January 27

After the introduction, Pablo Rojas, a young social scientist, uses various concepts involving grace and applies them to the making of music, the making of musical instruments, and to the final performance where player, score, instrument come together in what he calls a “reprise” of study and play. Then, various interrelated figures emerge from the Actor group to respond: (a) Castiglione’s aristocratic Veiler who moves with elegant sprezzatura, a moving without thinking, “senza pensarvi”; (b) Samuel Butler’s workman who “knows without knowing that he knows”, who first turns into the character of The Forger, then into its more extreme form of The Dwarf, the crooked maker, who switches between heavy-duty labor and the lightness of dance; (c) Firenzuola’s Aglaia, the shining figure of the gift, who embodies another form of not-knowing, that “certain je ne sais quoi” where the parts radiate from the whole in a glowing blur. These three levels of knowing/not-knowing touch upon the stark ambiguities that we will encounter throughout the exploration of the grace machine.

February 10

This seminar starts, after a short introduction, with a mind-boggling presentation by Sabri Gökmen on the so-called “torso-limb index” that is derived from Goethe’s morphological studies into the animal and vegetal domains. Plant forms consist of a rhythmic alternation between expansion and contraction distributed over its various parts. Similarly, animals consist of a specific rhythmic set of proportions, yet in opposition to plants, enabling them to move. These rhythms are in fact scriptable with digital tools, allowing us to understand Goethe’s principles on a highly technical level, and extend them to the mineral realm of architectural volumes. The figural responses that follow, vary between two poles: the Chest figure and the Cyborg. The Chest shows a maximum contraction that ends up in a pure torso, corresponding to the passion of thymos as discussed by Fukuyama, the spherology of Sloterdijk, and Bachelard’s Dasein ist rund, “Being is round”. On the other hand, the Cyborg consists of an extended-limb figure, which brings about the change of consciousness that we encounter in various automata such as Ballard’s figure of Gloria and of Hofmann’s Olympia. This figure is accompanied by that of the so-called StiltMen with extremely elongated legs or arms that populate a variety of strange worlds. In between stands the armless statue of the Venus de Milo, half nude, half draped, who leads us again into two possible directions: one where stance determines the shape of the figure and the other where drapery dominates.

February 24

A seminar that dealt with notions of jumping, diving, hammering, and the rhythms of form. Hayri Dortdivanlioglu talks about his research on Vitruvian theory and the powerful roles rhythm and eurhythmia play in it. Unexpectedly, pliability is essential to the transitions between the various principles governing the shape and position of architectural elements, both of the elements themselves and of the spaces between them. After intense discussion on the nature of movement, change and form, a wide range of figures responds to these ideas. The Dwarf reveals strong Norse connections, not only as the forger of hammers but of song as well, extending its percussive rhythms to poetry. The Jackhammer expands on the role of rhythm, especially how it determines different figures of diving. We then meet the Flea-Flicker, as rhythmic as the Forger but also as crooked, using a range of tricks and feints involved in jumping. The highest jumps, however, are reserved for the Transducer, who is as much an internal jumper as an external one, exemplified by the incredible land-divers from Pentecost Island, who jump from great heights to induce internal transformation. The session ends with a beautiful expansion on the figures of radiance, introducing us to the Cosmic Dancer, Nataraja, dancing the rhythms of the cosmos.

March 10

In this fourth event we are discussing the strange, but fundamental link between ornament and automata, the main occupational outcomes of the mythological smithgod Hephaestus. How is it possible that these two are linked? For the Grace Machine this is not even a question, since grace directly links movement and object via radiance. Ornate things come toward us, self-moving things make us marvel. Marisabel Marratt presents her research into the work of Gilbert Simondon who created a wide-ranging philosophy of technics that understood technical objects as deeply embedded in human culture, at some point relating them directly to aesthetic objects. This step allowed him to speculate on a “phanero-technics” and even on “technophany”, where technical objects not only do the work they have been made for, but make the extra effort to appear and present themselves. Such appearing involves a necessary sidestep, a displacement, which allows them to evolve in many, not merely technical directions. In response to these arguments, the figures keep on flourishing. The Crab and the Seal split robotics between them in a limb-type and a torso-type. The Stiltmen have now become a dancing Crane, while the Cosmic Dancer has branched off into the tree nymph Shalabhanji, whose feet and hands dance their own dance. Not unexpectedly, the Dwarf turns into a Puppet, who reflects a dark image back to the puppeteer, and in the middle Hephaestus tries to structure the whole stage of figures: on the one hand robotics, on the other radiant things.

March 31

For the fifth event we started to focus more and more on the construction of figures and the Grace Atlas as we have been developing it since the early stages of the seminar. In contrast to previous events will haven’t added an extra expert in between the central figure and the development of new figures. We linked the recorded lectures on the figure of Floating directly to a range of new figures. The seminar starts with an extensive recapitulation of the lectures by explaining the unusual route they take from early media theory to the Surrealist interpretations of Art Nouveau. Samuel Butler’s prosthetic analysis of technology is expanded first to the feedback loops of Gregory Bateson to then being reshaped by an asymmetry of both a prosthetic and mimetic nature. Doing so we bring consciousness into the argument, which is taken all the way through McLuhan’s analysis of electrical light, Virilio’s picnolepsy and Flusser’s Vampyroteuthis Infernalis. It is here that we arrive at our central figure of the Octopus, which according to André Breton had the same function for Art Nouveau, a world of submergence and the subconscious. It’s now the relation between soft and hard that starts to define the figures as well as their relation to light, radiance and color. We see a range of figures pass by: the soft robot Gloria from Ballard’s Stellavista story; Olympia, the hard robot, used by Walter Benjamin to diagnose Art Nouveau; Lucy, from “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, who structures our ongoing obsession with halos into a liquid and crystalline side; and then the softest of all our figures, the Octopus, who is presented by a multi-limbed and a multi-colored fourfold, dazzling us with a massive array of attributes and thoughts.

April 14

For the final event we invited three critics to respond to the construction of the Grace Atlas: Vera Bühlmann from the Technical University of Vienna, Rick Dolphijn from the University of Utrecht, and Robert Rosenberger from Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College. Considering the fact that all three are deeply involved in researching the intersection of matter, appearances and technology, their expertise offers special insights into the problems of figuration. What is a figure? Can it be mapped? And if so, can several such mappings cohere into what we have called a Grace Atlas? And what is an atlas anyway, how does it differ from a board or a chart? For us figures are mechanical devices. That is, though they are structured they do not obtain their stability because of this structure but because of the movement it facilitates. Their way of working is that of internally mixing images either by rotation, or by alternated flickering, or a jumping back and forth, either by jittering or a smooth sliding. These are chiastic machines, symmetrical in build, asymmetrical in action. To study the internal structure of figures and the external linkages between them we present a variety of figures. First, Lucy, whose array of halos forms a spine that organizes a wide variety of aesthetic applications of radiance. Then the Chest, a figure looping the contraction onto itself with prosthetic expansion, linking it directly to the forge of the Dwarf Hephaestus, who alternates between embellishment and robotics. At this point we encounter Gloria again, the soft mirror of inhabitation who transforms us into the Cyborg, who again doubles the prosthetic of technology by the mimetic of the Doppelgänger, and doing so, immediately opens up the route to the Forger. We end the discussion with the presentation of three massive figures, Aglaia, Nataraja the Cosmic Dancer, and the Octopus, each constructed by a Cross Potent with highly articulated arms that can only be understood by chiastic switching and rotation.