For Rhizome (

Review: Henri Michaux's Mescaline Engendered Drawings (and their
diagrammatic relevance to RHIZOME's "STARRYNIGHT" programming)
by Joseph Nechvatal

Henri Michaux (1899-1984): "le regard des autres"
May 5th - July 10th, 1999
Galerie Thessa Herold
7, Rue de Thorigny
Paris 75003

Catalogue available
Published by Thessa Herold, Paris

On the occasion of the poet/artist Henri Michaux's one hundredth birthday,
the Parisian Galerie Thessa Herold has mounted a generous display of his
phantasmagorical drawings; the majority of which are mescaline engendered.
That the work was electrified by congesting mescaline (the active ingredient
of the peyote cactus) is well known through Michaux's own books "Miserable
Miracle: Mescaline" (originally published in French in 1956 and first
translated into English in 1967), "Turbulent Infinity" (1957) and "Paix dans
les brisements" (1959). But that the exhibition offers an opportunity for
better understanding electronic-based art today through refocusing our
attention on the electrified phantasmagorical may astonish some. However, I
found that Michaux does offer such an occasion for awareness if we consider
only Michaux's self-transcended drawings "Dessin Mescalinien" from 1956/1957
- shimmering drawings done during various phases of neurological excitement
induced by mescaline (*1) - and decidedly not his far better known Chinese
ink drawings titled "Sans Titre" (Untitled). Because with the "Dessin
Mescalinien" drawings, we see the hand become cyborg, taking on the
systematic (but out-of-control vibrational qualities) of the
robo-seismograph. Here vibratory energy is made manifest.

Henri Michaux's mescaline engendered drawings, particularly those he
executed under the full, direct influence of mescaline - the series "Dessin
Mescalinien" from 1956/1957 (and less so the flash-back influenced 1963/1969
"Dessin Post-Mescalinien" drawings and the drawings "Dessin de Reagregation"
from 1962/1963) - are relevant to RHIZOME's STARRYNIGHT agenda (see: today diagrammaticly in that I would
maintain that the primary premise behind most all of electronic-based art
today, either representational or abstract, is the Michaux-like exploration
of the introspective rhizomatic world of the imagination under the influence
of today's boundless, high-frequency, rhizomatic, electronic/computerized
vibratory environment. Indeed, rhizomatic thinking itself - particularly
when manifested as art - must be boundless in its branching, crossing wide
chasms of mental space as the most disparate elements may be linked. In this
sense rhizomatic thinking is facilitated by the boundless web and one can
say that the web is rhizomatic.

Since it is difficult making sense of today's swirling (essentially
phantasmagorical) electronic-based society, the general proposition behind
electronic-based art may best be to look for a paradoxical summation (in
terms of electrified energy) of this uncertainty, thereby taking advantage
of today's jam-packed environment of information saturation - as
STARRYNIGHT's programming attempts. But by STARRYNIGHT's diagrammatic choice
of displaying/representing active information as discrete stars,
STARRYNIGHT, in my opinion, obscures the more interesting truth that this
boundless informational saturation - in its totality on the net - is so
dense and active and changing that it fails to communicate anything
particular at all upon which we can concur except perhaps its overall
incomprehensible sense of ripe delirium as the reproduction system pulses
with higher and higher, faster and faster flows of digital data to the point
of near hysteria. This electrified hysteria is the basis of formulating a
diagrammatic relevance between electronic-based art today and Michaux's
mescaline engendered drawings, as the tremendous load of imagery/sound/text
information digitally produced and reproduced all round us today ultimately
seems to make less, not more, conventional sense. Thus efforts to formulate
a conventional understanding in terms of popularity - such as RHIZOME's
STARRYNIGHT software program - strike me as diagrammaticly stimulating only
in the narrow sense, and ultimately unsustainable in terms of the ripe
delirium of the net when considered as a chimerical, rhizomatic aggregate.

If accepted, this general presupposition for STARRYNIGHT, it seems to me,
plays better into the basis of Michaux's mescaline engendered semi-abstract
art than STARRYNIGHT does in its present form because Michaux elucidates for
us again that art may refuse to recognize all thought as existing in the
form of representation, and that by scanning the spread of representation
art may formulate an understanding of the laws that provide representation
with its basis: the electronic/phantasmagoric. As a result, in my view, it
is rhizomatic-based art's onus to see what unconventional, paradoxical,
hyper-summational sense (one might say its almost Michauxian/mescalinian
spiritual/imaginative sense (*2)) art might make of all this virtual
information based on an appropriately decadent reading of our electronically
activated social media environment.

Perhaps such a basically abstract summational fancy would begin with the
presumption that Michaux's mescaline engendered drawings have psychically
exploded on the net, showering us with bits of inescapable information
bytes, drastically changing the way in which we perceive and act even in our
private, subconscious, reveries. (*3) It is this internal, subconscious,
paradoxical operation - this subconscious contradictory tension - which I
find potentially interesting in relating Michaux's mescaline engendered
drawings to today's electronic-based art as it must be remembered that
electronic-based art resides in a field of perception (at once seamless and
fragmented) which itself is made up of electronic/phantasmagoric energies
corresponding to a new (and paradoxical) combination of space and time which
one may be tempted to term "mystical" in character (*4); an immersive,
phantasmagoric perspective without horizon.

Like mescaline engendered thought (*5), electronic-based art, by virtue of
its distinctive electron constitution and networked fluidity, floats in an
extensive stratosphere of virtuality. Habitual values and expectations of
solidity no longer are capable of existing ipso facto in technological
virtuality. Indeed, like STARRYNIGHT's endeavor, they must be reimposed if
desired. Consequently, the particular constitution of electronic-based art
is best seen, perhaps like Michaux's mescaline engendered drawings, as an
osmotic membrane; a blotter of instantaneous ubiquity/proliferation/thought
(*6), and not as discrete representations. Such a summational view of
electronic activity then results in the atomization and disintegration of
what once was considered coherent normality into disoriented immateriality
as this delirious disintegration/merging yields up to art's scrutiny a
ghostly conceptual panorama based on circulation - again along the lines of
Michaux's mescaline spawned drawings.

Consequently, electronic-based art - like STARRYNIGHT might become -
reflects (and works with) de-centered prior logocentric social hegemony. But
STARRYNIGHT must first, when viewed as shaped by de-centered electronic
overload, be understood as a flustered code-field of vibratory energy; a
confused collective representation which bewilderingly continues to mutate
the ideology of its own production.

Since prevailing representation is made up of conventional, rigid, social
signs (and art typically of unconventional irresponsible signs - the mode
that represents the real arbitrary nature of all signs as it subverts the
socially controlled system of meaning) - STARRYNIGHT may offer us then the
opportunity for the creation of relevant, anti-social, phantasmagorical
signs (hence semi-abstract, ecstatic, anti-signs) which may continue to
mentally move and multiply; as Michaux's mescaline engendered drawings tend
to do.

Like Michaux under mescaline in the mid-1950s, we know through electronics
that symbolic codes are positively phantasmagorical, so when STARRYNIGHT
produces them as discrete star-forms in deep space, it feels inappropriate
to me (a rhizome is continually dynamic and is ceaselessly actualized by the
arousal its dynamism produces and thus it is never in accord with some
preestablished strategy or imposed configuration). If STARRYNIGHT were to
take the anti-sign track, then perhaps a digitally-based ecstatic
potentiality might be revealed. Then electronic-based art's abstract
potential may prove useful in questioning received notions of representation
when viewed against assumptions of utility versus pleasure.

On the complimentary side, STARRYNIGHT, unlike Michaux's work, already
address previous analog art as an institution and transgresses conventional
art's basic assumptions of uniqueness as it opens itself up to new spaces of
malleable and combinatory sites - hence to a perpetual multiplication of
significance/inference. Digital compositions like STARRYNIGHT open up a
territory of signification, then, towards the creation of mongrel, decoded
and deterritorialized phantasmagorical meanings. Meaning in art and in life
then advances by seeing more clearly into its own underlying
phantasmagorical assumptions of excess, by facing up to the radical
implications of those assumptions, and by purging itself from conventional
ways of thinking. Thus, perhaps STARRYNIGHT's unconscious intention is to
achieve an ultimate phantasmal integration by dissolving recorded
information into its original vibrational/dynamic foundation in that the
rhizome is regularly swarming itself into being as micro and macro factors
attract. One cannot declare in advance what its limiting confines are or
where it will or will not operate - nor what may become connected and
tangled up in the rhizome's multiple dimensions, because the connections do
not inevitably plait common types together.

Such a dynamic sense of aesthetic electronica as contemplative vision might
suggest the potential for STARRYNIGHT as it subsumes our previous world of
simulation/representation into a phantasmagorical nexus of over-lapping
linked hybrid observations of the outer world with precise extractions of
post-human mentality. Encounters, then, with computer simulations like
STARRYNIGHT, one may assume, might create an opportunity for social image
transgression - and for a vertiginous ecstasy of thought. Surely such a
hybrid electronica/phantasmal impetus can help release pent up ecstatic
energies (*7) in that the more overwhelming and restrictive the social
mechanism, the more exaggerated are the resulting effects - and hence excel
the assumed determinism of the technological-based phenomenon inherent
(supposedly) in our post-industrial information society. Therefore, like
Michaux's mescaline engendered drawings, STARRYNIGHT may serve as an
ecstatic impulse/phenomena which prolif-erates in proportion to the
technicization of society - as such an electronica-ecstasy may occur as a
result of the technological society's obsession with the phantasmal
character of electronic proliferation and speed. In terms of design ideas
for STARRYNIGHT, it is salient to note that according to Robert Hunter in
"The Acid Queen" (*8) the mescaline molecule resembles adrenaline. When
mescaline is introduced into the body, enzymes, mistaking the mescaline
molecules for adrenaline, begins to dissolve them. While its attention is
focused on the mescaline, however, the adrenaline begins to accumulate
elsewhere - the enzymes can't handle both.

Actually, the longer I looked upon one of Michaux's shimmering "Dessin
Mescalinien" from 1956, and hypothesized STARRYNIGHT, the more I seemed to
perceive him calculating that the more human psychic energies are stifled
and/or bypassed by certain controlling aspects of mass technology, the more
a churlish ecstatic/fearful phenomena will increasingly break out in forms
of electron-based art. Too, simulation technology (when used in the creation
of electronica-based art) will, he seems to imply, promote an indispensable
alienation from the socially constructed self necessary for the outburst of
such ecstatic experiences/acts.

Inversely, Michaux seems to indicate that electronic technology will enable
the contemporary artist to express ecstatic reactions in ways never before
possible. Thus, this ecstatic counteraction can provide a phantasmal
defiance through transport aimed against the controlling world's sedate

In Michaux's "Dessin Mescalinien", phantasmal thought detaches itself from
the order and authority of the old sign and topples down into the realm of
imagination, of fantasy, and into non-knowledge - towards imagining
questions rather than pat assigned answers. Yet Michaux's fancied, aesthetic
non-knowledge is certainly the most erudite, the most aware, the most
conscious area of our current identity, as it is also the phantasmal depths
from which all digital representation emerges in its precarious, but
glittering, existence.

Henri Michaux's pre-electronic electrified art then helps us to understand
that the "real world" of computing is just made up of phantasmal images of
non-materiality - composed and rececomposed via virtuality. With this in
mind, STARRYNIGHT, like Michaux's visually vibrating "Dessin Mescalinien",
may be capable of composing an unaccustomed, non-logocentric, rhizomatic art
from the broad spread of digital signs found scattered throughout the space
of computer memory. But first we must remember that a rhizome's multiple
dimensions instigate cross-overs between both the highest synthetic level
and the slightest, most minute, discrete distinctions. The rhizome is a
snarl of vicissitudes so intertwined that it must give birth to different
scopes of thought and perception and art. Through this articulation, digital
grammar may appear as phantasmal semi-abstraction, because in
electronic-based art the sign no longer consists only of representations but
of inner codes that in turn may represent other representations, and so on,
as the links of phantasmal thought require.

Such an aesthetic cyber theory based on Michaux's rhizomatizing experiments
with his consciousness might provide a fundamental antithesis to the
authoritarian, mechanical, simulated rigidities of the controlling technical
world; rigidities which RHIZOME's STARRYNIGHT agenda mostly maintain at

Like in "Dessin Mescalinien", STARRYNIGHT might develope vibrating
articulations which may consist of phantasmal digital elements now grouped
into spreading systems which possess characters which the eye can scan and
identify only because they have a structure that is, in a way, the
chimerical, concave, inner-side of visibility - the vibratory. The
conditions of these links reside outside of representation however, and
inside of phantasmal, semi-abstract knowledge (beyond STARRYNIGHT's current
representation's immediate visibility) in a sort of behind-the-scenes
vibrating, phantasmal world, deep and dense enough that representation finds
itself digitally joined together in the rhizomatizing suppossitious.

STARRYNIGHT, like Michaux's "Dessin Mescalinien" drawings, can perhaps then
help direct us towards that rhizomatizing zone, that necessary but always
inaccessible arena, which dives down, beyond our gaze, towards the very
aerial heart of things. Indeed it is this quivering, chimerical,
semi-cohesion (which one clearly sees in Michaux's "Dessin Mescalinien" of
1956) that maintains the sovereign and secret sway over each and every sign
- this phantasmal vibrating - which I find interestingly beyond reductive
abstraction or glib representation (thus into an excessive, hybrid,
semi-abstraction) when scrutinizing the potential for electronic-based art
in general - and STARRYNIGHT in particular.

The current representational order of STARRYNIGHT should, in my opinion, not
reify the phantasmal, but rather further atomized digital information into
byte phantasmality where only its occult, chimerical links become useful in
constructing informational formations. Thereby, STARRYNIGHT becomes a
vibratory inventiveness which is, in its theoretical radically, opposed to
the tabular space laid out by classical thought.

May I just say that this phantasmal flee from the play of popularity-based
representation has the most urgent political/social ramifications in our
media saturated society. This, I think, well-founded but ambiguous
phantasmal model for STARRYNIGHT, based upon Michaux's "Dessin Mescalinien",
indicates the capacity for electronic art's worth as it provides the
explication of the phantasmal links that abet electronic communications by
expressing the laws of shimmering distribution that rule it. Such excessive
semi-abstractions can be, in a sense, the representation of all electronic
representation then when they are seen to represent the unlimited field of
electronic representation which non-utilitarian phantasmal ideology attempts
to scrutinize in accordance with a non-discursive method which now appears
as a semi-abstract digital metaphysics; an electronic metaphysics which
excessive semi-abstraction helps to step outside of itself so as to posit
itself outside of the mechanics of uniform dogmatism.

So, Michaux's "Dessin Mescalinien" suggests an inventing of an electronic
art in which what matters is no longer identities, or logos, or distinctive
characters (like those reiterated in RHIZOME's STARRYNIGHT software agenda)
but rather dense hidden phantasmagorical forces developed on the basis of
inclusion - where from now on things will be represented only from the
depths of this inclusive energetic density withdrawn into itself, perhaps
adumbrated and darkened by its obscurity, but bound tightly together and
inescapably grouped by the vigor that is hidden down below in its programmed
digital depth. Such dynamic, semi-abstract forms (with their rhizomatizing
connections) and the non-blank space that never isolates them but rather
surrounds their outline with excess - all these might be presented to our
gaze in a STARRYNIGHT matrix where only an already vivacious state is
articulated in an insinuated nether darkness that is reprogramming them
towards a phantasmagorical visual discourse which is both capricious and,
paradoxically, informationally honest.

Joseph Nechvatal

(*1) For more on the neurological excitement induced by mescaline as it may
effect the creative artist see Aldous Huxley's 1954 publication "The Doors
of Perception" (a well-known account Huxley wrote after taking mescaline
under the guidance of the Canadian psychiatrist and researcher Humphrey
Osmond in 1953), Stanley Krippner's essay "Mescaline, Psilocybin, and
Creative Artists" in the 1969 publication "Altered States of Consciousness",
edited by Charles T. Tart and "The Psychedelic State", a 1992 essay by the
Fluxus-related artist/non-artist/philosopher Henry Flynt. Flynt's 1961 text
"Concept Art", first published in book form in La Monte Young and Jackson
Mac Low's 1963 publication "An Anthology of Chance Operations", outlined the
genre which later became known as Conceptual Art. According to Flynt,
Conceptual Art is "an art of which the material is 'concepts'".

(*2) The dried heads of the peyote cactus, whose chief active ingredient is
mescaline, were used by the Aztecs at least as early as 300 BC and are
currently being employed by over fifty thousand Indians of the Native
American Church as a vital part of their religious ceremonies. The peyote
cactus has long been used by the Indians of the Southwest and Mexico as a
means of communion with the divine world, and today the eating of the dried
buttons of the plant is the principal sacrament of the Native American
Church of the United States.

(*3) Some artists I have talked to who have experimented with mescaline have
remarked upon the similarity between mescaline-induced and spontaneous
mystical experiences - and have used mystical and quasi-religious language
to describe their experiences and artwork.

(*4) Mescaline, according to Walter N. Pahnke in his paper "Drugs and
Mysticism" published in "The International Journal of Parapsychology", Vol.
VIII, No. 2, Spring 1966, pp. 295-313 is an important tools for the study of
the "mystical state of consciousness".

(*5) Simone de Beauvoir reports in "The Prime of Life", pp. 169-170, that
Jean-Paul Sartre (master of French phenomenological philosophy and
subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize) had a medically supervised mescaline
injection in 1935 along with an intern. Sartre reported seeing lobsters,
orangutans, and houses gnashing their jaws - and the intern reported
virtually romping through a meadow full of nymphs.

(*6) see: Heinrich Klüver's "Mescal and Mechanisms of Hallucinations" for
examples, originally published in 1928.

(*7) see, for example: Alan Watts's 1962 book "The Joyous Cosmology", New
York: Pantheon Books

(*8) Robert Hunter, Chapter 7 of "The Storming of the Mind", 1971,
McClelland and Stew