science space


the vague space

by Stefan Schwabe & Jannis Hülsen

In order to investigate the threshold as an abstract phenomenon and to enhance a purposeful exploration within, we felt the urge to conceptualise and frame it. A threshold is something inconcrete, something vague, standing in contrast to everything else that is defined and concrete. In our everyday reality we can observe a tendency of favouring the concrete. Things mostly need to be explainable and efficient. They have to make sense. Those things we do not understand and which we struggle to put into words are often hard to integrate into economic contexts. Nevertheless, there is a vast and on-going dynamic between the vague and the concrete. We would like to investigate and better understand this dynamic and give space to the inconcrete. This led us to the conception of the Vague Space (Fig.1).

Fig.1: First attempt to visualise the Vague Space (white=vagueness)

The Vague Space can be understood as a place of “thresholdness”, picturing a space of possibilities rather than a space of realities. The concrete is something we “know” and that is charecterised through the existence of terms and definitions1 . One could picture this as a structure built from puzzle pieces, in which our language plays a major part in constructing and joining these single pieces. Nevertheless, there is a horizon of what we know and what we can put into words and therefore, what we can imagine. We all know the feeling of crossing this horizon, when words are missing to describe a thought, when gut feeling is leading the way or when things are in the air. This is where we catch a glimpse of the Vague Space. By investigating this vagueness, we hope to understand the dynamics of how one can approach, explore or examine the inconcrete that is located inside this space and how to contextualise it with the concrete.

Fig.5: Up-close view of water particles forming fog, images source Wikipedia

The difficulty at this point is to describe something that vanishes as soon as you attempt to put it into images and words. Nevertheless, this is exactly what we set out to do (bearing in mind the limitation of our endeavour). First of all, we understand the Vague Space as an imaginary head space that cannot be pictured as a formula or a systemic diagram. Therefore, all images we present of this space have to be understood as metaphors. In order to describe this conception, we focus on observations, actions, situations and feelings we have made during our practice as well as during this semester project. Our attempt is to communicate rather a collage than a scientific theory, a mindset rather than a formula.

Fig.3: Terranautische Instrumente, Roman Kirschner and Clemens Winkler, 2017

During the process of writing and discussing this text, we became aware of the potential this conception may have, not only for design theory but also for other fields. We believe it may help to connect the concrete realities of economic competition, innovation pressure or the routines of paper and application writing with an intuitive and creative practice, leading to a certain freedom and confidence to think off the beaten tracks. It may motivate people to approach uncertainty as a pool for new findings, by giving them a chance to locate oneself within this venture and raising their awareness of being inside this Vague Space.
One of our initial inspirations that set out our thoughts in motion was an interview with “Multi-Platform” artist Shepard Fairey that Jannis did in 2015. On this occasion Fairey talked about the forming of the term “Street Art” and its consequences in the early 2000´s. In the interview he keeps referring to the art show “Backjumps-The live Issue” in Berlin in 2003, which Fairey was part of.

“… in a way it´s most exciting when things have yet to be really defined and put into a box. That was an exciting moment, because there were a lot of people who were right on the brink of becoming well-known successful artists. They weren´t there yet. The egos weren´t there yet. There was a lot of fun, everybodey just hung out and had a really good time and there was great energy…” ²

As Fairey describes, besides the fact that nobody was famous and there were no egos, the term “Street Art” had not been coined, yet. This led to a very special dynamic and a lot of freedom. What the artists were doing was not labeled at this time. It was interesting because it did not have a name.

As one can also observe these phenomena in many other subject areas, two questions stuck with us. What is the effect of a label or a definition on a dynamic or a development in general? And, furthermore, might it be possible to explore a subject more extensively, if one were allowed to stay longer in a space where findings are not directly defined or categorized according to their value and intended use(fulness). If we consider everything that is defined and that represents most of our everyday reality as the Concrete Space and if we contrast this with a space where things are not defined and conceptualized yet, we are facing the Vague Space. This automatically raises questions such as: Where is this space? How to intentionally enter and exit such a space? What could be found inside?

Fig.4: Obstructed view

Framing conditions
There are many situations in our lives, where we are suddenly confronted with something unforeseen or new, like a sudden danger or other external forces exercising power over us. These situations may also take us into a Vague Space, but we would like to exclude these accidental causes at this point. As we understand the concept of the Vague Space rather as a tool, it can be approached intentionally and on purpose. This means it is a conscious step to move into it, to move further inside and to return. When we think about the Vague Space, we have to consider that every image representation of the space is temporary and subjective. Also, every person brings his or her own bag-pack of knowledge and perspectives. This leads us to the assumption that every person would have his or her personal Vague Space and also his or her very own findings. Further, picturing the Vague Space can only be a snap-shot, representing a specific moment in time. We also presuppose that we are starting with a specific subject area of interest and with a certain intention. This subject area opens up the space to explore, whereas the intention can be understood as the orientation towards a direction inside this space. During the journey inside the Vague Space, this intention can still be adjusted, as can be the direction of the movement.

Qualities of the Vague Space
When we think about images illustrating something unknown, blank or vague, many associations come into mind. For us, an immediate metaphor for the Vague Space was fog. Thinking about how fog behaves and how we behave inside fog, encouraged us to further investigate the dynamics of this space on a material basis and to use it as an example. Fog has no particular shape, nor a specific core or expansion (Fig. 4). It consists of particles, which, as an accumulation, obstruct our clear view (Fig.5). This phenomenon is dependent on our perspective and scaling. In astronomy, fogs or “Nebulas” are often considered as star-forming regions. Through gravital forces, spots in the nebulas condense and form matter (planets) (Fig.2). …

Fig.2: Hubble views grand starforming region, image source NASA


1 Blumenberg 2007, p. 102

2 Shepard Fairey on “Backjumps-The Live Issue, 2003”, Dokupool, 2015


Got your intrest? You can read the whole article in latest issue PLASMA #4 




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