Date of Publishing:
May 5, 2024

© Payer & Gabriel

2024, Tableau 3

Knowledge, Anxiety and the Dizziness of Ordering

Micha Payer & Martin Gabriel

Our Western society seems to be defined by knowledge, and places many hopes in knowledge, when it comes to finding solutions to the multiple global ecological, and political crises. Academics and knowledge workers are encouraged to think out of the box, be creative in order to provide future-oriented, visionary innovations, and offer unexpected solutions to the many human-made disasters. A wish for are vived amalgamation between the arts and sciences emerges. Creativity becomes a virtue in the process of knowledge production. The sociologist Andreas Reckwitz observes a new kind of subject culture, that fuses creativity with entrepreneurship, a high qualified urban middle class, that works in the post-industrial knowledge economy.(1) There is a social pressure for being inventive and creative in the process of knowledge production. The new is expected.

Knowledge is a plural concept. There exists a myriad of knowledges: useful, useless, profitable, bourgeois, vital, disciplined, specialized, uncategorized, hidden, lost, outsourced, implicit, explicit, tacit, codified, situated, universal, practical, theoretical, minor, major, subjugated, determining, private, public, orally, written, stolen, passed on kinds of knowledge. In the biotechnological, digital, and globalized era, there is plenty of knowledge that is produced outside the human mind. The philosopher Rosi Braidotti exemplarily names algorithmically executed risk assessment, synthetically induced cell formation and division, artificially produced meat, the adaption and copying of the neural and sensory systems of other species that all belong to types of knowledge produced outside the human mind.(2) Moreover artificial intelligence is a powerful knowledge producer. There is a flood of knowledge that makes us dizzy. The unease associated with this overwhelming flood of knowledge is an affective state of anxiety for which historical evidence can be found that goes far back in our history, long before the digital age. The Renaissance humanist Francesco Petrarca warned against the excessive consumption of books in 1366, saying that it could drive the reader to madness.(3) Around 400 years later, one of the most prominent and significant encyclopedists, Denis Diderot, described this state with visionary aptness:

“As centuries pass by, the mass of works grows endlessly, and one can foresee a time when it will be almost as difficult to educate oneself in a library, as in the universe, and almost as fast to seek a truth subsisting in nature, as lost among an immense number of books.”(4)

Ever since there have been made attempts to record, order and store knowledge in order to keep it, and pass it on.

2024, Tableau 5

Knowledge had to be disciplined and classified. Things had to be ordered, taxonomies and systematizations were established. But each order – be it biological taxonomies and binominal nomenclature, historiographies, knowledge systematizations, classifications, or typologies – is entangled in power structures, based on decisions of inclusion and exclusion, and the establishment of hierarchies. The way we order and categorize depends on how we think about the world, but on the other hand the thereby constructed classification systems inevitably structure our thinking: It is dovetailed in a set of basic epistemic preconditions, that the philosopher Michel Foucault describes as epistemes in The Order of Things. To think beyond these given epistemic preconditions, that probably can only be understood from certain kinds of macro perspectives – in the form of a historical review or distanced analysis – seems to be an impossible undertaking. It would put us in a state of groundlessness. As the philosopher Gilles Deleuze pictorially puts it in his description of difference:

“Lightning, for example, distinguishes itself from the black sky but must also trail it behind, as though it were distinguishing itself from that which does not distinguish itself from it. It is as if the ground rose to the surface, without ceasing to be ground. There is cruelty, even monstrosity, on both sides of this struggle against an elusive adversary, in which the distinguished opposes something which cannot distinguish itself from it but continues to espouse that which divorces it. Difference is this state in which determination takes the form of unilateral distinction.”(5)

The concept of difference – as an interspace or gradual transition between the things – might be an interesting point of departure, that enables us to think in unexpected, liberated ways. The ground evolves to become a form itself. Of similar quality seems to be the time-enduring process of fossilisation, which is a fusion of solid grounds with creatures that are no longer alive. Where to put these sculpted afterlifes?

2024, Tableau 4

Ordering systems function as coping mechanisms in the flood of knowledge, information, and things surrounding us. Orders are based on decisions, and follow aesthetic impulses. They may appear to be self-evident, and logical, but include adaptions, interpretations, and rigid divisions. There is a long-lasting discussion about the natural versus artificial nature of orders reaching back to antiquity.(6) From a realistic perspective, orders are based on a natural system, whereas from a nominalistic perspective, orders are artificially created. Mathematical examinations of nature, such as the Fibonacci sequence that can be found in spiral-shaped ammonites, snail shells, and in the arrangement of the leaves and seed heads of numerous plants, reflect a realistic perspective regarding orders. Perhaps they express a desire for the existence of an invisible grid that covers the most different things in the world. By disclosing this grid, or pattern one could find out, what holds the world together in its inmost folds. Wouldn’t it be comforting if there was a universal order for everything?

2024, Tableau 1

The tableaus shown in this blog take up the inconsistencies inherent in orders. These re-enactments of orders aim to absorb a negative form (i.e. opponents to classified objects) in various ways: as afterlifes of visual engrained ordering patterns, as entanglements of form and ground, and by obscuring the forms and emphazing their interspaces. The tableaus are created in several layers and steps of defamiliarization regarding the chosen shapes. Two steps of marbling are followed by a refinement with coloured pencil and pastels. Several motives are based on the use of molds for product packages, that are used as negative forms for plaster cast and uptaken as motives for these tableaus. These ornamental forms equally stand alongside forms of microfossils, paradoxical creatures, all-day objects of different cultural codations, and anatomical structures. What is left are traces of order and time as still frames of synchronicities.

2024, Tableau 2


AndreasReckwitz, Das hybride Subjekt. EineTheorie der Subjektkulturen von der bürgerlichen Moderne zur Postmoderne (Berlin:Suhrkamp, 2020), 450.


See Rosi Braidotti, Posthuman Knowledge (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2020), 14.


See Steffen Siegel, Tabula: Figuren derOrdnung um 1600 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2009), 29.


See Denis Diderot, Encyclopédie (1755), quoted from Caspar Henderson, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings (Cambridge: Granta, 2012), i.


Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), 37.

(6) See Paul Michel, “Verzweigungen, geschweifte Klammern, Dezimalstellen: Potenz undGrenzen des taxonomischen Ordnungssystems von Platon über Theodor Zwinger bis Melvil Dewey,” in Allgemeinwissen und Gesellschaft: Akten des internationalen Kongresses über Wissenstransfer und enzyklopädische Ordnungssysteme vom 18. bis 21. September 2003 in Pragins, edited by Paul Michel, Madeleine Herren, and Martin Rüesch (Aachen: Shaker Verlag,2007), 109.