Before the painting, there is first form. Things are too protean to name. Forces and flows that are uneven, not yet congealed, become lively, affective, signalling. Postpone for a while, writes Jane Bennett, the topics of subjectivity or the nature of human interiority, or the question of what really distinguishes the human from the animal, plant and thing. Inside the first form, wrestling as though it were alive, there is only formation and deformation, the becoming otherwise of things in motion as they enter into strange conjunctions with one another. The commingling, interlacing of matter and form is a blasphemous space, as yet undirected, hovering, at the mercy of the materiality it will assume, a tremendous internal push of life, the predisposition of the seed or the embryo, an active vitality, a form of vibrant matter.
This is Siopis in the time before the painting. ‘They're not actually paintings,’ she says. There is a canvas, and there is paint or glue or ink, spilling and drooling, writhing or spiralling or eddying. Something emerges in which she begins to recognize a shape. And then she acts upon it. What is out there and what is in her moving out to the material, the matter on the canvas, is not yet certain. From this early commingling, the idea of a painting as a self-conscious act emerges.
Emotion materializes in the dripping, curdling, congealing. ‘I make the paint do things,’ she says. ‘I set up the conditions for chance to operate along certain lines.’ There is a fight with form. She can smooth something down beautifully with a palette knife or a spatula and then pull it apart again. She can push a found object into the surface of the paint, forcing open its smoothness. A forming image can be destroyed and in its destruction another thing appears. There is a cutting open, a melting into something. Dead matter is turned into a thing. Jane Bennett calls it thingpower; Foucault refers to the unthought. Siopis talks about an unrecoverable strangeness. The language of selfhood and otherness is not useful here, at least not in the way it was defined and acted on before.