THE DIAGRAMMATIC

The diagram is a system for creating values; it is a ‘knowledge producing form’ rather than a ‘formal representation of knowledge’ (Drucker, 2013: 84). Not only do the different elements of the diagrammatic system intra-act, they ‘work’, they are operational in the working out of ideas, not representations after-the-fact (Drucker, 2013). While some diagrams may be used to reduce ambiguity and uncertainty in the presentation of data, they also offer a way of ‘making sense’ that does not conceal the messy entanglement of intersecting realities out of which sense is forged. Diagrams can be conventional, but they can also have a poetics, that is a way of ‘bringing into being of meaning through making’ (ibid.: 85).  

The difference between the diagram and the diagrammatic is not dissimilar to the difference between the map and the act of mapping. The diagrammatic is a system of meaning-making and a way of making-legible that combines visual, textual, spatial, organisational and affective operations. Diagrammatic thinking is primarily relational, a process that may result in a diagram, or not. The value-producing actions of the diagram often arise from the use of spatial logics - ‘hierarchy, juxtaposition, embedment, entanglement, enframing, interjection, branching, recursion, herniation, extension, penetration’ (Drucker, 2013: 85). The diagrammatic is closely connected to the choreographic; diagrams are a common component of choreographic processes. Systems of dance notation by Margaret Morris (1928), Rudolf Laban (1928), Oskar Schlemmer in the 1920’s, Anna and Lawrence Halprin (1970), and more recently Trisha Brown have all generated poetical, graphic forms, not all of which look like diagrams, but all of which are diagrammatic.

Diagrammatology refers to the academic study of diagrams (Stjernfelt, 2007), but the term was coined by W.J.T. Mitchell (1981) in an article on literary criticism, a call for a ‘systematic study of the way that relationships among elements are represented and interpreted by graphic constructions’ (Mitchell, 1981: 623).  For Mitchell, the diagram mediates form, an interface between an abstract ideal of form and its material instantiation (ibid.: 622). This is similar in some ways to Marina Vishmidt’s account of infrastructures as mediating between imagination and the material realm (2017). The diagram, in this sense, is approached as an infrastructural element in the critical politics of sense-making operational in this research. Like other strategies discussed here, the diagram exists in a push-pull relationship between sensing and sense-making. The diagrammatic has been employed in this research as a way to make new knowledge from the raw knowledge-making processes of LCI, and to stake a claim regarding the value of the ‘unfinished thinking’ invited by artistic research (Borgdorff, 2012: 183).

Several of the choreographic objects produced for LCI were designed as diagrammatic surfaces, to prompt diagrammatic actions on the part of producers and participants which amounted to a collective materialisation of the coproduction. Blackboards (and for larger events, paper-covered surfaces) facilitated and encouraged the production of diagrams as both site and trace of the modes of poiesis immanent to each event. The diagrams produced each day were made available to subsequent events; one extended diagram operated as a site on which I recorded the general choreography of each event, in terms of the location of objects in the space, the general movement of bodies, and the kinds of actions that took place. Drucker argues that in qualitative research, or when the production of knowledge is recognised as arising from situated, partial and circumstantial conditions of inquiry, data should be reconceived as ‘capta’ (Checkland and Howell, 1998), from the Latin term capere, to take, meaning ‘knowledge that is ‘taken’ not simply given as a natural representation of pre-existing fact’ (Drucker: 2011). Diagrammatic information from the from LCI has been interpreted as capta and reimagined through subsequent working processes.

Borgdorff, H., 2012, The Conflict of the Faculties, Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia, Leiden: Leiden University Press.

Drucker, J., 2013, Diagrammatic Writing, in new formations: a journal of culture/theory/politics, Volume 78, 2013, pp.83-101.

Mitchell. W.J.T., 1981, Diagrammatology, in Critical Inquiry, Spring, 1981, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Spring, 1981), pp. 622-633.

Stjernfelt, F., 2007, Diagrammatology. An Investigation on the Borderlines of Phenomenology, Ontology, and Semiotics, Dordrecht: Springer Verlag.

Vishmidt, M., 2017, Between Not Everything and Not Nothing: Cuts Towards Infrastructural Critique, in Maria Hlavajova and Simon Sheikh (eds.), Former West: Art and the Contemporary After 1989, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, pp. 265-269.