CO-operative IN difference
Essay written in conjunction with exhibition 2003
The surfaces upon which we trace our daily trajectories are experienced as a solid, certain foundation, the concrete sidewalks carved for us acting as our interface with the urban environment. With each step we connect with the rigid surface that resists our plunging force, propelling us further in movement. The solidity of ground experienced daily, silently absorbing the traces of our lived, entangled, geometries of passage. Each step pulsates with our micro-world vector tracing and path making without any perceptible echo from underneath.
The term micro-world in this case refers to the individual, but not simply the individual as a singular unit, but as a multi-faceted, heterogeneous unit in constant interaction / negotiation / exchange with it’s surroundings and “things” 1; the individual as a ‘Harlequin coat’ an assembly of an infinite number of rags which are knotted and woven together in many possible ways.2
With the re-interpretation of the individual, not as a singularity, but rather as a complex organism interacting with other organisms, and things embedded within a social, psychical and physical envelope; the individual becomes re-understood as part of a process of an endless nesting within a larger three dimensional intersecting web.
The question arises when addressing these micro-world situations within a labyrinthine web of an urban situation where millions of micro-worlds co-habitate in simultaneity and unfold a macro-world habitation structure in the process. How do the micro-worlds intermingle? How do they negotiate amongst themselves and their surroundings? How do we learn to integrate and mediate the possible worlds 3inherent in other micro-worlds?
Fluctuation / Circulation –> Shifting Ground
Imagine for a moment, that city sidewalks laid in concrete were re-fashioned in rubber. Rubber cut into pieces, stretched and woven across a slightly suspended platform. Sidewalks between intersections of roads connected through the tension of the stretched rubber. The rubber in this case, not stretched too loosely to mimic a trampoline effect, but nonetheless, shifting underfoot. Each step sends a ripple effect down the chain of strips. The steps of others resonate through your foot as it touches down prepared to move forward.
We have now concocted a scenario of shifting, responsive ground upon which to carry out our daily activities. We have created a new skin in our environment. The skin heightens our tactile sensibilities and presents us with the opportunity of being amidst others rather than standing before one another.4The ‘skin’ allowing us both to feel and be felt simultaneously – a shift towards haptic space adding to the already pervasive optic environment.
The rubber sidewalk proposition literally shakes the solidity of the foundations upon which we traverse daily. Our sidewalks giving us access to the “rich profusion of vibrations”5 emmanating from ourselves and others. The effect of resonating movement, echoes a trajectory taken. The sensation gradually dissipates with time and creates an ephemeral trace both one of proximity and vectorial course. Indeed with this scenario the foundation upon which we walk becomes re-invigorated with novelty and surprise with each passage. The complexity of motion through space is re-complexified. Each muscular probing of the surface becomes an active question and response cycle.6 The behaviour of the ground is not fully predictable due to the numerous resonant variables pulsing through it at any given moment. The ground becomes unstable with potentiality.
Probing & Action / Response –> Dialogue & ExChange
We, the indifferent citizens winding our daily course through the city, much of it a routine that we could perform without conscious thought. Other micro-worlds, the environment and things remain estranged in their familiarity and uniformity. How do we turn this estrangement, this indifference, into active engagement? How can we transform indifferent relations to relations in difference?
“Today we see a worldwide tendency to uniformity. Rationality dominates, accompanied but not diversified by irrationality; signs, rational in their way, are attached to things in order to convey the prestige of their possessors and their place in the hierarchy” 7Henri Lefebvre The reactionary response to this question would be simply to amplify the possibility of aleatory encounters within the environment. This view however would lead to a surplus of chance, where each new surprise, or what I envision to be a jack-in-the-box scenario at every turn, produces a predictability in its’ own right. Indeed if everything is a maximum surprise, there becomes, in fact, no surprise. This does not mean, that we should completely drop this idea of the ‘novel’ when addressing questions of how to re-engage. A hybrid approach, however, oscillates between the novel and the indifferent citizen, suggesting a conceptual approach to habitation which lies in the negotiation between predictability and uncertainty.
From Logic to Dia-Logic:
Dialogic approaches towards models of habitation / co-habitation are entrenched within a cyclical system where events and situations are engaged, internalized, processed and re-externalized in an auto-calytic looping fashion. Dialogic approaches are cyclical without being circular, for they are forever deviating from their initial starting condition through interaction. A simple conversation, it turns out is not so simple. In studying models of co-operative behaviours in game playing or conversation, it has been observed that in order to generate cooperative behaviours, simultaneous stable and unstable situations must be generated. This entails the constant generation of novelty, which is defined as “partial unpredictability8” . The generation of novelty is understood, in this model is an emergent property of an ongoing set of interactions within joint attention. The emergent nature of this ‘novel’ approach requires, as it’s catalyst, a set of ongoing relationships / interactions / exchange mechanisms between micro-worlds, things and the environment. In order for these bonds or relations to have the potential for engagement they must be malleable and pliable. A dialogic approach would result in bonds that are never solidified; that are forever bending, morphing and responsive to conditions. This elastic-bond approach allows actors to be thought of as porous membranes, sensitive to forces passing through them and modifying their behaviour and function as a result of such relations.
A dialogic approach towards co-operative interaction between actors shifts our current experience of speed, productivity, autonomy, competition and linear efficiency towards one of exploration, playfulness, reciprocity and exchange. David Bohm proposed Dialogue as an instrument that “…enables inquiry into, and understanding of, the sorts of processes that fragment and interfere with real communication between individuals…” 9. The purpose here, is to explore the possibilities of mapping such a process onto the every-day realm of co-operative habitation.
Co-operative Game Playing
One key aspect of the Bohmian Dialogue model is it’s non-rigidity to a determinate rule system. “Because the nature of Dialogue is exploratory, its meaning and its methods continue to unfold. No firm rules can be laid down for conducting a Dialogue because its essence is learning – not as the result of consuming a body of information or doctrine imparted by an authority, nor as a means of examining or criticizing a particular theory or programme, but rather as part of an unfolding process of creative participation between peers. “10
Dialogue, as an instrument, presents us with an experiential / behavioural scenario in which actors are engaged within a fluctuating, relational system, that is rooted in the shifting ground of duration and the unfolding of novel events. This particular game-like scenario deviates from our conventional notions of game playing since the results in the “game” of dialogue themselves are not vertically oriented in terms of hierarchical outcome, but can be envisioned rather as a sprawling of understanding and learning. The actors in a dialogic approach are responsible for the fluctuating rules of exchange and reciprocity, and are therefore active agents included within such a process. The production of dia-logic situations can be understood as an act of inclusion, since by its’ very nature entails a mutual, co-determination of events. The events are the result of the synergetic relations between all participating actors.
Dia-logic scenarios –> Architectural interventions
How can we develop mechanisms / situations in which dia-logic approaches to co-habitation become manifest? Are there spaces within the existing urban fabric where we may conduct these experiments? Are their sites where we may lay down our laboratory? The nature of a dia-logic approach is a responsive and open, exchange system, where all the small perturbances / differences accumulate, collide and interact with one another to unfold new scenarios of co-existence. With these qualities in mind it seems appropriate to locate regions within the urban landscape where some of the characteristics are already present.
A tear in the fabric of the urban plan presents us with an open, undefined territory upon which to experiment with new possibilities of interaction. These sites, which we can find in almost any urban situation, symbolize a failure or a dead-zone of the current urban model, and function as an opening towards new modes of co-habitation. I would like to re-vision these spaces not as urban voids, but rather as urban ‘vagues’ that are pulsating with invisible potential.
*The preference of the term urban vague over urban void in this sense is perhaps based on the limitations of the meaning of the term ‘Void’ in the English language. The term vague implies an ambiguous scenario with indeterminate, unfixed meaning, or in this case a space of many possibilities. Vagueness implies an oscillation or movement between possible meanings / uses.
The openness of such vague territories within the city allows us the possibility of creating new trajectories and patterns of circulation, or paths which are not pre-guided by an already present structure / infrastructure. Vague landscapes create the possibility of new relational encounters between actors, stimulating different synergetic combinations and novel forms of behaviour.
From Conversation to the Corporeal: Dialogue Embodied
The transition from Bohms’ catalytic idea of Dialogue towards an ‘everyday’ haptic situation requires that a step be made from the verbal communication of a finite number of people sitting in a circle, towards a kinaesthetic scenario of an unknown, unforeseeable multiplicity. The processes inherent within a conversation function as a model of how we may re-imagine our surroundings, of our relationships amongst others and things. Being among, rather than in front of or before creates scenarios of heterogeneous relatedness between ‘things’. The fluctuating nature of a dia-logic ideology to co-habitation is an attempt to “widen our horizon to include transformative approaches to experience” 11 in the world.
Feeling others, while being felt: Simultaneous cause and effect
The elastic materialization of a dia-logic approach described in our rubber sidewalk scenario sets up a hypothetical situation in which movements leave perceptible traces and reverberations. Echoes are internalized and responded to in a perpetual, non-tautological cycle. The sidewalks become mediums and transmitters of simultaneous moments of passage, creating a tactile sensation of shifting foundations upon each step. The indifferent citizen becomes a citizen in difference through mutual and multiple participation on the fluctuating ground. Through the narrative of the rubber sidewalks we may explore a deeper question regarding simultaneous co-habitation; namely how to create a sense of ephemeral, shifting bonds between heterogeneous sets of difference? How can we bond without binding , how do we weave our Harlequin Coat?
Patricia Reed 2003
1 Latour, Bruno. “A Parliament of Parliaments ‘ How to Overcome the Crisis of Representation’” . A proposition text for an upcoming exhibition. http://www.ensmp.fr/~latour/expositions/002_parliament.html “The first is the magnificent ambiguity of the word Thing that, in all the European language signifies simultaneously ‘the object out there’ and ‘the assembly for a quasi-political and judiciary dispute’. For a few centuries, it was thought possible to distinguish radically the things out there, which were left to experts and the political assemblies, which dealt only with human interests and passions. Now, the ‘things’ of science and technology are back where they should always have remained: inside the political process.”
2 Brown, Stevn D. “Michel Serres: Myth, Mediation and the Logic of the Parasite”. 2000 http://www.devpsy.lboro.ac.uk/psygroup/sb/Serres.htm “Knowledge is seen as an endless distribution of intricate shores connected by innumerable passage. Knowledge is in tatters – an image that recurs in Serres’ later work where he uses the metaphor of Harlequin’s coat assembled from an infinite number of rags. For Serres, to seek knowledge is to embark on the task of journeying between these tatters and in the course of so doing to weave out connections between them.”
3 Rajchman, John. Constructions.Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000. p. 93
4 Serres, Michel. Qtd. In “Michel Serre’s Five Senses” by Steven Connor. 1999 http://www.bbk.ac.uk/eh/eng/skc/5senses.htm “in the skin, through the skin, the world and the body touch, defining their common border. Contingency means mutual touching: world and body meet and caress in the skin. I do not like to speak of the place where my body exists as a milieu, preferring rather to say that things mingle among themselves and that I am no exception to this, that I mingle with the world which mingles itself in me. The skin intervenes in the things of the world and brings about their mingling.”
5 Grosz, Elizabeth. “The Thing” in Elizabeth Grosz Architecture from the Outside.Cambridge: MIT Press 2002. p. 175
“But we leave behind something untapped of the fluidity of the world, the movements, vibrations, transformations that occur below the threshold of perception and calculation and outside the relevance of our practicle concerns. Bergson suggests that we have other access to this rich profusion of the vibrations that underlie the solidity of things.”
6 Cotterill, Rodney. “Prediction and Internal Feedback in Conscious Perception” in Journal of Consciousness Studies, 3, No. 2, 1996, pp.245-66 http://info.fysic.dtu.dk/Brainscience/1996.pdf
7 Lefebvre, Henri. “The Everyday and Everydayness”. Trans. Christine Levich with the editors of Yale French Studies. Eds: Steven Harris & Deborah Berke in Architecture of the Everyday. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1997. p. 32
8 Iizuka, Hiroyuki & Ikegami, Takashi. “Simulating Turn-Taking Behaviours with Coupled Dynamical Recognizers” Paper delivered at Artificial Life VIII conference: The 8th International Conference on the Simulation and Synthesis of Living Systems at the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia. Decmber 9-13, 2002
9 Bohm, David, Factor, Donald and Garrett, Peter. “Dialogue – A Prosposal” http://www.david-bohm.net/dialogue/dialogue_proposal.html
10 Bohm, David, Factor, Donald and Garrett, Peter. “Dialogue – A Prosposal” http://www.david-bohm.net/dialogue/dialogue_proposal.html
11 Varela, Francisco,J., Thompson, Evan, and Rosch, Eleanor. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993.