Architectures of the Unforeseen: Essays in the Occurrent Arts

Architectures of the Unforeseen: Essays in the Occurrent Arts
by Brian Massumi

University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2019
240 pp., illus. 27 b & w. Paper, $30.00
ISBN 978-1-5179-0596-5.

Reviewed by
Edith Doove
March 2020

Contrary to what the contents page of Massumi’s latest book suggests, it doesn’t consist so much out of five parts, three chapters with a seemingly lesser important introduction and ditto concluding remarks. Rather it consists out of three equivalent parts – the introduction and the conclusion with in the middle a large chunk that is subdivided in three chapters of what I would like to call ‘applied Massumi’. The chunk is dedicated to Gregg Lynn, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, and Simryn Gill of which only the first one is, strictly speaking, an architect (a digital one) and the others are being subscribed as respectively an interactive media artist and a mixed media installation creator. All three of them however share a certain connection with architecture hence the book’s title. With occurrent arts Massumi alludes to the process-based aspect of their art, or processual design, in which any object is just a temporary phase on its way to another.

Although in essence non-linear in its approach, let’s nevertheless begin with the book’s introduction because despite its modest indication in the contents page (smaller font, deceptive roman page number) it’s about 11 pages long and to me Massumi actually performs the most important work of the book right there. Immediately in the first sentence he indicates that these texts are not so much about the named protagonists but rather that these are cases of ‘writings-with’. This immediately struck a note as in my own writing on art; I also prefer to write parallel to (the work of) artists I appreciate because they tackle problematics in a way that interests me. Massumi offers here an interesting theoretical approach of this wish by talking about writing from “a region of critical overlap”, where “[t]wo processes, strangers to each other, can intimately overlap in a problematic that is constitutive for both, without coming in any way to resemble each other in form or even sharing content.” In doing so ‘[t]hey fashion their own [content], reciprocal to their singular taking-form. They may perturb each other or attune, interfere or resonate, cross-fertilize or contaminate, but each will ultimately incorporate the formative potential in their own problematic way, so that the overlap is also a forking” (Massumi, 2010, vii-viii). And here we enter, almost inevitably Massumi’s well-known universe of Deleuze and Guattari’ when he refers to their notion of “aparallel evolution: the intimate art of keeping a formative distance.” [1]

In his ‘writing with’ Lynn, Lozano-Hemmer, and Gill, Massumi namely enters into his own personal realm in which he can revel in and develop a thinking alongside these artists’ work that is embedded in and developed alongside the thinking and writing of his usual compagnons. Apart from Deleuze and Guattari, from whom he in the Concluding Remarks also develops the notion of (being at) the outside we thus encounter amongst others Bergson, Simondon, and Whitehead. In what could be called the applied part it should therefore not be surprising that there’s a clear recognition of the found critical overlap by way of keywords such as process, event, becoming, immanence. Such as when indicating that “the status of the art practice for the philosophizing is that of a non-philosophical field immanent to philosophy’s becoming (Massumi, 2010, xii).

The interaction or what Massumi calls ‘processual fellow-traveling’ with (the work of) Lynn, Lozano-Hemmer and Gill took place in different time frames and is partly still ongoing. In the case of Lynn this goes back to the mid-1990s, for Lozano-Hemmer even to the end of the 1980s, while that with Gill took place over a limited period of two months. Where the encounter with Lynn’s work would eventually leave Massumi’s “process to similarly spin off, orphaned by Lynn’s while irreversibly correlated to it, a wasp in the abstract embrace of an intimately distant orchid (Massumi, 2010, ix, my italics), Massumi’s work on the politics of everyday fear fed into the development of one of Lozano-Hemmer’s works. But whether developed over a shorter or longer time, the end result is predominantly Massumi and not so much any of the artists he writes about. When describing his process of writing in the Concluding Remarks, I couldn’t help thinking of that of making mille-feuille for which the dough has to be stretched and folded back into itself multiple times in order to finally achieve the delicate, fine-layered pastry. Intricate, not straight forward, to be revisited. And although Massumi’s book is classified under art history and visual culture, praised for its “invaluable contribution” to the first, it at times resembles more a physics book due to the extensive description of the processes followed by the artists. Close reading resulting in dense, at times very poetic writing. An artwork, or process, in itself, perhaps.

Notes

[1] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 11.