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Von Vilém Flusser’s Gesten ausgehend. Zur Phänomenologie des Entwerfens und seiner Werkzeuge

This essay draws on Vilém Flusser’s phenomenological approach and speculative thinking to envision a theory of architectural design. It focusses particularly on the last book he published during his lifetime, Gesten (Gestures) 1991. Based on a series of lectures held in São Paulo and in the mid-seventies in France, Gesten offers a sequence of 18 essays reflecting upon everyday activities as “movement(s) of the body or of a tool attached with the body, for which there is no satisfactory causal explanation” (3-4). The book culminates in the call for a general theory of gestures. Starting from a close reading of some of these chapters, this essay examines the relation between gestures and thinking, between gestures and the future, with a particularly close look at the gesture of making. Gestures are discussed in terms of primary means of visual expression, which in many ways become starting points for design processes.  Flusser's general theory of gestures facilitates a theory of architectural design based on a phenomenological analysis of its tools and processes. By going back to some of Flusser's writings on tools, machines and apparatuses and their unforeseen repercussions, new design practices and digital design tools can be understood as ways of simulating and anticipating the consequences of design decisions, permitting us to better understand and deal with them.

Flusser on-the-Fly: Towards an English Translation of Flusser’s Bochum Lectures

This essay examines Flusser’s lecture series in Germany at the Ruhr University Bochum in 1991 and the challenge of translating the lectures into English. The late Flusserian thought in the Bochum Lectures is preoccupied with programming, computing, and algorithms, describing a modern world of war-mongering programming functionaries. Flusser sees the future of humanity in continual playful re-programming instead of re-volutionizing ruptures. This essay then focuses on issues of language and translation – and on the author’s own challenge in translating Flusser’s lectures into English. The process involved establishing an energetic idiom that adequately captures his playful and idiosyncratic moments, his autodidact erudition, his on-the-fly theoretical vernacular and jarring movements, in rhetoric and gesture, of expansion and compression. Translatability, and thinking-as-translation, remained pertinent in Flusser’s thoughts in Bochum and he frequently employed etymological wordplays throughout his lectures in an attempt to make students aware of the obscured meanings of their conversant languages by oscillating between literalized and lateralized thought processes.

Bochum Lectures (PDF 458.72 KB)

Flusser’s Planet

The known forms of criticism are only possible in certain habitable zones. Lately, these seem precariously confined to surfaces shrinking precipitously. Professions of critical humility abound, commonsensical, descriptive reading lessons about realism, flat ontologies, the mortifications of theory, etc., are legion. The lynch-pin of this pseudo-reading lesson involves retraining ourselves to want less as we wait in line for alien perspectives. This essay invites us for a journey to find Flusser’s Planet: a habitable zone for criticism. From Richard McGuire’s Here (2008) to Stephen Hawkings’ Five Favorite Places, following Flusser’s five-runged schema that plunges into inhuman deep time – in a four-dimensional, ancestral zone shared with animals, plants and rocks – and then reaches an apex of sorts in the zero-dimensional computational universe, the essay proposes a Flusserian form of criticism in the idea of an “extreme deixis,” a criticism that would emphasize the subject’s position in the world, with a focus on questioning temporality.  

Semiotics (PDF 456.87 KB)

Animated Animals and Metabolic Machines: Affect in Vilém Flusser’s Theory

This essay analyzes Flusser’s playful engagement with the nature/culture divide and its implications for Affect theory and posthumanism. For Flusser, affect is not a pre-processed human feeling, but a composite of moods, emotions, automated habits, and recursively activated reactions that come from outside – the apparatus of communication, conventions and algorithms that encode what counts as truth. Affect partakes of the same process that binds the “artificial” production of “truth” and the “customization” of life according to conventional knowledge. Similarly, the “natural” world dissected in Natural:Mind is subject to determinations by technology, culture, and habit; in fact, nature is produced by culture as part of the apparatus. Flusser’s version of affect theory destroys the fantasy of the human individual and indicates how humans do not exist in essence, but are themselves symptomatic expressions of the modern, programmatic society. Flusser’s twisted humanism invites a reflection on the cognitive and critical possibilities of aesthetics – as a secondary, reflective form of knowledge that provides models to grasp unhabitual and unusual phenomena even if it cannot account for their occurrence. Art in this sense functions like a Trojan horse used to storm the naturalist fortress sheltering humanist humanity.

Animated Animals (PDF 290.04 KB)

Biomedia and Anthropology of Gestures and Body

The essay is based on two central notions developed by Vilém Flusser: 1) life can be considered as a design project; 2) we are in need of a new anthropology of gestures. It moves from the modern understanding of technology, digital media and its cybernetic regime, to discover biomedia and their ability to invade and conquer bodies, senses and gestures. In the light of this new bio-techno-cultural constellation where media are used to design gestures, old questions about subjectivity, media and communication remain fundamental yet they ought to be reinterpreted.

Interview avec Fred Forest / Entrevista com Fred Forest

This conversation about Vilém Flusser, between new media art critic Annick Bureaud and media artist Fred Forest, took place in Paris on December 22, 2008. Forest is a pioneer of video, media and network art whose actions and interventions establish pauses and disruptions in the usual flow of communication. His works are frequently critical, often humorous and on occasion insolent. Forest also writes and theorizes his own artistic creations besides maintaining a constant dialogue with philosophers and theorists. Flusser was one of those with whom intellectual exchange was always densely rich, productive and collaborative. In this interview, Forest speaks about some of his video projects developed with Flusser, as well as his news media and public interventions in the 1973 São Paulo Bienal, for which Flusser served as curator. Bureaud and Forest’s conversation bring to life the energy and more human, intersubjective exchanges that characterized the Forest-Flusser friendship, and which are seminal to both artistic creation and intellectual thought. Bureaud insightfully points out that unfortunately such vivid encounters are rarely found in scholarly research and in the history of art. In the hands of Forest and Flusser though, often overlooked gestures, shared for instance in a seemingly banal conversation on a summer afternoon or on a subway ride in Paris, become fully meaningful.

Interview (PDF 303.95 KB)
Entrevista (PDF 100.27 KB)

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