Visual artist Keeley Haftner, blog

Acentrism and the Polycephalic god

I know many brilliant artists who look to horoscopes and tarot in order to better to navigate the incredibly uncertain lives they’ve chosen. When your life’s work is centered on asserting the value of the valueless (gesture, object, labour, etc.), the effect can be destabilizing, to say the least. I’m not saying that astrology holds my hand through the dark of life, but I will say that I’ve had some pretty uncanny reads of late.

The cards are telling me to keep thinking big. To, as Buckminster Fuller asserted in ‘Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth’, think big enough. Being a detail-oriented sculptor, I have a tendency to obsess over the minutia of matter. I try to make sense of the world and objects through intensive separation and distillation of parts to produce new entities. I run the risk of seeking microcosms at the expense of the complex macro. I make systems (closed, looped, small, specialized) at the risk of losing sight of the whole. At the risk of leaving out important compounding factors. Having a partner-collaborator who is a toxicologist, the irony of this fault in my thought process is not lost on me.

So how does one scale up without losing sight of the out-of-sight? The flip side of this philosophic conundrum is that I tend to be hyper-aware of the human phenomenon of letting important details slip when systems get too large. Largeness dominates such details when moral priorities scale toward anthropocentrism and away from acentrism (noncentrism, cosmicism, etc.), for example: I am a parent > my child-human’s life is of primary importance > disposable diapers, milk bags, towelettes, etc. are necessary for its comfort and maintenance. Or, when the scale of a project becomes too tight: we are a design team inventing a revolutionary piece of furniture > the client must have our design in three weeks > fast food, Styrofoam maquettes, and cheap disposable approximations are absolutely necessary to getting this done when it is required of us. While I am equally aware of the contradiction in a ‘universalist’ perspective also having the potential to acquire a ‘moralist’ stance, it perhaps goes without saying that there are obvious reasons (and good ones) why the aforementioned examples of ‘material sacrifice’ come into play. The question I put to myself is, however, how can one employ macro thinking (the well-being of children, the power of design) without sacrificing the micro (using our consumer votes to call into existence what Timothy Morton refers to as ‘hyperobject’ materials; i.e. the plastic that is used on the scale of minutes to hours that proceeds to last for millennia)?

Is it possible to maintain both kinds of thinking, keeping them smartly and tautly tethered as they oscillate, so that we may begin to gather all that we’ve lost as a sacrifice to the polycephalic god of moral and temporal urgency? If what follows is yes (and it is), than what follows next is how.