lecture by David Apheceix, at Le Sujet Digital / The Digital Subject conference
École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs - Université Paris VIII, 2015


Italian radicals from the seventies developed the theoretical model of the « neutral surface » as a reduction of architecture to a mere environment that creates some softer conditions for cohabitation through a mediation of objects, which were at that time the objects from the consumer society. Outside the privacy of the family home, which was the centerpoint in the ideology of the modern project, the neutral surface relies on the ideal of more flexible forms of living, concomitant to the development of communication technologies which allows to forecast the possibility of new forms of togetherness. That place of utopia for some, or distopia for others, has moved to devices; we get interested in their architecture, figured through hour-long keynotes, and the interactive potential they point towards.

Where a space was needed as a particular environment, with its specific typology, suitable for various exchange modes, the device produces conditions of mediation whatever the space. The image of the habitat as space, focused on the metaphor of space as holder, catalyzing recipient, slides towards the image of the apparatus, which doesn’t hold but maintain available and calls forth possible realities. Peter Sloterdijk uses the analogy of the tensegrity to describe an agency of points that hold only through an ever adjusting exchange of forces. Unlike space, that stably seems to know how to live, apps are proliferating, as if we had no attachment to how we want to live. Their new functions radically changes ways of life at every new app, for a certain time. Its an open project dealing with the availability of apparatus. Giorgio Agamben describes that « infinite development of apparatus to which corresponds a likely infinite development of subjectivation processes ». For him, this dissemination allows to get away even more of any essence and belief in a proper identity. But he worries about their political management, and conveys religion to qualify the separation from a common use that those apparatus trigger. He suggests that a way to deal with them is through profanation. Profanation consists in seizing both the subjectivation process at stake and the apparatus themselves to take their mechanisms to light, which means make them available for common understanding and therefore politics, back in some common management. 


Talebot is an app that gathers users who can connect through similar interests they share at a specific moment. Each formulable thing is associated to a random shape in an infinite user-generated list. Picking up one to 8 words allows to set a talebot and at the same time creates an entourage, a proximity of talebots ordered according to both the number of words they have in common and their geographical proximity. By taping on reminiscent shapes of each word on the talebots you can see those words users are manifesting. By force-touching on those shapes you can show how much you like a particular word, and you start a conversation about it. It is based on two graphic algorithmes that produce different interactive objects.

The first algorithm gives an abstract graphic shape to anything capable of being formulated by the users. Through encryption, words give a chain of numbers to the script that uses them as variables to its graphic parameters. It creates an index rerum in which things radically don’t pre-exist to their formulation. They’re pure language products. It’s also made possible because their matter, the code, made of 0 and 1, is much less mysterious than physical matter, it has a more radical nothingness. If its not in the database it doesn’t exist at all. Its harder to imagine nothingness in physical matter, there always seems to be something, even if it’s not formulated as a thing. When entering a word, the algorithm gives shape to it. But this shape is concomitant to the use of the word, the shape is not made for good. It exists as long as at least one person uses it. If people don’t use a word, its shape disappears until someone uses it again. Therefore this appearance has no transverse value or meaning, it’s really the result of a random chain of numbers. The thing exists only at the time of its mobilisation as a mediation, not before and not after, and it’s at that only moment that the shape can make sense, as an interface, an object on which to rely to mediate meaning in an exchange.

This app tries to simplify the relationship to objects, by reducing artefacts into signals which are easier to exchange, to cross by algorithms and to visualize in combinations. By pushing their visual representation into abstraction it removes design meanings, to focus on a more efficient quality of mean. It takes away possible ends, that warp things into multiple cultural discourses. We would call « wares » those objects only defined and created through the attention that is brought to them in a moment of expression, of demonstration to others of both their existence and their use, which are concomitant.

From that primitive visual vocabulary, a second algorithm gives shape to any combination of words from users. By choosing some words, they do two actions in reciprocity: they produce a temporary representation of themselves to others while configuring a proximity, a common ground with some users sharing words. But in the intuitive list of existing words they can see how many people are using a word in real time. Therefore, it’s not a self-expression of oneself, it’s a more informed, relative and strategic choice. That act, while addressing a potential « perfect match », co-produces loose communities of people sharing only some of the words. These temporary and wonky communities, empowered by relevant bits of context, open with their unmatching words on other possible directions that can transform one’s talebot. Therefore the talebot has something prismatic, it’s a zone of friction, a buffer zone shaping an ever changing « me through others », as a semi-external product of subjectivity expressed visually. It has no proper consistence, it keeps changing with the combination of words and disappears when there’s no word. It’s always the product of iterations, of test and reconfiguration of signals in front of the world, in the project of a mediation through various common grounds that can intersect or not. Its a very malleable matter, its this malleability which enables to open paths to social possibilities, which remain abstract, not clear, potential. It addresses some possible future content.

We could compare the talebot to the « mirror » on the internet, which has no proper consistence; its shape as a tool and its proper shape merge. It points, through the very mean that constitutes it, towards invisible, unknown, blurry adresses and content, far away objects for which we never know the path to get to them. It is the present appearance of some abstract objective towards which we want to tend, and in the process it erases itself towards its target; yet it’s the only mean of access. Therefore it’s a pure navigation instrument, and it gives us information about the access value we have available, how much we can get towards. So it takes place in a present that reflects and translates to a near future, like an outfront that only generates present through a future tangent. 

To sum up, if some subjectivity is at stake in the talebot, somehow it takes the shape of a rendez-vous, a place negotiated half-way with others, for some more or less specified meeting in the aim of doing something, the more or less abstract project of something else.

Continuity project

Therefore it’s about project, and this project starts with 2 possible interactions on the app: the manifestation of interest for a specific word, that then opens the possibility for a conversation. One specific word articulates a mutual account of selves. So it starts around some « chat ». Mallarmé was using in the 1890’s the idea of « universel reportage » to name those « non-poetic » accounts of daily life, this literature of newspaper in which things happen and are told at the same time. It was based for him on a differentiation of means and ends, the literature and poetry as a pure end that wouldn’t be the mean for anything, and those stories as a mean, of information and utilitarian speculation. In Talebot they would merge, literature being the very mean of production of life through communication. The quality, the substance of the content alone doesn’t count. That coproduction of life through and by its very means of expression only aims at its self-sustainability. If we look at their mechanism, mirrors and talebots keep pointing out and calling forth. This mouvement builds towards a continuity: the continuous possibility of living through exchanging iterative accounts of one’s life in discussion, co-production with others. They constitute the means of some continuity project, in which the experienced matter of life through the use of the apparatus is not an end, but the substrate from a series of consequent attempts towards a clearer, less abstract, therefore more comfortable, self-sustained continuity.