In September this year, I attended and presented at the SEAM symposium, convened by Samantha Spurr, Margie Medlin, and Benedict Anderson and held at the very lovely venue of Critical Path. This symposium was beautifully crafted and put together with a great deal of care. It was one of those conferences that you remember in terms of generating a feeling of community and enthusiasm for the act of gathering and sharing ideas. A far cry from some others, where it seems more about attaining notches on the refereed conference paper bedhead than a genuine desire to engage. It was, as such, extremely appropriate that Brian Massumi and Erin Manning were keynotes, given that they have a history of convening experimental workshop events that are utterly held together by that kind of generosity, and have not a sniff of referee about them.
I felt very honored to give one of the keynote presentations on Friday, Sept 18th. Brian Massumi and Andrew Benjamin presented on the first night (17th), and myself with Erin Manning on the second night. My presentation was called ‘The Erotic Return’, where I discussed how states of affective intensity have more to offer the research we do as designers than we have cared to acknowledge. The erotic is a somewhat exemplary category of affective intensity because it’s hard to really think about eroticism without and being aware of feeling, or bodily movements. As George Bataille wrote in his study on the subject: “Eroticism is an experience that cannot be assessed from the outside in the way an object can.” The tingles and flushes of emerging erotic experience are not usually acknowledged features of a design discourse. Encountering an excruciatingly beautiful drawing might make you tingle, taking you to the verge of an erotic experience, but I shudder to think of the awkward pause that might arise in a social or professional situation should you give voice to your experience of that tingle. What I was trying to convey in the presentation, through some project work examples, was: if we are affected by engaging with, say a creative work, we enter into an even more complex, dynamic, aesthetically driven process when we produce creative work, and that this is a very significant level of awareness for research by creative practice. This argument has strong links to those developed in my PhD ‘The Aesthetics of Emergence‘, but is a development upon it. I hope to work up a paper or three on the connections between emergent research methodology (commonly known as ‘post-design rationalisation’, which I thorough believe is both valid and necessary for creative work), and the erotic (or, what I am calling in a Nietzschian play, ‘The Erotic Return’).