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Cartografía Artística de las Sensaciones: Tres obras recientes de Rosario López Stephen Zepke

When we speak of the cartography of art, or of an artistic cartography, we are not talking about the representation of a landscape that is taken as given. An artistic cartography, as French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari tell us, is ‘not just a map of geography.’1 Instead, an artistic cartography is a map of relations, relations that constitute a topography of the invisible forces that animate it, and that art expresses in a sensation. Artistic cartography is therefore active, opening and closing relations as it grasps hold of and unleashes forces and their sensations. In this way an




artistic cartography creates a body of sensation, a body that is strictly speaking neither an object (art work) nor a subject (its experience), but is an actualisation of force that encompasses both work and viewer, emerging according to its local conditions. To explore this body of sensation is our contemporary task, a task at once political, philosophical and aesthetic, for it de-

mands of thought and art that they bring something new into the world, and so transforms our being into a becoming. An artistic cartography is therefore a topography of the future, a diagram for producing the new, one that we can, always in our own way, follow. The question of course, is how? To answer this question I’d like to examine three recent exhibitions by the Colombian artist Rosario López, whose artistic cartography engages forces found in nature, and uses them to produce a startling new body through the production of inhuman sensations.

The Artistic Cartography of Sensation




Rosario López’s recent work contains two consistent elements; large photographs of the landscape that are combined with objects within a gallery installation. The photographs are all quite abstract, revealing landscapes that are dramatically flat and whose horizons cleanly bisect the image. These pictures show us the desert-like Trébol beach in Peru (part of Abismo, an installation shown at the Venice Biennale in 2007 but originally made and exhibited in 2005), the flat French farmland of Marnay, near Paris (in Insufflare, a project from 2007), and the icy isolation of the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina (from White Fence, an exhibition from 2008). But the stark abstraction of these photographs is only a framework through which something else emerges, for puncturing each horizontal line is a force. In Abismo small huts built by the local people are scattered across the beach, an impoverished occupation aimed at gaining employment from the multinational energy concern that was rumoured to be buying the area. This concern, upon learning the area was occupied decided to avoid legal problems, and took their Three Recent works by Rosario López




money elsewhere. The flat-lined horizon seems sucked into this void created by contemporary capitalism, as if the enormous ‘liquidity’ of corporate capitalism suddenly drained the landscape of life, leaving only fragile monuments to its empty cruelty. The French countryside of Insufflare, while no less horizontal, is a picture of plenitude, blush with agricultural abundance. Here

nature is well ordered and economically productive. But in its midst erupts a chaotic gust of fabric, a silver bird whose flight expresses the invisible force of the wind, and when photographed produces a moment of its movement as a sculpture. Finally, the Argentinean glacier in White Fence at first seems impenetrable, as if the horizon line had suddenly expanded to a great height whose inexorable and overwhelming solidity was bearing down on us, a monumental freezing. Everything here seems under pressure and about to rupture, presenting us with a cataclysmic crack, a horror of disintegration, but also a release, a relief, a way forward. The Artistic Cartography of Sensation




This then is the map of Rosario López’s photographs: the reduction of the landscape to a horizontal, and the eruption of a force within it. But as well as appearing in the photos this cartography of force also organises the other element of López’s work, its installation. There, in the midst of the

gallery space, the forces that disturb the photograph’s horizontal stability erupt in all their reality. In Abismo a hut from the photographs is installed in the gallery, and peering into it we look into the void. In Insufflare crumpled silver fabric suspended from the ceiling softly crackles and moves in the warm air gusting from the heaters placed beneath it, and as we circulate in the gallery we feel and hear this wind. In White fence we are confronted by small bags filled with white powder and placed in rows along the length of one wall, suggesting a wall of ice descending upon us. This wall reveals both the ice’s overwhelming force and its fragility, its insistent advance and its infinite cracking. López’s artistic Three Recent works by Rosario López




cartography is therefore completed by this installation element, an element that actualizes the force that appears in the photographs in a sensation. Together – or perhaps better between – the photographs and the installation a rhythmical movement is produced. López’s work is a mapping of these diastolic and systolic movements, a rhythm that composes into a single ar-

tistic landscape her far-flung trips into nature and her return to the gallery. This is a landscape of allotropic forces; forces whose rhythmical manifestation in both distended (landscape) and contracted forms (gallery) construct a dispersed body of sensation. López’s work both expresses and is constructed by this artistic cartography, this set of relations transforming invisible forces into their material expression, into sensations or works of art. In López’s work nature is installed, its forces are no longer absent in and as their representation, but are experienced as real. This is a new horizon for art, one where invisible but real forces construct sensations that, as we shall see, go beyond the human, The Artistic Cartography of Sensation




all too human.2 In this sense, López’s work offers a cartography of forces, a map that does not describe who or where we are but projects us onto a line of becoming.

But in order to understand López’s artistic cartography we must also know a little about where it comes from, about what tools it uses, and about how it transforms these tools before finally passing beyond them. Two of the most important forerunners to López’s work are Minimalism’s privileging of the installation’s phenomThree Recent works by Rosario López

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enological ‘experience’ over its ‘objects’, and the Land art of Robert Smithson. Indeed on first viewing the installation elements in López’s work; the hut, the heaters and foil, and the wall of ice, seem to produce what phenomenology called ‘lived experience’. Both Phenomenology and Minimalism attempted to reveal this experience as the ‘entwining’ (as Merleau-Ponty put

it) of subject and object, as their necessary immanence. But it did so only by appealing to transcendental guarantors of this experience, called ‘gestalts’ [Gestalten], which provided lived experience with what MerleauPonty called its ‘diagram’, a diagram that acted as ‘the metaphysical structure of our flesh.’3 The gestalts that interested minimalist artists were the form/ground relation and the abstract figures of square, rectangle and circle. These gestalts were revealed in the experience of the installation, an experience that produced an ‘expanded object’ encompassing the subject and object in spatio-temporal relationships that included the art work, viewer, gallery space, light, force and The Artistic Cartography of Sensation

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so on, as they unfolded in real time and composed a new body. This lived experience, as Robert Morris argued, worked ‘to eliminate the viewer to the degree that these details pull him into an intimate relation with the work.’4 Drawing on Merleau-Ponty, Morris argued that this ‘intimacy’ revealed the presence of gestalts as ‘those aspects of apprehension that are not coexistent with the visual field but rather the result of the experience of the visual field.’5 Both Phenomenology and Minimalism explored empirical experience as the incarnation of an abstract diagram (the gestalts) that transcended it, but inasmuch as it was ‘the result of ’ experience this diagram remained immanent to human subjectivity. López’s installations clearly follow the minimalist introduction of an ‘expanded practice’, but her diagram does not trace a transcendental (human) subjectivity as the condition of experience, but instead constructs expanded sensations of forces that traverse both nature and the gallery in an asubjective cartography of becoming. Three Recent works by Rosario López

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Here López’s work does something that Minimalism could not, and that is to transform the gallery space and the art within it into an expression and construction of nature. To create an aesthetic expression of the forces of nature is, of course, precisely what Robert Smithson did, when he abandoned the gallery to make art in the desert. López however, attempts the return

journey by using the forces of nature – as Smithson so effectively did in Spiral Jetty – within the gallery space. In this way López is able to move beyond Smithson’s structural aporia of nature (site) and its representation (non-site), just as it moves the aesthetics of artistic cartography beyond Smithson’s dependence upon the iconography of maps and quasi-museological displays. The real forces of nature are no longer outside the isolated white cube, but rather enter the gallery and open it out, making it one pole of an expanded body of sensation. This body is not an object of experience, nor does it incarnate the transcendental gestalts grounding subjective experience. Instead, the body emerges (and Three Recent works by Rosario López

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does not stop emerging) along the autopoietic vectors of sensation, sensations that express the autonomous and rhythmical movements of force as these congeal and gain consistency. The body has become the landscape mapped out by an artistic cartography.

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As the references to Minimalism and the work of Robert Smithson suggest, the cartography of force found in López’s work offers a clear direction for installation practices today, one that moves beyond both phenomenological interest in a transcendental subjectivity, and Structuralism’s insistence (which continually haunted Smithson’s work) upon the fundamental distinction between nature and its discursive representations.6 López’s work is not cartographical in a discursive sense, inasmuch as the mapping her work undertakes is not an objective process of documentation. She is concerned instead with the relation between the force, the landscape it inhabits and the sensation that actualises both force and landscape within (a within which is also outside) the gallery. Each element is inseparable from the others, and constitutes an aesthetic landscape that contains and transports, and finally unleashes the force that is its genetic impulse. Let’s look Three Recent works by Rosario López

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at Insufflare to see how this works. Here, the force the work captures is obvious: the wind. The photos show a square of reflective fabric taking flight, twisting and contorted it is propelled into movement, before coming to rest once more, a tangled mass lying momentarily still, as if exhausted. This fabric does not represent anything, it is not a signifier, but rather its con-

vulsed figures express the wind in a material index that renders this invisible force visible. It is photography that allows this expression, freezing the movement of the fabric within its frame, solidifying it so that the image can take on a sculptural form, and the wind can attain a weight and substance. López’s insistence that photography plays a sculptural role in her work is important, because it defines an important break with the documentary role it had within conceptual and performance practices.7 López’s photographs do not document an event, nor do they provide a resemblance (whether as a symbol or representation) to the forces they capture. Rather they are manifestations of a force The Artistic Cartography of Sensation

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that utilise the technology of photography in order to produce a sensation. This sensation is a materialisation of the force, and in this sense has a sculptural rather than a photographic value. It is precisely this aspect that marks López’s inheritance from Smithson (the photo shows us an art work formed in and by nature), and her departure from him (the photo is itself, qua sculpture, the actualisation of a natural force in the gallery). As sculpture then, López’s photos attain the sensation through what Deleuze calls ‘aesthetic Analogy’. Here, the expression of the wind in the ‘sculptures’ is not conditioned by a pre-existing code as the resemblance between them is attained through direct contact. The sensation produced is thus an analogue expression of the force that created it, and maps out an expanded and abstract body encompassing the countryside of France and the gallery in Bogotá. This is the works artistic cartography. Deleuze’s description could have been written about López’s sculpture-photographs: ‘They establish an immediate connection beThree Recent works by Rosario López

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tween heterogeneous elements, they introduce a literally unlimited possibility of connection between these elements, on a field of presence or finite plane [i.e., the gallery space] whose moments are all actual and sensible.’8

In the gallery space we find another length of

metallic fabric, this time suspended between floor and ceiling, while beneath heaters send soft warm billows of air up to meet it. If in the photos/sculptures the object seemed impossibly dynamic, a skin jumping out of itself, the effect of the installed fabric is almost the opposite. It seems about to fall, to crumple, to collapse, its material expressing the force of the wind in its most reduced and domesticated variant: hot air propelled by household heaters. We have come from the endless line of the countryside’s horizon, from the edge of the world, back to this small space, this small blow of air, this gentle heat. But this should not be thought of as a move from the sublime to the ridiculous. Instead, we The Artistic Cartography of Sensation

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should think the two spaces as modulated instances of the other, as two extremes of a continuum of air, a wind and a breath. And where are we to find ourselves in all of this? Blown away, of course. The rhythmic dilation and contraction of our wind-sensation animates a body no longer our own, a body borne by the wind, actualising a landscape of relations at once global and intimate.

Abismo works in a very similar way. The gallery contains both a hut like those shown in the photographs, and small clay sculptures formed by pressing it into gaps in the rock littering the landscape. The gallery is therefore a container of containers within which a void expands and contracts into the microcosm of stones and the macrocosm of the urban fabric, constructing a sensation in which the art work is both beyond and beneath the limits of our experience. But what is ‘ours’ here, because the sensation of the void includes, by necessity, our absence? What is left is no Three Recent works by Rosario López

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should think the two spaces as modulated instances of the other, as two extremes of a continuum of air, a wind and a breath. And where are we to find ourselves in all of this? Blown away, of course. The rhythmic dilation and contraction of our wind-sensation animates a body no longer our own, a body borne by the wind, actualising a landscape of relations at once global and intimate.

Abismo works in a very similar way. The gallery contains both a hut like those shown in the photographs, and small clay sculptures formed by pressing it into gaps in the rock littering the landscape. The gallery is therefore a container of containers within which a void expands and contracts into the microcosm of stones and the macrocosm of the urban fabric, constructing a sensation in which the art work is both beyond and beneath the limits of our experience. But what is ‘ours’ here, because the sensation of the void includes, by necessity, our absence? What is left is no Three Recent works by Rosario López

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longer ‘lived’ experience, as the void rejects organic life from its emptiness, while subject and object also collapse into its present-absence. We gaze into the dark interior of the hut, and as we do so our gaze and the hut become nothing, the expression of (but we see, it has also been constructed by) a force that a-voids subjective and objective existence. Abismo in this sense

offers a meditation on death. Its dead landscape, its empty hut, its sculptural impressions of the void all attest to an absence of life. Much like Smithson’s lifelong concern with entropy, Abismo seems to express the unavoidable advance of the de-differentiated void. But here we must be careful to refuse too metaphorical (an so too easy) a reading that sentimentalises the work and reduces it to a cliché. The sensation of the void the work produces is not a dead-end, for in embodying this invisible force it makes it visible, allowing it to emerge from the subjective horror of a nihilistic negation to take on, as Deleuze puts it, ‘the powers of the future.’9 López’s work is close to Francis Bacon’s The Artistic Cartography of Sensation

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here, close to his remark – a remark Deleuze loved to repeat – that his work was cerebrally pessimistic but nervously optimistic, because even in the face of death, and perhaps even especially in the face of death, art invoked a life – a living body of sensation – that could confront and even combat death. It is worth quoting Deleuze at some length here: When, like a wrestler, the visible body confronts the powers of the invisible, it gives them no other visibility than its own. It is within this visibility that the body actively struggles, affirming the possibility of triumphing, which was beyond its reach as long as these powers remained invisible, hidden in a spectacle that sapped our strength and diverted us. It is as if combat had now become possible. The struggle with the shadow is

the only real struggle. When the visual sensation confronts the invisible force that conditions it, it releases a force that is capable of vanquishing the invisible force, or even befriending it.

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Life screams at death, but death is no longer this all-too-visible thing that makes us faint; it is this invisible force that life detects, flushes out, and makes visible through the scream. Death is judged from the point of view of life, and not the reverse, as we like to believe.10

What Deleuze is describing is nothing less than ‘political art’, but it is a politics that serves no power other than that of the future, the power that combats the force of the void by embracing it, by giving it a new life through art. In Abismo this re-animation of the void achieves an explicitly political effect. The very substance of the work gives a body and a sensation to the void-in-the-desert, a void inscribed by the global arcs of capital and their capricious exploitation of the developing world. But this is not, as is obvious from the work, a didactic, programmatic form of political art. Rather the work offers autonomous and aesthetic resistance through its undetermined and auto-poietic

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production of sensations, their unquantifiable proliferation being the only possible local response to global capital’s calculation of profit. This is the precise meaning of Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘minor’ politics. Not only is it a politics of a local and perhaps miniscule minority, but its ambition and effects are also minor, simply an art work, an installation, but a production nevertheless capable of breaking with the cliché (and what greater cliché is there than death?) to produce something new, a kind of qualitative and aesthetic ‘surplus-value’. This is the political urgency of Deleuze’s call for a new ‘faith’ in life, it is a belief in the power of aesthetic creation as an expression – an expression that is also a new construction – of the forces of life up to and including death.11 Here, López is involved in what Deleuze called ‘inventing new possibilities of life that depend on death, on our relation to death: existing not as a subject but as a work of art.’12 This vital aesthetic power, in the spirit of Nietzsche, goes beyond our humanity, offering a politics of the future, one conThree Recent works by Rosario López

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temporary capital and its society of the spectacle does everything to prevent.13 As a result ‘minor’ politics is in no way triumphalist, and as Deleuze and Guattari warn in their final book: ‘It may be that believing in this world, in this life, becomes our most difficult task, or the task of a mode of existence still to be discovered on our plane of existence today.’14 White Fence marks a development in López’s diagram, inasmuch as it deals with an ambiguous force that has two distinct aspects. This can be seen in the photographs of the Perito Moreno glacier, which advances over a lake to form a natural dam when it reaches the opposite shore. As a result, water on one side of the glacier can rise by up to 30 meters above the level of the main lake. The enormous pressure

produced by this mass of water finally breaks through the ice barrier holding it back in a spectacular ‘rupture event’.15 This force of dam/rupture is expressed very precisely by López, first of all in the photos, three of The Artistic Cartography of Sensation

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which show the glacier as it extends into the lake, the last image showing its disintegration, as well as in the exhibition’s installation element, whose long wall of ice-like fragments foregrounds the glacier’s structure of cracks. The crack (dam / rupture) is both what constitutes the glacier in its malleable process of constitution, a series of micro-fissures allowing its advance into

the lake, and what allows for its sublime explosion as its wall ruptures and collapses. The crack therefore expresses the double force of cohesion and of chaos, and in this sense it is tempting to find in the installation of plastic bags filled with white powder a meditation on Colombia’s ongoing experience of ‘narco-politics’. More significantly for us, however, is the work’s employment of a sublime sensation – expressing the rupture-event of the glacier – whose inhuman force seems to overwhelm our ability to experience it. Deleuze’s reading of Kant is helpful to us at this point. Deleuze argues that Kant explains ‘aesthetic comprehension’ as a mechanism of measure that emerges through a Three Recent works by Rosario López

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rhythmical comparison of smaller and larger. But as a result we can never measure this measure (it being entirely relative), a fact the aesthetic perception of the sublime (as a perception of the chaotic infinity of nature) forcefully demonstrates. Emerging from chaos, aesthetic comprehension is not determined by the syntheses of the imagination and the a priori categories of the understanding, but paradoxically grounds perception on its own abyss. As Deleuze writes, My whole structure of perception is in the process of exploding because we have seen that this whole perceptive synthesis found its foundation in aesthetic comprehension, which is to say the evaluation of rhythm. Here it’s as if this aesthetic comprehension, as evaluation of a rhythm that would serve as a foundation of measure, thus the synthesis of perception, is compromised, drowned in a chaos. The sublime.16

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This point fascinates Deleuze, and it forms a crucial element of his aesthetics, because it implies human perception is grounded on an inhuman and sublime chaos. In the sublime sensation the chaos of nature is revealed, a nature that no longer obeys the same rules as perception, as in the experience of the beautiful, but instead ungrounds the faculties that de-

termine our humanity. In the sublime, Deleuze argues, an inhuman sensation (or better, an overwhelming and so anti-human force) emerges as the ground of our perception, an ambiguity worthy of White Fence’s crack. Indeed, both Deleuze’s sublime and the cracks constituting White Fence do not oppose coherence or perception to chaos, instead they posit the forces of chaos and consistency as being ontologically inseparable within the sensation, and suggest that it is only by passing beyond human perception that we might be able to inhabit this crack as a work of art. As Deleuze suggests: ‘Any work of art points a way through for life, finds a way through the cracks.’17 The crack, actualised Three Recent works by Rosario López

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in White Fence between the photos on one side and the installation on the other, poses in its most dramatic and immediate form the problem López’s work has consistently addressed. How is it possible to express the forces of nature within the gallery space, and as a work of art? But White Fence pushes the answer to this question to its limit, producing a sensation of dam/ rupture that finds its only possible coherence in a sublime crack that runs through the very heart of human perception itself. Faced with nature’s infinite force, a force that coheres and chaoticises all at once, an utterly inhuman sensation is all that suffices, a sensation that expresses my ‘Crack-Up’. Seeming to embrace this moment, one coming in equal measure from Romanticism and F. Scott Fitzgerald, López succeeds in pushing her artistic cartography over the edge. She has

succeeded in actualising the genetic tension or difference between consistency and chaos, and in this way she has projected us into an inhuman world of sensation and schizophrenia, into the vital world of aesthetic Three Recent works by Rosario López

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force. Through the crack, as Deleuze and Guattari put it, ‘One has painted the world on oneself, not oneself on the world.’18

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(Endnotes) 1 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. p. 163. Translated by B. Massumi. (London: Athlone Press, 1987). In case this use of Deleuze and Guattari to approach López’s work is interpreted as an unwarranted imposition, I should point out is one López herself suggests in her essay ‘Insufflare, Sculpture as a space for movement’, published in the catalogue Insufflare, La escultura como un espacio de movimiento. (Bogotá: National University of Colombia, 2007). 2 In this sense López’s work clearly follows what Deleuze calls the ‘common problem’ of the arts: ‘In art, and in painting as in music, it is not a matter of reproducing or inventing forms, but of capturing forces.’ Her artistic cartography aims, as Deleuze puts it, ‘to render visible forces that are not themselves visible.’ Gilles Deleuze’s, Francis Bacon, The Logic of Sensation. p. 56. Translated by D. W. Smith. (London: Continuum, 2003). In thinking about the relations between López’s work and Deleuze’s philosophy I have also been influenced by Juan Fernando Mejia Mosquera’s beautiful text ‘Soft Structures, What Do We Think About When We Speak About Structures?’ in Insufflare, La escultura como un espacio de movimiento. 3 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, ‘Eye and Mind’, The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting. p. 128 and 129. Edited by G. A. Johnson. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1993)

4 Robert Morris, ‘Notes on Sculpture, Parts 1-3’ (1966-7), Continuous Project Altered Daily: The Writings of Robert Morris. p. 19. (Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press, 1994).

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5

Robert Morris, Continuous Project Altered Daily, p. 6.

6 For a more detailed account of the necessity of moving beyond the phenomenological framework of Minimalism see my ‘Deleuze, Guattari and Contemporary Art’, in Gilles Deleuze: Image and Text. Edited by E. W. Holland, D. W. Smith and C. J. Stivale. (London: Continuum, forthcoming 2009). For more on Smithson’s ‘post-Structuralism’ see my ‘Eco-Aesthetics: Beyond Structure in the work of Robert Smithson, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’, in Deleuze/Guattari and Ecology. Edited by B. Herzogenrath. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). 7 See, Rosario López, ‘Insufflare, Sculpture as a space for movement’, in Insufflare, La escultura como un espacio de movimiento. 8 Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon, Logic of Sensation, p. 116. Perhaps López here shows how contemporary art can move beyond the strict Bergsonism of Deleuze’s oft repeated rejection of photography. See, for example, Francis Bacon, Logic of Sensation, p. 115. 9

Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon, Logic of Sensation, p. 61-2.

10

Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon, Logic of Sensation, p. 62.

11 See, Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2, The Time-Image, p. 170-72. Translated by H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989). 12

Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations, 1972 – 1990. p. 92. Translated by

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M. Joughin. (New York: Columbia University press, 1995). 13 Deleuze clearly breaks with Debord at this point, he places art against, rather than as complicit with, the society of the spectacle. 14 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, p. 75. Translated by H. Tomlinson and G. Burchell. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994). 15

This term and the information about the Perito Moreno

glacier come from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perito_ Moreno_Glacier 16 Gilles Deleuze, Third Lesson on Kant, 28 March 1978. http://www.webdeleuze.com/php/sommaire.html 17

Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations, 1972 – 1990. p. 143.

18 This comes from their discussion of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novella ‘The Crack-Up’ in A Thousand Plateaus. p. 200.

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The Artistic Cartography of Sensation:

Three Recent works by Rosario López. Stephen Zepke

When we speak of the cartography of art, or of an artistic cartography, we are not talking about the representation of a landscape that is taken as given. An artistic cartography, as French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari tell us, is ‘not just a map of geography.’1 Instead, an artistic cartography is a map of relations, relations that constitute a topography of the invisible forces that animate it, and that art expresses in a sensation. Artistic cartography is therefore active, opening and closing relations as it grasps hold of and unleashes forces and their sensations. In this way an artistic cartography creates a body of sensation, a body that is strictly speaking neither an object (art work) nor a subject

(its experience), but is an actualisation of force that encompasses both work and viewer, emerging according to its local conditions. To explore this body of sensation is our contemporary task, a task at once political, philosophical and aesthetic, for it demands of

38


thought and art that they bring something new into the world, and so transforms our being into a becoming. An artistic cartography is therefore a topography of the future, a diagram for producing the new, one that we can, always in our own way, follow. The question of course, is how? To answer this question I’d like to examine three recent exhibitions by the Colombian artist Rosario López, whose artistic cartography engages forces found in nature, and uses them to produce a startling new body through the production of inhuman sensations. Rosario López’s recent work contains two consistent elements; large photographs of the landscape that are combined with objects within a gallery installation. The photographs are all quite abstract, revealing landscapes that are dramatically flat and whose horizons cleanly bisect the image. These pictures show us the desert-like Trébol beach in Peru (part of Abismo, an installation shown at the Venice Biennale in 2007 but originally made and exhibited in 2005), the flat French farmland of Marnay, near Paris (in Insufflare, a project from 2007), and the icy isolation of the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina (from White Fence, an exhibition from 2008). But the stark abstraction of these photographs is only a framework through which something else emerges, for puncturing each horizontal line is a force. In Abismo small huts built by the local people are scattered across the beach, an impoverished occupation aimed at gaining employment from the multinational energy concern that The Artistic Cartography of Sensation

39


was rumoured to be buying the area. This concern, upon learning the area was occupied decided to avoid legal problems, and took their money elsewhere. The flat-lined horizon seems sucked into this void created by contemporary capitalism, as if the enormous ‘liquidity’ of corporate capitalism suddenly drained the landscape of life, leaving only fragile monuments to its empty cruelty. The French countryside of Insufflare, while no less horizontal, is a picture of plenitude, blush with agricultural abundance. Here nature is well ordered and economically productive. But in its midst erupts a chaotic gust of fabric, a silver bird whose flight expresses the invisible force of the wind, and when photographed produces a moment of its movement as a sculpture. Finally, the Argentinean glacier in White Fence at first seems impenetrable, as if the horizon line had suddenly expanded to a great height whose inexorable and overwhelming solidity was bearing down on us, a monumental freezing. Everything here seems under pressure and about to rupture, presenting us with a cataclysmic crack, a horror of disintegration, but also a release, a relief, a way forward. This then is the map of Rosario López’s photographs: the reduction of the landscape to a horizontal, and the eruption of a force within it. But as well as appearing in the photos this cartography of force also organises the other element of López’s work, its installation. There, in Three Recent works by Rosario López

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the midst of the gallery space, the forces that disturb the photograph’s horizontal stability erupt in all their reality. In Abismo a hut from the photographs is installed in the gallery, and peering into it we look into the void. In Insufflare crumpled silver fabric suspended from the ceiling softly crackles and moves in the warm air gusting from the heaters placed beneath it, and as we circulate in the gallery we feel and hear this wind. In White fence we are confronted by small bags filled with white powder and placed in rows along the length of one wall, suggesting a wall of ice descending upon us. This wall reveals both the ice’s overwhelming force and its fragility, its insistent advance and its infinite cracking. López’s artistic cartography is therefore completed by this installation element, an element that actualizes the force that appears in the photographs in a sensation. Together – or perhaps better between – the photographs and the installation a rhythmical movement is produced. López’s work is a mapping of these diastolic and systolic movements, a rhythm that composes into a single artistic landscape her far-flung trips into nature and her return to the gallery. This is a landscape of allotropic forces; forces whose rhythmical manifestation in both distended (landscape) and contracted forms (gallery) construct a dispersed body of sensation. López’s work both expresses and is constructed by this artistic cartography, this set of relations transforming invisible forces into their material expression, into sensations or works of art. In López’s work nature is installed, its forces are no longer absent in and as their representation, but are experienced as real. This is The Artistic Cartography of Sensation

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a new horizon for art, one where invisible but real forces construct sensations that, as we shall see, go beyond the human, all too human.2 In this sense, López’s work offers a cartography of forces, a map that does not describe who or where we are but projects us onto a line of becoming. But in order to understand López’s artistic cartography we must also know a little about where it comes from, about what tools it uses, and about how it transforms these tools before finally passing beyond them. Two of the most important forerunners to López’s work are Minimalism’s privileging of the installation’s phenomenological ‘experience’ over its ‘objects’, and the Land art of Robert Smithson. Indeed on first viewing the installation elements in López’s work; the hut, the heaters and foil, and the wall of ice, seem to produce what phenomenology called ‘lived experience’. Both Phenomenology and Minimalism attempted to reveal this experience as the ‘entwining’ (as Merleau-Ponty put it) of subject and object, as their necessary immanence. But it did so only by appealing to transcendental guarantors of this experience, called ‘gestalts’ [Gestalten], which provided lived experience with what Merleau-Ponty called its ‘diagram’, a diagram that acted as ‘the metaphysical structure of our flesh.’3 The gestalts that interested minimalist artists were the form/ground relation and the abstract figures of square, rectangle and circle. These gestalts were revealed in the experience of the installation, an experience that produced Three Recent works by Rosario López

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an ‘expanded object’ encompassing the subject and object in spatiotemporal relationships that included the art work, viewer, gallery space, light, force and so on, as they unfolded in real time and composed a new body. This lived experience, as Robert Morris argued, worked ‘to eliminate the viewer to the degree that these details pull him into an intimate relation with the work.’4 Drawing on Merleau-Ponty, Morris argued that this ‘intimacy’ revealed the presence of gestalts as ‘those aspects of apprehension that are not coexistent with the visual field but rather the result of the experience of the visual field.’5 Both Phenomenology and Minimalism explored empirical experience as the incarnation of an abstract diagram (the gestalts) that transcended it, but inasmuch as it was ‘the result of ’ experience this diagram remained immanent to human subjectivity. López’s installations clearly follow the minimalist introduction of an ‘expanded practice’, but her diagram does not trace a transcendental (human) subjectivity as the condition of experience, but instead constructs expanded sensations of forces that traverse both nature and the gallery in an asubjective cartography of becoming. Here López’s work does something that Minimalism could not, and that is to transform the gallery space and the art within it into an expression and construction of nature. To create an aesthetic expression of the forces of nature is, of course, precisely what Robert Smithson did, when he abandoned the gallery to make art in the desert. López however, attempts the return journey by using the The Artistic Cartography of Sensation

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forces of nature – as Smithson so effectively did in Spiral Jetty – within the gallery space. In this way López is able to move beyond Smithson’s structural aporia of nature (site) and its representation (non-site), just as it moves the aesthetics of artistic cartography beyond Smithson’s dependence upon the iconography of maps and quasi-museological displays. The real forces of nature are no longer outside the isolated white cube, but rather enter the gallery and open it out, making it one pole of an expanded body of sensation. This body is not an object of experience, nor does it incarnate the transcendental gestalts grounding subjective experience. Instead, the body emerges (and does not stop emerging) along the autopoietic vectors of sensation, sensations that express the autonomous and rhythmical movements of force as these congeal and gain consistency. The body has become the landscape mapped out by an artistic cartography. As the references to Minimalism and the work of Robert Smithson suggest, the cartography of force found in López’s work offers a clear direction for installation practices today, one that moves beyond both phenomenological interest in a transcendental subjectivity, and Structuralism’s insistence (which continually haunted Smithson’s work) upon the fundamental distinction between nature and its discursive representations.6 López’s work is not cartographical in a discursive sense, inasmuch as the mapping her work undertakes is not an objective process of Three Recent works by Rosario López

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documentation. She is concerned instead with the relation between the force, the landscape it inhabits and the sensation that actualises both force and landscape within (a within which is also outside) the gallery. Each element is inseparable from the others, and constitutes an aesthetic landscape that contains and transports, and finally unleashes the force that is its genetic impulse. Let’s look at Insufflare to see how this works. Here, the force the work captures is obvious: the wind. The photos show a square of reflective fabric taking flight, twisting and contorted it is propelled into movement, before coming to rest once more, a tangled mass lying momentarily still, as if exhausted. This fabric does not represent anything, it is not a signifier, but rather its convulsed figures express the wind in a material index that renders this invisible force visible. It is photography that allows this expression, freezing the movement of the fabric within its frame, solidifying it so that the image can take on a sculptural form, and the wind can attain a weight and substance. López’s insistence that photography plays a sculptural role in her work is important, because it defines an important break with the documentary role it had within conceptual and performance practices.7 López’s photographs do not document an event, nor do they provide a resemblance (whether as a symbol or representation) to the forces they capture. Rather they are manifestations of a force that utilise the technology of photography in order to produce a sensation. This sensation is a materialisation of the force, and in this sense has a sculptural rather than a photographic value. It is precisely this aspect The Artistic Cartography of Sensation

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that marks López’s inheritance from Smithson (the photo shows us an art work formed in and by nature), and her departure from him (the photo is itself, qua sculpture, the actualisation of a natural force in the gallery). As sculpture then, López’s photos attain the sensation through what Deleuze calls ‘aesthetic Analogy’. Here, the expression of the wind in the ‘sculptures’ is not conditioned by a pre-existing code as the resemblance between them is attained through direct contact. The sensation produced is thus an analogue expression of the force that created it, and maps out an expanded and abstract body encompassing the countryside of France and the gallery in Bogotá. This is the works artistic cartography. Deleuze’s description could have been written about López’s sculpture-photographs: ‘They establish an immediate connection between heterogeneous elements, they introduce a literally unlimited possibility of connection between these elements, on a field of presence or finite plane [i.e., the gallery space] whose moments are all actual and sensible.’8 In the gallery space we find another length of metallic fabric, this time suspended between floor and ceiling, while beneath heaters send soft warm billows of air up to meet it. If in the photos/sculptures the object seemed impossibly dynamic, a skin jumping out of itself, the effect of the installed fabric is almost the opposite. It seems about to fall, to crumple, to collapse, its material expressing the force of the wind in its most reduced and domesticated variant: hot air propelled by household heaters. We have come from the endless line of the Three Recent works by Rosario López

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countryside’s horizon, from the edge of the world, back to this small space, this small blow of air, this gentle heat. But this should not be thought of as a move from the sublime to the ridiculous. Instead, we should think the two spaces as modulated instances of the other, as two extremes of a continuum of air, a wind and a breath. And where are we to find ourselves in all of this? Blown away, of course. The rhythmic dilation and contraction of our wind-sensation animates a body no longer our own, a body borne by the wind, actualising a landscape of relations at once global and intimate. Abismo works in a very similar way. The gallery contains both a hut like those shown in the photographs, and small clay sculptures formed by pressing it into gaps in the rock littering the landscape. The gallery is therefore a container of containers within which a void expands and contracts into the microcosm of stones and the macrocosm of the urban fabric, constructing a sensation in which the art work is both beyond and beneath the limits of our experience. But what is ‘ours’ here, because the sensation of the void includes, by necessity, our absence? What is left is no longer ‘lived’ experience, as the void rejects organic life from its emptiness, while subject and object also collapse into its present-absence. We gaze into the dark interior of the hut, and as we do so our gaze and the hut become nothing, the expression of (but we see, it has also been constructed by) a force that a-voids subjective and objective existence. Abismo in this sense offers a meditation on death. Its dead landscape, its empty The Artistic Cartography of Sensation

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hut, its sculptural impressions of the void all attest to an absence of life. Much like Smithson’s lifelong concern with entropy, Abismo seems to express the unavoidable advance of the de-differentiated void. But here we must be careful to refuse too metaphorical (an so too easy) a reading that sentimentalises the work and reduces it to a cliché. The sensation of the void the work produces is not a dead-end, for in embodying this invisible force it makes it visible, allowing it to emerge from the subjective horror of a nihilistic negation to take on, as Deleuze puts it, ‘the powers of the future.’9 López’s work is close to Francis Bacon’s here, close to his remark – a remark Deleuze loved to repeat – that his work was cerebrally pessimistic but nervously optimistic, because even in the face of death, and perhaps even especially in the face of death, art invoked a life – a living body of sensation – that could confront and even combat death. It is worth quoting Deleuze at some length here: When, like a wrestler, the visible body confronts the powers of the invisible, it gives them no other visibility than its own. It is within this visibility that the body actively struggles, affirming the possibility of triumphing, which was beyond its reach as long as these powers remained invisible, hidden in a spectacle that sapped our strength and diverted us. It is as if combat had now become possible. The struggle with the shadow is the only real struggle. When the visual sensation confronts Three Recent works by Rosario López

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the invisible force that conditions it, it releases a force that is capable of vanquishing the invisible force, or even befriending it. Life screams at death, but death is no longer this all-too-visible thing that makes us faint; it is this invisible force that life detects, flushes out, and makes visible through the scream. Death is judged from the point of view of life, and not the reverse, as we like to believe.10 What Deleuze is describing is nothing less than ‘political art’, but it is a politics that serves no power other than that of the future, the power that combats the force of the void by embracing it, by giving it a new life through art. In Abismo this re-animation of the void achieves an explicitly political effect. The very substance of the work gives a body and a sensation to the void-in-the-desert, a void inscribed by the global arcs of capital and their capricious exploitation of the developing world. But this is not, as is obvious from the work, a didactic, programmatic form of political art. Rather the work offers autonomous and aesthetic resistance through its undetermined and auto-poietic production of sensations, their unquantifiable proliferation being the only possible local response to global capital’s calculation of profit. This is the precise meaning of Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘minor’ politics. Not only is it a politics of a local and perhaps miniscule minority, but its ambition and effects are also minor, simply an art work, an installation, but a production The Artistic Cartography of Sensation

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nevertheless capable of breaking with the cliché (and what greater cliché is there than death?) to produce something new, a kind of qualitative and aesthetic ‘surplus-value’. This is the political urgency of Deleuze’s call for a new ‘faith’ in life, it is a belief in the power of aesthetic creation as an expression – an expression that is also a new construction – of the forces of life up to and including death.11 Here, López is involved in what Deleuze called ‘inventing new possibilities of life that depend on death, on our relation to death: existing not as a subject but as a work of art.’12 This vital aesthetic power, in the spirit of Nietzsche, goes beyond our humanity, offering a politics of the future, one contemporary capital and its society of the spectacle does everything to prevent.13 As a result ‘minor’ politics is in no way triumphalist, and as Deleuze and Guattari warn in their final book: ‘It may be that believing in this world, in this life, becomes our most difficult task, or the task of a mode of existence still to be discovered on our plane of existence today.’14 White Fence marks a development in López’s diagram, inasmuch as it deals with an ambiguous force that has two distinct aspects. This can be seen in the photographs of the Perito Moreno glacier, which advances over a lake to form a natural dam when it reaches the opposite shore. As a result, water on one side of the glacier can rise by up to 30 meters above the level of the main lake. The enormous pressure produced by this mass of water finally breaks through the ice barrier holding it back in a spectacular ‘rupture Three Recent works by Rosario López

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event’.15 This force of dam/rupture is expressed very precisely by López, first of all in the photos, three of which show the glacier as it extends into the lake, the last image showing its disintegration, as well as in the exhibition’s installation element, whose long wall of ice-like fragments foregrounds the glacier’s structure of cracks. The crack (dam / rupture) is both what constitutes the glacier in its malleable process of constitution, a series of micro-fissures allowing its advance into the lake, and what allows for its sublime explosion as its wall ruptures and collapses. The crack therefore expresses the double force of cohesion and of chaos, and in this sense it is tempting to find in the installation of plastic bags filled with white powder a meditation on Colombia’s ongoing experience of ‘narco-politics’. More significantly for us, however, is the work’s employment of a sublime sensation – expressing the rupture-event of the glacier – whose inhuman force seems to overwhelm our ability to experience it. Deleuze’s reading of Kant is helpful to us at this point. Deleuze argues that Kant explains ‘aesthetic comprehension’ as a mechanism of measure that emerges through a rhythmical comparison of smaller and larger. But as a result we can never measure this measure (it being entirely relative), a fact the aesthetic perception of the sublime (as a perception of the chaotic infinity of nature) forcefully demonstrates. Emerging from chaos, aesthetic comprehension is not determined by the syntheses of the imagination and the a priori categories of the understanding, but paradoxically grounds perception on its own abyss. As Deleuze writes, The Artistic Cartography of Sensation

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My whole structure of perception is in the process of exploding because we have seen that this whole perceptive synthesis found its foundation in aesthetic comprehension, which is to say the evaluation of rhythm. Here it’s as if this aesthetic comprehension, as evaluation of a rhythm that would serve as a foundation of measure, thus the synthesis of perception, is compromised, drowned in a chaos. The sublime.16 This point fascinates Deleuze, and it forms a crucial element of his aesthetics, because it implies human perception is grounded on an inhuman and sublime chaos. In the sublime sensation the chaos of nature is revealed, a nature that no longer obeys the same rules as perception, as in the experience of the beautiful, but instead ungrounds the faculties that determine our humanity. In the sublime, Deleuze argues, an inhuman sensation (or better, an overwhelming and so anti-human force) emerges as the ground of our perception, an ambiguity worthy of White Fence’s crack. Indeed, both Deleuze’s sublime and the cracks constituting White Fence do not oppose coherence or perception to chaos, instead they posit the forces of chaos and consistency as being ontologically inseparable within the sensation, and suggest that it is only by passing beyond human perception that we might be able to inhabit this crack as a work of art. As Deleuze suggests: ‘Any work of art points a way through for life, finds a way through the cracks.’17 The crack, actualised in Three Recent works by Rosario López

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White Fence between the photos on one side and the installation on the other, poses in its most dramatic and immediate form the problem López’s work has consistently addressed. How is it possible to express the forces of nature within the gallery space, and as a work of art? But White Fence pushes the answer to this question to its limit, producing a sensation of dam/rupture that finds its only possible coherence in a sublime crack that runs through the very heart of human perception itself. Faced with nature’s infinite force, a force that coheres and chaoticises all at once, an utterly inhuman sensation is all that suffices, a sensation that expresses my ‘Crack-Up’. Seeming to embrace this moment, one coming in equal measure from Romanticism and F. Scott Fitzgerald, López succeeds in pushing her artistic cartography over the edge. She has succeeded in actualising the genetic tension or difference between consistency and chaos, and in this way she has projected us into an inhuman world of sensation and schizophrenia, into the vital world of aesthetic force. Through the crack, as Deleuze and Guattari put it, ‘One has painted the world on oneself, not oneself on the world.’18

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(Endnotes) 1 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. p. 163. Translated by B. Massumi. (London: Athlone Press, 1987). In case this use of Deleuze and Guattari to approach López’s work is interpreted as an unwarranted imposition, I should point out is one López herself

suggests in her essay ‘Insufflare, Sculpture as a space for movement’, published in the catalogue Insufflare, La escultura como un espacio de movimiento. (Bogotá: National University of Colombia, 2007).

2 In this sense López’s work clearly follows what Deleuze calls the ‘common problem’ of the arts: ‘In art, and in painting as in music, it is not a matter of reproducing or inventing forms, but of capturing forces.’ Her artistic cartography aims, as Deleuze puts it, ‘to render visible forces that are not themselves visible.’ Gilles Deleuze’s, Francis Bacon, The Logic of Sensation. p. 56. Translated by D. W. Smith. (London: Continuum, 2003). In thinking about the relations between López’s work and Deleuze’s philosophy I have also been influenced by Juan Fernando Mejia Mosquera’s beautiful text ‘Soft Structures, What Do We Think About When We Speak About Structures?’ in Insufflare, La escultura como un espacio de movimiento. 3 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, ‘Eye and Mind’, The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting. p. 128 and 129. Edited by G. A. Johnson. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1993) 4

Robert Morris, ‘Notes on Sculpture, Parts 1-3’ (1966-7),

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Continuous Project Altered Daily: The Writings of Robert Morris. p. 19. (Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press, 1994). 5

Robert Morris, Continuous Project Altered Daily, p. 6.

6 For a more detailed account of the necessity of moving beyond the phenomenological framework of Minimalism see my

‘Deleuze, Guattari and Contemporary Art’, in Gilles Deleuze: Image and Text. Edited by E. W. Holland, D. W. Smith and C. J. Stivale. (London: Continuum, forthcoming 2009). For more on Smithson’s ‘postStructuralism’ see my ‘Eco-Aesthetics: Beyond Structure in the work of Robert Smithson, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’, in Deleuze/ Guattari and Ecology. Edited by B. Herzogenrath. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). 7 See, Rosario López, ‘Insufflare, Sculpture as a space for movement’, in Insufflare, La escultura como un espacio de movimiento. 8 Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon, Logic of Sensation, p. 116. Perhaps López here shows how contemporary art can move beyond the strict Bergsonism of Deleuze’s oft repeated rejection of photography. See, for example, Francis Bacon, Logic of Sensation, p. 115.

9

Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon, Logic of Sensation, p. 61-2.

10

Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon, Logic of Sensation, p. 62.

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11

See, Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2, The Time-Image, p. 170-72.

12

Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations, 1972 – 1990. p. 92. Translated

Translated by H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989).

by M. Joughin. (New York: Columbia University press, 1995).

13 Deleuze clearly breaks with Debord at this point, he places art against, rather than as complicit with, the society of the spectacle. 14

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, p. 75. Translated by H. Tomlinson and G. Burchell. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994). 15 This term and the information about the Perito Moreno glacier come from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perito_ Moreno_Glacier 16 Gilles Deleuze, Third Lesson on Kant, 28 March 1978. http://www.webdeleuze.com/php/sommaire.html 17

Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations, 1972 – 1990. p. 143.

18 This comes from their discussion of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novella ‘The Crack-Up’ in A Thousand Plateaus. p. 200.

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Rosario L贸pez 2008


White Fence - Rosario Lopez