Quantum Words

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Very happy to have been invited to contribute to this project, The Quantum Words Series, instigated by Prof. Vera Buhlmann at TU Wien (ATTP).

I spent a couple of weeks at the ATTP earlier this year, and hosted an Engineering Fictions session inspired by the discourse and ideas in circulation in the research centre.

The idea behind the Quantum Words project resonates in many ways with the ethos and methodology of Engineering Fictions. By choosing one topic, one choreographic object, in this case ‘The Table’, it is possible to draw out an abundance of perspectives, stories, ideas and begin to develop a richer philosophy around basic architectonic objects, firstly through invited writers and secondly through the students at TU Wien. In a sense we, the invited writers, are modelling the exercise that the architecture students will be undertaking in their course at ATTP. A beautiful mode of distributed pedagogy!

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My contribution is published here and is also pasted in raw form below:


The man was often incensed by the woman’s ‘selflessness’. For example, on a recent cycling trip, the woman offered to carry some of the mans baggage in her bicycle basket, imagining that his backpack was generating an excess of sweat against his skin. At that moment, there was nothing more offensive than this gesture of respite. As if in a counter punch, he had offered her a tissue. The inevitable exposure to the elements when cycling often caused the woman to sniff. She had not in the least been bothered by this excess at such a midpoint in their journey. Now she was troubled by his gesture of succour.

This doubt repealed the woman to her childhood self. She was standing by her mothers upturned bike, watching her father, leaning into its frame on bended knee, wrestling the deflated rubber from it’s encasing. Her mood was one of joy and eagerness to share companionship and assistance, and to learn the mechanics of this wildly democratic mode of transport. The ingenuity of material combinations, the miracle of human dexterity and intention against the laws of physics whispered to her as she watched her beloved Dad repair her Mother’s beloved bicycle. When her father looked across at her, she, like an eager pup ready to retrieve a ball not yet thrown, anticipated his request: ‘pass the chalk,’ perhaps? “Would you ever go and blow your nose,” he said bluntly.

This discouraging memory lingered with her as she cycled. She did not know what to do with the feeling of it. Was it the case that she has always had a noisy body? A body that repulsed and infuriated? The woman felt sharply and needlessly judged, and for a moment her mind wandered with vague sensations and assurances, such as those induced by corners and cupboards, dark holes and heavy blankets. Blinking long and hard, she felt the wind on her face and arms, lingering blindly a moment to the let the sunlight scorch white behind her eyes. She hit a pothole abruptly and a new memory struck her.

She was under the kitchen table in her childhood home. It was very early in the morning and a thin pale light was washing over the dusty brown carpet tiles. On all sides, an arcade of legs framed her view of the domestic space. The smell of wood and oil and dust pressed upon her senses. Every now and then she would prowl its nave, gaining glimpses of the inside outside of her new secret territory. A home within a home. Her body was pure delight and mischief. Nobody knew she was there, she was awake before the others. She would surpise them all with her invisibility.

Soon a stirring down the house informed her that one of her kin had woke. Shortly, the kitchen door swung open and in lumbered her father with the slow, heavy gravity of an underwater mammal. She inhaled a gasp of glee, biting down on her lip. Hands quick to her mouth, her heart fit for bursting. He had not seen her. He did not know she was there.

She was stunned by the power of her sub-architectural position, making labyrinths under the kitchen table. She watched her father, barefooted and pale legged, pad around the edges of the kitchen, assembling ingredients for his breakfast. These things rumbled like thunder over her head; thuds and scrapes of metal and carton and ceramic on veneered wood. “God moving his furniture around,” her father might have said. He settled at the gable end of the table with a slow transfer of weight from foot to foot. Inhaling his soupy bowl of cereal with all the concentration of a dreamer, she listened to him chewing and chomping and choking; sucking and sloshing and swallowing.

The couple were at last turning onto the pier and could see the lighthouse red and raucous against the blue horizon. Dismounting at speed, she laughed loudly from her gut and up into the sunshine. Taking out a fresh tissue from her bag, she cleared her nostrils with great and thorough enjoyment.

Jessica Foley

20th September 2017