Elusive Presence – Chapter Summaries

Below are the chapter summaries for my book project Elusive Presence: How Images Make Themselves.

Preface ~ Eight Parables on How Images Makes Themselves Felt

The book opens with eight short parables. Each is about a particular experience with an artwork in which an image makes itself felt in the midst of the seeing act. Each parable corresponds to an artwork that is discussed in one of the chapters found in the book.

Introduction ~ Art as a Conduit for Experiencing the Elusive

The Introduction begins by stating that art facilitates a seeing that engages us with perception’s excesses that are usually backgrounded. Every time artworks are encountered perception has a tendency to extend beyond itself, enabling a seeing that is always engaged with potential. There is constantly more for the experiencing as occurrences of novelty continuously arise in the midst of a seeing encounter with art. The images that come to be seen ceaselessly go beyond themselves, giving way to even newer images, newer relations, and newer sensations. We come to feel more than just what is just visible. We encounter an “elusive presence” that lingers within every act of seeing. Always felt but not necessarily perceived.

1 ~ From Representation to Sensation

Chapter One examines how John F. Simon Jr.’s internet artwork Every Icon (1997) proposes to create every icon within a black and white thirty-two by thirty-two grid. In order to generate the seemingly uncountable number of images that his proposition puts forward, he uses techniques that are usually intended for a scientific representational practice for the purposes of art. As these representational techniques of science are deployed for an artistic outcome, they undergo a process of transduction that enables them to exceed themselves both scientifically and representationally. Rather than producing scientific results that necessitate a closure to the process the techniques initiate, the scientific techniques Simon employs in Every Icon are transformed in order to remain open to change, thus allowing the techniques to go beyond their intended scientific use. It is through this process of transduction occurring in the overlap between what Deleuze and Guattari call the scientific plane of reference and the artistic plane of composition (1994) that enables the mathematically arranged black and white squares of Every Icon to transform into what Whitehead calls “lures for feelings” (1978), which are sensational attractors that draw our attention towards the artwork. As lures for feeling, the black and white grid in Every Icon exceeds the limits of scientific representations offering us an encounter with an aesthetic composition of sensations.

2 ~ Beyond Static Experience

Chapter Two continues discussing how images emerging from artworks composed of grids have the ability to exceed the grids’ own invariance, enabling a seeing that goes beyond what is simply represented. Focusing on Piet Mondrian’s painting Composition No. 12 with Blue (1936-42), this chapter argues that no images, even gridded ones, are static. Instead, they constantly move with a dynamism that, if not actually seen, is experienced as an “elusive presence” at the level of sensation just below the threshold of perception. This movement that comes to be felt when gazing upon Mondrian’s painting is not produced by the painting itself and it is not caused by the viewers looking at it. Rather, the dynamism is co-generated in the shared experience occurring between the viewers and the painting. I then close the chapter arguing that the human viewers and nonhuman painting, through the relations that actively arise in the middle of their encounter, co-produce a process I call the “incipiency of images.”

3 ~ The Force of Pixels

Chapter Three focuses on Woody Vasulka’s pioneering video works from the 1970s and early 1980s. Using various analog and digital video signal processors, the images that emerged from Vasulka’s videos, such as C-Trend (1974) or Artifacts (1980), were constantly being altered and manipulated. Like Mondrian’s painting discussed in the previous chapter, we experience images composed of lines and grids that are never static but instead are in a state of continual modulation. Because the gridded images emerging from these video works are endlessly changing, Vasulka felt that they could not be understood by the two dominant imaging model of his time – linear perspective and the Bergsonian cinematic paradigm. The chapter then shows how Vasulka then proceeds to conceive of a new vocabulary for his work that centers around his notion of “time/energy objects” (1992). This concept of time/energy objects is then further developed through Massumi’s understanding of topological figures (2002) and Greg Lynn’s spline model used in topological architecture design (1999) in order to demonstrate, first, how “compositional forces” emerge in both analog and digital video and, second, how these forces then generate the ever-changing “incipiency of images” we come to encounter in art.

4 ~ Encounters With Incipient Actions

Chapter Four continues to further develop the “incipiency of images” by focussing on incipiency itself by examining how Robert Irwin’s ‘Line’ painting series (1960–1964) come to foreground the elusively present dynamism that cannot be but felt in the seeing. These paintings exemplify how encounters with incipient action potentially occur. Incipient action is what composes the about-to-become visible that is felt as intensity in the shared experience occurring between us and Irwin’s paintings. Through the set of conditions, or what Manning and Massumi call enabling constraints (2014), activated in the artwork’s compositional elements, incipient action emerges in the midst of the shared experience. As we gaze upon the ‘Line’ paintings, I close the chapter discussing how there is a constant modulation between figure and ground, foreground and background, producing an incipient action that generates a perceptual field experienced as a felt resonating compositional force of colour.

5 ~ A Paradox of Compositional Forces

Chapter Five focuses on Mondrian’s Composition with Two Lines (1931): a work in which the depicted vertical and horizontal grid is cut diagonally by its diamond-shaped frame. This chapter further develops the notions of “incipient action” and “compositional force” from the previous chapter by focusing on how, in our shared encounter with the artwork, we come to feel two simultaneously contrasting compositional forces in the seeing. One force spirals centrifugally outward, going beyond the form of the depicted grid. The second compositional force moves centripetally inward, luring our attention towards the work. Rosalind Krauss suggests this work by Mondrian produces a “cheerfully schizophrenic” experience (1985), not in a clinical-pathological sense but in how it is able to generate a paradoxical feeling of two seemingly oppositional movements at once. Turning to Deleuze and Guattari notion of schizoanalysis (1983), this chapter takes Krauss’s idea that these seemingly paradoxical forces are schizophrenic seriously, arguing that these two conflicting forces elusively felt in the seeing enable the dynamic production of the incipiency images we come to experience.

6 ~ Elusive Presence

In Chapter Six Bridget Riley’s high contrast black and white paintings Horizontal Vibration (1961) and Fall (1963) are used to further discuss the paradoxical centrifugal and centripetal compositional forces examined in the previous chapter, which are felt in the seeing in our shared experience with art. Upon experiencing these conflicting compositional forces in these works, it will be argued that contrasts are generated for the feeling. Following Whitehead, contrasts are not expressions of an opposition (1978). Instead, they provide the potential for forces or sensations elusively felt below perception’s threshold to arise into awareness. As we look at Riley’s paintings, we consciously feel the forces at work through their contrasts. However, we do not directly encounter these contrasts as such. They come to generate an “incipiency of images” that I will argue is a practice of active diagramming, in the Deleuzian sense (1988), which traces the eventful unfolding of the about to become visible. The contrasts emerging in the shared experience we have with Riley’s works I believe give us momentary access to the elusive presence of images.

7 ~ Painting the Sensation

Expanding on the previous chapter’s examination on how it is possible to access the “incipiency of images” in our encounters with art, Chapter Seven shows how the coloured planes Mondrian’s last painting, Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43), takes hold of our attention through a discontinuous, yet dynamic, movement felt in the seeing, luring us to feel and become aware of the elusive presence of images that emerge in our shared experience with the painting itself. This chapter explores Mondrian’s painting through Gins and Arakawa’s notions of “landing sites” and “critical holders” (2002), specifically looking at how our attention is first lured by the sensations on offer by the artwork and then momentarily held in the shared experience with the work, enabling images to emerge into perception for the seeing.

8  ~ Images of Incipiency

The concluding chapter of Elusive Presence returns to the paintings of Robert Irwin, focusing on two seemingly radically different series of works, the “Dot” series (1964-66) and the “Disc” Series (1966-69). Through these two series of paintings, Irwin slowly dismantles all the conditions that commonly activate paintings, such as visible marks of paint and the frame. With the removal of the frame in the final “Disc” series, he ultimately produced works that transform the entire gallery environment into a resonating field of colour. Like the other artworks discussed throughout Elusive Presence, we become consciously aware of the compositional forces at work. However, these artworks by Irwin, as this chapter discusses, make the diagrammatic praxis of the incipiency of image not only perceptible but also felt environmentally. The elusive presence of images, their incipient action, is all that is experienced. Seeing and feeling become one with the surroundings. We come to encounter images of pure incipiency. We feel nothing but an elusive presence.

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Elusive Presence – First Update

Using Stuart Elden’s format for sharing the progress made during the writing of his current book project, I will be sharing updates on my book project Elusive Presence: How Images Make Themselves Felt every month or more. My plan is to have the manuscript handed in on October 31, 2015. So far I have completed three of the eight chapters and the preface.

I will have the introduction finished by the end of this week. I just need to finish one more section on how images cannot be easily be describe as subject- or object-oriented. Instead I view images as emergent relational events that momentarily arise in the midst of an encounter between two entities. In the case put forward in this project these two entities are us and an artwork. This position has come from my readings of the radical empiricism of William James, the activist philosophy of Brian Massumi, the relational philosophy of Erin Manning, and the process-oriented work of Alfred North Whitehead. Images are more akin to “superjects” and “objectiles” in which their composition is constantly modulating.

Once I have finished the introduction I will be moving onto chapter 3, which is on how images can no longer follow the two dominant imaging model of the modern era – linear perspective and the Bergsonian cinematic paradigm.

I am still not sure if I will be posting the manuscript versions of the chapters here as pdfs as I complete them. Please let me know if there is any interest in reading them.

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Work backwards


There is some good advice on grant writing and time management by Jonathan O’Donnell on The Research Whisperer blog.


Originally posted on The Research Whisperer:

Path through a paddock leading to a house in the far distance. Beautiful blue sky above. Long road home, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

If you want to submit your grant application on time, it pays to create a reverse timeline.

That is, start from the end result – submission of the application – and work backwards.

Let’s say that you want to submit your fabulous application to JustGiveMeAGrant [not a real funding body], and their deadline is 29 February 2016 [not a real submission date].

Working backwards from that, how much time do you actually have to write the application? Let’s work it out.

At the moment, your timeline looks like this.

  • 29 Feb 2016 – Submit application to funding body.

Who will sign off?

For most government funding bodies, you are not the applicant. Your university is actually the applicant. This means somebody in your university will need to check and sign the application. In my university, the research office asks for 10 working days…

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Recent and Forthcoming Books of Interest

There has been many new books I have received or would love to get my hands on in the coming months that have just been recently published or are forthcoming. Here is a list below of some I am interested in:

Plastic Bodies: Rebuilding Sensation After Phenomenology
by Tom Sparrow (foreword by Catherine Malabou).
Free download or for purchase.

Sensation is a concept with a conflicted philosophical history. It has found as many allies as enemies in nearly every camp from empiricism to poststructuralism. Polyvalent, with an uncertain referent, and often overshadowed by intuition, perception, or cognition, sensation invites as much metaphysical speculation as it does dismissive criticism.

The promise of sensation has certainly not been lost on the phenomenologists who have sought to ‘rehabilitate’ the concept. In Plastic Bodies, Tom Sparrow argues that the phenomenologists have not gone far enough, however. Alongside close readings of Merleau-Ponty and Levinas, he digs into an array of ancient, modern, and contemporary texts in search of the resources needed to rebuild the concept of sensation after phenomenology. He begins to assemble a speculative aesthetics that is at once a realist theory of sensation and a philosophy of embodiment that breaks the form of the ‘lived’ body. Maintaining that the body is fundamentally plastic and that corporeal identity is constituted by a conspiracy of sensations, he pursues the question of how the body fits into/fails to fit into its aesthetic environment and what must be done to increase the body’s power to act and exist.

No Speed Limit: Three Essays on Accelerationism
by Steven Shaviro.

For purchase.
Accelerationism is the bastard offspring of a furtive liaison between Marxism and science fiction. Its basic premise is that the only way out is the way through: to get beyond capitalism, we need to push its technologies to the point where they explode. This may be dubious as a political strategy, but it works as a powerful artistic program.

Other authors have debated the pros and cons of accelerationist politics; No Speed Limit makes the case for an accelerationist aesthetics. Our present moment is illuminated, both for good and for ill, in the cracked mirror of science-fictional futurity.

The Different Modes of Existence
by Étienne Souriau.
For purchase.

What relation is there between the existence of a work of art and that of a living being? Between the existence of an atom and that of a value like solidarity? These questions become our own each time a reality—whether it is a piece of music, someone we love, or a fictional character—is established and begins to take on an importance in our lives. Like William James or Gilles Deleuze, Souriau methodically defends the thesis of an existential pluralism. There are indeed different manners of existing and even different degrees or intensities of existence: from pure phenomena to objectivized things, by way of the virtual and the “super-existent,” to which works of art and the intellect, and even morality, bear witness. Existence is polyphonic, and, as a result, the world is considerably enriched and enlarged. Beyond all that exists in the ordinary sense of the term, it is necessary to allow for all sorts of virtual and ephemeral states, transitional realms, and barely begun realities, still in the making, all of which constitute so many “inter-worlds.”

The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson and the Debate that Changes Our Understanding of Time.
by Jimena Canales.
First chapter download and for purchase.

On April 6, 1922, in Paris, Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson publicly debated the nature of time. Einstein considered Bergson’s theory of time to be a soft, psychological notion, irreconcilable with the quantitative realities of physics. Bergson, who gained fame as a philosopher by arguing that time should not be understood exclusively through the lens of science, criticized Einstein’s theory of time for being a metaphysics grafted on to science, one that ignored the intuitive aspects of time. The Physicist and the Philosopher tells the remarkable story of how this explosive debate transformed our understanding of time and drove a rift between science and the humanities that persists today.

Jimena Canales introduces readers to the revolutionary ideas of Einstein and Bergson, describes how they dramatically collided in Paris, and traces how this clash of worldviews reverberated across the twentieth century. She shows how it provoked responses from figures such as Bertrand Russell and Martin Heidegger, and carried repercussions for American pragmatism, logical positivism, phenomenology, and quantum mechanics. Canales explains how the new technologies of the period—such as wristwatches, radio, and film—helped to shape people’s conceptions of time and further polarized the public debate. She also discusses how Bergson and Einstein, toward the end of their lives, each reflected on his rival’s legacy—Bergson during the Nazi occupation of Paris and Einstein in the context of the first hydrogen bomb explosion.

The Physicist and the Philosopher reveals how scientific truth was placed on trial in a divided century marked by a new sense of time.

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Can blogging be a hobby?

Originally posted on The Research Whisperer:

Keep up and blog on (Photo by Alexander Baxevanis | www.flickr.com/photos/futureshape) Keep up and blog on (Photo by Alexander Baxevanis | http://www.flickr.com/photos/futureshape)

It is ironic that I’m writing this blogpost on whether blogging can be a hobby at 11pm on a Saturday night when I’m technically on annual leave for a week.

I’m working this late because I made time to have a family dinner and catch up with my sister and her partner.

I also chatted with my partner about our well-intentioned and erratic packing for the camping trip that starts tomorrow.

What I didn’t do was spend time working on the post… until now.

This post is about how academics choose to spend our time, and how – quite often – when I’m not working, I’m blogging, or thinking about blogging.

I’m realising that writing for blogs has become my hobby. Other people may knit, play instruments, or cook.

I blog.

A hobby is “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure”…

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Experimental Film and the Academy

Although published at the end of last year, I just discovered Genevieve Yue’s article, “Living Cinema: Experimental Film and the Academy”. It is an interesting read on how experimental filmmakers have come to almost rely on the academy in order to sustain the genre. Here is a brief excerpt:

Experimental filmmakers today have grown dependent on the academy, more than the museum, the film festival, or any another institution. Unlike the writers who can turn to the New York publishing establishment in the “MFA vs. NYC” dichotomy, artists who sometimes gain a foothold in the gallery scene, or even filmmakers who make crossover mainstream fare, there are few viable means for experimental film artists to support themselves outside of the academy. The closest model would be that of poets who, unable to finance their careers through book sales alone, have long since moved into the university to sustain their practice.

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#SCMS15 for Masters Swimmers and Triatheltes

Many of my colleagues here in Montréal, as well as those who live beyond that have participated in many of the SenseLab‘s research-creation events, know that I am actively involved with Masters swimming. On top of being a postdoctoral research fellow at the Université de Montréal, I also am the head coach of the Westmount YMCA Swim Club. As an advocate for the sport of swimming, I would like to pass on some information to the many researchers and artists coming to Montreal this week to attend the Society of Cinema and Media Studies annual conference (#SCMS15).

If you are visiting Montréal for the conference and are also a Masters swimmer or a triathlete who would like to get in a good swimming workout, there are two swim clubs that are a short bus ride from the conference site.

The first is my team, the Westmount YMCA Swim Club. We train at the Westmount YMCA,  4585 Sherbrooke Street West, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6:20am-7:35am and 8:15am-9:30am; and Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 7:30pm-9:00pm. Buses 24, 104 and 138 stop near the pool.

If you want to come or need more information please email me at troy [dot] rhoades [at] gmail [dot] com or consult the team’s website.

The second team is À Contre-Courant. They train out of the Cégep du Vieux-Montréal, located at 255 Ontario St. East. Consult their website for their training schedule. Please contact them before arriving because I am not exactly sure what their policy is for visiting swimmers.

Happy conferencing and swimming!

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