Date of Publishing:
November 15, 2022

Vakili, Samad & Steinbach, Ingo & Varnik, Fathollah. Coalescence in "Multi-phase-field modeling of microstructure evolution in metallic foams." (2020)


Ruth Anderwald

Dizziness provokes uncertainty as well as feelings of precarity. Losing control can be conceived as a loss of the habitual relation of the self to the surroundings. The feeling of being disconnected, detached, or suspended from the world, however, creates a propensity and desire to re-connect to the world, to understand the ongoing turmoil or changes and/or to assert and validate ourselves in this precarious situation: we try to find a way to relate and get in touch, which happens via conscious and/or unconscious expressions of the troubled soma. Such irritation does not need to be perilous. Already when something startles you, as Sara Ahmed describes in her Queer Phenomenology, it will make you move around, and this motion means that

[…] you move out of the world, without simply falling into a new one. Such moments when you “switch” dimensions can be deeply disorienting. One moment does not follow another, as a sequence of spatial givens that unfold as moments of time. There are moments in which you lose one perspective, but the “loss” itself is not empty or waiting; it is an object with thick presence.

Losing the habitual coherence that we attribute to our experience of the world fills us with an awareness of loss. Feelings of loss, precarity, perplexity, and helplessness can augment the potential destructiveness. How to reorient ourselves at this moment to avoid destructive potential?

To provide a working hypothesis for this question and – on a different dimension – to delineate a melioristic approach for our artistic research on dizziness, we started developing the concept of coalescence to describe the generative potential of dizziness becoming a resource for sustainable futures. The concept of coalescence appeared first in an exchange around somaesthetics with somatic architect Maria Auxiliadora Galvez Perez, St. Pablo C.E.U. University Madrid.

Coalescence is a concept used in various fields, from chemistry, physics, computer science and genetics to anthropology, geography and linguistics. Originating from the natural sciences, the term coalescence is understood as a process by which two or more separate masses of miscible substances seem to “pull” each other together should they make the slightest contact. In computer science, the term is used for the merging of adjacent blocks of memory to fill gaps caused by deallocated memory. In genetics, coalescence is the merging of genetic lineages backwards to a most recent common ancestor. In geography, coalescence is the process by which urban sprawl produces a linear conurbation. Social anthropologist Tim Ingold uses coalescence in relation to people(s) when immersed in a joint environmental or ecological event. Thus, we can understand coalescence as a state when different human beings, non-human beings, agencies, elements or environments meet, unite or merge into one situation or condition. In his book The Perception of the Environment, Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skills, Ingold elaborates coalescence, as a growing together, on the notion of light:

[light] rather constitutes, for the sighted, the pre-objective foundation of existence, that commingling of the subject with the world without which there could not be visible things, or ‘facts about the environment’, at all. Light, in short, is the ground of being out of which things coalesce – or from which they stand forth – as objects of attention. […] we do not so much see light as see in it. And for all who can see in it, the experience of light is perfectly real. Indeed, we have no more reason to doubt the reality of light than we have to question the experience of blindness for those who cannot see in it.

The dynamics of dizziness create metastability in a compossible space. Such metastable conditions favour movement, emergence, and, thus, coalescence. Thus, we use the term coalescence to describe a moment where a multitude of actors come together, act together, and merge into a collective movement, body, unit, goal, or purpose, creating (temporary) cohesion for a group of beings. The resulting situation is a shared but divergent subjective, somatic experience of togetherness that is experienced as productive and generative by all or most of the collective. Utilising the term from the prism of art, we propose to take a look at the painting The Harvesters (1565) by Pieter Breughel the Elder as a situation of coalescence.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Harvesters, 1565

This painting depicts the late summer harvest in Belgium in the16th-century. The landscape is dominant. Against a background of low hills and a valley, the harvesters in the field are working, eating, resting, or sleeping – all of them seem deeply exhausted; some seem dizzy. We can read their exhaustion and dizziness from their poise.

The dominant factors almost invisible in this painting, however, are the heat and mugginess of this day: the light and the colour of the sky hint at an approaching thunderstorm. The harvesters, even though they seem exhausted, still continue to work in groups, even when one group takes a break. Here, the coalescence can be found in the harvesters’ immersion in this event, in their purposeful work, in the collective consciousness of the approaching storm, and in the resulting togetherness and agency as a group, an experience that makes them act in asynchronous unison towards a collective goal. For reasons of historical accuracy, however, we must consider that the harvesters depicted were not free citizens going about their work for themselves nor as they wished but were most probably living and acting in a state of serfdom. So, this moment of coalescence does not have freedom as a prerequisite but can come up under adverse conditions and does not necessarily serve the actors or the actors only.

Moreover, as depicted here, coalescence is a social phenomenon, but it is also atmospheric, temporal, multi-species, multidirectional and spatial. We use the term to describe a moment where a multitude of actors come together, act together, and merge into a collective movement, body, or unit. The resulting situation is a shared but divergent somatic, spatial and cognitive experience of togetherness that is experienced as fertile and generative by all or most of the collective.

How does this relate to the concept of dizziness? Dizziness confuses, makes all that seemed clear, distinct and definite fuse, blend, become unfinished and blurred. Creating what we have come to call a compossible space: that is, an actual and theoretical spacetime, a situation and condition, that allows for confusing and transforming what had seemed clear and definite: the given and the lacuna, the possible and the impossible, ground and groundlessness. From this existential confusion, novel perspectives and unprecedented possibilities can emerge.

Compossibility describes the resourcefulness of dizziness. Coalescence describes fertile situations that grow out of the potential and resourcefulness of dizziness. Thus, coalescence is a time-based perspective on conditions and situations of growth or development to the generative and fruitful. In this artistic research, the term is used to orient in a state of dizziness.

Moments or situations of coalescence can provide collective -but not necessarily shared - meaning, focus, orientation, stability, desire, and/or purpose. From the background of dizziness, we understand them as providing connection points to create liminal commonality as a way to transform states of dizziness into a resource and overcome the anxiety, perplexity and petrification within.

The activist group “Letzte Generation” is generating a “blink” for us.

In her Queer Phenomenology, Ahmed writes:

You blink, but it takes time for the world to acquire a new shape. You might even feel angry from being dislodged from the world you inhabited as a contourless world.

Ahmed’s blink could be understood in terms of opening a compossible space for the experiencing subject. However, Ahmed’s phrasing of the “contourless world” points to our habitual Western experiencing the world as a background that is not to take shape but to provide us solely with an experiential spacetime. However, within its spinning into crisis mode, our world noticeably becomes an actor that needs attentive perception, awareness, orientation, collaboration, love, and support. Many of us are blinking, perplexed, or even in denial. Nevertheless, the potential of dizziness can help us spin into motion when we understand and train to access the compossible space as a space of possibility that allows for processes of coalescence to unfold.


Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology (Duke University Press 2006).

Maria Auxiliadora Galvez Perez, Somatic Coalescence (2020).

Tim Ingold, The Perception of the Environment, Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skills (Routledge 2011).

Pieter Breughel the Elder, The Harvesters (1565).

Letzte Generation @lastgeneration