A Series of Tubers

What’s the difference between a potato and a rhizome? When Mike Francis started putting his animations on a site called Spudoogle I wanted to figure this out. Here is the answer I came up with after reading some definitions on online reference sources:

Spudoogle is a compound. It comes from “spud” and “Google.” “Spud” appeared in the sixteenth century, when Europeans started cultivating the potatoes that they’d found in the New World. The word migrated from the act of digging a hole in the ground to plant the potato—“spud” is related to “spade”—to the potato itself, from the little shovel to the tuber. Rhizomes are underground plants that send out roots from their nodes and grow in a horizontal network. Tubers are thickened rhizomes that store nutrients as starchy growths. Potatoes are tubers—stem tubers, to be precise. They are the swollen tips of a rhizome. Shoots develop from the buds, or eyes, of the potato. The eyes are its nodes and they look in the direction of potential spuds. As with a rhizome you can cut the tuber into pieces and each piece will develop into a mature plant so long as the cut piece has at least one eye.

Potatoes are parts of rhizomes that are thick and starchy.

Deleuze and Guattari did not say that decentralized hierarchies are shaped like potato farms. That would not have been sexy. They called them rhizomatic—much cooler. But the decentralized networks we live with now are like potato farms. Social networks with lazy fat folks sitting on their nodes, the starchy swollen chunks of Facebook pages covered with eyes, looking.

Mike Francis makes strange short animated loops, usually human or animal characters making awkward gestures again and again, as if he’s playing with the presets of Maya or whatever 3D animation software he uses and just lets the software do its thing rather than bother to force it to model motion as we know it in the world. These things he draws dig holes in the digital fabric and loll about in them endlessly. They have at least one eye but they aren’t developing in any direction.

Spudoogle is a black page with an image of a couple dozen freshly harvested potatoes set in the middle. The darkness of #000000 is a synthetic double of the real dirt in the photo; the cartoons mimic the swollen starchy shapes of the spuds. The post line up in the blog’s vertical like the potatoes laid in their rows. Spudoogle is a weird word and when you google it as a keyword it yields only one relevant result. It’s a spud at the dead end of a google—a spudoogle.

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