This text is a personal recount of the process and lessons learned in the conceptualization of SLOW BLUR GENTLE and how it informed the objectives of ARCHIPIELAGO as a research platform and community. It describes the ideas that sprung from the NOT KNOWING study group and how they helped uncover the possibilities of blurriness and opacity as a mindset for study and encounter. Parallel to the main text, hyperlinks expand the reading and open doors to further inquiry. Also, an array of short capsules complement the central argument and work as recounts of how the ideas of SLOW BLUR GENTLE had been part of ARCHIPIELAGO even before I realized it. Finally,I hope this text is an invitation to delve into your inner calls and use these methods to take a stroll in yourself.
Think about a blurry cloud
Picture a cloud.
A cloud of words.
Blurry words on a whiteish background written with an A4 pencil.
Thin grey lines on a white blurry canvas.
A blurry canvas with an array of unrelated words: volcanoes, decoloniality, bodies of flesh and plastic, stone statues, forgotten monuments, an improbable architecture, mammoths and tigers, a house, an ocean, where to start? Who talked? Who became silenced?
Picture a cloud.
A cloud of words.
Words as doors to possible questions.
An ARCHIPIELAGO of possible relations.
ARCHIPIELAGO is a project in constant redefinition. The words used to describe it have changed over time; they become less in quantity but more extensive and uncertain every time. This redefinition is a kind of depuration, a process of taking out all the non-essential. The word depuration is a bit misleading; it implies a deliberate action when in reality, it has been the result of trial and error. Over this couple of years, we have learned that the main pursuit of ARCHIPIELAGO is creating relations, connecting, and making visible the structures that support these blurry, unrelated words. Our study groups, editorial projects, or encounters attempt to solidify a presence, a spectrum, a cloud.
Sitting in a small beige room, I officially realized my proneness to anxiety. In my case, it manifests as ruminant thoughts, those that cannot be turned off and come when tossing and turning in bed trying to sleep. It feels like the whole body starts moving very slowly, frame by frame, while the head runs wildly around in circles. They are violent thoughts that require meditation, breathing, and in some cases, 50 mg of sertraline a day.
On the other hand, ruminant ideas are not so invasive; they come slowly, approach, and recede in a kind of pendulum movement, slowly but steadily. These ideas move slowly enough that we forget about them once they are gone, but when they come back, they hit harder because they have been here before. Often we find new edges, new lines of flight on their return. A text we keep revisiting, blurred images, a scattered quote, a recurring conversation, a movie still, or a book that constantly appears to us. All of them are manifestations of our ruminant ideas, our calls.
A few years ago, I was concerned with what Rafael Moneo calls disciplinary principles, architectural ideas that have historically formed the basis of the discipline, ruminant ideas for generations upon generations. The search that Moneo raises is immensely comprehensive and therefore immensely reductionist; we cannot think there are totalizing principles for the plurality of visions and contexts. This endeavor would fit everything into a tiny, square, modern box. Instead of finding the few pieces that could fit in that tiny box, it seemed more relevant to investigate my disciplinary principles. My ruminant ideas, unlike Moneo's, are nebulous inscriptions. I write them in a misted mirror; they are not in stone but a cloud.
I did not realize this when I submitted the SLOW BLUR GENTLE Lab; I just felt a sort of conspiracy, an attraction to these extensive and uncertain words; I craved an excuse to play with them and invite others to join the game. I didn't know why.
Thus the NOT KNOWING study group came to life. As a collaborative production between ARCHIPIELAGO and TEOR/éTIca, it offered individuals or collectives from Central America and the Caribbean an open study and discussion space to propose whatever subject, area of interest, or thematic line they would like to explore. The open call asked the participants to think about what they didn't know and would like to investigate further. Instead of focusing on previous and familiar subjects, we asked them to propose unexplored paths of inquiry. With this strategy, we were trying to circumvent the typical or expected themes and invite the applicants to expand their range into an unknown realm; we asked them to delve into this blurry cloud of unrelated words.
In 2020 I enrolled without hesitation in a workshop organized by the LAB Pedagogico solely because of its name: Structure of a cloud.
The study group
NOT KNOWING was composed of heterogeneous perspectives and backgrounds; it included Luisa Gonzalez-Reiche, Wilfredo Orellana-Pineda from Guatemala, Kayla Archer from Barbados, Andres Zumbado Chacón, and Mariela Porras-Chaverri from Costa Rica. Because of the broad nature of the call, all the study proposals derived from remarkably different origins; thus, we aimed to highlight the shared interests and recurrent questions to bridge the four study proposals. Finding these shared intentions was crucial to solidify the group's fellowship and promote traffic of references, texts, and suggestions. As organizers of the study group, our hidden agenda was to uncover the subtle threads that could open shared areas of inquiry.
To kick off the conversation, Paula Piedra from TEOR/éTIca and I proposed an exercise that aimed to "create a common horizon". We asked the participants to share their study proposal's central concepts, questions, or concerns; in parallel, we built a digital board to organize these words around a horizontal axis to relate them with one another. After a round of presentations and discussions, we identified broader, more blurry words that encompassed many of their interests.
body / annulation / limit / ocean / hidden / dislocation / in-between spaces / effects / marks / bridges / volcano / statue / spectrum / calls
This kick-off exercise helped us uncover the threads of connection around their study proposals; it helped us discover the potential of blurriness as a metaphor for exploration. For the study group participants, these broader words helped them expand their imagination from their specific interests; in a sense, it opened their peripheral vision.
Three ideas resonated the most: the concept of "llamados," translated as calls, the ocean as a representation of a vast unknown, and finally, the question of what gets erased. We will not expand on the process/results of the study group; we encourage the reader to explore the outcomes in their own space/time following the links below. Instead, we will concentrate on the effects these blurry concepts had on understanding the drivers of ARCHIPIELAGO as a project and community.
a sealed box
Kantor is dense and massive. It is a heavy arrangement of black folded textiles; also, it is a hollowed, emptied, plastic body. It is diffuse, not like a whitish mist but like a blackish felt. Coal. Stone. Burned wood. Kantor is a dead class and a present body, hands that move, eyes that examine, a visible body directing, redirecting in time rather than space. His space is closed, enclosed in itself, enclosed in those bodies of flesh and plastic as if it were a sealed box. His space is a mysterious box that conceals, a box that we cannot bear not to open, not to suppose, not to imagine its content, a closed container, a cloth that covers, a dark mantle that is actually an invitation.
Luisa and Wilfredo introduced the "atender los llamados" concept, translated as "heed the calls." A few connotations get lost in the translation because the word [atender] also refers to an action of hospitality, like receive or host, so it is not just the fact of answering the call; it also implies an action of care and attention.
In their proposal, Luisa and Wilfredo explain "the calls" as inner cravings, like recurrent spectral figures or ideas that constantly become present. They are this itchy thing inside us that continually appears in our minds or bodies, a kind of gravitational force. They propose to start paying close attention to these calls to take care of them [atenderlas], and in doing so, explore more unexpected paths of inquiry, and take walks in ourselves.
In the case of ARCHIPIELAGO, we discovered that we could unravel multiple motivations, biases, or ruminant thoughts by paying particular attention to these calls. By attending to them, I realized that the ideas of blurriness and opacity had been present in our practice even before this project. Over the years, I have had a personal connection to the work of Agnes Martin, Tadeusz Kantor, and Aby Warburg; their work is remarkably different. Still, they shared common threads, an interest in collecting, wandering, obscuring, and making visible. The process proposed by Luisa and Wilfredo helped me identify some origins of my ruminant thoughts and how they are at the basis of what ARCHIPIELAGO aims to be.
a white canvas
In 2016 I witnessed Agnes Martin's work for the first time in person. Thinking about it now, I believe her work has the quality of floating in time and space; visually, it inhabits a kind of nothingness, a whitish and soft vacuum. This nothingness does not refer to an abstract or Cartesian space outside the body. Instead, I like to imagine it as an inner void, a kind of dense emotional cloud in which happiness, sadness, loneliness, and encounters coexist. Many of her works, mainly the more blurred and diffuse ones, give me that feeling of zooming in as if I were seeing the softness and structure of the body tissues, as if I were small and could take a walk in myself. Agnes Martin's images have been excuses to circumvent the formalism of clarity, the imposition of certainty, of pure lines. There is something powerful in the blurry and diffuse as a way of approaching the uncertainty of not knowing where to start. They are great mindsets to explore and wander, looking for unpredictable connections and feeding our curiosity.
Since its inception, the ocean's image has accompanied ARCHIPELAGO; it has been a recurrent metaphor to connect study processes. The ocean is a mass filled with memory, past, present, and relationships—a body in constant movement. The ocean became a playground, an open area to project sounds, send calls. A sonar that invites us to listen.
We envisioned a project where independent collectives or individuals can plug in and partake in study or editorial practices. The uncertainty and oscillation of the sea also reflect the fluidity of these processes and subjects, open-ended and non-static. For the NOT KNOWING group, Kayla proposed the ocean as a metaphor for digging into personal and social memories related to colonialism and identity in Barbados. She presented the formless body of water as an atemporal component of her personal and social identity. It represented an immeasurable and blurry substance that connects and divides us spatially and temporally.
Panoramic Sea Happening.
The back of a man standing on a chair in the middle of the water directing the sea's concert.
Sea. Movement. Sounds like water, smells like water. The background that should be blue, green, or blue with green is black and white, is more black than white, although sometimes the one in real life is more white than black. It is usually white at knee height; it is white even at our belly; when angry, it can be white enough to cover, drown, and even smash us against the stones. I heard somewhere that if you go to the beach and inadvertently get a little bit of sand between your fingers or in your pockets, really, literally in a few seconds, you are changing the world. That sand arrived there thousands, millions of years ago; it went from earth crust to stone, pebble, gravel, and finally sand, and now, just because, it ends up in the shovel of the house after we sweep the entrance or down the shower drain when we rinse off the salt.
I'm not sure what attracts me to this image; I think the composition, the shape, the symmetry, the centrality of the figure. It is hard for me to imagine what it could have been to perform this action, to be that person who stands on a chair in the middle of the sea dressed as an orchestra conductor. What must he have been thinking? Was he losing concentration? Was he thinking about what he had to do later when removing the sand from his pockets? I wonder what he felt when he was on his way to the chair. I wonder how the action felt before the photo, before the real action. I assume that when you are doing the action, climbing into the chair, it loses the image's power. Because now, we see the final movement, clean, complete, symmetrical, focused, but he, Edward Krasiński, had to figure out how to climb on a chair in the middle of the sea.
Mariela and Andres brought to the table questions regarding the body, whether it is the "objective" body of scientific research or the fictionalized body of professional sports portrayed in mass media. They wanted to pay special attention to the narratives, actions, or phenomena that continually get erased or left aside the mainstream discourse. Their projects are diametrically different, but we found a middle ground around the uncertainty of the erased voices, bodies, experiences, lives. For ARCHIPIELAGO, this resonates with our interest in decolonial practices. We wish to focus on the hidden rather than the evident, on left aside instead of front and center. Considering the blurry and uncertain helped us get closer to other practices, other voices, other bodies.
Atlas is a beautiful word. It is used almost without changing from Russian to German, English, French, Portuguese, or Spanish. It refers to a group of maps, but it can be easily transferred to a collection of any sort. Between 1924 and 1929, Aby Warburg worked on his Atlas Mnemosyne, an attempt to map the "afterlife of antiquity." I saw his panels on a hardcover book for the first time around 2016. I was, and still am, amazed by its vastness and density. A couple of years later, I bought myself a copy of the same book. I casually and not so often return to it to take a glance or re-read one of its essays. I think of it as a book to be read in fragments, a prolonged but steady reading over a lifetime. It is a narrow pathway into another reality and time that we can access every so often.
His Atlas is a map of relations, a place that brings together times, spaces, and cultures. Of course, it is not a comprehensive view of the world; nothing is, but I found these soft relationships and connections fascinating, a way to make visible what's underneath, to make the past present.
What remains? What could we still distinguish around all this blurriness?
SLOW BLUR GENTLE is an opportunity to take a walk in ourselves. SLOW BLUR GENTLE is an opportunity of study without a pre established finish. SLOW BLUR GENTLE is a beginning. SLOW BLUR GENTLE unravels our ruminant thoughts and identifies our past and future inquiries. SLOW BLUR GENTLE is the search for relations rather than concepts. SLOW BLUR GENTLE is the search for possibilities. SLOW BLUR GENTLE is an open ocean. SLOW BLUR GENTLE is a sonar that asks us to listen closely. SLOW BLUR GENTLE is an encounter, a juxtaposition, and multiplication. SLOW BLUR GENTLE is an attempt to solidify a presence, a cloud. SLOW BLUR GENTLE is a desire to attend our calls.
Mauricio Otárola is an architect, editor, and cultural project manager based in San Jose, Costa Rica. He is the founder of ARCHIPIELAGO, an interdisciplinary platform for meeting, learning, and publishing. The research interests and publications of ARCHIPIELAGO focus on the intersections of architecture with visual culture, socio-politics, performing arts, and pedagogical processes.
As a project, Slow, Blur Gentle works with slowness, blurriness, and gentleness as transversal methodologies for research, learning, and mediation. How do you feel these methodologies have created specific rhizomatic, de-centralized learning experiences within the environment of the School of Commons, which uses connected, yet different methodologies such as self-organization and doing-with-others at its core? Do you feel the different methodologies have interacted with one another to produce new, unexpected experiences and structures?
SLOW BLUR GENTLE offered an opportunity to dive into the unknown as a desired constraint rather than as an unexpected outcome. During our process, "blurriness" was the most present word of the tree; it appeared as a gray fog that softened thematic edges and helped us find the subtle connecting links of the study proposals. So first, I would say that the rhizomatic and decentralized structures appear when we avoid a hierarchical structure, a closed definition or approach towards a subject. When we let the "unknown" slide into our themes, methods, or participants, we discover the links and relations together; there is no pre-considered line to follow. To achieve this, GENTLENESS needs to be present; it is fundamental to be in a listening-first mindset. It needs to be an act of addition and reorientation rather than negation and exclusion. When interested in open-ended blurry processes, we strive for hybridity, mixture, and juxtapositions. We need to foster the mix of methodologies, thematic lines, and ideas, to expand the rhizomatic structure beyond what's evident at first glance.