Diagrams: Art as Information

Jakub Zdebik

Recent art historical scholarship is actively engaging with art’s relationship to information, data, and algorithms by looking at the visual rhetoric of diagrams used by artists to express how they relate to the contemporary world. This issue of Drain deals with artists who are involved in a continuous dialogue with the digital through their engagement with diagrams in the form of maps, graphs, code, and databases as visualization of information in order to demonstrate a greater understanding of how art employs visual strategies to navigate an increasingly abstract day-to-day landscape upheld by algorithmic structures.

Advances in technology have radically shifted the way we define the materiality of the image. Whereas traditional techniques such as painting, photography, and film possess their own materiality, the place of the image is less easy to locate in the digital age. Gilles Deleuze’s concepts of mapping (rhizomatic spatialization of potential knowledge); systematicity (spatial organization of dehierarchized levels of information of various stages of abstraction); virtuality (pure potentiality that stands in for the algorithmic in digital aesthetics); assemblage (territorial connective relational theory); and diagram (a self-generative, nimble method of visualization that navigates between the concrete and the abstract, the virtual and the actual) are the theoretical scaffolding behind the methodological approach to the field of visual digital art that has inspired this issue of Drain.

How does art concretely deal with diagrams? The diagram is an artistic strategy that operates through a desire to express information as a relationality that has to be converted by a subjective viewer. The advantage is that the work of art resists the pull of reification; always incomplete, it can nevertheless be read as a work in progress. But it enshrines the divide between art and science. From a scientific point of view, the diagram is not concrete enough and must be interpreted subjectively; but for artists, the diagram is a symbol for scientific overreach to its claim of universal knowledge (Joselit)[1] and systematic constraining (Meltzer).[2] The diagram serves as a demarcation between the notion of science and art as objective and subjective visualizations.

Elsewhere, I define the diagram as a drawing that conveys information about an incorporeal thing.[3] The word ‘drawing’ seems reductive because information can certainly be conveyed in a multitude of ways and in multiple media. Yet, a drawing has many iterations. First, it is part of the etymology of the word ‘diagram’—to make out by lines or to draw. Second, it functions like Immanuel Kant’s schema, an image that is not quite an image, that negotiates between the empirical and the conceptual and is close to what the philosopher describes as a monogram, an outline, a picture made out of lines only.[4] Third, these very lines, or traits, can be reconfigured to make up a portrait (to draw forth). The lines of the portrait, or traits, can be transformed into hachures in some instances (Bacon via Deleuze), that display relief in topographical maps come into play when reading a surface, be it a drawing or a painting. And, at its basis, the concept of the diagram is visual: understood as plans, maps, charts, schemas, and blueprints.

The main point of interest in this issue is how art visually interacts with information on the level of the diagram. In this way, Rebecca Noone’s ‘Drawing Directions in an Age of the Ready-Made Map’ typifies the drawing as diagram. Here the map is made up of traits, lines, curves designating pure potential but no actual, recognizable place: Deleuze and Guattari’s cartography without tracing.[5] ‘Drawing Directions’ captures not the content of the map (we do not know where we are going) but its function: it suggests a mapping impulse. Noone’s drawing of a map also implies another thing: something unrepresentable, something indiscernible, something that even in the context of art lacks visual exemplification.

Kant’s idea of the schema as monogram can also be applied to textual forms of diagrams. Maxwell Hyett’s ‘Use(ful/less) Schematics’, involving textual experiments using words arranged spatially on the page, and Helen Matthews and Marylin Allen’s ‘A Collaborative Diagram’, a sketch-like game on the theme of the diagram, bring us back to the idea of the monogram that Kant used to described his schema: ‘We can say no more than: the image is a product of the empirical faculty of productive imagination; the schema of sensible concepts (such as of figures in space) is a product and, as it were, a monogram of pure a priori imagination, through which and according to which images first become possible.’[6] Both experiments use text as drawing, bringing us to the double meaning of monogram: an aesthetic representation of intertwined letters and at the same time a line drawing. This is a drawing that is built on lines and graphs; the monogrammatic weaving of text into an image.

Deleuze’s theoretical foundation of aesthetic diagram is laid out in his Francis Bacon: Logic of Sensation, in which he establishes links between abstract art, code, the digital and the diagram. The diagram revealed in painting is specific to Deleuze’s reading of Bacon’s style: it is the preparatory work before the organization of the pictorial plane—it can be sketched, but it may be invisible, a process that happens in the painter’s mind before the first stroke is laid on the canvas. These strokes as diagram are illustrated in Hannah Karsen’s Untitled series of gestures: ‘A gesture arrested in mid-flight creates a diagram, a movement captured ahead of itself’.[7] As a gesture, the diagram is quite poetic: ‘A diagram can transfix a gesture, bring it to rest, long before it curls up into a sign’.[8] In Karsen’s series, we are privy to a pure index of a gesture.  The simplest diagram. The beginning of the artistic work of translating, filtering, through the imagination into visual concepts. But a diagram, as gesture, can also be more rigid. The link between mathematical diagram and gesture has been revealed as inseparable: ‘Diagrams/gestures operate in a pivotal space: they are embodied acts that bridge the gulf between thought and the sign.’[9] And so, as an embodiment of thought, the diagram works through the figure.

It can also erase part of the figure, as is the case of the smears in Bacon’s paintings—contrary to the rational of mathematics, seen in material chaos—which have geographical undertones, as they are described as a sudden appearance of a zone of the Sahara in the head: ‘[T]he diagram is thus the operative set of asignifying and nonrepresentative lines and zones, line-strokes and colour-patches. And the operation of the diagram, its function, says Bacon, is to be “suggestive”’[10]—suggestive of a portrait/topography. The geographical element is not trivial since it connects to mapping. It allows us to read the surface of paintings as information. As Deleuze delves more deeply into purely abstract art, the diagram cedes to code and the code is digital: ‘‘Digits’ are the units that group together visually the terms in opposition’.[11] Now, a code being digital is obvious, but it needs to be specified because code is associated elsewhere in Deleuze with milieus[12] and he himself is going to clarify what he means by digital—‘as not in the sense of manual’[13]—which means we are moving away from the gesture.

The ‘Bacon’-diagram is an aestheticization of the way Michel Foucault’s philosophical diagram—and the source of Deleuze’s concept—functions. Another important source for the visual diagram, since it stands in for the function of visibility in this particular context, is Deleuze’s treatment of Foucault. This ‘Foucauldian’ diagram is a relation of forces. As Anne Sauvagnargues explains in Artmachines, diagrams operate between concrete machines that invent societies. One of the most famous concrete machines is the Panopticon, not defined by its solid walls and its metal bars, but by its visibility: ‘[F]om this point of view, the Panopticon refers to a concrete machine, even while it may not be considered a technical element: a plan, a blueprint, or a simple design, can very well become determinant in a given constituting assemblage into which it is introduced’.[14] The diagram, then, translates the functions of each concrete machine into another reconfiguration: the visibility in the prison, is the visibility in a schoolroom setting, is the visibility of the barracks. Allison Peters Quinn explores this in her review of Susan Giles’ technological architecture. Fortuitously, a description of the diagram by Sauvagnargues can be applied to Giles’ works of architectural manipulations, which span the history of technology from the industrial to the digital revolution reconfigured in sculptural assemblages: ‘The diagram is not an archive but rather an intensive map of relations of forces that assemble (agencent) humans and material, techniques and institutions.’[15] Giles’ works materialize these social forces in architectural maquettes: in her The Tower piece, she puts forth the idea of surveillance from great heights (‘analogue Google map’), power technology, and architecture reassembled in an urban tower diagram.

James Elkins negotiation between artistic and scientific images can be illuminating of the diagrammatic approach to art as illustrated in this issue of Drain. Elkins writes that in the aggregate, a random image is more likely to be a graph or a chart than an impressionist or Renaissance painting, ‘just as an animal is more likely to be a bacterium or a beetle than a lion or a person’.[16] Instead of a Degas or a Rembrandt, we are surrounded by informational images such as ‘graphs, charts, maps, geometric configurations, notations, plans, official documents, some money, bonds, seals and stamps, astronomical and astrological charts, technical and engineering drawings, scientific images of all sorts, schemata, and pictographic or ideographic elements in writing’.[17] The connection between informational images and visual art reveals a diagrammatic impulse that occupies an unrepresentable zone.

Whereas Deleuze used the image of the Sahara to describe a facet of the concept of the diagram, Elkins thinks of informational images in geographically similar terms: ‘Those images are a kind of desert where pictures are stunted and far between. They are inherently informational and without aesthetic value, and they are properly considered as kin to equations or spreadsheets; they are notations, and not images in the deeper sense’.[18] But he resists this anti-aesthetic qualification of information images in order to launch into a methodological analysis of scientific images through art historical principles. For example, astronomic images are not beautiful black vistas with colourful planets and luminescent stars, but, to a layperson, look like the grey surface of a bad photocopy speckled with fuzzy black dots. An image like this needs to undergo a ‘cleaning,’ to excise splotches, redundancies, and imperfections. In this transformation, Elkins sees a pre-Kantian aesthetic process of perfecting reality.[19] Informational images are read subjectively and scientifically, through annotation and interpretation, squeezing them between the two poles of diagrammatic treatment by humanists or scientists.

A zone of indiscernibility seems to affect the diagram caught between these two disciplines, each one dealing with a particularly coded knowledge.  The notion of unrepresentability reaches the issues surrounding the scientific visualization of a single virus.  Elkins explains that a virus can be illustrated in wildly varied ways, each image capturing an accurate facet of the object: ‘Taken individually, each one explains only a few properties of a virus, and they cannot be fused into a single image’.[20] The various representations are complementary but impossible to unify.  A pictorial Aufhebung of sorts occurs here: ‘As in the history of art, images of unrepresentable objects put a strain on the pictorial conventions they inherit, finally breaking them and becoming different kinds of pictures’.[21] The unrepresentable cannot be held by a single visual image: ‘In more radical terms, what is unrepresentable can never be adequately put in an image because it is nonpictorial, unimaginable, forbidden, or transcendental’.[22] The unrepresentable is where a hypothetical Venn diagram comparing art and science overlaps.

Elkins’ notion of the unrepresentable has a specific function: it applies practically to scientifically observable phenomena that cannot be captured in a single image, not to say a single art image. This is why it is at this stage revelatory to scrutinize this notion of the unrepresentable in Jacques Rancière’s investigation of this philosophical problem through forms of art far from Elkins’ preoccupation of images that are not art: here we are dealing with images that mainly are not even visual. Rancière writes about theatre (the French conventions making it impossible to stage Sophocles); about poetry (dealing with a bloody performance involving a bear in Mallarmé); and holocaust literature and film (matter-of-factness of daily life—Antelme; the incommensurability between the past and the present—Lanzmann). He attempts to capture the mediation of violent experience according to its own sets of rules of representation. In fact, one of the images that Rancière analyzes comes from a geographical image in Shoah. He argues how a modern version of the sublime navigates the representation of the unthinkable (extermination): ‘It bears witness not by representing heaps of bodies, but through the orange-coloured flash of lightning that traverses the monochrome of a canvas by Barnett Newman, or any other procedure whereby painting carries out an exploration of its materialism when they are diverted from the task of representation.’[23] Abstraction is the key to communicating the unrepresentable. Rancière’s unrepresentable is the unthinkable, not the scientifically complex; but, just as the virus in Elkins example consisted of three parts that are incompatible with one another, this is echoed in the excess of information that cannot be adequately captured through a singular representations. The incongruity between representation and the overflow of information leads Rancière to Lyotard’s sublime as the product of an equation of ‘a concept of art and a concept of what exceeds art’,[24] which he then compares to Hegel’s symbolic category: ‘the peculiarity of symbolic art is that it is a unable to find a mode of material representation of art’.[25] The sublime comes out at another extreme of Hegel’s Symbolic/Classic/Romantic continuum: ‘The sublime then returns but in a strictly negative form. It is no longer the simple impossibility of a substantial thought finding adequate material form. It is the empty infinitization of the relationship between the pure will to art and the things which can be anything in which it asserts itself and contemplates its reflection’.[26] The excess of the Romantic art in Hegel is reappropriated to suit very contemporary problems long after the end of art: Timothy Morton’s concept of hyperobjects—‘massively distributed entities that can be thought and computed, but not directly touched or seen’—is a case in point[27] Morton utilizes the Hegelian Romantic art category to navigate between the extremes of information and comprehension of the information: ‘the human capacity for knowledge and computation on the one hand, and the gigantic and withdrawn hyperobjects on the other’.[28] Can an excess of information be a hyperobject in the vein of the world’s entire petroleum stock?

When it comes to sublime limits of information, Alexandre Galloway is also interested in seeing how one can visually capture the relationship between information and data. This is why, when describing information interfaces and diagrammatic maps, Galloway relies upon the issue of the unrepresentable in Rancière as a way to set up a politics of aestheticization of digital representation:
Regarding the image in this way is indeed challenging. Even at a purely aesthetic level it’s not clear what precisely the image is trying to represent. Is it trying to represent data, an algorithm, a diagram, a system, a network? These terms all seem to connect to each other, yet they mean very different things. Data would be represented very differently from an algorithm, would it not? Yet it would be safe to say that all these terms fall, more or less, under the umbrella of information. Taken in that light, can this image reveal anything interesting about the nature of information aesthetics? Can it tell us anything about the relationship between transparency and concealment? Between representability and unrepresentability?[29]
The urgency of Galloway is not to look as Rancière does at the representation of violence, but to look at how things are represented aesthetically, because that is where power hides. Here the diagram is involved in meta-modeling and creates its own sets of aesthetic principles based on a particular historical and social context. The diagram, as Gary Genosko states, ‘is the passage from modeling to meta-modeling’.[30] The diagram is self-generative and reflects on the medium of its creation as it creates it. It ‘functions; forces things together; doesn’t need meaning, just the manufacture of it’.[31] Put crudely, we are looking at the self-generating form that information reflecting upon data produces.

Ryan Stec’s article, ‘Organized Time: Temporal Representations and the Possibilities of the Database’, deals with the dynamics of mapping in art and design—and on some level, the stakes in the form data takes. Touching on artists such as Natalie Bookchin, Chris Marker, and Ben Fry, among others, Stec explores how the database as central to mapping—and how mapping when infused with time—is a flexible visualization tool for art. Starting his article by focusing on the ubiquitous cell phone and the map function everyone is so familiar with, Stec breaks down the device first and the map function next in order to demonstrate how it is part of multiple histories and dependent on the database, creating, in effect, an ‘apparatus’ through which to read maps, updating Agamben’s description of the same device. Stec observes the static essence of the map, which reduces a lot of information to be visually coherent, especially the aspect of time (seasons passing, snow melting)—an aspect he reassesses in the logic of the cartography. He defines maps as ‘crafted objects of spatial representation’ in relation to cartography, which is the ‘codified practice of map making’. Both maps and cartography ‘are so deeply embedded in our process of perceiving the world that many consider mapping to be a ‘natural’ human act and maps to be objective documents’. A map is an image of the world-time. Yet, time is almost a noise to be excised from this particular form of presentation. But with the ‘standardization of clock time’ and the fact that maps are enmeshed with the ‘Geography Information System’ with the database at its core, Stec explores the dynamic possibilities of mapping.

The database is at the center of a complex infrastructure of software and hardware in which, Stec writes, it ‘plays a central, critical and constant role’. He notes that the symbolic language of cartography is ‘displaced in the role that information technology plays in the representation of the world as GIS’. He sees the database within the network as ‘any opportunity to redefine spatial representation. Stec offers a brief history of the database, focusing on the shift between hierarchical and relational databases occurring in the 1970s—echoing past media theorists such as Marshall McLuhan, who also noticed relationality supplanting linearity in the age of film,[32] and Walter Benjamin, grappling with technological advancement in his own society. Benjamin noted in his essay ‘A Little History of Photography’ that the printing press was not invented for the poet, nor photography for the artist, chiming with Stec’s observation that ‘[t]he evolution of the database does not lead us back directly into the field of art and design.’ The database is seen as a ‘kind of clearing, a common space’ where military, corporate and artistic issues can be negotiated.

Stec’s example offers a way of shuttling between the database and geography through the image. Yet, what is important here is how he seems to heed Galloway’s warning about putting too much stock in the representational content of cartographies by instead looking at the data that form them and the aspects of time that appear to have been missing from maps. Galloway warns, ‘But we must be wary of trying to seek redemption in these counter-cartographies … the ideological content of the map is ultimately beholden to the affordances and prohibitions of its form.’[33] The military and corporate entities are the ones regulating the medium, so the solution, according to Galloway is ‘not tarry with the various attempts to critique the social map at the level of data, and instead consider some of the attempts to critique it at the level of information’.[34] Galloway explains the difference between data and information as that between content and form.  Scrutinizing the etymology of data as ‘things having been given’—or données in the etymologically closer French—he summarizes data thusly: ‘So with ‘data’ there is a stress on the empirical proffering of measurable or otherwise observable fact that has been given forth. Something has already taken place, and via a gist or endowment, it enters into presence.’[35] Information, on the other hand, is not about presence but about taking shape, about being given a form. Summarizing the comparison: ‘Thus if data open a door into the realm of the empirical and ultimately the ontological (the level of being), information by contrast opens a door into the realm of the aesthetic’.[36] And this is why it is important to look at aesthetics, because the politics, the revelation of power, resides there. It is not about data, but, as Stec demonstrates, how to give it form.

Mapping is central to Jessica Thompson’s ‘Beyond Beyond Locative Media: Art, Data and the Politics of Place’, in which she compiles several examples of locative media art, the critical element of which she attributes to ‘access to data’. Here she joins Stec’s view of the politics of data’s relationship with mapping. Following Tuters and Varnelis, she distinguishes two types of ‘locative apparatuses’: ‘annotative artworks’, which function with audience input, and ‘phenomenological artworks’, which take note of the subjects’ trajectories. She traces ways of interacting with artworks through algorithmic formulas that integrate user’s input, or projects that involve technological augmenting of information about specific spaces. These types of annotative practices allow the user and the artist to negotiate a milieu. Phenomenological works involve tracing trajectories of bodies, for example, outfitting users with GPS so that their data can be transmitted onto maps where traces of the circuit in the city can be defined. This practice, as Thompson suggests, has definite lo-fi roots in the walking works of Stanley Brouwn in the 1960s. But these lo-fi roots help situate maps and data in the realm of art. One important aspect of Thompson’s essay is the search for why there has been a movement away from locative apparatuses use in artworks. Of course, the device with which Stec opened his essay, the cell phone and its map, is certainly to blame, along with the multitude of apps that deal with geo-location. But what is key to this demise and its importance is the attitude change: since ‘locative media appropriated technologies that were developed for surveillance, practitioners had a responsibility to address the structures of power and control in their work’, The attitude towards the element of surveillance is a shift away from the diagram of society that Deleuze did not anticipate in his ‘Postscript on Control Societies’.[37] And this is how Thompson addresses the issue of spatial critique: not in the technology of locative media but in what is revealed when it fades away: ‘[A] shift in generational attitudes toward privacy has shifted locative media’s connection to politics from a critique of technological structures to a critique of socio political apparatuses’. While Deleuze foretold a subservient resignation to digital control, on a surface level an apparent participation in the network was not foreseen.

The subversive use of cartographic art is what interests Thompson. She focuses on works of art that take the associative apparatus of locative media to conceptual levels while dealing with loss and tragedy: in fact, to represent the unrepresentable, as in for example, Kanarinka’s It takes 154, 000 breaths to evacuate Boston (2007), in which the performer tabulates the breaths she takes while running through the city’s evacuation route, highlighting distance and trajectory with an intimate sense of urgency. Thompson also brings up Where Commuters Run over Black Children on the Pointes-Downtown Track from Detroit in 1971, a map which, very much like Dr. John Snow’s 1854 map of the cholera outbreak in London, reveals a grim dotted territory of run-down children, based on unofficially collected data. Thompson reveals something in what is missing, much like Lyotard’s Le Differend already referenced by Rancière. She brings up even Richard Serra’s Titled Arc as an emblem for the importance of something that is not there being more important than what is there, a rusted steel différend. In this way, data sets and their visualization go hand in hand with a politics of aesthetics in the notion of the unrepresentable.

In ‘Drawing a Line: Towards a History of Diagrams’, Jessica Law writes about Mark Lombardi, the scrupulous indexer of heaping quantities of data whose flowing circular drawings of shady networks are exemplary of diagrammatic art. Her article begins with a recent data breach, the Panama papers that reveal the offshore stash of the one percent’s cash, pointing out that this is exactly the kind of information Lombardi would have relished—but, as Law seeks to demonstrate, not because of the static representation that Lombardi would capture as a snapshot of the trove of information, but rather because of the possibilities of the diagram that lie beyond being an image. She warns that the sheer number of images that cannot be processed leads to a visual dyslexia, and that diagrams risk being simple reifications of network relations into ‘elementary pictures’. What Law wants to avoid is this view of diagram as images: ‘The slippage into a state of visual dyslexia occurs when diagrams are treated as a pseudo-aestheticism because the schematic form seemingly looks like technological or economical infrastructures’. She fears that diagrams, as juxtaposition to data-mining or through an aestheticization of relational connections, will render the very structures they try to highlight as ‘invisible or translucent’.  What is at stake is the risk of denying an unrepresentable dimension of the interconnectivity ‘beneath the slick superficial liquidity of markets’. What Law wants to avoid is the diagram becoming for data mining what the illusionistic ‘window’ was for Renaissance painting.

From this perspective, Law’s take on the diagram is urgent and important. She provides a history to distinguish diagrams from networks. ‘Diagrams have no meaning in and of themselves as meaning is derived from the relations manifested on the surface of inscription, like a piece of paper’. She astutely points out that through a diagram one explores a problem: but it is only after the problem has been drawn out that the diagram ‘corresponds to the problem by relation’. The diagram, not being an original part of the problem, stands in for the thought process and not the problem. The self-generation of the diagram detached from meaning ties into the politics of unrepresentability: what matters is not the content, but the meta-modeling. And so Galloway warns: ‘Thus if unrepresentability is in play it will be in play around the mode of production and the realities of the socio-historical situation. It will govern the logic of showing and hiding the economic base’.[38] Clearly, on the same page as Law and Lombardi, he points to the target: ‘The point of unrepresentability is the point of power. And the point of power today is not in the image. The point of power today resides in networks, computers, algorithms, information, and data’.[39]

Adrian Göllner’s explosive sculptures may not seem like diagrams. Rather they are indexical traces of explosions cast from clay, that are turned into bronze.  Ephemeral destruction caught in a medium like a footprint in the mud. But they become images of an unrepresentable when Göllner calculates the image and shows that it is worth an infinitesimal fraction of an unthinkable experience of an atom bomb: 1/1,000,000th the power of the first atomic bomb (2017). Atomic bombs have been in the news lately, much to the world’s surprise. Such an antiquated notion, we almost forgot we had them. But Göllner shows us the unrepresentable; by playing with fractions, the vastness of the atom bomb explosion can be linked to Rancière’s Hegelian sublime—too big to be comprehended. Yet another way of looking through Morton’s notion of scale through the hyperobject.[40] Morton discusses the Romantic phase of art in Hegel just as Rancière used it for the unrepresentable. Here, however, it is for the purpose of explaining the hyperobject, objects too big to comprehend: global warming, plastic, the atom bomb. The hyperobject has many different facets one of this is phasing: ‘Phasing is an indexical sign of an object that is massively distributed in a phase space that is higher dimensional than the equipment... used to detect it’.[41] So how does one capture the atomic blast?

Perhaps the answer is that ‘an index is a sign that is directly part of what it indicates’.[42] By sculpting with explosion, Göllner is interacting with the hyperobject. Scale is important to the notion of representability and comprehension of a problem. When there is an over-abundance of information, this indexicality help parse data: ‘In the mesh of interconnectivity, the sieve through which hyperobjects pass smaller things become indexes of the hyperobjects inside which they exist’.[43] Therefore Göllner’s works are indexical signs as ‘metonymy for the hyperobject’.[44] The hyperobject in which we exist is also the informational network critiqued by Stec, Thompson, and Law. The link Göllner makes between the atom bomb and information seems incongruous. Yet, as John Durham Peters reminds us, information technology, just like the bomb, is ‘the child of war’.[45] He explains that the computer and the bomb are linked by science but also culture:
They share a common cultural space and symbolism. Information is often spoken of in nuclear terms: its half-life (as it decays like radioactive matter), it explodes if it fissions too fast, its molecular or granular quality. It shares semiotic space with subatomic physics, coming in bits, flashes, bursts, and impulses, and is often treated as mental photons: the minimal quanta of the cognitive stuff.[46]
This link between science and culture through art is at the heart of Stéfy McKnight’s artistic practice.  McKnight is involved with the aesthetics of data collection, state surveillance, and biometric camouflage. For years, the theorist Lisa Parks has been writing about a view from above, ionic vision and satellite aesthetics—these concepts seem to take shape in McKnight’s body of works. To these earth-scale surveillance imaginings, one could add Christine Buci-Glucksmann’s ‘Icarian eye’ as a way to make sense to the world McKnight shows us.[47] Or, closer to the ground, perhaps Deleuze’s snake- emblem of surveillance society would also capture the spirit of McKnight’s endeavours.[48]

Parks stated that drones ‘do not simply float above the surface of the earth—they rewrite and reform life on earth in a most material way’.[49] McKnight’s work is also looking at the insertion of surveillance technology into day-to-day life. Much like Parks’ ‘orbital view’. Mcknight observes that satellites have not only changed networks of information but also spurred our imagination about an ‘eerie omniscience’ floating above us that is controlled by Western military, scientific, and corporate institutions’[50]—these are the nodes that McKnight touches upon between building, photographing, and research. McKnight seeks to challenge ‘a radically new type of divine knowledge’ as Jody Berland said, by making ‘visible the operations and effects of a constellation of invisible knowledge machines’.[51] And McKnight’s multidisciplinary art and research practices aestheticize data in order to translate it into urgent visual information.

Sanford Kwinter wrote, ‘Diagrams must be conceived as songs as well as hammers’.[52] This is a fitting duality for Gregory Minisalle’s review of Shannon Novak’s exhibition The Expanded Gallery, a work in which the rigid yet colourful diagram, climbing walls and staining windows, free of referent and seemingly meaningful, resembles Ighby and Lemmens’ equally colourful yet more precious diagrammatic candy-coloured sculptures. Minisalle suggests a strong link between the rigidity of the diagrammatic lines and music. The musicality, like in Kwinter’s assessment of the essence of the aesthetic diagram, is part of the diagram’s non-representational, abstract, function: ‘The diagram does not represent but helps to produce complex rhythms across brain, body and world’—rigid, angular lines, yet colourful and musical: hammers and songs. This summarizes well what the works in this issue of Drain have been about. As Kwinter writes:
The question arises as to whether the diagram is scientific and explanatory or literary and illocutionary (provoking acts not based on verifiable truth functions). One would hope that no single or definitive answer will ever be furnished. Clearly both functions are necessary, for each is necessary to protect us from the excesses of the other, and only the joint action of both together, in turn and in oscillation, can assure us the mobility of thought and action to sustain our own political apparatus in the face of a very fluid and labile enemy.
The negotiation between representation and the unrepresentable, between science and art, between aesthetics and politics, between maps and their geography has been an essential component of the diagrammatic question captured in these (virtual) pages.




[1] Joselit David. ‘Dada’s Diagram’, The Dada Seminar, in Dickerman, Leah, and Matthew S. Witkovsky (eds.) (Washington, 2005), 236.

[2] Meltzer, Eve. Systems We Have Loved: Conceptual Art, Affect, and the Antihumanist Turn (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2013), 12.

[3] Zdebik, Jakub.  Deleuze and the Diagram: Aesthetic Threads in Visual Organization (London: Continuum, 2012), 1.

[4] Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Pure Reason, trans. and ed. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998), A141–2/B180–1.

[5] Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus : Capitalism and Schizophrenia II, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis : U of Minnesota P, 2005), 12.

[6] Kant, Pure Reason, A 141-2/B 180-1.

[7] Rotman, Brian. ‘Topology, Algebra, Diagrams’, Theory, Culture & Society 29:4/4, 2012, 247–260, 256.

[8] De Freitas, Elizabeth, and Nathalie Sinclair. ‘Diagram, Gesture, Agency: Theorizing Embodiment in the Mathematics Classroom’, Educational Studies in Mathematics 8 December 2011, 133–52.

[9] Rotman 2012, 256.

[10] Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Trans. Daniel W. Smith (Minneapolis, U of Minnesota P, 2004), 83.

[11] Ibid., 84.

[12] Deleuze and Guattari, 2005, 313.

[13] Deleuze, 2004, 84.

[14] Sauvagnargues, Anne. Artmachines: Deleuze, Guattari, Simondon. Ed. and trans. Suzanne Verderber and Eugene W. Holland (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2016), 200.

[15] Ibid., 202.

[16] Elkins James. ‘Art History and Images That Are Not Art’, The Art Bulletin. 77:4, 1995, 553–571, 553.

[17] Ibid., 553.

[18] Ibid...

[19] Ibid., 558.

[20] Ibid., 569.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 568.

[23] Rancière, Jacques. ‘Are Some Things Unrepresentable?’. The Future of the Image. Trans. Gregory Elliott (New York: Verso, 2007), 109–138, 134.

[24] Ibid., 135.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., 135-36.

[27] Morton, Timothy. ‘Poisoned Ground: Art and Philosophy in the Time of Hyperobjects’. Symploke 21:1-2, 2013b, 37–50, 37.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Galloway, Alexander R. The Interface Effect (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), 80.

[30] Genosko, Gary. Félix Guattar: A Critical Introduction (London: Pluto Press, 2009), 11.

[31] Ibid.

[32] McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: Signet Book, 1964), 28.

[33] Galloway, 2012, 94. [34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid., 81

[36] Ibid., 82.

[37] Deleuze, Gilles. ‘Postscript on Control Societies’. Negotiations, 1972-1990 (New York: Columbia UP, 1995), 177–182.

[38] Galloway, 2012, 92.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Morton, 2013b, 46.

[41] Morton, Timothy. Hyperobject: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013a), 77.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Durham Peters, John. ‘Information: Notes Toward a Critical History.’ Journal of Communication Inquiry, 12:2, 1988, 9–23, 19.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Buci-Glucksmann, Christine. ‘From the Cartographic View to the Virtual’. Medien Kunst Netz. http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/themes/mapping_and_text/carthographic-view/print/

[48] Deleuze, 1995, 180.

[49] Parks, Lisa. ‘Drones, Vertical Mediation, and the Targeted Class’, Feminist Studies 42:1, 2016, 227-235, 232.

[50] Parks, Lisa. ‘Orbital Viewing: Satellite Technologies and Cultural Practice’. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 6:4, 2000, 10–15.

[51] Ibid., 14.

[52] Kwinter, Sanford. ‘The Genealogy of Models: The Hammer and the Song’. ANY: Architecture New York 23, 1998, 57–62, 62.


Jakub Zdebik is Assistant Professor of Art History and Theory in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa. He received his PhD from the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism at The University of Western Ontario specializing in Contemporary French Aesthetic Theory. His monograph, entitled Deleuze and the Diagram: Aesthetic Threads in Visual Organization (Continuum 2012), explores the notion of organizational aesthetics and its representation through the concept of the diagram as it can be observed in modern and contemporary art. He published in RACAR, Semiotic Review, The Brock Review, among others. He curated an exhibition for the Kennedy Museum of Art at Ohio entitled “Information as Art: Maps, Plans, Diagrams.”