top of page
  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

MFA, June 7-29 2021

Artworks of impressions and fractal patterns of objects; Researching Temporal Relationality and the Embodiment of Intersubjective Time.

1. Impressions of the Forest

I've been thinking about Shannon's suggestion to ask permission from tangata whenua to use natural materials from the environment where I live in order to make art.

Firstly, I'm not even sure who to ask, so I need to investigate this further. I will visit Ellie the local historian who has developed relationships with local tangata whenua. In the mean time, it feels as if a new veil has been placed over the natural materials on the seashore and in the forest. In the past I have always asked permission directly from the natural object and promised to return the material back to its site. Recognising the agency of "each element in the network" beyond my own agency is important to me. However, by trying to overlay the principles of tangata whenua into my practice it seems this direct connection between nature and me is being severed or altered somehow; as if there is something happening in the space of my urge to interact with the material.

This space has got me thinking about impressions and perceptions; especially how do we receive impressions? The works below are a first step at exploring this space where impressions and perceptions enter me. Instead of using the object itself (the burnt log from Muritai beach) in the artwork I have recorded its impression using three different techniques -

  1. Intaglio: rubbing a stone over tissue paper placed on the log to capture the charcoal in the burnt wood and the wood's fractal patterns; this mirrors the printing technique of intaglio, where the printing is done from ink that is below the surface of the plate

  2. Relief: using the top sheet of the rubbed tissue (that hasn't any charcoal) I rubbed a charcoal stick over the marks on the paper left from the rubbing to expose the top of the fractal patterns

  3. Drawing: drawing my visual impressions of the burnt wood through my hands and onto tissue paper.

Intaglio impression: stone rubbings on tissue paper placed over log to imprint its charcoal on paper -

Relief impression: Charcoal drawing over creases made on top sheets of tissue paper after stone rubbing -

Drawing impression: pencil drawing of burnt stick

I will repeat this approach on the other two elements in the artwork responding to materiality made in semester one i.e. the sky/sea and mountain/rocks.

Below is an essay on embodiment, temporal relationality and coexisting with the world around us. It is dense and very complex but offers insights into my experience of existing within and experiencing life through a body and how I live in, and interact with, the world around me. It may help me understand how to realign myself with the concept of tangata whenua and reinterpret my relationship to the place, space and site where I live.

2. Embodiment and Temporal Relationality

Temporal Relationality - Embodiment of intersubjective time Laroche Julien, Berardi Anna Maria, Brangier Eric. "Embodiment of intersubjective time: relational dynamics as attractors in the temporal coordination of interpersonal behaviors and experiences". Frontiers in Psychology vol. 5, 2014 pp1180: 1664-1078. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01180

This is the authors' summary of what they are discussing and below are some of the salient points discussed - 'Overall, embodiment constitutes an autonomous∼relational perspective whose dynamical background is self-referential, multiscale and multiplicative. This forms a pre-reflectively lived background from which we can inhabit the world. How does temporality manifest itself in the domain of the living? More specifically, how does the temporality of a complex organism emerge in a unified, coherent coordinated way? It is important to address this issue if we want to find out how time can be shared and what kind of temporality can be shared.'


  • "being a body is necessary for us to live (and therefore share) experiences" !!

  • the enactive approach: living has been defined as the self-production and self-maintenance of its own organization, where “organization” means “the relations that exist among component processes of a system”

  • the entanglement of 'enactive' embodiment: "mind is both a living (observable, biological) and a lived (experienced) phenomenon that emerges from agent∼world coupling. Since living and lived aspects are concretely intertwined, they can only be distinguished from an observer’s point of view" (p1)

  • arguing against a priori i.e. internally representing information coming from the external world (agent-world, subject-object, inner-outer): "The detached, reflective stance is thus not our primary way of being in the world. Rather, our connection with the world is primarily corporeal and pre-reflective"

  • pre-reflective, the lived body: "The living body refers to the image one can have of a body (or one’s own body), observed and thematized as an object of perception. The lived body is the pragmatic, unthematized (hence pre-reflective) background of experience, it is what our body-in-the-world affords us to sense and do (Lenay, 2010). This bodily self-consciousness is necessary for our experiences to be and feel “for” us, (Thompson, 2007). It is transparent to us: it is the pre-reflective background of our perspective, the point from which we see, do and live.

  • embodiment: "what we do changes what can be sensed" "Sensorimotor coupling allows for coherence of both the autonomous agent (its embodied experiences and its underlying internal dynamics) and his/her relations with the world. This is reflected in his/her own active and sensitive way of inhabiting the world he/she enacts" "Affordances of the lived body are constantly reshaped by the ongoing activity of the living body: we enact the pre-reflective background of our perspective. Living and lived body thus co-constitute each other, and this is what defines embodiment (Thompson and Varela, 2001). It provides us with an autonomous perspective on our relations with the world (the phenomenal world that we enact and inhabit)" "the co-constitution of lived and living body and the intertwinement of autonomy and relations are dynamical"

Time Consciousness (this is complex so I'm posting a lot to reread (Husserl, E. (1928). “The phenomenology of internal time-consciousness”)

  • the temporality of embodiment: "the temporal texture of lived experience has a multiscale, fractal topology" (nicely put!) "Time consciousness is directed toward both the “outer” objects or events that have a temporal extension, and the “inner” experience of duration itself (i.e., the feeling of living enduring experiences with a temporal envelope; Thompson, 2007). This outer∼inner separation is only an abstract description from an external observer’s point of view: these aspects are irreducible in concretely lived experience. Indeed, we do not have an experience of the temporal extension of objects or events on the one side, and a sensation of our own enduring temporal experiences on the other: these aspects manifest themselves as a whole in a unified way (Thompson, 2007)."

  • perception and action: Husserl "proposed a descriptive structure that accounts for both outer and inner time consciousness as well as their non-separateness. This structure consists in three inter-related component processes: primal impression, retention and protention"

  • retention+primal impression+protention can’t be separated, they are nonlinear and dynamic

  • primal impression (now): "the openness to the current 'now-phase' of an object. This 'now' is never lived in isolation of its temporal horizons, for there would be no time-extended perception (duration, succession or change) if present was lived as a succession of inarticulate moments (Varela, 1999a; Gallagher and Zahavi, 2014).

  • retention (holding on to what's been): "the subjective holding of the just-elapsed phase of the object or event that is receding into the past" "retention refers to the just-elapsed phase of the experience of that object or event (Thompson, 2007). Because this experience had a threefold (primal impression – retention – protention) structure, what retention holds is a full threefold structure.

  • protention (anticipation): "intends the phase of the object or event that is just about to occur: it is the temporal horizon formed by the (implicit) anticipation of the unfolding of experience.' "Protention also has a threefold structure, for it intends what is anticipated to be about to qualify as retention, primal impression and protention."

  • memories?: "Primal impression is qualified by both retention and protention: “now” would be different in the context of another retention and implicit anticipation. In turn, primal impression shapes what temporal horizon might be anticipated, and (re)shapes the way its retentional background is felt (it puts, as it were, the retentional trace into perspective, such that when a surprise arises from the unfulfillment of a protention, its presentification transforms the felt quality of the retained experience).

  • unifying the fractal structure of time consciousness: the component processes are inter-related in a “multiplicative” way (Gallagher and Zahavi, 2014). These processes operate synchronically and their interactive product manifests as a unified whole (Merleau-Ponty, 1945). It provides with a complex temporal field, a “specious” present in the thickness of which objects or events can be experienced with a time-extended quality (Varela, 1999a).

  • dynamic flow of time consciousness: As component processes of the threefold (retention – primal impression – protention) structure “holds” the same threefold structure again (and so on), the dynamical flow of time-consciousness can be said to have a fractal structure (Gallagher and Zahavi, 2014). Fractality captures the self-similarity of a structure: constituting parts resemble the whole they form across multiple scales of observation or “zooms”.

  • nesting 'nows': Vrobel (2011) proposed a fractal interpretation of Husserlian accounts, in which “nows” (threefold structures) are nested into each other, and can be thought as different timescales or “levels of description”. Nesting nows provide nested nows with a (common) context in the light of which they are experienced. This multiscale structure is necessary for the current note of a melody to be meaningfully experienced not only in the narrow context of its predecessor, but also in the larger contexts of the melody or the whole piece it belongs to, or even the evening when it was listened to. In turn, nested nows can affect the experience of the contextual background in which they are embedded, such that the current note can modify how its embedding retentional background and its protentional horizon are experienced (especially if that note is surprising).

  • Time consciousness has a multiplicative, self-referential structure: it makes references to its own retained pasts and anticipated futures. It is thereby a self-constituted flow: it manifests itself to itself, enabling the experience of the enduring quality of its own dynamics (the so-called “inner” time consciousness). This flow is therefore the “absolute,” irreducible, most fundamental level of time consciousness, and the necessary background out of which any experience can arise (Thompson, 2007). In other words, it is the pre-reflective structure of consciousness (Zahavi, 2003), the transparent background of our embodied perspective. This perspective is thus not just a point of view in the spatial domain: it is also a temporal perspective (Vrobel, 2011). The lived body thus has to be seen from the dynamical point of view of this flow. Because it presents itself as an affordance, the lived body is oriented toward what is anticipated to be about to be enacted. This orientation is underlain by the broken symmetry of time consciousness (to-be-fulfilled protentions intend what hasn’t been yet, in contrast to retentions that hold what has actually been). The dynamical structure of consciousness is thus always incomplete and moves forward, toward the complementarity of afforded anticipations. In this sense, time consciousness is enactive (Gallagher and Zahavi, 2014), pragmatically oriented toward (what) perception and action (could be). In turn, because perception and action emerge from this flow, they are imprinted by its dynamics and therefore have a similar structure.

  • endogenous self-constitution: "Because of the complex processes whereby components qualify each other dynamically, contents of experience affect its own intrinsic temporality (Gallagher and Zahavi, 2014). Indeed, think for instance about the fulfillment (or lack thereof) of a retained protention, and how it shapes primal impressions, their retentional background and their protented horizon. The flow of time consciousness thus makes present both the temporal content of experience and the temporal experience itself (i.e., both the “what” and the “how”). Outer and inner aspects of time consciousness thus co-constitute each other dynamically. Intrinsic temporality of experience thereby embodies the dynamics of the environment (Vrobel, 2011). Our dynamical perspective is thus relational as well.

Embodiment of a properly intersubjective time

  • brain oscillations can couple: "brain signal oscillations whose frequencies are close enough can converge by reciprocally influencing each other (Buzsaki, 2006). This enables the emergence of large-scale synchronized patterns of activity, or assemblies."

  • fractal periodicities of brain signals: "Fluctuations enable the emergence of new stable (but flexible) patterns of coordinated activity: the variability of processes itself is therefore functional and adaptive.

  • fractal structure of human temporality the norm: 'the multiscale, non-linear, fluctuating dynamics of brain and behavior are at odds with the classical view of time. Time is usually assimilated to its “objective” measurement and is subsequently described as a linear succession of isochronous units (Varela, 1999a). i.e. stable, metronome-like regularity as the norm.

  • embodied mind in the time of the world: "Coordinating to the environment happens simultaneously and interactively at multiple timescales. For example, we synchronize in a more stable fashion to pulses that are embedded into larger patterns (Drake, 1993). Grouping pulses into larger patterns emerges spontaneously: participants do it during the performance of a mere pulse without any intention or awareness to do so (Parncutt, 1994)"

  • endogenous and relational dynamics are intertwined in the lived experience: "As in lived experience, inner and outer temporal dynamics co-constitute each other irreducibly. Endogenous and relational dynamics are thus intertwined such that patterns of coordination are both autonomous and relational. Because they are constrained by the dynamical traces of what is going on endogenously and thereby by the traces of agent∼world relational dynamics, patterns of coordination are retentional. Internal dynamics thus embody the regularities of the environment in its own fluctuating activity."

  • coordinated inhabitance of the world we enact is autonomous∼relational: "Embodiment is a dynamical phenomenon, and it is the temporality of the behaviors and the experiences it gives rise to that can be shared in human interactions

  • embodiment and intersubjectivity: "When we meet an other person, “what” we interact with is a “who” (McGann and De Jaegher, 2009): another embodied perspective. This transforms the dynamics of our embodiment in two contrasting but complementary ways. On the one hand, because the sensory-motor affordances of our respective embodiments are similar, we are subtely sensitive to each other’s behaviors and to a similar world. On the other hand, our very embodiment makes alterity persist indefinitely: our respective embodied perspectives always differ."

  • I can modulate and participate to the other’s experience: "I am living experiences to which the other participates, in a way to which I participated to upstream. The other becomes part of my embodied coupling with the world: I do something to him that changes something for me. This way, I can pragmatically experience the other, I can enact him (I bring forth an experience of the other that emerges from the consequences of my activity toward him). By the reciprocity of this pragmatic link, we become part of each other’s embodied coupling: our respective embodiments become dynamically contingent of each other (we dynamically co-determine each other’s behaviors and experiences). When we interact, we thus mutually enact each other (Varela, 1999b; Thompson, 2001), so that we can participate to and mutually incorporate each other’s embodied perspective"

  • the embodiment of collective dynamics favor cooperative and pro-social behaviors: "If complex behavioral dynamics influence each other and are attracted toward collective patterns, their retentional and protentional structures should mutually orient and shape each other, and thereby be enactively shared. The pre-reflective dynamical background of experience should thus be shaped by the interaction process (Obhi and Hall, 2011)." "Being together in time is thus inter-enacted: by interacting, we embody collective dynamics that coordinate our behaviors and experiences, and we participate actively to the regulation of that process. By co-regulating our embodied relational dynamics, we can co-enact a shared world of significance in which to be together."

Conclusive Discussion In this paper, we proposed a dynamical and embodied, enactive framework for the understanding and the investigation of the phenomenon of being together in time. We first defined embodiment as being both a living and a lived phenomenon that emerges from agent∼world coupling. Embodiment provides us with a perspective on our relations, a pre-reflective dynamical background on the basis of which we can enact the world through autonomous embodied interactions. This background is constituted by the self-organization of component processes whose interactions span multiple timescales. From the point of view of the living, temporality has a shape that is thus totally different from the “physical time” (Bailly and Longo, 2008; Holden, 2013). As a result of an underlying metastable regime, the temporality of the living is multiscale, multiplicative, (multi-)fractal. Behaviors and experiences thus carry the imprint of these complex dynamics in which they are entangled. This dynamical background is at the same time co-constituted by the dynamics of our relations with the world. Whole autonomous∼relational patterns of coordination thereby emerge, so that inner (“subjective”) and outer (“objective”) temporalities co-constitute each other dynamically.

During between-persons interactions, relational dynamics can self-organize and escape us. This gives rise to attractors of behavior in the shared dynamical landscape that we enact and navigate or inhabit together. By exerting a mutual attraction on their underlying temporalities and by coordinating them in time, relational dynamics can constitute individual behaviors and experiences. In short, by interacting, we embody collective dynamics. Mutuality of interaction further allows for the co-regulation of each other’s background of variability, as well as the emergence of a time that is properly intersubjective. The very complexity of our dynamical embodiments can thereby be inter-enactively shaped and thereby shared. This enables a strong coordination that is not a mere local synchrony (it is not a succession of synchronous states), but is extended in time at multiple interwoven scales. Since intrinsic dynamics of temporal experiences and the content of these experiences co-constitute each other, by interacting we can participate to each other’s pre-reflective dynamical flow. In other words, thanks to the inter-enactive process, retentions, protentions and their multiplicative interplay can be actively and dynamically shared (not in the sense that we have an informational duplicate of each other’s dynamical flow, for such a flow always emerges from its own background, but rather in the sense that we mutually shape each other’s pre-reflective dynamical background). Part of our experiences are therefore embodied in each other’s retentions and protentions. A co-enacted dynamical landscape thus emerges and forms a background of collective dynamics that brings forth a properly intersubjective time and coordinates its personal embodiment. Behaviors and experiences are thus entangled in this collective metastable background. By actively co-regulating these relational dynamics and by experiencing the effects of this co-regulation, we can experience the intersubjective dimension of this shared time as well as experience this sharing.

Overall, being together is neither a mere co-presence in the physical space, nor a mere temporal correlation of activities in the physical time that can be observed from an external point of view. It is the co-regulated and skillful inhabitance of the complex, metastable dynamical landscape that emerges spontaneously from the meeting of our embodied perspectives. Being together has thus to be enacted, that is, it has to be actively, dynamically and autonomously but relationally brought forth. In short, we can only experience being together through our inter-enactive engagement. In turn, this experience carries the imprint of the collective dynamics that emerge from this inter-enactivity. However, precise phenomenological descriptions of being toghether in time still lack. The recourse to more fine-grained phenomenological methods (e.g., Petitmengin, 2001) could guide fruitful empirical and modeling researches. Indeed, it is yet not clear how the temporal complexity of behaviors as measured gives rise to, is influenced by, or at least is correlated with clear and meaningful felt qualities (but see Lutz et al., 2002, in the intrapersonal domain).

Complex multiscale dynamics of interpersonal interactions have not been much addressed yet. Notwithstanding, it is a promising avenue of research. For instance, deficits in social coordination might be rooted in a loss of complexity, possibly at both the individual and the collective level (for recent dynamical studies, see Lazerges et al., 2011; Varlet et al., 2012, 2014; Lavelle et al., 2013; Marsh et al., 2013). If we take the interaction process seriously, as well as the complexity that underlies our dynamical embodiment, treatments of cognitive disorders might be improved. For example, rhythmic auditory stimulations improve the linguistic performances of children diagnosed with developmental language disorders (Przybylski et al., 2013). Further, fractal metrics can distinguish between dyslexic and normal readers in a word-naming task (Wijnants et al., 2012). Couldn’t a flexibly fluctuating and responsive rhythmic device improve performances even more, in the vein of the aforementioned work of Hove et al. (2012) with Parkinson Disease patients? If relational dynamics coordinate individual behaviors by modulating their underlying endogenous dynamics, responsive devices might entail more healthy dynamics, whereas part of the burden of coordinating to this device could be unloaded onto the interaction process itself.

Finally, coordinating in time leaves traces on embodied dynamics after the interaction itself (Oullier et al., 2008; Hove et al., 2012) on top of explicit traces of the partner himself (Macrae et al., 2008; Miles et al., 2010). Recurrent interactions and the temporal coordination they entail might enable the stabilization of interactional repertoires as well as the emergence of long-term and large-scale bonding such as those found in cultural practices and habits (Gratier and Apter-Danon, 2009; Gratier and Magnier, 2012). Dynamical models of embodied interactions thus might also play a significant role in the understanding of socio-cultural phenomena that are observable at larger timescales (Aguilera et al., 2013; Cao et al., 2013).


bottom of page