In Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophical project, A Thousand Plateaus, the spatial theorists tease out the subtle relationship between striated and smooth space:
‘….the striated is that which intertwines fixed and variable elements, produces an order and succession of distinct forms, and organises horizontal melodic lines and vertical harmonic planes. The smooth is continuous variation, continuous development of form…. the pure act of the drawing of a diagonal across the vertical and the horizontal’ (1988: 528).
The philosophers are making more than the traditional distinction between nature and artifice. Using examples from music, literature and art, the navigation of the seas, the fine distinctions between felt, fabric, crochet and embroidery, they attempt to defeat binary thought and open up the conception of smooth space that is more about affect than optical, a space filled with intensive events. Importantly too, both types of space confront each other, and in a sense rely on each other, filling the world with an infinite variety of mixed formations, running in all directions.
Such a tiny glimpse gives no justice to a set of multifaceted ideas that disrupt familiar patterns of Western thought, but the spatial distinction that Deleuze and Guattari make came immediately to mind when reflecting on the diverse work that forms The Path That Runs Across (2014). The works, as a whole and individually, play with the relationship between these two types of space, starting with the production of what might be called ‘griddling’ places and experimenting with the pleasure of variation and smoothing out. What could be more striated than a close-up of the base of solid tree trunk, set in an urban environment, imprisoned by a square iron grate (Fixed framework -Noble Street/Gresham Street,2014)? The projected film negative amplifies the hexagonal pattern of the grate, repeated in other works through a rhythmic family network -grids, grilles, window frames, fences, screens, paving slabs – but also competing vectors - fissures, cracks, crevices, intervals and splits. To return to the book: ‘passages between the striated and the smooth are at once necessary and uncertain, and all the more disruptive’ (544). Some of the collages (Smithfield,2013 and Pathways, 2014) take up the rhythmic hexagonal pattern of the tree grate in movements that juxtapose and cut through windows, walls and paths, producing architectural abstractions. In these works, the straight lines, the dominant quadrilaterals, form gaps and passages, creating ‘closures that are openings’ to echo the epigraph to the exhibition.
Other work takes up the hexagonal gridding motif in sculptures from found objects. A carved tree branch bends to form something that might be between a warped giant cheese grater and an African musical string instrument, except the sculpture forms a balance rather than representing anything, turning a heavily striated object, through the addition of delicate diagonal lines, into something permeable and light(Imperfect Equilibrium, 2014). The process is found throughout the series: striated spaces providing possibilities of flight and smooth spaces endlessly organised. Grates in two dimensions hang against the wall offering associations with security and prison grids, constraint, enclosure as well as possible escape.
Each piece also provides dizzying connections with others in the exhibition. The sculptures throw out contrasts with the close-up of the grated tree trunk, forming what Deleuze and Guattari call rhizomes which, unlike trees and their roots, set ‘directions in motion’, generating an assemblage of endless connections that in their diversity and relationships engage and affect the viewer in the play of space, of spaces. The balance, the poise of a neutral space, is perhaps most simply expressed in photographs of leafy tree branches set against a rectangular frame and the open sky (Smithfield, 2013) , or the literal smoothing out, or rolling out, of a patchwork path across the floor before ascending a wall (Pathways installation, 2014).
Other works play with different biometric forms, including hexagonal honeycomb structures, to produce often abstracted architecture. Giclée paper collages and sequential photo-studies combine rather drab formal modernist housing structures with slabs of textured greenery (Pathways, 2014). Perhaps here, and elsewhere in the series, there is something of the Japanese aesthetic composition known as shin-gyõ-sõ which refers to three forms of calligraphy: formal block, informal rounded and cursive characters respectively. Reworking striated and smooth space, Shin refers to what is ‘correct’ and includes austere crafted or structured objects (e.g. cut granite paths, planed wood gates or plastered walls); Sõ refers to grass materials used in their natural state (e.g. stepping stones made from river rocks or lattice gates of woven bamboo); and Gyõ is the playful mixture of the two (see Keane, 2004 and Pilgrim, 1986).
And then we encounter the utterly different pink sea buoy (Lisière, 2014). The smooth, round ball, which is heavy but seems to radiate light, is placed on a square of astro turf. Where did the buoy come from? Why is it there? A series of small mirrors surround a corner of the lawn, reflecting the buoy and each other endlessly. For Deleuze and Guattari, the sea is the archetype of all smooth space, but the first to be organised. Apparently originating from East Anglican sea waters before traversing along a dry moat in Kent, this buoy is here arranged within another intimate landscape and then repeated, displaced, refracted and reflected openly: caught, abandoned and set free simultaneously in a journey across.
Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (2004) A Thousand Plateaus, London: Continuum.
Keane, M (2004) Japanese Garden Design, Boston: Tuttle Publishing.
Pilgrim, R. (1986) ‘Intervals (“Ma”) in Space and Time: Foundations for a Religio-Aesthetic Paradigm in Japan’, History of Religion, 25 (3): 255-277.