This is the third video in the series that emerged from my research statement.
Although somewhat crude, the videos serve as drafts for a possible future series which would include images, animations, soundtracks and so on.
This is the third video in the series that emerged from my research statement.
Although somewhat crude, the videos serve as drafts for a possible future series which would include images, animations, soundtracks and so on.
“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe the more often and the more steadily they are reflected upon: the starry heaven above me, and the moral law within me. The first, begins at the place which I occupy in the external world of sense. The second, begins at my invisible self, my personality and depicts me in a world which has true infinity. The first view of a countless multitude of worlds annihilates, as it were, my importance as that of an ‘animal creature’ which must give back to the planet (a mere speck in the universe) the matter of which it was formed after it has been provided for a short time, we know not how, with vital power. The second, on the other hand, infinitely raises my worth as that of an ‘intelligence’ by my personality in which the moral law asigns a destination to my existence, a destination which is not restricted to the conditions and limits of this life, but reaches into the infinite.”
Taken from A History of the Infinite by Adrian Moore produced for radio in episodes by Juniper for the BBC Radio 4, first broadcast in September 2016.
Above image by NASA. Below image: anonymous portrait circa 1790, in anonymous collection.
The following is a fuller version of Kant’s words.
“Two things fill the mind with every new and increasing wonder and awe, the oftener and the more steadily I reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not merely conjecture them and seek them as if they were obscured in darkness or in the transcendent region beyond my horizon: I see them before me, and I connect them directly with the consciousness of my own existence. The starry heavens begin at the place I occupy in the external world of sense, and they broaden the connection in which I stand into an unbounded magnitude of worlds beyond worlds and systems of systems and into the limitless times of their periodic motion, their beginning and duration. The latter begins at my invisible self, my personality, and exhibits me in a world which has true infinity but which only the understanding can trace – a world in which I recognise myself as existing in a universal and necessary ( and not, as in the first case, only contingent) connection, and thereby also in connection with all those visible worlds. The former view of a countless multitude of worlds annihilates, as it were, my importance as an ‘animal creature’ which must give back to the planet (a mere speck in the universe) the matter from which it came, matter which is for a little time endowed with vital force, we know not how. The latter, on the contrary, infinitely raises my worth as that of an ‘intelligence’ by my being a person in whom the moral law reveals to me a life independent of all animality and even of the whole world of sense, at least so far as it may be inferred from the final destination assigned to my existence by this law, a destination which is not restricted to the conditions and boundaries of this life but reaches into the infinite.”
I have been recording the sounds that the sculptural components collect from their surroundings and reprocess within their space. This leads me to think about how sounds might behave when coming from within.
The final work will be a complex of interconnected internal spaces. How might these behave? How will this behaviour be affected by how components are connected? Is this relevant to the overall thesis; might this be an effective layering of meaning; confusing the issue; better used in some other context?
I continue to experiment and think about future works as the process of making evolves.
The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is as old as time itself. Long before the story was enshrined by Virgil and Ovid, it existed in Greek mythology and long before that, in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the myth of Dumuzi and Inanna. The desire to reverse death by descending into the underworld to raise a departed loved one must have been a theme in human culture long before writing. Even further back, what must it have been like for the first creature on this planet to come to the realisation of the finality of life? To attempt escaping what all others before them had struggled to avoid by instinct alone feeling only dread and fear?
The myth tells us that the head of Orpheus continues to sing as it floats down the river after having been torn from its body by the wild women of Dionysus. This somewhat macabre scene symbolises the triumph of art over death. But this subversion of the powerful brings with it a heavy price. The loss of Eurydice, trapped in hades for all eternity; the penalty for Orpheus’ curiosity.
In the light of the myth, the artist has to enter the underworld to create, but the result of his curiosity is to create a ghost. We only see a shadow of the vision and for this the artist is left torn between joy and regret. The artist exchanges life to give the semblance of life. Nevertheless, this act of subversion is a bid for freedom from fear.
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden defy God through an act of curiosity. They gain the true meaning of life in exchange for death. Reality is as likely to tear you to pieces as the Maenads do the body of Orpheus.
The artist in a final moment of defiance tries to hold that moment just before looking back. But the inevitable turns what is in the mind into a pillar of salt, a sculpture, painting, film or some other simulacrum of life.
Art attempts reversal of what has been lost or about to be lost; to capture the moment before the head is turned. The result is often tinged with regret for what was not done, but also satisfaction for what was done.
For the research discussion I decided to create a series of videos that explain aspects of theory drawn from philosophy, art history and contemporary ideas, centred around subject object relationships and behaviour around art works as though they were living.
There are four videos in total, far too much to be seen during the 50 minutes session. However, making them has proved very interesting and I have developed ideas that not only serve my current practice and feed into the project proposal, but also provide hooks on which to hang a future research proposal should I decide to continue with a further degree.
The videos themselves are in crude form. They are really more like annotated podcasts. However, they provide the framework for a set of videos that include images, animations and videos and perhaps even load up onto YouTube.
In view of the length of the videos, I have decided to advance send the introduction which sets the scene and gives an idea of how the subsequent information came about. I hope that the second video, to do with subject-object relationships, gives sufficient material for discussion. I find it opens out onto various fields and could go in many directions.
I look forward to seeing how the others interpret the ideas, and what might emerge.
Which, I ask myself, is the subject here, the hole or the thing that contains the hole. It is what I want it to be, but without the one the other would not exist. Likewise, is the movement out or in? Like a grouper fish, this thing, this devourer of space encroaches on the unknown and brings with it the unknown. The fear of holes, tears at the fabric of my consciousness, invites curiosity and repels as a harbinger of harm. It is from where things come and where they disappear to. The thing that contains the whole contains reality as so forms the substance of faith.
What would happen if you were to put your hand into the pitch darkness and as you do so, the rustling, murmuring, growling, grunting of life could be barely audible. You have to then draw your head closer towards the dark to hear what lies inside…
As with a number of ideas I have for the project proposal, the full meaning of this work would not lie in itself. It would be revealed as part of the sediments of consciousness, the fabric of ideas woven with the other works. And the space in between would invite further thoughts and behaviours by the viewers, recipients, call that what you will.
An Australian friend once described to me, swimming in the barrier reef and looking over its edge into the deep ocean. And as he did so, a giant grouper rose from the dark depths and hovered over him. It could have swallowed him whole but clearly it did not. This vision has remained with me for over thirty years, such is the power of the denizens of the unknown.
In preparation for next week’s research discussion, today I sent out an email requesting some thoughts from my MA peers’ about their relationships with the work they produce. Bearing in mind that 45 minutes can go by very quickly, I decided to leave out a lot of explanatory background information and let the process evolve during the Skype chat. I have some material to input into the discussion but above all my aim is to explore the different ways in which they view the relationship that an artist might have with their work and how they perceive how a recipient might relate to it. I would also like to get some insight into how they articulate the means by which they control, alter, influence behaviours in the planning making and display of work.
I was thinking of framing this in terms of subject-object, the Living-Presence Response and altering behaviours by changing the passive resistance of a work. In view of the allotted time, I decided to not necessarily introduce this complex area although some of it may filter into the discussion.
The process of preparing for the research discussion has, however, proved immensely useful in developing further a theoretical framework which I can use to underlie my practice and perhaps even take further in some future studies.
This is a copy of the email. It is difficult to keep things brief and clear. I am sure it could be said better; experience helps in these matters.
RE: Research Discussion – Tuesday 4th February
To My MA Peers
As a preparation for the research discussion on Tuesday 4th Feb, would each of you kindly send me your thoughts as to the nature of your relationship with your art pieces. This is because in my own work, it is a thought that prevails both when I am making a work and when I think of the possible contexts in which it will be shown.
My research statement was concerned with looking at disparate art practices in an evolving environment. One of the outcomes of having written the paper is an interest in, the subject-object relationship where the subject can be the artist and or the recipient, and finding ways of altering behaviour by changing the dynamics between the two.
Please would you each send me in no more than 100 words your thoughts. As a guide I have written three questions that might help frame your ideas.
You can frame these around your project proposal, the final show or any current work you are engaged in. This is not specifically about your practice but about the relationship between you and the art object or event, and between the recipient and the given work.
I would be grateful if you could send it by Sunday evening, before the Tuesday Skype session.
London based artists are very welcome to respond and or join us on the Skype session at 1pm as Jonathan mentioned. In any case I would be very interested to hear your thoughts.
First three preliminary shapes in their early phases. The process is going well after a great deal of planning. The porcelain is behaving itself and keeping its elasticity and very importantly its shape. This I do by carefully regulating the water content as I add layer upon layer. I hope to have all the major shapes, at least started if not completed, before the Low Residency.
I have also booked the electrician to hook up the large kiln. Hopefully by the end of February when the first pieces can be fired. The idea is to have all the major pieces done by mid April when I can start with the installation and fitting up with electronics. There is still a great deal to do and I don’t want to leave anything for the last minute as each stage needs time and focus. March, April and May will be very busy months. I hope to have June clear for contingencies, fine tunings, installation dry runs, packing and photography.
I shall work on sound elements and videos concurrently during making down time. I enjoy alternating activities and working on several things at the same time. It allows me to resolve any problems so long as I can concentrate on whatever I am doing at any given time.
I have been working for around ten days now on some of the components for one of the works. It is hard to keep the porcelain fresh to handle and yet not become deformed under its own weight at this scale. The material dictates much of the formal essence and I am working hard to maintain the traces of making as well as the underlying structure of segmentation. Although what I am making is not a vessel and forms part of a larger work, working in this way is giving me a wealth of ideas for future work.
I have been inspired by prehistoric pottery such as the beaker culture terracotta artefacts. This archaeological idea comes together with the biological, creating another layer in my toing and froing between the past and future. My aim is to decentralise the work from an overt iconography of the now and widen the scope for reflection which inevitably comes back onto contemporary contexts from a different perspective. A perspective that sees the human condition not stuck in the present but a chronologically universal one. Namely, the tension between the animal self grounded in a physical reality, and the conceptual self as a construct of the mind. This I believe is something that people have tried to come to terms with continually in different ways over time. Today this struggle is framed in the context of technology in its many forms and macro socio-economics. These are having the tendency perhaps to fragment and confound a sense of the whole in a way that has not been previously encountered on such a scale. What I am trying to do, is move out of a certain contemporary entrainment and present something that rejects horizontal collective solipsism. Instead, I am endeavouring to express the self as a vertical continuum in time that speaks of how we are the bearers of the past and the future. Here, the titles become crucial in opening out layered inferences that can move freely between formal, aesthetic, conceptual and contextual constraints.
Yesterday I bought an automatic welding helmet. This will make welding much easier and accurate as it will free the hand that normally has to lower the visor just before arcing.
Slanted like a Corinthian helmet, the work of Hephaestos is done behind its gaze as its eye is rendered miraculously half blind in the instant the spark is ignited. The mask conceals, protects and like an armoured baboon, intrudes menacingly onto a landscape made of gentler things.
I pulled these out from storage a few days ago. They work well as subwoofers and also deliver on high frequencies. They need rehousing though; I do not like the shapes of the boxes and the black fabric coverings. Then there is the question of whether to port or seal the boxes. The speaker on the right is ported hence the difference in size and shape.
The functional difference between ported and sealed speakers is, the former are louder and the latter deliver a higher fidelity. Seeing as I intend to use them in a gallery setting, sealed is the more appropriate option. This is fortunate because the calculations and design choices are simpler for the sealed speaker type. It is also smaller and the size tolerance is much greater. With a ported speaker, the measurements need to be much more precise because the air wave leaving the box needs to match the fundamental frequency of the monitor exactly if constructive interference is to amplify the membrane displacement and hence enhance volume.
The best material for cost and ease of construction is thick MDF which I can get cut accurately to size. For now I am thinking of leaving the MDF bare and only sealing it for aesthetic and conceptual reasons. The speakers are what they are and to try to hide them would miss the point. They are sentinels of the sculpture, not just relayers of sound. Additionally, at the moment I feel that to paint them or cover them is to deny their real nature and contrast with the sculpture.
This web site gives all the information I need to construct the boxes and fit the subwoofers.
Use the Speaker Box Designer to determine the optimal volume for your enclosure.
This morning, I was going through an old batch of porcelain which had developed some mould. I did not want to add this to my current work as it might affect the integrity of the whole in some way. This encounter opened out an opportunity. Rather than just throwing it away I adapted an idea I have been thinking about and used in previous shows. The opportunity for people to use touch in the context of work which is too fragile to handle. The show pieces are about a deep aspect of humanity. This brought up the idea of gesture which is part of the work I have critically incorporated into the sculptures. The emotional input, as I have mentioned before, is finely balanced with rational world building. In the process of mediating between these two states I leave imprints.
The piece of porcelain as I have handled is the first of a series of matrices created from an imprint which can be ‘followed’ by someone else as a moment of tactile communion. It is a personal gesture whilst universal – it is both human and animal. It reminds me of handling ancient objects. It reaches out in a physical way to others.
Hand Axe, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, 1.2 – 1.4 million years old
It brings to mind, the Krell hand print in Forbidden Planet. More recently, Neil MacGregor’s second and third broadcasts in The History of the World in One Hundred Objects on the Olduvai Gorge stone chopping tool and hand axe respectively.
Today, in the fading daylight of the studio, I began the next work for the final show. This is the largest and most technically ambitious of the set. It is quite daunting because despite having rehearsed it in my mind countless times, it is all new to me. I have never worked like this on this scale with porcelain, so I have left plenty of time to deal with what might come up. For porcelain, it is a very large work requiring a deft control of water content without loosing spontaneity and an overall vision. In addition, I am not using moulds or armatures which makes the handling of form that much more difficult and unpredictable, but that is good, it keeps things dynamic. Then there is the question of assemblage, mounting and display. Each stage will have its own challenges which will dictate the final outcome. I have a vision which will have to adapt to what emerges along the way and how this will entangle with sound is something that will need a heuristic approach. I have already altered the question of where the sound will be coming from. It will be more overt, creating a tension between two sources of interest although its control will remain with the sculpture: the sound, a guardian of sorts.
How refined, how brutal must I be to set this plasma into shape and keep the gesture and the thought intact against a stubborn bend? For this body is not wont to be thought rude and so tempering my power, I must bear its growing freedom with careful wit and patiently hold my nerve so we might come to journey’s end more whole than at the start.
The alembic comes to mind: from the Arabic al-anbiq, the word has its roots in the Greek ambix which is of even more ancient origins, perhaps Hebrew. Ambix means cup, used by alchemists to distill potions and elixirs. I see it as a symbol for the transmutation from the unreal to the real through the distillation of an admixture of experience and ideas. Another circle turned on the axis of the idea of vessel. (See previous post, Conversation, intersubjectivity and the Suspension of Reality.)
An umbilical to the most distant cousins came as a gossamer sack. I could not move with food just floating about inside me, subject to the vagaries of diffusion, how could I. A second opening appeared, like an eye on the world, the sac stretched and narrowed bathing food in acids and enzymes squirted into a sphinctered environment. Enough energy was assured so I could cease my sessile existence and developing kinetic strategies left behind the ceaseless rocking of the waves. Hunter, prey, grazer, became the hidden rules of day and night in a circadian rhythm of fear. This is what I am in its most fundamental form, keeping entropy at bay.
The nervous system, servant to this messy kitchen, reached round its synaptic fingers, holding the tactics of feeding in its grasp and throwing open a blind race towards sentience. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch conjured constellations of qualia igniting engines of thought. The self became inevitable. Traversing the threshold of knowledge I left behind the crawling and slavering of my infancy on slimy slopes where hope and fear could not be understood, and produced a soul. Self built, a DIY god that lives within me, another symbiont sharing a body with countless others, keeping at bay the chaos of imagining.
The works in porcelain are hard to do because of my process. Why make my life difficult and not model them as I would a figure, or anything else for that matter?
The answer is simple, the consequences for me are not. Life has evolved so that each and every animal more advanced than the simplest forms has a body plan organised in segments or somites. These are repeating units which can be identical to one another or structurally very different. Segmentation or metamerism can be clearly seen in arthropods and earthworms but is less obvious in vertebrates. differentiation takes place at the embryo stage and is something we have in common with all complex animals.
My process involves building the body with coils of porcelain in much the same way as a basic ceramic pot is built without using a wheel. A pot is more or less symmetrical and it is relatively easy to control its shape as it is being made. However, building the bodies is a much more difficult thing to do because they are very asymmetrical and the flow of lines depend on fine adjustments. As I build the body, I have to imagine cross sections of the piece as it is built and visualise how it will be several layers on or when completed.
As the porcelain dries and after it is fired, the traces of the coiling show through as the material shrinks. This trace of how the form was made renders visible its making. It brings to focus a reflection I wrote back in August,
‘As I work, I continually rediscover that to leave traces of how a work has been done, is to allow its continual remaking once my part is completed.’
This trace corresponds to the trace of metazoan evolution, our evolution. It is seeing the making under an opaque skin rendered visible. The layered coiling correlates with the physical way in which a 3D printer layers or disintegrates material to build or reveal the form.
I have never worked in this way but it does extend the process when I was compiling Chaos Contained. Then, it was molecular accretion to build complex structures. The result was organic but architectural in form. Now, the forms are organic, felt from the gut and not the head: preparing the way for another form of living-presence.
Sketches showing the possible arrangement for the sculptures as part of Enshrinement. The Raft of the Medusa comes to mind as does a lamenting trinity after the deposition. But these are not people, they are other worldly, poised to utter the narratives of transformation.
The contrapposto of classical statues confers on them a semblance of life as they sit still or lie motionless. Sound will be their given motion, bounded by the environment in which they will be placed: passively subject and resistant at one and the same time. My control is not their loss of freedom, they are extensions of my mind, compliant to a will but resistant in their material making dictating their own aesthetic and meaning.
They are not immersed in struggle as is another work, they are released momentarily from it, on the threshold of being to world building. Cryptic anatomy intimates a distant fellowship with the simplest of complex life and ourselves. Each latent form encased in a chrysalid, crawls past another, conforming its shape to a dance choreographed in the dark, lit in a frozen moment of the imagination. A moment that never ceases to change: therein lies the resistant element of their making.
I have been wondering over the past couple of days about the nature of the agency I am working on for the project proposal. My work is not performative in a kinetic way. It is still, passive, motionless. Sound disrupts this passivity by moving through time, projecting onto corporeal senses perceived through vibration. It cannot be avoided. No longer does the work’s agency wholly rely on the viewers volitional behaviour.
But what of the three-dimensional object itself? I see the agency in the bodily work I make as presenting a passive resistance. The viewer, unless an iconoclast, cannot change the work at the point of viewing. This implies the exertion of a power to affect the viewer through its own stillness, its own passivity, particularly since the works have an ambivalent organic correspondence with human anatomy.
I often deal with the relationship between passive resistance and the projective quality of sound. The context and aims determine the balance between the two, between stillness, silence, intangibility and a state characterised by their disruption.
The project proposal is planned with this dynamic in mind. Aimed at bringing to light the content of the work through an engagement premised on distance, as I wrote in the previous blog, it is designed to alter the index/recipient relationship or object/subject balance.
Conversation is an often used word implying an informal exchange of ideas and thoughts, perhaps altering these in the process. Useful as it might be as a term, I have always felt uneasy using it with respect to artwork. I am talking here about visual arts and motionless works in particular, not performing arts, artificial intelligence or certain forms of interactive art. In these latter cases the argument is different on account of the degree to which a two way interactivity may take place between art and the recipient. With performances, it is likely that the performer is affected more or less than the audience. With visual arts such painting, sculpture and video, the relationship is one way.
An artworks such as mine would be better described as agent; aiming to affect the recipient in some way through a social nexus. This status as agent is applicable to other art forms, but it is particularly pertinent to visual arts of inanimate nature and passivity of kinetic response: stillness, silence and in the case of video, intangibility. Audiences project their individual or collective feelings, ideas, beliefs onto the art object. The one way nature of this behaviour precludes a full intersubjective relationship. Whitney Davis says that, ‘Artworks are never subjects, but always objects; only subjects are subjects.’ The asymmetry of action that arises when considering an object-subject exchange is something I foster or disrupt according to my intention.
Intersubjectivity is the exchange that takes place between two equivalent subjects. As the status or autonomy of one subject is reduced the intersubjectivity becomes increasingly asymmetric to the point where it is meaningless. I think that this inverse relationship needs to be considered if one is to talk about a conversation with any sort of clarity.
In order for an art object to fulfil its full capacity as agent for social interaction, there needs to be a suspension of a sense of reality. The recipient enters into a contract where they accept certain premises set by the work or context. The consensual nature of this behaviour gives the artwork a fragile hold over the recipient while the contract holds. This is not necessarily self delusion but part of the artistic process. Without it, a purely literal or rational stance would create a difficulty in imagining and affecting the recipient as might be intended with an artwork.
I feel that this suspension is necessary as part of creating an imaginary universe. It is not enough for me to adhere purely to representation, commentary or illustration although these do form part of my practice. The non-enforceable contract I enter with the recipient is that they too suspend a sense of ‘reality’, their reality. In this way, a dialectic can take place between the ideas behind the artwork and the recipients own. How this is done is a matter for delineating those prototype ideas, give them form within a coherent narrative however irrational, and curate the outcome. But principle above all is the freedom to break the rules and traverse into new realities. In short, art is about creating a reality out of something that we know is not real and making it real.
Going full circle, the word conversation is perhaps apt when confronted with an artwork. However, entering into such a relationship requires a consensual agreement either individually or collectively that permits the work to exert its presence or power and affect the recipient(s). This does not mean that critical thinking cannot be applied but there is a place for both. It is here that prior knowledge of what one is experiences can be beneficial in understanding a novel work. But this does not preclude whether a work works for one or not, it just might help.
Aby Warburg exchanged a great banking fortune for a life studying human activity. He gave his inheritance as eldest child to his brother so long as the brother would buy him any book he wanted. Warburg together with Erwin Panowsky is considered the father of iconology.1 Warburg’s final endeavour was an atlas of human culture. This comprised forty black panels to which he pinning nearly one thousand images arranging them according to themes. The work remained unfinished at the time of his death. There is little text and the viewer is left to make connections and associations between the items. Warburg named this series Mnemosyne after the muse of memory.2
Perhaps what Warburg’s Mnemosyne represents, is a looking back on human culture as a memory built of images, symbols and objects left behind as art and artefacts. From these traces, a speculative view of the evolution of culture and the visual arts can be constructed analogous to how an individual uses memory to compose a narrative of the past. The fragmented nature of this process is one that allows for constant reformation of that narrative and thereby leave great scope for the imagination. This is an important aspect of what I do, making objects and images as icons that connect ideas. I started the MA, by looking to bring together the disparate branches of my practice into one narrative. The story is latent, the ideas fragmentary, shaped by works that outline the spaces in between. These spaces are opened out to scrutiny, the imagination, new narratives. Mnemosyne could be another good title for a work, installation or collection.