Good-Bye Technological Arts, Hello Trees
The previous chapter, Propositions for Thought in the Act, was written as an invitation to voyage. Its purpose was to convey a terrain collectively traveled, in preparation for a coming foray. It was addressed to fellow travelers already in the SenseLab network, and to others who might be inspired to come aboard. It was a kind of conceptual bill of lading attesting to what was coming in the collective baggage, not as an anchor to a particular past, but more as a flotation device for the next lap. In its own terms, it was a platform for relation for the open-ended continuation of a journey.
The destination was not premapped. Unimaginable in advance, where the collaborative process could go was precisely the “impossibility” to be “generated.” The invitation was for a collective pathfinding toward a destination that would come into being en route. In the end, less a pathfinding than a waymaking.
We were fully prepared for the open-endedness. What we were not prepared for was losing our starting point before we set forth. The event lost site of itself. During our year of planning Generating the Impossible, the Society for Art and Technology (SAT) crossed a threshold we had not anticipated. The renovations scheduled to improve the site and add the immersive interactive dome dubbed the SATosphere were caught in the aftereffects of the 2008 economic crisis. The resulting budget deficit necessitated a rethinking of the SAT’s operating model. Henceforth, all activities would be called upon to generate monetary returns. We could still work at the SAT in the SATosphere, but the new model required projects that were not fully subsidized from outside sources to earn their keep by bringing in a paying public. This was an obvious problem for a project meant to explore the gift as a living critique of the neoliberal economy. The SAT’s earlier proposition was that we “explode the gallery,” creating flows that might open the site of art to cacophonous interventions poised between modes of address (the conference paper), display (the art exhibition), and collaboration (the participatory installation), as well as opening it onto its outside, reconnecting it to its urban surroundings. Now there would be no “explosion.” The site’s modalities were given in advance, and any experimentation would have to happen within its domed structure. Not only that, but experimentation would be more regulated: channeled toward exploring the potentials of a given artistic platform—that of this particular immersive environment. This exerted pressure on artistic activity to conform to a content-providing paradigm, prelimiting the eventfulness of the process and its participatory intensity by reinstating a dichotomy between the artist/technological expert and the paying audience. The site thus went from being an open proposition (the SAT as spatial-conceptual catalyzer of action, a platform for relation in building form) to a high-stakes arena branded by its own proprietary technical system, one requiring special access and inside knowledge. In addition, the SAT’s underlying assumption in this new phase was that artistic activity should ideally provide “deliverables” to other sectors. The SAT was facing a Faustian bargain: die an ignominious death by debt, or fall more into step with the enterprise model of the neoliberal economy. Was it having the last “glass,” crossing the threshold into a different relational field than that of the exploratory community-based center it had been up to then?
It was clear that Generating the Impossible could not function within these new conditions. The event had to remain open to its undoing. Even had we had subsidies and been in a position to pay for access, the SATosphere would have constrained us to a preestablished site that already presumed to know how to manage what art can be, and what art can do. The shift the SAT was experiencing seemed all too reminiscent of our initial concerns about research-creation’s growing indebtedness to the capitalist economy and its enterprise model. Later, we would come back to the SAT with a project to creatively explore the tensions surrounding this shift, but we felt we would not be prepared for this until after Generating the Impossible had carried our practices further. For now, we had to move on.1
This shift came late in the process. After months of working collectively with the SATosphere in mind, those of us on the ground in Montreal liaising with the SAT had to make a difficult call. We concluded that the event needed to reorient, and sent out a message to participants. Our proposition: drop the site. Let the site be the city as a whole. But with a confounding twist: let the site be the city as a whole—from the angle of the forest. A proposition—and a provocation.
SenseLab participants embraced the proposition and the provocation and set the process on a new eventfully self-organizing course. The preparatory discussions on the SenseLab’s online grouphub soon settled around the concept of transduction.
As originally planned, we would start at the hunting camp at Mekoos, deep in the northern wilds 250 kilometers from Montreal. The approach, however, would be different than projected. Rather than starting from purposely unprepared, quasi-chaotic conditions, we would set conditions for structured improvisation in place as we had in the first three events. A number of platforms for relation would be used to catalyze the collective creative process in the forest setting toward the kind of emergent collective attunement we had always envisioned for the event. Then we would break camp and head for the city. How could an emergent process catalyzing in the woods be prolonged into the city? What does it mean to transduce a creative process from one set of enabling conditions to another? If the form, as well as its content, changes in the interval of transduction, is it still the same process? Can a forest-conditioned process renaturalize in and for the city, in a way that effectively brings something of the urban environment to expression, in creative relation to its ex-urban surrounds? Would that event constitute a contagion? A proliferation? A break? A variation? A tracing? Much discussion and preparation went into grappling with these issues. The “diagram” (in Gilles Deleuze’s sense) emerged as a pivot concept for attempting to understand, speculative-pragmatically, what a transduction can do.
What follows is not meant in any way as a full account of the event in all its speculative-pragmatic facets. Its aim is modest: to provide a brief narrative account that gives a summary sense of how the event took shape as it transduced its own initial sense of itself, as prospectively floated in the preceding text, into a collective wayfinding affirming its own processual autonomy in its journey from immersive dome to forest to city.
In the aftermath of the event’s reorientation to its loss of a starting point, there came the necessity to find an organizational strategy conducive to nonhierarchical, collective self-organizing that could at the same time offer the mutual aid that might be necessary for life outside the city and create the continuity that would be needed to keep the event together as it shifted from the forest back to the city.
Originally used by anarchists during the Spanish Civil War, the affinity-group structure has become a key organizational tool for nonhierarchical social movements, passing through the antinuclear movements of the 1970s and 1980s, into the antiglobalization movement of the early 2000s, and most recently into the Occupy Movement of 2011. An affinity group is an autonomous decision-making unit, usually composed of five to fifteen people, networked horizontally. Its purpose is to distribute decision making transversally across a larger group without resorting to a central authority structure. There is no central leadership, even in the representative form of elected delegates to an executive group. Interaction moves between autonomously organized small-group initiatives and assemblies of all participants without differentiation by rank or function. The purpose of the assemblies varies depending on the organizational needs, but what they have in common is that they wield no coercive, disciplinary, or even regulatory power. Their aim is not to produce conformity to a common program. The aim is to coordinate a heterogeneity of energies, transforming them, in the back-and-forth between small-group interaction and whole-group interaction, into creative synergies. The affinity-group structure works to enhance self-organization by conducting differences into a symphony of collectively attuned initiatives, rather than reducing differences by funneling them into a common adherence to a directive set of principles and strategies.
As with all SenseLab events, there was a daily movement between whole-group interaction and small groups. The affinity-group structure was another exploratory technique for creating a transversality that would eclipse the tendency for “reporting”: as with other events, we were interested less in moving content from one group to another than in creating fields of affect that could flow between them. For Generating the Impossible, each day began with the larger group assembled together for work sessions organized around a preselected series of philosophical readings.2 With the affinity groups in place, we hoped the work of the large-group events would trickle down into the rest of the day’s hands-on experimentation at the affinity-group level, synergizing creative thought and action into an integrated research-creation process.
Certain affinity groups formed organically in the months before we left for Mekoos. Others were formally struck. There was one decreed enabling constraint to their activities: while at Mekoos, each affinity group would prepare one evening meal (paid for by the SenseLab) for the entire group of fifty-four Generating the Impossible participants.3 The organization of food provision was to be a convivial mirror of the overall organizational structure, with the shared evening meals playing the role of informal evening assemblies. The planning for meals was a complex logistical task, especially since the remoteness of the location made it unfeasible to source food once we were on the ground (the nearest grocery store was an hour and a half away by car over country roads, some of which become impassible when wet). The collective food platform involved all participants in a logistics of mutual care that it was hoped would color the overall ethos of the encounter.
Another task of each affinity group was to develop, in the months leading up to the event, a key concept to help trigger and orient Generating the Impossible’s self-organizing. The concepts were drawn from readings proposed to the whole group by individual SenseLab network participants. The readings were discussed in regularly scheduled collective brainstorming sessions on Skype. These whole-group sessions fed into and out of discussions taking place on affinity-group-specific writeboards on the grouphub. Each affinity group approached the preparatory concept work differently. Some immediately threw themselves into meal planning, developing their concepts and evolving group process around that activity. Others focused directly on the transductive question of how to develop a distributive creative process across sites. Others organized weekly Skype reading groups branching off from the main reading-focused sessions. In the end, key concepts explored by affinity groups included tending, attention/attending, exaptation, emergence/emerging, and mapping/choreographing. All of the concepts were developed with a view to setting in motion the collective organization that would creatively enable the shift from the forest to the city.
A second level of organization was set up to cut across the affinity-group structure. Each participant was placed in a living situation at Mekoos (a cabin) mixing members from different affinity groups. This was done to create a framework for informal sharing of affinity-group-based experiences and exploration. It was also intended to counter any tendency for the affinity groups to develop into in-groups identifying themselves against the group as a whole. The hope was that this system of cross-solidarities would not only facilitate concept and technique contagion, but would also produce crossovers between groups that would create the conditions for emergent constellations preventing the organizational structure from ossifying into rigid segmentations.
Food preparation has been an important part of all SenseLab events. For Generating the Impossible, it played an even more central role because of the convivial way it cut transversally across the levels of organization, both cabin based and affinity-group based. This transversality occurred because, practically, each evening meal had to be prepared in a given cabin. This meant that each participant would spend significant amounts of time as a guest in another cabin, and would host others in their home cabin. This created a bridge of hospitality between the cabin and the affinity-group structures. Food preparation was complex (think only of taking allergies and other food requirements of fifty-four people into account). Each meal comprised at least three courses, and affinity groups invested their creative energies into making them artful and generative for the event as a whole. Meals took at least a few hours to prepare (a full day for one affinity group!). This meant that people would be moving in and out of activities of different kinds, threading the food preparation into an active weave of the day. In the care and effort taken to feed the group, an event-wide hospitality could be felt that suffused each aspect of the everyday. Hospitality, practiced in this way, produces an ethos of care, for the event, in the event. Pounds of couscous, spaghetti squash, mangoes, and Persian rice were added to the arsenal of concepts, as food preparation became an avenue for experiences to be shared, ideas to be explored, and concepts to be artistically staged. Eventfully deployed, food sharing can foster emergent forms of sociality constituting qualitative alter-economies of differentially shared experience. We were fortunate that among our participating artists was one with experience as a chef. Andrew Goodman was invaluable in the intensive role of food consultant and meal-planning facilitator.
In the lead-up to the event, a great deal of thought was put into how we would collectively cross the threshold and enter the event together in a manner consonant with—more precisely, performative of—its ethos and aims. An enabling constraint was put in place to perform the group transition into the event. In planning this constraint, we mobilized our guiding concept: the gift economy.
Each participant was asked to bring a wrapped gift. The gift was to be given to another participant, but was not for that individual. It was to be a gift to the event, through that individual. The gift giving was an alternative to prolonged introductions. Its role was to energize the opening of the event. Each SenseLab event has begun with an alternative to the ritual of self-introductions. The problem with self-introductions is just that: they are self-introductions. They bring people together based on preestablished identities (professor, student, nonacademic; maker, theorist; dancer, choreographer, media artist, philosopher) with histories of past accomplishments shoring up that identity. However gently they are proffered, they implicitly position, hierarchize, and divide. It would be disingenuous to hold that it would be possible—or desirable—for personal histories and individual identities to be neutralized and play no role, as if we could check them at the door. The question is rather: what is being set in place that will qualitatively inflect the coming interactions when self-introduction is chosen as the vector of entry? In what way does this prime the event and inflect the qualities of its interactions? How else may the event be primed? The SenseLab’s refrain in answer to this question is that there are other ways of coming together that are tangential to identity and professional positioning (intersecting with them up to a point but enacting tendencies that are not reducible to them, following trajectories that exceed their limitative frame). The idea is to find ways of coming together that do not cement us to our preformatted ideas of what we have to bring and who we will be for the event. Instead, we endeavor to create technique-driven encounters transversal to the identities in play (rather than in denial of or in opposition to them). SenseLab participants are invited to bring their care, their concerns, their affinities, their passions, and most especially the techniques in which these are performatively invested, and to enter the event along those vectors. Generating the Impossible’s inaugural gift-giving ceremony was set in place as an initial launching pad for this transversal exploration.
The gift-giving ceremony was based on a well-known game.4 All of the wrapped gifts were heaped in one location, unmarked as to the identity of the giver. As gifts “for the event,” they were meant to offer something that could potentially be activated as an affordance or platform for relation in view of the interactions to come. This would make each gift an offer of a relational angle of involvement in the event that the recipient might later activate. Participants were invited to come up, one by one, and choose one gift. The catch was that when it was your turn, you could decide not to open a new gift, but instead take a gift that someone else had already received and unwrapped. Should you take someone else’s gift, the gift’s original recipient would then be invited to choose a new gift. Participants put a great deal of themselves into the gifts they gave, knowing that they would be offered to the group anonymously. The anonymity of the gifting made the “personality” of the gift an occurrent character of the event, rather than an identifying marker of the source individual. The opportunity to “steal” an already-given gift lent a ludic element to the ceremony, making the exchange itself more performative and loosening the connotation of the transfer of rightful possession that normally underwrites other practices of gift giving. The gift-giving ceremony set in place a relational unwrapping across the threshold into the event that exceeded the giver–recipient duality. The gift was attached more to the collective potential that might be deployed over the coming days than to the giver or the receiver.
This ceremony was one aspect of the gift economy at the basis of the event. Over the year previous to the event, we had set up various ways of creating informal funding and resource-sharing structures to ensure that no participant was excluded for lack of funds.5 As with past events, we also worked with a local grocer to supply low-cost food for on-site preparation during the event.6 Montreal-based SenseLab participants offered couches and extra rooms to accommodate those who chose not to or were unable to pay for hotels for the city segment. And those of us with institutional backing, or with personal funds to spare, pooled our money for allocation on the basis of need. To the extent possible, the event attempted to activate alter-economies based on mutual aid.
Following the gift giving and the initial tasks generated by the affinity groups, five forest days ensued dedicated to conceiving creative propositions that could be transduced to the city. As mentioned, each morning was set aside for the concept work assemblies involving close collective readings of a selection of philosophical texts, using a variety of techniques including what has become the SenseLab’s signature technique of conceptual speed dating (as discussed previously). Afternoons were focused on affinity-group work sessions on site-conditioned projects bringing something of the forest surroundings or camp environment to creative expression, always with a view to their added potential for generating transductive bridges between Mekoos and Montreal.
The largest and most visible proposition was the construction of a work “for the forest” that came to be called The Mi(d)st: a 100-meter length of repurposed mosquito netting that was painstakingly stretched across an arm of the lake on the far end from camp. The Mi(d)st grew from a stray comment from one participant about the captivating ephemerality of the morning and evening mist that rose from the lake, crossed with a platform for relation donated by Nathaniel Stern, who offered his rope-based “Sentimental Construction” concept to the group as a proposition for collective improvisation.7 The Mi(d)st “caught” the captivating mist in its net. It also reflected its own form in the water, creating a play across surfaces that visually expressed the interpenetration of processes the event sought to produce on other levels. Alan Prohm also gifted a proposition for group reappropriation growing from his “loom” projects, which are similarly rope based. The Tubular Loom is strung, not unlike a spider web for people, between site-specific structures (in our case, two trees). Once mounted, it serves as an invitation to ungrounded movement as participants run, crawl, or sidle through it, experiencing altered proprioceptive states.
Many other propositions were generated on site from affinity-group activities. Some took an installation form; others were processual unfoldings exploring “diagrammatic” relations. Projects spawned other projects, including a sound and image performance for/on the lake that saw itself as a prolongation of The Mi(d)st by other means. One affinity group made it their task to “tend” the process in its globality, insinuating themselves into other affinity groups’ interactions in subtle ways intended to help leaven their creative initiatives, perhaps without the beneficiaries of this processual intercession even being aware of it. Unfortunately, the space is lacking here to go into the full richness of these explorations.8
The Mi(d)st. Collective work based on a proposition by Nathaniel Stern. Photographs: SenseLab/Ronald T. Simon
Tubular Loom. Collective work based on a proposition by Alan Prohm. Photographs: SenseLab/Ronald T. Simon
As our time in the forest was drawing to a close, so too was the Technologies of Lived Abstraction event series. Generating the Impossible was meant to be the final event in the series. The SenseLab has never differentiated itself from its activities. Its mode of existence is entirely project based. It never saw itself as an organization with a claim to existence separate from what it does. It never aspired to become a self-preserving or self-reproducing institution within which or in the name of which activities took place. It takes its own dedication to the emergent and the ephemeral seriously: it would continue to operate as long as its projects propelled themselves, preferring to die rather than to ossify. The end of the event series thus raised the inevitable question: had the SenseLab lived itself out? Had it performed, to the best of its ability, its function of consolidating new ways of coming together around research-creation techniques to create relational environments? Did the mode of collective relational existence that was the SenseLab still have a reason for being? Accordingly, on day five, SenseLab founder and pivot person Erin Manning rather abruptly announced that the SenseLab was no more. The declaration of its passing was a performative proposition posing a series of unsaid questions to the collective. Shall we as a group resuscitate the SenseLab? If so, with what continuities and what transformations? Is the energy and momentum there to justify its continuance on processual grounds? Do we proceed from here? Have we done our work, or is there still work to do? Or: have we done our work so well that we risk becoming the institution we never wanted? How do we proceed from here? Reinvent or perish.
It is part of the SenseLab’s basically anarchist inspiration to consider that no grouping should endeavor to exist indefinitely, institutionalizing itself around its own desire for self-perpetuation. At the same time, we realize that no organization will ever be able to completely resist or forego institutionalization. Manning was asking the group whether we had now reached the end of the road, or whether the SenseLab was on the road to becoming an institution in spite of itself. After a moment of shocked silence, the answer came as a resounding no. There was still work remaining to be done and a collective desire to embark upon it. Yet the question did stage a performative shift: saying no to the question was tantamount to affirming a collective responsibility for where the SenseLab would move next. The eventual form this desire took was the next SenseLab event, Into the Midst (play on The Mi(d)st intended), which brought us back to the SAT more than a year later in October 2012. Into the Midst was to prove to be the most integrally self-organizing SenseLab event thus far.9 The real gift to the event was the investment participants made to continue “generating the impossible.”
Generating the impossible is no humble proposition, but Generating the Impossible was a humble event. Faced with the grandness of the proposition, we endeavored collectively to develop new ways of working together across two distant and heterogeneous sites. Our hope was to touch on how creative practices, and how art and politics, can co-compose in research-creation. Many of the event’s undertakings were tentative, and remained germinal. We had a few solid starting points: the readings, a year of collective thinking, the Sentimental Construction and Tubular Loom propositions, the gift-giving passage across the threshold. But still, to come up with a strong artwork, articulated with emergent conceptual intensities, within five days is a mammoth task by any standard. To do so with people who in some cases you are meeting in person for the first time is a challenge. We worked hard, in and across our affinity groups, taking joy in little emergences, and keeping in mind that germinality itself, rather than a finished product, was the goal: that the product was process. As always for SenseLab events, the measure of success would be the intensity of the next event this one seeded, as well as the creative partnerships formed through SenseLab participation spinning off into extra-SenseLab collaborations. Success for the SenseLab is centrifugal: the seeding of processual spin-offs. The truest measure of the SenseLab’s success are successes for which it cannot claim credit.
The ethos of tending and tentativeness moved with us when we departed Mekoos for Montreal. By now, a strong sense of concern for the event had developed. With it came a panoply of germinating propositions for the city segment. As with earlier SenseLab events, a mode of decision making had set itself in motion that was not based on a central authority or representational delegation, nor on what is commonly considered the only alternative to these: consensus. Decisions were self-making, based on the singular force of each proposition. Anything that seemed worth trying—in other words, anything with sufficient processual allure—would tend to be explored. Yet only the strongest (most collectively potentiating) of the many seeded initiatives would carry themselves into action, on their own self-expressive steam. This autonomizing of decision rarely caused friction: there is no end to potential ideas, and those not explored during Generating the Impossible were understood as seeds storing potential for future events that might germinate elsewhere at another time. It was this autonomizing of decision that carried through the next event, Into the Midst.
An endeavor is at its most inventive when decision making works as a cut in a process that enables new forms of collectivity to emerge in a next unfolding phase. For this to work well it is necessary that actions embody a “concern for the event,” and that an atmosphere and ethos has been generated that sustains that concern. Much work must go into enabling the event to do its own work, such that it is the global momentum of the event itself that is followed and fed. This momentum may at times channel through an act or decision of a particular individual or subgroup. But it is not owned by them. It channels through them, such that no one in particular can take ultimate credit for anything that happens. In the end, it is only the event that is a credit to itself.
Many thresholds were crossed, tendingly, tentatively, into the forest, around camp, and from the forest back to the city. But no explosion occurred—more like a scattering into the urban fabric. When the group descended upon Montreal, a number of concurrent happenings unfolded. Some took the form of choreographic explorations of the city’s movements. A subgroup set about working on an urban iteration of the Mekoos-made version of the tubular loom, re-sited to a vacant lot. Another scouted locations to set up urban reemplacements of The Mi(d)st.
On our first evening back, The Mi(d)st was restrung in Saint-Viateur Park in Outremont across a small moat separating the perimeter of the park from an island pavilion at its center. A security guard cooperatively turned a blind eye while the netting was installed and then came back later to “discover” the deed and fulfill his duty to uphold city permit regulations.
The next day, we decided to hang it in a less patrolled location: the back alley between two streets in Outremont. This was made possible by the fact that two of us lived on the same alley and so we could string the lengthy work from one third-floor balcony to another. A number of participants spent the afternoon stringing. A few remained to gauge reactions while others went off to participate in other evening activities, including a tie-in event hosted by Artivistic, a sister organization of the SenseLab. The plan was to meet back at the alley to celebrate the hanging of the work. Before we met back, however, word was sent out by the members of the group tending the work that a number of police cars had swooped into the alley and surrounded The Mi(d)st while a large group of Hasidic Jews from the surrounding neighborhood looked on, concerned because they had been wrongly blamed for the offense. It turned out that the police had received calls from certain people living in houses that backed onto that alley who were enraged by what they took to be a religious takeover of secular space. They had fantasized the humble Mekoos mosquito netting into an eruv: a structure used to symbolically transform a segment of the public domain into an extension of the private domain, thus enabling Orthodox Jews who strictly observe the dictates of Shabbat to move more freely on that day. Certain Montreal Hasidic communities practice a minimalist version of the eruv consisting of wires strung so high between buildings as to be all but invisible, in an attempt to avoid friction with defenders of Quebec’s deeply ingrained secular order (not to mention its historically ingrained anti-Semitic elements, present as a small but vocal minority in Outremont). The Mi(d)st was mistaken for an imperialist act on the part of the Hasidic community aimed at widening their religious kingdom to include this nondescript alley. This hateful misunderstanding reminded us that a “transduction” is site-conditioned on both sides. The results can never be fully anticipated. Whatever is crystallized comes from a set of tensions or forces that are catalyzed into taking emergent expression. Although residents of Outremont live in relative peace across religious communities and between religious and secular orders, there are always latent tensions. In this Montreal iteration, The Mi(d)st reflected the troubled waters of these latent tensions, bringing them to an unintended, siren-screaming expression.
The Mi(d)st. St. Viateur Park, Montreal. Photograph: SenseLab/Ronald T. Simon
Another of the Montreal propositions that stood out also produced unintended effects of a more convivial kind. One affinity group decided to meet downtown at a local bus stop and ride the bus down its whole line while reading aloud A User’s Guide to (Demanding) the Impossible, one of the books featured in our preparatory concept work for Generating the Impossible (available freely online). Affinity-group participants boarded the bus early on a Sunday morning at the first stop on its line and sat at the back. Passing the book from one person to another, they staged a mobile recitation and reading group. They had not known what to expect in terms of public reaction. At one point, an earphoned teenager boarded the bus and sat, at first unawares, among the readers. When it came time for the book to be passed, it fell to him. Despite the surprise, he took off his earphones and joined in. He was the first of many. The bus driver also became intrigued, becoming so engaged in the action that, after reaching the end of the line, he drove the bus off its route to drop the Impossiblers off at the vacant lot where we were all meeting at the end of the day for a final urban potluck.
If Generating the Impossible as a whole succeeded in making the threshold of an alter-economy of creative relation palpable, its most far-ranging, and free-ranging, technique in this respect was the free radical.
The free radical was embodied for this event by one member of the collective, Australian artist Paul Gazzola. While the free radical’s ultimate role was to disentangle itself from individual embodiment and proliferate, for this first experimentation with the concept, we needed to give the free radical a presence and operational form, and Paul was it. But he was not it alone for long. Even before we reached Mekoos, the free radical had radicalized itself through an unexpected multiplication. Suddenly, as if by spontaneous generation, there were two, or more. Paul was multiplied by self-appointed free radicals going by the monikers “Frank” and “FRank.” Or was Paul the F®anks? Nobody seemed to know. The identity of the F®anks was unknown, their position uncertain, and their role evolving over a number of online sallies. All anyone knew for sure was that the operator of the free radical had ostensibly proliferated in its anonymous enthusiasm to play its assigned role of “breaking down emergent attunement after it has just emerged, but before it can stabilize into a self-sustaining harmony that might assert itself as a model.” From the very outset, then, the figure of the free radical spontaneously took off from Paul’s (or is it FRank’s or Frank’s?) embodiment of it, all the better to work as a transversal force for unsettling the collective attunement in the making, preventing it from institutionalizing into a self-perpetuating structure.
This trickstering of the trickster figure made the free radical a looming, unidentifiable presence. Since no one knew who or how many it was, its interventions were not necessarily discernible. This meant that at each stage of the event we were obliged to be on the lookout for occurrences that might be laid to free-radical intercession. How the free radical might be operative in the alter-economy we were creating was an ongoing, open question. Through its perhaps spectral multiplication, the free radical came to embody the event’s outside. It became the ubiquitous figure of an intervening outside force of unsettlement that could not be definitively pinned on any one individual or identifiable group of individuals within the larger group. This apparition of the outside among us worked to remind us that there was no absolute “inside” to the event. Its own transductive figure was of the inside folding out, from Mekoos to the city and beyond.
The SenseLab does not exist “as such.” It is not an organization. It is not an institution. It is not a collective identity. It is an event-generating machine, a processual field of research-creation whose mission is to inside itself out. Its job is to generate outside prolongations of its activity that ripple into distant pools of potential. Ripple-effect: one idea becomes a seed for organization, which becomes a proposition for a concept, which becomes a problem for art, for politics, for philosophy, that may, if the conditions are ripe, resolve itself into the triggering of an event of collective experimentation and creative expression. This event potential is (dis)embodied in the trickstered-trickster figure of the free radical, gone spectral. When the conditions have been right and the event has been generated, it has always come into itself in a relation with its radical outside—which it paradoxically generates flush with its own occurring, also immediately in relation to distant events beyond itself.