The Age of Silence

A prelude to 'a conversation (with) touch'...

"The first language humans had was gestures. There was nothing primitive about this language that flowed from peoples hands, nothing we say now that could not be said in the endless array of movements possible with the fine bones of the fingers and wrists. The gestures were complex and subtle, involving a delicacy of motion that has since been lost completely.
During the Age of Silence, people communicated more, not less. Basic survival demanded that the hands were almost never still, and so it was only during sleep (and sometimes not even then) that people were not saying something or other. No distinction was made between the gestures of language and the gestures of life. The labour of building a house, say, or preparing a meal was no less an expression than making a sign for I love you or I feel serious. When a hand was used to shield one's face when frightened by a loud noise something was being said, and when fingers were used to pick up what someone else had dropped something was being said; and even when the hands were at rest, that, too, was saying something. Naturally, there were misunderstandings. There were times when a finger might have been lifted to scratch a nose, and if casual eye contact was made with one's lover just then, the lover might accidentally take it be a gesture, not all dissimilar, for Now I realise I was wrong to love you. These mistakes were heart breaking. And yet, because people knew how easily they could happen, because they didn't go around with the illusion that they understood perfectly the things other people said, they were used to interrupting each other to ask if they'd understood correctly.
Sometimes these misunderstanding were even desirable, since they gave people a reason to say, Forgive me, I was only scratching my nose. Of coarse I know I've always been right to love you. Because of the frequency of these mistakes, over time the gesture for asking for forgiveness evolved into the simplest from. Just to open your palm was to say: Forgive me.

Aside from one exception, almost no record exists of this first language. The exception, on which all knowledge of the subject is based, is a collection of seventy-nine fossil gestures, prints of human hands frozen in midsentence and housed in a small museum in Buenos Aires. One holds the gesture for Sometimes when the rain, another for After all these years, another for Was I wrong to love you? They were found in Morocco in 1903 by Argentine doctor named Antonio de Biedma. He was hiking in the High Atlas Mountains when he discovered the cave where the seventy-nine gestures were pressed into the shale. He studied them for years without getting any closer to understanding, until one day, already suffering the fever of the dysentery that would kill him, he suddenly found himself able to decipher the meanings of the delicate motions of fist and finger trapped in stone. Soon afterwards he was taken to hospital in Fez, and as he lay dying his hands moved like birds forming a thousand gestures, dormant all those years.

If at large gatherings or parties, or around people with whom your feel distant, your hands sometimes hang awkwardly at the ends of your arms - if your find yourself at a loss for what to do with them, overcome with sadness that comes when you recognise the foreignness of your own body - its because your hands remember a time when division between mind and body, brain and heart, what's inside and what's outside, was so much less.

It's not that we've forgotten the language of gestures entirely. The habit of moving our hands while we speak is left over from it. Clapping, pointing, giving the thumbs-up: all artifacts of ancient gestures. Holding hands, for example, is a way to remember how it feels to say nothing together. And at night, when it's too dark to see, we find it necessary to gesture on each other's bodies to make ourselves understood."

Written by Nicole Krauss in The History of Love.


MAKE (a compliment) WITH (twigs)

This exercise more or less turned into 'making-words-with-sticks'. Which more or less evolved into 'making-words-with-sticks-and-putting-them-back-up-trees'. Which, in essence, is still in keeping with the notion of a compliment. A compliment being something that you give. It is often encouraging, uplifting, insightful, positive, purposeful or personal.

As such, who would benefit or be complimented by a bunch of sticks more than the tree itself?

It is a way of 'giving back' part of what you have taken, of saying 'thanks'. (?) Not only that, it also speaks of the balance between consumption and production - a concept that is so heavily ingrained in my current thinking that it keeps manifesting itself through everything I do. It is this balance between 'having' and 'doing', 'using' and 'replenishing', 'taking' and 'giving'. I think we all need to be more aware of these consuming energies in our lives, or at least that's what I was personally reminded of whilst doing this exercise.

The act of a twig-making-compliment meant that it became a type of 'reflective conversation with the situation'(1), where the results appeared to 'talk-back' and a dialogue between medium and message became the focus of the inquiry. One could not ignore what the situation of 'making' was saying about the materials being used, and what the materials alone, were saying about the situation.

As the essence of this inquiry is to look precisely at how we look, how we find and how we use information and knowledge in and through the design process; my thinking has to be both backwards and forward moving in the same moment. Being both productive and reflective in equal amounts. In this case, it was the notion of 'taking' and 'giving' that informed the reflective theories generated from the twig-making-compliment exercise.

I use the word 'rekindling' to illustrate this process:

The sticks were discarded from the tree.
The sticks were taken from the environment directly surrounding.
Their natural structure then became the medium in which letters were generated, a simple re-purposing.
Letters were joined to form the greater context of a word, being smaller parts of a bigger whole.
The words in this same way, collaborated to form a sentence.

The medium we are still working with is language, words, linguistics, common symbols, shapes that can be read. The sticks are the tangible material of this language. And so the exercise becomes less about the words and more about what the words mean when they come in the form of another object. What the material, in itself, is saying.

This is the essence of a metaphor: using the qualities of something else to describe or gain insight into a more intangible concept. Using metaphor as a way of entering a subject.

The sticks were items 'taken' from the world.
                                                                                              A compliment is something you 'give'. 
                                                                                              To give back something you have taken,   

                                  except in a different state from what it was originally, is design.

The twigs were then left in the tree, re-kindled and re-purposed.

(1) Schon,D, The Reflective Practitioner, Chapter 3 - 'Design as a Reflective Conversation with the Situation'.


Make / With

 "A mans power to connect his thought with its proper symbol, and so utter it." R.W.E

Make/ With is the first of a series of 'doings'. Generating modes of entering, engaging and responding to theory, it becomes a way of mediating by way of making. A way of looking both inwards and outwards simultaneously by engaging with both tangible and intangible worlds.

The world of appearances, materials, symbols, things,
                                                                                       the world in which we,
                                                                        as intangible beings,

And the world of thought,
                            feelings and attractions, instincts and nuances.
                                                                                                And how the two feed into one another.
We use the outer/ exterior world to embellish and articulate the invisible laws that construct the essence of life. Or rather, the intangible becomes tangible through the manifestation of an embodied symbol. We use this materiality to converse with, to engage with the spiritual truths that inform the appearance of life.
The world is but a language.

"It is not only words that emblematic; it is Things which are emblematic.

Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact. Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of mind, and that state of mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture.

An enraged man is a lion, a cunning man is a fox, a firm man is a rock, and a learned man a torch. A lamb is innocence; a snake is subtle spite; and flowers express to us delicate affections... Man is an analogist, as he studies relations in all objects." Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays on Language and Nature, 1836

Using this study of relations between material facts and symbolic facts, the exercise unfolds as follows.

- Draw up a list of intangible concepts or ideas (for e.g. Purity). This must be autonomous, flowing freely from your immediate memory.
- Draw up another list alongside the first intangibles, quickly using simple associative linkages, list a tangible material that could be used to metaphorically represent/ reproduce these ideas or concepts in more concrete form ( for e.g. Purity = the colour white).
- Cut up one of the lists and place the ingredients in the box of chance.
- Draw out one tangible per intangible. Place the words alongside one another, creating a new list of pairs. They will/ should be completely dissociated, the more awkward the better.
- Select a handful and attempt to make (the intangible) with (the tangible).

P.s. I would absolutely LOVE it if anyone had the time to do Make/ With. It would be really interesting to see a variety of responses to this exercise. Please contact me if you want to participate and I'll send you a tangible/ intangible to make... x


For Rose: On wearing a sense of 'self'

Read the red. Hope you can make sense of it. Let me know if my scrawlings are impossible to interpret. x