Ane Østrem & Sander Uitdehaag: this is the sis

Mentor: Doreen Mende

Independent reviewer: Facs of Life, Silvia Maglioni & Greame Thomson

Arnhem, June 2012


Dear reader,

Before you lays this is the sis, a mutual text, an exercise in writing together, a  dialogue that has been growing in coming and going. During the last six months  we have been reading and writing, trying to figure out how to do things with  theory. After deciding to write together, we set up a framework. For one week  one of us was writing while the other one was reading. After one text had been  sent, the roles reversed: the reader became the writer, picking up from an  element of the other’s text, while the first writer went on doing research and  waiting for the other to reply. You could say we replaced a classical structure of  argumentation by creating a system of hiccups and pick-­ups. Whenever there  was a temporary stoppage in our thought system we sent off what we had so far,  trusting that the other would find a way in -­ or out -­ and continue.
Quite early in the process this method of picking up from where the other had  left it, lead to questions around the issue of editing. The system made it almost  impossible to delete earlier texts and paragraphs, because the follow-­up text was  always a reaction to the flow of the entire text that came before. Also, next to the  main texts that were sent back and forth, we were constantly making additions  to the text of the other, and soon we had reached a point of no return. Our text  would need to grow like an endless rhizome, without hierarchy, into many  directions, and with buds where new words might or might not be added to at a  later moment in the process.
We decided to create a space for these additions. Initially we called these new  fragments, quotes, images and sometimes entire texts ‘footnotes’, but we could  never quite adjust to the inherent implications of the word footnote: our  additions were not lower in rank, they just came later in time, and thus did not  belong at the bottom of a page. So we created a space next to the written texts  where diversions, alternative and parallel routes can exist and potentially keep  growing. In the text that you have in front of, behind or next to you, you find both  the result and the process of what can best be typified as a rhizomatic dialogue: a  text that grows from the middle and shoots into many directions. In it we try to  locate as precisely as possible the enjoyment of an exchange, of our exchange.   

The introduction that you are reading right now is living a little outside the  text(s) that we call our thesis. We rather build and add and continue than polish  and take away. We edit the formulations in which we express our ideas, but not  so much the ideas themselves. Therefore this is the sis has no conclusion, nor is  this really an introduction that sums up what is about to follow. It makes more  sense to call what you are reading now an epilogue. A continuation of what  comes after this. This is the beginning of the continuation and the end of the  beginning.   

The time of writing is an important factor in this text. In the back and forth  sending of this growing object, and through the constant reflection on what is  happening in and changing through this action of sending and receiving  (changing inside the text, inside Ane, inside Sander), we try to make you, the  reader, part of the sensation of creating. Ideally you will be able to feel the beat  of the time passing, since the text does not only express a (line of) thought in  words, it also shows the coming into being of a thought through experiment. So before you lays the result of an experiment, in the most literal meaning of the  word: ‘a test done carefully in order to study what happens and gain new  knowledge.’  
In this test we have tried to clearly keep our separate voices. We wanted to study  what would happen between us, and it was never our goal to merge or to become  one voice. We’ve tried to highlight this through giving our individual voices a  font of their own. Ane is always talking in Helevetica Neue and Sander is saying  things with a Times New Roman accent. Ane’s texts and additions are justified,  Sander’s aren’t. Ane is numbering her additions in a chronological order, where  Sander’s numbering is built on geo-­spatial methods.  

 We believe strongly in the theme of the search, of searching. In showing the  process and by being two people writing, we hope to overcome the definiteness  of a text. We were asked to write a thesis, but we had to find out for ourselves  what that means. What does it mean when you are two artists writing a thesis for  their MA in fine arts? What makes it different from writing a thesis in philosophy  or in literature? What does it mean to write something together? There are no  clear answers to these questions. Perhaps you can say that the role of an artist is  to all the time reinvent the role of the artist.  
Some of these questions and doubts and attempts on how to do things with  theory differently were expressed in the constant exchange of emails that guided  or surrounded the texts that were being sent from Oslo to Amsterdam and the  other way around. On a long flight from Dakar to Istanbul, while working on the  design of our texts, and finally being in the same (out--of--)space, we decided that  these emails needed to be in as well. They belong within the structure of this  dialogue like all the other parts, and so a third space on our spread is designed  for this second set of additions. The multiplicity or assemblage that is our thesis  needs all the parts to be itself.   

Through the many books, novels, texts, poems and song lyrics we have devoured  and tasted, swallowed and spit out during the writing of these texts, Gilles  Deleuze and Felix Guattari were always present. Texts and ideas by these two  thinkers and do-­ers have been read and reread by us, discovering new things  every time. In the preface of Difference and Repetition Deleuze writes about the  difference between writing the history of philosophy and writing philosophy. He  says that when you write the history of philosophy you follow the arrows of a  great thinker, while when you write philosophy you might gather the arrows you  fine the finest and shoot them off in new directions. This links in to how we’ve  picked up from Deleuze’s pick-­up method. Deleuze suggests that certain  concepts that are associated with a particular field or context, could be freed  from this context by being connected with another concept or idea and in this  way attain new meaning. 
Following this line of thought, we have tried to let some of the concepts that  made a resonance in us become a part of the way we have worked and the way  we have (continually) shaped our work. It early became clear to us that this was  not going to be a thesis about Deleuze or Guattari, in the same way as we haven’t  tried to write about time passing but to let the passing of time become the text  itself. Perhaps especially their shared writings on the constant state of becoming  that all things and beings are in, and that all ideas and forms should be in, strengthened our view to seek for personal and new ways to be two artists  writing. Guattari states that there is no such thing as a fixed subject. There is only  the process of subjectification, a journey that has no grail except to be on the  quest towards it. We pick up and revisit and through doing that we try to define  and relate to the changing/fluxing/becoming world. Our position in relation to  each other, to writing, to ideas, and to the field we find ourselves in.   (or out)   One thing that excites us by the field of art is how it is placed in the cros--roads. between other fields like philosophy and psychology and literature and how it  allows for ideas from these different areas to be placed next to each other and  thus form new constellations. If you want you can call it theory. We call it the sis.  


From the outset, Sander Uitdehaag and Ane Ostrem's joint work The sis poses the problem of how it should or could be evaluated. The title itself is indicative of a desire or need to make something that is sui generis, not a thesis but the sis. In this sense it is a critical, artistic and one might even say political response which refuses to wholly conform to a certain mode, not of artistic production but of production of the artist as a social and economic category within an academic framework. The sis sets out to reactivate the dimension of incommensurability and formal invention that is proper to art but improper in terms of evaluation. It refuses or perhaps it would be better to say steps aside from one of the first definition of thesis, that of occupying and defending a place or territory, a stepping aside that is more of the nature of a dance and that Michel Serres argued might be a precondition for thinking. « To think is merely to step aside, give up one's place ».

Thus the entanglement of feet and footnotes that are necessarily out of place gives the sense of learning the steps of a dance (in terms of reference to past models, most notably Deleuze and Parnet's dialogues) and making mistakes along the way, mistakes which are then assumed as a potential terrain of invention (creating new steps). This procedure has a certain gauche charm though one that frequently risks sliding into overindulgence. The partners in this dance, played out across the space of the page in a manner that frequently evokes the stylized courtly dances of the renaissance, become figures in a cognitive, bitextual romance, one voice lyrical and rhapsodic, the other quizzical, sly and a bit pedantic. The emphasis here is on process, play, the construction of a Winnicottian potential space that would also be an ethical space of friendship, co-creation, of self-othering and the play of difference. However in our view the project, has a number of drawbacks and limits.

One is the question of its heterogenesis, its method of pickup which tends to fold back upon a familiar, well-thumbed corpus of « self-reflexologists » (Borges, Perec) and « sympathetic » theorists (Derrida, Barthes) leading to a too comfortable homogeneity and a movement that for all its rhizomatic horizontality, appears somewhat involutive and self-regarding. The scrutiny of textual process in relation to thinking bespeaks a dangerous a-historicity in the uses of theory that ignores movements, ruptures and political stakes that are continually being re-evaluated and renegotiated (and here the question of evaluation returns from the outside) in relation to wider social and political realities, pressures and shifts, as though the sis were taking place, and its flowers being plucked, in a timeless theoretical garden of innocence which is the text itself.

And if writing here is part of a life and knowledge process that acknowledges the ragged and unfinished, what lies beyond the borders of a "knowledge object" it is one that seems curiously unengaged with what lies outside its own borders, (which seems strange, though not entirely incomprehensible in the current climate). As Deleuze intends it, the method of 'pickup' would be a question of taking components from radically different fields, deterritorialize the field of philosophy, for it is the conditions of outside pressure on thought that forces us to think differently and find new arms. But here we find precious little reference to these growing pressures that are affecting the very life processes the sis seeks to instantiate as a legitimate part of knowledge production. One of the voices describes the text as more of a parenthesis than a thesis, and this is true in a sense (though perhaps not the intended one) that the agents of this process, perhaps seeking a kind of refuge or suspension, seem to be trapped within its brackets. G.T. & S.M.