Preston, Julieanna. Stirring stillness: aesthetic variations on a concrete plane [performance] at Konstfack College of Art within Daughters of Chaos: Discipline, Practice, A Life: 8th International Deleuze Studies Conference, Stockholm, Sweden, June-July 2015.


In Gilles Deleuze’s notion of the Chaoids,

[t]he scientist brings back from the chaos variables that have become independent by slowing down, that is to say, by the elimination of whatever other variabilities are liable to interfere … : they are no longer links of properties in things, but finite coordinates on a secant plane of reference that go from local probabilities to a global cosmology. The artist brings back from the chaos varieties that no longer constitute a reproduction of the sensory in the organ but set up a being of the sensory, a being of sensation, on an anorganic plane of composition that is able to restore the infinite.(1)

Honouring the three daughters of chaos - science, art and philosophy- I created a performative installation as a sensate composition that seeks to “…to tear open the firmament and plunge into the chaos.”(2) In the space of a durational creative work, such movement puts rents in the ‘umbrella’ that scientists hold up to protect definitions, absolutes, boundaries and systematic order where the body-subject is boxed into its culturally prescribed site so tightly, so locally determinant, that it is held in gridlock.(3) It is here that I operated between concepts of matter and the realities of material while employing an ethics of care and relationality associated with a feminist/ new materialist perspective. In this work, I took on Brian Massumi’s challenge to leap into the chaos; to prompt the virtual stimulation of concepts through a material network of felt sensations:

The optimal situation would be to take a scientific concept and use it in such a way that it ceases to be systematically scientific … by treating the scientific concept the way any other concept is treated in the approach advocated here. It was said that a concept could be severed from the system of connections from which it is drawn and plopped into a new and open environment where it suffers an exemplary kind of creative violence.(4)

Thus, Stirring Stillness was prompted by the most basic of scientific literature which, contrary to popular understanding, reveals that water’s transformation from a frozen to a liquid to a gaseous state is not uniform or fixed: ice melting and water freezing does not always occur at 0º C, and nor does water wait for its 100º C boiling point to evaporate. Such deviation is a matter of scientific tolerance where such phase changes are environmentally contingent and subject to atmospheric anomalies. It is in this variability of state change that I explored creative violence, effectively an inhabitation of material stillness.

Stirring Stillness imagined a space bounded by the plane of a concrete floor, a cool thermal mass amidst a Stockholm summer. Liberated from its formwork, a block of ice shimmies across the room and gently settled in a pool of its own weeping fluid, a puddle multiplying its surface area exponentially, rising as vapour, gravitating inevitably towards the water table and measuring a state of level. The death of its crystalline form was merely another becoming of its aesthetic variability.

In close proximity, a chunk of stiff but gooey substance barely more than formless slip peeled away from its plastic bag-of-a-skin and wedges itself in the corner: clay. The water trapped in the clay’s fine-grained platelet structure of metal oxides and organic matter bound by hydrothermal activity persisted as transpiration, an exhalation of the vital fluids that afford its plastic movement. The clay reluctantly yielded to the heat of the day, however fiery or humid. Its affective resistance is manifest through surface fissures and soft dusty excrement mapping its movements.

And here I am: a material body constituted by more than 60% of water that serves as a waste flusher, saliva producer, joint lubricator, spinal shock absorber, temperature regulator and food transporter. The fifty-nine elements found in my human body are all found on the earth’s crust and hence, not surprisingly, I share a kinship with water, clay and gravel. Linked by a mutual reliance on the active presence of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon, we are each breathing matter. Stirring Stillness explored what we can do together.

(1)  Gilles Deleuze, What is Philosophy?. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, 208.
(2)  Deleuze, 202.
(3)  Brian Massumi. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham and London: Duke University, 2002, 3.
(4)  Massumi, 20.


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