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Vergeance: A Convolution of Vectors

2009 July 8

Two ideas have saturated our thoughts now for years: the situation and situational space, and city maps, in all their myriad forms—on paper and off.  A Convolution of Vectors is the combined palimpsest of hundreds of journeys through urban environments, each imbued with its own collection of experiences and memory.

In 2004, my friend Matt Boyle and I proposed an installation for Project Creo’s “Second Nature” exhibition at The Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida that would become a built, spatial artwork embodying our obsessions with those romantic times and places that interleave so mysteriously through our lives.

The essence of situational space, an idea extrapolated from the Situationiste Internationale of 1960’s Paris, is both event and architecture insofar that the space—a city square, a backalley at night—generates the event by the unpredictable confluence of its citizens.  A situation in this sense implies an intentional social interaction without plan, an architectural stage for potential urban enigmas.

By way of example: the situational event is a chance encounter in a Venetian arcade, a fractional glance caught between columns: You have seen this person before, a stranger on a train, perhaps a face in the crowd in the middle of urban Berlin.  The sense of these times and places recombining on each other, as though the cities were folding in on themselves despite space and geography, is the beating pulse of A Convolution of Vectors. We desire to both re-present these scenarios and generate a new scenario in itself with this installation piece, via a construction of suspended fabrics, cable tendrils, video projectors and accompanying soundtracks.  The Vectors are those lines of “psycho-geographical” memory, and the Convolution is the installation itself, the nexus of those experiences together in one space.

The installation consisted of a quarter of a mile’s worth of string, twine, cord and cable issuing from the base of a 16′ long oval platform and spreading taut all over the gallery’s ceiling, with somewhere around 200 keys—from all different times and places and donated by ourselves and the other artists in the show—hung from intersecting points of the strings.  Suspended from this dense lattice were fabric panels arranged on two sides, light and translucent and dark and opaque, leaving two apertures of entry and exit.  A 45-minute video sequence edited by Matt was projected on the light side, and inside the space was a pedestal with a custom-designed and hand-assembled book documenting both the process of the installation’s own construction and the many poetic, quasi-narrative experiences that inspired it.  Visitors (“readers”) were encouraged to hang their own discarded keys in the artwork and add their own stories and notes to the book.

Every reader of a city is a flâneur: one who strolls through the streets, idly and aimlessly experiencing the texts of the city.  Not every reading, however, need be a passive one.  The Situationiste Internationale, a 1960’s Parisian art collective, set agendas to their strolls and dubbed it dérive, meaning simply “to drift.” The dérive is driven by an active passion for getting lost and finding oneself in unusual spaces.  Abandoned theatres, underground tunnels and libraries at night are the homes of the situationist, places that contain all the romance of suspended time.

This installation is a network of cities.  In this space, the drifts and passions of city experience, like our memories of lovers, converge and diverge simultaneously, producing what we term vergeance. It is the sensation of meeting, for the first time, a person you’ve known all your life—when two events coincide immediately, moving two directions at once, in two different spaces and countries all in the same blinding moment, vectors and cities that fold back in on themselves.

Consider the architectural moment:  a formal accretion of points and lineaments, resulting in a singular space, a juncture characterized formally in the three dimensions with which designers familiarize themselves.  Such an element can effectively synthesize entire frameworks for designs, be they structural, conceptual or otherwise.

Now, consider the urban moment:  a configuration of space engendered by the morphology of its mother city, rarely dependant on the will of a designer but instead thrown up out of the shifting magma that is always the diagram of a city.  These urban moments are sites of vergeance: where multiplicitous and oft deceptive threads come and go simultaneously.  Jacques Derrida observed that an “architectural place” can only be located “on a path, at a crossroads at which arrival and departure are both possible.”

Vergeance is just such a crossroads.  The installation is made up of texts in two manifestations: printed fragments of letters and poetic communiqués, and video fragments of those places that have lent us situational experience.

To quote founder Guy Debord, “…a dérive often takes place within a deliberately limited period of a few hours, or even fortuitously during fairly brief moments; or it may last for several days without interruption.”  We entreat all future situationistes to invent these moments for yourself in places you never expected to find.


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