On the surface

I just read the brand new dissertation Events on the surface – Shibori as knowledge-forming motion (Händelser på ytan – Shibori som kunskapande rörelse) by Thomas Laurien at HDK in Gothenburg. I know Thomas from before, we collaborated in an exhibition project last year; it was a discussion of movements in contemporary craft, which, according to me, is one of the most explorative and dynamic fields right now.

The dissertation is an exploration of the field of shibori, curating and art, written in an essay style and based on self-reflections. It’s an effective way of writing – self-revealing but disarming, far away from both the stiff, old-school academic prose and the introvert high-brew artistic research.

Some of the concepts developed in Events on the surface are really useful. One of them is the idea of resonance and wonder. According to the literary scholar Stephen Greenblatt, well-known for his research on New Historicism and Shakespeare, resonance is the object’s tendency to contextualize itself – the historic, social and cognitive background. The term wonder is the opposition, and refers to the object’s capacity to express itself, mysterious and inexplicable.

The concept of resonance is, in my view, related to extrinsic understanding, wonder to intrinsic sensitivity. According to Greenblatt, the full strength of the art work is revealed if the two components are combined, and the experience will be most powerful if wonderpresides resonance.

The step from these concepts to sensation is actually not that far. This concept is connected to the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. When our senses distinguishes something – something we recognize as a whole within the chaos expressions that surround us – it could be called a sensation.

According to Deleuze, the creation of sensation is the very core competence of an artist. I guess you have experienced some glowing moments? A glowing moment is difficult to express in words, the language reduces or transforms the sensation. We can call these occasions or objects the pre-discursive or non-discursive experiences of life.

Events on the surface uses some other concepts invented by Deleuze and Guattari, two of them are the striated and the smooth. A striated way of thinking is captured, straight, logic – a smooth way of thinking is open, associative, nonlinear. Take a look at architecture, at exhibitions, at texts, at education, at organizations – and you will soon recognize the striated and the smooth structures.

Within thermophysics there is a principle called the law of entropy – the system is developing chaos. In a metaphorical way, this scientific law is connected to the smooth structures – the irregular patterns that fascinate and frighten us at the same time.

Wondersensation and smoothness are definitely parts of what an aesthetic experience is to me. Some certain lines of a poem, the impact of an art work, the movement of a dancer, the twist of a drama…

But there is always a risk to put too much focus on details, the glowing moment that immediately catches us. In reality there are chains, connections, contexts. And that is why the concept side-by-sideness is useful. The linguist Homi K. Bhabha, influential within post-colonial studies, has developed the concept to analyze the way parts relate to each other.

We have a tendency to view a phenomenon frontal and isolated. But in reality there are always neighbors, and the glowing moment is always a product of the relations to other parts.