architecture…

Atmospheres and Foaming-Relations

Foaming Relations: The Ethico-Aesthetics of Relationality

Abstract: The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk uses the analogy of foam to describe the relations that cohere between one individual and the next, each co-isolated in the context of the modern city. Our habits, in co-production with the framing of our urban habitus, determine that we are arranged as networks of isolated, bubble-like, monadic cells. By effervescent means we nevertheless find ways of communicating across the cell walls that we share, and which divide us, or do we? I will enlist a series of concepts to consider the foaming relations that go toward forming the life of the urban habitus. These will include, relational aesthetics (Nicolas Bourriaud); ethico-aesthetics (Félix Guattari); human and nonhuman relations (Bruno Latour) all of which will help toward articulating a foaming, bubbling mass of relations that are external to their terms. The use of Sloterdijk’s concept of ‘foam city’ will be employed to consider contemporary modes of occupation of the city and how occupation is a processual activity that requires innovative responses to ever-transforming spatio-temporal networks. Following Guattari, this paper will venture an ethico-aesthetic approach to the way problems can be framed by architects and designers toward new modes of occupation of urban fields enlivened by the circulation of human and non-human actors. Practices of occupation accompanied by relations of affect and percept require an ethico-aesthetic rethinking of the design process and its modes of conceptualisation. This paper will address the manner in which the contemporary urban scene is inhabited as a live medium and ask to what extent the public sphere has been rendered redundant in exchange for a multiplicity of co-habiting as well as agonistic private spheres, or what Sloterdijk has called, ‘ego-spheres’.

Key Words: Foam City, Affect, Relational Aesthetics, Ethico-Aesthetics, Relationality, Generic City

“Foaming Relations: The Ethico-Aesthetics of Relationality” in Terry Meade, Luis Diaz, Susannah Hagan, eds, Occupations: Negotiations with Constructed Space, Brighton: University of Brighton, 2009, pp. 1-11. Book Chapter.

Originally presented as a paper:  “Foaming Relations: The Ethico-Aesthetics of Relationality”, in Occupation: Negotiations with Constructed Space, School of Architecture and Design, University of Brighton, UK (2nd–4th July, 2009).

 

What can we learn form the Bubble Man and his Atmospheric Ecologies

With this essay I will present the fragile thought-image of the soap bubble to venture an augmented understanding of what an atmospheric ecology might be, what it might include, and how it might contribute to a thinking of interiors. In contemporary digital design the soap bubble or soap film is most often investigated for what it can tell us about material behaviour, and how an understanding of material behaviour as it occurs in ‘Nature’ can be innovatively applied to design problems. Soap film can be studied in terms of what it tells us about surface tension and minimal distribution of material, which then allows the designer to better understand tensile structures. It also contributes to an understanding of cell walls (from the scale of the microscopic to the macroscopic), and how an interior condition responds to the pressure of an exterior condition. Appropriated from nature through a process of biomimicry, the behaviour of soap film and soap bubbles has been broadly used to test speculative design schemes and also to generate new digital techniques and technologies. I propose to liberate the thought-figure of the soap bubble from this set of technical studies and applications in order to extend an understanding of how it can be used to frame atmospheric ecologies, especially after the manner in which soap bubbles cluster and froth. Ecology here must be understood in an expanded sense that encompasses not just naturally occurring systems, championed by special interest groups that fight for a specific environmental niche, but also subjective and social ecologies, and how these different systems remain profoundly intertwined. I will draw on the work of Peter Sloterdijk, Jakob von Uexküll, and also Gregory Bateson, to offer other visions of what an atmospheric ecology might be, and how it can offer us more open definitions of the interiors in which we need to find a way to survive.

“What can we learn form the Bubble Man and his Atmospheric Ecologies” in IDEA: Interior Ecologies (2011), pp. 102-113. Peer Reviewed Journal

Olafur Eliasson and the Circulation of Affects and Percepts: In Conversation

The work of Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson is suffused with an internal atmosphere, which profoundly impacts upon all those who experience it. Eliasson creates framed interior spaces that improbably reproduce an array of manufactured weather conditions and wild and moody landscapes. These atmospheric installations prove particularly compelling for interior and architectural designers, as affects and percepts are combined to constantly circulate and create an intimate relay between the artwork and those who enter into contact with it. Through the manipulation of colour, transparency and reflection of light, Eliasson dissolves the material of interior space into the immaterial sensory quality of atmosphere and captures the receptive visitor in this embrace. A tentative theory of affect will be explored here in order to discover how Eliasson undertakes the mutual transformation of space, time and habitation. The immaterial materials of atmosphere that Eliasson manipulates move beyond mere surface effect, opening up new formations of the social. This article draws on ‘Life in Space’ a midsummer forum held on the 22nd June at Studio Olafur Eliasson, a former freight warehouse, which is next to Hamburger Bahnhof,  Berlin’s contemporary art museum. The reoccurring themes of the longest day of the year at Studio Olafur Eliasson included temporality, or the inexorable sensation of the passing of time; the status of reality; the primacy of the object, specifically in relation to the position of the art object in contemporary art, and the medium of the model and maquette; and the perception of colour and light, as exemplified by the phenomenon of photographic reproduction. These themes erupted as a collective conversation that developed openly amongst all the invited participants.

“Olafur Eliasson and the Circulation of Affects and Percepts: In Conversation”, in Julianna Preston, guest ed., Interior Atmospheres: Architectural Design, vol. 78, no. 3, (London: John Wiley and Sons: May/June 2008), pp. 30-35. Peer Reviewed Journal.

 

The Atmospheric Ecologies of Peter Sloterdijk: A New Thinker for Architecture?

In a recent interview, Bruno Latour, one of the founding progenitors of ANT (Actor Network Theory) and champion of Science and Technology Studies stated emphatically that the German philosopher, Peter Sloterdijk, “is the thinker of architecture.” By the use of the definite article, it seems that we are to understand that Sloterdijk is the thinker of architecture today, and that the pressing problems that Sloterdijk can help us address include the implications that would result should architecture and design venture into the future production of biological species, as well as their ecological niches: A problem that Sloterdijk infamously addressed in his 1999 essay, Rules for the Human Zoo: A Response to the Letter on Humanism. The intricacies of ecological atmospheres and their affects are present from Sloterdijk’s early work, for instance, within The Critique of Cynical Reason, and become explicitly formulated in the Sphären (Spheres) trilogy, only fragments of which have been translated into English. The first part of this essay will present an introduction to Sloterdijk’s atmospheric ecologies. By atmosphere Sloterdijk sets forth not merely the affective qualities of ecological niches in natural and artefactual mixtures, but an ethics and politics of such spheres of existence. In the latter part of this essay I will set out a tentative ethico-aesthetics that can be drawn from Sloterdijk’s work in order to address the question of ecologies at the three scales of mental, social and environmental ecologies, and how architecture and design comes to play a role in the creation and destruction of these interrelated ecologies. In this I will also have the opportunity to draw on Félix Guattari’s ethico-aesthetics, and his formulation of the three ecologies, which I have appropriated above.

Key words: atmosphere; sphere; welt and umwelt; ethico-aesthetics; mental, social and environmental ecologies

“The Atmospheric Ecologies of Peter Sloterdijk: A New Thinker for Architecture?” in Performative Ecologies in the Built Environment: Sustainability Research across Disciplines ANZAScA, 43rd Annual Conference, School of Architecture and Design, University of Tasmania, Launceston (25–27th November, 2009). Peer Reviewed Conference Proceedings.

Foaming Relations: An Architecture of Affect

The German philosopher, Peter Sloterdijk uses the analogy of foam to describe the relations that cohere between one individual and the next, each co-isolated in the context of the modern city. Our habits, in co-production with the framing of our urban habitus, determine that we are arranged as networks of isolated, bubble-like, monadic cells. By effervescent means we nevertheless find ways of communicating across the cell walls that we share, and which divide us. I will enlist a series of concepts to consider the foaming relations that go toward forming the life of the urban habitus. These will include, relational aesthetics (Nicolas Bourriaud); ethico-aesthetics (Félix Guattari); human and nonhuman relations (Bruno Latour) all of which will help toward articulating a foaming, bubbling mass of relations that are external to their terms. Despite, and also because of, the ‘ego-technological’ mania facilitated through new technologies – think iPod or iPhone – it is possible to imagine relations between actors as a ‘living foam’ shared out by a singular substance or stuff, animated by the circulation of affects and percepts. This would appear to suggest that although our daily habits determine that we live out increasingly capsular existences, new collective modes of expression and challenging forms of sociability are still possible, as long as those bubbles keep seething, foaming, and do not entirely evaporate into thin air.

“Foaming Relations: An Architecture of Affect”, Greenwich University Public Lecture Series, School of Architecture and Construction, Greenwich University, convened by Dr Teresa Stoppani, 24th February, 2009. Invited Public Lecture.

 

Foaming Relations: Urban Habitus of Affect

The German philosopher, Peter Sloterdijk uses the analogy of foam to describe the relations that cohere between one individual and the next, each co-isolated in the context of the modern city. Our habits, in co-production with the framing of our urban habitus, determine that we are arranged as networks of isolated, bubble-like, monadic cells. By effervescent means we nevertheless find ways of communicating across the cell walls that we share, and which divide us. I will enlist a series of concepts to consider the foaming relations that go toward forming the life of the urban habitus. These will include, relational aesthetics (Nicolas Bourriaud); ethico-aesthetics (Félix Guattari); human and nonhuman relations (Bruno Latour) all of which will help toward articulating a foaming, bubbling mass of relations that are external to their terms. Despite, and also because of, the ‘ego-technological’ mania facilitated through new technologies – think iPod or iPhone – it is possible to imagine relations between actors as a ‘living foam’ shared out by a singular substance or stuff, animated by the circulation of affects and percepts. This would appear to suggest that although our daily habits determine that we live out increasingly capsular existences, new collective modes of expression and challenging forms of sociability are still possible, as long as those bubbles keep seething, foaming, and do not entirely evaporate into thin air.

Through the medium of foam I want to address the idea of the urban habitus, or how it might be imagined, as a foaming mass of relations that is ever-transforming, that is composed of bubbles of affect that spring up only to dissipate again, fleetingly. In this I am inspired by a short essay called, ‘Foam City’, a translated excerpt from the German philosopher, Peter Sloterdijk’s great triptych, Sphären, which is composed of Spheres I: Bubble/Blow; Spheres II: Globes; Spheres III: Foam. I also draw upon a further essay, ‘Cell Blocks, Ego-Spheres, Self-Container’. One of the things Sloterdijk demonstrates is that once you begin to look for  spheres in the form of bubbles, globes and foam, they seem to spring up everywhere, appearing in all variety of forms and inaugurating all kinds of relations: beginning with the archetypal, predictable and yet still astonishing space of the mother’s womb as protective sphere of habitation of the child: A first bubble that is blown that creates a dyadic structure, or an immediate relation between two. Foam, Sloterdijk argues, appears with many creation myths, as though it were a kind of prime stuff, base material and fertile substance that composes life (Sloterdijk, ‘Foam City’, 92).

It appears, for instance, in the myth of Aphrodite (also known as Venus), who is ‘foam arisen’, as a translation of her name suggests, born out of genital remains of Uranus and the foaming waters of the sea near the coast of Cyprus (after Cronus cut off Ouranos’s, or Uranus, genitals and threw them behind him into the sea). What you need to hold in mind is the seething live animation of the foam that crashes about the feet of Aphrodite, or the foam that froths at the mouth of the madman, or the simple bubbles children blow. Naturally occurring foam congregates as bubbles of many sizes.

Consider also the Soap Bubble Sets of Joseph Cornell, universes in miniature.

There are soap bubbles too in the 17th Century Dutch Still life paintings known as vanitas, that depict the fleeting and transitory passage of time and present us with our mortality. Added to this image repertoire, as Sloterdijk illustrates, is a whole history of architecture.

Obvious enlightenment inclusions are Etienne-Louis Boullée’s Cenotaph for Newton (1784) and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s House of the Agricultural Guard (1780): both of which assume that the sphere must be perfect in its manifestation, but the myriad domes that architecture bring us, as well as a plethora of partial sphere and bubble-like forms generally proliferate.

Even the Sydney Opera House by Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, was generated out of sections of a semi-sphere.

Spheres are everywhere, and as Gaston Bachelard once said, “being is round”: “I should say therefore: das Dasein ist rund, being is round” (The Poetics of Space, 1994, 234). Sloterdijk himself notes an early debt to Bachelard’s phenomenology from which he will depart again. BUT Roundness here is only adequate if it does not insist on the perfection of an ideal sphere. The beauty of bubbles is rather in their irregular not quite spherical instantiations: when bubbles, individuals, or beings amass and cohere, their influence on one another creates all manner of formal distortion. The sphere then is a hypothetical limit, an ideal form artificially or hylomorphically imposed that denies the material behaviour, expression or matter-flow of any given system. It goes without saying that Boullée and Ledoux’s utopian projects were never built. What is more interesting is the network of relations that articulate the emergence and disappearance of the multitudinous bubbles that form foam, or else we could say, the living stuff of what Sloterdijk has called foam-city.

“Foaming Relations: Urban Habitus of Affect”, Re-imagining the Urban Habitus Symposium, convened by Prof. Elizabeth Grierson, School of Art, Art, Knowledge and Globalisation Research Cluster, RMIT University, 10th December, 2008. Invited Symposium Lecture.

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