Sean Smith


November 14, 2019


[from the Swedish-Greek: ikheathys, “common sense fish”; and logos, “study”]

Being the the sub-branch of zoology devoted to the study of IKEA fish, which includes the study of IKEA as performed by fish themselves.

requires some assembly //

parts may be missing // please contact customer service // use at your own risk


“The spatial and temporal malleability of your average IKEA franchise is pure wizardry: absolutely unlike anything else you will see with any other big box retailer, and more comparable to a distillation of Disney’s innovation principles from the past half-century.”

-Jirk Cointreau & Jai Contrepeau, Oddyseuss of Ikhthyca, p.18

“Walking backwards or upstream through IKEA is like a world-class training facility for the toughest gait surfing spots around the globe.”

-Department of Biological Flow, ‘Walking is In(di)visible’ field notes, Nov. 2013








Warehouse: synthetic-dataspace (archive) as a function of interstellar-space (gravity);

Market Hall: interstellar-space (accumulation) as a function of ocean-space (rhythm);

Showroom Floor: ocean-space (fold) as a function of synthetic-dataspace (spectacle);

+ Café: $1 breakfasts as fuelling stations for adequate temporal dissociation.

Boys surface as everted sphere: interstellar-space, ocean-space, synthetic-dataspace.



Transport trucks, freeway conduits and information streams—hidden to the consumer—as the explicit, material and chronological meshworks between IKEA manufacture and retail that ‘inversely complement’ the equally invisible wormholes connecting over 400 identical franchises worldwide via an occulted ‘xenotimespace’: IKEA store locations as a praxis of capillary-nets and Super Mario Bros. warp-pipe platforms.


fold, pattern, energetics, labyrinth, address, phase shift, compression, luminescence, colour, imperspective, code, imagineering, synaesthesia, microdrift, tensors, portals, articulations, time, fishschool, jerkism [1]


ikea pöetics no.1 [2]


The consumerist body as a metabolic vehicle with specific energetic requirements need not be seen as a nostalgic return to the futurisms of a century ago.

To the contrary: we are not describing and celebrating an increased dynamism of the human motor and its integration with the energies of technosociety, but lamenting the attempt toward a radical narcosis of the body; a disembodiment from the baser reflexes of hunger, coupled with a synaesthetic experience of ‘value’ as taste-qualia, such that one more fully enters the reveries of imaginal living to come.


“As the Anthropocene winds continue to blow with increased regularity, unpredictability, volatility, velocity, and strength, glass will cease to be an architectural element to the ‘outside’ (since it shatters too easily) and will be replaced by thicker, high-tensile vinyls or other synthetic resins. The cumulative effect will be to subtly change refractive properties to this outside, completing the flip that sees our telescreens as more high-definition than our windows and reorienting the interior geography of the built environment.”

-Gad Fleischwitz, Art and Ecology, p.66


WINDOW (n.) c.1200, literally “wind eye,” from Old Norse ‘vindauga’, from ‘vindr’ “wind” + ‘auga’ “eye”.

The main showroom floor of IKEA, home of its imaginal spaces for purported living, has recently witnessed the introduction of illuminated lightboxes to replace all ‘window’ spaces in each model room. These lightboxes (which are actually very slim or shallow, and should more properly be referred to as lightscreens) display brightly-lit transparencies of various urban, suburban and exurban outdoor spaces to lend higher fidelity to the imaginal experience of spectacular domestic consumption.

As with everything else on the showroom floor, these displayed outdoor settings are pure surface and energetics. Far more than any perspectival vanishing lines or receding horizons, the choice of focal depth and proportion for the camera’s technical apparatus (or any subsequent blurring in post-production) is what creates the imaginal here. Expansive living yields to expensive living in the City, and vistas only become possible for the vertical highrise dweller.

The paradox is that not only does the lightscreen image create an imaginal space ‘outside’ the showroom home, thereby backcoding certain class and identity semiotics into each model room, but that it also serves to demarcate a spatialization ‘inside’ that serves as a haptic proxy for the missing walls: we somehow feel the space more fully with this closure that has come from outside to ‘complete’ the room.

A sophisticated dyptich geometry stretches the tree limb across lightscreens for a continuity that backcodes an involuted spatial perspective into the imaginary home environment.

Put differently, the precise geometry of ‘depth’ that is implied in the scale, cropping, and framing of each lightscreen ‘window’ offers an ‘appropriate’ affective sense of the ‘fourth wall’ or proscenium which constitutes one’s topological threshold-movement: from being a walking body in a labyrinthine showroom space to becoming ephemerally enmeshed in the imaginal home.

A new perception has been realised: the vanishing lines of perspective have turned inward.


now it is winter

once it was summer

Of course, one is surprised when the images change, even thoughof course—one shouldn’t be surprised at all. If Kittler taught us anything about electric media it’s that the image was fated to continuous change, bound to be played out on our retinas as eyewash, a visual flux smuggling along the tactility of other codes in the process. [3]

If a new perception has been realised, we now recognise that this perception may be inoculated with a correct imaginal temporality—one that may, in fact, have very little to do with seasonal rhythms or their correspondence with the reality of climate outside, and more to do with affectively enhancing the oscillatory circuitry of stimulation-anticipation describing the statistical model and just-in-time manufacture.

It is now winter. Stay inside and be warm—warmer even than the LED brilliance that illuminates purported living in the fold. But the only correct temporality to be understood is the Unix sunrise underlying all flows within this architectonic machine; any other sense of time constitutes a variable that must either be governed, remediated, or expunged.


The lightboxes used within the IKEA showrooms encode the assumption of a particular type of framing device, even if the latter remains absent as frame—the window frame, which renders unambiguous an entire nexus of relations in which the abstraction of an IKEA showroom is purportedly situated: material (glass), spatial (home upstairs, basement, top floor of highrise), temporal (day, night), seasonal (summer, winter), locale (urban, suburban). There is certainly a correlation with the line of sight and focal depth of the camera which recorded the imagery, but what’s more important is the correlation with an idea of the sun, a brilliance surpassing that of the interior lighting and lending authenticity to the simulacrum, even if this light intensity is derived by electric means: post-solar authentication, then, with luminescence as another variable destined to compression.


i varstock sund fej kaklabb

bil, lybes tåklings

bobrim nes grilla sekt

ionvox torp betr oddknox

hult varierafin, torp kall nakaust

by melltorp tärendö bjurst

a malm bekant gal, ant kopar dal

vilto vig dis fjäd,

rar haugs

vär guld palm hjärte

lighauge sund pax

malm, ask voll brim

nes pax for sand, el varli flod

alenhem nes tuffing djungel

skog tro fast

blåhaj bag is pluf sighens

vik, målaklabb

– – –

eyeworm syncopation study

ikea pöetics no.2 [4]

Unikea Topology Study, 2016. Installation concept: Lisa Duffus. [5]


BAUD: 1440

baud: 1440

epoch: 2399402760

transfrom: scansmith

theon’t sololoquy tununurbununulence vOo.rtex

inflammoratory errotic dis vOo.rt

dzizy jeule dis algowrithming vOo.rt

tata quain’ta swhich dis vOo.rt

s’torny monswOon dis catastrophistry

dis vOo.rt


yeyes dis nerviz. waryable memebrane

dis rhisztoma portol wriring

liek hallumenogenic

rhisz porescence dis subterfog

plasthma dis aquariam liek prophylactate

epidremel layayeyers

raspith aromantic dis itchgl rhisz liek

qui’me weaveeaveave’ve

dis labyrinse evacuumation [6]


“There is no need to invoke the Minotaur here, nor any requisite for tribute to the King. Indeed, our only interest in Greek mythology with this research programmatology concerns the relationship between the labyrinth and the sea.”

-Cointreau & Contrepeau, Oddyseuss of Ikhthyca, p.54

And yet . . . Donna Haraway reminds us of the usefulness of making such comparisons, of the simple chart or table as technique (and dare we say, tactic) to generate an argument—even if this gesture emerges through the suspect stratagem of binary dichotomy. [7]

Like the clewe of twine bequeathed by Ariadne to reverse hack the logic of the Labyrinth at Minos, then, let’s consider Haraway’s binary table in a similar fashion: as clue to a forward hack of the Labyrinth at IKEA.

  Labyrinth of Minos Labyrinth of IKEA
Location Knossos, Crete 400+ locations worldwide
Purpose (architecture of) containment (architecture of) processing
Mandate tribute profit
Architect Daedalus Disney
Logic complexity compression
Politics sovereign power control
Worlding myth spectacle
Ethos hamartia hubris
Solarity darkness
(occluded sunlight)
electric light
(variable hues and intensities)
Permeability solid, impermeable spongy, porous
View partition vista
Topoi 1 3
Asymptote symmetry waveform
Diagram consistent decaying
Technics uniform, monolithic multimodal, synthetic
Path multicursal unicursal (with shortcuts)
Fold binary decisions as paths address protocols as tensors
At(o)mospherics claustrophobia spaciousness
Rhythm serial peristaltic
Disorientation space time
Involution forgetting imagining
Terminus Minotaur
(human/bull teratology)
(human/machine technics)
Navigation twine (backtrack) luminescent arrows (forward progress)
Survival Task to get out to get through


Though the Labyrinth at Minos may be the best-known example of this form in narrative, it is certainly not the exclusive domain of Greek invention nor belief. The labyrinth exists across cultures and histories, some even anterior to Crete.

But as we run our little tåble routine, we begin to discern what vectors the luminescent floor arrows point us towards. The idea of an occluded or unknowable future does not hold with the Labyrinth at IKEA. It is a single, bending line, not the subtle branchings of a more complex decision tree: the formal properties of hierarchy mutate. This labyrinth is not associated in the same way with the transcendental or the spiritual, but emerges from the immanent and the pragmatic.


The pragmatics, writ from the corporate perspective, is queue management science borrowed from late 20th century capitalism: think amusement park rides at Disneyland or hamburgers at McDonald’s, plus the desire to manage long queues by not only folding long and unruly lines into a neater, more compressed space, but also by breaking up time and mitigating the frustration of consumers dealing with longer waits as these rides or hamburgers increase in demand. Experiential time passes differently as one slowly folds through a movement from rear to frontline.

“Hollywood was the first great project of the industrialization of information compression, folding entire buildings and cities into a few square miles of gated Los Angeles suburb.” [8]

In a spatial, strategic sense, IKEA elevates this labyrinthine sub-machinic component of Disney organization to a level that encompasses the entire store—indeed, elevates the labyrinthine to become the machine’s generator itself. The amusement park roller coaster has folded back upon queue management: real estate is maximised, a dreamy shopping experience ensues, and a rigorous logic of information science ensures the funnel of conversion at the other end of the ride.

Not only the warehouse environment with its flat boxes designed to optimise shipping logistics, inventory management, and the downshifting technical transition of a warehouse object to the vehicle of IKEA’s average household consumer, then: when both the unruly line and the experience of time are folded throughout the store’s labyrinth, compressionism becomes an organising maxim for the consumer machine as a whole.


We’ve come to expect the glassy gaze in public, quasi-public, and private spaces these days, and so rarely do we even bother to take notice of it anymore. But this is not a sufficient strategy for cartographies of the contemporary: instead, raise your gaze in return, just above the horizon of bright colours, product placements and libidinal showcases; up to the guts of the place where we find the flexible partition beams, ventilation ducts, fire alarms, wireless routers, and more. Here, just above the horizon line of imaginal living, a walk through the IKEA Toronto North York location on November 19, 2018 reveals over three times as many easily visible dome surveillance cameras in the Showroom (34) as may be found in the Market Hall (9).

Given that:

1) almost all of these cameras were located along/above the main forward walking path through the store;

2) almost all of these cameras were located at key turning points along the path;

3) the items in the downstairs Market Hall are far easier to shoplift than anything in the upstairs Showroom area; and

4) given the absence of additional data concerning supplemental, less visible surveillance cameras;

we conclude that the camera network weaving through these two layers serves less to monitor or dissuade shoplifting than it does to observe, track and measure consumer motion paths and their deviations or inclinations from the formal ‘backbone’ of the main forward walking path through the store, as indices or markers of the relative success of imaginal infrastructures.

We are reminded once again that what we understand as panopticism, as described by Foucauldian discipline based on the abstract diagram of Bentham’s prison architecture, no longer applies here. [9] This particular sort of algorithmic governance or control nests within, and then emerges from, what was once understood as panoptic architecture, and as such, the latter offers itself as an alibi occluding the former (cf. Critical Art Ensemble).

Deleuze sketches the overall logic of this model in his essay on societies of control: “Individuals have become ‘dividuals’, and masses, samples, data, markets, or ‘banks’.” [10] It is not so much how you walk through the store that is, per se, of interest to IKEA, but how thousands of aggregated consumers walk through the store every day as a function of regression analysis.

While discipline was about partitioning space at a moment in time so as to better atomise individuals, the control apparatus of surveillance cameras linking the Showroom backbone together attempts to create a continuity of filmic/screen space so as to better track and layer individuals across time—as dividual data.

Such a cartography of aggregated or dividualized walking-path data would only be of marginal interest, however, if it weren’t linked to other types of data generated by IKEA: object-oriented data definition protocols mapping the different products featured in each showcase kitchen, for example, or the sales data for various product lines on display. As such, the abstraction of interest to us is less the abstract diagram of spatial enclosure (as with discipline), but the abstraction of data sets that allows for semantic linkage and interoperability.

The effect is rather pantactile, a haptic-made-optic, an organisation that is, in a sense (of the moment) peristaltic, rhythmically contracting forward, but also in a sense (of the model) intestinal, encouraging a sort of lingering within the folds to better ‘digest’ or recompose libidinal desires with consumption potentials.

Contra Deleuze, however, control does not necessitate a system of ‘variable geometry’ continually modulated by code. [11] The geometry may in fact remain quite rigorous, fixed, and/or discrete, as with the floor plan of the IKEA store. The measurement of this discrete geometry is not one of forces, as with the disciplinary model, but rather one of catastrophes in a well-defined dynamic system: the sharp and sudden bifurcation from an initial smooth, continuous function (that is, walking forward on the arrowed, rectilinear path from the beginning of the Showroom to its end), to a second one (leaving the forward vector to drift, off-path, towards the various showcases, where the ‘real’ shopping begins).


The oceanic space of the IKEA fold, particularly in the Showroom and Market Hall areas, provides an aquatic milieu for potential species recombinance: a cyborg body that doesn’t so much push a shopping cart horizontally and perpendicular to the vertically-erect spinal gait, as slouch over the cart in a weight-bearing fashion of pseudo-buoyancy, reconfiguring the gait as hexapedal.

All four wheels of the prosthesis have complete 360-degree swivel capacity (in comparison to, say, grocery store shopping carts, which only have it for the front two wheels). The effect is otolithian: slurred gesture, the uncanny experience of increased degrees of freedom, a drunken imbalance of gait to complexify the line of passage further. Slower tempo is best, all the better to take your time through the brightly-coloured folds.


Here, the labyrinthine here is an oceanic ‘squared waveform’, even as the human gait smudges this rectilinear approach; slurring, stuttering and ever-so-gently curving the right angles which define the design-optimised path. That said, this all-too-human move to efficiency —to shortcut the turn in a calculus that subtly shifts the hypotenuse with every step taken— takes one ever-closer to the tipping point at which one exits the path to enter a phase shift into the imaginal. Indeed, to maintain labyrinthine discipline is precisely to stay square—to remain a spectator, and not become a consumer.


From smooth, polished concrete floor to faux-hardwood laminate composite: there are clear distinctions in material substrate and colour coding between the labyrinthine path and the various showcases nestled within its folds. But the effect is not simply visual: a metal transition strip is installed on a sharp grade between both spaces —easily perceivable for anyone using a shopping cart, stroller, or wheelchair device and, sometimes, by the highly-attuned walking subject.

This transition offers a type of haptic feedback not unlike the click one will experience when pressing a button in virtual space: in this case, a haptic-made-optic, the onclick event-expression of which subtly reinforces activation of the fourth wall to complete the imaginal home showcase.


“The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images,” wrote Guy Debord. [12] But unlike what is the case with many magazine ads or TV sitcoms; here, in the living and sleeping spaces of the IKEA Showroom, the social relation is mediated by images which no longer contain humans, or faces. We imagine the social relation increasingly via the external architecture posited in the lightbox frames: a whole spectrum of class, race, gender and settler status, backward-mapped onto suggestive municipal cartographies and addressed through the mediating image, which no longer necessarily assumes the orthogonal camera perspective. You are who you are in proximity to your neighbours —or at least with relation to the buildings they are presumed to inhabit, and the way in which one gazes upon such an architectural relation.

The face appears later, in the realm of hygiene, when one arrives at the vanities of the Showroom’s bath section. Here we finally encounter the mirror, and through it we instinctively suture the imaginal to the somatic: the unknown individual from earlier, in the labyrinth, is you.

Though once the illusory veil of two-way mirrors has been lifted from one’s life —once their observational logic and specific function in the psychiatric ward, airport security lineup or crime show have become known variables of the apparatus— doesn’t every strange mirror thereafter become suspect?

Let us call this the labyrinth’s Bathroom Stage.


A generic red unifies all information elements in the otherwise ‘neutral’ concrete and steel greys, display whites and cardboard beiges of the IKEA warehouse-system.

This colour field includes the bin locators (which are conveniently mounted at a generic eye level, based upon some generic height in a standing relationship to the gravitational vertical) and the aisle markers (hung overhead in a position once occupied by closed circuit cameras). But it also includes the electrical panels and fire hoses —in short, red as an essential element to the overall assembly of the information system and its urgencies.

[This isn’t exactly like the red laser used in barcode scanners (ie. optical vision), though in its effects, it isn’t not that either.]

The red stands in stark contrast to the iconic blue and yellow of the IKEA colour palette. Though all three are slightly darker or more intense than their more strict RYB primary colour values, the blue and yellow serve to identify the ground-space or ‘skin’ of the brand, while the red relationally sutures together the complex elements of a computational address system.


orororigami and erasure study

ikea pöetics no.3 [13]


“Ripley’s Aquarium takes the folding ‘oceanic’ spatial logic of IKEA and literally makes it an aquatic, ‘oceanic’ milieu—though perhaps its true achievement lies not in the geometry of partition but in the optics of refraction, the ‘perceptechnics’ of hygiene, and the barely-visible control apparatuses for artificial living.”

-Cointreau & Contrepeau, Oddyseuss of Ikhthyca, p.81


What do you get when you turn the digestive apparatus of the IKEA architecture back upon itself in imaginal space, so that the intestinal-itself becomes-intestinal, derivatively so? What do you get when the operations logic of this machinic organ topologically and involutively undergoes reinstallation, not unlike the geometry perceived with a klein bottle?

Though each digestive tract and meal that passes through it are different, one particular opportunity to break bread or brainfood at the fishschool aquarium offers suggestive potentials to swim with:

– the broken or leaky labyrinth arrangement;

– a distinct colour shift, not unlike that seen in old photos or dopplered light from distant stars;

– memetic fragments coarsely assembled in an uncertain status between categorization and dispersal;

– the gravitational vertical turned otherwise to generate new dynamic tensions;

– new cyborg bodies and gestures;

– generic blankfaces in bertillonage form;

– a distributed capacity for image-making;

– a split perspective from within the gut;

– floating artifacts that remain as-yet indeterminate;

– breadcrumbs instead of arrows;

– the return of Ariadne’s thread as clewe/clue—-in whorls, vibratos, unknown lines-to-come;

– and music . . . always music . . .

– – – – –

We what the land folks loves to cook

Under the sea we off the hook

We got no troubles

Life is the bubbles

Under the sea (Under the sea) [14]


portrait of the author from the view of a $1 breakfast

[1] The term jerkism is intended to evoke the line taken by the butterfly (as conceptual lepidoptpersonae). In some ways it suggests the earliest sketches of a speculative feed-forward complement to theories of accelerationism, as jerk is ‘the derivative of acceleration with respect to time’ or ‘the third time derivative of position’, and has a well-established mathematical relationship to chaotic behaviour. See “Introduction to Jerkism: Excerpts from Aqua Rara”, in Capacious: Journal for Emerging Affect Inquiry, 1(3), 2018, 142-149 (

[2] First published at the Internet Texts group on Facebook, following the inaugural Unikea field study conducted with the Media on Location class at OCAD University, May 2015.

[3] Kittler, Friedrich. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1999, p.1: “Before the end, something is coming to an end. The general digitization of channels and information erases the differences among individual media. Sound and image, voice and text are reduced to surface effects, known to consumers as interface. Sense and the senses turn into eyewash. Their media-produced glamor will survive for an interim as a by-product of strategic programs.”

[4] The concept for this pöetic response originally emerges from a walking study conducted at the Toronto North York IKEA location on April 29, 2018. The attempt was to walk through the store quickly, looking forward but in an abstract sort of ‘haptic’ gazing, such that one wouldn’t deliberately see any of the IKEA product names. Every time that, despite these attempts, a name was visually registered, it was added automatically to a running list. The response to this culminating list from the walking line cartography was a sort of ‘cut-up’ technique, in which the order of the initial text remains intact (ie. the running list of product names), and with the change due to a ‘syncopation’ of the spaces between words, such that new meanings emerged even within the original linear encoding of a text. This poem became the catalyst for the spinoff poetry chapbook Syncopation Studies (

[5] The Unikea Topology Study was an in-class studio assignment prepared by the Site and Intervention: New Media class in the First-Year Program at OCAD University, and exhibited as a performance-installation at the Celebration of First-Year Art, March 2016. It involved on-site fieldwork as well as the artistic response of a ‘klein bottle return’.

[6] ‘baud: 1440’ first appeared in the tribute anthology to Baudrillard, Why Hasn’t JB Already Disappeared? Singapore: Delere Press, 2017.

[7] Haraway, Donna. “Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies”, in Simians, Cyborgs and Women. New York: Routledge, 1999, p.209: “The chart itself is a traditional little machine for making particular meanings. Not a description, it must be read as an argument, and one which relies on a suspect technology for the production of meanings—binary dichotomization.”

[8] Smith, Sean. “La Bombe Philosophique: An Archaeology of the Stereoscopic Present (or, Sporting Through the Shrapnel)”, in Paul Virilio, Hubertus von Amelunxen & Drew Burk (Eds.), Grey Ecology. New York: Atropos Press, 2009, p.100.

[9] See Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1995, pp. 195-228.

[10] Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript on the Societies of Control”. October, 1991, p.4.

[11] Ibid, p. 4.

[12] Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books, 1995, p.12.

[13] Boids is a digestion of the 2019 IKEA catalogue in gestural, pöetic and performance form, August 31-September 8, 2018. Selections shown here, full set viewable at:

[14] From an in-studio Unikea Topology Study with Media on Location students at OCAD University, April 3, 2019. Lyrics to ‘Under the Sea’ by Alan Menken and Howard Elliott Ashman, Walt Disney Music Company, 1989.

Sean Smith is an artist, writer and athlete living in Toronto, Canada. He holds a PhD in Media Philosophy from the European Graduate School and has exhibited and performed internationally as part of the Department of Biological Flow arts-based research collective. He is currently adjunct faculty in wearable sculpture and site-specific practice at OCAD University.

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