The Line is Not Dead—It is Simply Floating
My greatest fear is to die by drowning. Countless times I have seen dreams where exactly this happens – I see a giant wave, or on other occasions, I fall into water, feeling that my body’s capacity to retain the atmosphere of the “world” within me is scarce. The decision to open up and relax my body, while submerged in an inhabitable for a human world that is definitely going to kill me becomes a conscious decision. In a second, I relax my body and let the water in. An instant burning sensation follows, then an indescribable feeling of emptiness and calmness or, at times, a terrifying sense of the end of given reality. And then, I open my eyes.
On a completely different level, the sense of density, suffocation, and submerging in an environment where my body no longer feels comfortable happens when I face deadlines. The notion of the “dead” as in nearing the moment where there is no way back is perhaps that specific aspect that reminds the body of the importance and inevitability of facing a point of “no return.” The sense of drowning. Moreover, perhaps the notion of the “dead end” pops up in my mind by association, adding another level of claustrophobia to the situation and emerging pressure of delivery. The same feeling that my body’s capacity to retain the atmosphere of the “world” within me is scarce.
The year of work on the “There, There” podcast with the working group as part of the SoC 2023 Cohort brought us to the idea that the notion of the “deadline” in our work on this project is somewhat irrelevant. Knowing that we are operating within the domains set by our team allows for an incredible privilege –flexibility. As it is often with official deadlines, in other submissions, there seems to be always an unspoken agreement that the extension for the deadline for a day or two or more, especially when we are dealing with the sphere of creative production, is often a possibility. Throughout this year, as we became more engaged with the “commons” project of the SoC, we kept pushing the deadline for the podcast production further into the year. This process, for me, was accompanied by an array of sensations– from confusion regarding priorities and attention focus to determination on tasks at hand to the feeling of letting go of self-expectation, from frustration to the sense of relief. The question of why, nonetheless, this sense of frustration and non-adherence to our own promises accompanied the process was puzzling, as it followed me as a shadow throughout the year. Especially considering the fact that taking steps towards collecting sound on the course of the year, producing background music for the podcasts as part of the other project’s rehearsals and releases, and meeting people with whom we aspired to have a dialogue, was my continuous endeavour. The feeling of lagging and the sense of timefamin, has, nevertheless, persisted. This was an indicator that I am in need of digging deeper to consciously unpack the situation and reveal what was bugging me in the first place.
In “The Good of Work,” Liam Gillick discusses the concept of deadlines in the context of artistic work and suggests that artists often create their own deadlines, which contrasts with the typical perception of deadlines as externally imposed. This ability to set one’s own deadlines links the artist to the flexible knowledge worker. The increasing number of deadlines, whether self-imposed or introduced by external forces, highlights the constructed nature of these time constraints. According to Gillik, recognizing this allows artists to engage or disengage electively, creating a zone of semi-autonomy.
As Gillick delves into the relationship between art, artists, and the structures of capitalism, I couldn’t help but think about the notions well addressed in the literature on decolonial thinking and chronopolitics. In the decolonial thinking of Catherine Walsh and Walter Mignolo, the authors bring up the following: “The future doesn’t exist, and neither does the past. We all, on the planet, live in a constant and always fluctuating present, carrying the burden of the past and hopes for the future.” In their text “On Decoloniality,” they explore the hidden forces of the colonial matrix of power that affect the way we treat and perceive time – striving, according to this very matrix, to “progress” within an imposed paradigm. In the text, they also bring forth the notion of “tradition,” that, by the means of the same power matrix, has been set as opposed to the “progress,” setting its timeframe in the past and hence, allowing for its reading as outdated and “not timely,” and sometimes rendering it non-existent. In his latest book on forms of futurity, TJ Demos, using Chronopolitics as a lens, highlights numerous temporal regimes of oppression that perpetuate the dominant systems of capitalism. Demos’s major point is that the very traditions of the opeessed- as successful strategised of world building- carry the potential to subvert the very power structures that have dominated the perception of time as part of the power game. In this sense, Gillick’s characterization of the history of art as a “fetishization of decision and indecision” and questions about the value of artistic work in the context of modern capitalism becomes valid to this discussion and was of great help. He suggests that artists, in their current form, resemble freelance knowledge workers who are deeply embedded in and cannot be distinguished from the capitalist system they often critique. This alignment with capitalism’s demands leads artists to function similarly to regular workers, blurring the lines between artistic and conventional labor. Resisting these structures, therefore, becomes the work of resistance- the type of work that requires awareness and understanding of priorities and values that stand against systems of oppression.
Within the inquiry into the sense of uneasiness with constantly missed self-imposed deadlines, these connections between the notion of chronopolitcs, forms of resistance and non-linearity of time, allowed for the realization that the privileges that the artistic field provides for us. It can indeed become a liberating ground for resistance against capitalistic systems. Even if on the tiniest scale and within the internal projects. That is to say, with care and respect towards others’ work and timing, our internal deadlines can be freed from the burden of being heavy and “dead” and instead become a set of fluctuating floating lines – guiding, giving horizons, allowing the sight to rest on the aspired destination that is yet to come. In reality, the burden of deadlines imposed on individuals whose work is intricately linked to feelings of inspiration, the need to adjust their vision according to situational changes and shifting surroundings while simultaneously maintaining clarity for critical reflection and relational work, can frequently lead to overstretching of capacities. This often results in overproduction, which may be accompanied by physical and mental exhaustion or even burnout. For many, this situation raises fundamental questions related to the maintenance of life itself.
In an aspiration to redefine the notion of the deadline and propose a language for an alternative, we potentially thought of a floatingline as a provisional term that could be used to measure workflow.
The floatingline, instead of suggesting the heavy weight of the “dead” line, allows for airiness and spaciousness and calls for balance. Moreover, it brings forth the notion of submission to the environment and yet some levels of control over the body (specifically breath), therefore setting forth the interdependence between situational constraints (environments that can be challenging), awareness of the body (breathing, balancing, and keeping afloat), and the environment at large (meeting the surrounding as it is).
While trying to find and compose the definition of the sense of “floating” that would best underscore the notion of the “floating” line, we came across the editorial entry to the POOL journal at UCLA (spring 2022). We decided to quote the whole thing as it describes what the “floatingline” was for us throughout the year at its best.
“To float presumes suspended buoyancy, a listless navigating through worlds within and without. When a dense body skims the surface of water there’s an ephemeral moment in which attention focuses on surrender to the fluid. In this fleeting moment flesh remembers what it was like to have wings and fly or gills to endlessly swim. Flesh and bone attempt to sublimate into the matter they have been before and want to become once again.
This becoming is a transmutation with the prerequisite of difference– otherwise, there would be no floating at all, just one uniform substance unidifferentiated from the rest. To float implies a submission to the elements enveloping a body, becoming a body, and displacing that which surrounds a body. In this act, however, there is a precarity, for if too much is relinquished or too little exerted, one is submerged, vanished, and overcome by the intimacy of contact with other forms of matter.
On the contrary, if too much is displaced to the point of submerging that which is near, such immersion leads to suffocation and the brutality of expulsion. The experience of floating today is circumscribed by the predicament in which on find themselves: limbs are laden by obligations and promises, struggling to be buoyed by life and externalities. Even the aimless act of floating to deprive the senses is compromised by the incessant necessity of production. Still, float and fall, sink and flink– untethered, unrestrained, and suspended by potential and possibility.”(Pool 2022)
We aspire to remain buoyant within the realm of potentiality and possibility. In other words, we aim to learn how to swim in various directions, and in moments of extreme demand, we seek to find the time and space to glide along the “floating lines.” This approach involves tuning into our bodies, understanding our situation, and being aware of the surrounding environment, thus allowing these elements to guide us and ensure our safety and well-being.
I am submitting this text two days before the second floating deadline has passed. We happily missed the first floating deadline and are grateful to the School of Commons for providing another one, guiding us through the sea of work and play.
Demos, T. J. (2023). Radical Futurisms: Ecologies of collapse, chronopolitics, and justice-to-come. Sternberg Press.
Gillick, L. (2010). The good of work. na.
UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design . (2022, May 20). Issue no.7: Float. POOL. http://www.pool-la.com/shop/issue-no7-float