So far we have sketched the (temporal) context in which imagining occurs. In our case this is the large-scale affordance of making an art installation, as it is on its way to being determined in the activities that it invites from its participants. Turning these participants’ attention to the indeterminate large-scale unfolding is an activity that was itself invited by, and in turn contributes to, furthering that process. The imaginative activity in our example was not a de-contextualized or isolated achievement by an individual but was rather an opening up to a larger-scale affordance. It allowed the movement of the evolving situation to divert into several relevant smaller-scale activities: smaller-scale affordances of various kinds started inviting the architects and were explored for the direction these affordances could give to the overall process.
The question we want to answer in this section is why the situation invited one to imagine, that is, what invited attention to coordinative participation of this larger scale? To answer this question we discern three scales of the process. First the small-scale activities (a few seconds). Second, the “situational” scale of testing the position (about 30 min) and third, the large-scale of the process of making the art installation – taking about nine months. These different scales can run apart in several ways (Section 4.1 and 4.2) but are ultimately reciprocally constituted over time, as we shall see in Section 4.3.
In the process of making an art installation participants are invited in a concrete situation to continue in the direction of a large-scale process, while concurrently being responsive to any (lack of) converging of the direction of the smaller-scale activities enacted within it. In our example the situation in the warehouse, in which the architects are testing the different positions, constitutes the intermediate scale. This situation is reciprocally constituted, on the one hand, by the activities unfolding within it – the activities described above of checking one’s phone, talking, sawing a new pipe and so on. On the other hand, the situation reciprocally involves the large-scale making of the art installation, which is spread across many more situations (see Fig. 2).
In cases where the large-scale process is still going strong, but in which smaller-scale activities are diverging, the situation can invite quick resolution as new affordances become relevant. In such a case of noticing that something is “not right,” a skilled participant can experience “directed discontent” and immediately sense, often unreflectively, the relevant opportunities for improvement as inviting action (Wittgenstein 1967, p. 14; Rietveld 2008).Footnote 5 In an architectural context, the skilled architect can thus sense the relevant opportunities for improvement based on a responsiveness to the affordances available in light of the larger unfolding process. In the process of optimizing the position that we have been focusing on, such quick, skillful redirecting can be identified throughout.
For example, in Part 1, the carpet is explored and the set-up fine-tuned by stepping into it, bouncing in it, feeling around, sensing how to tighten the lashing straps until remarking in a satisfied way “this is better, much better.” Similarly, in Part 7, KS adds a strap to re-center the position, but notices that one strap becomes too lose as the other tightens and the position does not center and sensing how the solution requires one of the straps to be attached further outwards. In such cases, in the context of a larger process, the situation smoothly invites the appropriate adjustments from the skilled craftsman or architect.
A sense of losing coordination: A situation diverging
If however the activities have already diverted too strongly, or do so very quickly, the larger-scale unfolding situation itself might start to diverge from the direction of the process as a whole. Participants are then much more at risk of losing coordination with the large-scale process (they might even already have lost it), and thus, the situation may ultimately bring the continuation of the whole process in jeopardy (as it is reciprocally constituted by these situations). In our example, the process of testing the position (i.e. the whole unfolding situation) is diverging from the process of making the art installation. This is what happens when the use of the “deadly” horizontal strap turns out to hinder the continuation of the installation as the architects currently hope to make it. Cases in which the situation itself is not unfolding in the right direction offer clear examples of the sensitivity that participants have to the direction of such larger-scale unfoldings.
In such a situation the participating individual will feel “directed discomfort” at the lack of solution (Wittgenstein 1967, p. 14). The architects may not have a sense of how the available affordances can help them to return to act along with the entire process of making and may feel frustrated. In such cases, the process affords the individual little more than a “raw undifferentiated rejection” of the direction in which the situation might be moving (Rietveld 2008, p. 980). We witnessed such rejections, still afforded by the process of making, at several moments. For example, in Part 4 RR was being responsive to the possibility of a cable to run through the entire installation “the cable is a nightmare” RR expounded. Or again, when ER reflects that he should consider adding a (single) metal pillar to the installation (forking back to the installation in formation a few months ago) (Part 5). This suggestion affords RR to interject: “yeah, then yeah... As a design you are gone.” RR feels in other words, that doing so would change the direction of the forming installation beyond repair.
Note that these responses although still afforded by the continuing process, are not engaging or enabling adequate alternatives (Rietveld 2008). Sustained episodes of directed discomfort will therefore be frustrating to the individuals and may feel they are losing coordination with or grip on the larger-scale activity. Nonetheless, the utterances of discomfort are phenomena of, and contribute to, the movement of the installation – these expressions are as much afforded by the process as any other aspect of it. In particular, they constrain the process by pointing out how not to continue, and they scatter the unfolding situation, by pressing the individuals taken up by the process to open up even further to consider (previously excluded or neglected) affordances that could be relevant in light of continuing the larger-scale process of making.
In the observed situation, the prolonged discomfort had indeed opened the architects up to many affordances that were not yet relevant to them at the start of the episode. Engaging with these affordances allowed some re-directing of the installation in formation (for example, the exact width and color of the cables, that was decided on weeks later, was enabled in this unfolding), but for the most part, the directed discomfort continued for about ten minutes. Because the process was (frustratingly) unfolding in this way and because DH at this point was called upon for measurements of the carpet (Part 6), a situation ensued that invited DH to show what happens when the affordance of attaching one of the straps higher and adding an extra strap to the metal frame is enacted (Part 7–8). This would in the end lead to a solution of the problem of the dangerous cable.
KS and DH enacted the affordance of adding an extra strap to the metal frame together, together attaching the strap higher, and together disclosing what happens (Part 7): KS uses it to show how the whole position gets skewed and DH uses it to show how this then calls for the use of an extra strap. Adding an extra strap was not relevant in light of the process of making so far. In this dire situation however, the metal frame, the pipe, the carpet and the straps now solicit the addition of an extra strap, and in its enactment (Part 7-Part 8) a position developed that works (not only in this testing situation but also in light of past activities – the constraints encountered at the Art Fund, which have been transformed in models and images of the overall design). A path that directs the current situation to a fruitful continuation of the process of making is getting established.
To end our ethnography of imagination, let’s now focus on this active establishing of a path from past activities to the present situation and beyond. The point will be to show how imagination in process helps to amplify and determine the future direction of the unfolding process of making. Imagination turns out to be part and parcel of the situated activity of architects at work.
Tying past actions back into the process
In Part 8 of the observations above, the new position the architects arrived at invites comparing it to the photos RR had of a cardboard model they have at the studio. RR’s phone affords such a comparison and he gets it out of his pocket (see Fig. 4):
“[Well,] you should imagine that it’s here.” The phone invites to be shown to CS. She responds, “hmhm,” inviting RR to go on: “there somewhere.” This invites CS to refine the use of the image: “hmmmm, it ends in between both” she says, pointing to a position on the screen. RR and CS situate the image further and further into the current situation: RR: “in between?” CS: “in between both ramps.” RR: “here”, “yeah” CS says. Thus the image invites comparing it to the position they are standing in: “But then it’s no problem, hé. I think, if it if it ends up there,” RR says while zooming and pointing on his phone, “then [...] it will be possible. [...] [Y]ou don’t come here, you don’t walk here. So for this position I think we can solve it.”
Note that the picture gets nested in the current situation, almost explicitly so. But that this in turn also situates the current activity in the entire process of making to which the photograph belongs. The old picture invites being used anew and can actively make the current situation continuous with the larger-scale unfolding.
By acting, responding to the phone’s invitation to compare images, in light of the process unfolding, the current situation is coordinated with the past. Or, to put it differently, the current situation continues a past activity by coordinating with the photograph from a past situation. This coordination requires work from the architects: it consists in actively re-situating the (old) image further and further into the larger-scale process: comparing the image to the position the architects are currently standing in, until a practical correspondence between it and the image is achieved in activity. The cardboard model of the installation shown on the phone, held in their hands and compared, forms the terms in which the current situation is viewed. The larger-scale is thus continued further in this activity.Footnote 6
Actively comparing the image of the model, talking, gesturing, pointing, and thus translating the image into the current situation, the architects achieve continuity with the larger-scale process to which both the photograph and the position in which they are currently standing increasingly belong. By aligning their current activity to the image they achieve new and extended continuity from the activity of making the image to the current activity of attaching the straps to make the position work – the previous actions and the current activity form a new line to fruitfully continue further. In other words, both the current situation and the larger-scale process were amplified by situating the image into the current situation: doing so a new path is laid down from the making of the image to the current situation that adds momentum to the large-scale process of making and points to the direction of continuation.
Participation in the large-scale process and the possibility to align the current activity with it again invited the use of the word “imagine” (pointing to the image and saying: “you should imagine that it’s here,” Part 8), which establishes a path from the cardboard model and image to the current position. To reiterate, this required more involvement and broader coordination with the large-scale process rather than detachment from the unfolding activities. Coordinating with CS, RR succeeded in seeing the current position in light of the images, and cardboard models they had made of the installation in formation. By actively continuing their previous activities into their current activities, establishing a path along which their future activities could again continue. By doing so, their directed discomfort too was finally resolved and the installation could unfold further.