‘Where stone is dark under froth’

A catalogue text for Katy Connor’s installation Pure Flow, at Phoenix Arts Centre, Exeter; published by Permanent Books, Brighton, December 2009

Where stone is dark under froth’: Screening the datastream, Katy Connor’s Pure Flow

A net is cast through the flow of noise, of energy, a veil is thrown across a stream of bits and pulses, and in the action a glimpse is offered as it fleets by. This glimpse is not a representation, this impression does not reveal a subject, it overhears but not an account a murmur or ripple. Contact or trace is indicated but this is not a tale or picture.

The concept of the chora is reworked by Julia Kristeva, following its mention by Plato in the Timaeus. This chora is virtual, non-physical, but is apprehensible and receives or offers a place for the coming to be known without being affected by this. Redrawn by Kristeva as a maternal space of coming to be, this place is gendered as a womb or place of possibility. The dancing grains and chaff and rubbish are lifted and spread, shifted and blown over or across this ground. The atoms of information are momentarily organised, fleetingly presented on a screen. This is a screening or riddling, sorting in passing the data of a moment.

Michael Fried in his essay ‘Art and Objecthood’ retells Tony Smith’s anecdote of driving on the unfinished New Jersey Turnpike at some time in the late 1950s. For Fried this incident as related by Smith offers a model for the theatricality of the effect in the work of Minimalist artists. These were works to be experienced rather than beheld. Smith however in his arriving at a sense of an unframeable may be less rejecting painting and more opening to the unrepresentable or the ungraspable in art.

It was a dark night and there were no lights or shoulder markers, lines, railings or anything at all except the dark pavement moving through the landscape of the flats, rimmed by hills in the distance, but punctuated by stacks, towers, fumes and coloured lights. This drive was a revealing experience. The road and much of the landscape was artificial, and yet it couldn’t be called a work of art. […] The experience on the road was something mapped out but not socially recognized. […]There is no way you can frame it, you just have to experience it. (Wagstaff, ‘Talking with Tony Smith’)

That car speeds through a 1950s night on an incomplete undefined roadway, sweeping over the expanse of uninterrupted asphalt, matt black, returning nothing, the headlights greying an uneven area ahead and taillights tinting an area behind. The data flow, or information, is passing, streaming, being sent and received, processed and stored and managed. As binary ones and zeros, ons and offs flood or swill or swoosh through channels, or cables, or copper wires, optical fibres, or wirelessly signals sent through the ‘ether’ to be picked up or gathered by receptors.

Interruptions in flows of liquid, of matter, of data allow for perception, for that which is flowing to become manifest, to come to attention, to be available for attending to. A major obstacle to the flow, a dam holding in check a body of water, allows a filmy trickle to silk over its rim and shiver to the next level down. Blocking the liquid’s shifting moves, the coast or cliff or sandbank or dunes or spit, resist the spill or slip or surge. In this resistance ripples are set off crossing and crissing, back and forth as feedback through each other, interlacing of affect, the weakening or fading pulse renewed by a subsequent jolt, the waning and waxing shudders dull or augment in a weave of disturbance.

The affect or evidence of the flow is made available through the interruption or interposition of a screen or face from which the information can be gathered. The water surface which offers its patterns for reading, or the projection screen which presents its textures for attention cross the flow, acting to section or plane its major direction. The screen-face makes possible awareness of flow activity. The obstacle or interruption makes evident that which flows. It operates across senses, as the olfactory capacity of cells in the nasal passages records evidence of a passing other through molecules apprehended as scent or trail, as a radio microphone may detect flows of energy or high frequency sound, its receivers offering a plane onto which these sounds may be inscribed, or broadcast.

Rock formations, igneous that record the setting of seething magma or sedimentary that show in their folds the ripples from tectonic activity, offer a remote awareness of flows too slow for human perception. These flows, constant, endless, irregular or regular yet forever, shift the ground across which we walk or drive. A cliff face screens a moment of rock flow in an evidencing of ultra slow motion. The chora as screen takes ownership of nothing; it does not appropriate, and yet can accommodate all. That which appears fleetingly on the choraic screen is an interception of the flow of data.

Craft weaves a net to span the flow; it barely bothers it, but can gather data. Knowledge is brought to knowing by the technical skill that casts this mesh. The data pebbles caught in this riddle, panned from this stream, appear not as representations, their mode is not mimetic. Unrepresentable, the flow passes through or past and on, we are within it, it has neither edge nor dimension, and exceeds our modes of description. It is untouchable and is that by which we know we can and are touched or touching. In the groundless dark a net is cast, a web that catches a trace but does not impede the passing charges. It offers not a picture but evidence that there is happening.

References: W. B. Yeats, ‘The Fisherman’ (1919); Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language(1984); Samuel J. Wagstaff Jr., ‘Talking with Tony Smith’ (1966); Michael Fried, ‘Art and Objecthood’ (1967).

Mark Leahy