Reviewing Rodarte: Topographies of Collaborative Thinking

Rodarte. States of Matter. March to May 2011. Installation. Museum of Contemporary Art Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles.

April Durham, cross posted from Critical Digital Humanities, 2011

The installation of the work of fashion and costume designers Laura and Kate Mulleavy (Rodarte) at MOCA-Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood represents a departure from theusual displays of fashion seen at fine art institutions in the recent past. Art world curatorial projects with fashion designers have resulted in an often-unsatisfying collision of designer labels within the institutionally separate but perhaps not so different (from the high-end shopping district) space of the museum. For example, the joint project between Marc Jacobs (Louis Vuitton) and Takashi Murakami for MOCA in 2007 resulted in a “product line” of wallpapers, handbags and day-minders that neither reinvented nor really disrupted the LV label, the Murakami oeuvre, or the curatorial habits of the museum. Because States of Matter is conceived as a hypertextual activation of synchronous and divergent narrative maps that link the “clothes,” the relationships among the collaborators, and the space of the museum and the city, this “fashion show” represents a significant reconsideration of the rendezvous between art contexts and fashion designs.

While the fashion blogs reported that the sisters chose selections from the Fall 2008, Spring 2010, and Fall 2010 collection  ((See for example: http://laist.com/2011/03/04/rodarte_exhibition_featuring_black.php, http://www.stylelist.com/2011/03/03/rodarte-moca-exhibit/, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2011/01/jeffrey-deitch-bringing-fashion-house-rodarte-to-moca-pacific-design-center.html, or http://www.mediabistro.com/unbeige/las-moca-readies-rodarte-exhibition-an-out-of-body-experience_b11380)), the installation exceeds the representation of hip fashion design. States of Matter is not merely about the interesting costumes from Black Swan (2010) and not at all about offering a consumer product for sale in the museum shop or the Melrose boutique; instead it reflects the conversational narrative of a multi-actor site specific creative practice, which has developed out of the exchange between the designer-sisters and their other collaborators in relationship to the institutional context in which the presentation occurs. This engagement presents the fashion/art dialog as a hyperlinked narrative topography involving the history of art, cinematic and literary narrative, and a gestural memory of the bodies that might occupy the space/time accounts being rendered. Further, it navigates the history of the museum as a colonizing institution for culture  ((See for example, “Census, Map, Museum” in Anderson 1991.))  in relation to the geography of Los Angeles as a haunted series of nodes in a larger complex of fashion spaces, by rendering a web of connections that critically engages networks linked to consumption and subjectivity relative to these spaces and institutions. While not a literal “electronic” hypertext as this installation exists in the “physical” world of dresses and lights and workshops and museums and not in the “cyber-world” of the computer, the piece nevertheless expresses a generative reconfiguration of narrative and art-making that traverses the “tactile” and the “coded” in a way that is very similar to what we experience when navigating a site on the internet. So while materially different from an electronic text, States of Matter shares an experiential, gestural, and narratological structure with texts that are more traditionally considered “hypertexts.”

In Hypertext 2.0 from 1997, George Landow offers a detailed discussion of hypertext as a body of “linked texts that have no primary axis of organization” (36). Contextualizing this within Derridian notions of [de]centered language and Deleuzo-Guattarian concepts of relational rhizomes with “their thickenings and shifting connections …[of] network-like structure” (40), Landow describes much of what now comprises a broad experience of the textuality  of everyday life. Concerned mainly, in late 90s literary discourse, with legitimizing and enlivening the field of criticism around electronic texts like Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch and Patchwork Girl by Shirley Jackson or web-organized research projects, Landow nevertheless describes a kind of intertextual referentiality that certainly extends to alter-electronic ((I would like to be clear that I do not really find anything to be “non”-electronic as we certainly know that data is conducted along electronic circuits in biological as well as mechanical and digital. Differentiating these types of delivery systems in a polemical manner is not an accurate or particularly interesting consideration. In fact, as the systems achieve similar results, the methods and structures are different only in terms of style.)) “texts” as well.

Landow desires, in a way that also seems historically situated in the late 90s, to distinguish electronic texts containing explicit links to various data packets held within the text from printed codices whose hypertextual references can only ever be implied by the hinted relationships either contained some other place in the book or found generally in the canon of printed literatures and collective cultural memory. While this is an appropriate differentiation, and it would be bizarre to insist that the hypertext implied by Joyce’s footnotes in Ulysses or Derrida’s specters in his visitation on Marx, are the same as those of a webpage or a Storyspace novel, the fourteen odd years since the publication of Landow’s book have resulted in a widespread, almost naturalized, integration of hyperlinking as a way of thinking, a cognition model appropriate to a post-industrial, late Capitalist, intensely fragmented narrative topography of life. The most banal example of this is played out in “social” networking websites where navigating the neighborhood of historical memory, significant event, and everyday life is a constant movement among webs of various acquaintances and institutions representing and expressing tiny packets of experience in a linked and polycentric set of connections.

Considering States of Matter, in hypertextual terms requires a close look at the material work and the experience of viewing it. The installation was presented from March to May 2011 on two floors in the little tower that is MOCA’s space at the Pacific Design Center. Moving from the diffuse but Spring-bright Los Angeles sunshine into the velvety blackness of the first floor exhibition space places visibility, normally an imperative for optimal art-object gazing, into jeopardy. With the pause needed to acquire visual bearings, there comes a moment of precarity in which the floating dresses, the pool of black on the floor which frames them, and the awkwardly exposed clutch of lights in the middle present a menacing mise-en-scene: uncertainty is the violent affect and fight or flight the reaction. There is a sense of stepping onto Mr. Toad’s ride without having known you were doing so. Abruptly this little museum trip has become an encounter with a dark narrative, one in which the logics governing vision, form, and time are cracked and scary in their very subtlety; continuing into the space means navigating the “sense” of the illogical. You adjust yourself quickly so your friends don’t notice that you were frightened and begin to more coolly examine the forms, careful to stay behind the white lines delimiting the safe space.

The subtle, pseudo-horror/fairytale frame is the first clue that what is here is not simply trendy fashion for film and magazine, the rave of all the ready-to-wear blogs. Rather, there is a sense that a bent and backwards story, drawing on a long personal and cultural history of design and relationship, of bedtime stories and conceptual analysis, is being unfurled, for the readers of these objects and for the institutional environment. We know that Rodarte comprises a team of sister-designers who appear, from the videos of their runways shows, very private and a bit shy, and that further, they work closely with other artists on the non-clothing elements of this show. So the situation where a multi-actor, site-specific working group engages in a creative practice that also challenges the institutional contexts in which they are involved becomes foremost to considering the multi-nodal diagram of narrative unfolding in this work. Further, the dialog has a strange logic governing it, one that is based on faulty memory, erroneous maps, and cracks in the looking-glass that shift what is visible from self-contained wholes to tenuous, layered, and non-linear topographies of narrative: what can be known disrupts what is expected.

There is a dense recent history of artists working “collaboratively,” either toward expanding individual practices as with Claes Oldenberg and Coosje von Bruggen or toward creating environments where individual contributions could be combined into a cohesive whole and thereby manifest a non-heirarchical subjectivity as in the Womanhouse project organized at CalArts by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro in the 1970s. While these working processes have provided interesting interruptions in the normative idea of a singular, sublime, creative genius, they have mainly been subsumed by the institutional practices they were disrupting. Coosje is always listed second to Claes (as wife and supporter of the real artist perhaps) and the Dinner Party project, which involved 400-plus participants to create, is always attributed to Judy Chicago as an individual artist. Alternatively, the multi-actor site-specific working group I am describing, mobile and transitory in its materiality, shifts a notion of collaborative participation away from the “mass” and toward a relational exchange among actors in a network of sitting, doing, making, telling, presenting, and changing. States of Matter, especially as it is not claimed institutionally as a “collaborative art work,” has the participatory structure involved in film making or event production but allows for the maintenance of individual identities, however precarious, within the context of its moment of engagement.

Curiously the virtuality of the dim and disorienting space of the installation collides gently but powerfully with the actual physicality of the space. There is a subtle movement around and among the notions of visibility, presentation, narrative, and fashionable bodies that does not create a new spectacle, fashion-show-cum-art-object, but invents a resonant diastolic/systolic exchange between the actual space the body of the viewer is occupying and the virtual space of what the objects, the room, and visuality are becoming. This engages in an unexpected way with Jacques Rancière’s notion of the aesthetic-politic where a “community” of the ignored becomes a subject for consideration. This is not a community of self-actualized subjects but a collection of entropic waste elements that gather for the moment, are always precarious, and which ruptures the sensible. This rupture is, for Rancière, the aesthetic action of politics and the politic description of aesthetics. While ultimately his position of aesthetics and politics leaves something profoundly unconsidered, the formulation of exchange between a perceived whole (the self-identified subject) and the monstrous garbage left off by the energy it takes to constitute that subject possesses a virtual energy of its own. Merely by existing, moving through spacetime in a kind of disregarded thermodynamic process, this entropic offal pushes hegemonic systems of vision and visibility, wealth and power, labor and production into a state of becoming that eludes, however momentarily, containment by the established and normative institutions.

The narrative elements of the installation expand as the eyes grow accustomed to the darkness and although visibility is constantly foiled, the details further weave a loose, disjointed narrative that matches the construction of the elements. Dresses float above the glossy black pool like webbed remains of something that might have covered a human form but which might also be the shadow of gowns remembered, glimpsed fleetingly in the reflection of a plate-glass window. Little tutus, made famous from their appearance in a popular film, rotate from an apparatus in the ceiling that turns slowly so that the traces of the gestures made by the ballerinas once wearing them (the bad ballerinas as these tutus are black) remain while the dancer is only an ill-conjured memory.

The long, columnar gowns are fabricated from feathers, shreds of cheesecloth and silk, and vinyl that has been irregularly embroidered to look like seared, blackened flesh. Membranes of delicately jeweled lace are overlaid by scraps of interfacing, a textile that is normally used to give fabrics varying degrees of stiffness, but which here has been exposed and pulled apart, torn into what appear as webs abandoned by spiders, long gone after digesting the bodies of their prey. Made only more elegant by the fragile connections of each part, the dresses appear forsaken but not abject, in some ways empowered by the role granted them as imagined armor for pretend encounters at gala events where the war is in the social maneuvers and not in the actual bodily contact. A conversation is revealed, based on the viewer’s willingness to slowly examine the multiple layers comprising the narrative topology, and acts as an echo of dialog that isn’t heard properly and is left resonating only in the places of desire and remembrance, simultaneously past and future. It is a dialog of imagination but also of forgetting, where what was discussed and what was hoped for, all that is implied by grand elegance and graceful gesture, slips reality and ebbs away in the dim frame of the museum gallery-cum-faulty memory bank.

Adding a further strangeness to the shapes the gowns assume here are the forms supporting the clothing; made from thin layers of resin and reflecting an awkward relation to the human form, not idealized feminine mannequin and not runway model or waif-like actress, they seem closer to dehydrated, translucent columns of skin, that while only visible in slivers, support the dresses as a frozen recollection of a body that can merely be conjured as approximation. This shifts the ongoing normative representation in fashion of feminine ideals into the space of 18th century anthropology, where tattooed human skins were preserved for display in French natural history museums. The “body” filling the Rodarte designs are ghosts of forms, decentered from the institutional idea of “body,” barely present and if not exactly ungainly, definitely ill at ease and fragile. Further, they render the dresses more like wispy pieces of architecture, columns from a Neo-Classical structure visited on a third grade field trip and remembered incorrectly but significantly nonetheless. These hyperlinks establish connections among a dis-functional set of nodes, separated by vast desert voids and refusing to coalesce into coherent and known structures; they evoke instead an emergent space of perplexity or stupefaction, that Avital Ronell calls “[a] corollary to knowing…[where] ignorance has its own story, a story that needs to be told, but one, perhaps, that can spell only ruin” (29).

As with any good story, more pages need to be turned, more links associated, to get a fuller picture of what’s going on, if indeed anything is going on. The narrative presented by the gowns suspended in this abyss, while felt, reveals itself slowly as a multi-cursal path that goes beyond the desire to possess and to see in the deep, velvety darkness. One needs to enter as it were, the other side of the mirror, seeking the continuation of the story upstairs. So one proceeds, directed finally by the closely hovering security guard, to a stairway portal providing a nauseating, flickering, fluorescent glow of purpled white light, illuminating the path to additional components, further data, informing this story.

At the top of the stair another room contains three groups of white costumes: to the left, a set of long dresses; in the center against the back wall two rotating tutus; and on the left two Grecian/1960s style cocktail dresses and a single tutu. For a moment all of the fluorescent tubes flanking the room have illuminated and the space is saturated with uncomfortable, institutional light of another variety, the kind from high school gymnasiums after the dance or from the hallways of the county hospital at 11:30 on a Saturday night. Then they go out, these lights, leaving not exactly darkness, but with just a few purple tubes flickering, the gloom is palpable and resonates again with some other uncomfortable experience involving an exploded appendix or lost awkward embraces. Throbbing on and again rendering the delicacy of the objects barely visible, the lighting makes you doubt your ability to actually observe the objects, and your desire to gaze without limitation at the deeply fragile and frightening delicacy of the gowns is foiled. There is a disruption not only in expectation but in possibility for viewing, for acquiring, and therefore for containing. Knowing has to be left up to something that is subtler and less reliable than close, detached observation.

Still it is possible to ascertain a group of long white dresses reminiscent of the long black ones on the first level, where sheer white, lace has replaced the translucent black cheesecloth. Curiously, this is not the carefully constructed lace of couture fashion; rather it is the $1.79/yard lace from the Sunday swap meet at the Drive-In in Santa Fe Springs. This is the kind of lace that doesn’t distinguish itself by beautiful arabesques and intense brocaded figurations broken up by delicate webs of silk; rather, it features a small non-descript, stylized rose repeated every 1.5 inches ad infinitum and the poly-blend is wash and wear. The forms are all the more peculiar for this choice when contrasted with the other unusual wooly, velvety fabrics used for the bodices and yokes. Resembling wedding dresses hanging from the rotating rack at the dry cleaners rather than new gowns in a shop window anticipating a romantic future for consumer-brides, these forms shift between fashion and architecture, a past event and a dreamed structure. Further, considering the strange combination of materials presented here, they shimmer metamorphically between something like a uniform, something like armor, something like furniture. They mostly sport wide shoulders like those of a 1940s evening gown and the snipped in waist of a Victorian frock coat. One short gown has Alpaca fur epaulets and capped sleeves and another appears to be made from 19th century horsehair upholstery. While ostensibly “wearable” in the end, the materiality of these pieces evokes a notion of the hospitable armchair disrupted by the demands of the structured uniform. There exists a kind of strategic folly in the links among the materials, the forms, and the fashion in this grouping, which generates an uneasy conversational trajectory about relationships, partnerships, and expectations for the future that remain inconclusive and fraught. They are faulty links that defy the site map directing those ever-present data gathering spiders toward organizing the information such that it is navigable and proper.

Adding further tension is the pair of Grecian-style cocktail gowns, of the bosom-hugging style that looked so good on the luscious 1960s Elizabeth Taylor of BUtterfield 8. Suspended over a pile of tumbled light ballasts fitted with red and white fluorescent tubes, these party dresses are randomly striped with what appears to be blood, dumped Carrie-style from the ceiling, but mopped up fastidiously before the party started. Further, the little tutu rotating in this composition has a blossom of blood at the navel in something that definitely is not a flower, but seems to be coming from a stab wound. Opposed to the ersatz wedding gowns in the space, they form a kind of shrill but beautiful argument, a narrative trajectory that, again, Liz might have followed Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, profoundly articulate but completely incomprehensible. Then you remember an image of the sister-designers posed beside the ostensibly blood-soaked frocks and wonder if their take on expectations for femininity is as gothic and problematic as the image implies.

The sweetly white tutus twisting center room in front of their ladder of shivering light fixtures take on a new relationship to the grace of the ballerina and the desire of little girls pirouetting together in their bedrooms or grown sisters discussing deconstruction and post-structural narratology over the cutting table in their Pasadena studio. The groupings upstairs seem a broken-mirror inversion of the black, frightening elegance on the first floor. The two levels begin to resonate one with the other and a weird narration of tentatively remembered conversations, songs sung into hairbrushes, and longing for something that resembles your mother’s dreams starts to pulsate through the space. You look askance at your friends and wonder if they also feel the floor opening up. Then the lights flash again, and your eyes twitch and you remember the other actor in this network, Alexandre de Betak, a set designer who has worked with Rodarte on their runway shows.

At first, the fluorescent tubes, seen in the context of MOCA, reference the 1960s minimalist sculptures of Dan Flavin. But the lights in States of Matter cycle uneasily, evoking instability rather than the sublime transcendence of modernism. They break from the institutional reference and link more directly to an engagement with their own recent history in the presentation of fashion, and in that they extend the narratives mapped by the work in this exhibition. In fact, they seem to reference more the malfunctioning lights in the cheap shops on South Fig in Highland Park than any real art historical objects. The disturbing color choices (bright white and mauvey-purple) flicker and flash in an irregular rhythm that is difficult to watch. Part techno club set, part low rent shop window, they irritate the viewing experience, further making visibility a problem, foiling the possibility for clear, sustained gazing, for direct encounter between body and objects, for observing quickly and dismissing or consuming. The problem of vision does connect, via layered, multiple, and fragmented links, to more recent concerns with perception, cognition, and epistemology through the forced connections to fashion presentation.

For Rodarte’s Spring 2011 collection runway show, de Betak organized an unconventional presentation with some of the same materials used in the States of Matter installation. The room was emptied of runway or even chairs and instead wooden pallets were stacked on the floor and leaned against the walls between which were placed fluorescent ballasts with white and yellow tubes (link to YouTube video of show). The minimal environment nods to 1960s sculptures from which it might take its inspiration, but the narrative relationship of the space to the architectural clothing designs from this season’s line has more to do with what architect and urban planner, Ignacio de Sola-Morales, calls the terrain vague. This is the no-man’s land of urban and suburban abandoned public spaces: closed strip malls, weed choked vacant lots, and industrial complexes that have been forsaken mid-construct such that foundations and partial walls provide perfect pallets for illegal artistry and drug overdoses. Sola-Morales discusses this space as one of pure potentiality: emptied of the perhaps oppressive force of normative productivity, these derelict spaces offer a chance for a creativity that comes from the margins, one that could be liberating but which is also dangerous and frightening. Linking to a dead zone like this is further opening a connection to the illogic of the backside of the looking-glass, a place of pure potential because the contained knowledge of rationalism is made monstrous such that it needs to generate something different. This difference, however, becomes part of a larger network of knowing, doing, and being, an affective complex of shifting, pulsing movement that animates narrativity in subject/object relations in a continual and precarious movement that is both destructive and constructive at once.

The lights in the States of Matter installation engage with the fractured memory of the gowns and the institutional memory of the museum/museum-goer in a way that joins a paradigm of creative desire, moving in a space not logical to normative productivity: it is a desiring mode that knows only the force of its own creativity. The exhibition does not inhabit an entirely known space, but rather diagrams multiple layers of topographical narration, linking stories that move in disjointed patterns, and which only make sense when the irritation and fear they evoke fail to be “righted” toward a comforting and rational containment. The quivering lights, the levitating gowns, the skin-like crusts that serve as human forms all combine in a linked dialog with the actors in the network, figuring a graceless dance that is the very nature of engaging with dreams, desires, networks, labor, heartache, failure, uncertainty, and fear inherent in creative practice, but also in the very stuff of living.

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London and New York: Verso, 1991. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: the State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Landow, George. Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Print.

Rancière, Jacques. Dissensus: on Politics and Aesthetics. London and New York: Continuum, 2010. Print.

Mulleavy, Laura, Kate Mulleavy, and Alexandre De Betak. States of Matter. 2011. Mixed media installation. MOCA-Pacific Design Center, West Hollywood, California.

“Rodarte Spring Summer 2011‬.” Youtube. 15 Sept. 2011. Web. 5 May 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzvbSGCur1E&gt;.

Ronell, Avital. Stupidity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Print.

Solà-Morales, Ignacio. “Terrain Vague.” Anyplace. Ed. Cynthia C. Davidson. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1995. 118-123. Print.


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chameleon moves: some ideas about trans-subjectivity

by April Durham . 2  November 2012

Early one morning, the self was gone, carried away by scrupulous refutation of the possibility for Being-human, for ever seeing like God. The singular subject, a self in itself, so dear to the progressive settlement of Modernism, drifted out to sea on a boat of its own construction: colonialism, industrialism, fascism. The self that could improve in Historic time by means of dialectic resolution, toward a Platonic or other ideal was revealed by Foucault as a construction of power, by Derrida as the trace left by language, and by Butler as an often unchosen performance. The discourse of the Self revealed innate, assumed to be being, as wavering object about which lasting claims could not be sustained, and thus removed the viability, with spectacular effect, of the self-contained Self.

The rhetorics of the self, so carefully and thoughtfully mapped out by poststructuralist thinkers, intend to reveal the ways in which discursive arrangements inscribe a notion of subjectivity that seems natural, but is more fully a constructed edifice, and in revealing this construction they posit that it is possible to change the related ways of knowing and constructing diverse versions of the Self toward inclusive, tolerant social configurations. Further, the “linguistic turn” or the “discursive turn” allows a multitude of voices, female and feminine, racialized and colonized, homo- and polysexual, dandified and slovenly, to speak with all their complexity, range, and richness. This vocalization is necessary of course; everyone must speak. Every experience needs to be heard, all possibilities considered, again and again and again.

Still there is something unsatisfying lingering at the edges of the determination of identity constructed in discursive performance, which resists universalizing power strucutures, something that exceeds the containment of the rhetoric. What about seepage? What about the migration of hair oils and bodily fluids, dance moves and facial expressions, lip gloss and lubrication? What happens when the tropes of territoriality seep into neighborhoods from which they do not emanate, in which they are “inauthentic?” What about uncontrolled forces that remain uncontained even when described, that cannot be harnessed, directed, or owned? What if the insistence on territorializing through giving voice becomes another way of racializing, marginalizing, excluding, reinscribing what is being resisted? Perhaps a flaw of using what has been defined as “phal-logo-centric” language to describe everything that is not the phallus in refutation of a dialectics of progress is that the singular subject (redescribed as brown, black, yellow, red; homo-, trans-, bi-; girl-woman, insect, machine) still rests securely at the base of what is liberated. Despite my non-normative proclivities, I am still my own man, woman, companion species, crustaceous decapod, i-device.

Empathy might allow us a moment of intersection, an intersubjective sharing that makes each of us more tolerant of the other. It might. For Husserl, intersubjectivity plays a fundamental role in the formation of both myself as an individual subjectivity and that of some other experiencing subject with whom I engage in an objective spatio-temporal world[i]. There are three components in this exchange of empathy: Me, You, and the space-time continuum in which this exchange occurs. Founded on our beliefs about ourselves, our understanding of an objective world can be largely considered, rational or otherwise, as an ongoing measurement of “Me” in terms of what I perceive in you, through empathic iteration, to be similar, different, or something in between. While intersubjectivity makes it possible to posit an ongoing developmental process, even an evolutionary one in terms of psyche and self, it rests very solidly on the notion that “Self” is and remains contained in the singular bodies sensing it and that “Other” is necessary, if tolerable, to its construction.

It may not seem like such a bad idea: nurturing empathy, tolerance, exchange, evolution in oneself and one’s fellow citizens. Yet, I find that leaving a singular and contained subject lingering unexamined and unchallenged in every deconstruction of the self forges ethical dilemmas that necessarily receive the same kinds of address, the same move toward resolution or admission of the impossibility of resolution, carved into Modernist Humanism that poststructuralism, contemporary feminism, and cultural studies critique.

In this project[ii], I propose unfolding a notion of subjectivity that radically reconsiders the atomistic individual, posited as a separate if integrated part of a larger collective of humanity, and which is at the same time complexly sympathetic to the fact that “each” has “a” body and a psyche with which to perceive, engage, modify, and affect the world. Through the consideration of a particular kind of creative collaborative practice, I propose that aesthetic, processual engagements within situated networks of action/acting provide moments where subjective boundaries become so permeable, so porous, so fuzzy, that they do not hold up and therefore allow a finite event of trans-subjectivity. This extends the possibilities of intersubjectivity in that it slips aside, again momentarily, from the maintenance of individual subjective boundaries, in the instance of engagement: the powerful creative forces affecting those involved in a particular moment move faster and more effectively than our organizing minds can work to contain them.

This sounds like madness, you say, a plunge down Alice’s rabbit hole where names and logics and bodies are frighteningly changeable, horrifyingly illogical, un-locatable as my own. As a palliative for this initial horror, I can only say, it’s temporary. Trans-subjectivity cannot be conceived as a universalizing condition that replaces individuality or singularity. It is more carefully understood as a playful, if frightening slippage that seems unfamiliar but which occurs regularly whether we recognize it or not.

“Why should we play this way?” is the next objection I imagine to arise. “What does this serve?” We are always imagining, proposing communities where each feels safe, has respect for life generally (even non-human vitality), and where difference is tolerated or even nurtured. We know, however, that tolerance, respect, and community are terms with serious limitations, semantically and in practice: tolerance can thinly veil its hateful opposite and can be delivered with condescension, at best; respect for others is tied intimately with respect for oneself, a quality that goes under-tended in a culture intent on keeping its consumer desiring. Notions of “respect,” therefore often stem from hierarchical qualifications based on accumulation of property, knowledge, status, or even offenses (if one is more inclined to the criminal side of things), and can extend only with difficulty to those without these attributes; community of course has many problems, including assumptions around the (again heirarchized) validity of particular “core values” that assume a very narrow notion of right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and ugly, in and out, resulting in the ultimate exclusion of anyone deviating from these narrow trenches of identificatory “core-ness.”

Because trans-subjectivity arises through intensity, it is only loosely connected to rational formations of identity or to stratifying power structures. It is the result of a commitment to creativity in a particular situation that makes manifest a kind of illogical, “wishful,” and processual experience in which known structures are challenged, even on quantum levels, and through which individuals cannot pass unaffected. I am evolving my theory of trans-subjectivity, at least in terms of inception, through my own experience with a self-managed artists’ working group, Multipoint, constituted in various forms and in different geographies, over the last twelve or so years. The experience has been very particular, and while I will bring other collaborative creative practices and narratives to bear in comparison and in conjunction upon my own experience, the wealth of strange and subtle perplexity evoked by the practice in which I have engaged with many people over these years offers an important basis for me to puzzle through the consequences of both the process and the effects of working in this way. While I still have “my own” creative and scholarly practices, the experiences occurring within the group practice has radically altered my way of perceiving myself, in relation, as both a producer of things and ideas, and as a friend, colleague, and member of various communities. This alteration is what I intend to explore here with all its radical implications and violent hopefulness, toward something that might be more than wishful, utopic desire.


[i] Beyer, Christian, “Edmund Husserl”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries /husserl/>.

[ii] I am referring here to my dissertation project “The Chameleon’s Way Through: Generating Trans-Subjectivity in Creative Collaborative Practice.”