You open your eyes and you find yourself in a room, a room that is located somewhere, the room is in a street, in a city, facing the sun from some direction, east west north or south. The room has a certain infrastructure that accompanies it, adjacent floors whatever is above and whatever is below. In the room you find objects of all shapes and forms. All of these objects were already there when you opened your eyes for the first time. Whoever made them, abandoned them, they seem as if they had just been made a second ago. From time to time, if you squint and pay close attention you can see an object coming into being, its parts slowly converging to a single point in space, moving closer and closer together until they are all in the same point.
Suddenly an intense flash of light, a thundering roar, and a new object is ready — well sort of, objects are only ready when they cease to exist, and in a certain way they were always already in the room. From the objects that are already in the room when you open your eyes for the first time, there isn't really any information about where they came from. It's likely that they have been there for a very long time — at the very least longer than you.
From every new thing that comes into being while you are in the room, it allows you to reverse engineer things that were already in the room when you arrived. Through an intense observation of the present you slowly make sense of the past, there are many gaps in your knowledge about the room you find yourself in, but it doesn't matter, because tomorrow you will open your eyes again, and you will be in the same room.
You are a thing and you live in a world which you do not fully understand, you get a constant stream of new information through your senses, and your brain somehow needs to use this information-deluge to do things like make exceptional scrambled eggs, renew your driver’s licence, floss your teeth, and other crucial survival-skills. In the time you read all of the above, you breathed several times, each of your cells used some ATP, some cells died or were phagocytosed, the state of your brain changed and a bunch of different neurons fired, and yet You are still a thing in the world.
When I watch a dog nose his way around the street, I sometimes try to imagine what he is smelling. It’s an impossible task. The canine sense of smell and his repertoire of scents is, after all, at least hundreds of times and perhaps more than a million times more acute and more far reaching than mine. Compared to that of dogs, the human umwelt is poor in smells but rich in signs. Umwelt is a german term first used by Jacob Von Uexkull to name the extension of the world of a certain organism. It can be regarded as the semiotic world of a body and its extension is proportional to the capacities of that organism.
The task of constructing a mental model of the world is implied in any and all of our interactions with the environment, on one hand this model appears as a map that encodes certain salient features of the environment, the position of our bodies relative to it, or on the other hand as a conceptual model that constructs at the very least, a plausible chain of relations, the way in which we understand that root, trunk, branch, leaf and seed are all different parts of the same object we encounter in the world and that through sensory data we transpose to these internal models.
Our preconceived notions of the apparatus that legitimizes an art exhibition are dependent but oblivious of features which give any space its identity. An active preoccupation that one must have is how to be able to deploy the context needed to parse an artwork with just enough said, to enable a productive dialogue between the work and its context. These are related because they are both necessary, as one is not able to make sense of objects without a particular idea of how they are to be looked at, which when it does happen can be exhausting and frustrating. Often, clues can be found on the outer spatial features of a space that provides just enough for an object to be read visually.
We can understand this through two perspectives, one is the idea of emergent properties in the context of complexity science and the other through the work of Jane Jacobs. Although there are very different characterizations of what emergence might be and the extent of its breadth and depth, it suffices to say that the physical interaction of atoms and molecules with light and electricity and magnetism and all other physical entities have led to the emergence of the immensely complex and structured system of life on earth including the human brain and the complexity of human culture and social life. The work of Jane Jacobs, especially Death and life in the American Cities, where she makes a case about how cities gain a certain liveliness out of mixed used neighborhoods without strict zoning as opposed to the american suburbia model. Or as she so eloquently frames it:
“Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is the intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations.”
Both cases depict though with very different ranges of concern, the necessity of a context in the possibility of increasing informational density. And this highlights what is necessary rather than contingent for the apprehension of certain objects, that they possess enough context to be understood as part of a broader genus, a kind of family of things that arise from a particular context, for some it needs to be carefully constructed so that it does not fall apart after three days. For others, and this is the class of things and objects that concerns us here, there are objects that provide a context themselves, the difference explicit rather than implicit, they proliferate and morph, falling to the ground and unfolding, complicit with its anonymous materials, letting it be known that the ways in which we provide them with a clear taxonomy, an object, a thing, are incompatible with the evolutionary process that they are but the latest time-slice of. A friend once told me that some ancient and wise civilization only used verbs to denote continuous processes, instead of saying that a tree is green, they would say that the tree greens, I wonder how much of our understanding of the world is built around a scaffold of fixity when would for our own sake, and for a better integration of ourselves within the environment to think of them as a dynamic flow.