"Suppose you liked eating off the floor (some people are that clean, I’m told) — it could be carpeted with food at all times."

complexity, weather

Posted: May 31st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Day 1 | 1 Comment »

The whole thing is calibrated according to time’s way of walking sideways out of the event. (John Ashbery, The New Spirit, 1972).

The space is marked with traces of the previous nights’ frenetic movement. Like waking up the next afternoon after a wild house-party, the mess is pleasant memory, ghosts of the movements that made it. Zoe’s giraffes, Astrid’s letraset poem, Hilik’s knives, Simon and Keg’s cardboard ladder and the gaffer soup can. With the traces linked up to the creator-ghosts who left them, you get this sense, if you think about it as a composition, of anarchic harmony. Anarchic harmony is something Astrid once wrote, or perhaps she got it off John Cage, but in any case it reminds me of a wonderful etymological distinction that was pointed out to us one day by the great artist and teacher Ross Gibson. He talked about how the word complicated comes from the Latin plicare, which means to fold, and that complex comes from plectere which means to plait. So a complicated thing is a single thing that is folded, for example, an oragami swan is complicated from one piece of paper. A complex thing is something that is plaited, that is, has multiple interlaced strands that form a kind of network, like a Turkish carpet. So the anarchic harmony of the room is complex rather than complicated, because it is composed of many strands, without a master plan or single piece of paper that organises it. And I suppose for this reason many people would see this Pushed and Pulled space, as we found it on the day after the opening, as disorder, as mess. But complexity is not chaos or anarchy in the usually (and wrongly) understood sense of the terms. Chaos and anarchy are not total disorder, complete lack of relations, but are rather the order of relations themselves, just as in ecological systems. And Push and Pull is an ecological system. Ecological systems are not just what happens in the wilderness, untouched by the evil hands of humans, they are everywhere, where humans and non-humans exist side-by-side, in complex relations.

At the opening of There Goes The Neighbourhood (of which Push and Pull is a satellite event) we were witness and participant in a complex ecological event. Many hundreds of people had gathered at Carriage Works in Redfern and were attempting to listen to the opening speeches, but the combination of terrible sound quality and the size of the foyer space muffled and ate the sound so we could barely hear what Gary Foley was saying about the dynamic role Redfern played in the historical moments of the 1970’s. Peripheries of the crowd broke off into their own clusters, its growing hubbub competing with Foley, his voice becoming more inaudible the louder he shouted. And then a heavy storm, the kind that have been ubiquitous in Sydney recently, came over and added more noise. Amazingly, a light mist of rain came in through unknown gaps in the corrugated iron roof and showered everyone in sublime softness. It was like a scene in a Luis Bunuel film. It was raining indoors! Everyone’s attention was drawn upward. By the time the directors of the festival Zanny and Keg got on the microphone, it was impossible to hear them through the noise, space and indoor rain that had plaited together to become, or usurp, the event. In many ways it was sad that the speakers were stripped of their primacy, particularly with Zanny and Keg, who have worked so hard getting the project together and really deserved a moment of focussed attention and collective congratulation. But another way to approach it – more interesting I think than ideas of what is deserved or what is (dis)respectful – is to rethink what an event is, to rethink event as ecological complexity. Along these lines we would be less inclined to view the failure of a few humans to control, master and direct a situation as a disrespectful or unfortunate happening. We would not think a storm disrespectful or the surreal phenomenon of indoor rain as unfortunate. In a complex system what occurs is, by definition, open to possibility. An event, then, is not what a few controlling hands or voices pre-determine but rather the event is what comes from the network of relations, beyond prediction and control. The event is what arrives, it is something inexplicable that occurs. It seems to me that in most situations we miss the real event because our attention is fixed on a narrow plane of action. For example, every Saturday I play soccer and then stand around and watch a bit of the game that follows mine. During this time all the people involved, players and spectators, fix their attention to the rule-governed on-field action that takes place on a conceptually flat plane (local parks are never flat). Obviously players need to concentrate closely because the game requires it, and spectators, easily bored by what is mostly a pretty boring spectacle, have a much more wandering sense of attention. But nevertheless, if you go down to your local park and ask all the people assembled near a painted rectangle what is the event here? then I reckon everyone will tell you that it is the game taking place. But I would like to suggest that the real event, the real taking place, is light and weather. Trees too, sometimes. This doesn’t mean one should stand there in the middle of a game staring at the sky, and I miss the real event just like everyone else, which is why I like it when a storm comes, a short heavy storm with big droplets, angled sideways by a driving wind. Everyone on the sidelines goes scurrying for cover in a brick compound. Last Saturday I found myself in the ladies toilet while it bucketed down. If you’re outside you can’t miss the event of a storm. Which is why the arrival of weather indoors at the There Goes The Neighbourhood Opening was such a magical thing, a kind of climatic intervention that breaks our division of inside and outside, that crosses the threshold between the so-called structured, built, ordered and systematised society in here versus the so-called unstructured, unbuilt, disordered chaos of nature out there. Rain inside the foyer of of an art space brings nature into society and society into nature. And, as Michel Serres says because we don’t live out in the weather, we’ve unlearned how to think in accordance with its rhythms and its scope. Serres argues in his book The Natural Contract that the powerful decision makers all live and work indoors, busying themselves with numerical data, equations, dossiers, legal texts and news bulletins, where the essentials take place indoors and in words, never again outdoors with things. Because of this, those who used to live out in the weather’s rain and wind, whose habitual acts brought forth long-lasting cultures out of local experience… have had no say for a long time now, if they ever had it.

I hope that these thoughts about complexity transpose easily onto the Push and Pull re-enactment. Push and Pull has no single master, no pre-determination, has multiple strands affecting it and is structured to be open to the possibility of what arrives. In this way it is not just an analogue of a complex ecology, it is one, perhaps relatively simple in itself, but as part of a another bigger ecology (the neighbourhood, for instance) it is not simple at all. On Friday, I sat at the open doorway while Astrid and Alba composed the first domestic form for the space. I got up to change the radio station and stumbled onto ABC Classic FM who were playing some sublime piano pieces. They reminded me of something like Erik Satie or Olivier Messiaen and seduced me there by the open door of the gallery where I sat mesmerised by the movement of the traffic, the gusts of wind bending the trees and the radio reception and the clouds rolling in from the South East promising rain. It was an ecstatic moment, pleasure as immersion in complexity, happiness as the experience of temporal flow. And I remembered the first time Lucas and I met outside Locksmith gallery, how both of us had said that Push and Pull was not about the arrangement of space, but the experience of time. What happens over time? That’s a complex question.


One Comment on “complexity, weather”

  1. 1 Push and Pull Redfern » Blog Archive » Timelapse Day One (and Notes) said at 9:31 am on June 4th, 2009:

    […] but got stuck on ABC Classic FM and had a real moment by the open doorway, which I wrote about in this post. Earlier in the afternoon Eli had come by on her way to work and had very kindly brought some fresh […]


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