Conversations - Graham Schaafsma 1
On Yuji Agematsu
[After commenting on the strangeness of an unglued, flat corrugated coffee sleeve, we are reminded of the Agematsu exhibit at Miguel Abreu Gallery]
Nick: This exhibit and Agematsu’s work seem in line with your work. It’s about drawing maps, chronicling walking patterns, but also he made a 365-day calendar — basically a diorama — out of cigarette cellophane sleeves within which are painstakingly crafted environments. The materiality of it is what would otherwise be called trash.
Graham: Something that is interesting about trash is that it is always “throwaway” — throw. It is always something that can be thrown. Trash as a weapon; trash as something you’re picking up when fleeing and using in any way that you can; trash as something close to dirt. What I am interested in is how archival work can be throwaway. How it can be organized in its being thrown away. Trash is a meaningless concept, because in a situation there could be ways to put the trash in a way that it could be useful again. When does it not become useful? And can you put it in that spot while throwing it and it not become trash? What makes it not useful is the immensity. There is so much of it that we put it in a landfill, to the point that it is terraforming.
On Thomas Hirschhorn
G: It seems like it is about filling rooms. But importantly, there is still floor space. What’s important about this is that when you have a hoarder, their paths are the only point at which you see floor space. Filled except for the paths they travel. It becomes a diagram of how they use the space, drawn by narrow pathways.
Those pathways are an accumulation of, an average of, or even a compromise with the trash itself to find where there are thrown monuments. It is a way to find out where it’s acceptable to have one path through a space instead of 15.
G: Thrown as in weapon. Thrown as in project.
Aaron: Thrown in Heidegger’s sense.
N: Or, an archive in throw.
G: Right. The archive is you being informed, not you informing. A collaboration, or improvisation.
A: It’s important to remember the pragmatics of the archive while also not allowing it to be an end-all originator. It can’t be the total source for defining origin. Instead, pragmatically and experimentally use it as a series of references of which you yourself become a node; you are in archive at a moment with archive, and thus you are actively archived. Which speaks to your defining of it as a collaboration.
G: It’s a cascade. It’s stringing things together. [Pulls out a sheet of 8.5/11 paper folded into 8 rectangles which is preferred way to take notes.] With these, I do not do these in a way that adhere to a top bottom normalization. This is important because there is not definitively correct place to start and no indication of a correct sequence. The archive may seem linear, but it’s not. If you have a big map of a city and you take a light shining it up underneath it then you are merely lighting up new intersection. It is linear in one sense of its movement, but it’s motion in general. It’s not linear, but motion. This moving uncovers other intersections.
The archive is a situation where there is a cascade of events, each of which are potentially an intersection of multiple points.
A: Cascading as in a serialization or sequencing which takes simultaneous motion into account.
G: Like felt instead of fabric. Felt is a materiality of fibers, where there are two brushes mashing filament (wool), pressed together to become matted — like dreadlocks — that you can then organize into a flatness.
A: And then there is moving of wool felt in synthetic felt.
G: Yes, the domestication of felt. And architecturally it becomes insulation.
On Silt Fences
G: Silt fences hold back water with sediment, but only when there is sediment in the water. They have these machines that insert the silt fences into the ground. For the delimitation of silt, desire limits.
A: Within hoarded spaces there are desire lines, and with silt fences there are desire limits.
G: Yes, the silt fences are desire shapes. We are doing construction, we need to regulate the amount of water. It is a retaining wall, keeping the silt within the construction site. With a construction site, you are taking up the grass, everything that holds the ground together. The idea is to use water and other materials that make the ground unearth, while preparing to build a structure on that ground. So there is also a kind of keeping that occurs for the sake of the structure, to contain and prevent the toxicities of construction from runoff.
Within silt fences, within construction sites, there is a space for the shaping of desire. The fence lines a property that at present is for designing, a space purely for implementation.
A: We had similar conversations with Dave (Grubba) about zoning in Colorado, specifically about the BLM and the pragmatics of public land.
G: I want to hear more about that because I am operating under a condition toward urban fabrics, whereas Dave’s project I suspect is about building into the land, building into a hill. It specifically is about the difference of a construction site. Construction to me is open ended; there is free-play. The colors, the materials are meant to stand-out for safety but that doesn’t mean that they don’t interact with each other. Everything is reactive to each other. They are trying to attract a very specific element. They are trying to bind. It is like enzymes. Think of DNA regenesis, making of cells, metabolism. There is an opening. An opening of elements that are enzymatic, able to mate. Think also of condensation nuclei: raindrops are formed because the humidity is running into molecules that then allow a surface for water to gain on. Raindrops always have substance in them: they are not water. They are connections between different materials.
Like the construction within the silt fence, I need to be able to create an opening. I need to be able to have a construction site. For example, Hirschhorn can bring all that he wants into a room, effectively giving you a feeling of the intensity in “trash” relations. I suppose instead of dealing with that which has already been thrown, I want to work with traits and elements. Think of Louis Khan. As a principle: what does the brick like? It likes to arch so put the brick in an arch…
N: With Hirschhorn though, the only people who put his work in rooms are curators. Otherwise, his works are public works. Thinking again of David, having a construction site only makes it such through the registration of the things that would determine it as being so. His effort is then answering the question: what are those determinants? And his strategy was to figure out how to avoid them at their borders. To claim an impermanent presence; to produce a temporary space.
A: Perhaps construction can be considered against settlement. To relate back to argument against linearity in favor of motion, what if construction didn’t presuppose settlement but was itself a fully realized operation set of actions.
G: But then you’re in a place of constant survival. And in a way you want that, to be in a state of intensity, feeling, maybe even panic. Because that allows you a specific engagement with things. But there can’t be construction sites everywhere. Everything can’t always be open. I’m thinking here of the surgeon performing surgery on himself — where only one thing is open and bleeding at a time.
A: Or, the map can’t be the same size as the territory.
G: There’s a tension. Think of Invisible Cities. There is an emperor whose empire is too large to know by land, so he must know it by map, but he doesn’t care about maps. Marco Polo is entrusted to map, but he is in actuality responsible for producing the contrast of a place such that the emperor can know his territory; though Polo lies in his stories of contrast, it ultimately makes the emperor closer to the people.
The size relation between the map and the territory is a moot point because you can’t have attention on the entire territory. The territory and the map each are about leaving off and picking up again.
G: So I think that settlement is a type of neat archive. It is the spatialization of not throwing away, or, temporarily thrown here.
A: But has it not always served as a reference to the answer of why you are constructing? No matter how abstract, or realized…
G: Yes, settlement is neatly thrown. What’s strange is that when the settlement becomes so populated, it becomes unknowable – like the map.
A: Which is perhaps counter-intuitive to its capacity as an archive. The unknowable settlement becomes something like you were discussing earlier: a raw set of materials that have become “earthed” that are merely that very ground potentiating a construction site. Settlement in turn becomes the coagulated materiality that can be “unearthed,” watered and fenced in. Settlement as a becoming silt.
G: Where I am in Anderson, South Carolina, there is no geography aside from a large dammed man-made lake. Consequently, through the construction of this geography, property by the lake became important. The land here is flat, no features to break up the land, and so an urban grid lies upon it, upheld by private property. The only reasons for public property would be an almost non-existent downtown and parks, which are erroneous features of fitness. On that second point, this fitness implies movement, so a space that demonstrates why one should not stay in one place publicly. Virilio showed that lighting up a city forced people to keep moving; one could no longer hide still in the dark, no longer sleep in the streets.
Public space is a place where you keep moving, and private space is a place where you can stay still but you don’t belong if you don’t pay. There’s no collaborative private space. The occupied map is more unknowable than a pure, uncharted territory, and construction sites are limited by quick, planned construction (often modular).
A: And in keeping with not ignoring the third. there is a noise in the space. Not the space in-itself, nor the use of the space per engagement, but the space active outside of itself, and outside of its use.
G: It’s a placeholder of space; it’s acting as a guarantee.
On Relating Construction to Practice
A: Perhaps there’s a parallel between something like a table or workbench and a construction site, simply in the sense that they both have in their relations temporary structuration.
G: Yes, what I am interested in tends to be able to scale up. There are principles that can resize, micro to macro.
Xander: This speaks to why you wouldn’t be interested in a context of home that requires you to add mud to it on a daily basis in order to keep its structure. Instead, it seems you’re interest is in how instrumentalizing can occur.
G: Exactly: making things speak for themselves. Making things have a certain speed of action in terms of their own desires. You want to have the things you do have senses. A microphone is always listening. A camera is always seeing. Keys are always unlocking. A space is a guarantee, and so objects are as well. They guarantee their affordance. This means that that context can be given to what an object will allow both intentionally and unintentionally. With the unintentional there is surplus value; with intentionality there is a lubrication, there is a function. You can delegate effects. The archival is the pedagogy of sense; you are informed and that is not passive.
X: If you add mud everyday, you’re also covered in mud everyday.
G: You’d never get anything done. That’s why you need settlement, technology; you’re not just trying to survive.
X: And your work setting is on things, on thinking about the status of tools and continuing them into the particularities of technology.
On Technical Species-Being
[This conversation is happening over Skype by a window and it begins to rain torrentially. X gets ups to close the window, G asks what’s happening and we tell him. N moves the computer to face the window so that G can see the downpour. G says “thank you for turning my neck.”]
A: It’s definitely interesting to think about us now outside of our species. That we are a certain phylum that can’t hear [ alluding to the technical difficulties experienced earlier ] but if we put this cord in our ears we derive that sense, and the incoherent distortions from delays in transmission are excited growls of frustration. The three of us in one frame as a temporarily merged species.
G: The computing power is phenomenal but everything comes at different times and speeds. You can’t expect to experience the language of this species naturally.
X: Like the translation devices that the United Nations use. To think about the simultaneity of translation occurring as a natural, what kind of species is at play there.
G: This reminds me of people who drive across the desert or country that intentionally have the shittiest car but they have with them all of the tools and replacement parts that they need. They plan on it breaking down.
A: Yes, in the novel At Least We Can Apologize, two asylum patients accidentally inform to the police of their abuse, are set free, and subsequently recall the nature of their abuse. They remember that the guards would ask them “Do you know why we are beating you?” and instead of accepting it as rhetorical, they answered it. They realized that if they confessed to something they had not done that the guards enjoyed then they wouldn’t be beaten. So this mode of living began where to avoid pain, you confess prematurely to the thing you didn’t do but because of which you are about to be punished.
G: Yes, in short that’s the debt economy. You can charge me for anything, but you won’t because I tell you that you can. It’s like a police roadblock. And there is definitely abuse there, like with Stop & Frisk.
On Construction Sites As Something Quantum
Just think about the theory that all stars are already dead. It’s one event that’s happening, that takes forever. It’s so incremental, that you don’t categorize it as an event, but rather as an effect.
A: Which relates back to your enzymatic thinking, that a construction site is the attempt to withstand or survive the destruction of a substance; substance is a set of differential set of forces and a construction site is their survival.
G: There is a courting of the substance to have sustenance.
A: And then you are theoretically made to answer whether the event is destructive or creative, which is ultimately a moot point.
G: Theories built off of opposing terms don’t work; it’s always more complicated. And when you talk about construction sites as potentially radical places of difference and desire to manifest, you can just as easily be discussing something like supersymmetry or multiverses.
With supersymmetry, it is about the interaction of the elements outside of the main body of elements that you are using for your sustenance. Think of a color wheel: there is a wheel outside of it with more colors, that still interacts with the inner wheel – a superchromatism. The construction is with forces between elements that exceed us. But the differential forces are here, now. With multiverses, you have you go to another system entirely, not only for elements to unfold differently but because there are elements there that just don’t exist in our system.
Conclusion: On Sites
G: The only way that mapping movements becomes effectuated is if it encounters shapes, which to me are sites. That’s when it becomes diagrammatic. Lines of walking and construction sites. A diagram is never just a line, never just points.