Transmission in Motion


“Tacit Knowledge in Matter and Motion” – Lisa-Maria van Klaveren

In his presentation, Nicolas Salazar Sutil offers a new beginning, reaching back to pre-historic knowledge. This opening, that he is mapping out in his forthcoming book Matter in Transmission (Bloomsbury), overcomes the idea that transmission is only possible in conventional telecommunicational forms, such as electricity, radio-waves, microwave and infra-red. Instead, he invites elements – water, fire, stone, earth – as alternative transmissions in matter.

Following the lines of Jean Clottes (2013), a French pre-historian specialised in cave art, Sutil explores pre-historic art making in caves to make his point. Caves consist of calcite rock, formed over large time scales and constituted by the same chemical component as human bone. Interestingly, Sutil argues that the rocks convey energy in the form of vibrant movement. Importantly, and as Clottes (2013) convincingly shows, understanding the behaviour of Palaeolithic people in deep caves challenges modern Western concepts about the mind: it is fluid, thus, everything is interconnected across times and places, it is complex, thence, there is no fit into simplified and synthesized models, and, lastly, it is permeable beyond all levels.

Keeping this in mind, the transmission in matter between (human) being and an element such as rock is able to take place: very literally and non-literate, thus, non-linear – a human being standing in a calcite cave, bringing in oxygen and flushing out carbon dioxide moves the rock through chemical deformation processes on long time scales. In turn, and offering the naturalistic idea of coupling as proposed by complex dynamical systems approach (Leitan & Chaffey, 2014) myself here, the calcite rock may move the human being: physiological and behavioural correlates, such as respiration, heartbeat and body movement change. Regarding movement in the exploration of transmission in matter, Sutil explores the possibility of combining the disciplines of dance and climbing as an appropriate, non-representative research methodology. He argues that climbing and bouldering are unique embodied perspectives to gain a tacit knowledge of movement in the rock itself. The notion of tacit knowledge is very well placed: using movement to engage into objects or Gegenstände might offer an opportunity to overcome what Bruno Latour (2004) calls matters of fact and delve into matters of concern. As Sutil (2015) argues himself: Whereas, movement is an endless reservoir of communication and transportation and, thus, infinite, language and formal notations are finite systems of representations and, hence, are not able to grasp the richness of movement. Moving with rock acknowledges the raw wall as an agent for embodied cultural transmission: underground walls ring and dance.

At last, I would like to share a thought on transmission, the way Sutil engages into it, as rising above the (modern) tension between nature and culture. To conclude, Sutil convincingly proposes a transmission of life in movement explored by a non-representational and non-linear approach that overcomes (the problem of) the interface and may afford matters of concern instead of staying with matters of fact: a revitalization of the cave of forgotten dreams affording new traditional knowledge.


  • Clotte, J. (2013). “Why Did They Draw In Those Caves?”. Time and Mind 6:1, pp. 7-14.
  • Latour, B. (2004). “Why Has Critique Run Out Of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern“. Critical Inquiry 30(2), pp. 225-248.
  • Leitan, N. D.  and Chaffey, L. (2014). “Embodied Cognition and its applications: A brief review”. Sensoria: A Journal of Mind, Brain & Culture 10:1, pp. 3-10.
  • Sutil, N. S. (2015). Motion and Representation: The Language of Human Movement. Cambridge: MIT Press.