Innovation with Words and Visuals: A Baroque Sensibility

Helen Verran and Brit Ross Winthereik


Innovating to effect the discipline of deductive proof in Ancient Greek mathematics by mixing words and visuals; to accomplish the compromises needed in the conduct of an elected monarchy in sixteenth-century Denmark; to lubricate the workings of a public-private partnership (PPP) in contemporary Denmark; and to inspire a baroque style of empirical analysis in the contemporary academic discipline of science and technology studies. These are the sites of innovation that figure in our paper (albeit some more fleetingly than others). We connect them by embroidering each with that ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ thread of innovation in mixing words and visuals.

Flick through our text and the visuals will stand out – an odd mixture of PowerPoint images and photographs of a tapestry. The words of course will take more time to get your head around. When you have done so (dear reader), we ask you to undertake an exercise of the imagination. Imagine our text, this particular mixture of words and visuals, as a performance: two speakers with spoken words and screened visuals. By undertaking that exercise of imagination you will correct an imbalance which we, writing on different sides of the world, are unable to attend to. In our performance of this text, our imagined embodied storytelling, we hope our initial, almost unreasonable, juxtaposition of the life of two Danish cities modernising in different centuries creates a tension strong enough to contain the further tensions we create in mixing visuals and words. The tensions are crucial in making our argument for expanding our modern repertoire for ‘doing diagrams’. Our juxtapositions put the four worlds we listed in the beginning in tension, accepting that they are detached and different in myriad unknowable ways while effecting an attachment, a working sameness within that wonder-filled difference.

Juxtaposition: Growth Centres in Denmark

In the sixteenth century Helsingør was a centre of innovation. But here we set the life of that city of long ago against the contemporary life of Hanstholm, a twenty-first-century centre of innovation on the other side of Denmark. We juxtapose these temporally and spatially distinct places for no other reason than developments in these places both harvest opportunities offered by the sea. Or more precisely, we juxtapose the collective practices involved in their being places, by connecting them with this (rather slight) thread. This unlikely juxtaposition might be seen as expressing a baroque sensibility, but whether or not it does it is the first move in the comedy that is our paper.1

Helsingør commands the strait that is the entrance to the Baltic Sea. As a sixteenth-century centre of economic development, it grew out of the extraction of dues from ships that wished to pass through the strait. Hanstholm, in contrast, faces the North Sea and while it is already Denmark’s largest fishery harbour, it is hoped that this town will become a future engineering city through the extraction of energy from the waves that pound its shores. Both development events might be construed as cutting-edge events concerned with innovation and growth, and taking place on different geographical edges. Recognising these edges is to recognise stories of entrepreneurship as stories of working relations between people, technology, and nature.

Narrating and exhibiting devices garnered from the life of these two different places on the edge of the sea, we first draw attention to a diagram of innovation and its roles in instituting innovation. This diagram emerged into our field of vision through fieldwork in a Danish wave-energy research and development collective where participants are hoping to move towards commercialisation and promote Danish know-how on marine renewable energy technology in Denmark and abroad. We take the diagram of the stages of innovation as a device designed to allow participants to sift through the complexity of wave-energy development and effect partnership among developers and potential private and public sector investors.

The second diagram we display is historical and emerged in archival work we undertook as a way of analysing the innovation diagram with a baroque sensibility. Looking for inspiration as to how a baroque sensibility might be expressed, we turned to Helsingør as exemplary of a Danish baroque time and place. Here we encountered a baldachin, a tapestry throne canopy woven in a tapestry workshop established in Kronborg Castle in 1585. As the town expanded into a centre of commerce, drawing on its strategic location between the North Sea and the Baltic, and capitalism emerged as an economic order, the Danish aristocracy was radically reorganised through successive upheavals. These were associated with the institutionalisation of Protestantism and the establishment of an elected monarchy. We take the baldachin as a device designed to intervene in that emergent polity.

Through juxtapositions, we offer stories in the form of non-explanation. We frame and reframe in order to generate something new from within the field of study, rather than reflect on ‘what is’ from a meta position (Law 2004). We work within the ‘folds’ (see introduction to this volume by Law), pushing and pulling at the interfaces we feel ourselves enmeshed in.

The work diagrams do in collectives is the focus of our attention in this chapter, and we acknowledge that our understandings of what diagrams are differ from the technical understandings adopted by our colleagues in wave-energy capture innovation, our engineering and financial PPP co-participants. Our reframing through focussing on diagrams draws on a recent novel account of diagrams offered in the history of mathematics. Instead of taking diagrams as involved only in epistemic practices linking the mess of the actual and the ideal of the future, this account of diagrams focuses on their unique contribution in rhetoric. This account allows us to recognise the work diagrams do in collective way-finding, in working in the present.

Diagrams as we present them here are graphics, images, or visuals that fill two-dimensional physical spaces – e.g. screened images of the stages of technological innovation, or the graphic images that cover the surfaces of a tapestry. The visuals we are interested in are those performing in a graphic register that is in tension with linguistic registers. We refer to these figurations that are designed to work with text as diagrams, and open up a space for imagining their capacities as agential devices. Our concern is with how diagrams and their associated texts intervene in the organisation and governance of institutions like the wave-energy partnership. In showing the workings of such diagrams they emerge as objects of governance and organisation that embed working imaginaries exercised in the present. In contrast to baroque diagrams like the baldachin, the diagrammatic devices of technoscience that we met in the wave-energy capture PPP are designed to enforce non-equivocation and non-contradiction, the standard rhetoric of Western scientific thought and argument. Devices enacting such norms make it difficult to manage ambiguities and ambivalences that might generatively make it possible to go on together doing difference.

Meeting a Working Diagram

When we began our involvement with wave-energy commercialisation we were working on the edge in several senses of the word. In an attempt to get an edge in environmental energy generation, Denmark’s government has invested money, on and off, in local initiatives in Northern Jutland over a thirty-year period. However, since a change of government in 2001, state funding in renewable energy has taken on a particular form. Any application should now involve private as well as public partners. Whether an innovation project is fundable depends on its ability to successfully enrol various stakeholders in the project. The imaginary at work in this vision of funding is that cutting-edge projects will necessarily involve developers, financial partners, research institutions, local government, and so on.

Before 2001, government funding in renewable energy in Denmark focused on supporting the renewable energy developer communities and expert engineers in whatever organisational form they chose to present themselves. It is different today. If you go to the geographical edge where the North Sea waves energetically batter the Danish coast, you will find the Danish Wave Energy Center (DanWEC). Located in the town of Hanstholm, DanWEC has, as one of its main missions, the institution of a PPP around marine renewable energy in Denmark.2 One full-time employee attends to this along with a number of helping hands from several different public and private institutions. As part of research in the context of the project ‘Marine Renewable Energy as Alien’, we have witnessed some of the sociotechnical means by which the partnership hopes to turn wave-energy devices into cutting-edge infrastructure.3

Work to stabilise and move forward the partnership is ongoing, as is fieldwork.4 The partnership has taken upon itself a number of tasks, one of these being to map all the ongoing stakeholders and technology projects geographically and in terms of progress (which means how far they are from commercialisation).

Fig. 7.1 Diagram of Innovation, reproduced from the draft report presented at the strategy meeting5

On the basis of web searches and interviews, core members of what is known as ‘The Partnership’ constructed a list of core actors in Danish wave-energy development. The initiative was guided by a worry that the developers did not collaborate enough to benefit from each other’s insights. Another main task the partnership set itself was to draft a national strategy for wave energy and hand it over to the organisation that represents the interests of Danish energy companies and to the Ministry for Climate and Energy. A varied group of people make up ‘The Partnership’: wave device developers, local politicians from north-western Denmark, energy company representatives, suppliers of technology and materials, and scientists. Members of the partnership have a number of rather different concerns and participate in the partnership for various reasons. Nevertheless, the coordinating actors repeatedly highlight two concerns: 1) to create visibility around wave-energy innovation among politicians and ordinary people as this, it is hoped, will generate increased funding, and 2) to collaborate around particular technical issues that they all seem to share (secure seabed anchoring is an issue that is often mentioned at meetings in the partnership as being of shared concern). What they may each gain from demonstrating the vitality of the wave-energy technologies and community differs, but participants are adamant that individual inventors must collaborate to gain political visibility. Collaboration is facilitated by wave-energy scientists (physicists by training) from a Danish University located in the same region as Hanstholm. This is also the group that introduced the innovation-cum-funding model that was presented at a partnership meeting in 2011.

I sit at the horseshoe-shaped table in a meeting at the Montra Hotel in Hanstholm. The room has soft carpets, and a view, and an ambition, it feels, to perform its visitors as ‘elegant’. The meeting I am attending today is one in a series of meetings instituting a new organisation, a private–public partnership around wave-energy development in Denmark. Its forty participants range from inventors of wave-energy technology to environmental consultants, politicians, and engineers. There are familiar faces and newcomers, a few that I’d expected to see are absent; this is a busy crowd. Of the forty participants, four are women. The purpose of the meeting that was stated in the invitation and repeated by the chair is to discuss the first draft for a national wave-energy strategy. The meeting is the last in a series of meetings held by a smaller working group and the draft report has been circulated. A consultant who has been chairing the working group walks us through the sections of the report. Everybody listens attentively and no comments are made until a model depicting five steps and purporting to describe the ‘stages’ of wave-energy innovation is presented.

When the diagram (reproduced as Fig. 7.1 above) appeared on the screen, several of the people in the audience requested explanation. As the consultancy personnel identified and narrated its five steps, a vision of orderly progression emerged as actual locations of the physical work of testing wave-energy technologies: from the test basin, to the fjord, and to the open sea. The final step (5) referred to nowhere in particular and everywhere in general – commercialisation. Upon enquiry we learnt that this diagram was introduced into the national strategy by the consultant in collaboration with university partners. The diagram distinguished three reality ‘factors’, or control variables, relevant to the process of wave-energy innovation. The factors were variables influencing translation of kinetic energy to electrical energy; variables relating to environmental robustness; and social factors. These factors were held to ‘add up to’ criteria salient to assessing the viability of this type of environmental energy infrastructure. The diagram seemed to propose that these various classes of ‘factors’ enter the innovation process in this specific order.

The discussion heats up as the accuracy and truthfulness of the diagram is discussed. Overall, the participants do not disagree over whether the form of the diagram is an apt representation of innovation. The problem seems to be that it locates specific technological prototypes differently on the arrow of progress. Several of the developers disagree with how their devices are ranked in the vision of progress envisioned in the diagram. The diagram seems to be fomenting dissension. I raise my hand to ask if there might be a way of representing the many differences at play. Are there other ways apart from one arrow pointing towards one future? The answer is swift: ‘No, that would not be wise. We need to demonstrate that we stand united as an industry’.

We will come back to this moment below, for, albeit belatedly, we wish to respond to this swift and definitive answer.

Back in the meeting, as the walk-through of the report continued, a different diagram appeared on the screen. It outlined a number of funding schemes that had been identified by the working group. By means of colours these schemes were linked to the stages of the innovation diagram and hence to specific wave-energy prototypes. This diagram introduces a specificity into the reading of technological innovation in wave energy that is likely to have significant consequences for many of the entrepreneurs gathered in the room. If members of the partnership follow the strict logic created in putting these two representations of reality together, then some entrepreneurs will find their future possibilities severely constrained.

Fig. 7.2 A diagram depicting funding sources for the various stages of the innovation process proposed in Fig. 7.16

Some months later I again sit at a horseshoe-shaped table. Once more the innovation diagram is shown on the screen, but this time it figures as part of a presentation by one of the partnership’s developers. The entrepreneur uses the diagram to argue why ‘his’ prototype is located at step three and not at step two, which was how it was classified during the previous meeting.

The innovation-cum-funding diagram is at the same time both authoritative and contested. But the diagram’s role as more or less a truthful representation is not the only issue contested on this occasion. The assumption that the diagram is only doing representation also becomes a point of contention. We take this as an important ethnographic finding, since the wave-energy partnership tends to exist and work around such diagrammatic representations. The university scientists introduced the innovation diagram with the intention of creating shared ground, an object for wave-energy developers to gather around. They envisaged it as a thing that would make possible simple (optimistic) representation of an emerging field to politicians and potential investors. As we noted earlier, at the same time as a spatially organised depiction of progress from a real past to an imagined future, the diagram also seemed to embed certain mechanisms for differentiation and even exclusion, so that not all devices would travel equally fast into the future.

Let us stay in the second meeting a little while longer. One of us was present amongst those representing various public institutions and along with private sector representatives who were helping to ‘bring innovation to market’. The puzzle of our participation at that moment was about discerning exactly what these people were in fact gathering around: how did they make sense of the diagrammatic figurations presented to them?

The influence of the orthodox interpretation that pervaded the diagram’s appearance in the room meant that while there was space for negotiation in the meeting, it could only proceed within the fixed logic of the five steps implied by the diagrammatic representation of stages. It was mutually and tacitly agreed that this is how innovation happens. Man-made devices ride into the future on arrows of progressive tinkering with heterogeneous things.

But then the next presenter steps forward. He is a developer who takes a rather different approach than the consensus to the problem of classifying wave-energy devices according to this vision of progress. A central part of his presentation is a newspaper clipping of a huge Atlantic Ocean wave smashing onto the coast of Portugal. A surfer is riding the wave and spectators are watching from the shore. The presenter asks the wave-energy capture consortium audience: aren’t we all looking for the perfect wave? The main point of his presentation is that wave-energy models are different; alternative mechanical means of wave-energy harvesting each carry their own requirements. Specifically, different models need waves with different physical characteristics, different locations for model testing, and different funding schemes to bring the models to market. We paraphrase this timely (it seems to us) intervention by a member of the partnership as ‘let us refuse the general account of progressive technological innovation the diagram proposes; each of us is an individual inventor’.

Key to our argument here is that this inventor steps forward with an alternative understanding of what it is that diagrams do. As this inventor explained in a subsequent interview, he was not opposing the logic of the innovation diagram (he is not refusing its role in representing passage of a domain of innovation from past to future) but seeking to add to it (interview Jan 2013). Of course he was, in actuality, adding further words. In these further words the argument goes in a different – and in some ways opposed – direction to the flow of words within the text associated with the graphic when it appeared initially. In adding further words to the graphic’s milieu (or to put it another way, adding another distinct set of words to those already embedded within the graphic), this canny inventor seeks to enhance the diagram’s institutional potency. He imagines the diagram could be capable of supporting entrepreneurs in thinking about the differences between their models while still accepting that they are all the same in capturing kinetic energy and translating it to electrical energy.

However, it is clear in this meeting that he is failing in this endeavour since nobody is picking up the invitation to respecify the innovation graphic. His presentation does not have any impact in this or the subsequent meetings, and is not referred to by others. Later, we are told that this may be a matter of trust. We are told that people in the sector do not trust this man because of previous business history. Nevertheless, regardless of his lack of success in infusing the diagram with a new sort of potential through further linguistic means, we see his attempt as pointing to the possibility of a generative tension around the diagram. More precisely we see the possibility of adding more and different texts to the graphics, and perhaps in consequence altering the spatial designs of the graphics.

This dissenting entrepreneur offers us the possibility of methodological pause, and has given us opportunity to announce the device that we are following here. The device we have ‘locked onto’ and which we will simply name as diagram, is a juncture: text-graphic/graphic-text as an ephemeral clot of material semiotic resources where words are embedded in graphics as much as graphics are buried in words. In the account we have just given of meeting the diagram of technological innovation in wave-energy capture during ethnographic fieldwork, we noted that it appeared along with a normative iconography which has the diagram as representing. And we told how subsequently a dissenting entrepreneur attempted unsuccessfully to introduce ambiguity and even internal contradictions into the diagram, by adding a further (contradictory) interpretation of what it depicted.

A Normative Iconography of Technological Innovation

Following the diagram representing the stages of innovation and its accompanying text as it contributes to launching the national strategy for wave power in Denmark, a means by which the inventors seek funding opportunities offers a glimpse of how the complicatedness of innovation processes is managed in practice politically. It also offers insight into how the authors of the strategy see the management of innovation processes as a matter of controlling the relation between a model energy capture device and various natural environments.

Embedded in the diagram as a representation of technological innovation is the assumption that technological innovation in wave-energy capture begins with physics as fundamental knowledge: the translation of kinetic energy to electrical energy and the variables that influence the efficiency of that translation. Knowledge relating to environmental and social contextualisation of the techniques described by physics, the constitution of environmental robustness, and how social acceptability might be achieved, are identified by the diagram as additives; that knowledge becomes relevant at later stages in the life of the model asserted by the diagram. Negotiation and strategy reside outside the purview of the diagram – in the realm of subjects – and thus cannot be represented. Subjects, those who do the organising and the governing, do not belong to the ‘core’ that the diagram claims to represent (what it is that can be organised and governed) and to do so truthfully.

The diagram precisely represents actual specific organisational locations which are at different geographical places. Yet in simultaneously rendering innovation as a general event of an unspecifiable future that is progressed towards, the diagram also idealises the times and places of these affairs, and in a way that does not allow the questioning of these sites as obligatory passage points for innovation in wave energy. The diagram in its first appearance claims for itself a capacity to realistically map a stable system, although as we noted in reporting a revision subsequently offered by one of the members of the group, a revision which attempted to open up the arena the diagram represents, to render it instead as a complex and emergent system embedding ambiguity and contradiction, that claim to be a realistic map can be contested. Nevertheless, embedded in the diagram read through the normative iconography of technoscience, is a cartography of stable entities and stable relations.

Lurking within this orthodox iconography of diagrams, as Isabelle Stengers points out, is an epistemological map. It has a

‘tree’ shape, arising from a relatively simple but fundamental ‘law’ (or ‘laws’) to its application in increasingly complicated situations. The tree is a hierarchical representation: passing from the fundamental ‘trunk’ to the tiniest branch should ideally pose technically complicated questions but not fundamental ones. In practice it goes without saying that knowledge of the ‘branches’ includes a conception of the trunk, or at least a way to pass from the trunk to the branches…The finished operation, however, leaves few traces of this. To understand is to understand how the trunk generates the branches, and that is what is learnt and transmitted by specialists (Stengers 1997: 8).

Yet, as Stengers goes on to say, inevitably such a complicated rendering of the real comes at a cost in technoscientific discourse. Along with the reassuring singular technical story comes congress with another often unnoticed shadow domain – an ideal zone. Stengers alerts us to ‘the gods and demons that populate physics’ (1997: 9) constituting the ideal zone that accompanies such representations. We do not dispute the capacity of the diagram as representation, nor deny the importance of such representation in the workings of the wave-energy capture inventors’ collective. But we also recognise that the inventor who reminded his fellow members of their differences was correct that representation is not all that this diagram does. We interpret the dissenting engineer as claiming that the diagram could and perhaps should offer possibilities for members of the partnership to each find their path within the general arena of innovation. Each might be supported in finding what their wave is if the design of the diagram were to be somewhat altered, or the words around it supplemented modifying the diagram to depict other things or different flows. In short, we suggest that he envisaged possibilities for diagrams to offer pilotage.

We will introduce the notion of pilotage shortly, but for the moment let us just observe that this diagram contributes to collective way-finding in the present, to going on together while recognising ‘our’ differences. In identifying this, a second insight emerges. Insisting, or assuming, that diagrams only represent gets in the way of their capacity to offer pilotage. What is it about the diagrams’ work in representing that gets in the way of pilotage? Stengers’ insights are helpful here.

What allows judgements to be made in the

complicated real with […] approximations that limit us […] [are only] identified by reference to [the real’s] demonic alter ego […] a more or less implicit dualism that entails the rejection and enclosure within the domain of ‘nonscientific’ or ‘simply subjective’ of anything that cannot be reduced to the canon of the ‘simple’ model (Stengers 1997: 9).

The diagram of orthodox iconography, the diagram as representation (Stengers’ ‘simple model’) is generative: it produces what comes to count as ‘the real’, but this constitution of reality happens on the basis of an unnoticed, implicit dualism. In our view this is a very costly dualism. An unnoticed expectation of diagrams understood in this way, as representations that come to function as the real, is that diagrams can reach into the ideal zone: diagrams embed reference to the ideal (this reference is essential to their functioning as reality), but dissemble over the question of how they represent the ideal zone, over whether the ‘ideal’ is the real. This is why we as participants in this PPP strive to re-narrate what realities are made in the collective and how. And this sometimes means reframing and transporting the discussion somewhere else.

While privately many participants in the wave-energy community might have reservations about the innovation diagram that we describe above and which features in meetings and reports, the diagram, with its embedded reference to an ideal zone ‘of gods and demons’, does particular work. Participants appreciate its social workings and for the most part do not feel that those workings are something to disapprove of or disagree over. However, some get upset about some of its doings. For example, some dislike the way it allocates their position in a hierarchy, or they feel uncomfortable about how the model seems to exclude some members of the partnership from funding opportunities without being transparent about this effect. Not all partners are equally at risk of such exclusion. Those at risk of not making it to the future of harnessing energy at the open sea are those inventors who have not been able to test their wave-energy devices at the geographical locations specified by the model in the order defined by the model.

A Novel Account of What Diagrams Do and how they do it

In developing our argument about the work of ‘other than representing’ that diagrams do in collectives, we learn from a recent analysis of the diagrams of ancient Greek mathematics (Netz 1999) and an enthusiastic commentary on this text by Latour (2008). Reviel Netz’s analysis proposes diagrams as offering pilotage, opening up possibilities for particular forms of collective way-finding in mathematical argument. In mathematical proof, of course, it is a way to be certain that matters and, as Netz (1999: 6) argues, this is what combining the graphics of the diagram with argument pursued with words was contrived to achieve in making mathematical arguments. Netz reveals the origins of the diagram as a formalism in the rather banal practices of Greeks orally performing arguments with words and visuals. As Latour points out, the move that Netz is making here is quite a standard move in science studies (Latour 2008: 442). In fact, in a rather similar shift, one of us has previously revealed origins of the formalisms of enumeration and the capacities of numbers to interpellate their users, in routine, rather banal, practices involving words and gestures associated with particular forms of life (Verran 2001: 99–107).

Of course, in the collectives we are involved with here – a twenty-first-century PPP and the polity of a baroque elected monarchy – the ‘absolute certainty’ of the mathematician is not desirable, but, as our dissenting entrepreneur pointed out, support for collective way-finding, explicitly pursued in light of the profound differences with which the partnership is necessarily riven, is something that diagrams might be expected to offer.

Elaborating the unconventional understanding of diagrams that Netz offers us, we will go on to juxtapose the diagram of technological innovation with the baroque baldachin, comparing and contrasting their capacities in the dual functions of representation and pilotage. If we think of our paper as comedy, this is the second move in the three steps – contriving a device that can precipitate connection and attachment. We constitute a particular form of sameness between diagrams in taking them both simultaneously as devices of representation and of pilotage in collectives that are complex, emergent, open systems. This is a sameness by which we strategically hinge them together as a diptych. We propose that as organisational forms, neither the collective that is the twenty-first-century Danish PPP, nor the collective that was a sixteenth-century northern European polity governed as an elected monarchy, conform as stable closed systems. A baroque sensibility would be equally appropriate in navigating the complexity of the two administrations, attending to the internal differentiation in which all the elements are subject to emergent rules.

Through juxtaposing the diagram of technological innovation and the baldachin, we develop the suggestion that the innovation diagram is inadequate to the tasks it must perform. It promotes an organisational regime that proceeds by conforming to standards of non-contradiction and non-equivocation in its rhetoric. In contrast, the baldachin’s design explicitly recognises complexity, openness, and emergence as pervading the working of the sixteenth- to seventeenth-century kingdom of Denmark and Norway within which it performs; the baldachin offers pilotage and representation in participating in an organisational regime that simultaneously abides by and evades these norms of rhetoric, with its blatant equivocation over contradiction. We propose, then, that the baldachin might serve as an object that inspires the cultivation of a baroque sensibility in developing PPPs in emerging industries like Danish wave-energy capture. In doing so it will promote a change in the way these PPPs understand their organisational forms and culture.

Recognising that the model of meaning-making that diagrams initiate was invented by ancient Greek mathematicians and appropriated by the politicians of the ancient Greek polity within which this mathematical meaning-making came to life, Netz insists that the graphics we call diagrams and texts that they are embedded within should not be separated if we are to understand how this model of meaning-making works (Netz 1999: 12). Diagrams and their associated texts work tightly together in simultaneously naming distinct sets of relations and relationally manipulating these distinct sets of relations. In this model of meaning-making, one set of relations is worked spatially, and the other set of relations is worked linguistically. While the grid of the diagram maintains an order as originally proposed (and spatially imagined), flows in the text accomplish shifts between the differentially (spatial versus linguistic) articulated sets of relations (Ibid: 19). In working these two distinct sets of relations, specified and worked in contrasting modes of thought (spatial and linguistic), meaning-making in geometry proceeds in a particular way, a way that generates deductive proof.

This is a model derived from oral performance, which works to make meaning in a performance of words uttered and lines traced. These processes are conducted strictly in tandem. Seen in this light of oral performance, the standard understandings of those who routinely encounter diagrams as seemingly embedded within written texts, as graphics embedded within flows of words, should be reconsidered. By contrast, oral performance diagrams and their texts should be taken as words embedded within the graphically rendered relations of diagrams (Netz 1999: 14). In the PPP meetings described above, the graphics framed the words, while in the written reports of course the words frame the graphics. But taking the PPP more vaguely, as a form of life, we can begin to accept that sometimes relations graphically plotted frame the relations plotted in flows of words, and, alternatively, sometimes the situation can be reversed. Diagrams – graphics and their texts – are highly labile in their forms of participation in collectives.

Going on from his insights into the invention of a particularly efficacious form of certainty-generating rhetoric by ancient Greek mathematicians, Netz proposes that Greek politicians appropriated this particular model of argument which the geometers had invented (Netz 1999: 276). One way to summarise the significance of the argument made by Netz on the basis of recognising the oral performance origins of meaning-making with diagrammatic devices, is to contrast the rhetorical strategies of speaking from the graphic and speaking to the figuration (Ibid: 293). In speaking from, words are imagined as embedded within the graphic, and performers (and listeners) must attend to relations contracted in the present. Speaking to the diagram is a form of presentation where the diagram presents a proposed ‘found’ past in an idealised future. Whereas speaking from the graphic offers possibilities of pilotage of the emergent relations of an open and complex system emergent in the here and now, speaking to the diagram proposes it as a realistic map of a given set of relations as they pertain in a found, closed, stable system.

We find the work of Netz inspiring and suggestive, but still we wish to embellish it, to add a further layer of embroidery. As well as recognising the complexity of manipulating sets of relations expressed graphically (and thought about spatially) with those expressed in wordy texts (and thought through linguistically), in developing a contrast which offers possibilities for rhetorically distinguishing between ‘speaking from’ and ‘speaking to’ – allowing for shifts which can effect very significant moves in collective meaning-making – we want also to introduce a third, little-noticed, aspect of the workings of diagrams, the device we propose as capable of effecting useful connections between a twenty-first century PPP and a baroque elected monarchy. A third capacity that diagrams have concerns the rhetorical norms of non-contradiction and non-equivocation – norms originating in Aristotelianism.

Seeing herself in much the same way that Netz seems to, in ‘displaying “our” modern commonplaces out of the place they are coming from’, classics scholar Barbara Cassin points out in her contribution in the catalogue that accompanied the Making Things Public exhibition put together by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (2005) that

[Aristotle] still does constitute a huge part of our [modern] conscious and less conscious background [to thought]. We are still Aristotelian, whether we know it or not […] in our regulation of speech […] we live under the regime of non-contradiction and of non-equivocation (Cassin 2005: 858).

In embroidering the fabric of Netz’s argument we offer a qualification to Cassin’s assertion. We claim that – alert to possibilities for differentially manipulating sets of relations specified in visuals and in words, and to possibilities for speaking to and from graphics – it is possible to cultivate possibilities for carefully contriving the means to simultaneously abide by and escape the commonplace Aristotelianism that ties up public life in non-contradiction and non-equivocation. Mixing visuals and words in doing diagrams and texts felicitates navigation of complexity. We point to the baroque as a source of inspiration in doing so. In particular in our next section we will demonstrate how a Danish baroque baldachin does just this.

A Baldachin and its Iconography

Beginning our archival search for a text that might offer inspiration for attending to our disconcertment around the diagram of the innovation process, and its participation in that partnership, we were led to a lavish publication from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Yale University Press: ‘Tapestry in the Baroque: Threads of Splendor’. A large and heavy book with many full-colour images, it celebrates an exhibition mounted by the museum from 2007–08, funded by a consortium of public and private institutions. The museum wished to remind its patrons of the importance of tapestry as a traditional art form ‘associated with the lifestyle of courts and churches ever since [Europe’s] early Middle Ages […][that] during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries […] continued to exercise its fascination for the grander and more visionary patrons’. Featured as part of the New York exhibition was a tapestry that had travelled from Stockholm, a throne baldachin ‘of such quality that were it not for the survival of its contract, one would think it had been made in one of the major Flemish weaving centers’ (Campbell 2007: 28–35).7

In this section we display the baldachin by offering an interpretive iconography of its images. Our iconographic reading contests that of the curator of the New York exhibition, who also authored the text that accompanies images of the baldachin in the book assembled in association with the exhibition. Perhaps echoing the dissenting inventor who unsuccessfully tried to introduce ambiguity into the diagram of technological innovation in wave-energy capture, and so bring to the fore the ‘other than representation’ capacities we discern as embedded within the baldachin, we find ambiguity and ambivalence in the arrangements of the icons on the tapestry which hung, glittering, over the Danish king and queen during banquets and other events of the court in the 1560s. We propose that the contradictions and equivocations we recognise in the design of the baldachin are not only an accurate representation of the workings of the baroque Danish polity, but that they also enable the graphic to offer pilotage.

Confiscated from Danish territory during 1657 by the forces of King Charles X of Sweden, the baldachin entered the art collection of the Swedish monarchy. Lent to the State Museum in 1887, it seems that its journey to New York in 2007 precipitated a determination that this item properly belongs to the Swedish State, not the Swedish monarchy. Currently the item is lent to the Danish state (while the Swedish state museum is renovated) to adorn the walls of Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, which is a prominent tourist site. These are the walls for which it, with nearly sixty further tapestries, was designed. It was woven in a tapestry workshop established in Kronborg Castle in the peaceful and prosperous times during which King Frederick II and his wife Sophie presided over the workings of Denmark’s remarkable elected monarchy.

The baldachin culminates a series of twenty Old Testament tapestries, three of which depict Danish hunting scenes, and forty of which picture one hundred and eleven Danish monarchs, a series completed with a portrait of Frederick II and his heir Christian.

Fig. 7.3 A baldachin, or throne canopy, woven in a tapestry workshop established with Flemish craftsmen in Helsingør, Denmark, in the late sixteenth century8

Designed specifically for the proportions of the Great Hall [of Kronborg Castle], the tapestries covered all available wall space, even the sloping walls on either side of the twenty-three window bays. This was an inspirational moment of proto-Baroque theatre on the part of Frederick and his advisors: in a room encircled by more than a hundred previous rulers in tapestry, the centrepiece would be the actual ruler himself, living, breathing, and framed against a tapestry surround (Campbell 2007: 33).

While we applaud the enthusiasm of the curator – he is clearly enthralled by the tapestry – we think he has missed something here, and thus we contest his reading. For when we examine the image of the baldachin to discern what lies at its centre, what strikes us is that it is not actually the ‘ruler himself, living, breathing and framed’, but clearly the rulers themselves. While the monarchy lies near the centre it is not a single ruler nor is it a monarchy that lies at the centre. There are two armorials situated side by side but not directly engaged: Frederick, the King, and Sophie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a rich and learned woman who is, if we are to believe this baldachin, clearly a force to be reckoned with.

Fig. 7.4 Detail of the central panel of the baldachin9

In continuing his iconography and contradicting his assertion that the monarchy lies at the baldachin’s centre, the curator later notes that

[i]n the centre, the allegorical figure of Justice, sword and scales in hand, is flanked by the coats of arms of Frederick II and of his wife Sophie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Knieper [the cartoon artist and master weaver] has wittily represented a canopy within this canopy, above Justice’s head, its valence decorated with the device of an elephant repeated four times [two pairs facing each other], alluding to Frederick II’s chivalric order of the elephant. To the left of the royal armorials stands Temperance; to the right, Fortitude (Campbell 2007: 39).

The sumptuousness of the Helsingør-woven baldachin could rival that of any contemporary piece. The weaving contains so much gilt and silver-wrapped thread that it shimmers. The effect during candlelit court festivities and banquets would have been breathtaking. When the baldachin was in use with King Frederick and Queen Sophie seated beneath it, their subjects facing them would enjoy the full effect of the crowned armorials above their monarchs’ heads.

We agree that it is the figure of Justice that lies at the centre of the baldachin, presumably claiming that justice lies at the centre of the polity, but what we notice is the tenseness of this figure. The curator-author-editor fails to make explicit something that seems to us highly significant. This is the tense ambiguity of the figure of Justice, in the one hand with scales held carefully in balance, and in the other, with sword ready to smite.

The baldachin features an arranged combination of generic icons – copied perhaps from baldachins previously designed and woven by Flemish weavers, and known to those master craftsmen employed in the Helsingør tapestry workshop, or from books like Regentenbuch (Sovereign’s Book) – and icons specific to the two ruling houses of Denmark. The depictions on the tapestry build up in a highly symmetrical fashion from the tension-ridden figure of Justice. Justice both connects and separates the armorials. The cardinal virtues are equally tense with contradiction. Temperance, depicted in the act of pouring wine from a vessel into a bowl, is leaning backwards to balance herself as she does so. Fortitude is clutching the column of Samson while gazing sagaciously on the world, her virtue girded with helmet and shield. These virtues stand on the same level as Justice, attending the armorials. The tensions created by these contradictory figures travel to the four corners of the cloth seemingly held in check there by a crowned FS monograph, which most commentators agree signals Frederick and Sophie, as intertwined monarchs.

For anyone with even a passing familiarity with the history of the Danish monarchy, it is significant that ambiguity and ambivalence lies at the centre of this baldachin. Absolutism was not a feature of the Danish monarchy at the time this baldachin did its work in the Kronborg Castle banquet hall. An unambiguous absolute monarch was foisted on the kingdom in 1660 in a vainglorious move by the grandson of the pair, who would sit under the baldachin ‘living, breathing and framed against a tapestry surround’. In 1660, in what was (and perhaps still is) seen by many Danes as Denmark’s shame, it led Europe in instituting absolute monarchy, abandoning elective monarchy, thus disempowering nobles and those to whom they were in some degree accountable, and putting an end to the complex, emergent baroque polity that had come into being some thirty years previously.

In 1648 the aristocratic nobles had extracted high concessions in terms of ceding powers, in electing King Frederik III. Subsequently, riding on a wave of popular support arising from an interim victory in the war against Sweden (in the course of which the baldachin was lost to Sweden), the monarch intervened decisively in the force field between the Danish monarchy and the Danish aristocracy, abolishing by fiat the elected monarchy and the vision expressed so eloquently in the baldachin. A baroque sensibility was no longer salient in the Danish monarchical context and the baldachin became war booty, no doubt bundled up in a storeroom in some northern European fortress.

However, at the time the baldachin was woven to adorn the palace walls at Helsingør, Denmark had emerged from the Middle Ages with a thoroughly transformed aristocracy:

An era of upheaval […] characterized by religious-political crisis, existed until 1533. With Christian III’s complete rule, the framing of the Lutheran-monarchical state began […] Frederik II culturally reaped the fruits of the new age. Humanistic scholarship was consolidated; national self-assertion promoted the study of the kingdom’s ancient history […] Simultaneously Tycho Brahe engaged in both the conquest of the sky and the deciphering of the course of an individual’s life as expressed in the planets (Jansen 1993: 91).

The baldachin was designed to perform within the tense shifting landscape of partnerships associated with an aristocracy vigorously reorganising itself as it emerged out of the crisis of the late medieval. There was a shift from ‘vertical to horizontal social integration’ (Christianson 1981: 292), with a better-off peasantry and a surge in the urban middle classes, and secular magnate families.

Denmark became one of the most advanced countries in Europe in terms of aristocratic development […] Sixteenth century Denmark offers a prime example of a reconstructed early modern aristocracy in Scandinavia. Denmark thus offers [an example of] the rare phenomena [sic] of a Protestant country where the aristocracy was at its height during the sixteenth century, when a tremendous redistribution of power and landed wealth occurred in conjunction with the Reformation. In Denmark, the fruits of this redistribution came to be enjoyed by a wary but indomitable alliance of crown and noble magnates (Ibid: 293).

The baldachin was a device that performed in a force field – ‘a wary but indomitable alliance of crown and noble magnates’ (Christianson 1981: 293). Understanding its working as a diagram in association with texts, the speech, and bodily gesture of court events, we take the baldachin as displaying a baroque sensibility.

So what is a baroque sensibility, and how is it revealed in the baldachin? Imagining the baldachin in place in Kronborg at Helsingør in the second half of the sixteenth century during the various proceedings of the court of King Frederick and Queen Sophie, we see it as a diagram ambiguously and ambivalently spoken from and spoken to. In speaking to a vivid vision of a just polity, the diagram that is the baldachin equivocates over how that vision might be achieved. In speaking from the diagram that figures the baldachin’s surface in proposing how a just society might be achieved, the figuration equivocates over what a just society is. Just as a pudding is proved in eating, a baroque diagram’s felicity is proved in its ability to assist collective passage through complexity.


In juxtaposing the baldachin and the diagram of technological innovation, we name something that we feel characterises the different performances of the baldachin and the model as material semiotic devices that intervene in the ‘happening of the real’ (Lury and Wakeford 2012; Winthereik and Verran 2012). With its single and contained set of specified relations the five-step innovation model performs by eschewing contradiction and equivocation. In contrast, the baldachin elaborately figures both equivocation and contradiction and non-equivocation and non-contraction (it equivocates about contradiction).

Picking up Netz’ argument and making it our own, we identify diagrams as capable of effecting dual rhetorical shifts. Diagrams – graphics and their associated texts – effect possibilities of moving between speaking from, and speaking to, and equally open up (dramatic, shocking) possibilities for equivocating over contradiction. We propose the baldachin as offering a model of meaning-making with a baroque sensibility, seeing such sensibility as concerned with collective way-finding through complexity while also representing truthfully (and equivocating over what exactly is represented). Attending to innovation model and baldachin as diagrams shows how representations are never stale; they press upon others their presence as participating entities and offer pilotage to innovation collectives in the sense that they open up a space for equivocation over contradictions (see Schick and Winthereik 2013). Attending to the iconography of innovation as diagram opens up a space for asking the question: ‘what are we doing here together? What kind of pilotage does this diagram offer and to whom?’

In baroque form we juxtapose an engineering object with an art object, attending to them both as diagrams. This is a way of abandoning the idea that these objects are essentially different. Ending the comedy that is our paper with ritual, we give the final word to the historian of art Henri Focillon, who in 1934 published ‘Vie des forms’, sixty years later translated as the English text ‘The Life of Forms in Art’:

In the life of forms baroque is certainly the freest, the most emancipated […] either abandon[ing] or denatur[ing] that principle of intimate propriety, an essential aspect of which is a careful respect for the limits of the frame. [Baroque forms] live with passionate intensity, a life that is entirely their own (Focillon 1992: 58).


1 We use ‘comedy’ here in the technical sense of literary criticism (see Frye 1957: 163). The action begins in difference and obstruction, and as the text proceeds, some device precipitates a novel set of connections and associations. Often this is made obvious with ritual – for example, a wedding.

3 For more information on the research project visit <http://www.alienenergy.dk> [accessed 30 October 2015]

4 The fieldwork spoken about in the text has been carried out in context of the Alien Energy collective research project. Laura Watts and Brit Ross Winthereik are co-investigators of the project. Whenever an ‘I’ figures in the text as part of excerpts from field visits, it refers to the second author. The field notes in the text function as portals aiming to transport readers back to times and places where the innovation diagram was presented. The photos displaying geographical locations and the baldachin have similar functions. In juxtaposing the devices as diagrams, two ethnographer-analysts in the flesh have been translated into ethnographer-analysts in the text.

5 Translation of the Danish text – Step 1: Applied science, and model testing in test pool. Step 2: Design optimisation and feasibility studies as well as supplementary model testing at a larger scale. Step 3: Development and testing of components and materials as well as small prototype tests. Step 4: Close to full-scale testing, e.g. at DanWEC in Hanstholm connected to the grid. Step 5: Full-scale commercialisation of wave-energy devices placed in offshore parks consisting of several units.

6 This diagram features in discussions as a follow-up to Fig. 7.1, adding to the sense of certainty and optimism evoked in imagining innovation as a single progression, but also precipitating disagreements over where exactly on the wave of progress any particular entrepreneurial effort is located, since when the two diagrams are taken together they seem to adjudicate funding possibilities and sources for a particular business.

7 This workshop was actually the result of importing a large team of Flemish weavers into Denmark and paying them to source and import all the materials and technology. The high quality of the tapestry is not a surprise; it was made in a Flemish weaving centre that happened to be located in Denmark.

8 The tapestry was woven during the reign of Frederik II King of Denmark and Norway, and Sophie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a German-speaking province of Denmark. It adorned the main banquet hall of Kronborg Castle during a period when Denmark’s elected monarchy thrived, and Helsingør expanded as a commercial centre. The tapestries are part of the Swedish National Museum’s collections.

9 Shows the two reigning families joined (and separated) by Justice – the core figure of the reign as affirmed by the presence of her personal baldachin in the image. She figures as a taut balance between discourse (scales) and physical violence (sword), and each of those iconic features is itself a moment of balance, the scales ready to tip, the sword ready to sweep.


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