FORM REFLECTING CONTENT: A Phenomenological Approach to Phenomenology.

Reflection Paper Written By Hannes Andersson for RAPA: Week 1.


Observing yourself becomes observing yourself observing yourself. A fridge-lightee kind of stack overflow thing. Where does it lead? Where does it end? How many layers of detachment do we need to look at the self from the point of view of the self? When does it become theory? Say we do so we are what? Humans are meaning generating technological animals. Is theory not a technology? Who are we in this context? Use your bias. What kind of epistemology is this? Everything is bias. Documenting it as such seems fitting. Technology itself is a feedback loop. Make machines that make culture that makes self. Is theory with no words still theory? Is there reality without words? Is art inherently a phenomenological approach to life? Art is an anarchical approach to the creation of theory. I am a comment not an answer. Answer is always question as of so far. So far so good it would seem.




Although I agree with Susan Kozel when she states that there is a “necessity of developing thoughtful and philosophically well-grounded first-person, or subjective, approaches to research” (2007, 15), I find the concept of experiential self-observation highly problematic. What I encountered when I attempted to do this is that the observation itself heavily saturates the experience. For example I found that observing the experience of consuming liquids turned out to be an observation of ‘the experience of observing yourself consuming liquids, and further that the realization of that fact triggers yet another step of detachment to be made (observing the observation of the observation, and so on). It results in a paradoxical sort of “stack overflow” where the closer you (I) try to look the further detached you (I) are (am). This seemingly confirms the concept voiced by Merleau-Ponty (1965) that we (although we can access it) cannot get “behind” the primordial or the pre-reflective. Valid as this might be, I also find thinking in these terms to be quite problematic. Not because I do not agree with the idea that that our perception is limited to the scope of its field, and that this in turn is dictated by social as well as physical capacities (in lack of a better word), but because to me this seems to suggest that there is a finality as well as a linearity to this process, a hierarchy where the unconscious stands over, or before, the conscious. Why do we need this separation? Wasn’t the point in the first place to get away from the separations between mind, body and environment? I also find puzzling that he states that there is no “idea” behind the work of art. Isn’t an idea precisely the thing that a work of art is? I would go as far as to say that art practice if not only then primarily is a technology for generating, transmitting, physicalizing and externalising ideas. Ideas that once manifested take on their own life in the chain-reactional ecosystem that is culture. To me this is the whole point of art[1]. The artist acts as a perceptual diplomat with an anarchist approach to knowledge production in the sense that s/he does not develop models of reality-creation for people to follow. Instead, what s/he offers to society is relevant expressions of alternative ways of engaging with ideas, “not as prescriptions, but as contributions, possibilities – as gifts” (Graeber, 2004).



This short essay is an experimental attempt to apply a variation of the phenomenological methodology suggested in “Closer” by Suzan Kotzel (Ibid. 51-55), onto the process of evaluating the very methodology in question.

This is done partly in order to assess the potential of a phenomenological approach to (knowledge-) production in the overlapping fields of art, philosophy and technology, and partly as a step in an on-going exploration of mine into experimental, algorithmic and/or generative methodology.

The experiment is inspired by observations made (and difficulties that arose) while engaging with this method of ‘observing the world’ in a collaborative exercise performed during the first week of the course “Research & Art Practices A” at the Frank Mohr Institute (ANNEX:1).

The way that I have chosen to implement my version of Kozel’s methodology in this context is as following:

The topic (the proposed methodology itself) is subjectively ‘felt’ rather than analysed.

  1. The subjective feelings that arise from the topic are documented in a short ‘stream-of-consciousness’ type of text at the very moment in which they are experienced.
  2. The text is not subject to any editing.
  3. The text is not reread until the next day, when the statements and questions expressed are analysed in their validity as concepts.
  4. The felt concepts are then argued for in a second short text following the order that arose in the first text. This text is also highly subjective, but written with the intention of presenting the concepts as coherent thoughts.




In many ways I find phenomenology to be somewhat problematic as a philosophy, and that using this philosophy in attempts to answer concrete questions is hard as it seems prone to generating paradoxical conclusions. For these very reasons however, I find it very suitable as a methodology for finding questions and engaging with processes. This also makes it a suitable methodology for producing art, as the process of art production in itself is oriented as such and hence welcoming to this type of qualities.

What I find most interesting in this particular experiment is: 1) how engaging with this methodology allows for the compartmentalising of discourse; and 2) that one in the end is left with different accounts of the same essence, which if presented together generates a crossover between rational and poetics.





Graeber, D. 2004. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Prickly Paradigm Press.

Kozel, S. 2007. Closer. MIT Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. Trans: Smith, C. 1965. Phenomenology of Perception, Routledge & Kegan Paul.

 Sullivan, S. 2001. Living Across and Through Skins: Transactional Bodies, Pragmatism, and Feminism. Indiana University Press.




Another expression of the same thematic and methodology performed during this week is the External Observation Machine:

A device that plays with the concept of self-perception, inspired by observations made in a simple phenomenological experiment aimed at studying the subjective experience of ‘being’ and ‘doing’ from a non-analytical point of view where we found that the task of experiential auto-observation is problematic because the observation itself tended to saturate the experience.

The device, which can be used by one person at the time, consist of two people, four iPhones connected in pairs via Skype (/Facetime/Hangouts or similar technologies), duck tape and some cardboard.

What it does is offering the user a dual third-person-perspective view onto his/herself over which s/he has no control, while simultaneously blocking the normal first-person-person perspective onto the environment.

The result is a disorienting state of confusion where the user quickly looses his/her sense of orientation.

An interesting side effect is also that the dual Skype calls generate and audio feedback, which ‘amplifies’ the perceived size of the space and further contributes to the disorientation.






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Published by Hannes Andersson (Lhynkx)

Hannes Andersson is an artist, filmmaker and researcher, born in Gothenburg (Sweden) and currently based in the Netherlands where he is undertaking a MFA in Media, Art, Design and Technology at the Frank Mohr Institute, Minerva Art Academy. Hannes is co-founder of the art collective Chinos International CC, director and co-founder of the independent film group Andersson Rodriguez Films. His artistic work focuses on the relationships between humanity, technology culture and narrative.