the divine into the mortal. The vision/emotion fold is itself nested further within the affinity of the circular and the magnetic. The artist gives us the equation: the eye is to the heart what the circular is to magnetic force. It is the heart that gives soul to sight, just as the magnetic gives life to the circular. But sight and the circular are structures of life. The body, mind and matter are inseparable, just as there is no separation, no contradiction, between the search for divine law and the search for physical law. Deleuze: “And there still we can imagine the affinity of matter for life insofar as a muscular conception of matter inspires force in all things.” The Oculus is an inspirational origami of this type.
Fleming’s drawing of Tyco Brahe’s astrolabe, an instrument used to re-measure and make more accurate the table s of accumulated astronomical data, is an homage to his nocturnal act of observation, carried out rigorously over his entire life, of looking into the appearances of the heavens and wresting from apparent chaos the mysteries of cosmos. It was his extraordinary effort that made possible Johannes Kepler’s work of “saving appearances” by completely refiguring the then known universe. To “save the appearances” meant making a precise fit between a priori axioms and the accumulated data. His great achievement, almost a pure act of making something from nothing, was to introduce “imperfections” that replaced a priori axioms which required perfection to be dependent on a universe` designed as spherical and circular, as still and uniform, forbidding any other geometries. While demonstrating the mathematical order of anew planetary arrangement, his new heretical laws required that planetary orbits be not circular but elliptical, with the sun not centered but resting at one focus, and that planetary motion speed up and slow down. The consequences of these laws were tremendous, reconceiving the world as dynamic, as full of forces of attraction and repulsion.
It would not be absurd to think of Fleming’s work as following from the Brahe-Kepler lineage, though retroactively infused with the aberrant though precise movements of quantum messengers. She transforms this temporal elision into sculptural investigations that synthesize early mechanics and contemporary particle physics. Oculus combines rotations and expansions with forces transmitted from vertex to vertex. It is a work that, speaking metaphorically and literally, carries parallel lines (of thought and hexagons) into parallel lines (of thought and hexagons), but may change (speaking metaphorically and literally) the distances between points. Oculus is Fleming’s astrolabe-quantum event, a double image, a caterpillar-butterfly; it folds together the seeing device with the thing seen It is simultaneously subject and object, an iteration of itself as an iteration of all things.
This double image gets quickly complicated, folding and unfolding like conceptual epicycles within formal epicycles. It is an instrument, a telescope, through with we see, enlarged and fuzzy, like the Medici Stars (the four moons of Jupiter) first seen by Galileo, an astronomical inscription, a geometric symbol that is key to its own construction and of Oculus; etched into t he steel plate of the bottom hexagonal vertex, the lenses magnify two intersecting circles of equal diameter each with center at opposite ends of the same radius, situated with a primitive grid. The symbol, a slightly elaborated Vesica Piscis, is a construction technique for establishing perpendicular lines – but of far greater moment, it proves by construction (quod est faciendum) the existence of the equilateral triangle, the simpler, more elemental regular polygon from which the hexagon drives; and it is the symbol of creation, since it is coitus of two perfect and equal circles that the next of kin, the perfect equilateral triangle, emerges. This symbol is itself doubly seen, seen with or without the circular lenses, each located along the central axis within the hexagonal, parallel planes. Each of these views is an “appearance” and both have legitimacy; but which is the “truer” perception? Which do we “save?”
If the instrument is the caterpillar, then what is the emergent butterfly? The hexagonal lateral faces structure the sculpture as a double of itself: the topmost hexahedron, of shorter focal length, shorter axis, hovers over a lower hexahedron of greater focal length. The butterfly begins to spread its wings. The slight distance between the equal faces of each hexahedron is similar to the apparently empty, but vigorously energetic space between north and south poles of a magnet, cleaving to and away with the same precision of ambiguity that animates and orients the quantum frenzies between up and down quarks, always, already, just out of reach of conceptualization. The radii projecting from the vertices of smaller to larger hexagons are the ephemeral paths traced by continuously transmuting forces that bind the figures together. Inscribed on the ends of each structural member, in barely legible figures, are numbers designating the member to which each must be joined, Oculus is enmeshed in a field of numbers that map its exact placement within a field of forces and directionality. It is a butterfly frozen in flight, an object from a spacetime moment appearing, suddenly in a flash from far beyond the periphery of perception, saved for our inspection and amazement. An alien thing landed on our shores that makes us mute through apprehensive.
What is seen, what appears to the eye of common sense, is always in conflict with the models science provides of events that occur beyond the limits of our perception. The disjunction between “what is actually the case” and “what appears to be the case” is the friction that continually challenges and requires us to go beyond ourselves. Of what other moment? Of what else do we go in search?
Efforts to encounter the invisible forces of spacetime, and to inscribe them within the visible, to make tangible not the ineffable, but the presence of the unseen, have generated extraordinarily ingenious fictions. These fictions somehow gather both arresting awe and unlimited power. Fictions have produced such facts as an expanding universe filled with collapsing stars so dense no light escapes; spacetime as a physical fabric that expands and contracts and occurs at infinitesimal scales at which the qualitative indices of common sense fail. In quantum spacetime, simple human-scale concepts like place, here, there, moment, then, have no meaning- the froth of activity creates a world in which the space and time of a single event can never be repeated. Spacetime is not a receptacle in which things occur, into which the universe expands; spacetime itself expands, creating space and time in its wake: prior to this expansion, there is no “place” into which things expand…. While Gramma Seed produces grass in the Colorado desert, it could as well be a model of a frozen moment during the expansion of a curved spacetime continuum; the parallel circles are sections of the cone, bounded by the speed of light, that is now estimated at 15 billion years old and some trillion light years from its origin. Similarly in Space Lace and The Cloak of the Motion appearances are saved and proven to exist by the fact that they have been made, holding together structures and frozen events that seem impossible, but can’t be, because we witness their order, not their dissolution.
The distance between Brahe-Kepler and Fleming is historical and ideological/aesthetic. Her aesthetic a prioris have been forged during a peculiar historical moment; a moment that will come to be conceived as more and more peculiar. Whatever modernism might have been, and whatever postmodernism might become, the last four decades of the 20th century are liminal. Since we fully occupy this liminality, and are caught in the historical resonances of temporal interference patterns, in which some cultural characteristics are amplified and some canceled, it is not entirely useful to use those periodizations in sussing out Fleming’s aesthetic genealogy. A divining rod would be the better method. But her work of saving the appearances, of working in the vital synapse of imagination, are concretizations, distillations, of aesthetic/scientific impulses that will be shown to flow in the deep currents of 20th century culture.
“The Baroque fold unfurls all the way to infinity…”