page tectonics: a fluxus rhetoric
(unconference talk)

(drop these pages to the floor.)

Plate tectonics is a scientific theory which describes the large scale movements of the Earth’s lithosphere, which is broken up into tectonic plates. These plates move at one of three types of plate boundaries:
convergent (collisional)
conservative transform
divergent (spreading)

Along these boundaries is where the Earth is active: earthquakes, volcanic activity, the building of mountains, and the creation of trenches. The key principle of plate tectonics is that the lithosphere exists upon the fluid-like asthenosphere. Activity occurs between plates, between geologic mediums, as a kinetic phenomenon.

I don’t want to extend this metaphor beyond usefulness, but at this moment, as I consider digital composition, I can’t escape this concept of fluid medium – a plastic space. Page tectonics, or experimentation with composition as fluxus.

This idea is not new, but time has not dulled it into popular adoption or even acknowledgement. What I will explore here is new insomuch as it is a different composition than I’ve mixed before. It is fragments, as it should be. Anne Wysocki, in “Opening New Media to Writing: Openings and Justifications”, pulls the old rug of writing out from under our feet – the lush, intricately woven one that only ever existed as an imaginary comfort anyhow. But it is not to be replaced by another, instead composition should exist as scraps, weaves, bits and pieces of matting and colorful material for consideration, and if they seem at all useful, to arrange as seen fit.

In similar fashion, Geoffrey Sirc’s “BOX LOGIC” calls to our attention that the means/media are not as important as the expressive/conceptual use they provide.Traces of work whose nodes can be linked and unlinked into whatever combinations work for the at-hand design circumstances. Not a focus on the simple action of combining materials, but how and why these combinations are brought into fruition.

In new media composition, texts are designed to make as overtly visible as possible the values they embody. In “awaywithwords: on the possibilities in unavailable designs”, Wysoski asks us to look beyond what we see as constraints, to not only ask what is expected by a particular audience in a particular context but what they might not expect, what they might not be prepared to see. In unavailable designs we see what beliefs and constraints are held with the readily available, the conventionalized. Labeling materials unavailable perpetuates available efficiency as cultural dominance. Artist Marcel Duchamp, when reflecting on the cultural movements (or lack thereof) in art, replied

There is no spirit of revolt-no new ideas appearing among the younger artists. They are following along the paths beaten out by their predecessors, trying to do better what their predecessors have already done. In art there is no such thing as perfection and a creative lull occurs always when artists of a period are satisfied to pick up a predecessor’s work where he dropped it and attempt to continue what he was doing. When on the other hand you pick up something from an earlier period and adopt it to your own work an approach can be creative.

The writer is a composer who designs in collections and connections. William Burroughs described this as “media being”, an individual who mixes and is mixed, who composes with media by commutating, appropriating, visualizing, and chorally structuring knowledge.

Composition is an understanding of how media shapes our view of the world and our ability to communicate within it. In “media being” we step beyond the multi-media view of electronic/digital to “intermedia” – the activity between media, between modes – the message being composed. Artist George Maciunas was concerned with this happening space; one of the founding members of Fluxus, he spoke of a desire to participate socially without definitive characteristics. His focus was not on a procedure or style or process but on social activities – the materiality of composition. Fluxus is “the step by step elimination of the Fine Arts…to redirect the use of materials and human ability into socially constructive purposes”.

I am not interested in a digital rhetoric or a new theory of writing that settles into a static state, only to resemble too closely that antiquated rug. I am for composition that doesn’t allow me to stand comfortably in one place too long (leaving foot imprints on the ground). In “The Store” Claes Oldenburg speaks of art in the lower case, the everyday. He speaks

I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum.
I am for an art that takes its form from the lines of life itself, that twists and extends and accumulates and spits and drips, and is heavy and coarse and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself.
I am for an art that grows up not knowing it is an art as all, an art given the chance of having a starting point of zero.

And I am for an art that doesn’t crumble under its own weight of pretention as plates shift and mix. I am for an everyday art that exists in the attitude, in the at this moment, in fluxus.

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