Our interest shall be the inquiry back into the most original sense in which geometry once arose, was present as the tradition of millennia ... we inquire into that sense in which it appeared in history for the first time – in which it must have appeared, even though we know nothing of the first creators and are not even asking after them.

(Edmund Husserl, The Origin of Geometry)[2]

Niall de Buitléar’s solo show at The LAB entitled Out of Order, invites the viewer – or in this case the writer, to begin where Husserl described as the unknown origin of “ready-made geometry.” This unspoken invitation is a breathing ground for possibility and imagination – to go beyond de Buitléar’s modest press-release, which describes the “loose system[s]” of his paper/drawn ‘communities’ of objects that populate The LAB’s ground floor gallery – and posit de Buitléar’s art objects as a generator of language and writing

Coincidently, de Buitléar’s “loose system based on a three by three grid of circles to generate a family of forms” is reiterated (in a way) by the French philosopher Michel Serres in his essay ‘Origin of Geometry’. Serres describes

the space in which the geometer intervenes is a space of similars: he is there, evident, around the three tombs, of the same form and of other dimension, and imitating one another.[3]

Housed in long rectangular perspex boxes, de Buitléar’s untitled concentrically-formed black paper sculptures read as either model temples/tombs – the sort of primordial architecture that Serres alludes to in his search for the origin of geometry. Alternatively, they could be ‘unread’ as hieroglyphics – ideograms that represent a concept by way of a graphic symbol.

On the walls the same tenacity and patience in the replication of similars is regimentally displayed as a series of white pencil aerial drawings of the perspex entombed community of paper sculptures. The commonality between all the drawings and sculptures is the fact that they all contain the same central axis of rotation – or stasis in the case of the still life displays. Between the drawings and the sculptures there is the obvious black/negative and white/positive polarities in their aesthetic makeup. The materiality of the sculptures is deceiving (in my view). For instance, the form of the black paper sculptures have such a strong triangularity expanding outward from the base shape of the circle that a centrifugal force distorts their paper materiality into ‘stuff’ that could contend with such imagined force, such as rubber or coal. The same can be said of the materiality of the drawings, which allude to other origins, such as drawing in the sand or chalk on slate.

In his exhaustive analysis in the introduction to Husserl’s Origin of Geometry, Jacques Derrida writes in reference to Husserl’s contention “that the mathematical object is the mode of every object’s constitution”:

The mathematical object seems to be the privileged example and most permanent thread guiding Husserl’s reflection.This is because the mathematical object is ideal. Its being is thoroughly transparent and exhausted by its phenomenality. Absolute objective, i.e., totally rid of empirical subjectivity, it nevertheless is only what it appears to be. Therefore, it is always already reduced to its phenomenal sense, and its being is, from the outset, to be an object [être-objet] for a pure consciousness.[4]

There is something deafening in Husserl’s and Derrida’s hypothesis. Serres, whose philosophy is always concerned with the marginalisation of the senses by the domination of language and the information revolution, writes: “Mathematics presents itself as a successful dialogue or a communication which rigorously dominates its repertoire and is maximally purged of noise.”[5] Simply put, mathematics is not spoken. Looking at de Buitléar’s drawing you can re-imagine the first didactic strokes of chalk scraping the blackboard in the classroom. There is almost this compulsion (to my mind) to be brought back to the primary school classroom and the origins of our experience of knowledge: ‘primary’ knowledge; the forgotten basics; the alphabet; the sum; all the fundamentals that buttress our linguistic interests and visual luxuries in later life – what Derrida describes as “Traditional Sedimentation.”[6]

The learning and articulation of “primary knowledge” lends itself to another form of noise – the repeated sound (as in the spoken repetition of the mathematical tables), and form (coming home after the school day to see the aerial is out, and snow accumulates on the analogue television screen). In these instances of noise, information
is memorised through the act of repeating one word or sound, or information is blocked by the disruptive nature of noise. Alternatively, the invariant quality of noise, or the infinitely repeatable sound, could create the most complex forms and ideas. There is something that ties the banal or the constant with complexity, or more specifically, breathes complexity as a separate entity. From this conclusion, the simplification of the repeated form
is a way to beget complex images and concepts that have nothing to do with the origin of their impetus. In this sense, Husserl’s and Serres’ search for the ‘Origin of Geometry’ is unachievable; as the allusive gap between geometry’s inception and reception is part of its origin.


Ready-Made Geometry[1]

Niall de Buitléar

Out of Order

8th July – 20 August 2011, The LAB, Dublin

Niall de Buitléar, Untitled, black paper, 2010-2011, courtesy of the artist.



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