The Labyrinth: In Other Words, Bernie Lubell. draft

1st Preface to an Essay:

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2nd Preface to an Essay:

Bernie Lubell makes often, very large machines out of cheap pine, his chosen medium because cheap pine breaks so easily… his way of ‘building’, literally in his case, the potential for failure into his machines, as a way of resisting what the ‘machine’ usually connotes: perfection, ‘like clock work’, precision, rationality and the like. It gives his ‘machines’ a tentative and sometime fragile existence and personality. He doesn’t use nails. All his highly sophisticated machines are constructed with traditional forms of hand crafted joinery. And they don’t work by themselves usually. They require various forms of collaborative human collaboration and participation to power them. Rarely can one single human make them move, function, operate – it usually takes at least two, and often more, people to set them in action. Lubell makes functionally operative and very complex gear systems…. out of cheap pine… the only metal he uses is for springs he makes himself; and latex… which he also makes himself. Though there has been a video here and there. Much of his work borrows from various scientific concepts, theories, practices, and specific scientists. His work is embedded in his scholarly historical knowledge of many subjects. He might have chosen to write; but, why do that when words inevitably fail? Wooden machines guaranteed to fail are more honest.

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note on some images: like the two above and others to follow of the same quality/place: these images are exceptional because Bernie devoted a room in his small house in order to take them: setting them in a visual context in which they would appear like their scientific ancestors of the late 19th century. which of course, they don’t in any way. i’d asked him to take detailed images of these works, so i could write about them with specific visual details that are unfathomable in standard ‘object shot’ ‘art pornography’. so, years later, they are now seeing some daylight creeping over the horizon. i think these images represent this particular work in its best setting.

3rd Preface to an essay:

This Particular Essay Commences [here and now and its first section is entitled]:

Of Origins

Origins, beginnings, singular roots to problems or histories, are such deeply embedded forms of mythology and ideology that challenges to their legitimacy lead to everything from derisive laughter at the thought, to war. They are so deeply constitutive of political illusions, and psychological conceits, that they are taken to be as real and natural as air and water. To suggest that air and water are fictions lands one in the loony bin at best, or in the grave at worst. Origins are the unfortunate legacies of theologies and sciences alike. They are at the heart of law. They reflect the deep obsessions of modernity itself, which to bootstrap itself into existence, decided that its own origin would be founded in a radical break with the past. It enshrined the new as its own patron god, a demiurgos powerful enough to create something from nothing. The paradox is that it succeeded, and this success of paradox is modernity itself. This is far from the first time that the origin of fact was fiction. Even here, however, especially here, we must be rigorous in our analysis and point out that this grammatical construction is itself an illusion. We must always pluralize – origins of facts are fictions. Behind every singularity is a plurality.

One of modernity’s origins stems from the concept of cause, a concept so integral to our contemporary world view that thought is practically impossible without it. The 18th century debates over its existence created one of modernity’s deepest and strongest currents, now long forgotten, establishing causality as an unquestionable, if unconscious, fact. Yet it is not difficult to put its legitimacy to flight by showing that as with every concept, it cannot stand alone. Even the famed Newtonian law that gives it its modern form requires the complicity of a collaborator to bring itself into existence: every cause is accompanied by an effect. But even if we dismiss this slightly reworded paraphrase, and allow that for every cause there is an equal but opposite effect, we’ve only exchanged sleights of hand. There is still no evidence that causes produce effects, that effects are the inevitably time-delayed children of causes. The illustrious modernizer himself, Newton, stipulated that cause and effect are not only equal, but absolute opposites. And it is a fundamental tenet of western philosophy that teaches that something cannot both exist and not exist, at the same time, which would be required if the cause and its opposite were the same thing. But being the same thing is required of Newton’s law, though these distinct samenesses are minimally separated by infinitesimal differences of spaces, times and directions. Effects, in a modern Newtonian world must always follow causes, even when they seem to appear simultaneous. This paradox is verified by another famous thought experiment: the Newtonian clockwork universe was conceived to be so perfect, and so independent of time, that, all its laws could run in reverse, in theory, which would turn every effect into a cause. This helps to clarify what the terms opposite and equal mean. The first means opposite in direction, not in kind, (as in love and hate), and equal means in force (as in power). Every instance of gravitational force is identical, in kind, to every other. Only its quantity and direction change. But even these changes cannot be attributed to itself – they are influenced by the effects on it of other forces in the great system of forces that make the complex bodies of the universe behave in such an orderly manner. It took awhile for the flaws in this vision of perfection to reveal themselves, a few centuries in fact. But when they did, it was with such revolutionary significance, and was so difficult to conceive, that the resistances to it, the equal and opposite effects it produced, are still very much at work today. Modernity is now defined, it is fair to say, by the fact that it has a very difficult time following the path of its own children. One of these children goes by the name of the law of pluralizing we have already mentioned: behind every singular cause must be a plurality of effects.

Against modernity’s children stands one of its most powerful and most ancient of guardians – the Satyr. Long ago, in an ancient forest a Man had lost his way and was very cold and hungry. Fortunately for him a Satyr happened along and offered him dinner and a place to stay for the night. Upon sitting down in front of the still unlit hearth, the Satyr noticed the Man blowing on his hands and asked him why he did so. “To warm them up,” replied the Man. The Satyr was satisfied with that explanation. The fire was lit and dinner cooked. As the Man was about to eat, the Satyr one again noticed the Man blowing, but this time on his food. “Why do you blow on your food,” he inquired. “To cool it down,” replied the Man. Whereupon the Satyr’s demeanor instantly changed for the worst, and without warning, threw the Man out of his house saying, “No creature who can blow both hot and cold with the same breath is welcome in my house!”

Modern Man is, like the Satyr, but half human, while their human children may blow with breaths both hot and cold.

The Labyrinth


We should be sufficiently warmed up now to tackle the consummate conundrummer, Bernie Lubell. Our entrance to his thought and work is through a labyrinth, one of Lubell’s own making, instrument of his own captivity in a web generated by refusals to accept the Satyr’s conditions of hospitality.

The labyrinth enfolds existence, identity, and desire, the map of which his drawings above, with tragicomic intensity, attempts to trace and order by means of the mark of the arrow or futile bubbles – causal, mechanistic evidence of the labyrinth’s dynamic, tensorial structure, which may leave the He-Beast dead, but fail to discover the way out. Which would mean that Lubell has merely taken his – and/or her – place, the price of substitution beauty demands of the beast – another oscillation rippling through the fabric of spacetime. The She-Beast is the object of desire as she spins the web, and in theory, though its practice is doubtful, could lead him to freedom, perhaps through the nodes doubly inscribed by circles or capitalization or boxes, and i here refer only to the last of diagrams above – CONTINTUITY AND DISCRET(ION) is a singularity leading to both INFLATION and COMPLETION. Two self-reflexive operators provide other arrow-crumbs: the first is found to the left of center inscribed by the circuit, MAP – Exploration, which there bifurcates first toward Altar as Puzzle (which gathers vectorial power from A MAZED, Lost in Thought, and its two-way channel with LIES AS LANDSCAPE), and second toward EXPECTATION. The second self-reflexive operator is found in a single link from the LABYRINTH: Vessel – SELF/OTHER (doubly modulated by MALE/FEMALE and PARTICULAR/FAMILIAR), where it floats surrounded though disconnected – SELF/OTHER in Lubell’s model is indeed a mere container, of itself incapable of agency. Vessels also determine, however, WALLS/BOUNDARIES linked directly to WRITING/SPELLS/ and /DISEMBODIED VOICE – channels of regress, ingress, progress and distress, the trajectories of LANGUAGE/CONNECTION/LINEAR THINKING. This labyrinth is the pluralized “origin” of Lubell’s Etiology of Innocence. And the crumbs have been eaten by birds.

Without Guillaume Apollinaire we might never had Lubell; but since Lubell, we can forget  Guillaume.

To Have Heart

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A realized installation for Bay Area Now, The Center For the Arts, Yerba Buena Gardens: comment: Lubell’s installation is impossible to photograph. It is not an ‘object’. It is a singular work, but not one that can be easily ‘presented’. To come to know it, is to experience it, in spacetime. It is impossible to present or represent it, in text. Which is part its great merit. It forces a writer like myself, to negotiate it in a way is ‘parallel’ to it’s own unrepresentability.

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To follow Lubell – we must first follow the rabbit through the rubber tubing. Squeeze your fist for a moment, and look at your forearm. Do you see the landscape there? Its power, its effects, its forms? Billions of years of evolution in your every grasp – a fact itself difficult to grasp, because so immediate and so ephemeral. The rabbit moves there, pulse by pulse, pushed on by the “lub-dub” of the heart beat. While not yet well practiced at the game, we at least have the Labyrinth as guide. We have taken a few steps through its passageways, rounded a few corners, discovered a few dead ends, a few connecting leads. Everyone knows and loves the maze. We not only loved them as kids – we constructed them every chance we had. We love to be lost, so that we can find, and, be found. We are all still hunters and gatherers, adventurers, travelers searching for unseen worlds. It is NOT sentimental that “adults” are those animals that emerged from HIDE & SEEK. That particular origin is fundamental, and governs us still. We have merely passed by the wonderful-strange dream-like encounter with arrow-crumbs of Lubell’s maps on our way to another peculiar image in our dream-scape – a rubber line of force. Not as familiar-strange as a “telephone wire,” or an “internet connection,” it’s a straw through which you draw your drink, and, a wind instrument through which you blow notes. As you inhale, or exhale, you send and receive messages, pulses that travel through the inner space-and-time sanctums of the atria, and the ventricles – those incomprehensibly self-motivating turbine rooms in perpetual motion. The heart breathes as the lungs beat in rhythm, with lust or hatred, with every sentiment possible.

We see the rubber line of force as a flat, squiggly line in the drawing above – but – that “flat line” is a pipe-like tube full of powerful movement and content that we must discover how to follow, to find, to know. It’s the artery in your arm that carries life to distant recesses of your body, to your fingers as they write or caress, or, the vein that carries death back to your lungs and heart to be revivified, that makes you sing. It’s the invisible or not much noticed link that makes us possible. But paradoxically, the two-way circuit of life-death is possible only through oneway valves – to-and-from, swinging like a pendulum that strikes a tambour at each limit of its double swing, it circulates like a swing seat, like a love-seat – that make the two directions possible simultaneously, as we wind up and down through time. Here we are, back in the Labyrinth! How do these arrow-crumbs work?

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Allegory attaches ideas to the structure of poetic imagery – not to the images, but to their structure. If there were but one line, then we could have a very simple structure, but no labyrinth. But we have a second line, a “belt,” that is driven by the same device. This belt requires a second nature of us, not the nature of an animal that burrows through elaborate underground passages, but that of a bird that so easily balances on the surface of the line, a tight-rope walker who plays the fields of vibrations, who springs and falls with the crests and troughs, a voyager along waves that carry force to animate things unseen further out to sea, beyond the limits of what we can see. Birds, like whales, see two worlds at once, the first with one eye, a second with the other, but never a single world, and must imagine a third, unseen, that falls between. This is the belt that passes through a narrow gap in a wall, leading to a third world. It is driven not by itself, like the heart, but by gears that drive it around its circuit. If we fail to power the crank-pump, there will be no such world. We must take action. Rabbit and bird, crank and pump, have life only if we animate them, and if we animate one, we necessarily animate the other, and we originate simultaneously two radically different animalities and the worlds they invent and require. And this changes the world – the wall grows a wheel to guide the belt on its passage through the wall. Power cannot be singular, only multiple, and never is its origin simple, singular, but like the heart itself, as it fills and empties its four chambers, opens and closes its valves, and like a three-pipe organ, sings with three voices. It sings “lub” as a pure note, but its “dub” as a chord, or as a dipthong, “da-ub.” The heart is a bird that sings of three worlds. It is a hurricane that inhales and exhales as pressure builds and subsides over the ocean in the spherical chest of the earth’s atmosphere.

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The diagram before us is the diagram that we are. Our every gesture transforms one thing into another. A single revolution of the handle of the crank-pump, creates two forces. While the rabbit flows though the lumen of unseen passages, the bird alights on the very crest as it forms and is the focus of the light’s rays reflecting from its wings as it flaps them dry, rising for that brief moment, slightly above its stationary point. Immediately multiple, hybrid worlds form there. Bird-rabbits are common in theories of perception; but they are even more common as corporeal realities. We may say that the heart-lung is but one organ with two, inseparable components; that to breath is to beat out a metronomic rhythm between, not two, but three musical nodes. And that to have heart is to take deep breaths of courage in the face of those worlds that lie between heartbeats, between the bird’s biocular but unconnected visions. All walls are but permeable membranes that offer their own aids to passage, arrow-crumbs that point the way only as far as the next turn of the labyrinth. The heart has two perfectly fleshy “pacemakers,” two switches, one that fires the contractions of the atria, another that fires the ventricles, and the physical distance between them is measured by the temporal delay between the “lub” and the “da-ub.” This diagram is for our ears, more than for our eyes, for listening, more for our bodies and how they act and know in a system of resistances.


The Theater of Knowledge

Our rabbit-bird is master of time and space, those two inextricable, corporeal landscapes that we cannot escape, but always escape us. The wind that blows through grass and obscures the rabbit’s flight is the same wind that lifts wings. Soft sand at the ocean’s edge, and the rarified air near the peaks of volcanoes, pace us, slow us in time as they slow our progress through space, with such refined increments, degree by degree, centimeter by centimeter, that the sounds of waves are more acute, the glacier’s reflections against red pumice more astonishing. These liminal places, these limits, are not the exception but the rule. They are the envelopes we must push at every moment and are pushed by. Never, really, do we inhabit sea level perfection, as though this were the place where our biology is optimized. Such a level is another equator, it exists only in imaginary spacetime. Just as you will not find a line traced in mid ocean, or inscribed in Andean mountainsides, so there is no registration of intuitive perfection at the edge of the sea. Yet, such is the intimacy of breath, such the intimacy of the sound of the heartbeat, that when you lay your head on a lover’s chest, when you hear the three voices, you are moved by the simultaneous rhythms of the then, and, there. “Lub-da-ub.”

The heart-lung is so special and such a central experience, how could we allow “science” to tell us they are separate organs? Our lives at every moment will not allow for their segregation into specialties far removed from the circuits of desire we daily move in and through. Are we in fact blinded by science? Or, does science offer us another form of poetic thought? Science after all revealed to us the extraordinary subtitles of our bodies, of the heart’s extraordinary, ceaseless machinations, of the endurance of its self-generating, muscular, musicality. Our rabbit-bird moves in spacetime, as this word suggests, as through a singular medium, in the same way blood and air mix in the very center of our beings. Rabbit-birds, dear philosophers, are not Aristotelian chimeras, or flaws in the material of Galilean lenses mistaken for moons orbiting the Jupiters of language and perception. They power us. QEF – quod est faciendum – is a higher designation than QED – quod est demonstrandum – as faciendum outweighs demonstrandum in the “final analysis” of our first and last breaths. Dear mother, you may not understand these arcane, philosophical acronyms, and you need not, but they are not beyond your reach, in fact, you know them better than most. “Don’t pull the wool over my eyes!” How ingrained is that animal phrase! I will not be deceived! I will see it with my own eyes! And how both poetic and pragmatic. And I know of no other that is a better translation of QEF, and, a distrust of QED. Make it! Do it! are the essential requirements of science, in the final analysis, as it is of poetry. You know these things! We all know these things. What you know is what you know, as philosopher-writer Gertrude Stein has shown.

Rabbit-birds, dear philosopher, dear mother, dear philosopher-mother, carry us away! At the most vital centers of our bodies, what happens? The hurricane becomes the heartbeat, just as the heartbeat may become a hurricane and destroy the body that bears it.


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Etiology of Innocence is this very mise-en-scene. It is as visceral and raw as an operating table. Lubell’s sleight-of-hand is to put us immediately to work so that we cannot be overwhelmed by the primal scenes of life and death he puts before us, and makes us agents of the cruel and macabre violence required at the origins and endpoints of life. We are lost in the face of Lubell’s apparatus if we think Etiology is only a simulation, a “representation,” a model, and therefore not real. Etiology is a reality – it was made, and it works. QEF. Hammers beat the atrial chamber to force it to contract while the ventricle is garroted to send its life-blood to the lungs. And we may laugh here, exactly here, and then be brought up short by the carnal intimacy of what we actually are. But the laughter has already taken physical form in the shape of the vibration now coursing through the rubber circulatory system, mixing literally with, and becoming, the pneumatic blood-pulses that move things elsewhere. In the same way, at a moment just barely deferred, barely delayed, traveling just behind it, is the pulse-shape of tragedy, the “message” of mortality – we are aghast that we are physical –that everything that is physical, ceases, dies, is absolutely mortal.

image repetition, with a difference, as is necessary a la stein…


Again, we’re faced with double images – a drumstick hammer that musically percusses the atrium, while a noose strangles the ventricle. It’s not clear whether this is one of thousands or billions of similar work stations of a human power station on a planetary scale, where we struggle to produce life, and death, in their inseparable blend; or, whether we are factory workers operating the crank-pump of an organic machine in a laboratory whose research goal is to produce human bodies. Aren’t we all Frankensteins? Or do we demonstrate the principles of a completely new life form? Either way, work is the essence, and proof eludes us because if we work, we cannot observe; while, if we observe, we cannot work, and there will be nothing to observe. Meanwhile the effects of our actions escape us entirely, happening elsewhere, for others. We find and loose ourselves in an epic theater in which we experience and know ourselves in alienated form; and in a theater of cruelty in which the veils of allusion drop away, even those of a false rationality, and we are forced instead to contemplate the imaginary in hieroglyphic form. One in which the proscenium has been exploded, the centrality of text vocalized by actors dissolved and disseminated to other kinds of actor-worker produced events in collaboration with the entire apparatus of Etiology. In sum, Etiology is a theater of epistemology – it enacts and produces knowledges.


Life flows out before us. We inhabit it. Its substance is continuity, a material so durable that it is made of its opposite, discontinuity. We come, we go. We are, we are not. We see, we are blind. We speak, we are silent. We love, we hate. We give, we take. We are not harmonious. That is a false god. How do you love what is your opposite? That is an interesting question. How do you long for that which you don’t comprehend? That puts you outside yourself? In a spacetime rearrangement that sends you on with a new gait along the ocean edge, along the glacial edge of the cinder cone of Cotapaxi one of the highest volcanic peaks in South America, in Ecuador?


Lubell describes Etiology in this way:

Etiology is the study of causes. It’s only common usage seems to be by the medical profession — as in the origins of a disease. The connection to medicine is appropriate to the origins of my piece and the suggestion that innocence is some sort of disease is intentional. Innocence is usually either shunned as unsophisticated or blindly embraced. it doesn’t need to be this way. The possibilities for innocence are much more complex. Looking back from the end of the machine age, my Etiology of Innocence reflects a nostalgia for a more innocent time when it seemed that simple mechanical models might explain everything–when the experts were generalists and the discovery of ultimate truths seemed to be just around the corner.

At the same time, I recognize that any quest for an ideal, like a “truth”, requires numerous little add-ons and fix-its to deliver a resemblance to the real. And all of these fix-its lead away from that very idealism and innocence that was the stance necessary to begin. Ultimately, these add-ons and fix-its become a sort of Truth in themselves and are often considered to be the hallmark of sophistication. So simplicity is how you must start but…

Lubell refuses another obsession of the Satyr’s modernity; innocence is paradoxically complex. And because the champion of innocence is visuality, he deliberately works to suppress it, frustrate it, complicate it, expanding the work through the alternative corporeal dimensions of aurality and tactility. Not only may our eyes reduce life’s complexities to caricatures, or shore up any of the dominant regimes of visual representation, they make innocence not simply nostalgic and therefore inherently conservative, but a not-so-innocent state of predetermination based on the laws of those regimes, propagating not an open system of visual freedom, but the instantiation of visual norms that an innocent visuality would never allow. In this socio-political-perceptual matrix, non-visual strategies are requisite to releasing visuality both from its suborned conventionality, and from itself. It is one of Lubell’s tasks to reveal the faux-innocent hegemony of innocence, and to restore to innocence the absolute “promiscuity of visuality” that would never allow it to be dominated by any regime of norms. All of Lubell’s works are networked systems materially, objectively comprised of language, machines, spacetime, and people, and circulate subjective contents through the connective and disjunctive tissues of science, philosophy, psychology, and theater. These eight categories establish the main coordinates of the three dimensional grid of Lubell’s taxonomy, from which his four dimensional arrays of epistemological hybrids emerge. His tragic-comic works usually conflate and reciprocate subjective personal and objective historical spacetimes, along four axis-types simultaneously: first, the subjective axes of his own encounters with etiology and innocence in this case, and second, the objective axes along which the reenactments, through the collaborative efforts of others, give life to the network. The third axis-type is the historical hybridization of the French 19th century science of Marey, with the 20th and 21st century art of Lubell. The last axis is that of the actual spacetime enactment of work in the exhibition space.

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Within these arrays, Lubell uses several methods including visuality to distract us from seeing, reducing sight’s dominance though machine movements, sounds, hidden connectivity, and fragmentation of sculptural space that allows for no single frame of reference. Because visuality is suppressed, so is spatial dominance; and, because aurality is a much more temporal organ than vision, as is tactility, time is the dimension that regulates our experience of Etiology. Participants must circulate through the theater of animate-machines, and literally alternate between becoming both temporal operator-actors, and temporal audience-witnesses. Operators and witnesses are equally active participants as they must not only collaborate but exchange roles in order to produce and perform etiological knowledges, innocent or not.

Etiology’s history, the historicity that it constructs, is thick like moving water with many currents and cross channels that alter and shift in collective rhythm, as temperatures and pressures rise and fall. Each mechanism in the spacetime array is a valve or a node in a circuit that calibrates and is calibrated in sync with the other nodes and valves. Axis-type one is interpreted in one way when enacted against the background of axis-type three, but in another when enacted against the others. Lubell has both transported us to the 19th century, and transported Marey into the 21st. It is imperative that we move along both temporal axes, burrowing through time, or balancing on the edge of a temporal slice. The time machine preserves knowledge not as a past object of curiosity, not as something only or entirely obsolete, but as a figure reinvigorated as a model of our present. Etiology is not a mere re-creation, but a retranslation or reaccentuation that requires new comprehensions and apprehensions of there then and here now, at the same time. The historical allusion to Marey requires that we reinterpret our present differently, that we place the accents on what we know and don’t differently, that the time delay between there then and here now, between the two fleshy pace makers, registers history physically as inspiration and expiration – we know and don’t know, we remember and forget, we agree and disagree, we learn and unlearn, we interpret and misinterpret, hear and mishear – continually renegotiating the parameters and formations of knowing. The mechanical cause and effect models that promised simple, innocent solutions, have long since proven scientifically and sociologically inadequate, while they continue to be thoroughly entrenched and descriptively relevant (not to say accurate) to the social and cultural dynamics of hope, fear and control, and, their negations. Socially, knowledge still operates very much according to 19th century models based on overly simplistic dynamics of causes and effects, and it is this illusion that Lubell both appreciates and challenges.

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Etiology is, therefore, not only a time machine, but a psychology and anthropology machine that produces alternative subjects, like the satyr and human, at the “heart” of the encounters between Lubell, as theater director, and his surrogate actants (the machines), on the one hand, and random encounters with museum subjects, on the other, as they negotiate the nodes within this four dimensional array. When an actor sets the network in motion by “pumping” the heart, synthesizing organic and mechanical models by setting the vegetal (latex) organ in motion by turning a crank, she produces witnesses and participants at other mechanico-corporeal nodes of the network as they come to life. The heart-operator is producer, and as a substitute for the artist, becomes one, is in literal fact the machine’s empirical demiurgos, responsible for animating Etiology for others to imagine. Reciprocally, and with the same action, the actual Lubell is subjectivized, becomes, in fact, the museum subject. Etiology is, then, an apparatus that produces objective new knowledges at the heart of the subject, and new subjective knowledge at the heart of the object. Were the event to stop here, the work would be as hierarchical and passive as television or cinema.[iii] But Etiology establishes the social necessity of others doing for the first operator, what she has done for them. If we shift linguistic registers just a bit, if we substitute the slightly reaccentuated background of labor, and emphasize the production aspect of the machine, then we may discover its commentary on economics, psychological as well as monetary and say: The machine’s circuit requires that producers become consumers, and consumers, producers. It is this double, reciprocal aspect of Lubell’s work that establishes its greatest significance. Etiology, as the study of causes (and effects) is itself, specifically an etiology machine that produces social subjectivity objectively, literally, as a “third” identity, the resultant of two vectors demanded by the network’s action – the alternations of subject and object, producer and consumer, self and other, as the third world between the two views of bird vision, as rabbit-bird, or breath that is both hot and cold, cause and effect, inhale and exhale.

Lubell reinforces the reciprocity of the subject and object in a remarkable number of ways, making clear how they are conditioned and preconditioned by the bidirectional flow of history. But even within this ebb and flow of time, the present does not suffer; on the contrary, Lubell ensures that the present is continuously, if discretely, reformed by immersing Etiology in its own, perpetually and unpredictably changing, realtime soundscape. The mechanic-organic components of Etiology, enclosed by walls, have quirky, unpredictable and unstable seeming movements caused by the actors who operate them, and exaggerated or amplified sounds. Using prosthetic horns to amplify the sounds that would be missed otherwise, Lubell links the inaudible to the audible through acts of intimacy, effectively broadening our range of perception through acts of intention – we must put our heads directly into the horn to hear the “lub-da-ub” of the heartbeat machine. The wheezing of the breathing machine and the rhythmic thumping of the heartbeat machine, the percussive sounds of the gears of the heart simulator, the clacking, counterweight-tower powering down as it spins the chart recorder where the heartbeat is graphed by pencil against pine, generates a soundscape that fixes us in aural, subjective innocence, because visuality helps us very little here, helps us very little to hear. Visuality may as often, or more often, impede aurality. Etiology reverses their importance; sound orients us toward visual objects always anew, because sound, as opposed to conventional music, is not necessarily codified. Sounds inevitably do become codified with repetition, and become signs like any other. But this is not their absolute condition, and they can, at least ephemerally, be deployed nondiscursively, as they are in Lubell’s Etiology, as the cliché, codified sounds of the heartbeat and breathing are dramatically re-accented both in their relations to each other, and in the manner in which they are produced. It is this weighted, audiovisual complicity that allows Lubell to bring the temporal to the forefront, to distance static visuality and its standardized, Euclidean forms. Second only to sound, and reinforcing its effects, the pneumatic rubber hoses are Etiology’s most important, aesthetic-empirical device; they are literally three dimensional singularities, curving fractal dimensional lines, that carry operative force from the expansions and contractions of the heart, to animate the other mechanico-organic and sonic events of the work. They literally connect components which remain hidden from each other, and establish a sublimated form of spatiality, not accessible to vision, but instead, experienced in a complementary register that consists of projected, unpredictable, continuously transforming patterns of sounds, unique to the patterns of play that characterize every realtime performance of Etiology.

While Lubell reaccentuates the visual with the sonic emphasis, he supplements this anti-visual impact through and by emphasis on tactility, not only through the necessity of operators, but in the characteristic hyperbole of parts made necessary by using the perfectly unsuited material of cheap pine for gears and other mechanical devices, the systematic alteration of parts necessary to achieve the limit between “working” for the length of the exhibition, and failure at any moment. Just like our human bodies. Careful observation of the details of Lubell’s works reveals the residues of a long development of just such limits in the redesigns of every conceivable type: retrofits, scarifications, grafts, enlargements, punctures, add-ons, subtractions, angle reorientations, rules lines and measurements, often reinforced, as with the boxes circumscribing the words and phrases of Labyrinth, by words branded into the pine skin. These details reveal yet another source of historical inevitability; the exhibited work is only the latest of a long series of prototypes, the one that functions best at this particular moment for this particular place and occasion. But there is never a final, perfectly executed, meta-prototypic final solution. Nothing would be more at odds with Lubell’s philosophy. Perfection is a utopian and religious blind hope that Lubell works diligently against. Such utopian fantasies eradicate the “perfect” messiness of vitality for which he strives. Imperfection, while achieving success on the verge of failure, is the historical condition and criterion by which Lubell judges his works successful.

This said, Etiology does indeed have a state of optimum performativity achieved when all it’s parts are simultaneously in motion, which requires two operators – one at the heart crank-pump setting the network in operation, and one at the chart recorder, spinning the disk on which the central event is graphed. And ideally, the inner sanctum would have its full complement of witnesses at each of the theater’s nodes. Under such conditions, the circuit is complete, with the crank-pump powering the circulation network, and the tower-clock powering the recorder sufficiently to inscribe in pencil a few cycles of “lub-da-ub.” The crank-pump work must be matched by the clock-recorder work for Etiology to achieve and maintain its full vitality. Once again we find that Lubell cancels the concepts of origin and cause-effect, putting in question the priority of the power of the heart crank-pump through substituting for it another power, another concept of time, and another form of QEF – the clock registers not hours and minutes, but similar to the clocks that keep the time of planetary motions or the circulation of the zodiac around the ecliptic, measures the time of the heart’s rhythms. Closer to language, the graph of these rhythms are the “output” translations not of absolute time, but in the form of an “image,” of heart-time, the specific heart-time of Etiology’s specific heart. The recorder charts at a glance the heart’s rhythmic patterns, indicating whether or not its three voices are well-tuned and properly syncopated. In the graph’s wavy lines we read another, inaudible, corporeal subtlety – its grace notes. Or so we may believe. If not, we may believe with equal though contrary satisfaction that these subtleties are the results of the work’s mechanic-organic eccentricities, a measure of pencil-sharpness and coarseness of wood grain, or of imperceptible imperfections in the pneumatic circulation. In either case, the flow of the piece reciprocally between the mechanic-organic heart-works, and the chart recorder clock-works and their linguistic graph, is unimpeded, and which form of power is more “original” or more “primary” is impossible to establish. The heart-lung rhythms have spoken, sung, and written, in spacetime, there then and here now. The rabbit-bird pulse generates the force that makes language necessary, not just possible, though still, at most, an effect of other inseparable, plural priorities.

Etiology requires a subject in many ways contrary to the modernist art consuming subject, one who must listen and act, rather than look and passively contemplate, investigate and solve pragmatic problems, who must not look but observe and hear, must not passively attend a static image, but, with commitment become a participant-collaborator. Lubell’s theater of epistemology gives to all its collaborators the subjectivity of an artist-physiologist, of a physician devoted to finding scientific-aesthetic solutions to social problems of social ill health. Such a subjectivity must hybridize and leap across the well protected borders of disciplinary knowledges. It is exactly a kind of etiology of innocence, as Lubell describes it, one that possesses both a deeply embedded vector of simplicity, retrofit with myriad “fix-its” that adapt it to local conditions and circumstances. It insists that imagination and creation take place in the presence of existence, not in the mere presence, but with active, social collaborative engagement with its significant otherness.





[i] This remark needs a bit more context, as does the complexity of Etiology, and the best introduction to Lubell’s works is his own words. The first quote speaks of his work in general, and the second, specifically about Etiology.


I make interactive installations that focus on the intersection of science and the arts, but my work is adamantly low -tech. These installations use no computers or video or motors and are entirely powered by visitors to the show. As visitors work together to animate the mechanisms they create a theatre for themselves and each other. By requiring participation, touch and manipulation I get the audience to engage their bodies as well as their minds. As they play, participants tap into the vast reservoir of knowledge stored in each of their own bodies and they become active partners in constructing an understanding. The way that pieces move and feel and sound as you rock them, pedal, crank, press against and listen applies the kinesthetic comprehension’s of childhood to the tasks of philosophy.



Like Marey’s apparatus this is a simulation of the human heart. Cranking the mechanism on the outside pumps air from these organs to other chambers and at the same time winds this canvas belt. The belt with an appropriate loose end, continues into another chamber where it makes a heartbeat sound….

Very important to this piece is the way it requires assistance and partnership.   You can’t see what you are making happen while you are cranking, you need to take turns with someone else cranking and looking so it takes two people to get the full experience which seems just right for a heart piece.

This piece evolved over an almost 4 year period. It began with my oversized version of a machine depicted in an 1875 engraving of one of Marey’s heart simulations which took several years to get working in a way I liked. Since that part (which is really only half a heart) was pumping air I decided to have it animate another half a heart which needed to be immersed in some fluid to control it’s expansion and it also needed a leak with controllable back pressure. The controllable leak became the gurgling mechanism. The furniture like quality of the various stands was an imitation of the style of 19th century lab equipment. But it also gives each element an essential presence.

The cranking mechanism has a flywheel to smooth its operation and it seemed natural to add a belt that could power something else. A heart beat sound was clearly needed. I modified the design of a piano key mechanism to get the right drum stroke. The membrane presented a problem. Synthetic and even natural drum skins had too hard and sharp a tone. Latex sounded fine but stretched like this would only last a couple of weeks. Urethane has similar properties to latex but I could not find thin enough sheets so I had to pour out my own. The drum sticks are activated by adjustable pins. Interestingly, real heart beat timing was too quick between the Lub and the Dub — I had to extend that interval to have my sound perceived as real.


All quotes are taken from the unpublished, “General Remarks About My Work and How I Work,” a talk given at the Bedford Gallery, Walnut Greek, California, for his show entitled, “Conceptual Contraptions”, which ran from Jan. 26 –

March 9, 2003.

[ii] “The kind of clarity and control I seem to gravitate towards is more like the dark interconnections of Kafka and Beckett.” Ibid.

[iii] The question is whether this hybrid subject disappears the moment it leaves the museum, crosses the garden at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and enters Sony Metreon to take in a screening of a film. It doesn’t matter what film. At stake is the now century plus old dilemma of passive/active reception. If the cinema is taken as a node in a larger spectacular system, then, its impacts can easily be modified and shaped endlessly by the continuous assault of the latter’s hallucinatory power. The critical subject may of course, potentially, escape its grip, in thought. But in fact, even the critical subject has pragmatically contributed, economically, intellectually, and historically, to its durability. Meanwhile, the uncritical subject is produced in the form the spectacle dictates. At this juncture of high/low, active/passive, or in the Gramci’s terms, of the bourgeois elite vs. national popular, must be aimed the strategies of radical pragmatism. Cinema, placed in the full context of this dilemma, is one instance of a distopic node ready for chronotopic redirection.

The Labyrinth: In Other Words, Bernie Lubell. draft

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