Flowers for Algernon

These days I  hear a great deal about neuroscience, identity, empathy and so on. All matters that address the question, what makes us who we are, where does the seat of the self reside? Just as philosophers have wondered about the soul, today we scratch around in search of explanations for the mind. Before neuroscience was anything at all, writers speculated on the workings of the brain, the distinctions that make each one of us unique and yet closely alike. This seems all the more pertinent today as we learn about the working of not only our brains but those of other vertebrates. Indeed, sentience itself is at the very core of such empirical and metaphysical enquiry. 

I read Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes in my teens. It is a moving tale of Charlie, a janitor with an IQ of 68, volunteering to have an experimental surgical procedure that has been shown to increase the intelligence of a laboratory mouse called Algernon. This is successful, but as Charlie reaches the height of his intellectual powers, Algernon’s increased intelligence starts to reverse. Charlie discovers that he too will revert to his former self and desperately tries to find the flaw in the procedure. As he finishes his work, it is too late to halt the reversal and rapidly regresses to his former state. He attempts to return to his job as a janitor but cannot bear the realisation that he would be tolerated by his work colleagues out of pity. Charlie leaves home to wander away from the city. His last wish is that flowers be put on the Algernon’s grave buried in his back garden.

This book is considered to be a science fiction work but it is much more than this. It is a commentary on society’s attitudes towards the vulnerable, drawing from Keyes’ experiences teaching special needs. The narrative contains other autobiographical references, drawing from his conflicted relationship with parents who wanted him to study medicine and time at university. It is also a masterful work of empathy, the mouse itself becoming an object of transference of emotions as one hopes against hope that things will go well for Charlie. However, the story ends in reverting to reality and the status quo, leaving behind the quasi scientific ideal of enhanced intelligence.

I remember the story possessing a tender claustrophobia. It questions normative judgements about mental capacity. Human behaviours are seen through the narrative of the people around the main character and the psychological tension between him and the mouse is kept taught by the changes that affect the sense of self of Charlie. It is a tragedy of self realisation. The journey that Charlie undertakes is not too dissimilar to that of Mary Shelley’s monster, one of awakening to the knowledge of life, and like Frankenstein’s creature, doomed to dissolution and despair. It is a moral tale of the dangers of playing with the laws of nature, akin to the search for immortality in The Monkey’s Paw. A case of, ‘careful what you wish for’.

This story has always stayed with me and was brought back sharply in focus when we returned back from being abroad and found a new inhabitant had moved into our home. A field mouse had made its presence clear, evidenced by its physical traces and the noises it made at night as its tiny claws tapped on the wooden floor. Not wishing to kill the creature, I ordered a humane trap and set it the very night it arrived. The trap branded itself as professional, notwithstanding its low price, and indeed fulfilled its every promise. Janet went to bed while I worked a little more on this blog. No sooner were the main lights out, Janet called out, ‘he’s caught’. It had taken only a few minutes for the naïve creature to enter the metal box and release the trap doors shut.

We kept the creature until the following afternoon in an acrylic display case. It was at this point of capture, observing its behaviour, making itself at home with half a grape and a few grains of muesli, that the mouse became a quasi mythical creature endowed with anthropomorphic characteristics. I felt a joy at not having killed the animal and at its release a few hours later by a hedgerow where it promptly jumped and skipped its way back to live out its short natural life.

I say all this because this experience made me reflect on the porcelain creatures I have been making for Spes Contra Spem. Being encased but observed made me wonder about the mouse and how conscious it was of its life, capture and release: what might be the quality of its sentience? Obviously any empathy felt towards the little animal was purely coming from me. I have not delusions that given the chance, the animal in all its innocence, would have caused harm had it stayed in the building.

This event started a thought pattern which led to the resolution of a problem I had been struggling with for some time in relation to embedding sounds in the sculptures. I was bothered by the conceptual relationship between the sound and the porcelain sculptures. I asked myself, what should this relationship be like; is there a synthesis between the two modalities in the context of the porcelain pieces; what sounds would be consonant with such a pairing?

A week after the mouse’s release, just a few days ago. The encasement of the mouse in an acrylic display case made me think of the porcelain being encased. This idea goes hand in hand with the nominal theme of the project proposal, Enshrinement. An idea that emerged during the preceding tutorial to this post. However, this could not just be a means of display. A vitrine is not terribly interesting in and of itself, it is a curatorial convenience and could even be seen as a lazy way of conferring status to a work with its associations of museums. Additionally, I would be removing the works from the ability to touch them.  

The encasement of the porcelain I see as creating a sealed space not only inhabited by the solid works but also the sounds of the work. The case creates a boundary, a separation, a sacred space where the sound is sealed and barely audible. However, by creating perforations in the acrylic glass, a possibility is created to approach the case and listen in, eavesdrop on the conversant pieces. This invitation to the viewer, becomes a physical act of engagement aimed at bringing one into closer proximity with the work whilst remaining separated, another theme of the project. My aim is to raise questions, infer ideas parallel to those others offered by the installation as a whole. For me, these questions lie in the domain of sentience, empathy, curiosity, purpose, sacredness and profanity.

However, such a scenario remains a relatively static one. In a world where movement is so evident in everyday life, I have thought of converting the vitrine from a piece of furniture to a mode of movement. The aim is to imply potential movement in which the viewer is encumbered with its psychological inertia. A connection is therefore thickened between the work and a no longer passive viewer. The aim is that inferences of ritual, procession, celebration and burden become part of the narrative unfolding in the project proposal, forging connections in which the self is only part of a wider ecology of selves, past, present and future.

I do not want to disclose images of the proposed work at the moment but would rather disclose parts, documented during making, as a puzzle slowly pieced together. This is a way of keeping the work alive in an evolving process and narrative – a secret in the open.

 

A Place for Tags and Categories

It has taken me all this time to work out a useful function (for me) for these two classification criteria. This has been an important result of the blog curation process. Simply put, categories are very wide groupings similar to chapters in a book. They tell something of the area of interest but not its content. Tags can be likened to the contents section of a book. It is there where one searches for a particular term used, name, place, process, etc. Tags like content will list all the relevant words that I might find useful in the future if I wish to search for something. For example, if I want to look up a particular artist I have written about and cannot remember where to find it, I type the name and all the posts that contain that name will appear. There is an even more powerful function, and that is, if I want to refine the search because too many posts appear in the search, I can type two or more keywords, or tags. This will narrow the search results to only those posts that contain all those words. 

So far I have 1092 tags. This may seem a large number and no doubt will continue to increase. However, the number is of no consequence. It is only important if one wants the tag cloud plugin to say something useful. But the cloud plugins only deal with a small and limited number of tags. For this reason I have decided to remove the tag cloud widget from the side bar. As for categories, I have been able to cull them to be less confusing.

Skype Chat 4.5: Andy Lomas

 

http://youtu.be/kvWPIf1iS2I

 

On Tuesday we had a visit from Andy Lomas, a former mathematician turned creative computer artist. His work stems from an interest in dynamic systems simulating biological growth. An interest stemming from his encounter with the work of Darcy Thompson, particularly his pioneering book Growth and Form, became after a period in the film and television industry, curiosity in what can be done that could not be done before. Lomas works on the edge of control and predictability wanting to be surprised rather than being in control of algorithms whose outcomes are directed by the exigencies of the film industry. 

He sees himself more as influencing than controlling events when setting up his algorithmic simplified systems, which while not trying to replicate nature, bear strong correspondences with biological rules of growth. 

The systems he works with are bounded in themselves and do not relate to an outside environment. The parameters or rules of engagement between cell entities are contained within and between the cells rather than communicating with an exterior world even though some simulation, such as how much light falls on a cell try to emulate real life conditions. 

Something that struck me during the talk was how the artistic domain gives him the freedom to experiment and play with mathematical models and their aesthetic outcomes. However, it does seem to stay within that sphere, the personal perspective. His relationship with the work is more that of a craftsman than an artist. He is curious about his methodology, he extends the limits of what he is doing, he controls the material with mastery. However, the work itself says little about the person than made it other than their obvious skill. Little of him comes across in the work as algorithms do not in and of themselves depend on any particular person or thing that either generates them or uses them. They are autonomous abstract entities depending only on being implemented in some way to have any meaning. Taking Margaret Boden’s idea of creativity, the results are certainly creative, as for artistic, perhaps that is in the gift of the viewer. 

What does this tell me about the work and the worker. The work can certainly be viewed as art, but is Lomas working as an artist or a craftsman? All depends on his intentions and when asked what these were, we were left wondering if he himself knew. He enjoys making the animations and work arising out of them, and he does appreciate their aesthetic appeal, but I for one would want to look more into the content itself of the work. What does it say about me, the world, society and how does it function in different contexts?

All these questions were left mute by virtue of Lomas’ immersion in the process itself, often by necessity. I feel that it is not enough for something to be art simply because it is creative. And if context is everything, perhaps what happens is that the work is taken up as art by others, leaving its maker behind so to speak, personally, as a creative rather than artist. 

If all this seems rather harsh, I am only applying the same criteria I have applied to myself. As someone who studied sciences, I have often been frustrated, no infuriated, by how artists all to easily append the label, art science to what they do, appropriating the domain of science without really understanding what they are dealing with. That is why I made the decision not to do scientific art, i.e. appropriate techniques and methods, illustrate ideas, pretend to be doing science that in some way turns into art. All an artist can do is draw inspiration, be influenced by, illustrate yes, the scientific. Likewise, a scientist cannot be an artist simply because they make something aesthetic or useful to artists or illustrates some artistic trope. A scientist can be influenced by, borrow from, be contextualised by art, but that in itself is not enough.

For a scientist to be an artist, they must think as one with every fibre of their body and likewise if an artist wishes to be a scientist they need to fully understand the paradigms that govern the scientific mind. The two domains work so differently that one has to give way to the other. You can be a poet and a scientist, a scientist and a painter, but you cannot be both at once. Science relies on being replicable and independent of personal input, art conversely is deeply personal in terms of the ideas and relies on an element of uniqueness, aura. Artists that attempt to remove any trace of the personal and make an idea or method doable by anyone, still function under artistic paradigms and do not fall within the scientific. Likewise, an electron photomicrograph of a pollen grain, however beautiful, cannot be a work of art unless it is transformed to say something other than what it is. In neither scenario is there a transformation from one paradigm to the other. They both enter the sphere of the other but cannot be the other. It is a nuanced view that can be argued with, but nevertheless, is serves to illustrate the point that science and art are separate, yet have an entangled relationship,   

This places Lomas’ work in somewhat of a no man’s land, albeit a comfortable one. The renderings of the algorithms can be seen as art just as Blosfeldt’s photographs are considered artistic photographs. However, in the case of Blosfeldt, the images were made for a very practical purpose, as source material for art students. The fact that they have entered into the artistic canon does not necessarily make Karl Blosfeldt an artist at the moment of making them but more of an artisan. The art resides in the way the photographs have been received and experienced. Similarly, Lomas’ renditions are a search for the limits of what certain algorithms can do and how resolved the animations can become. They are visual illustrations of mathematical curiosity, how they are perceived is another journey towards an artistic conversation which does not necessitate knowledge of their maker. This in some way is what he said adding that he would be only too happy to explicate their genesis to those interested. 

Perhaps one day Lomas will consider the wider poetic implications of what he has done and engage new poetic criteria which will undoubtedly alter his process and conceptual horizons.  

Project Proposal V 3.1

 

ENSHRINEMENT:

 

Spes Contra Spem
A Dialectic Between the Sacred and the Profane Essence of Material Separation 

 

AIMS     

I change but I cannot die

Shelley, ‘The Cloud’ 76

To unfold and merge creation myths and evolutionary ideas into layered, mythopoietic narratives addressing existential concerns in the recently defined Anthropocene:

  • engendering a sense of our part in a story that lies beyond our own time;
  • seen through a window onto another world that reflects tensions in the narratives as a way of asserting dynamic relationships.

 

OBJECTIVES

To research and develop means for encoding and implementing information carrying the aims embodied in the narrative,

employing a variety of digital and non-digital strategies to create different modes of engagement,

layering respective modalities catalysing interdependent inferences by means of reciprocating with the viewer,

using sculpture based on ceramic material, sound, words, and moving and still images.

also incorporating the idea of evolutionary space formulated in the Research.

 

CONTEXT

 

Contemporary and Modern

Artists dealing with the deep past using a variety of modalities, particularly sound, sculpture, virtual reality and words, including: Marguerite Hameau, Mohshin Allayaii, Mimmo Paladino. Andrew Lord – ceramic sculptures that have correspondence with my work.

Poetry: Ted Hughes and Rebecca Elson – cosmological and existential

Sound – Wolfgang Gil creating invisible form in which geometry is delineated with sound.

Science Fiction – Philip K. Dick – political, social and philosophical explorations in monopolistic societies; Walter M. Miller Jr. – A Canticle for Liebowitz – the cyclical nature of history and religion vs secularism.

Studio – shared with Janet Waring Rago in continual conversation and reciprocal interrogation. A chapel in rural Lincolnshire: removed from the artificiality of the city amidst a man-made countryside; a paradox reflected in my work which questions the place of humans in nature whilst being part of nature and ours effect on it.

MA Peer group

 

Theoretical

Evolutionary theories – Richard Dawkins, Stephen J Gould, Darwin, Pinker, Wilson and others.

Spes Contra Spem – the enigmatic Latin phrase from Romans 4.18, in the KJV, “who against hope believed in hope”. This phrase has many meanings and has been paraphrased in a variety of ways, variations of which can be found in the Bible.

Evolutionary Space – A term coined in the Research Statement which describes art practice as continually adapting to an ever-changing ecosystem.

Process Philosophy – everything is continually changing.

John DeweyArt in Experience. Art and its meaning, contextually residing in how it is perceived and experienced rather than in the artwork itself.

Martin HeideggerThe Origin of the Work of Art – describing the artist’s relationship with their work, the nature of that work, and its relationship with the world.

Kraft von Maltzhan – ‘Nature as Landscape’, a brief history of knowledge and our changing relationship with nature.

Roberto Mangabeira – human agency and the dynamics between the individual, state and nature.

Gareth Jones The Object of Sculpture, traces the history of the reciprocal relationship between sound, music, sculpture, and architecture.

Wolfgang Gil sonic plasticity. Using sound and its physical geometry in space

On Art – Richard L. Anderson “culturally significant meaning skilfully encoded in an affective sensual medium”; David Bayles and Ted Orlando, art changes the artist and the world.

 

Historical

Magic and  myth – Religious and secular texts: Graves, The White Goddess; Fraser, The Golden Bough, Lucretius, De Rerum Natura; Aristotle, Plato and pre-Socratics, etc.

Natural History and Art – Ernst Haeckel, Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, Rodin.

Florence – formative period of ten years immersed in the Classical, Humanist and Renaissance culture, and Romanticism, engendering a strong sense of the materiality of art both in content and experience.

Biology graduate of Manchester University. Life processes, structure, connectedness.

Linnean Society – Fellow of  the oldest extant natural history society in the world.

Religious and sacred iconography

 

Themes

Separation – (or awakening) of the human self from nature. Influential texts include those of Martin Buber, Robert Graves, Richard Dawkins, and Kraft von Maltzhan, amongst others. The emergence of life and traversals of complexity; the emergence of the “I”, labels and language.

Metamorphosis – of substance and idea and continuity in a world of constant and cyclical change.

Language – as a vehicle for communication and miscommunication.

Struggle – Life, contingency and inevitability.

The Anthropocene – The Gardener and Eden

Creation myth and religion – explicator of mysteries? Principle sources include amongst others: Ovid’s Metamorphoses; The Bible; texts on evolution including Darwin’s, On the Evolution of Species.

 

METHODOLOGY

My practice is driven by the feeling of flux being the natural state of things and that I am connected to the most distant time by an unbroken thread of contingent events: the indissoluble strength of the past and the vulnerability of a fragile future existence. I give this shape, expressed at the point of giving material form and meaning, synthesising rational and poetic thought. I aim to make this corporeal through ceramic material. The alchemical process it undergoes links me with the past through its brittle archaeology and beyond that as a fossil of its living, malleable self. This enables me to create a space in which layered with sound, intersecting meanings can come into existence, catalysed and unfolded as a multitude of inferences occupying the same space. A space shared with words, all three modes delivering resonances at differing rates and on various levels. Modularity of thought and making come together using strategies of engagement that offer me an adaptive flexibility for working in what I identified in the research statement as evolutionary space.

Research

  • Techniques and methods
  • hermeneutics of sacred texts,
  • modern and contemporary scientific evolutionary theory,
  • philosophy and history of science,
  • world creation myths,
  • poetry,
  • historical and contemporary art practices,
  • archaeology and anthropology.

Research Methods

  • practice based,
  • text based,
  • conversations with peers, staff and audience,
  • collaborations,
  • analysis and reviews of works and exhibitions,
  • reflective critical writing.

Mediums

  • ceramics
  • images
  • sound
  • painting and drawing

Techniques (principle)

  • modelling
  • carving
  • digital
  • voice
  • video
  • text
  • projection (shadows)
  • drawing
  • virtual reality
  • embedding sound in sculpture mixed media display fabrication

Documentation

  • blog journal containing
  • sound recordings

 

OUTCOMES

An installation which gives a sense of being a space containing sacred and profane associations with the following possible works:

  • ceramic sculptures in a vitrine with sound filling the inner space perceptible through grill openings in the transparent walls.
  • Horizontal, suspended, ceramic sculpture with responsive low frequency sound/vibrations.
  • Wall or stand mounted sculpture collecting environmental sound emitting it after passing through its body.
  • Smaller contextualising works and handling pieces
  • recorded verbal narratives heard through headphones
  • Handling pieces
  • Possibly image printed and or on-screen

 

WORK PLAN

October – January 2019

Period of orientation: identify and develop the area of study and work for the MA period; Project Proposal, exploratory drawings, maquettes, develop critical and reflective writing in blog journal, build on video editing and digital sound software, explore theoretical, contextual and poetry texts. Experiment, research, develop, filter and select.

January – April 2019

Continue with the above, filter ideas, theory and techniques. Start developing an artist statement in the context of the proposal for the eventual final show. Build on Low Residency experience.

May – September

Test first prototypes; develop work further; research digital sound techniques for real-time interactions. Research Statement, develop Project Proposal, curate work for Unit 1 Assessment.

October – November

Complete Unit 1 – crystallise ideas for the final show

November

start Unit 2 – A period of intense developing and making in the context of previous research and experimentation to deliver project proposal. Throughout this period work on text and drawings for sound narratives.

December

Finished sculpture pair and half way through large horizontal sculpture. If time allows also explore an idea for puppets.

January 2020

Complete large horizontal sculpture and begin wall mounted work and free-standing silent work.

February

Continue work on sculptures and other work; Low residency period; begin to plan and make display and curatorial elements.

March

Complete works and begin silent sculpture and begin to finish works and curatorial elements.

April

Continue with silent sculpture and complete other work.

May

By end of May all work should be completed and show planning well underway, also procure materials for packing and transport of work

June – July

Pack work, curate and prepare for final show, review project proposal and prepare for unit 2 assessment. Delivery of work, installation, final show and de-install.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Principle sources)

Anderson, R.L. (1990) Calliope’s Sisters: A comparative study of philosophies of art. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, p.238.

Arber, A. (1950) The natural philosophy of plant form. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Arber, A. (1954) The mind and the eye: A study of the biologist’s standpoint. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Arber, A. (1957) The manifold and the one. (1957) London: John Murray.

Bayles, D. Orlando, T. (2002). Art and fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking. UK: Image Continuum Press

Esslin, M. (1961) The theatre of the absurd. 3rd edn. London: Penguin Books.

McCormack, J. (2012). Creative ecosystems: Computers and creativity. Eds. McCormack, J. d’Inverno, M. Springer: Heidelberg. DOI 10.1007/978-3-642-31727-9_2 [accessed: 19 August 2019].

Boden, M. A. (2010). Creativity and art: Three roads to surprise. London: Oxford University Press.

Coen, E. (2012) Cells to civilizations: The principles of change that shape life. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press

Dawkins, R. (1976). The selfish gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dawkins, R. (1996). Climbing mount improbable. New York: Norton

Dennett, Daniel C. (1995). Darwin’s dangerous idea: Evolution and the meanings of life. Penguin Books, London.

Dennett, D. C. (1995) Darwin’s dangerous idea: Evolution and the meanings of life. London: Penguin.

Dewey, J. (1934) Art and experience. London: George Allen and Unwin.

Esslin, M. (1961) The theatre of the absurd. 3rd edn. London: Penguin Books.

Fry, H. (2018). Hello world. [s.l.]: Doubleday.

Genesis 1-4, Holy Bible: King James Version.

Gil, W. (2018) Sonic plasticity, an introduction. [Online] Medium. Available at: https://wolfganggil.com/writing/#/sonicplasticityanintroduction/ [Accessed 13 August 2018].

Gould, S. J. (1991) Wonderful life: The burgess shale and the nature of history. London: Penguin Books.

Graves, R. (1961) The white goddess: A historical grammar of poetic myth. London: Faber and Faber.

Griffin, J. (2011). https://jonathangriffin.org/2011/01/02/andrew-lord/ First published in Art Review, Issue 47, JanFeb 2011

Heidegger, M. (). The origin of the work of art. Translated by Roger Berkowitz and Philippe Nonet. Draft, December 2006. PN revised. PDF downloaded from https://www.academia.edu/2083177/The_Origin_of_the_Work_of_Art_by_Martin_Heideg ger

Herodotus (1890) The history of herodotus volume 1. Translated by G. C. Macaulay. London:

Macmillan & Co, [Online] Gutenberg Project. Updated 2013. Available at: www.gutenberg.org/files/2707/2707h/2707h.htm [Accessed 14 Sep. 2018]

Hughes, T. (1998) Lupercal. London: Faber and Faber.

Hughes, T. (2001) Crow: From the life and songs of the crow. London: Faber and Faber.

Jones, G. (2007) ‘The object of sculpture’ in Hulks, D. Wood, J. Potts, A. (eds) Modern sculpture reader. 1st edn. Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, pp.426-436.

Lewis-Hamilton, D. (2002) The mind in the cave. London: Thames and Hudson.

Margullis, L. (1998) The symbiotic planet: A new look at evolution. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

O’Connor, D. (2010) ‘The horror of creation: Ted Hughes’ re-writing of Genesis in Crow’, Peer English, Issue 5. pp 47-58. Available at: https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/englishassociation/publications/peerenglish/5/04OConnor%20.pdf (Accessed: 16 November 2018).

Ovid () Metamorphose. Trans. Kline, A. S. available at http://ovid.lib.virginia.edu/trans/Ovhome.htm

Rescher, N. (1996 ) Process Metaphysics: An Introduction to Process Philosophy, SUNY Press. p. 60.

Robertounger.com, (2016) Roberto Mangabeira Unger. [Online] Available at: http://www.robertounger.com/ [Accessed 14 Sep. 2018].

Smith, K. A. (1992) Structure of the visual book: Book 95. Fairport: The Sigma Foundation.

Tucker, W. (1977) The language of sculpture. London: Thames and Hudson.

Von Maltzahn, K. E. (1994) Nature as landscape: Dwelling and understanding. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.  

Wengrow, D. (2014). The origins of monsters: Image and cognition in the first age of mechanical reproduction. Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford

 

Other Key Texts: To Be Referenced

  • Purusha Sukta – Shatapatha Brahmana
  • Upanishads
  • Pre-Socratics
  • Aristotle – Poetics, Physics
  • Plato
  • Virgil
  • Lucretius
  • Herodotus
  • Milton – Paradise Lost
  • Berkley
  • Darwin – The Origin of the Species
  • Frazer – The Golden Bough
  • Freud – Totem and Taboo
  • Aquinas
  • Da Vinci – Note Books
  • Spinoza
  • Mircea
  • Buber – I and Thou – Man and Man
  • Benjamin
  • Darwin
  • E.O. Wilson

Skype Chat 4.4: On Focus and Attention Span

This Skype chat had a very practical aim, probably aimed at those of us easily distracted by social media and the demands the internet and web make on our attention. Attention, concentration and focus are key when making art works. 

Jonathan presented recent evidence that suggests our way of thinking, our brain architecture, so to speak, is being altered by the way we interact with computers and the internet; how the ever increasing processing speed with the commensurate increase in our responses. He also presented a quote regarding how this effect can hide in plain site:

People will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
Neil Postman Amusing Ourselves to Death 1985

This was said early on in the context of the world wide web. The difference between this and other technological innovations in the past is the speed at which it has developed and proliferated. 

A recent paper “the ‘online brain'” comes to three conclusions:

Internet is becoming highly proficient at capturing our attention, while producing a global shift in how people gather information, and connect with one another.
…found emerging support for several hypotheses…
…Internet is influencing our brains and cognitive processes…
3 specific areas…

1. …multi-faceted stream of incoming information…

[Attention switching and ‘multi-tasking, rather than sustained focus]

2. …ubiquitous and rapid access to online factual information…

[outcompeting previous transactive systems potentially even internal memory processes]

3. …online social world paralleling ‘real world’ cognitive processes…

[possibility for the special properties of social media to impact on ‘real life’ in unforeseen ways]

Firth, J., Et Al. (2019). The “Online Brain”: How The Internet May Be Changing Our Cognition. World Psychiatry, 18: 119-129

This speeding up of things occludes the spaces where subliminal, independent thought can take place. I feel that it could be seen as a form of indoctrination which uses the malleability of brain architecture. 

Jonathan then went through the conclusions to unpack what all this might mean.

conclusion 1 – important to note that most experts agree there is no such thing as ‘multi-tasking’ – it is only possible when one this is ‘automatic’ like walking and talking at the same time – the walking element is automatic…
therefore we are creatures of very fast attention switching.

…they found emerging evidence that the online brain is bombarded with so mush stuff that fast switching means it is increasingly hard to sustain focus.

… that is the sort of evidence that is emerging – but they are not saying it is positive or negative – just that there is evidence for this — we have to decide what to do about this ourselves.

…the challenge is – does the very medium of the web demand this reduced focus – or has it just been hijacked by commerical forces!

I feel that this may be so, but the highjacking may not always be commercial, there are also attention seeking forces as well as lobby groups. I guess the major influences, however, can be traced back to some commercial motivation. 

there is clear evidence that when we switch attention quickly – it means nothing is deep and concentrated – we have to decide if that is doing us harm or not (more likely there are times when fast switching is incredibly useful and times we need sustained attention but we may need to work harder to develop the sustained focus skills?)

There is competition for attention and space for information of whatever sort. 

The point made here is that making is a great training for sustained focus skills. Particularly hand-eye making with material, not computer based making. We are physical beings and so need physical, and not just mental,  interaction with the world. This means that focus needs time and computers, ‘steal’ time from us. 

2. …ubiquitous and rapid access to online factual information… outcompeting previous transactive systems
potentially even internal memory processes
this point it more subtle but equally important to the first point
transactive knowledge – idea developed by Daniel Wegner 1985 – groups collectively encode, store, and retrieve knowledge

I feel that this point is about our being rewarded by fact acquisition, ‘fact gluttony’. This satiates our curiosity but leaves us with a diminished sense of wonder… and wondering again is about have the time to engage in it. We are exchanging information for our time. This makes me think that we need to be more discerning about the information we seek. 

This idea regarding factual information posited by Jonathan is very much about collective memory…

on transactive memory – Wegner suggested – transactive memory system can provide the group members with more and better knowledge than any individual could access on their own

This collective memory is vulnerable to political and commercial forces which can influence it. This is particularly the case with social media. However, social media can also be used by counter movements. It could be argued that propaganda in the past was more effective because it was the main source of information for the population at large. Today, there are many sources of information… it is a constant struggle between competing positions. 

so their conclusion is that the online brain having so much access to instant ‘factual’ information means there is evidence now of it changing the way our brains function  and maybe even our internal memory systems —
whatever we think of this we need to be aware of this emerging evidence

What might we lose with we engage less in transactive memory – the building of memory by exchanging memories and ideas between individuals? Intelligence but above all wisdom. And the challenge in today’s society is that transactive memory is difficult to sustain when people leave disparate, asynchronous lives. 

Finally we came to how all this might affect our work as artists

as artist does our work suffer with the instant access to the ubiquitous and rapid online factual information?
or are we enabled like never before because we have access to the ubiquitous and rapid online factual information?

I feel that too much information can lead to a form of artistic paralysis. The availability of so many paths and directions can be confusing and preclude one from entering into work with depth. In addition, some skills require many years to acquire. However, Aristotle did mention an interesting idea: T-shaped skills arrangement where a main skill is formed in depth over time adding other minor ones on top of it.

There is one physical problem I see with the growth of computers as sources of information in the future. Computers are highly sophisticated and cannot be easily made with simple tools and technologies as books and printing presses can. Also, computers are needing an increasingly large amount of electric energy. What will happen when everything runs on electricity as is being proposed? These two points make us very vulnerable to technological catastrophes.  

3. …online social world paralleling ‘real world’ cognitive processes…
possibility for the special properties of social media to impact on ‘real life’ in unforeseen ways

3rd conclusion is less certain and is more speculative – they are aware of the growing impact but importantly there are many unforeseen ways that might impact on us

“The problem with the internet,” Firth explained, “is that our brains seem to quickly figure out it’s there – and outsource.” This would be fine if we could rely on the internet for information the same way we rely on, say, the British Library. But what happens when we subconsciously outsource a complex cognitive function to an unreliable online world manipulated by capitalist interests and agents of distortion? “What happens to children born in a world where transactive memory is no longer as widely exercised as a cognitive function?” he asked.   

the Guardian newspaper, article

The outcome to this conversation was an awareness of the need to develop response strategies as artists to the emerging evidence that the online brain is changing us

This conversation was useful in terms of raising my awareness of the influence of the computers and the web on my workflow and ways of thinking and how I need to be vigilant.

The following are some of the strategies I have adopted:

Use the computer as a tool to making, documenting and communicating during interludes in making. This interlude creates a space from the physical, material activity which changes the mental space and refreshes the mind. I find myself stepping from making to writing and post-producing photographs in a constant cycle of production with my brain engaging in two forms of function linked by the same activity. This physical workflow is a conversation between the outer and inner-world interacting physically. I feel it is dangerous to ignore the fact that we are physical beings, symbolic life is not actual life. 

Jonathan introduced Doug Belshaw’s response:

Doug Belshaw who writes a lot about ‘digital literacies’ has 3 initial thoughts on how to respond:
1. seek other networks
2. look for voices you want to give attention to
3. avoid constipation!
1. deliberately look for networks to engage with – eg this course right now, or more decentralised online networks – where money making is not the main issue
2. look for interesting people – not just on social media – look for newsletters, zines, blogs, podcasts – slower forms of online engagement?
3. horrible metaphor!! but — massive info consumption – gets stuck – need better throughput! — careful reflective writing can really help – extract the nutrients from what reading listening to etc.

Jonathan ended the chat with the same statement he started with:

our attention is sovereign
1. we decide where we put our attention
2. in acknowledging this – we take responsibility
— where we put our attention
— past and future

Maquette for Suspended Sculpture

Yesterday I worked on the idea of creating a porcelain sculpture that lets light pass through. On a small scale the above form worked well and looks elegant, but on a large scale I felt that it may present as impressive but boring. I would be reproducing, more or less, the form on a larger scale which would be more of an engineering problem than artistic one. It is the sort of thing one would pass on to technicians. 

The conversation I have been having with Taiyo comes to mind, in which I made a distinction between interest, meaning and significance. On a large scale I feel the skeletal form, shown beneath, may be more interesting. By this I mean that it may engender a greater curiosity, catalyse more questions. This would be more in keeping with the idea of layered interpretations I have talked about in the project proposal: to open out rather than enclose the narrative. 

Both approaches are valid. This is yet another example of my dialectic between the rational and the emotional. If I were to go with the more recent idea, it would present different technical problems and perhaps lead to new discoveries. I have never worked like this. In the end, on a large scale, the degree of detail possible offers a perhaps more interesting making experience. One in which I learn new things. After all, I could also show the sleek model as an idealisation in contrast to the reality; much in the way that religions work and can give rise to ambitious and magnificent sacred art. Distant from every day life. 

I also feel that the ‘skeletal’ piece, apart from being potentially lighter and easier to display, is more visceral, closer to the ethnographic artefacts that so engage me. Made using simple technology that challenges the skill base of the maker to bring together the spiritual and the everyday, the imagination and the earthy, the touchable essence of material. 

I could argue that the earlier approach transcends the everyday into a different plane of existence, belief and imagination, but is the narrative I am building not based on the immediacy of a world that is beyond my grasp and yet I feel is ever present? Should this immediacy not be reflected in the process; a directness of making that the earlier approach would occlude by virtue of its aesthetic form and finish? However, if I am to keep the sense of preciousness of a sacred object, making the piece in porcelain would be enough to transcend the conceptual content. I am stepping into both domains, is that not how belief works, constantly moving between reality and the ideal? What is the relationship between reality and the ideal, are they entangled or separate, joined only in our minds? 

The entanglement of sound and material I propose is better served by the skeletal form in relation to low frequencies: more permeable, affected, conjoined. 

If I am to go with my current inclination, does the final form need to be what it is now? Does this form of making not invite an exploration of new dispositions of parts and indeed change the whole character of the work. This brings me in conflict with time. I have only so many months to draw the form, make, fire, finish and mount. Do I have the time to do this with everything else I need to do?

Over the next few days I shall experiment with some ideas and see where that takes me. What I want to avoid is indecision during making, that would slow the whole process. In the meantime I can continue with other works and keep an open mind. I hope to have something more definitive before December which would give me realistically, six months in which to complete the work.

 

A Conversation With Taiyo

Over the past days I have had a very interesting conversation with Taiyo. It covers some of our ideas regarding appropriation, collage, content…

Taiyo has published excerpts of this conversation, typos and all. It is valuable to exchange thoughts and open out to new ideas. I was initially intrigued by the animations she has started to post and contacted her because I found correspondences with what she was saying and doing with my current thinking. It is fascinating how correspondences manifest in things which appear at the outset very different. Is this because there are common threads, are these links an artefact of perception, is it a response to the context and environment? I suspect it is a little of all three. 

The documentation of this sort of dialogue is very valuable and unfortunately not that common. It arose spontaneously and without the aim of compiling a document. I must thank Taiyo for having formalised this ongoing exchange from the seemingly fragmented format of the email. 

A more complete copy can be found here: PDF .

Spes Contra Spem

I first came across this latin phrase while living in Montespertoli as the title for Renato Guttuso’s largely autobiographical triptych painted towards the end of the artist’s life after being diagnosed with lung cancer. 

Literally meaning hope against hope, this phrase is not only intriguing for its ambivalent meaning but the word spes is transformed into spem by its context. The nominative ‘against’ the accusative, subject vs object. I love the way words are transformed by where they sit in the sentence, it is like a game. 

But what does hope against hope actually mean? Is it to hope against all hope, hope despite hope, or the need for hoping becoming hope itself? There have been many interpretations and this kind of phrase appears repeatedly in the Bible. 

The preposition contra, meaning against can also be taken to mean towards. It could be taken to imply that it is not enough to hope, but that one needs to become hope. This is mentioned in Paul, Romans 4:18, where Abraham becomes the hope of his people. An alternative reading is that he hopes against hope that he becomes the leader of his people despite being childless. 

Contra here acts as allative case, a form not found in Latin but has been used in other languages such as old Finnish and Latvian. Denoting movement towards, in Latin something similar is used to mean towards a place. The place here would be hope itself, in which case one could interpret the meaning as, moving towards hope as a place in which one might inhabit.

Hope: an act and a place, verb and locus

 

 

Hieronymus Bosch had the motto, “contra spem spero . . . Et rideo” – “against all hope I hope… And I laugh”. This could be interpreted as Bosch laughing in the face of despair aided by hope. The ever optimistic pessimist, or perhaps the optimistic cynic.

But what does all this have to do with my work? During a tutorial with Jonathan my feelings towards existence and humanity came up in relation to the maquette What is the Difference I had just completed. Am I angry, despairing, curious, regarding the human condition? I think the Latin phrase partly sums how I feel, and I have some kind of kinship with the idea of the optimist cynic. This does not mean I think people are bad, on the contrary, I think that our nature, often self interested in many ways, is such that bad things happen; that individual dynamics are very different to group dynamics and it is for the individual to act in a way that enhances, rather than diminishes the world. This approach may not change the world radically, but it can halt negative cycles of behaviour and start new positive ones. Mahatma Gandhi expressed this as, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.

My work is a personal response to the idea of humanity: one of connected continuity with things that might appear alien or separate but with which we share common elements that become manifest in a multitude of ways. 

Finding a Title

 

Two small models to accompany the recumbent copy of the larger conversant piece. I feel I can now continue with making the larger work. These models will help me in deciding its size in relation to the already finished work which as it dries will shrink. This is why I made the measurements yesterday.

It differs in many aspects but the two emerge from the same formal stable of ideas but with different psychological aspects. The idea of spes contra spem, a phrase with many interpretations I have been fascinated with for years, seems to fit the works. I think I have found the title for these works which brings together belief and science, myth and theory. With this I can now move forward with sounds and words… It reminds me of what Picasso said, ‘I do not seek, I find’. Although this can be understood in many ways, Picasso was a great appropriator, I prefer to think that ideas often emerge after a time of subliminal thought when the conditions are right. As much was variously described by Henri Poincaré.

Restarting Blender… and Making

I have been back two full days and restarting making as always is hard. The excitement of returning to work is tempered by the reality of settling in and organising a workflow. Having spent half the day on Blender tutorials I said to my self, making is so much more satisfying. Mid-afternoon I made a sketch of the conversant piece while still not dry, and took measurements to keep its companion piece on the same scale.  Then I made a tiny model for which I shall make tomorrow its companion maquette before starting on the large scale piece.

 

 

Over the Summer I looked at Blender and how to use it to create 3D renderings. However, some time has passed and I have forgotten a lot of it as I had never worked with it before. So, I am restarting my learning from the top with videos on the fundamentals. I feel much more at home with the user interface which means I can get on quickly. 

The plan is to go through several videos every day, in between making and writing. By December I should be able to do pretty much what I want for the final show if needed. This seems late in the day to be starting this in earnest but my aims with respect to  3D rendering are relatively modest for now.

See links to videos in Resources with the aim of building a library of tutorials. 

Skype Chat 4.3: A Philosophical Interlude

Tomorrow is the deadline for the Research Statement submission which probably explains why there were fewer of us online today. This meant that we had a more free wheeling discussion taking a philosophical direction towards the end. 

We also talked about the blog curation process. How it can help to highlight repeating patterns, continuous thread of thought, and the provenance of apparently spontaneous ideas. 

But first we were asked a few questions regarding the structure of the course in relation the Research Statement. The main benefits I have experienced have been, the ample time frame allowing flexibility to develop, change and mature ideas. 

Although it has affected the time available for making, it has broadened my horizons within a focused beam of 4000 words. A limited number that has meant I have had to pare away to get to the core of an idea; this core bearing many buds for future thoughts: an exercise in prioritising ideas. 

It also helped to focus the aims and objectives of the project proposal and given me a framework for formulating a new artist’s statement. The RS can also be adapted to essay form for publication and is a starting point for further academic studies should I wish to pursue such a direction. 

The statement also moved my centre of interest squarely onto my practice rather than focusing on hobby horses and peripheral concerns, which is my tendency. These are still embedded in the RS but in the background and not as principle notions. 

Jonathan said: “Alexis – yes the essence of the content can easily be restructured to other contexts, for example if you were applying for funding and needed to write a section of ‘rationale’ you might use a couple of paragraphs from the research paper?”

Another thing pointed out is that 4000 words equates roughly to a 20 minute talk which is a standard time allocation in conferences.

Writing a research paper is possibly the most ‘critical’ way of developing conceptual and abstract skills than might be useful in the future helping to: formulate and articulate and argue ideas.

The philosophical discussion centred on the existential idea of purpose  

A PDF of the whole dialogue can be read here.

Research Statement

 

Evolutionary Space: Looking at Artistic Practice in a Disparate Art Ecology

 

The full research statement can be viewed here.

 

Abstract

The disparate but interconnected nature of contemporary artistic practice is examined in the cases of cell automation, computer-generated life, and ceramic sculpture. It is argued that creative systems involve the encoding and implementation of pure information into perceptible modes, manifested, propagated, and proliferated in a process involving the flow of information. This is arrived at, in the context of Dennett’s concept of algorithm, Olson’s ideas on computer-generated life, and biological and cultural systems. A distinction is made between phenotype and hardware, and symbolic or virtual life and organic life subject to physical laws. The possibility of physical life as opposed to symbolic life being generated by computers of the future is speculatively touched on. This in turn leads to the suggestion that there is a symbolic correspondence between art practices and life processes. An artwork in design space within a given ecosystem is seen as a step in the development of a practice arising from what is called here evolutionary space. Evolutionary space is presented as a way of looking at art practices in terms of how they develop, adapt, and operate, in a dynamic relationship with an ever-changing environment. It extends Esslin’s artist-centric approach to evaluating artistic practice consistent with Anderson’s anthropological, and Bayles and Orlando’s sociological notions of art. Evolutionary space may be a way of mitigating some of the complications that subjective criteria might cause when discussing differing practices. In conclusion, evolutionary space offers a flexible and adaptable means of considering art practices, their taxonomies, processes, and outcomes, forming a starting point for further discussion and research into the nature of artistic practice and the role of artists.    

Key words: evolutionary space, ecosystem, artistic practice, information, aesthetics.  

Tutorial 6: 15 October 2019. Jonathan Kearney

Tuesday’s tutorial covered a number of points I would like to pursue further in future blogs. We talked about two main things: the sound element of the project proposal and the challenges that these and other aspects present in terms of the exhibition space. 

The time away from the studio has allowed me to think about my practice in a more objective way and select out or rather prioritise elements, focusing what I do to concentrate its effect while making it possible for it to be more open. 

We discussed three principle acoustic elements in the proposal: ultra low frequency, normal sounds embedded in the sculptures, and separate narrative audio.

It was a very good thing I spent a lot of time familiarising myself with the spaces and the show dynamics during the Summer. The spaces can be quite challenging and there is also the question of logistics and installation. These challenges also present opportunities to create a show that is flexible and modular capable of being shown in other spaces and contexts.

The interactive bass sounds aim at: drawing people in, mitigating any disruption in collective spaces, affecting the space at a physical / corporeal level.

The narrative sounds work on a different level altogether. We discussed how the bass and narrative sounds would interact. This will need a lot of experimentation and testing so that the bass is audible while listening to the narrative on headphones. I think that because the bass will fluctuate in volume as opposed to the headphone’s constant narrative, a dislocation will result in further layering of meaning.

A third sound layer will be provided by the sounds embedded in the sculptures. Talking with Jonathan clarified the direction I should take with these sounds. The pieces would probably work best with abstract sounds correlating with the sculptural forms. To have spoken or representational sounds appear to me at odds with the static, ‘silent’ nature of sculptural form. This is another technical matter to experiment.  

We briefly discussed the Arduino and headphones, whether the latter should be wireless to allow visitors to walk around setting a spatial conversation between the sounds, sculptures and any other visual element that might be included.

The idea of different scales of listening creating circumscribed or diffuse space in the installation is an interesting idea but again will need careful working out:

  • the diffuse bass interactively fluctuating in volume and vibrating the space
  • the abstract embedded sounds circumscribing a tight horizon of perception, drawing in the listener
  • the headphone narrative being a more rational layer creating that tension between the rational and the emotional I often talk about.

I mentioned that the installation is a form of shrine. But on reflection what I am doing is not so much building a shrine as enshrining notions. I think this is a much looser and and open term that gives me much greater freedom than what I had thought earlier – mythopoeia. I can still use the term mythopoeia but in narrower contexts to describe part of what I am doing. 

I believe that this idea of enshrinement come at a critical moment in the current process before I start to immerse myself in the final project  

We also discussed the opening night as a moment in which the work might not be fully appreciated because of the nature of such gatherings. I see the opening as more of a social event , P.R, that may or may not yield appropriate interest. Really, if someone wants to see work, they will not come on the opening night, something I know from experience. 

I explained how part of my methodology is to make the sculptures empathetic to a certain extent. Not with a covert anthropomorphic form, but something more alien. So far the unfired porcelain gives me a sense of this but after the firing process it will be interesting to see how this affects my ideas, display and handling of the works. 

I am still incorporating the idea of an alimentary canal, digesting and assimilating ideas from a world of ancestry and connectedness; an alien landscape that is part of us. 

With respect to the large suspended sculpture, and the word Icon, Jonathan spoke about religious icons being ‘written’ after after many hours of meditating before painting. This process creates a space that allows an icon to be a window to another world. 

I told Jonathan that at the beginning of the course I was open to explore new and familiar materials and methods. He asked If this had been a challenge, that is to say, trying to push processes that had been previously defined and clear. 

I have found the process immensely enjoyable, getting underneath the process and it has developed my ability to better articulate what I am doing and why to myself. The PP is now less dispersed; I have used my energy to look at different things gradually delineating a clearer picture that can be taken into the future making a methodology without wondering what if I did this or that. My endeavour has been to work within a chaotic coherence out of which can emerge a more focused trajectory that draws in ideas in its wake. 

We finally discussed the Amputation post and the amputation video at the end of it. This is something I would like to continue and formalise into a more polished performance.

Jonathan said that the ideas make sense with what I have been doing and that there is a clear trajectory and evidence of testing and pushing this along. Although there is still a lot to do, technical issues to resolve with testing, but he can visualise the coherence of what I am doing. 

 


 

What to do next

Explore the ideas of shrine and icon and the relationship between them.

Look at the idea of a tent, reveal and enclose as in shrine and icon.

Middle Eastern stone shrines to the invisible god

Consider / plan / curate the making of further amputation videos.

Design audio experiments to assess questions of balance, comprehensibility and significance between the varying sources.

Think about displaying text on screen as well as through headphones offering alternative ways of delivering.

 

Experiment 3 for Conversant Pieces

Third porcelain conversant piece.

This piece sets the tone for subsequent works. The large suspended piece will follow that felt sense that this has. I have resolved many aspects of making so when I return to the studio I will be able to immerse myself in the making rather than problem solving. 

I was originally thinking of having a large number of pieces on a raised surface near the ground. I have changed my mind. This is going to be one of two pieces, placed on surfaces so that they can be looked at and listened to closely:  waist height most probably. I had thought of plinths but I think that two flat surfaces, interlocking, held up with very thin metal legs might work better. I don’t want the sense of space to be blocked by solid plinths but rather have the porcelain pieces almost hovering off the ground. One recumbent like this one and the other vertical, more active. The horizontal extension of this one against the verticality of the other will form an L shape seen from above and the side. But this depends on the exhibition space.

Experiment 2 for conversant pieces

Porcelain components for second conversant piece.

This piece, the second in the series, was a departure from the vertical vessel. I count this as the second failure of the series. It moves on from the former work but I am still not happy with how I relate the form. I am not feeling it enough; working too much from the head; the work is too rigid. Perhaps this is because I am contemporaneously resolving some practical problems such as how to embed the sound and making the pieces so they fit the large kiln. I am pleased, though, with the material quality, its surface but not its formal quality. It does not convey the organic sense I am looking for. It has, however, crossed some boundaries and as a stand alone piece it could well work – just not as part of the installation as I envisage it at the moment, but that could change and it may still appear in the final show depending on its context and how it is displayed.

I am looking to make something that is like a body, but not a recognisable one. To have human elements without any human iconography. To engender an empathy in an alien form; to convey the animal in the human, with the human trapped in the body, latent, nascent, trembling with what it might become. 

About to Start Unit 2

I have been away from the studio now for over four weeks. I shall be back in around a week after a prolonged period abroad. I worked over the Summer months on 3D works, coded and learned some VR rendering. This has been a belated Summer coming at the right time. A chance to complete the Research Statement, curate the blog, reacquainting myself with the past year and clarifying the Project Proposal. I have flown, walked, swum, eaten and looked at some art but I have made none.  

Being away from my work has brought it closer and into greater focus. The work for the coming nine months is now much clearer: what to do, and more importantly, what not to do. Had I continued as I was, I would have been in a process of desperate and confusing accretion rather than distillation and consolidation.

The research statement is submitted, although I will continue to revise and resubmit it – it is a nervy process and something might come up nearer the deadline; I don’t think I have ever been so in hand with a piece of writing as this. The blog curation is nearly completed and I shall keep sifting through it, milling the information ever more finely. As for the Project Proposal, that is an ongoing document which for now has the lineaments of the final show and future work. 

I still have a great deal of learning and experimenting ahead, particularly with the digital and display aspects of the work. However, when I get back into the studio next week, I will be able to immerse myself fully in making with a clear direction of where to go and how to get there.

Experiment 1 for conversant pieces

Making a porcelain stand for first conversant piece.

This piece was the first of three I made during the Summer before going away in September. I was highly disappointed with the outcome but it indicated the way for the next piece. I learnt a great deal along the way. How to break away from preconceptions. I played with the surface but found that all the details added simply made the work neither one thing nor the other. 

It was a good way of finding out how to embed the sound apparatus and making procedure but not the artistic content. I consider this a failure well worth making as it has led to more interesting ideas. 

 

An idea I worked with was the imprisoning of sound, not allowing it to escape but making it audibly entrapped in the ceramic body. The protuberances making the whole fragile, the brittle pieces creating a further barrier to the sounds from inside. 

I have moved on from this idea. I feel that at times, ideas that appear to work when described in words do not necessarily come together as a work in another medium. The Project Proposal now reflects this as I pare it down.

Skype Chat 4.2: Making Sense of the World

Jonathan presented a video split in four parts, looking at William Kentridge describing aspects of his methodology. Full video

Kentridge is one of the few artists today that makes sense in that what he says matches with what he does, yet he leaves things open to the imagination and does not close his argument. His very straight forward description of how he works is refreshing and authentic, telling us how his work has arisen out of his own shortcomings. This reminds me of what Delcroix once said, (I have mentioned this elsewhere in the blog) make your weaknesses your strengths).

Kentridge’s work arises out of the process of its own making, finding its purpose in the moment. Not withstanding this, his videos and animations are carefully planned, they could not be otherwise. He works with contingencies that arise out of his process, not as one might think uncertainty. 

Whereas contingency is about events that can not be predicted, uncertainty is the psychological state of anticipation of contingent or uncertain events. Kentridge allows contingency to direct his process, certain of what he is doing but unable to predict the outcome. 

His working process for the animations gives him time to reflect in action between takes and therefore develop a narrative that evolves spontaneously under his direction. This last aspect is very important because he is in full control of what he does but allows the material to e itself from which he infers his direction. This also produces discontinuities that subliminally offer interpretations that become more concrete as moments in the narrative accrete not to mention surprising aesthetic moments. 

We talked about our respective speeds of working and how that impacts on our work. How time is needed to reflect and think about what we are doing and next steps. Also using process surprises as a source of inspiration and ideas. How the unpredictable is a source of creativity. This brings to mind Margaret Boden’s idea of creativity being something surprising, novel and of value. What value means in this context is an interesting question, one I shall leave for now.

The fracturing of narratives and of objects could be seen as a reflection of contemporary society. And his fracturing of time and coalescing dialogues in conversation over different time frames in one scene to me is like the reformation of the self. An internal dialogue made external in the work. It holds up a mirror to how we think and act. Kentridge to my mind is attempting to express an order out of chaos, bring to light evanescent correspondences. He is rediscovering the world.

 ‘make sense of the world, rather than an instruction of what the world means’

What Kentridge appears to be doing is to reform his perception of the world in an act of reconciliation with it. He is coming to terms with the world as it is rather than trying to explain why it is like that at all. He is perhaps saying that one does not have to look for meaning, for purpose; rather just wonder at it and discover how marvellous it is; how subjectivity is important in our perception of the world. 

Jonathan asked me, Alexis in your working process are you ‘making sense of the world’?
Me: I suppose I [am] by embracing the world as it is and responding to it in some way.
Jonathan: Alexis through the material first and foremost?
Me: I suppose I a materialist in the way I work
But material without thought is inert
material can be moved by the imagination and flexed into different modes

Another thing Kentridge says is that looking for certainty is futile. The future is a question of probabilites, and that way of thinking is counterintuitive for us humans. We are programmed to seek certainty: if you are certain that that tiger will eat you, you live on to pass on that idea. Certainty is how we try to make sense of the world, but uncertainty is the way the world works. The two concepts are at odds. The former is comforting, the latter disquieting.

However, what Kentridge is getting at is perhaps more socio-political. Certainty leads to being dogmatic, being uncertain more likely to engender exploration. He describes how dogmatic individuals raise their voice and assert they standpoint loudly as though to counteract the quiet voice of uncertainty, of questioning.

Jonathan always bring things back to artistic practice, which is so useful:

certainty can be dogmatic and arrogant but often the perceived certainty is not very solid and the reality is much more uncertain – the value of art can be argued is in that it actively engages with uncertainty in order to discover new possibilities, ideas, surprises etc etc

Another notion briefly alighted on was that of undertainty and purpose being entwinned but decoupled, not necessarily causally related. This is the point where I thought of the term used in quantum theory, entanglement. 

The final video clip catalysed a discussion about self criticism of one’s own practice. How fragile one can be in the moment of observing one’s own work. Jonathan left us with these quotes:


‘The sane human being is satisfied that the best he/she can do at any given moment is the best he/she can do at any given moment…


Making art provides uncomfortably accurate feedback about the gap that inevitably exists between what you intended to do, and what you did…


To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product: the finished artwork.


To you, and you alone, what matters is the process: the experience of shaping that artwork.


The viewers’ concerns are not your concerns (although it’s dangerously easy to adopt their attitudes.) Their job is whatever it is: to be moved by art, to be entertained by it, to make a killing off it, whatever.


Your job is to learn to work on your work.

Treasure

 

Collected these treasures on a beach in the South of France the day before yesterday. Janet picked up the biofacts and mineral objects. I was drawn to the glass worn by the incessant wave action. What would our distant, and perhaps not so distant ancestors have given for these coloured jewels? They would have certainly used them to adorn themselves and decorate their most precious possessions; traded them inland and held them as symbols of status, wealth and beauty. The irony is that these are today’s waste cast into the sea, transformed and neglected in the sands of a affluent watering hole. 

What will our descendants think of the pebbles and algae washed up on shore? The pebbles will always be there, or somewhere else. The algae, who knows. All too often, the natural environment is entangled with plastic and other detritus from our ‘evolved’ world. How will clean, natural things be seen in the future?

Janet and I collected different things, One the natural historian, the other the archaeologist. The two go hand in hand, and we did not ‘fight’ over any particular object. The truth is, that we helped each other to find the objects we sought. A meaningful juxtaposition arising out of a collaborative exploration on a modest scale.

Tutorial 5: 04 October 2019. Gareth Polmeer

Research Statement Tutorial

Earlier today, I was able to get feedback from Gareth regarding the RS. We had a very interesting conversation around some of the subject areas touched on in the paper. 

I am happy that the paper has focus and am grateful to Gareth for the suggestions he made in the last tutorial, namely William Latham’s Mutator. The paper works better than the original drafts, in that it avoids many of the former complexities which were hard to resolve within the word count of the paper while still keeping some original elements. 

One of the things I have to add is a line or two to say that some ideas presented are subject to current debate. This goes particularly for the first paragraph in Part 2 which deals with, yes you’ve guessed it, aesthetics. No single area of art causes more debate than aesthetics, or perhaps be more interesting. And that is perhaps why the Research Statement proposes a way of mitigating subjectivity when discussing more than one artistic practice at a time. 

This does not mean I have found a universal and infallible modus operandi. It is more of a gateway to further discussion and debate, perhaps future research. In fact, there are many potential papers nested in the RS. All these side branches or spurs to other areas, can only be hinted at in a four thousand word paper. So this is another thing I should mention in the paper, the potential areas to be investigated. Areas such as the idea of whether AI can make art, final causality and autonomy of action. 

I have one hundred and sixty four words left. This should be enough for any corrections and additions. One thing I was glad of was that I do not need any further citations. They just take up on the word count. This makes life so much easier. There is just one I could add in paragraph 1 of Part 2 where I could explain where the idea is coming from: the part that mentions … not requiring teleological control. This paragraph is debatable which in the context a short paper can be moved through. These are things many books have been written on.

The first paragraph of Part 2 could go in many directions, and I am aware of this. The paper tests ideas and does not sit on its own. Gareth mentioned Paul Crowther who has written on the phenomenological theory of art, Phenomenology of Visual Arts which would be interesting to read in the future. 

I have been concerned with the way the paper transitions from life simulation to looking at art practice as a life process, whether I have been clear enough. Gareth mentioned the Hegelian idea of Geist and in Hegel’s terms art practice is a form of sublation, in which something evolves and changes, and parts are negated to become something else.

Look at Heraclitus in the context of  process philosophy which predates and counters the Aristotelian and Platonic ideas of being, the four causes and the realm of the ideal.   

All the ideas touched on are a rich field to take forward but most importantly they are never far from practice based work. 

 

Skype Chat 4.1: Unit 1 Assessment and Process & Ars Electronica

We talked about the Unit 1 Assessment process and criteria. 

Jonathan also showed us some works being shown at the Linz  Ars Electronica 2019. 

 

 

I found it interesting the correspondence Wu Juehui’s installation,  Bit Tower,  has with installations I made in 2010, 2013 and 2014 using sacred spaces and low frequency sounds. 

In 2010, I experimented with sculpture and sound during a residency at Nottingham Trent University. The result was Contingent Ceremony, an installation in a small redundant church looking at worship and the sacred in the light of mystery and magic.

I also showed a version of this at the Crypt Gallery St Pancras in the same year. Incidentally, the same show as Genetic Moo, graduates from this very same course long before I ever knew about it.

 

 

2013, the next installation was more ambitious in scale, in the large Chad Varah Chapel. Here I used a variety of sound sources enveloping the space and emanating from a central sculpture. I remember the highlight for me was when one of the festival organisers was brought to tears by the associations she made with the work. It is humbling when such things happen and also bring to mind the responsibility one has to others when doing something affecting. 

 

 

The next installation was in 2014 as part of the touring show Chaos Contained. The installation was in the Bell Tower of St John’s Church in Scunthorpe. This time I used the sounds of the tower clock together with low frequencies. 

For the project proposal I am thinking of using low frequencies but this time with a digital control mechanism which interacts with the audience. I worked with the Arduino earlier this Summer, learning how to use it and code. I shall continue this as soon as I get back to the studio. This period away has been useful for writing the Research Statement, thinking about the Project Proposal and curating the blog. 

Adrien M and Claire B from Lyon are artists I was already familiar with through social media. Their work is interesting in the simplicity of use of technology. However, I do think that it is more style than content. The work at Ars Electronica I particularly liked. It is lovely to see when seen from the right place. But the fact that it is limited in its angle of view is a shame and seeing it is made with an ipad reflecting from glass at 45 degrees does give me the sense of a simple magic trick demystified and laid bare to disappointment. Nevertheless, I think that the simplicity itself is the trick and not what it shows. This sort of augmented reality is beguiling for a moment until I become habituated, then I want to seek something deeper. Despite my misgivings about the nature of this kind of work, it is entertaining and creates associations and gives me ideas. That certainly cannot be a bad thing. 

Akinori Goto’s work is a holographic zoetrope reminding me of Matt Collishaw’s Massacre of the Innocents. It is more ethereal and less theatre but I much prefer Collishaws’s subject matter. Goto’s dancing figure seems more of a demonstration of a technique and again lacks subject matter. At least, Adrien and Claire’s particulate bombardment of a block of crystal is cosmological, a dancing figure is too much like a computer generated film effect of a fairy dancing on a table. 

Despite all the things I say, hats off to these artists for their ingenuity and technical savvy, although in some cases I am sure there are some backroom boys, or girls, involved, who knows, they are hardly ever named, at least in the headline credits.

Memo Akten and his crew do some very impressive work in Istanbul. It is a little disturbing, especially with how beguiling it is. The work again seems a demonstration of technology. It makes me think that the artistic content of the work lies in one’s inference of its nature. The technology is the content itself rather than a means to express something else. That is how it seems to me very often. It is left for later generations to pick things up and take them further. 

And as for Luca Zanotto’s Eyes – emoticons on steroids.

Palimpsest

My initial project proposal was full of interrogatives and unknowns. I was looking for connective tissue, a means to create a whole, to move the making into a deep well of notions. This is perhaps what I have previously called the ineffable. I used to think that we are ruled by the tyranny of words. But words make up much of what we think and who we are. Today we live in a tyranny of image, graphic, moving, symbols and shortcuts to thought that like idioms, clichés and figures of speech. What is the difference? They all tug at one’s own reality. 

I mean to inhabit multitudes and contain more than I can express. This is the conversation I seek with others…

Wolfgang Gil: Maleable Sound as Sculpture

 

Resonant Body I - Wolfgang Gil

 

Gareth Jones, in his essay, describes the historical changes in the relationship between sculpture and sound. This dichotomous tension is straddled by Gil’s work in Sonic Plasticity proposes the use of sound as a malleable material – one that can be stretched in all dimensions, encompassing height, width, and depth, with curves, edges, and changing geometries. His Aural Fields and Resonant Bodies combine physical structures set to vibrate, creating geometric fields of sound perceivable in space with edges and form.

This is an interesting field I am currently investigating with respect to the final proposal with respect to sculptures. I am not proposing to do the same sort of thing but Gil’s work does have correspondence with how I see sound as creating a physical entity in itself.

My idea is to counterpoise the readability and sensuality of the solid pieces with the pure perception and sensuality in another modality of sound. I am concerned about the cancelling out of one another: should solid sculpture reside in silence, should sound be disembodied? These are questions I intend to explore and aim to resolve in some way. The use of digital interactive devices is something I have been working with enabling an element of audience interaction. But then again, the work in silence also speaks of itself. This is an interesting area of empirical research which needs a trial and error, or heuristic, approach.

Research Statement: Draft for Tutorial and Editing

Today was the due date to hand in a draft of the RS for the second tutorial with Gareth. The paper has gone through numerous transformations and bears little resemblance to what I started out with. I started with something, although interesting, that did not have much bearing on contemporary art or my practice. It was more a case of extending one of my numerous hobby horses. 

It has not been easy to shed so many interesting ideas but the exercise has clarified a great many others. I have managed to talk about contemporary concerns, touched on the future and most importantly made a deeply relevant contribution to my project proposal and practice in general.

Subject matter and content are complete but I still have a number of things to do, namely:

  • Finalise the title;
  • finish correlating the abstract with the body’s content;
  • make sure introduction covers all the points needed;
  • tidy text for grammar, syntax, make sure it makes sense, and tighten up the text;
  • ensure points are sequential so that the narrative flows coherently;
  • add anything that helps clarity;
  • reflect on the conclusion;
  • elaborate and complete the diagrams from the sketches;
  • complete citations and bibliography.

Iterations or Something Different?

 

 

A thread of thoughts is like a gut that extends from air to air travelling through a body grown and developed around it, nourished by the ingestion, digestion and assimilation of ideas. The alimentary canal, symbolic and figurative appears in my work as such a thread.

The constraints of the surface to volume barrier to growth are dissolved by the gut. From the genesis of complex life onwards, it is the single structure that has enabled all the physical attributes of animal life that we have come to recognise as active autonomy. Regardless of nervous networks and the evolution of the mind, without its capability to furnish the organism that we are with energy, motility and subsequent life strategies would not have been possible. When we are born, our prime priority to it nurture this function while we nurture and help develop our other faculties.

I have subconsciously worked with this idea since Chaos Contained which is now set free, as an overt symbol in my project; a vehicle for the exploration of language, evolution and myth, as though I were moving within a metaphorical underground cavern complex. It collects ideas, like organs, that adhere to this single thread as the Indian rasa come together to form the elements of artistic expression. 

 

Amputation

 

 

An amputation is not something one would want. Sculptures have suffered amputations throughout the ages, some repaired, others restored and yet others left as they were found, This Herakles, Venus de Milo, the Belvedere Torso and so on. Limbs at times distract from the sense of form, many artists have known this, others have incorporated the limbs so that it merges into the body. 

I have had a problem in that I want to make large ceramic works but the kiln is only so large. I have a top loader 59 cm diameter and 69 cm high which needs to be wired in. This is not small but neither is it large enough. What to do? 

I had thought of jointing the pieces much as I did with the works in Chaos Contained. But this is not in keeping with the informal, organic sense of the works I am currently engaged with. Chaos contained was about symmetrical growth from within, an outward radiation. Now the works are internally generated, handled in a completely different way. 

 

 

So I looked at how I could make the pieces in parts to be put together later after firing. I came across the work of Giovanni Vetere who works with glazed ceramics. The pieces are much larger than would fit in a regular kiln. In addition they would be unstable and too fragile for firing in one piece. On closer inspection of his work I noticed that they are made in pieces using the glaze patterns to camouflage the joints.

 

 

I could try to hide the joints when installing but would there be a better way? To show the cut, a severance, a clean cut that must signify something. And it opens the way for future large works where the cut plays a part. It may even lead to being able to show a work in its pieces arranged meaningfully or at least aesthetically. 

 

 

What this does for my ongoing work is to provide a formal solution to having a kiln smaller than the fluid forms I want to make: the parts can be fitted together after firing. It also solves the problem of how to insert and remove sound equipment.  Conceptually, this technique offers the opportunity for representing vulnerability, fragility and reformation; perhaps also creating compositions, of parts that relate to one another and reconstituting them in different configurations.  

 

Evolutionary Space

 

Images above: works by William Latham, John Horton Conway and Andrew Lord

Evolutionary Space: A way of looking at art practice as continual process in a disparate ecology.

Art practices have become widely divergent and disparate in recent years, particularly since the arrival of  digital means which have opened out previously unimagined possibilities. Different taxonomies representing a great variety of paradigms, methodologies, thematics, mediums and contexts have given rise to a heterogeneity of approaches when considering practices and the role of artists which can render problematic a holistic consideration of different ways of generating art. Using Conway’s “Life, Latham’s “Mutator”, and the work of ceramic sculptor Andrew Lord as subjects, this paper introduces an approach to discussing art practices, fostering a unified view in the midst of diversity, evolutionary space. Borrowing from the idea of fitness landscape in evolutionary theory, applying it to Olson’s analysis of computer generated life regarding the relationship between pure information and its physical interpretation, in the context of Whitehead’s process philosophy of becoming, and Dennett’s idea of algorithms, a picture is built of how different art practices can be viewed as dynamic information streams coded and implemented in material terms. 

The research paper has changed radically and become frighteningly simply because I have a tendency to complicate things. The above may seem complicated but it is in fact a straightforward synthesis of ideas from various fields to construct a different way of talking about art practices which goes some way to avoid value judgements and the need to describe things subjectively. Writing the paper is making me focus on an increasingly narrow narrative as an explication for a broad idea. It is frustrating at times because I want to explore a multiplicity of ideas but by considering a wide field and having to progressively select out is also liberating. It shows me that things can be simple without loosing depth. Implied ideas can be just as powerful in leaving the reader the possibility to uncover them or find new things and feel the sense of discovery rather than having them pointed out. The methodology I am constructing is also feeding into the project proposal: I no longer feel compelled to spell out every idea. 

A Correspondence: Marguerite Humeau

Betty brought Marguerite Humeau to my attention during her feedback to my Mid Point Review. The artist works with similar ideas I work with, organic life, sound, the past and myths. It is interesting but I do find her installations somewhat too clinical and the sculptures lacking in depth. What I mean by this is that they do not have scales of vision: they are large and smooth and had all their interest sanded off them. The slickness lacks humanity and looks rather plastic and artificial which does not seem quite in keeping with her ideas. They look like reproductions of Blender renders in fibreglass or some similar material. In any case, I like that she works with mediums and ideas that I can identify with and is one of very few artists that is in my direct sphere of interest.

 

Art Now: Marguerite Humeau, Echoes, Tate Britain, November 2017

Research Statement: Taking Another Direction

My Research Statement started clearly but tailed off towards an uncertain ending. I had the thread, subject knowledge and so on but crucially what I was thinking was only of slight relevance to contemporary art. I had been dealing with histories of knowledge and putting together a viewpoint that although very interesting to my mind, it was not pertinent to contemporary art and did not contribute to my practice, neither methodologically nor theoretically: I just found it interesting. 

I had written around two-and-a-half thousand words when the recurring feeling of dread that asks, where is all this going, became too strong to ignore. I had barely started to look at contemporary artist that might be relevant to the paper. I looked at some suggestion Gareth had given me. Most were examples that were nothing close to what I was talking about, but you only need one, and one did stand out ticking all the boxes. I found that William Latham has been working in a similar way to me for years. He has developed an evolutionary art with computers, I have done it with sculpture. I looked up some references I was familiar with to do with cell automation, a bit about AI and found these things fitted into the contexts I had thought of previously: the Cambrian explosion and the Early Bronze Age. 

I am excited in that the hypothesis I am now proposing brings together art, biology, anthropology/archaeology, the digital environment, virtual worlds, philosophy and the future. The idea is not fully fleshed out yet but it is on its way and would not have been possible had I not started the way I did. The idea came a few days ago as a need to find a way of talking about very different artistic processes in the same terms. I have found that despite all the talk of breaking down barriers, merging and blurring the boundaries, art has become too disparate and dispersed. A fog of taxonomies, political stances, power plays creates in me an inability to talk about things cohesively and clearly without having to ignore the unique characteristics of each practice or making crass generalisations. This is not an attempt to judge or weigh one art form against another. On the contrary, it is a way of critically looking at each practice and identifying what makes it unique without recourse to subjectivity. I know that this is a bold claim and it may unravel as I write the paper but it is an interesting exercise. It is probably just another supporting piece of thinking. Many attempts have been made to do this since structuralist, post-structuralist and subsequent theories. I think Wittgenstein wrote something along these lines but it was based on a philosophical logic form that is not easy to understand.

And finally, it is directly relevant to me by helping to re-contextualise my practice in the contemporary environment. I think it could be one way of universally thinking or rethinking about process, categories, art, anything that involves change, which is virtually everything. 


Note to self: writing this down is a way of telling myself to continue writing, researching and composing ideas.

Low Residency 2019 Day 3: Morehshin Allahyaai

 

Warning: this post contains very subjective material.

After over six months I still remember one visit and one work in particular. At the Annka Kultys Gallery in the London City Island an exhibition of digital works was showing entitled Re-Figure-Ground.  Two things I remember, the video-game-like virtual reality goggle-based immersive 3D videos complete with kinetic controls with which to travel within the virtual world, and a simple 3D animation that did not do much with a spoken audio.

The VR works were interesting enough from the point of view of technology but quite honestly they left me underwhelmed on account of their lack of conveying any point to them other than showcasing the technical work. And to add, the resolution was so poor that it left me wondering whether I needed new glasses. This inconsistency between the vision and the actual vision left me somewhat frustrated. Claudia Hart’s augmented reality was like walking through a myopic fruit machine of social media icons along pointless corridors. The fact that she is examining the body, perception and nature ‘adapt[ing] the forms and software normally used to create 3D shooter games was no compensation for what was clearly meant to be a transformational experience. 

The Karst cave by Snow Yunxue Fu’s was, as she says, an attempt to embody the concept of Plato’s cave in a virtual realm. She then continues to say, ‘providing a contemplative environment for the visitor to wonder; walking and teleporting within the control of the wireframed virtual hands that are given to them’. Really, Plato’s cave? That is certainly not what Plato was on about when he described our secondhand manipulated perception of the world. Leave that bit of referencing and you are left with an enjoyable, if somewhat, again myopic trip fantastic.

 

 

The rest of the show I found cold but one work did stand out for me, and it was not the most accomplished technically. Morehshin Allahyari’s video installation She Who Sees the Unknown, Aisha Qandisha was a back projected video 1 of a 3D animated figure that did not do much other than turn around a bit and sit in some sort of digital sea. On its own it would have graced any number of album covers for some group or other singing about whatever. However, when combined with the narrative it became something else. It transported me to another world of magical realism in some ancient past which is very much present. 

The combination of powerful scripted content with a weird large image moving, now menacingly with the audio gave me the sense of a deity being displayed before its awestruck followers. This remains in my mind not only for the content but how something relatively simple in digital terms, can still have impact compared to more sophisticated presentations. 

Much of her earlier work does not do much for me. It is overtly political and lacks depth; mimicking the tired old tropes of various movements in previous years. Thankfully, she has developed a more personal voice that has moved her into a rich imaginative space. 

morehshin.com

  1. Onto a white acrylic sheet (transmits around the require 50% of light for a good back lighting as Jonathan explained to me) suspended from the ceiling and cleanly fitted onto the sheet by means probably of some sort of projection mapping[]

Finishing Porcelain

As I work, I think of how the final pieces will look. Porcelain is a strange material. Silky smooth when fired with a grainy feel if left unglazed. I want to give the surface a skin-like feel.

 

 

The Belvedere Torso in the Vatican collection was a seminal inspiration for Michelangelo. Signed “Apollonius son of Nestor, Athenian”. Marble acquires a softness that bellies its nature as stone. Sculpture in stone influences my choice of material. But I choose ceramic as a pliable stone which is transformed by the alchemy of heat. Porcelain is like the white marble of stones and glazing it seems to me betrays the traces of handling and so an essential characteristic of its making.

Why do I choose the Belvedere as an example of marble statuary? Because arms and legs are functional, locomotory and grasping. The body is the centre of physical being from which other things radiate. As it was with our primordial ancestors, so it is with the forms I am working on.

Glazing speaks to me of function, impermeability. The body is not impermeable but in continual transaction with the world. In early times the clay was burnished to render vessels less porous. Decoration has always been applied to ceramics, from the rhythmical marking of the beaker people, to the finest renderings. From symbolism to shear exuberance and delight, ceramics have diversified and many left function behind long ago evidenced in the heritage of form only.

I have experimented extensively with Parian clay which was developed to look and feel like marble, it is soft, vitreous and warm, but it is hellishly difficult to use and is subject to warping and cracking. It is better suited to casting large pieces. Casting at this stage is not for me, it is not sufficiently spontaneous and better left as a means of reproduction. However, I shall continue to work with it on smaller scales. 

I do not want to use glaze because it covers detail and the sculpture looses the surface nuances developed during its making. However, the raw biscuit low fired material is brilliant white and unsubtle. It is also prone to get dirty and due to its porosity very difficult to clean. When fired to a higher temperature, the surface vitrifies and becomes sealed to a large extent, less porous and prone to atmospheric damage and the dirty that comes with handling and storage. However, the crystalline surface is still very white and lacks the organic surface quality I am looking for. When the porcelain is unfired and still wet, it has a flesh like look, a warm grey that responds to handling developing a beautiful sheen where it is burnished. However, this disappears on firing. I have looked for a finish that can restore to some extent that sense of sensual softness and has the following characteristics:

  • does not yellow over time,
  • is colourless,
  • does not create a thick layer,
  • is not glossy
  • and is easily restored.

Having experimented with a number of possible candidates I have found that the humble paraffin wax candle is the ideal substance. The porcelain is heated with a hot air blower and the wax rubbed on building a very thin layer that penetrates the microscopic pores on the surface and creates a colourless, translucent finish. Finally it is burnished with a cloth or brush.  

 

On Methodology

Starting is always the hardest thing, unless one were to consider finishing. Both are difficult for different reasons. Finishing is the moment when you realise you have done what you can, it cannot be otherwise. It is the collapse of the potential that had been possessed before and during the making. Its gift is to whisper or shout according to its own inclination how the next work might proceed. And that brings me back to the beginning, starting a work.

I am starting a new piece in porcelain, white as the blank canvas of a painter, the beginning of a long journey. And as I set out without a set destination, only a sense of what I am looking for, that freedom is frightening. It reveals my shortcomings in the midst of a vision pulling me back to how I did things before. What is that the right course of action, how do I navigate this landscape of decision and indecision? 

To know what to do is not the point. It is the how and the why that will give me the framework to hold on to. Take that journey, on foot say, into a forest with neither the stars to guide me nor compass or map. I have no destination, only the ends of the Earth. If I try to walk in a straight line I will simply do so in circles and find myself back to where I started. I must decide on a course of action, a simple set of rules to break the bias of my own nature. Sometimes rules are changed a little but not so much as  for me to loose my way irrevocably.

Over years a method is perfected as is the reason for it. I work as a cartographer, marking each point as a star to guide me, a landmark to aim for. But this is art, not some field to be gridded out with a surveyor’s precision. To do so would yield little more than what is in the ground and the rule itself. To look beyond that field is where progress lies. Progress is born of change, imposed, contingent or better still by means of my own agency.  To do so is to turn the world on its side and refresh sight from another vantage point. But habits possess inertia, to turn them over I need help. Something I have learnt working with Janet is to do what I would not do normally. This is just one way of changing the course of things and refreshing what might otherwise become limp.

And so it is with the work I do now and the research statement. By this stage, I should not have to worry about where a work will end, it never ends as each finish is but the start of the next.

Art and Science

It has finally arrived, a beautiful collection of poetry. A few weeks ago, as is my habit, I woke up during the night and settled to listen to the radio. BBC 4 Extra was playing a programme about the life and works of Rebecca Elson. A cosmologist, equally known for her poetry who died tragically young. She wrote about life with as much insight as her work as a physicist. Her latter writings deal with her imminent death in an inspiring fusion of fact and vision. I was enthralled.

Elson brought science and art together in a way seldom done. When the two branches of knowledge come together, not as appropriation, comment or illustration but to speak in a single language of experience, empirical fact and authentic metaphor, something powerful is unleashed capable of prising open this world to reveal others as nestled together, ready to be felt and understood as though they were here. Ted Hughes does something similar but from a darker interior, a biblical horror as opposed to a cosmological creation. The beauty of both poets lies in the merger of nature and culture, with an insight and ability to move from the very small to the unimaginably large, to show the connectedness of all things and that existence is something greater than us.

 

First Circuit

 

What struck me when I got the Arduino board was, how small it is, how small all of the things are. And that means, that they will be far less obtrusive than I had previously thought. And seeing how easy it is to work with I look forward to learning a great deal. 

The next step is to get to grips with the coding. Fortunately there is a lot of help on the web and even if some piece of code is not exactly what I need, I feel much more confident to be able to tailor it to my needs. 

How do I feel about using digital sound in conjunction with sculptures? I have always felt there is an equivocal relationship between sculpture, or statuary to be more precise, and sound. Is a statue not meant to be silent, to be contemplated without the distraction of noise?

But what if the sound comes from within, trapped, allowed a small breathing hole to reach one’s ears, fingertips, barely audible, sensed; a sound that is neither music nor the result of some kinetic accident? I see the sculpture as the receptacle of its own soul, the embodiment of what it is in its nature to be gently radiating outwards, translated into vibrations seeking connection. 

There is of course an element of humour in all this, for it to be otherwise would be melodramatic and to what end: humour can be poignant, questioning, engaging, cathartic. All I know is, I go with where the work takes me as it also follows me.  

Tutorial 4: 01 August 2019. Gareth Polmeer

 

Always you were drawn to the composite creatures, the broken and reassembled, for that is what you are.

Gregory Maguire                  

 

The first Research Paper tutorial was a sounding out of the initial outline. It was helpful in thinking about the way the narrative might go and how to apportion space to each component. My responses so far are:

There is a dialogue between the literal and metaphorical manifest as the biological and the cultural.

This leads me to think that I am dealing with three different ecosystems: biological, cultural and machine;

embedded in the Cambrian explosion, Early Bronze Age and the age of digital (for now) machines.

We are currently living in the cultural age which is on the threshold of the cultural-machine thinking period.

Useful worker to look at is William Latham.

Comparison between biological systems and machine systems – for now the human element is still the predominant one and machines are used as ‘intelligent’ tools.

The tutorial helped me in re-evaluating what I have done so far and how to place the historical knowledge element as a contextual framework for talking about the contemporary state of things. This will need a great deal of focussing but I think I can condense the historical elements into just a few hundred words.

The paper really touches on the philosophical ontology of current biology-computational art in relation to truly biological systems… in the context of culture.

Useful worker in the field of computer generated life: Eric T. Olson at Sheffield. He looks at the relationship between animals and humans at a philosophical level.

 

Andrew Lord: A Case of Phusis

 

 

I mentioned in a recent post that I am now ready to look into a contemporary context for my work. This is not altogether easy as what I do is not centred on one idea or medium alone. I know that many artists today are cross disciplinary and work in various mediums; this makes contextual correspondences all the harder to find. I have to be careful not to mention every one and sundry that I like or identify with in some way. This sort of openness would only confuse and lead to a lack of direction. What would making a long list do, help in the project development, show my wide taste in things?

No, what I am looking for is work that directly contextualises mine in terms of contemporary ideas and environments. Andrew Lord, ten years my senior is one such practitioner. Although he would not like to be called a potter, his body of work very much centres on the idea of vessels and clay, something I also work with.

Lord’s central notion is an interesting one. It is an idea that many working in clay have followed for some time, that of ‘rescuing’ pottery from still life painting. As Mark del Vecchio lucidly points out in his book, Postmodern Ceramics:

From Pablo Picasso to Giorgio Morandi, Vincent Van Gogh, and George Braque, pottery has tended to be the visual anchor of most still-life compositions. Contemporary ceramists have begun to reverse the compliment and draw inspiration from the paintings in which these pots appear, returning them to the three-dimensional realm, but retaining some painterly associations. 

Looking for what is common between two and three dimensions is a process which also requires an awareness of what is lost in translation. Only in this way can an essence of the object be made manifest. 

Andrew Lord displays his work in such a way as to allude to the still life genre by placing objects on tables and plinths, carefully arranged in terms of light, time of day, space and so on. The arrangements often remind me of Morandi’s still lifes, treated as emerging from the material becoming objects felt in the making. He leaves overt traces of how the object is formed often to the point of caricatured. 

This work is consonant with elements of some of my work, playful and ‘rough modelled’ caressed into being aimed at a sense of Platonic idealism imperfectly fashion in and on (E)arth. 

It also interest for me to note that in some cases, vases are displayed just off the floor in a similar way to how I plan to show  H’s Play Things in the final show… with one twist. 

 


 

Much of this approach is consonant with what Heidegger says in his essay, The Origin of the Work of Art:

  1. The material (clay) is central and clearly evident in the work. 
  2. The clay is subservient to what is being portrayed yet it ‘shines forth’ 1.
  3. There is a struggle between the nature of the material and what it tries to portray, what it is formed into or as Heidegger would say, between the Earth and the World.
  4. The vessels are not the product of craft yet he uses, techne or mode of knowing, to bring out hidden Aletheia, or being.
  5. The being of the thing is not just made, it is brought forth and made evident. It is generated from within through phusis as though through natural law.

But what is the role of craft in this act of phusis? Heidegger does become confusing, or more likely confused unable to articulate a distinction between craft and art: he descends into subjective ideas of the mystical and the sublime and sacred to support his thesis. Perhaps a simple, if still elusive reply is that the impetus for a work of art comes from within an internal process of natural growth, whereas craft’s impetus is external to its growth. It is clear to me that this categorisation is false in many cases and can only be considered from piece to piece and not generically.

Having said all this, Heidegger does provide a useful way of thinking about art as a spontaneous act of emergence in the making also raising interesting questions regarding the relationship between what is ‘being creative’ and artistic practice. 

  1. Heidegger[]

PD Pi Uno and Sharp

Naïve Schematic

The object of my research at this point in terms of electronics, coding etc, is to control the audio output of a sound file using Arduino and an active IR sensor and that this system should be fully automated and self starting using a Raspberry Pi coded (perhaps) with Pduino. 

I have looked at the possible components one by one and have arrived at the following which are open to change once I consult with Ed as to their suitability and viability.

This list may work as an indication of what I plan to use so as to gain, at least, a basic understanding of each component part. The coding is something else that I will have to be learnt over time once I procure the parts. 

Raspberry Pi 3: used to command the Arduino controller. The reason for this is to make the system automated only requiring to be switched on without the need of a laptop to initiate the programme.

 

Arduino Uno: having researched the myriad of Arduino models, this one comes up as the universal board that will do most things. I don’t need particular miniaturisation or a large number of I/O pins.

 

Active Infra Red Sensor: for a proximity sensor capable of analogue output and differentiating distance. It has to be active with a both a IR transmitter  and receiver. This sort is called an active (as opposed to passive) sensor. There are various models with different ranges. Other types of sensor include ultra sound sensors which are only suitable for detecting hard reflective surface. People do not make good reflectors as they absorb sound, particularly when clothed. On the other hand, people emit plenty of IR radiation. Sharp appear to offer the best range of sensors at a low price.

 

Digital potentiometer: to translate the distances picked up by the sensor and translating them into variable voltage that can be used to regulate output.

Media player: which stores and plays the sound files to be controlled. I do not yet know which type, whether incorporated in the Arduino, stand alone, usb stick or using the Pi as a media player. I suspect that using the Pi as a media player might complicate matters and a stand alone player might be simpler to incorporate in physical wiring. This I need to find out.

 

The speaker(s): I intend to use range from small to very large. The large one – 10 inch 4 Ω will need an amplifier that can deal with that low impedence. It will also have a particular case volume requirement, but that should not be a problem as the speakers positioning is not critical. 

 

Breadboard and connectors: There are many sizes and types of breadboard which facilitate wiring without the need to solder. With this I will need  jump lead connectors.

 

Resistors and capacitors: needed to regulate current in the circuit and perhaps a capacitor to help even out fluctuations in current. This may not be necessary when employing an amplifier. I shall find out in due time. 

LED: to test the circuit and proof of concept

 

 

Amplifier: is needed to amplify the sound signal and protect the Arduino circuit board from being ‘fried’ by the current drawn by the speaker(s). The amp takes the signal in the form of a small current and amplifies it sufficiently to ‘drive’ the speaker physically – which works by forcibly vibrating a drum-like membrane via voltage oscillations in a solenoid. I have a number of amplifiers from old HiFi systems. Alternatively I could get a smaller amp board; which one depends on the requirements of the speaker. A small amp size would be preferable for logistic and space reasons.

Multimeter: for measuring current, resistence, capacitance, voltage etc. Necessary to ascertain values and ensure connections are sound. I do not need an expensive model as it will not need much use, certainly not heavy duty and robustness is not an issue in the studio. 

Sound files: whether mp3 or wav may not be important since the sound I intend to use would not suffer from being in high fidelity. After all, most output nowadays is in mp3 and the relative loss of detail is hardly noticeable in normal circumstances.

 

On Materiality

 

My works are based on a strong sense of materiality as a means of grasping abstract ideas. To translate these from objects of the mind to ones that occupy three dimensional space is to rescue them from ephemerality. This in itself changes their nature as they arise in the making, capturing feeling in the material, moving away from the imagined to the physical. Concrete as they are, they probe into what is ephemeral and evanescent. Is it the phenomenon of being or the idea of being that is being represented here?

Clay is a material that can be shaped according to one’s own senses. Its inertness permits me to freeze moments of feeling and embed them in its corporeality. It is ideal for my approach, not to represent in some way thematic notions but to reify them. What emerges from these thoughts is that cycling and continuity are the abstract processes that underlie the thematics of time and life; and that in the work, space becomes actual material and that material defines the work, its thingliness, alongside its theoretical and contextual characteristics and qualities. 

Albeit I see the work as the thing itself, it is also a vessel holding allegorical content. It brings forth into reality the very notions that led to its making. However, in all probability these might well remain hidden if not layered with or disclosed by context. Context can wrap around the work in many ways, through text, juxta-positioning, placement, images, sound and so on. It is an area that I must work on diligently.. 

To make the object of the mind otherwise, digitally printed, commissioned or projected in another (more resistant) material, would not be the same. I need the direct contact between hand, eye, mind and material that makes it what it is and nothing else. The directness of touch as a principle conduit for embedding feeling in what otherwise might be materially impersonal. It is a synthesis of the untouchability of an idea and the inability to express that ideal form physically. It is as direct as stroking an animal or smelling a flower yet one can not be an animal or a flower. This creates a bridge between maker and receiver that subverts the continual increase in faux intimacy engendered by the current use of technology in today’s society, as in social media and infinite multiples of the same thing.

The human haptic mode encodes a complexity of information transmitted from in-the-making and passes on to experiencing. They come close to being one and the same thing. The object becomes more than something that can be seen and touched: it is a vehicle for subtle empathy. Not the sentimentality we attach to cherished, used objects of mass production. 

This subtle empathy which, placed in a human context, links me to the themes of the work relating to natural forces. I no longer am an observer but a participator in creating and remaking the world. The work is overtly human but also non-anthropic. It reminds me that we are part of nature but not necessarily central to it. We only make it so for existential reasons as do all other plants and animals. It is this survival, cycle, continuity that is again at the root of my ideas. But unlike an animal or a plant I can see beyond my immediate world, give form to other worlds and times. This gives me a special privilege and responsibility.

As to the basic form of the vessel that appears in much of my work? The vessel is a plane, folded on itself to become a container. We all were born as balls of cells that began their journey into the world as simple dimpled  spheres from which a vessel was formed. This form defines the boundary between the physical inner and outer environment. It defines the limit of our corporeal existence. We can only project out of it through our senses and the mind. However complex the vessel might become, its fundamental property of containment remains.

I see the vessel as inviting exploration of what is within and without and more importantly what it is that connects the two. My particular area of interest is not only located in the now but in the connections with the past and how this is part of what the future might become. The present is the vessel for all things yet it is elusive, an idea ever changing. It is an elusive membrane whose allusion becomes object in much of what I do. The membrane of the present, the inside and outside, the self and other.  

 

Constellations of the Small Make the Universe

Walking along the East England coast at Mablethorpe, against that watery panorama, the hidden drama of life below the waves was being cast onto the sand by the receding tide; empty detritus waiting for the wading birds, once star dust become flesh dismembered one by one of existence in an instant of countless moments. Was the crab or the jelly fish aware of its being as I of theirs and my own? Able to witness in the cloud of thoughts that is constantly shaped by constellations of cells inside my body I too will drift and bear their fate in a struggle, dispassionate and brutal that brings forth beauty and engenders awe.

A single starfish lies nearby, I toss it back, no thanks or waving arms, only my knowing, does that count in the grand scheme of things? I can not live its life but in that moment see myself thrown and saved in some fashion, it is the way of things. As we all were once inanimate, only I made in this present form am able to save my other self. 


How is this relevant to my project ? Mine is not an exercise in empathy, that cannot be for the subject is alien in form and substance. It is an expression of proximity to the other, I am made of the same paste, only arranged in a different ways, able to say this and pass it on. It is not entering some other life I seek but communion with that which is mute.

Third Phase of Unit One: Continued

I have returned to Forest Hill from the Camberwell College library with an armful of books and eyes set on the horizon. In the previous post I took a broad, summary view of what I have done so far. One major characteristic of my methodology to date has been my intention to limit new artistic influences. My reasons for this are twofold: it has been an opportunity to re-evaluate my practice and articulate its synthesis whilst keeping things open and in order to do so maintain a clear view of the context and content. 

The need to write the Research Paper now, is catalysing a process of finding new sources from within the contemporary artistic field which lie outside my own familiar domain (in all senses). I see this period as a time for drilling into the content of my work and looking at new artistic sources within and external to the paper. The time has come to take off one set of clothes and put on another.

I am not looking for direction, that I have in abundance, but rather for greater depth of means and idea. I have to be mindful not to overcomplicate things but this I can avoid by paring down to the essentials what I elaborate, again selecting, distilling, in this case correspondences with writers and other artists. The cuttings themselves will be useful for some other projects. The books I have taken out today and will borrow in the future I feel will help me in this regard: whether confirming, refuting or synthesising my ideas, any of these processes arising will prove valuable along the way to build on my understanding of things.

Put another way, so far during the first two phases I have been largely self-referential and self originating. I feel now in the position to absorb new influences into a robust framework that is stable enough not to be disrupted towards confusion and sufficiently flexible to adapt to new ideas and contexts.

 

 

 

Third Phase of Unit One

Janet’s final show is now over. The works de-installed and packed, I now sit in the library at Camberwell looking at books. So many interesting books; it is a good way to introduce the third phase of unite one. The First phase was one of doing and as I did so, of looking around within a familiar space. From this space I moved in and out forming ideas, refuting others, articulating, clarifying and creating generalities out of which specifics could be selected, filtered and distilled. 

The second phase has been one of articulating a thesis, closing some windows and passing through the one that is left to find myself in a vast landscape. It has been a time of deciding on a general direction and envisaging some sort of outcome partly manifest in the final show. I currently find myself in the narrow waist of an hourglass. Much time and many ideas have passed through and I now find myself on the threshold of what is to come. I have a clear idea of what that might be but I have yet to focus on particulars.

Being in Camberwell on and off for around three weeks has given me time away from the blog journal and making. I am forgetting and remembering, sloughing the superfluous which nevertheless has informed my journey. I now have a new perspective leading to a third phase.

The third phase is one where, although what I shall be concentrating on is more or less settled in form, the actual details of making, contextual framework, presentation, background are not yet clarified. This is a time where, having identified the domain in which I will be working, I can focus more deeply on every aspect of the work(s), layering deep sediments to form the body of this practice, making connections, meanings, engagements, and expressions, through techniques, symbols and tropes, modalities and affects.

It is a fascinating process because I now have to plan the works whilst keeping the process open. This I need to do because the making side of things can take a very long time. I also have to experiment new methods and techniques in order to incorporate the ideas I am working with. In addition, I have to contextualise those ideas and forms to position them meaningfully in the contemporary environment trying not to lose sight of where they have come from and the future.

What I have written here is a broad sense of what I am to do. What this is specifically, I shall write about later. For now I am still moving bodies in a mental space which are waiting to be reified and exposed. It is all so very open… 

Interim Show: On Titles

 

Even Before Birth is the Future Forgotten

Returning home from the Janet’s show installation I had to think about the interim show’s work title. I have never been keen on the process of naming a work despite knowing how important it is; I have seen it as an intrusion of words that closes down meaning. However, having thought at length about the 17th June tutorial with Jonathan I feel quite different about the matter. It is no longer an external slapping on of words but an added layer of meaning, an entry into the work without necessarily fencing its meaning, rather offering a thought that, if the words are chosen carefully, is both suggestive and open. What is more important is that it is the possibility to introduce a rational side to the work, by virtue of the inherent characteristics of words, that helps create a dynamic equilibrium between the rational and emotional. 

Here I reference the paradoxical time shifts that I deal with in my practice, being in the present whilst dealing with time frames interchangeably. I feel this title opens up a whole lot of ideas for me regarding the nature of time and life.

 

 

 

History and Shape-shifting Across Time: Rethinking a Tutorial

 

What is history? Nobody gave a deeper answer than Hegel – Terry Pinkard | Aeon Essays

History, or at least the study of it, is in bad shape these days. Almost everyone agrees that knowing history is important, but in the United States, except at the most elite schools, the study of history is in freefall.

 

A very interesting take on the human condition. It touches on some of the things I spoke about with Jonathan in our tutorial. 1

Pinkard opens with explaining how history is a process by which, ‘humanity experimentally seek[s] to understand itself in the myriad of ways in which it gives shape to itself in daily life, and also how historical change is intimately linked to changes in our basic self-understanding.’ As he puts it, shape-shifting ourselves across time. 

This is at the core of what I do across Big History. Seeing how we are indissolubly part of our origins and yet try to shake off the past, blindly, without realising that it (the past) clings onto us, embedded in our very flesh. 

In ‘What is the Difference’, the creatures shift shape as they rise the Babel-like tower, crude to refined, latent to defined, yet they bear a deep relationship woven into the fabric of life. 

Hegel’s first fundamental idea for his philosophical history, self-consciousness, corresponds to the microcosm of the act of reflection in action and the meditative holistic sense in making. His second idea corresponds with the notion of context and placement in a social space in which the first person viewpoint implies a dialectic. Further down the line, the I is separated from the individual ‘flesh-and-blood’ agent as it becomes the we in the accumulation of acts. This in itself reminds me of Buber’s philosophy of relations in ‘I and Thou’.

Hegel’s third idea refers to how circumstance largely dictates how things can go better or worse for an individual. We are all the offspring of history and constrained by the socio-familial-political and cultural environment. Although we are constrained by these factors, we also possess a greater or lesser amount of self determination, the ‘I’, that can set the way amongst the ‘we’.

All three ideas are contained within my work and the setting apart of directly human iconography is in some way the setting oneself apart from the ‘we’ whilst being in it. A toing-and-froing of the two forms which converge and diverge as do the Apollonian and Dionysian ways I spoke about in the tutorial. 

I constantly seek to reshape ideas as we do our lives, break with habits and reconcile others; shave off the animal in me whilst embracing it as my history and seeing how I cannot be without that part. 

The instability of things inherent in Hegel’s view of the world is reflected in the use of brittle, fragile material capable of resisting eons yet its form subject to catastrophic events. Porcelain is, as far as I am concerned, eternal, yet the form it is given is as fragile as the contingencies that surround it allow. 

Pinkard talks about new form of life emerging from the cultural rubble of an unbearable former one. So it is with the works I do, they look into a future as though they themselves are the past, with us absent from the scene yet we are here to witness it. This paradox, at the core of what I do, is the source of much of my difficulty in pinning down an essence. So I have reconciled with the evanescence of certainty, accepting the duality of things including my work.

Pinkard continues to talk about hierarchy and the Ancient Greek world’s moving beyond the freedom of a single person in society. This sense of democracy is implicit in what I am doing, all forms are equal and different without any containing an inherent authority over the others. They are all part of a great whole without which each would lose meaning with the loss of others.

This sense of freedom: does it pass onto me, and if I am free, am I independent? To proclaim oneself truly independent is to self-alienate, a social nothingness that negates an important function of the human self. Freedom does not lie in total independence but in the shape of agency that we assume in the context of one another and circumstance. A series of exchanges that at times result in a negative and at others a positive ‘balance sheet’. But in the end, it is the dialogue, the dialectic, that gives the ultimate fruit of synthesis and progression free from brut force, and art is only part of that but an essential component: in shaping tropes we shape ourselves; therein lies the power and danger of art.

  1. For the actual content see the conversation transcript.[]

Textual Layering to Work

Following my tutorial with Jonathan, seeing the use of QR codes by Ziyang and discussing accessing the video of Janet’s Mind Mirror at the selected show where monitors present a curatorial problem: adding text to the display of words not in physical format but online using QR code. This adds another layer to the work and not to close meaning down approaching it as, ‘this is my offering to you as to what I was thinking but actually there is a space for you’. For example prose poems or writings around related subjects. 

Another possibility is to create the graphic book with a series of stories or narratives that augment the ideas behind the work without explicitly stating this is what it is. Blurb magazine format is a good option as seen with Dwa’s book. Alternatively a small square book as in the case of Iris’ story. However this latter solution lends itself more to pictures and text. 

Tutorial 3: Jonathan Kearney – 17 June 2019

 

We spent most of the time talking around one recent post, Critique on Latest Study.

This summary is taken from our Conversation.

 

We discussed the ebb and flow between refined and crude thinking and handling during making and how a maquette is a condensation and clarification of this process before embarking on a large-scale project. How two approaches are kept in harmony: of keeping the dynamism of the sketch and the clarity of further finishing. That visibly incorporating both can give a sense of the kinetic essence of the process of making.

We also discussed the sense of something arising out of the material and the struggle involved. That this maelstrom of life, with crowded entities entering and exiting a surface is a metaphor of life and how this can also speak about aspects of humanity. How humans are part of and not separate from nature.

The forms represent individually more or less formal approaches and that this duality is emblematic of how I work, between the emotionally literal and the rational artificial, ritual and representational.

We discussed a variety of ideas for larger scale work: the evolutionary ideas and the mythology that arises from them leads to the whole created using modular units, interchangeable and capable of fitting together in various ways.

We discussed the central notion of seeing life in a non-anthropocentric way and how alluding to humanity in this way can be a powerful way of raising questions about our place.

The various responses to my work raised the question of whether the works are related to the idea of monsters, something we do not quite understand. Monsters are harmful, I do not see my works as monsters but rather as inhabiting a parallel world, asking the question what if we were not here?

This led to a discussion about the Anthropocene and how my work is an expression of my relationship with the world and view of human relationships, particularly the nature of individual vs individual and individual vs group dynamics.

Language is part of this argument and the image of the Tower of Babel, used in a post on my Research Paper was discussed as bearing a variety of conceptual meanings as a metaphor for difference and variety.

We continued to talk about the study as a means of opening out different elements. The sense of the emotional and rational, the Apollonian and the Dionysian and where I might place my work in relation to these paradigms. The balance appears to be constantly shifting between the material and the idea: how the two exchange during the process of making, what the trigger points might be and how they coexist in a final work. I think that this unresolved internal dialogue becomes resolved as a conversation between two works.

The material itself is neutral and whether the rational or irrational predominates is a function of how it is approached. Which predominates is part of the selection process as it is difficult to treat the material of clay with the same philosophies at the same time. It might be possible, but my personal structure prefers to oscillate between the two. The balance between the rational and irrational in a single work could be seen, as being created during the making process by alternating the two approaches. However, as I said earlier, the resolution of the two is expressed as a conversation between works rather than within a single work.

What I appear to be doing is exploring the referencing of ideas through my visual language having created a vocabulary over time. Time during which I have transitioned from working with ideas at a distance to breaking open the carapace of rationality, found in earlier works, to dig deeper beneath the surface to find what lies underneath. And if it is sound, authentic, it might ring a bell in someone else.

At his point we started to talk about how I might lead someone into the work, particularly as the current artist environment is very much centred on the overtly societal and human anthropocentric.

Jonathan sees my work as presenting an ambiguity that encourages investigation. However, a lot of visual culture exemplified by Instagram, with its dangerous description of the world, works against pausing, waiting, taking time. He thinks that sadly, most people will not engage but those that do will be richly rewarded.

I asked Jonathan how explicit does one have to be before becoming didactic (not a good thing) to open out a deeper conversation, how does one signpost possibilities? Is it not our gift to do so and alas a task for the viewer? We agreed this is an impossible question to answer but explored some ways of answering this.

We looked at how the time for ‘demystifying art’ has hopefully passed and how confusion in a gallery is a way of catalysing a conversation in a gallery. We then looked at the importance of titles. Jonathan sees what I do as emotional and the title is the rational companion to it, a balance of the emotional and the rational. This is a very interesting idea and one I have often considered but not quite in this way. A title can be seen, as an entry into the work, a poetic entry. However, there is a caveat: not to overburden the work with a title that closes-down its meaning with the choice of words. Reducing the space for its meaning can damage it as well. Questions such as, ‘What is the Difference’, are good.

This led to the question of Jargon and how it can cover a multitude of misunderstandings and how having simplified my language, I have been able to express complex ideas more clearly. Jonathan suggested that writing about the work, not necessarily explicitly for the reasoned discussed above but as another layer could be an interesting and effective way of rewarding further investigation. I have been thinking of ways to do this. The important thing is not to close the work down with words but rather say, ‘this is my offering to you as to what I was thinking but actually there is a space for you’.

Finally, we looked at how I am planning my work and how there is still plenty of time although my methodology requires careful planning ahead.

Return

I have been away from my journal for the last ten days, helping Janet to set up her final show at Camberwell as well as others showing with her. But my mind has not been idle and I have been collecting a number of thoughts regarding work during this period. The insight I have gained regarding how the whole thing works in the context of Camberwell has given me ideas to work on and develop.

Details Regarding Sonic Circumvention

To incorporate into the sculpture or place near it, a subwoofer speaker. Ultra low frequencies at high volume emitted will set the ambience to vibrate. If the speaker is set inside the sculpture, it may set the latter to vibrate. This phenomenological approach could be used for the long suspended piece. Ultra low frequencies ‘appear’ to come from all directions so the placement of the speaker is not critical for its perception. below the sculpture might be a solution if incorporation is not possible. However, incorporation would bring it to life. 

Having the high volume, low frequency on all the time would not be acceptable. A solution presents itself with the use of proximity sensors. Using such devices would introduce an element of interactivity whilst reducing the constant sound to only when it is being viewed. The idea is to place the sensors in such a way that when a person approaches the sculpture, the sound intensifies and the closer the person moves towards it, the louder and more intense is the sound. 

The placement of the speaker is a sculptural, technical problem. How the sensors work carries with it a number of questions that I need to address as soon as possible:

  • what type of sensor to use – motion, light, infrared, microwave etc
  • how many sensors are needed – this question refers to the mode of controlling the sound output
  • how is/are the sensors to be controlled – is an Arduino set up required in which can I need to research this and the coding
  • all the questions lead up to whether a sensor can detect distance and this be translated to variable volume of sound output – is this controlled with the controller or the sensor
  • if variable output is not feasible, can several sensors be used to trigger variable sound

The ideal would be for the sound to increase in volume as a person approaches the sculpture and decrease as they move away.