Haiku, Zen, and Deleuze. A Metaphysics of the surface.

Marc Samper.

Fresh A.I.R Residency Exhibition: “The Hanging gardens or the virtuality of the events. Haiku on screen”. Berlin. March 2021.



The starting point of the project relied on transporting the parameters of the Haiku poetry to the video creation. First of all that implied a formal approach, based on the creation of micro-films of 2 to 4 shots and 15 to 30 seconds, catching brief glimpses of life in Berlin in different environments.

Following this, but, and in order to produce the pieces of this installation, it was more important to carry out a deconstruction of what Haiku is and to try to describe its internal dynamics, that certain intangibility and lightness of movement that Haiku captures.

The work focuses on two essential characteristics of Haiku, closely related to each other. First, Haiku tries to avoid further conceptual elaboration. It is the product of an intuition that responds more to a certain internal vibration than to a discursive chain. In fact, this intuition acts like a flash of lightning that cancels the discursive thought for an instant, creating an opening, a certain void.

Secondly, most haikus try to capture phenomena as if they are disappearing, as if they were drawing the appearance of this void, the wake of a brief singularity. Haiku is the product of the same type of paradoxical thinking that we find in Zen, which ultimately overrides language: Haiku is the cancellation of what happens, as it happens.

This connects the work with the other two influences that help shape the different pieces and how the images are displayed, as well as the design of the exhibition: the philosophy of Deleuze and a phenomenological approach to Zen.

The readings of Deleuze served as some kind of discursive tool to transfer the essence of Haiku to the parameters of the video and to help establish contact with the Haiku as a westerner. I found an important equivalence between the singularities that take place in Haiku and Deleuze's description of the events in “The Logic of Sense”.

An event is for Deleuze “the identity of the form and the void”, the minimum particle in the construction of sense: certain virtuality, something that has abandoned the bodies that have produced it and presents itself in the surface of the matter, like a flash on a non-existent layer floating above reality. The event is, as the movements that Haiku describes, the evanescent double of the material world and the propositions of language. Like an image reflected in a non-material mirror.

Thus, the central object of this work is to try to reproduce in our videos this relationship between phenomena and nothingness, to present the events as something that expands in the void and does not correspond entirely to the devices that are reproducing them: the sense as something that is not entirely the images nor the screen, but something that it is in its surface, like in a fourth dimension that shines over them. This is accentuated in our installation by the use of mirrors, or magnifying glasses, p.ex.

Another way to reflect that will be by the use of old analogic TVs or VHS tapes. The events seem to be trapped and limited into that tube tv’s, like being into a cage. There is something very subtle, but, that scapes and flees out of the higher density of the boxes that contain it. This helps us to contrast that objects sedimented and detained and time, -allowing us to do certain archeology of time and technique-, with the open and volatile nature of the events. This “opening” is something that can happen at any moment over any matter or any accident of things and transcends them. And, precisely, this accident of things revealing a certain silence is what Haiku is all about. Furthermore, these old devices themselves are objects practically obsolete that soon won’t be able to fulfill their function. Exposed to time, they are also affected by some slow erosion: In the end, all objects of reality are connected to nothingness. Zen always sees things in a double exposure of being and not being, and these objects are precisely in a liminal state of being and not being functional.

And here is where the philosophy of Deleuze finds, -again-, the philosophy of zen, and gives us the tools to complete the video works and the installation.

As the tv boxes, language drags events out of that fluency in an immaterial medium and encapsulates them in signs, that ultimately divide the reality in the structure subject-objects and give a rational-abstract substance to the entities of reality, that appears to be essentially separate in respect to each other.

In zen, this is an illusion of empirical consciousness. There is no division nor opacity between the objects of the world, there is no barrier between things. Everything is reflected in everything, everything is transparent to everything, -the bridge flows, the mountain howls. Again, this is so because everything has its ultimate foundation in nothingness, that penetrates everything. Everything carries, simultaneously, its own negation. If the “substance” of every object or phenomena is the void, that means that every being could potentially contain everything, as it was a limitless sounding board. Every phenomenon is the ultimate product of the whole, that resonates within it.

The way nothingness works can be compared to a vibrational field in which slight friction brings out an event that is immediately communicated to the entire field. Not being determined by the laws of cause and effect that affect bodies, as an event expands throughout the field, the entire field contracts in the event. Again, each event reflects the totality of events.

Of course, to access the vision of that structure of reality there is a need for a total transformation of the own state of consciousness, a total displacement of the phenomenological structure with which one accesses the real. That instance is not accessible through an intellectual or conceptual effort, it can only be achieved through different practices related to meditation. In the end, what it is all about is to bring reality to such a paradox that it causes a kind of cognitive collapse. Language explodes, leaving an opening, an open door to an instance prior to it. Then the things of life come back, affirmed in his own true, open, transparent self.

In this exhibition, this vibrational quality is so important. The sound design is thought to progressively open the viewer's gaze in a certain way. Sound will be so important helping to create the place where images-events happen.

Thus, more than a conceptual approach, this exhibition tries to create the conditions to open a certain gaze, trying to cancel an intellectual approach in favor of a certain state that helps to focus on the images in an almost meditative state.

This way, the installation and how the things are displayed functions as a discursive orthopedic apparatus that guides towards images, having to disappear in the last instance, allowing the filmed event to flash over the surface, -where the sense takes place.

One of my concerns, when I was conceiving this project, was, how can we reintroduce a certain flash of transcendence into the massive presence of images of today’s “global mass media”? How can we break the circuit of distractive images, this continuous chatter of images?

The answer was in imitating their own ways: having in mind the imperative of brevity and today’s rapid consumption of images, the Haiku characteristics seemed a good way to infiltrate an image into this circuit and make it blow up, thus creating an opening, a transcendence, a way to jump out this inert flow of images.

In an age where the continuous dissemination of news, and the omnipresence of advertising messages, fight to colonize the affections and the cognitive flow of individuals, It is important to find interruption strategies, places of silence where original and really transformative thought can be produced. A Haiku, a place that cancels discursiveness, -that somehow creates a blank space for you to fill in-, it is an example of a brief form of art that can work as an “outdoor space” of the global mass media, redirecting you to the real under other parameters.

On the other hand, both Zen and Deleuze's philosophy, allowed me to start a study of an ontology that could work in a world where screens are omnipresent. That “Metaphysics of surface” of Deleuze, and the thought of virtuality that extends into the void, helped me to think of an instance where the appearance, the flash, of the sense was possible. In that frame of meaning, the screens themselves serve as an analogy of the real world itself. And as paradoxical as it may seem, they make the void, -nothingness-, serve as an antidote and overcome the nihilism that underlies some structures of the actual world and late capitalism.

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