Louise Boscacci | 29 January 2016
Not long after the first MECO network research event close to seven months ago, a short essay, Spinoza was a lens maker, coalesced in my thoughts in response to a call out for collective musings on ‘material and ecological thinking’. At the network gathering on the Shoalhaven River at Riversdale, I had undertaken some night photography sessions in the full moon light. I offer the essay here, and a companion image from the nocturnal photoplay series What does a dark–turning–solar–moon–wodi wodi–river–hand–eye–light–lens do? Consider them diffractions of a-bodied encountering.
Essay: Spinoza was a lens maker LouiseBoscacci_Spinoza_lens_maker_120915_240116-MECO
Diffracted encountering II
Working with insights from quantum field physics, Karen Barad convincingly unsettles and troubles the words material and immaterial, provoking us by proposing that imagining and thinking are material practices if mattered or made manifest and active in meaning by the ‘(im)material’ body. At the microphysical scale of the atom and the subatomic electron, the radical indeterminacy of matter, and even touch, is revealed.[i] (If touch is, on the one hand, electromagnetic repulsion, and on the other, intimacy, why have I spent so much of my energy as an artist-maker revalorizing the haptic sense in object encountering?). The quantum leap of the excited electron from a higher energy level to a lower one creates a photon of light. Light, another practice-favourite as illuminator and animator, affective ephemeros, photosynthetic collaborator in the supply of oxygen to breathing bodies I care about, behaves as both particle and wave in oscillating indeterminacy, nimbly eluding fences of language; it is best embraced, for now, as I must, in terms of Barad’s (im)material. Matter is not what it seems, and never has been. Even better, “nature deconstructs itself,” says Barad, because matter is not a discrete thing locatable in time or space; rather “space and time are matter’s agential performances”.[ii] Ontological indeterminacy, a radical openness and change (that changes with each iteration) are at the heart of matter if we take on the teachings of jumping electrons: matter is a matter of transmateriality.[iii]
“What spooky matter is this?” (Karen Barad 2014).
So what do I mean by the descriptor ‘immaterial’ when referring to transient forces and energies of affective encounters in attuned-to places and atmospheres? Perhaps, a better vocabulary of practice might be to articulate along the lines of the unmanifested, perceptible and palpable—the sensed and ‘felt’—yet ungraspable, in both haptic and cognitive senses. This is the corpo-real experience, as Bracha Ettinger reminds us, of a-bodied and virtual-transient affect.[iv] Fleeting electrical flashes of encountering that surprise and linger in their impingement are corpo-real and generative gifts in the intertwined feeling-forward, making, thinking, imagining, doing and undoing of processual art practice. From Barad, amongst the rich makings of her thinking, I find an opening of potential for the electron-infused mattered mammals we (if I may) artist-scholars are being-becoming: “the electric body—at all scales, atmosphere, subatomic, molecular, organismic—is a quantum phenomenon generating new imaginaries, new lines of research, new possibilities”.[v]
[i] Barad (2007, 2012)
[ii] Barad (2014)
[iii] Barad (2014, 2015).
[iv] Ettinger (2006); Massumi (2014). I am alluding to thesis-writing musings and questions to self.
[v] Barad (2015, p411).