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Paul Carter
The Edge in the Surface
Notes round and about 'Other Places'

 
Surface, A Colloquium. Visual Art & Design Research Group, South Australian School of Art & the Louis Laybourne-Smith School of Architecture and Design, University of South Australia. 24 October, 2003

Surfaces lack edges. Continuous, they cannot be joined. As pure, two-dimensional extension, surface is a Parmenidean concept. It asserts the unity of Being. A multiplicity of surfaces may be observed, but (like movement) they are an illusion. Surfaces cannot meet: even when they touch, a minute gap remains. The ideal surface is smooth. However ingenious its topology, the surface lacks attachments. To say, then, that a number of the 'Other Places' sketches study 'edge conditions' is at once to establish a critical position. Against the Eleatic philosopher, it is to side with the Ionian school, and its advocacy of flux, change and revolution. An edge that is not simply a nick in the surface (hence more surface) asserts the existence of a dark realm, which cannot be represented. It is an environment populated by forming and unforming holes, and by tracks continuously melting away and reforming. It is a realm characterized by placings, by arrangements. It is a meeting place or what makes 'space' public'.[1] As a site of joining, the edge condition is soft rather than sharp. It is a site of continuous discontinuity. Colloidal structures are formed at the interface between media. The pioneer chemist Ostwald described colloids as 'lying in the World of neglected Dimensions.' (Everett, 3) So with edge conditions and their representations.

The effect of studying them is to recover the 'face' in the surface. It is not to disparage the appearance of the other, but, by removing the lamination of the 'sur' face, to grasp its difference. The new appearance is a deepened surface. No longer the surface of a void, the face edges towards us out of the dark. It is like a fissure, a bolt of lightning and gestures towards a meeting place. The etymology of 'face' is disputed: it may be derived from the root meaning 'to make' or it may come from a root meaning 'to shine'. (SOED, 666) It is as likely that these two roots are aspects of one apparitional experience. To shine forth is to make appear. The face is what in the surface signifies. The surface does not signify. As the fissure, the discontinuity that discloses the continuity of the surface, the face is the edge. Here it is telling that the etymology of 'sign' seems linked to that of face. Buhler says that 'sign' is derived from roots meaning 'to make bright and visible,' and 'to place before the eyes.' (Buhler, 70) In this notion, the face in the surface points us towards something, establishing an identity in difference. In this spirit, Levinas writes of 'the beyond from which the face comes.' (Levinas, 59) The face understood in this way is a 'visitation' and to catch sight of it is 'to glimpse in the fissure of being the totality of the divine.' (Carter 2002, 198) The edge is the face as fissure, and its apprehension is erotic for, as Simone Weil beautifully said, 'To love purely is to consent to distance, it is to adore the distance between ourselves and that which we love.' (Quoted by Farley, 71 note 8) In this sense, as Levinas puts it, 'true life' is elsewhere.[2]

In 'Other Places' edges are drawn as places of cross-over or overlap. The edge is exfoliated. One wave edge is multiplied and radiates to fill the entire field. The extension of such a trembling figure depends upon revolution. Vortical movements spring up in the fabric, creating a pattern of holes. Edges are interfaces that gather between surfaces whose physical properties differ. The movement forms that manifest themselves signify gradients of exchange, processes of acceleration and deceleration. Such edges pose the question of representation. Is the transfer of energy represented by a series of steps or as a continuous slope? These sketches suggest a third mode of terracing. Preparing proposals for the redevelopment of North Terrace I suggested that terraces are not in the first instance to be envisaged as landscaped (leveled) shelves.

'They are the form the lie of the land takes when it is danced. The terrace has here the ambiguity of the English word "step", which means both a unit of locomotion and a change of level. The terrace precedes the road: in the grip of their ecstacy, the maenads are said to have found their way over pathless mountain passes to Delphi. They were not intoxicated but unusually clearsighted - and surefooted; they kept their footing, leaping from rock to rock flawlessly, without hesitation. Finding their footing across different levels, these Bacchus-worshippers measured out the first terraces. The step up or step down from terrace to terrace is the permanent trace of the danced step.' (Carter 2000; see also Carter 2001, 145)

As such, its parts display heterogeneous properties, differences of scale, texture, hardness and angle. Stepping stones are corners in a triangle made by the bi-pedal body. As edges are 'corners' they are also the faces change shows.

As edges are materialized, they display a distinctive topography. Whirlpools, terraces and the pattern joining these figures emerge. The pattern resembles a tremulous web or lattice. It is not the representation of a positive object. It is not a ground plan. The sketch 'Asterisks' was indebted to Isidore of Seville's remark, 'The Asterisk is placed against [verses] which have been omitted in order that what seems to be omitted may shine forth. For in the Greek language a star is called aster.' (Parkes, 173) This notion of what is not there shining forth more brightly is consonant with Levinas' account of the face. The sign (the asterisk) does not mark an absence or loss, but draws attention to (points towards) the beyond from which the other comes. The same principle applies to the graphically-represented passages between asterisks or involutes. They do not represent what was is or can be there. They are not copies. Rather, they trace something that was always already gone or to come. This double property belongs to tracks. The track the hunter follows is the trace of what is never there (but always already in another place). It is also the track he is about to take. In this sense, as Hannah Nyala says, 'As we track, we too are being tracked.'

In this sense, too, tracks are always doubled, potential meeting places: 'Tracking, Rodolphe Gasché points out, draws differently, sometimes over and across itself. Its discourse is composed of potential crossroads, 'always already and always not yet.' (Gasché, 267) The interrupted double line of the track is both a way of drawing places, and a way of thinking about them. 'The chiasm is one of the earliest forms of thought: it allows the drawing apart and bringing together of opposite functions or terms and entwines them within an identity of movements.' (Gasché, 273) Its rhetorical counterpart is the riddle.[3] In Greek, the riddle takes its name from a kind of fish net - 'the riddle is braided in the same way as a fishnet, […] through intertwinement of opposite terms.' (Gasché, 369, n.34) If passages are potential meeting places, the asterisks that join them are potential passages. That is, as chiasmatic zones, they are multiply constituted (always more than one body in motion) and mobile. A meeting place is not where self and others fuse and grow immobile; it is a site of not quite meeting or approach. Its essential quality is distance. Distance, conceived as the space of approach, is, as Giacometti understood the condition of a meeting that preserves the social life-world: 'Every moment of the day people come together and drift apart, and approach each other again to try to make contact anew. They unceasingly form and reform living compositions of incredible complexity. What I want to express in everything I do, is the totality of this life.' (Hohl, 274)

Edges are progressively softened, spread out and deepened. The attitude is one of care, attention to overlooked and ephemeral changes in the composition of the ground. Change is studied and in the process slowed down. The kinetic fantasies of the moving figure undergo a comparable modification. Le Corbusier's purposeful straightline walker (see Carter 2002, 28) grows bi-pedal again, and wanders off. Multiples of these characters start to populate the surface. In a story written at an early stage of the Federation Square collaboration, I imagined these new citizens artefactually, emerging like the blots which magically mushroom in repeatedly enlarged photocopies or the strange (deranged) 'glitches' that grow into geometrical mould when certain digital operations are repeated:

It was an ideal day, such as a computer might generate; there was an ideal resemblance between the patterned tiles and the clouds like tesselated snowflakes drifting overhead. You would hardly have guessed that the undulating field rested heavily on walls driven into the river edge.

It was as if we walked out onto a bridge; only the bridge was of infinite width, all idea of definite progress to the other side arrested.

As if the former reason of bridges (crevasses to be crossed, railways to be traversed) had been transcended; and everywhere was a bridge, one continuously spreading array of surface, detached from every earthly nostalgia.

No place for suicide here; even prospects are of secondary importance.

As we walked out there were more of us; and I don't refer to the shadows we captured. Springing up like humans from the scattered stones, and filing into definite patterns.

Small groups began to form; and with them secrets; and a counter-imagery of barriers.

From the random associations there emerged new classes; figures known as Janus,[4] who guarded the openings; creatures employed as go-betweens; entire races distinguished genetically by their superior vision.

In this world, so ideal, so effortlessly generated, it was impossible to distinguish the pygmies, the flower-sellers, the train-spotters and the wreckers from public artists, especially assigned to think differently about the site.

It was as if we surfed a cloud; or as if wherever we bent our footsteps we unzipped the crest of a wave - there were, that ideal day, that day towards which all of this had been trending, no obstacles to our visionary career: as yet no proto-passages, no rearing busy walls, no electronic flora offering a scenography.

We spread out, like Noah's creatures across the slopes of our Ararat; dry land after the Flood; but as yet strangers there, not knowing where to build our houses, to conduct our ceremonies.


This story captures an ambiguous response to these drawing technologies. Their capacity to disclose an 'unconscious' within the notionally blank surface is appealing. The blot patterns that begin to distribute themselves, gathering here and there and throwing off other archipelagoes, closely mimic the unpredictable, because incredibly complex behaviour of multiply-constituted living systems. Yet, the surprising 'local inventions' produced in this way have no significance beyond displaying the representational limitations and characteristics of the technologies that produce them. The Other Places drawings draw instead on non-random associations, tracks, for example, already inscribed in the creation of that terrain. It is out of these proto-blots, scars, traces and marks - a heterogeneous inventory of processes - that the drawing takes shape, a 'local invention' which does not impose but re-members. I say 'inscribed in the creation' because these phenomena are not distinguishable from the totality of the environment. The Kulin people's creator figure, Punjil, is said to have made the earth by going over it, 'cutting it in many places, and thereby formed creeks and rivers, and mountains and valleys.' But he was not a landscape architect. The critical point is this: 'he could open up any place or any thing, and in such a way as to make it impossible for any one to know how or whether or not it had been opened.' (Brough Smith, vol 1, 423; see also Carter 2002 b, 237)) This is equivalent to designing an environment 'without genealogy.'

It may be observed that different drawing techniques are implied here. Punjil's knife corresponds to the sharp-tipped pen, cutting the surface (a physical act of ripping and rending preserved in the etymology of 'writing'). Reference to the blot, however, suggests the touching of two absorbent bodies and the transfer of a colour-stained liquid - a chromatic suspension which, as it percolates through the new medium leaves a stain that retraces the 'creation of that terrain'. Without under-valuing the difference of attitude these different techniques imply, I can suggest that, in these drawings, a hybrid drawing technique is implied. As a discontinuous 'line' composed of 'blots' the track is a similarly hybrid 'movement form.' As representations of tracks, these drawings are similarly hybrid. In this sense, as I said before, these drawings represent tracks - which, as Thomas de Quincey brings out, can metamorphose into blots or meeting places precisely because they open and close without anyone being able to say whether or not they were opened. Such a surface is marine rather than terrestrial, as emerges when De Quincey invites his reader to imagine a sea of commerce where 'so many thousands of captains, commodores, admirals, were eternally running up and down it, and scoring lines upon its face so rankly, that in some of the main "streets" and "squares" (as one might call them) their tracks would blend into one undistinguishable blot.' (De Quincey, 131)

The resolution of these counter-pointed drawing techniques occurs when the surface is conceived to be impressionable. When it is conceived as a medium, terraced, as it were, between media related to each other through its mantle, then writing ceases to be a process of cutting through, and blotting is no longer a painterly technique confined to the sur-face. Cutting becomes a technique of cicatrizing, or creating more surface. Blotting becomes a technique of bleeding into the material. In both techniques conceived in this way, the material is recognized as the 'unconscious' guide or leader. Its textural qualities communicate to the hand directions, resting places and passages. It becomes an analogue of the bodying forth of thought. In this sense one can talk of a graphology, a science of representing inner states.

Again, the clearest idea of this is found in De Quincey. In a palimpsest - a parchment which preserves successive layers of writing - the juxtaposed and superimposed scraps of writing may have nothing to do with each other. No 'organising principle' exists to explain their meeting. In trying to recover the oldest inscription - the original 'organising principle' of the parchment - though, De Quincey finds ideas of his own piling up; more and more similes for the work he is doing occur to him. Trying to track down the meaning, he finds himself continually diverted. Perhaps, he reflects, the result of this will be to provoke his reader's laughter, but, if so, 'it can only be 'such laughter as oftentimes is thrown off from the fields of ocean - laughter that hides, or that seems to evade mustering tumult; foam-bells that weave garlands of phosphoric radiance for one moment round the eddies of gleaming abysses; mimicries of earth-born flowers that for the eye raise phantoms of gaiety, as oftentimes for the ear they raise echoes of fugitive laughter, mixing with the ravings and choir-voices of an angry sea.' (De Quincey, 144)

This is a good example of the vortical thought-form De Quincey elsewhere calls the involute. De Quincey's own mental 'organising principles' produce 'involutes' - 'far more of our deepest thoughts and feelings pass to us through perplexed combinations of concrete objects, pass to us as involutes (if I may coin that word) in compound experiences incapable of being disentangled, than ever reach us directly, and in their own abstract states.' (Suspiria de Profundis, in De Quincey, 104) Hayter characterises the 'involute' as the 'map' which the Dark Interpreter had. The Dark Interpreter 'was the guide who led De Quincey through his dreams.' (Hayter, 125) De Quincey characterises the Interpreter as an 'apparition ╔ but a reflex of yourself' - 'in uttering your secret feelings to him, you make this phantom the dark symbolic mirror for reflecting to the daylight what else must be hidden for ever.' (Suspiria, in De Quincey, 156) The critical point is that the Dark Interpreter does not simply mimic what the dreamer has said when awake: 'the Interpreter sometimes swerves out of my orbit, and mixes a little with alien natures ╔ sometimes, as his face alters, his words alter.' The track which the Dark Interpreter takes is not linear. Nor is it continuous. The medium in which it occurs is not a smooth and passive surface. On the contrary, it is an active surface, a 'mustering tumult' composed of unstably climbing and collapsing wave fronts, an elastic field of sinusoidally-moulded terraces, dotted with vortices - those 'garlands of phosphoric radiance' eddying round 'gleaming abysses.'

The reference to the asterisk points to something else about the drawings. An asterisk is a typographical convention. It can represent an idea (eidos) or it can signify a concept. The drawings assume that the same ambiguity applies to typography in general. In origin writing and drawing are regarded as the same process: the Greek verb graphein covers both operations. But the material or iconic quality of writing survives the formalisation of the rules of writing and the fixing of the alphabet. In early public inscriptions this is obvious. In composing epitaphs for stelae, Simonides took account of the visual impression made by each character (typon or letter). (See Carson 50ff) The character of a text is read in the typeface, not simply in the concepts it communicates to the lettered. That is, the illiterate can also derive sense from it. The design of the writing acts as a dark interpreter: as its face alters, so the meaning of the words alters.[5] The 17th Century poet George Herbert counsels against focusing on the back of the letter. (Herbert, 390) By this he means taking the sign literally, rather than concentrating on its spiritual import. But the very act of imagining the back of the letter is also a going beyond the surface representation. It is to notice that the letter is an edge in an impressionable surface, and it points towards the truth in a double way, iconically as well as conceptually. In this sense, imagining the letter as an embodied message (or messenger) is to localise the apprehension of the other. Letters become the tracks of angels, traces of heavenly messengers - who couldn't be apprehended directly.[6] Letters, and their design, enable us to glimpse in the fissure of being the totality of the divine. Typeface: letters as characters. Letters are the faces of the invisible.

The 'Iconographs' were prepared for Tracks, an unrealised public artwork designed for a site on North Terrace. Their rationale was explained in the text accompanying the concept design submitted in March 2001:

Tracks celebrates the story lines that converge on North Terrace. It uses writing to do this. Two great writing traditions exist in South Australia. One is Indigenous. It is the heritage of rock art, where all manner of 'movement forms' depict travelling stories. The other is non-Indigenous: the alphabet. These two systems are usually treated as unrelated. However, the letters of the alphabet also have sculptural origins, and the long history of letter design has always exploited their anthropomorphic qualities.

To these human writing systems, Tracks adds a third: nature's. The set of 'movement forms' is supplemented by designs derived from fossil animals, fossil plant remains and other marine deposits. All of these iconographs have been 'edited' to bring out the essential movement or gesture they embody. In this way, they are like individual 'prints' in the great track of the work as a whole.

The anthropologist Roy Wagner has described a system of writing based on what he calls 'iconographs' - 'stylised and abstracted pictures, not of sounds or ideas, but of the impressions that are (or would be) made in the earth by beings that move across it, or of static forms situated upon the earth. Many of the most commonly used forms are in fact close imitations of the tracks of human beings or animals.' (Wagner 20) Tracks exploits the visual beauty of movement forms and letters to create a story-telling language that 'looks like' tracks.

To make the most attractive and legible use of these two writing systems, Tracks uses the 'iconographs' to punctuate phrases. In ancient times writing was continuous (ie no breaks between words, and no punctuation). In a hybrid version of this scriptio continua, Tracks is a 'continuous; flow of text. But to ensure its legibility, each word is clearly 'punctuated' by an icon before and after. The visual intrigue of this device depends on the fact that letters and icons continually suggest each other, so that we begin to 'read' the stories differently, more pictorially and gesturally. This kind of intrigue is a valuable means of ensuring the continuing interest of the work - when a more blandly presented set of messages would soon 'wear out'.


In the context of the present discussion, there is a technical point to make. The 'editing' referred to was intended to recover the edge in the surface. The illustrations of fossil forms, naturally-occurring geological patterns and ambiguously-intentional petroglyphs are, of course, two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional phenomena. Their legibility depends on dropping a flat surface over the contours of the represented form. It is by this means that their character is graphically rendered as a linear form. It is the page, the flat surface, that exposes (or discovers) the image. As the image is fixed and still, this can be described as a second process of fossilization, one that recapitulates the original capture of a living creature in sludge, or the arrest of a tradition of palimpsestic overlapping. Then, to re-animate these movement forms, it is necessary to three-dimensionalise them once more. The extruded versions of the movement forms in effect rediscover the back of the letter, reconstituting them as iconographs.

In a further, De Quincey-like attempt to recover their original appearance, Tracks approached this origin by way of a further transformation. The artwork proposed to mobilize the iconographs literally, by presenting them in an LED matrix. This was a medium that seems far removed from the experience of the visually-attentive walker, noticing in the blots of the environment the beginnings of a local vocabulary. However, in another respect, the LED's field of rapidly transforming pixcels accurately reproduces that primary encounter with the eidetic unconscious. Its field of points shining out are asterisks. Placed before the eyes, they are terse signifiers.[7] But to read them requires the guidance of the dark interpreter.

The edges in the surface are writing. Their blots point us towards our surroundings. As traces of what is always there and gone, they are the scribblings of an environment conceived chiasmatically, as a meeting place. This suggests the possibility of a surface composed entirely of scorings or potential crossings and crossings-over. The attempt to represent this intuition would not produce an image. It could at best stand as De Quincey's phosphoric radiance does to the gleaming abysses. It would have to be a kind of dreaming open-eyed, in which the pre-focal visual field possessed a metamorphic, marine quality, characteristic of the 'World of Neglected Dimensions.' The sketch 'The Gates of Death' is of this type. It is a kind of time-trace of eidetic pathways perceived in the region of an Egyptian tomb bizarrely located within the palimpsest of funerary imagery compiled by Sir John Soane. It may look like a form of collage, a juxtaposition of fragments, but its parts are conceived as volutes radiating, overlapping and meeting. It has the paradoxical result of producing a continuous field of fissures that restore the surface: an appropriate trope, perhaps, in the context of contemplating the representation of the face of death.

The memory landscapes that encase the ruined letter arch of 'True Clairvoyance' are similarly conceived, alluding to a public space generated wholly from writing. Such a public space, being the continuous tracing and retracing of potential meeting places, cannot be designed (drawn on the surface), it can only appear where treading and reading fuse. And where they fuse, in the apparition of an erotically charged distance holding an infinity of possible meetings, there is glimpsed an environment without genealogy, one whose surface tension is maintained by the bifurcations that continue opening, and opening in such a way as to make it impossible for any one to know how or whether it had been opened.



[1] Sallis points out that the Ionian philosopher Heraclitus' famous phrase 'All is flux' is in Greek panta chorei. Hence, 'Saying the chora [or public space] is not entirely unlike saying the flux.' (Sallis, 118)

[2] Levinas regarded his project to ground philosophy ethically in a responsibility to the other as an attempt to 'break with Parmenides.' (Chanter, 203)

[3]]Gasché points out that the characteristic form of thought of that philosopher of movement, Heraclitus, is the riddle: Heraclitus is chiasmatic. (Gasché, 273)

[4] Interestingly, in view of the etymologies offered for 'face' and 'sign', one etymology proposed for 'Janus' is 'to go'; another is 'brightness'. (Carter. Ms, 77)

[5] 'A poet like Simonides was also a sculptor. He considered not only the rhuthmos but the stasis of the work. He carved his characters into their arrangements. That is, he never lost sight of what could not be represented. He grasped that underlying the signs representing ideas lay an unconscious design, a system of marks, traces and incidents, that could not be represented but which formed the "fictive" ground of his production. Only this ground was not "fictive" but material. And the material was neither flat nor unmarked but prone to splitting - localised and, like the topography of the surveyor, consisting of an active lie of the land. Then a mimesis that is not a copy begins in retracing the pre-symbolic characters of that surface, in schematising the macchie and the meanders. It would consist in preserving the unconscious logic of those traces. In short, in reuniting reading with treading.' (Carter, ms, 9)

[6] 'Further to the materiality of the sign, and the fictioning essence of reason, what embodies the message that never falls into representation? Evidently it's the angels.
As Cacciari announces in The Necessary Angel, the angel is utopian: and the path that leads there none knows how to indicate (13) It cannot be traced out through a process of identification. Ek-stasis , and the oneness with the universe, occurs through a religio analogico-simbolica. Analogy here is itself analogous with the notion of the tupon. The angel joins the visible to the invisible: it does not tell of this passage but embodies it. How? The angels do not reproduce the Name, the One but transmit it musically. It is the rhythm of the angelic souls that communicates the divine essence.
The angels are types of rhythm or rhythmic types (23-24) Hence Eckhart distinguishes between the word which, when pronounced si irrigidisce nella rappresentazione (31) and the word that endures in whomever pronounces it, as the original images of the created world remain in the Father, as Logos (31) Then the angel's word must be like the grooves of the record, an impression that remains the same however many times it is played or repeated or heard. That impression, of course, is not a representation of the word, but its track.' (Carter, ms, 19)

[7] Typos means 'visible impression (of a stroke or die), mark, copy, image.' But it also means 'compendium' or the 'terse presentation' of some topic. (Carter ms, 54)



References

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----------Repressed Spaces: the Poetics of Agoraphobia, London, 2002a
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---------- 'Adelaide's Mythform, discovering the open, variable grid (and how to apply it)', report prepared as part of the North Terrace Redevelopment Design Concept, 2000.
----------, L'arrivee d'un train, in 'Exchange Rate's, a report commissioned by the Public Art Program, Federation Square, Melbourne, October 1998.
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Farley, Wendy, Eros for the Other, Retaining Truth in a Pluralistic World, Pennsylvania, 1996
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Hayter, Alethea, Opium and the Romantic Imagination, London, 1968.
Herbert, George, The Works, New York, 1869
Hohl, Reinhold, Alberto Giacometti, London, 1972.
Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe, Typography: Mimesis, Philosophy, Politics, Cambridge, Mass, 1989.
Levinas, Emmanuel, Basic Philosophical Writings, Bloomington, 1996.
Nyala, Hannah, Point Last Seen: A woman tracker's story, Boston, 1997)
Parkes, M.B., Pause and Effect, An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West, Berkeley,
1993
Quincey, Thomas de, Essays, C. Whibley (ed), London, n.d.
Sallis, John, Chorology, Bloomington, 1999
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Wagner, Roy, An Anthropology of the Subject: Holographic Worldview in New Guinea and Its Meaning and Significance for the World of Anthropology, Berkeley, 2001.



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