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Website: Chestnuts Design

Reconnecting the Corporeal

Laura Davidson|Catalogue Essay for From Centre (2015)

This essay first appeared in the From Centre catalogue for the exhibition jointly curated by Saturation Point Projects and Slate  Projects.

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.


‘backstrap weaving'

The initial survey of each video thumbnail describes a short video of a 'native' craftsperson in Guatemala or Peru, framed by the parameters of short duration and varied pixelation. Clicking on the top few search results, the videos all have a similar formula. The individual in each video is sitting, both hands active with wood and yarn, deftly weaving. Stretches of unfinished patterns of grids and abstract forms pull back to the weaver themselves. Backstrap weaving allows the body to maintain the tension of the fabric stretching out in front of the weaver, after the mind has authored the patternation. The corporeal centres the tension of the pattern; the programmed grid lines of weft and warp become an exploratory synchronicity of body and mind.

Backstrap weaving is historically rooted within the cultures of the Mayan civilisation, a  people also known for their interest in mathematics and the sciences. ‘Weaving’ in the generic lends itself not just to a grid aesthetic, but also to the birth of computer programming. It is common to quote anecdotally that Ada Lovelace, the author of the first  programme for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, drew on her knowledge of mathematics and the punch cards of the Jacquard loom to write her first algorithm. Weaving  links computation back to craft, thought, surface, material, corporeality, the gesture; the mark.


In the gallery space names are attributed to works, which are then attributed to the bodies that made them. Strong circuits of geometry undulate across the space, exemplifying a quasi-machine-driven aesthetic. Moving closer, there are indications of imperfections within these forms. On failure, the machine would repeat the same imperfection whenever the faulty command line was issued for a specific action or output. Lines can be seen to waver sporadically.  There are distinct limits to the iterations of form on display. If a machine had manufactured these forms, based on instruction only, there would be an endless repetition of the same form, exploring every variable. It would become a body of work that could not fit in physical space. Finally, a single producer has been attributed to the majority of the work.  A single author suggests a human fascination with conceptual ownership, as opposed to the emergence of a networked creativity (1). The narrative here is of course leading the reader towards what they perhaps already know; that the forms presented in From Centre are created by the symbiosis of human body and mind.

Robin Seir appears actively to want to subvert meticulous geometries by producing them with sporadic blemishes on the surface. There is of course an apparent self-awareness here - of the history of this genre of painting. This makes the blemishes humorous in a way that could be seen as a teenager rebelling against his or her parents. In 'Untitled' (2012) this makes the canvas endearing as opposed to calculated, rendering the geometries humanised. The blemishes draw attention to an act that machines stumble upon recreating; mistake and accident. Seir is generating flawed systems intentionally, as if to remind us that through a culture dominated by the machine, the hand still endures. By imposing a smudge onto the surface of a painting, Seir is inscribing value. The ‘clumsy’ hand renders the object unique.

There are, of course, mechanised processes within the work on display that contradict this hypothesis; Rhys Coren, Tess Jaray and Guilia Ricci all use laser cutting to create forms that appear  hand-crafted. Their geometries make a journey from thought, through the hand, to the screen, into the machine, onto the surface, back to the hand and the mind. Works by Coren such as ‘Kiss Me Again’ (2015) and ‘Midnight Cocktail’ (2015) are layers of precisely sliced geometries framing a looped squiggle. The word squiggle sounds inarticulate, but the loop is neither square, nor rectangle, nor circle; it is describable as the output of an absent-minded doodle. It is a pleasing contradiction to have a line seemingly handcrafted, outlined by laser and juxtaposed with articulate geometry. Coren’s animation ‘If We Can Dance Together’ (2014) also operates with this juxtaposition, where loosely scrawled circles are elements in a programme designed to make them move in response to music.  

There are oppositions set between human and machine, as if they are to ceaselessly continue as Cartesian binaries. This type of opposition suggests that the digital can only extend from machine practices. In fact, the etymology of ‘digital’ stems from the Latin 'digitus' meaning finger or toe. Symbolically, the use of the word is suggesting a performed interaction between the human body and its environment. The digit, therefore, is a way the corporeal can immerse itself within the physical environment in order to make sense of it; the fingers and toes provide an interface for the brain. Digits were also used as early mathematical tools; for calculating trades and time. The finger, the human hand and thus the gesture are apparent in 'From Centre', even if the output looks, and has been, mechanised. The indexical processes seen throughout the work exhibited are in fact driven by the script of the mind, for the body to execute. There grasps for meaning in the practices in From Centre, which can appear machine-inspired, aesthetically, yet are explicitly presented as being generated by a human being; an action extended from the body. It brings us back to the nameless backstrap weaver, harnessed to the warp and weft, incubating the pattern with their corporeality.

1. See the OpenSource movement in software design or botnets, where a programme pulls in many computers on a network to carry out an attack on another system