Accidental discovery

As my indexing takes shape, I’m often asked why I haven’t approached it as a digital project. Surely a digital system is more accessible, more searchable, more durable? Sounds logical, but it’s a different logic that I’m following here – because a digital index precludes accidental discovery.

INDEX-SYSTEM is a cataloguing process; an identification of threads, themes and trajectories; a means for making new thinking and new work possible. Across the coming year and more, I am excavating layers of hand-written and hand-drawn work – work which was never designed to be indexed and searched, but rather, to be read. Or perhaps more properly, to be written. For a great deal of this work, its value was in the writing. Writing as thinking. Drawing as thinking. Using the hands to free up the mind.

An index is thumb-able. My favourite indexed books have beautifully crafted, finely cut indexes running along the length of the book, often with coloured letters carefully glued on to save paper wear as the thumb moves up and down. Selecting the right letter becomes a joy of paper texture and colour. An indexed book, however, is bound; it’s a single volume that contains a single index-system. Just as with an online database, you need to know your search terms before you open it. You need to have some idea of what you’re looking for.

A cardfile index is also thumb-able. System cards and alphabetised dividers can be equally as beautiful, inviting the new thought and welcoming it into its place among the others. Yet unlike the bound book or the digital database, the cardfile box welcomes random play. You can play through the dividers with your fingertips, select a card at random, use it, decide that it might be better placed elsewhere, and then put it back there instead. In doing so, you’re making new connections possible. Structure sets you free.

For fifteen or more years I’ve maintained a micropractice that’s connected to another cardfile box, in which I keeps small objects between alphabetical dividers. There’s images, clippings, fabric swatches, tickets, notes… the kinds of remaindered paraphernalia to which memory or meaning becomes attached. Every now and again, and often as a preparatory exercise for deep practice, I select an object at random and sketch it in great detail in a book which serves this purpose only. This drawing as an activity has its own duration – an important way of creating smooth space in the brain, as well as allowing thoughts of that object to connect and form. When the drawing is complete, I write a short piece about the object alongside the drawing, and then return the object to the cardfile – and rarely does it go right back where it came from; the act of drawing (as thinking) and the act of writing (as thinking) has endowed the object with new meaning.

Using the hands to find things, sketch things and write things animates a huge range of neural pathways and stimulates new connections in the brain. Constructive disruption can be systematic, as well as making accidental discovery possible. Plan unintended consequences.