Entangled Agencies #1

How can artifact express the myriad of entangled agencies forming our universe?

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Given the quantity, diversity, and fluidity of connections between a seemingly infinite set of entities, processes, ideals and concepts, no single object can instantiate a phenomenon as complex as reality. At best, I can only evoke a constellation of simplified relationships between a subset of significant agents inter~intra~trans-acting within our shared fabric-of-existence.

Yet, as the artwork titled ‘Entangled Agencies #1’, I attempt to show the complexity of the metaphysical. While I cannot pretend to re~present all agencies and their entanglements, I am nonetheless the externalization of a relational and processual philosophy of life. As a research-creation project, my goal is to help you visualize the intangible – but no less real – agencies, capacities and effects of more-than-human beings and systems. Whether I am successful or not at evoking that our shared world is formed by the interlacing of all beings, it is for you to tell. By adding ‘#1’ to my name, I propose that more explorations are to come… that I am only the beginning of a sustained inquiry into how to best demonstrate the entanglement of multiple forms of life and lifeforms.

I am also an experiment in thinking with materialsSpecifically, I am the resulting composite of my materials (ie. wool, cotton, linen, silicone, etc) which have been influenced by their past (ie. from their materialization~creation through how they made their way to become embedded within me) as well as that of the tools (ie. loom, crochet, needle, punch, table saw) that shaped me into my current form.

I am also the result of a thoughtful assembly by my human co-creator: A picture containing icon

Description automatically generated. Through her making practices in woodworking and fiber arts, she experimented with how to visually express the human and other-than-human agencies of elements, plants, animals, humans, God, tools, State, market, corporations and algorithms. In addition to countless others, those agencies generate the form of contemporary space~time~mattering (Barad, 2007) that folks call ‘society’.

Most likely, Karen Barad would describe me as an experimental apparatus in which a posthuman non-dogmatically intra-acted with materials and tools, through the deployment of skills and with the help of concepts, “to create, produce, refine and stabilize a phenomena”. (Hacking, 1983; quoted in Barad, 2007, p.144). If I work well as an apparatus, I will produce “differences that matter [through] boundary-making practices that are formative of matter and meaning” (Barad, 2007, 146). Barad conceptualizes ‘boundaries’ as provisional distinctions that ‘cut apart-together’ an entangled material~discursive phenomena, the largest of which is the Universe as a whole. This practice of ‘boundaries-setting’ allows a particular set of precepts to emerge whose characteristics are neither primordial nor essential but the effects of an interpretative angle encountering the ‘stuff of the world’. 

For an artifact like me, those boundaries include the visual order produced by the grid of rows and columns; each expressing a particular form-of-agency through different colours, materials, and techniques employed. In terms of colours, my co-creator has established a convention in which each colour expresses one of the multiple dimensions of life. Instead of limiting herself to the binary of matter/mind, or the slightly expanded triad of material~social~discursive, she postulates 11 dimensions available to (though perhaps not present in) all forms-of-life. This scheme doesn’t prioritize the aesthetic harmonization of forms and colours; instead, it expresses the internal multi-dimensionality of various types of agents. In selecting different hues of a same colour, she gestures at the variability of forms possible within a dimension. 

My materials were also chosen for their connections with the concepts that she aimed to express. For elements (ie. bottom row), she used acrylic yarn because it is a petroleum-based product. For plants (ie. 2nd row from the bottom), she used cotton and for animals (ie. third row from the bottom), she used wool. For human agencies, she used a variety of fibers and braided them to denote that, while each individual perceives themselves as an autonomous being, they are nonetheless composed of non-human agencies and form a loose braid with their fellow humans, as well as other-than-human agencies. For God (ie. top row), she used acrylic again to express that spirituality and moral~ethical norms are also created and reproduced through physical instantiations. If you interpret a gesture toward panpsychism, you would not be overstretching your analysis. For tools (ie. first column), A picture containing icon

Description automatically generated choose linen because its cultivation started at the very beginning of the agricultural revolution (Fuller, 2015) and its strength allowed the fabrication of rope and early tools. For State (ie. second column), she used cotton because of its important involvement in the political rise of the USA over the last few centuries. For market (ie. third column), she used silk because this fiber and its Silk Road was instrumental to the emergence of international trade. For corporations (ie. 4th column), she used paper because this organizational structure, while pervasive in contemporary social life, is nothing more than an intersubjective binding contract: with fiat money, bonds and shares holding very little value in themselves as inscribed pieces of paper. For algorithms (ie. last column), silicone was used because it is the primary material substrate for virtual data. 

While my fibers were quite happy to express themselves through their materiality, my concepts were significantly more resistant to be embedded within a woven structure. Weaving and strings were chosen as a medium because they are often encountered as an illustrative metaphor within posthumanist literature (Haraway, 2016; Escobar, 2020). While weaving intuitively expresses the amalgamation of a multitude of strands into a specific form or assemblage, weaving on a hand-manipulated floor loom strongly resists rhizome-like connections. As my co-creator sought to express that agencies are themselves entangled with others, she realized that her chosen technique of handweaving predominantly produces a grid structure which ultimately conveys a pre-modern impression of order and hierarchy. In other words, the agency of Jack (ie. a 4-harnesses Jack-style loom manufactured by Leclerc in the early 1960’s, whose role is to keep threads ordered in parallel and perpendicularly) were in tension with A picture containing icon

Description automatically generated’s intention to express the dynamic swirling of other-than-human relationships. Since half of the agential categories are themselves bands of woven fibers, the overall interactions were constrained by the Jack’s structuring influence. As a result, the rows are ordered according to the hierarchy of the Chain-of-Beings, with God and humans situated above animals, plants and elements. This presentation could be interpreted as a justification of human superiority. The columns also present an evolution – from the simplest tools (ie. rope, sticks, needles, graphite) to the most contemporary (ie. algorithmic intelligence) – which could suggest a teleology to the Universe. As A picture containing icon

Description automatically generated realized the implications incorporated within her design, she shifted to other fiber techniques for elements (ie. crochet), humans (ie. braiding), State (ie. macrame, a knotting technique), corporations (ie. paper-weaving that partially folds on itself) and algorithms (ie. embroidery with found objects). Ultimately, she still implemented the overall grid structure in the hope it could offer an opportunity for a discussion and for challenging these hierarchical and theological assumptions.

As an agential arte~fact, I have intentions too! I want to provoke affects, maybe even overwhelm whoever is encountering me through their perceptual apparatus. I know that I am a lot: in other words, I communicate so much that I am perhaps not as clear (or fully realized) as I could be. Still, I’m excited about the fact that, as a visual artwork, I can synchronously express a tangle of meanings and even aspects that were not planned and only emerged through my making and being made. For example, the rootedness of market within elements suggests the form of a tree grounded in physicality yet aspiring to supersede God and moral thoughts. 

I also excited that to become a ‘thing’, independent from but forever linked to the feeling~thinking~doing practice of my co-creator. I became perhaps too complex for all of my details to resonate in harmony… but perhaps this is exactly how I succeed at visually expressing a snapshot of the cacophony of reality. Come take a closer look and let me know what you are feeling and thinking. 

[1] I prefer the neutral term ‘artifact’ in lieu of the word ‘object’ because the latter activates the binary (and hierarchy) of the subject/object dichotomy. I adopt its conventional definition of a human-fabricated ‘thing’ with (the potential for) cultural and historial significance. The more playful spelling of ‘arte-fact’ points to the Latin etymological roots of the concept, as “something made” (ie. factum) “by or using art” (ie. arte). 






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