deepSurface _the unvisual image_

Essay by NOX about their project 'deepSurface' (1999)

In Phenomenology of Perception Maurice Merleau-Ponty introduces the concept of abstract movement, a movement-tension that is always (proprioceptively) present in the body. It is the movement that is available in the body, a 'background tension' he calls it, following the Gestaltists from the twenties. In fact this movement only becomes available to the body through the numerous actions performed in everyday life; it is not given, and one can lose it too - movement is made up of movement, and the abstract and the real feed back and forth continuously. The concept of tension is very critical of the notion of intentionality, where the body is solely seen as purposeful, as a mechanistic machine that has to start itself up every time a goal comes within view. Every act springs from this background tension, a real, actual movement that 'releases itself from neurological anonymity', within a body where thousands, millions of processes go on at the same time - in this view subject and object must be deeply intertwined, hardly distinguishable, as are action and perception, motoric and sensory. In short, it is a deep critique of the architectural program, the mechanistic layout of all human behaviour within a built system purely viewed as tasks, routines and habits.

Suppose this habituation, this crystallisation of behaviour is instead more a bottom-up emerging of repetition, an order emerging out of different patterns of collective and individual processes. In that case an act is never completely certain, it always differs from itself, and is always ready to shift into another act, or even to slide into a 'free' act. When every act, however intentional, is also oriented sideways a lot of in-between-program could unfold, both undetermined and unprogrammed program. Every path would then have to be part of a field, because every trace is first written within the soft field, the deep surface of the body, as in the classic concept of chreodes. The body is a beach too, and architecture can only appeal to this bandwidth of action when it itself becomes a beach also - at least partly. This topological view of the body, connected to a topological view of program, connected to a topology of architecture, of structure even, is the explicit agenda of all projects exhibited. Within this system of connections we should distinguish three movements, related to three different media: a. movement in the architecture - created by the conceptual diagram in the computer. This diagram of springs & strings is animated through the organisational diagram, i.e. the scheme of the b. movement in the building - the mechanistic diagram (classic architectural tools like bubble- diagrams, organograms, running lines, relational schemes, routing) that quantifies behaviour and square footage; the interference of both a. and b. result in the actual c. movements of the body - in the exhibition shown as plotted diagrams of actual behavioural patterns based on notations of American Sign Language: ruled surfaces of straight lines between the curved motion paths of the different limbs and joints.

In the various projects the 'movement in the architecture' is analysed as the transformation of one architectural element into another; from floor into wall, from line into surface, from point into line, from path into field, from table into corridor, from corridor into room, from floor into carpet, from wall into curtain, et cetera. All these 'movements', all this morphing, blending, merging, twisting, rotating, delaminating and splitting, are actions that become part of forms and create in-betweens. This is expressly generated by the non-fitting, by the interference of the 'movement in the architecture' with the 'movement in the building'; they are related, obviously, but not the same altogether. When they would form a perfect fit, i.e. orientated in the same direction, this would end up in pure expressionism, and not fitting at all, being completely unrelated, i.e. when orientated in perpendicular directions, this would end up in pure sculpturism. To demonstrate that the motions are not 'frozen' into form, but 'passed on' into the movement of the body, not only forward (that is given), but also sideways, into the bandwidth of actions, the animated diagrams show runs and re-runs of different situations in several built projects. The projects then do not just go from concept to percept, from diagram to matter, it is in stead the excitation that spreads out over the matter of diagram and body simultaneously, the non-located affect that draws and redraws, structures and restructures motion.

The installation was generated in the computer by attaching a number of related forces to a 'textile' surface positioned horizontally on eye-level where it blocks the view. Not only is this 'textile' made up of different parameters and values indicating its softness and flexibility, it is also a very precise construction of springs, i.e. a tectonics of the responsive, where forces not only go into the soft system of the textile to displace points on the surface into a deformed structure, but where the 'points' are sensitive zones within the line, that can both contract under pressure and then expand again within a certain range. In short, the material has 'character'; it not only absorbs forces, but also responds to them actively in a particular way. This interaction of internal tension and external influences creates a wave-like deformation of the surface over time, and, because of the positioning of the springs and forces along the line-up of the existing structure, makes room exactly there where the vertical has been occupied by the columns. The surface therefore stays horizontal at the edges, with a 'facade' of zero-thickness, but in the middle area it tries to elevate, as if the plan itself tries to become a wall, making the image itself into a space, an image that immerses, and envelops, becoming a space of absorption and movement. Not unlike Pollock's twist of horizontal action into a vertical image, but then, resisting this climactic freeze, dropping back, and remaining in-between and oblique.

These soft tectonics are again analysed in the computer as a buildable structure, where not only the diagrammatic geometry is passed on, but also its conceptual materiality of textile and tension, shifting it into a structure of ... textile, pulled tight with a number of steel cables. As the forces exerted along the row of existing columns had created the complex curves within the surface, these can now only be fixed by inflexible structures of metal being a kind of freed caryatids absorbed by the surface. Obviously they also create the necessary openings allowing the visitors an entry to the projected images. The tension in the two main cables is measured by two springs connected to sensors, oscillators and loudspeakers. The average tension is tuned to a pitch of 800 Hz. Small differences in tension, slight contact by the visitors create fluctuations between 797 and 803 Hz. Due to these small differences the interference of the two cables is enormously effective and makes the whole sound float in such a way that one cannot really make out the position of the sources, not even whether they are located outside of or within one's own head. All the gallery's windows, as well as the walls, have been painted white. The textile of the surface is also white, as are the cables and the other accessories. All the images and the animations projected on the surface are black and white.

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