Active inertia as an artistic strategy

List of arte-facts by
Laetitia Morais


This practice-based PhD in Fine Arts departs from the green ray - an astronomical phenomenon that might be observed during the sunset, triggering myths and fictions in Europe - to open-up a set of reflexive topics related to its exceptional qualities.

As a rarely observed phenomenon, and mostly, if not exclusively, described in European cultural and scientific narratives, an understanding of the green ray requires a constant reformulation of strategies. This can be particularly valuable for science, in its efforts to study indiscernible elements, and for the arts, by looking at forms of activation reliant on embodied knowledge and mutable processes.  

With the rise of European modernism, and the publication of a major science-fiction novel – Le Rayon Vert, by Jules Verne – the green ray became a fashionable myth, but was somehow constrained by what I argue was a trend of enlightened romanticism in this period. 

This necessarily raises several questions, summarised as follows:
How can one address perceptual phenomena such as the green ray for which there is no satisfactory epistemology? How can one acknowledge the impacts of the western dissemination of technoscience? How can one disrupt a western-centric body of knowledge?

Can futurity remain a staple of both science and fiction and not produce a rigid, culturally hegemonic cannon?

These questions may elicit responses from artistic research, which opens up new possibilities by means of procedural and conceptual dislocations. I propose a re-activation of the green ray phenomenon in situations that fostered local and cultural adaptations, transmissions and translations, which I present as arte-facts. Throughout my research, I worked in remote and distinct territories such as the Faroe Islands, the Azores archipelago, the Liwa desert and Japan, which allowed me to engage with different displays and situations.

At the crossroads of science and fiction, centric and peripheral views, effects and affects, rest and motion, I hope to contribute to the artistic discourse and make use of a newly-acquired knowledge (Erkenntnis). I expect to gather relevant insights that foster an unconstrained conversation combining conceptual objections with experimental practice, and in pace with the times.



“Lines of Discontinuity” (2015) was one of my first practical outcomes related to this research, consisting of a series of four projected images and two drawings. The projected images, which are also available in printable format, aim to simulate or re-stage mirage effects under artificial conditions. To pursue this experimental practice, I primarily studied references on astronomy from the Vatican Observatory[1].  In 2015, I was able to reproduce inverted mirages, which I then printed on emulsion paper. The process I used to create this involved a double drawing on a two-sided paper. The aim was to re-stage intangible phenomena.

The research process involved experimenting with different media and materials to explore movement, perception, and recognition. Central to this exploration was how virtual affects and emergent modes of inscription can modulate the dimensions, atmospheres, and tensions of inhabited experiences. My research drew heavily from astronomic observations and techniques, particularly those found in the Vatican astronomy book, The Green Flash and Other Low Sun Phenomena. This resource helped me to understand and reproduce the basic elements of green ray refraction.

The question that guided this research was: how can we reproduce and explore intangible phenomena, such as inverted mirages, and what purpose does it serve?

Description of the research process
Through media experimentation and exploration, I was able to re-stage these phenomena and create a new way for viewers to experience and engage with them.[2]

In this book, astronomical observations of the green ray are reported, with very specific details, such as the positioning of the Vatican Observatory, in Castel Gandolfo:

“Between X and Y there is for the most part a sea horizon. In direction Z, about 100km away, lie the Apennines”.[3]

Moreover, it presents very complete notations of the green ray observations, including its date; local temperature; relative humidity; local wind; seeing to horizon and the zenith distance of the sun’s upper limb.

Likewise, O’Connell adds reflexive descriptions, in which he expresses his difficulties in attach a scientific model to report the green gray:

“It is not easy to note the multifarious fine variations in color, intensity, extent, influence of scintillation (whether slight or marked or of different types). These effects are often seen to be stratified. At other times they appear in indescribable confusion, sometimes one type and sometimes another predominating.”[4]

“It is to be noted that, as the sun nears the horizon, estimates of the width of the green rim often become more uncertain, on account of the influence of (more or less fine) layers of discontinuity and of reflections.”[5]

By using a refractive lens, I was able to project the gradation of light on the surface. These refractions might be thought of as lend feeling to emergent form in the present. This could include a differential between the focused and the vague or between streamlining and dispersive affects. This gradation amplifies the qualities of contrasting entities while dampening others, a process, which may only become perceptible after reaching a certain threshold of difference.  To better understand visual gradation, we might compare it with the pitch of a musical note that gradually pulls out of drowning sounds and such thread can transmit the feeling of displacement, movement and direction. In dialogue with Deleuze and Guattari, gradation would shape the difference between the Smooth and the Striated[6].

This work has been only presented within the context of the Zurich University of Arts, during my PhD report presentation, in 2016.


I intended to use the reproduction of the green ray effect not only as an optical experiment, but primarily to challenge the excessive mystification surrounding it (see chapter 1.1). My goal was to artificially create the animistic aura of the mirage effect. The quality of apprehending and inscribing intangible resonances, is a quest of articulating the intense spacetime of the infra, or what Duchamp[7]calls the infra-thin and what Erin Manning[8]calls the infra-dimensional. Both cases highlight the potential for operation lying in the relationship between the infra and recognizable forms of identification, such as dimension, scale, and form. The infra, often considered a threshold or excessive intensity, finds expression in phase transitions that release transversal tensions, such as the heat retained in a chair's surface after someone has sat in it, as suggested by Duchamp. The residual quality that emerges is the intensities of the doubled form, which do not fit neatly into given modes of identification but can only be expressed as affective and dynamic co-compositions, existing in the midst of effect-affect.

In this infra-consistency, even the abstract form of a line becomes a transversal potential—the trembling lines might resonate as they coincide each other. This multiplicity is perhaps what brings Manning[9] to define the infra-dimensional as a 'volumetrics', or 'multiplying in the moving', where multiple pasts begin to surface in the present, thickening and prolonging the spacetime of potential in the present. However, merely moving alone does not guarantee an activation of the infra. The rote stabilization of subjectivity is also maintained by moving along familiar routes, ensuring that they remain in the negative-dip, the third dimension (as discussed in chapter 1.2). This allows for an opening to an affective impasse.

In re-staging the effect of a mirage, my intention is to activate doubled forms of visualization through techniques of optical apparatus. As the projection of the real co-composes with felt intensities that exceed optical space, it intensifies the potential for new modes of surfacing, or inhabitable topographies, to emerge. At the same time, it is essential to emphasize where and how such techniques can sustain inhabitable registers that exceed optical registers of perception, allowing them to generate new concepts and modes of corporeality and collectivity. The planes, contours, and areas held in tact in Euclidian spacetime are maintained by tendencies of visualization amidst the potential for them to resonate with any number of inhabited pasts.[10]  The question becomes how to amplify and re-stage the potential of this resonance to destabilize the immutability of Euclidian abstraction and the corresponding fixity of an observing subject.

Natasha Myers[11] emphasizes the importance of the term ‘rendering’ to characterize the way that gestures gather ‘kinaesthetically and affectively charged knowledge’, since they generate new knowledge as they resonate across bodies, disciplines and modes of encounter.  Likewise, Thomas Lamarre[12]explains how the process of rendering even a single contour 'cuts continuities and traces over discontinuities; it inscribes a body and a subject, where the difference between touching and grasping is no longer recognized'.

Attention, awareness, or care (using Heidegger's terms, see chapter 2.3) is required during the moments of appearance and disappearance. These in-between moments are reactivated by considering not only sight perception but also working with their materiality and presence in place. Temporality is also modulated, departing from Chronos-based occurrences to the sphere of Kairos through the action of the gesture/re-staging. In dialogue with the spectator, this leads them towards perpetual direction (Aion), with the spectator playing a crucial role as the medium from one stage to another. Therefore, I exhibit this artificial mirage by transcribing a possible event as opportunities for occurrences, an interplay between effects and affections. Although this process is impossible without embodiment, as it inflects embodied knowledge (as mentioned by Merleau-Ponty within the phenomenology current), my intention is always to transpose the self to the form, generating tensions between mutual opportunities for action.

This metamorphism is as bizarre as the grotesque might be, in the way a primordial shape assumes or adapts to another shape – outcomes a simultaneous projection of the parts. By using the effect of a mirage, which affects the form through distortion or transforms it into something else, I aim to activate similar conflicts between the observer and the observed. The definition of these strategies is so relative and dependent on ambiguous factors, such as the observer's position in space or light diffraction, that it raises, in my opinion, pertinent questions about the derivations of traditional aesthetics, which were more based on static notions and ideals than movable situations.

Following this line of thought, the instructional drawing invites any participant to re-stage a mirage, as well as providing and sharing ways to reproduce the quality of doubling images.


O’Connell, D.J.K (1958) The Green Flash and Other Low Sun Phenomena. Vatican Observatory

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. p.33

[4] Ibid. p.35

[5] Ibid.

[6] Deleuze, G. and Guatarri (1987) A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press

[7] Duchamp, M. (1983) Notes, Arranged and translated by Paul Matisse, Boston: G.K. Hall.

[8] Manning, Erin (2008) 'Creative Propositions for Thought in Motion', Inflections no. 1 - How is Research Creation? Retrieved from: http://www.inflexions.org/n1_manninghtml.html

[9] Ibid. pp. 104-5.

[10] Alpers, S. (1983) The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

[11] Myers, N. (2017) 'Ungrid-able Ecologies: Decolonizing the Ecological Sensorium in a 10,000-year-old Natural Cultural Happening', Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience, 3 (2): 1-24

[12] Lamarre, T. (2002) Diagram, Inscription, Sensation, In Brian Massumi (ed), A Shock to Thought: expression after Deleuze and Guattari, London and New York: Routledge. pp. 52-163



Description of the artefact

The film "Quiet Sun" is a 16mm recording of the passage from one day to another, spanning a period of 24 hours, in the Faroe Islands during the solstice summer in June 2016. The film captures the solstice length from sunset to sunrise, with occasional glimpses of outward light through doors and windows.

To create this film, a 16mm Bolex camera with an 11mm Kern-Paillard lens was used to capture the direct light printing in film. The film reel used was a 50D Vision3 Kodak color negative film, recorded at 24 frames per second and an aperture of f/4.0. These parameters were determined while the sun was still above the horizon and were not adjusted for changing light conditions during the "sun dip" below the horizon. As a result, the film deliberately under-exposes most of its length, capturing subtle changes in environmental light solely through its own chemical process.

The film has a duration of 2 minutes and is publicly presented in loop, flattening the chronological linearity into an endless movement.


In order to explore the questions raised in chapter 2.1, I undertook a journey to the Faroe Islands during the summer solstice in June 2016. My aim was to disrupt my perceptions and conceptions of the world, and challenge my habitual understanding of time passage, which is based on my experiences living in latitudes where day-to-night cycles are always associated with light-to-dark transitions.

During this journey, I grappled with several questions. How could I, as an observer, intentionally disrupt my perceptions, which are based on prior knowledge and experience? Is it possible to completely eliminate a habit of perception, and if so, how would I recognize what I am looking for? What happens to the observer who tries to observe something that is non-observable? And what if the non-observable exists only in the observer's ideals, habits, and theories?

Moreover, because this experience was time-based, I also had to consider how I could determine whether the time setting was correct, in order to observe the observable/non-observable. These questions challenged me to rethink my relationship with the world and my own perceptions, and prompted me to engage in a deeper exploration of the nature of perception and observation.

Description of the research process

I decided to engage with the presented questioning by traveling specifically to the Faroe Islands for two main reasons. The first reason is directly connected to its position in an extreme northern hemisphere. Experiencing a solstice in such a geographical latitude on Earth, close to the northern Earth pole, allowed me to perceive for the first time the absence of night, bringing me closer to my questioning. The aim of this journey was to challenge my inherent habit of time cycles, which are based on my living experience of day-to-night, in opposition to this specific situation of day-to-day.

The second reason pertains to the islands' peculiar geopolitical position in relation to Continental Europe. The islands are considered peripheral, similar to the Azores Islands, which I further observed (see artefact 3.4). They are located at the edge of the main living centers, thus, at the limit of geopolitical activity.

I see these outwards or edgy territories as triggers of the immanent potential and therefore open to opportunity (see chapter 2.3), as they lack the habit and social use of main urban sites. It is in the smoothness of these kind of territories (term I appropriate from Deleuze and Guattari[1] to reflect the islands low-metricized qualities, derived from a lack of massive urbanistic architecture, isolated and surrounded by the ocean, giving the feeling of absence of marks, patterns and order), that most of my research is being experienced. Places such as deserts, high mountains, oceans, and other sparsely populated areas can also evoke similar feelings. They share a common characteristic of having little to no visual landmarks or recognizable social cues that modern humans rely on for orientation.

The only plan I had defined in advance of undertaking this experiment was to use analogue film. The main reason for such an option is its more immediate response in receiving and printing light compared to digital devices. Although I didn't prepare any script or pre-production, nor did I have a certain idea if I would really use the camera or any other medium during the process. The main question in my mind was to test how I, as an observer (as a living entity), could change my perception from categorized knowledge or preconception of time. I could say that by choosing a possible medium, I was pre-arranging a set of strategies, but without attributing them instructions, the strategic tools instantly lose their motto and become purposely incomplete and dysfunctional. By not having a fixed model, I could essay a new approach regarding my research, which was less objective than it is supposed to be. My lack of a fixed goal led me to research through the active-inertia (see chapter 2.2), which I define as a torpid awareness similar to the feeling of searching for something that we have never seen before, just relying on some descriptions or documents. This allowed me to continuously adapt and react without a preconceived structure.

The act of waiting for a lagging and erratic event may be another strategy for purview. In this state of tedious prostration, we fail to be precise, neglect our tasks, and unintentionally evoke the anti-metaphor (disrupting the ideals) through torpor and derivation. It is this state of active-inertia that, without any premeditation on its own, becomes evident.

It was also during the research process that a particular reference taken from the state-of-the-art came to my mind. Even though I had known this work for a long time, the urgency of mentioning it just arose in the moment I saw myself attempting a similar movement. Bas Jan Ader ‘s 16mm film “Night Fall”[2] is a 4’16’’ recorded performance consisting in the desire of the artist to synchronise his body with the day to night passage, thereof “falling” with the same speed, as the sun disappears below the horizon. He adds to his literal fall over, a cultural connotation with failure, a conceptual mark of most of his works.

Quiet Sun shares several similarities with Bas Jan Ader's approach, as both attempt to attain an indiscernible event that, when failed, becomes embodied knowledge. This latency and derivation are revealed in the artefact through the effort to capture the solstice, a passage of day-to-day life that demands physical effort, such as staying awake for 24 hours and adapting to the absence of night. Failure or fallacy is also evident in the difficulty of ascribing the actual nightfall, which is not recognizable on film. However, Quiet Sun is not merely a documentation of a specific experience, but also an installation that disrupts time and its limits. One might wonder where the observable is, as well as the beginning and end of the apparent movement.

Therefore, Quiet Sun does not function as a hermetic documentation or image-based archive of theoretical reflections on the solstice; it activates other times by being an improvisation, filmed during the experiment and later rearranged as an infinite loop to preserve the feeling of disrupted times. All aesthetic choices made while using the film medium were drawn during the same temporality of the event itself, even though there was an anticipatory desire to achieve the solstice phenomenon in that specific place. My conception of night as a dark period did not suddenly change, and it is impossible to determine when or if a transformation occurred. This is why the film inscribes the entire process of doing the work, from the lack of preparation to its final transmission, revealing the active-inertia (see chapter 2.1) that led me to apprehend indiscernible and unknown occurrences.


Quiet Sun was produced during the second year of my PhD research and engages with the preliminary objections regarding, essentially, the setting up of a rite of passage, the non-event and how to define the strategies to recognize something new.

During the process of observation of what I would identify as a smooth event (displacing Deleuze and Guattari definition of smooth fields regarding unmeasurable and trembling territories[3], to the order of time) – by cause of being confronted with an unsettled situation, where the only possible action is to derive, moving in-between the precedent and the subsequent and amidst the idea and the manifest, inscribing, in the western conception of action, a new sense of torpor. This torpor or state of inertia may seem contradictory to the definition of awareness. However, it is well-suited when awareness is related to a passage - as something that moves, constantly changes, and requires a holistic embrace of both the precise and undefined since there is no fixed or permanent stage by definition.

Adopting this approach, which begins with the perception of passage and extends to the sense of opportunity, I concluded that despite challenging my knowledge and the processes of acquiring it through sleepiness and vague movements, I could produce a contingent arte-fact that accurately captures the essence of documentation. This arte-fact was not prepared or refined. Its efficacy lies in the absence of instructions, relying on the embodied affection and improvised decisions made during the experiment, reflecting a particular awareness of a new experiment and a sleepy and torpor sensation.

To apprehend through absences, such as the absence of what becomes familiar through repetition, and similar exercises allow for a peaceful abandonment of ideals. An ideal is formed based on experience. Anything that disrupts experienced knowledge will inevitably bend the enclosure of an ideal. Nonetheless, the means remain - the materials we recognize and stubbornly classify. This difficult process of approaching the unknowable by means of the unknown is referred in Abraham’s psychoanalysis as anasemic tools[4]. He introduces this concept to designate “the status of concepts which, tough deliberately disruptive of a unifying, conscious self, outline, the ultimate unconscious sense or source of disruption”[5].   I would prefer to assign the means of perception the function of purview. During a visual approach, we metaphorically collide with an image, rebounding its scale and distance and the successive variations thereof. In other words, by observing effects through affection, the external view of the observer becomes somehow manifested in the body, becoming a haptic experience. As the Indian philosopher Krishnamurti used to say, while discussing the state of enlightenment, in full awareness, the observer becomes the observed.[6]. To expand on the previous point, the opportunity for new insight and understanding arises from the tension between our position as beings within the world and the images we encounter. The torpor and active-inertia mentioned earlier exist within this constant dispersion, where our bodily experience of the world meets with the images and representations that we encounter. It is in this space that new possibilities emerge, as we confront the limitations and potentials of our own perceptual frameworks and encounter new ways of seeing and experiencing the world. By staying open to the unexpected and the unknown, we create the conditions for new insights to emerge and for our understanding of the world to expand.

Indeed, while wandering inside the hotel, I had the sensation of being in a dystopian scenario where every piece of furniture seemed to be waiting to sustain an event that could initiate at any time - open rooms, dressed tables, lights on. The artificial lighting played a major role in creating this sensation, as it seemed dysfunctional during this day-night cycle interruption. The aesthetics of the artificial illumination within this hotel, mostly composed of fluorescent blue and green neon lights, is usually more commonly found in night entertainment venues such as bars. This may be due to its dreamy effects as these colors are more associated with fiction than reality. White and yellow light colors resemble natural sunlight more than the bright fluorescent green, which first appeared during the technological revolution thanks to Hewitt’s discovery of passing an electric current through mercury vapor and incorporating a ballast, resulting in the blue-green light[7].

  Strangely, this hotel used the same type of lights in every area, including the business meeting room and corridors, amplifying the ambience of techno-imagery. One could easily sense a decalage or incoherence between natural and artificial lighting.

Shooting such a scenario with analog film also contributed to a trembling effect on the image, which is coherent with my conceptual aims. It functions with the afterimage and the apparent movement. What appears to be or what is about to come is not revealed. Indeed, every footage reveals an obvious stillness, suggesting the night-time context in which these images were taken - a period of low human activity, the resting time. Quiet Sun unfolds through different static images and slowly enunciates an undefined time, empty areas, empty chairs, dressed tables, and presence lights, exalting the sensation of expectation, like a theatrical scenario without its actors, the aesthetic set for the opportunity that I am seeking. The passage of that non-night revealed a total absence of any event, and no significant changes could be noticed for 24 hours. What remained was the constant opportunity for its occurrence.

To film this absence of action throughout empty spaces and obscured forms was actually the only solution I found to capture some recognition of the passage of night. Thus, the film is a clear attempt to understand night by means other than darkness. Although the decisions taken about the medium and the chosen camera device play an important role in its aesthetics and conceptual concerns, the most crucial remark of this arte-fact resides in the exploration of embodied knowledge and in its attempt to reactivate it, not only by documenting it but also by displaying it without editing, enabling the transmission of the solipsism deriving from it. Although I am aware of the partiality of such transmission, as an embodied experience always depends on the individuality of its operator, its looping display, aesthetics in form, and format (trembling appearance) preserves its disruptive effects. The spectator has access to the raw footage and every decision made during the film-making process. Nonetheless, it is a recording of my torpid awareness. The making of this film is also a struggle to avoid sleep, my inner habit of sleeping at night. I couldn't avoid falling into a mood between rest and awareness. In other words, I couldn't achieve any intention to gaze precisely or become efficient from a Western perspective.

As seen, the preconception of night as the absence of the sun or at least the impossibility to observe it, caused by our position in relation to Earth and its own rotation, is in tension throughout the film, while only slight changes in the intensity of daylight are perceived. It doesn't attain the stage of the dark side - the obscure. Another way of experiencing the lack of obscurity could be achieved by moving at the same speed as Earth's rotation. Therefore, we could assert that it is in the displacement of the observer that other opportunities become possible.

Without the reposition of the observer, the disruption of preconceptions may not be achieved. That is to say, there is a movement too, a gesture or an action[8] required, even if that utter process is done exclusively as a conceptual projection, it is indeed an activity.

Although my individual expectations, based on my cultural heritage and living experience marked by central-south European tradition (raised in France, living in Portugal), transform my perception of this event into a non-event (as I dare to claim it, contradicting my expectation of events as self-revealing), I am aware that it is a sensorial fallacy – a combination of what is real and what is an illusion.

The practice of producing this arte-fact led me to better understand the different levels that may constitute awareness, such as the awareness of presence through absence and vice versa. I was able to observe, as intended, what stands in the non-manifesting. I disrupted my habit and forced myself to adapt. Through this arte-fact, I intend to emphasize the importance of adaptation as a process that happens without time constraints. It was also revealing to me the significance of using adaptation in aesthetics - employing a shape that attains a different form demands a flexible matter, a sort of stretching, loosening up conformism. The flexibility or adaptability of an image boundary resonates with the camouflage effect as a form that bends to fit another or assumes the lines of something external to it[9] . This also prompted me to reflect more deeply on the various forms of knowledge (as discussed in chapter 2.2) and how they can be reactivated (as explored in chapter 2.3).

I suggest that this arte-fact embodies a similar kind of knowledge to that acquired through observing a green ray. From my experience with the green ray phenomenon, I learned qualities such as continuous adaptation to an unfamiliar environment, the potential for any event to open up new possibilities, and the active inertia involved in such observations.

[1] Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1987) A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press


Nightfall, Bas Jan Ader, 16mm, 4 min 16 sec. 

[3] Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1987) A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press

[4] Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, The Shell and the Kernel. Chicago: The University Press of Chicago, 1994, p. 23.

[5] Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, The Shell and the Kernel. Chicago: The University Press of Chicago, 1994, p. 77

[6] J Krishnamurti. (August 2012) The Observer Is the Observed:  1945-1948: The Collected Works of J. Krishnamurti: Volume 4 (v. 4). Krishnamurti Foundation America

[7] Matt Helland (2015). The evolution of the light bulb.

Retrieved from: https://www.energyprofessionals.com/renewable-energy/evolution-of-the-lightbulb/

[8] Notes: Vitalism has always had two possible interpretations: that of an idea that acts but is not-that acts therefore only from the point of view of an external cerebral knowledge (from Kant to Claude Bernard); or that of a force that is but does not act-that is therefore a pure intentional Awareness (from Leibniz to Ruyer). If the second interpretation seems to us to be imperative, it is because the contraction that preserves is always in a state of detachment in relation to action or even to movement and appears as a pure contemplation without knowledge.

Deleuze and Guattari, (2005) Qu' est-ce-que Ia philosophie? Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, p. 201.

[9] Notes: As Heidegger terms flexibility “coming-into-the-nearness-of-distance.”, he then exemplifies with the sight of the sky: “Everything that shimmers and blooms in the sky and thus under the sky and thus on earth, everything that sounds and is fragrant, rises and comes – but also everything that goes and stumbles, moans and falls silent, pales and darkens”.

Heidegger. “…Poetically Man Dwells…”, in Petry, Language, Thinking, p. 225. 

Notes: The sky as an open expanse with a flexible limit conforms to what Idhe describes as the Eastern as opposed to the early Western conception of the hravens: “In the early cosmologies of the West, the sky was the dome of the heavens and seen as solid, its color was the color of the dome. In the East, the sky is the open and color recedes infinitely within the openness”

Ihde, Don. (2012) Experimental Phenomenology.  State University of New York: Suny Press, p.92



Description of the Artefact

"La Longue Durée: Structure, Conjoncture, Évènement" consists of a series of works presented as a unity-in-plurality. It was exhibited at the Arquipélago Contemporary Art Centre from May to July 2018. Four mediums are easily distinguishable, three of which correspond to one of the sub-title’s terms, as I explain below.

"La Longue Durée" - video installation (see below images) - consists of a digital video projection in 6:9 aspect ratio and lasts for 19 minutes. It documents the witnessing of a desert contemplation of the sunset, starring exactly at the opposite direction of it. It is enacted by two characters (a male and a female). Integrated into this installation is a physical structure at the eastern side of the projection: a plinth with a glass bell containing only water vapor (a hidden device under the plinth hits a water container to humidify the visible glass surface). Near the end of the three-month exhibition period, the accumulated vapor became increasingly visible in the form of water drops draining from glass surfaces.

"Structure" - tent structure with nearly 6 meters in height and variable dimensions - bends to the exhibition's architectural structure. The shape is drawn by the gallery in reflection of flexibility and adaptation.

"Conjoncture" - a set of nine smaller objects displayed on the floor made with materials collected or used during the desert trip, including compressed coal in Arabic gum, wood oud, lenses, desert stone, and sand. These elements are rearranged on hold.

"Évènement" - schematic drawing. Oil pastel on linen fabric, 60x60cm. It is an objective interpretation of scientific schemes used to explain the sunset's negative dip (see chapter 2.2).


Despite the publications available that point to the "western discovery" of the green ray, which is being regarded as the only factual account of its reports (despite the high probability that this is not the case), it glorifies the European navigators in a nostalgic manner that resonates with the colonial era when the discovery of "new worlds" was exclusively credited to the Europeans. During my trip to the Middle East, I filmed a sunset from the opposite direction, facing east, with my back towards the west. My intention was to provoke a counter-directing vision of the West by turning my back on the opportunity to witness the green ray. I asked myself: departing from the traditional scientific system in Europe that only recognizes publications and reports as valuable institutional knowledge, how can we oppose such formalities? How can we avoid documentation being the only format for knowledge production? By witnessing a sunset from the opposite perspective, what can we reveal?

During the exhibition montage process in Azores, another set of questions emerged about how to reset and reactivate the aesthetics and emotions gained during a specific situation and experimentation in another place and time. I was interested in finding ways to replay these tensions within their displacement in place and time instead of simply representing them.

Description of the research process

In March 2018, I was invited by the Arts Centre of the New York University of Art in Abu Dhabi, UAE to produce a film in the desert, which I found a great opportunity to simultaneously develop my PhD research. NYUAD provided a local guide to supervise the trip to the Liwa desert, which is located on the border between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, a dotted area with oscillating flares of oil wells.

Seeking miraging effects, so common in deserts, my main purpose was to engage in the smoothness of the desert. I wanted to redirect my habitual position, which often faces west. Living near the Atlantic Ocean, the desert's provocations in perception inflated my own interest.

To pursue my research, I spent nine days and nights in the desert. Through shared thoughts and conversations, along with continuous sight of abstract landscapes, I apprehended the differences between our habits and how to adapt to such a different environment. Our equipment consisted of a jeep, one tent, food supplies for a week, charcoal to lit fires, and water supplies for survival in the desert estimated at one month. We could access GPS through mobile phones, although many areas were network-constricted by military purposes.

My first plan was to film the sunset in this landscape. I prepared the camera to record the sunset gradation on the eastern landscape during the passage from day to night. However, the gradation of colors became much more interesting facing the opposite side of the sunset, and such perception led me to change my subject of filming to the abstractness of the landscape, instead of framing the circular shape of the sun, as I previously intended.

The appearance of two figures at a distance significantly increased the space of divination from either landscape subtle changes and from the gestures, sometimes tiny, others large. The sound is granular, recording the sand entering directly into the camera sound connectivity.

Later, when I was invited to exhibit this work, I decided to recreate my desert experience by showcasing the materials I used during my journey. I transformed and molded these materials to adapt them to their new space. I displayed the tent structure, glass, sand, coal, among others, as suspended in time, hoping to preserve the immanency of the experience. I titled this set of works "Structure and Conjoncture," linking it to the objective dictionary definition of the term, which refers to a situation resulting from a combination of circumstances and events.[1]

This project includes a drawing that interprets the negative dip schematization of the sunset using linen for support and oil pastel for inscription. I chose to use traditional fine arts materials as a way to address my concerns about the traditional means of art materialization. Beyond making a statement, the use of such mediums questions the image-phenomenon. I titled this drawing Évènement as it focuses on the principal non-event, the double view of the sunset, that I was exploring.

Together, these works operate within the framework of La Longue Durée, a concept coined by French historian Fernand Braudel. La Longue Durée offers a less segmented and framed history, encompassing a comprehensive time frame to avoid an objective perspective of chronological history[2].  Braudel uses several exemplifications and formulations of La longue durée, for instance Ernst Robert Curtius’ account of the cultural system of Latin civilization from the fall of the Empire to the fourteenth century, as well as Pierre Francastel’s treatment of the ‘geometric space of Western painting.[3]. It is in this ambiguous gathering of times (see about Kairos, Chronos and Aion in the beginning of this chapter), in the strain between West and East, that I elaborated this practice.


As previously mentioned, "La Longue Durée – structure, conjoncture, évènement" follows Fernand Braudel's definition and seeks to manifest a situation placed in time, repeated, and preserved through art.

To elaborate on the insights gained from this artwork, I will divide its realization into two main processual stages. In the first stage, I drew upon my embodied experience gained during my displacement to the Liwa Desert in the United Arab Emirates in March 2018. In the second stage, I focused on the process of reactivating this experience through art in a later moment and different location - the Arquipélago Art Centre in the Azores in May 2018. I will elaborate on my insights gained from each stage as follows:

Searching polarities from the Middle-East

The abstractive quality of immeasurable lands, to which Deleuze and Guattari called Smooth fields[4], is a set which opens to the immanency of events and therefore it implicates new strategies from its observer. However, to rethink the landscape throughout a less westernized focus, might reveal different aspects of such perception.

As François Jullien wonders about what he considers his own suspicions:

“Je me demanderai donc, plus soupçonneux, si nous ne sommes pas partis d’une mauvaise definition du paysage, en Europe: d’une definition, en tout cas, qui a brimé, constraint, meurtir peut-être, ce possible qu’il est (…)”[5]

Despite the fact European landscapes, such as the oceanic or sea sights, contain the smoothness referred by Deleuze and Guattari[6],  the Heideggerian earlier definition of landscape as the Being towards-the-World, is better understood in the West (as seen in chapter 2.3), than it would be in the East, where the meaning of opportunity and contingency comes out of open space.

The desert, regardless of its location, has the power to redirect one's focus towards the being, as it is an immense and insurmountable terrain where survival instincts take over and physical awareness becomes a top priority. In the desert, a sense of urgency is present at all times, and despite the apparently still environment, it is constantly changing - the wind slightly alters the shape of dunes, the light changes from bright white to sulfuric hues, and the depth of field is difficult to discern. Illusion and reality blend together, much like a mirage.

While this particular desert is located in the Middle East, I viewed it as a geographic metaphor between the West and the East. My approach to navigating this vast and unpredictable terrain was influenced by both polarities. I set goals for myself while also allowing for unexpected situations to arise, such as the accidental inclusion of figures in the video frame that was initially intended to only capture the horizon. The subtle appearance of the figures, standing at a distance and barely visible in relation to the frame, adds to the overall effect and affect of the landscape. Julien also highlights the affective resources present in such landscapes:

    “Quand l’extérieur que j’ai sous les yeux sort de son indifférence et de as neutralitée: c’est d’um tel couplage que naît du “paysage”. Il y a paysage quand je ressens em même temps que je perçois; ou disons que je preçois alors du dedans comme du dehors de moi même – l’étanchéité qui me fait tenir en sujet independent s’estompe. Ou, pour le dire em termes plus catégoriels, et ce sera ma nouvelle définition du paysage: il y a paysage quando le perceptif se révèle em même temps affectif.”[7]

  The main insights brought from this experience are shaped by the effect-affection dichotomies or “coplage” (coupling), as Jullien names it. Dealing with distant horizons through a smooth field, the resulting awareness of visual effects like mirage, latency, and contingency can only be apprehended from perception through affection. Embodied knowledge becomes even more amplified when exploring a strange or uninhabited place, which, in my opinion, is lacking in Jullien’s definition.

From the knowledge acquired during my PhD research and my desire to better reflect on the subject of Western and Eastern differentiations regarding the efficacy of actions, I intended to experience the sunset desert facing East. This became incredibly nourishing as a major set for effect-affect interplays.

Although not directly related to my research questioning, I must mention the presence of a guide who was directing the way of displacement in the field. This differentiates from the other artefact’s processes, which are usually undertaken alone. In this case, the field was unknown to me but familiar to the guide. It was the combination of my desire to produce my film in a specific set (facing the Eastern horizon) and safety procedures that ultimately determined the journey structure.

The tensions between beauty and violence, familiar and stranger, East and West were easily dissipated during the first hours in the desert, even though I could feel what I might describe as a disturbing softness. The desert is astonishingly beautiful for its bright light, warm colors, and sinuous lines, and the sand is soft and comfortable. However, the rarity of life, water, and motion, and the harshness of survival vibrate in this place like a lethal poison. At some point, which is indeterminate, such tensions become imperceptible, and one might not realize body dehydration. I can say I related to such a field beyond the Western sight – the sunset observation by two figures towards the East allowed me to better assemble the Being and the View as it became a living landscape where major events happen not at sight, but during its dip, on the other side (see chapter 2.2).

Displacing the collected effects-affects beyond to the West Center

To reactivate the desert insights, I decided to use the materials that I collected in the desert as a kind of archaeological arte-fact. I treated them as if they were just found and unveiled, with a supplementary and emancipatory gesture. However, since I cannot avoid working within place and time, this enacted situation had to be moulded by the new location. I wanted to exhibit these pieces as if they were just released, freely occupying this new place without order, filling the new challenging boundaries and adapting to it clearly. It is evident they do not originally belong there.

I could elaborate further by enunciating each of the piece's insights, but all of them extol in a similar way, as objects that gather some immanent situation. They could be interacted with at any moment. For example, a chessboard made of desert sand, a pair of lenses intersected (one convex, the other concave in order to reply view to the origin scale), pieces of oud fragilely aligned, coal abstract figures (visions of burnt memories) laid on the gallery floor, apparently left in the middle of some situation, disarranged.

The video, projected in the gallery space, is not meant to illustrate the research or become a documentary piece. It does not represent an event, but it displays an accidental processual moment. It contradicts the West by facing East during the sunset, the event I was looking for. For these reasons, it becomes a non-event. As mentioned in the description, I titled the video recording "La Longue Durée," in memory of Rohmer’s character, who, during the whole narrative, attempted to observe the perfect green ray gazebo - a clear and unobstructed western horizon - letting themselves be lost. However, I faced east and in opposition to the sunset direction, as a political gesture of counteracting, against the west, I attempt, to observe the green ray. I became more aware of the double-images and the intangible dimension coming from it. This video is in dialogue with the wet bell glass. The effect is similar to the one if some living body were breathing inside it. Its absence provokes the inquiry of presence.

To reactivate the desert insights, I decided to use the materials that I collected in the desert as a kind of archaeological arte-fact, which were just found and unveiled, with a supplementary and emancipatory gesture on them. I can’t avoid working within place and time; therefore, this enacted situation had to be molded by the new location. I wanted to exhibit these pieces, not by disposing of them, but as if they were just released, freely occupying this new place without order, filling the new challenging boundaries and clearly adapting to it. As it is evident, they don’t originally belong there.

I could elaborate further by enunciating each of the piece’s insights, but all of them extol in a similar way, as objects that gather some immanent situation, as they could be interacted with at any moment. For example, a chessboard made of desert sand, a pair of lenses intersected (one convex, the other concave, to reply to the origin scale), pieces of oud, fragile and aligned, coal abstract figures (visions of burnt memories) laid on the gallery floor, apparently left in the middle of some situation, disarranged.

"Évènement" is a drawing on linen displayed next to the installation. It could be seen as a rough sketch, similar to "Lines of Discontinuity." It represents the mirage effect that can be observed through sunlight refraction, caused by the earth's curvature and the trembling horizon caused by temperature differentiations. The last perceivable segment of the sun is just an immaterial projection of the sun in the air, which is its doubled image – a possibility for the green ray dispersion.

The choice of mediums is intertwined with the play of tools, as they reflect the overall thinking and decisions about their qualities in relation or tension with the content. They reflect themselves, again as strategies to restage doubled-images.

[1] Retrieved from: https://www.linternaute.fr/dictionnaire/fr/definition/conjoncture/

[2] Tomich, D. (2011) The Order of Historical Time: The Longue Durée and Micro-History. Almanack. Guarulhos, n.02, pp. 52-65

[3] BRAUDEL, F. (1978) History and the Social Sciences: The Longue Durée. Immanuel Wallerstein, trans. Review, vol. XXXII, n.2, pp. 179-180

[4] Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1987) A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press 

[5] Jullien, F. (2014). Vivre du paysage ou l’impensé de la Raison. Éditions Gallimard

[6] Deleuze, G. and Guattari., F. Ibid.

[7] Jullien. Ibid. pp 89, 90.