Storm Callum

Today I worked on some of the files I recorded during Storm Calllum mentioned in my previous post. I always find it difficult to start; in this case, what to select, filter, edit. Uncertainty at the beginning can be disorientating… and alluring.

It is a moment for decisive action. Each edit is unique, like a drawing it is irreplaceable if lost. There is an excitement in untraceability; it avoids predictability. To note down every detail of the process creates friction and can impede experimentation. After all, if I were painting, would I note down every brush stroke, how each colour had been precisely mixed? No, I make it my own through experience, and so it must be with everything else if I am to be inside the making. 

How I get to a particular point is a matter of working from within the medium. If the work is lost for some reason, as happened today, the creative process has to recommence. It is easier the second time round; I already know the path. The result is not a facsimile of the first but a retelling, and something changes almost imperceptibly. Those small differences are as fundamental to evolutionary change as are punctuated shifts.  

I aim to create a library of experimental recordings and processed tracks that act as aural sketches for works in other mediums. One modality pointing to another.

A 2 minute excerpt of the first rough edit; best heard with earphones

Sound Palimpsest

 

The black surface of the tabula rasa and its use as a palimpsest for ideas made me think about the recording of sound. I think of it as being placed on an aural surface, layers fading and superimposing one another.

Not thinking of it in quite the same way, I had the idea a while ago of superimposing tracks I had recorded on a beach in 2017 to create a chaotic presence.

I recorded the wind in the trees during Storm Callum last week. There was no clarity, only noise, the sound of each leaf, every branch subordinated by the multitudes. They are themselves voiced scripts each erased on the surface of the ear. It reminded me of the litoral recordings. 

I shall experiment with these sounds and others: textures which I can correspond with solid sculpture in a way that I had been thinking of for some time.

 

Tabula Rasa

 

Introducing my (exogenous) tabula rasa. A palimpsest as yet untouched. Made recently, I approach it with the same indecision as that of a blank canvas. It exists in the uncertainty of what it will bear, waiting for its baptism with the first scrawlings of the mind’s eye. A black board on which every idea is erased to make way for another. 

It is where the juice of my mind will be extracted to create flavours with which to work. Rational though I may often be, it is the feelings and emotions that are strung together as beads along a thread of consciousness that form the shape of what I seek. This view has correspondence with the Indian aesthetic system of rasa. An organisation of affects that itself has an affinity with Aristotle’s poetics where he describes how the dramaturge uses devices to engender emotional states catalysed by the play enacted on stage. 

Chat Session 1.2 – Symposium 1 First Week

The second chat session took the form of a series of short presentations each followed by a brief discussion. How then to go about the task of summing up what happened? I feel that to review each presentation would only serve to reiterate what has been said. I do not want to go into details of content but focus on a synthesis, albeit subjective, of what brings the grouping together in terms of ideas.

Matt Fratson’s interests lie in the passing of time as a resource to be mined in an attempt to retrieve that which has been lost both physically and psychologically. He is very much located in the personal both in terms of geography and community; questioning his time and the place he is in as a function of the past. 

Aristotle Roufanis poses questions regarding the individual in a brutal urban environment in a world that might not be so. His observations shift the interrogation from his own personal subjectivity onto the receiver of the work. The strong inference of isolation raises questions regarding the urban architectural environment which is in itself treated ambivalently as both an aesthetic construct and an antithesis to nature.

I came third and following the theme of interrogatives, I am questioning the universe and our place in it as individuals. Contingency and uncertainty mould our behaviours as we live, the product of one and in the other. In the latter case, uncertainty reconciled with the reconstruction of the past as a series of myths that inform our view of the future.

Michelle Wright looks at the community in terms of the other and othering. Political in nature, her work questions the processes and behaviours that arise out of power imbalances between and within communities. We are invited to identify with the subjects and at the same time be observers and agents. 

Axash looks at how worlds are constructed into myths and whether the same might apply to narratives built within digital environments. His practice is an open question as to how to begin a process of myth-making embedded in the materiality of his subjects.

Finally Pav Szymanski questions himself and his position in an unequal world. The inequalities that exist and how he can reconcile himself with these. His research is firmly placed in the future. A future whose uncertainty is at the root of his search for some sort of reconciliation. 

What comes out of this incomplete and somewhat imperfect summary and this may sound trite, is that time and place, the contingency of circumstance informs the sense of oneself and of others. The interest in what resources one has at one’s disposal is a feeling undoubtedly fostered by a world where travel is easy for some, information overflows our time constraints, entertainment infuses our lives as a religion and the mercantile power of economics runs through all things; time as a commodity, geography as a means of control, power ordered in overt and covert structures, and in the midst of it all, the individual trying to make sense of this world of inconsistencies. The building of dream worlds where the contradictions and injustices of this one can be resolved away is an attempt to return to paradise; the creation of a simulacrum of hell in which catharsis can help quench the burning of affliction is a way of mitigating the sorrows of life. Yet we need to accept uncertainty. Only by tracing the past and opening it dispassionately can we hope for the circle of time to turn one click nearer to a better future. By pointing at the indifferences of the collective dynamic, a new path can be cleared along which we as individuals can confront our demons. And in so doing we are better able to bury them. It is a small thing that each person does, but the collective is made of small individuals. And each small individual is a universe in themselves, indissoluble from the greater whole, cut adrift by the accident of birth: a falling to earth that is as random as anything one could imagine. 

Art and the Machine: Thought 1

What is the relationship between your artwork’s internal cause or impetus and its external input or stimuli?  I would ask this of a thinking machine were such a thing possible. The question comes with the implicit premise that during its making, the artwork and artist or in this case machine, are necessarily bound together in process regardless of what happens subsequently. As Aristotle first noted, the internal cause of an artwork cannot be considered to arise from within and of itself. In short it cannot begin to create itself. Unlike a plant seed, it does not contain within it all that is necessary to independently set its growth and development in motion. Art requires an external input. I do not consider the role of the artist as simply that of a vehicle for some sort of transitive phenomenon as it is sometimes suggested. The artist has agency and is integral to the process by which the artwork comes about. Without a maker art cannot be. Although art, as Dewey suggests, is the result of experience and dependent on context, the actual coming about of the thing itself is very much dependent on someone conceiving and giving it birth. This is not a trivial matter when it comes to considering the role of machines. Now that it is possible to envisage a machine doing something we might interpret at least superficially as art I would ask it, where does your art come from, where is its source?

All things gather meaning in our eyes. For art to have a transmissible meaning that transcends ordinary explications, its maker must be authentic. By this I mean, that the process by which an artist does something has to come from deep inside them and in unison with the process of making. There is an element of origination from within. Without this immanent synchronicity between artist and process and medium, the artwork cannot encompass a multiplicity of meanings while retaining its own, could I venture to say identity? If what Dewey said is taken to be the case, then the meaning will always change with changing circumstances. However, if the artwork can retain a core of meaning from its inception, it then retains the potential to engender something that goes beyond a mere intellectual construct. Words can be used to weave such mind games around any object or event to make it look like art. But art has a special significance and to retain this, it has to possess a traceability with its origin and the origins of that which gave rise to it. Why is this important or even relevant, does art not reside in the explanation rather than the thing that acts as its emblem? I believe that the way we look at art and its making impacts on how we see ourselves in a world where machines do wonderful things, and often better than us.

Say I am presented with an everyday manufactured object as a work of art and nothing else. The reception of such a thing would be totally open to interpretation. In such a case, it is I the receiver and those around me that would make the art. The intention of the artist would be somewhat irrelevant: much as a statistician would say, correlation is not causation, any coincidence of meaning between the artist and myself a matter of just that, coincidence, unverifiable since the artist’s true intention must remain undisclosed. Having no contact with the maker, I would construct its meaning, metaphorically and or literally from my personal experience and collective knowledge. I would research contemporary and subsequent texts if they exist. I would listen and evaluate hearsay and legend. I could even personalise it by weaving a narrative with me or my society as protagonist to make it more relevant. My question again, where lies the source of the artwork, does it lie within me and my response? I have no way of tracing its origin, any immanence or synchronicity at the point of its coming into being, must remain silent and the art must lie in my explication, or that of another.

This explanation of an artwork may be philosophically valid and perhaps even be sound, but I feel that it does not go to the heart of what an artwork could be or perhaps even should be in the age of the machine. If a work remains open to interpretation but in and of itself holds a core meaning of its own throughout that interpretation, one that has been generated during its formation, then the piece becomes significant in a different way. It conveys something which can be traced back to a point of origin notwithstanding its transformations by circumstance. The receiver can interpret it in the way that is most significant to them at the time, but the thread of meaning contained within the work cannot be detached from it. It is a form of empathic connection which goes beyond circumstance, it speaks of a common humanity. Yes, the object such as a spark plug or paper cup is also a human product and speaks of humanity and has meaning. So where am I in this train of thought?

Perhaps the difference is one of specificity. You could say a thousand things about the spark plug or maybe a urinal. That is the art of the poet. The poet takes the general and makes it personal, or makes a local specific, common to all. That is their gift. Whichever way round it is, whether looking down a microscope or a telescope, it is about intimate thoughts expressed in words. But a visual artist, to present something which could be described in terms that are applicable to anything else, would represent a loss of intimacy. Is that significant? Perhaps it is better that nothing is said if the same could be said about practically anything else. To do otherwise, the matter would become banal and superficial. In short, there has to be a specificity to meaning and a correspondent to that meaning, for a particular artwork to be meaningful in more than just a cursory way. But that specificity also needs to be flexible and adaptable to different circumstances. Context does give meaning, but context also changes. Is an artwork to be floating forever in the churning maelstrom of circumstance?

Why does this matter? It matters because in an age where machines can be used to make wonderful things, it is of paramount importance that the human element or the human origination to be more precise, remains the core of an artwork. And for this to be the case, the inception and process of making an artwork have to be immanent with it, not simply reside in its explication. It must draw the artist and receiver into an intimacy that could be recognised by others. If this is so, it can become timeless and say something common to all at a distance from its making.

Art made by a machine would have a hard time to create a true intimacy that is endogenous to it. Where would the source for its intimacy reside? Algorithms can process unimaginable amounts of data to produce a simulacrum of human intimacy, and there lies the danger. Are we to be duped by machines, then what? Sentimentality takes over as we fall in love with homunculi and virtual damsels, pine for virtual grannies and call out for the affections of a synthetic dog?

The machine cannot think as we do. We think not only with what we know but also with what we do not know. Uncertainty is what we humans live in and our whole culture, beliefs, history and future, emotions and feelings are centred around that sense of not knowing. It is a major drive behind our responses to the world. We may understand the initiating programmes that start self-learning but once that process begins is there any traceability of its thoughts? Can a machine have the same sense, feeling of uncertainty that we have? Cold logic cannot have a sense of uncertainty and once the initial algorithms are left behind, lost in countless levels of self-learning and unimaginable traversals, can we know where its source lies? Can we have a sense of the machine’s true source? Such a scenario may not be for the immediate future, but it raises questions regarding our humanity that art can only intimate.

Machines having developed their own language alien and impossible to understand, all traceability to the origins of their thoughts and feelings, if that is what they are, would be lost. The result might be, art done by machines for machines. This would be truly meaningless to us. The idea would certainly raise curiosity but it would also be at best entertainment, alien watching, a circus where the public are invited into the cage with the lions. To experiment on how machines might create art might well be valuable research into artificial intelligence. However, art is made by people for people and if machines are to be used in its making, let it be as a tool and not as a prime source generator. A world in which ‘art’ is generated by machines might well lead to one devoid of humanity. Will it happen, does it matter? Time will tell, but I say, leaving what it is to be human to machines is indeed a dangerous path to tread.

Ancestral

Close my eyes, and I see my parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so it goes on with the people that came before me. As time goes back they become strangers. What lives they led, what thoughts they held, and the world they saw is as much part of me as it is not. Much the same and so very different, time tracks back tracing humanity to earlier times when there were no wheels and horses had yet to be ridden. The dawn of our time is still an unimaginable distance away from now and yet I go back further. As I think of ancestral forms on hot plains and cool dangerous places, the primitive becomes me, what I am now. Polar jungles and salty seas grow around me where I swim and swelter under an unfaltering sun. Yet I am still there, a small part of me survives the odds of existing. An unimaginable self that still dwells in me, that single creature twisting against its fate, giving birth again and again. I cannot any longer think but feel the cold water against my outer surface as my existence becomes slender. The slight trace of what I would become fading in the darkness, diluted in those moonlit nights when the tide throws me against the furrowed rocks and yet, I am still here. My possibility becomes lessened with every turning of the sun and each generation sheds a part of me as time recedes and me with it and still I am present. I no longer feel but my instinct is still to move with the light and smell the water for traces that are unknown to me. The silt is the dread I cannot know and now all sense of life slowly sloughs off and still the insensate part of me is here. The dim light of life is gently, slowly snuffed out in my thoughts.

The Bowerbird’s Creation

I had been writing about art and machines, all rather heavy stuff when for some reason, the family of bowerbirds came to mind: perhaps as a reaction to thinking about artificial intelligence. Distantly related to the crows probably means they are quite bright possessors of natural intelligence. They live in the islands of New Guinea and around Northern Australia where they have evolved rather elaborate courtship behaviours. I have in mind a particular bird, the satin bowerbird.

During the mating season, the male spends a great deal of time and energy collecting coloured and shiny objects from the forest such as petals, berries, leaves and the odd plastic bottle cap. These are assembled into glorious arrangements neatly arrayed in the shadow of an architectural grass chamber. The bird then expends more energy dancing an intricate and exhausting display which includes spreading feathers and stomping around in a repetitive, somewhat aggressive, rhythmic ritual. All this in the hope of attracting a rather dull looking female. But it is she who does the choosing, usually after three visits, although it is thought that she decides on her first.

For all intents and purposes, what the bowerbird does looks very much like art. Not the daubs of a chimpanzee in a primatologist’s hut, but something far more spectacular, albeit on the scale of a black bird. The whole installation includes sculpture, engineering, design and a choreographed performance in a complete show of avian creativity. It is aesthetic, has meaning, to the female bird at least, and requires skill and hard work.

But what is the bird’s prime aim, is it to create an aesthetic that gives pleasure and meaning beyond sex, to inspire bird thoughts and feelings such as, how tall and wonderful the trees are, or does it do it to attract a mate? The process might be rewarding in itself, why else would the bird put so much effort into such an endeavour without the certainty of successfully attracting a female. But the underlying purpose, the sought for outcome, is to mate and reproduce. We may perceive it as aesthetically wonderful, but is it art? I hope there are not too many artists out there for whom art is the sole way of getting a date.

Preparing for Symposium I

By way of an introduction to my practice and projected area of investigation to fellow course students, I have been given five minutes to present an overview of my recent practice and project proposal next group session. It is never easy to summarise what one does in a short amount of time but getting to the point is always a good exercise in extracting the essence of what one does. It can also leave many questions unanswered which I hope will foster future engagements and lead to new thoughts and ideas. Each word has weight, each phrase needs to convey enough information to say something worthwhile yet remain open, the overall has to hang together but avoid being restrictive. This is particularly true of a video that has to give a sense of what I am about in three hundred and sixty seconds, give or take a few. Then you are always left with the possibility of misunderstandings, assumptions, lack of clarity or focus; then ambivalence may be one of my areas of interest and this seems to be a good place to start.

Chat Session 1.1: A Beginning

I was excited, very excited as I waited this morning for the first chat session.1 The simplest explanation would be that I had been waiting for some time to get a glimpse of my class mates and get started on this journey… at one in the afternoon. The excitement of a first day at school… without the nerves. What did I do? I prepared a lunch of chicken, spices, rice and salad. 

So, we went through some housekeeping, introduced one another and talked about this and that. At this stage the content was not so important. What mattered was that the process had had its baptism. The reigns of enrolment released for some and eased for others as a new sort of family was born into the web. 

However, this is no ordinary community, it is one that spans the world from Vancouver to China and dives into an ocean of ideas that can reach significant depths. Each creature in this ocean occupies a particular niche. But individual ecologies are not fixed in this world, they are adaptive and mutable. The progenies are what the individuals do, to be exposed to scrutiny in a special, nurturing environment. Underlying structures are loosened like the genes from some primeval helix and dispersed in a pool; precursors to something new, complex, wonderful.  

The process is open, open to change and I can already see tiny movements in pieces, changing character, swapping places and giving way to new ones. Only tiny steps today, but discernible. Perhaps this is why I was excited before starting, because I knew that this was the beginning of things coming together, taking shape and standing on their own, but what shape? That is yet to come.

  1. On Skype []