Chat Session 1.4: Library Induction

Today the main subject of the meeting was the library induction by Gustavo Montero. He took us through the organisation of the library and the process of selecting and acquiring text and other resources online. There are various pathways to reach a given text. Each pathway gives rise to a different set of results. A powerful tool is the database catalogue. It is worth looking at the video again and experimenting searching with the aim to develop a familiarity with the catalogue and develop a research method that suits my needs. Also remember that the library is an excellent repository of images, videos, ebooks, sound archives and programmes. 

It would be a good idea to link this to referencing software such as Zotero because the reference list can become quite extensive. This is particularly important for accessing specific sections in publications. I can translate the references manually, I am more comfortable with keeping a separate bespoke database of references of my own. However, I have to bear in mind that this process may become too onerous.  

Long Words: short hand for smaller ones

I used to be fond of big words like epistemology, ontology, intertextuality (never been fond of that one) and so on. I think of such words as short hand for simpler language. If I cannot explain a complex idea using simple words then I must reflect on whether I understand that idea well enough to put it into words in the first place. There are times when an unusual word is called for. Perhaps to avoid repetition or to give a phrase a better meter. But to use big words wantonly when something simpler will do is a little like quoting some well know person as a means of acquiring authority in the matter. Big words cover up confusion. Indeed I have often found myself confused with the words I use. 

Then there are situations when a big word is needed. Usually because it stands for an idea, a theme, a topic. Take the word phenomenology, is that not simply talking about building a world view through the senses rather than mental processes? Is it not the antithesis of metaphysics, solving problems of perception by abstract thinking? So unless I am talking about the subject itself, phenomenology, in which case referring to it as such makes perfect sense, I would rather talk about forming ideas, feelings. This makes a more direct appeal to understanding. It is easy to stray away from clarity if I hide behind a large word. 

The what does one mean by ontology, the ontology of a work of art. Why not say it as it is, talk about the way it was made, what it was made of, why it was made. That is so much more direct and pertinent. Meaning is lost otherwise. However, it might be valid to talk about the epistemology of a painting in relation to its ontology, as short hand. But it would be equally valid to talk about looking at how the painting was made, its context and why out of what in relation to what we think of it, how we perceive it, how we understand it, explain it. Is that not much clearer, more precise? In that way I get a much clearer idea of the relationship between two things and perhaps more importantly communicate that to myself and perhaps ultimately to the reader. 

Action Research and Reflection: Jonathan Kearney Lecture

 

Note to self – watch the video again, before reading once more what I have written. This is not a regurgitant of content, it is a spontaneous assimilation awaiting future reflection. So watch the video from time to time even if I think I already know what it says.     www.bitly.com/MA-youtube2018-19

This lecture is an excellent exposition on methodology and how not to suffocate with dogma, prejudice, lack of direction, inappropriate and imposed expectations: to be all you can be as an individual amongst individuals. But to have it so clearly and concisely laid out belies the time and thought that has gone into such a simple explication. It brings together complex aspects of creative thinking without even touching the medium used or the work itself. This deft handling of practice methodology leaves matters open and flexible. It is not a prescriptive way or approach but a practical philosophy based on experience, knowledge and research. I feel very at home with the ideas and to have them put across in such a clear and simple way helps me identify where and how I can improve on my thinking or better said, how I can avoid wrong thinking.

But avoiding wrong thinking is not the same as avoiding mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process and the finessing of a craft. It is necessary to make a mistake to know what not to do. This may appear counterintuitive but to aim for the ‘right’ or correct thing, to have a set paradigm, often leads to wrong thinking. Wrong thinking starts out as knowing exactly where it is going and as it starts to loose its way, asserts its stance with greater force, but it is only heading towards a mirage. This is a cycle in which learning is reduced and can only lead to frustration. Mastery is the removing of veils, it is a reduction to the core of something. It is not about making it right but avoiding mistakes once made: knowing what not to do. 

I have often wondered what action research is. It is the everyday process that an artist engages in. It is to focus from within what is being done regardless of the esternal world. Perhaps this is what is meant by the much abused term, art for art’s sake. It is a cyclical process that never ends, where learning never ends, and that is exciting. 

Reflecting on reflection: at the start of these two years, three weeks ago, I stated in my first Project Proposal draft, that I was looking for the connective tissue in my practice. What is starting to appear is a picture where writing links the various means and outcomes I am involved in. This journal is beginning to create a framework. I have so many things to write about in relation to my practice, ideas, experiences. I am excited to see how the framework emerges, a body constructed with the elements of my practice acting as organs, limbs and manifestations of the whole. After all, what Jonathan talks about in the lecture is about knitting together a holistic dynamic process of integration, accretion, assimilation, and making it your own. Where this might lead is an open question that will only be resolved later along the course of these two years; even then the process does not end but starts, again. It is not something that cannot be hurried, only intensified. 

Jonathan also talks about the idea of reflection on and in-action. To reflect in-action is so much easier if you are already practiced at what you are reflecting on. When learning something new, I aim to understand, then do and finally, usually after a pause during which assimilation takes place, I can fully immerse myself in the activity so that I can step outside the doing while being in the action and reflect as it is done. This process is one of detachment and integration at one and the same time. I become one with what I do and also aim to be able to explain what is being done. That is why simplicity is essential. If the matter in hand is made complicated or appears complicated (makes no difference), reflection in-action becomes thwarted. This is why practice is so important. Practice makes something ‘automatic’. However, there is something about practice that is little understood. Practice does not of itself make perfect. Practice makes permanent. That is the reason why it is more important to know and focus on what not to do rather than on striving towards a paradigm.

[I have to say that since I started this journal, writing has become easier and each piece of writing takes less labour. But I still have to focus equally; it is just that it comes more easily and takes less time.]

Jonathan’s list of what to keep a record of in the blog journal is worth revisiting regularly:

  • actions
  • decisions
  • thought processes
  • successes and failures
  • issues you are dealing with 

The lecture also covers the difference between art and science research. Science is what I started with. I loved the themes and ideas but to have done research was not for me. Science is a victim of its own success. It is constrained by the scientific method. This can be summarised as the need for repeatability, falsification and personal detachment. It is the antithesis of artistic practice which emphasises individuality, uniqueness (which is very different to originality) and verification. Scientific ideas are universal, open to appropriation and waiting to be shown as false. Art is personal and subjective, it is also universal.

I am a metaphorical being seeing the world and explaining it in terms of labels: that is how language works. Language is the basis for reasoned thought. Whereas science looks to tropes as ways of explaining and understanding but always with caveats, art embraces metaphor and other tropes as means of opening out to nuance and subjective communication and of asking questions. I wanted to be nuanced and have the possibility of portraying ambivalence and ambiguity in my work, speculate and imagine. That is why I did not continue with science. I still attempt to be logical but not as a reductive, deductive mechanism for inference. The logic of what I do is often hidden in the weave and texture of the work and reflection is part of teasing it out and making it more apparent to myself, to start with. This is a principle aim of my MA research. It is a matter of constructing a valid argument but not necessarily a sound one. The reason for a sound argument not being desirable or even possible lies in the very way art practice evolves. By every definition that contains humanity at its core, art is subjective. A non-false premise, for that is what a sound logical argument must have, need be objective. Therein lies the point of potential conflict in any artistic discussion. Validity and soundness of argument are two very different things. To believe in the soundness of an artistic argument is a false notion and requires as back up falling into dogma and faith, something that an artist might well have difficulty in contending with if they are to maintain openness and follow a holistic approach. 

An interesting proposal nearing the end of the lecture was that science leads to no change in the world whereas art does. This opens up a whole new and long discussion but I would like to finish off by reminding myself that science is not technology. Science is about finding explanations for how the world is. Technology applies these but it also applies social, economic and other non-science based ideas. Technos comes from the word techne which although closely related to the meaning of episteme (knowledge and understanding), it emphasises active application of knowledge. Whereas science is about understanding, technology is about applying understanding. Both techne and ars refer more to human activity than disembodied knowledge. Note that this disembodiment of knowledge becomes a universal idea that can be appropriated by anyone whereas technology and art very much bear the stamp of authorship. This is embodied in the concept of copyright, you can copyright a means of doing something and an artwork but you cannot copyright an idea.  

 

 

Post Truth Hurtling

A reworking of Source of Motion and A Foreign Land from Familiar Things : juxtaposing the two to evaluate their relationship and how they work together. (Best with headphones)

 

 

 

Distorted, by the unseen cause of its motion: it is cast down by light towards innocent surfaces bearing the scars of altered perspectives, reasoned at distances by the movement of multitudes whose affect is close, so close. It only looks down and away from where it has come and in small instants vanishes entwined with the light that gave it shape. It dare not look at the source of its making as it hurtles into the silence [silent frozen circle] of its own darkness.

More on Tags

I soon realised after writing the post, What to do with Tags?, that not all tags were showing in the cloud. I subsequently found out that WordPress will only show the top 45 tags in the cloud. This limit can be circumvented with a bit of coding but it requires messing with the php of some templates and this I am not prepared to do with my insufficient knowledge. In any case, it is some sort of blessing: I have come to realise that putting down any number of tags is somewhat crazy; akin to throwing a box full of things in the air hoping that they fall in a neat ordered arrangement. I know this analogy is flawed, in that a heuristic approach is not random but it would create an awful lot of work curating the avoidable. Time better spent on other things.

The upshot of this is that, I shall have to go through my posts and select out the words contained within them or that best describe them. I know that in academic papers, the abstract is followed with five keywords. This is probably a good practice to adopt for each blog. The limit this puts on the number of keywords should have two desirable outcomes: a simpler and more consistent systemisation throughout the blog site and, perhaps more importantly, make me think more deeply about the content of each post. Some flexibility is required here: for short posts fewer that five keywords may be more appropriate and for long posts the number could perhaps be stretched to six or even seven if the content demands it. However, I have a feeling I should stick to a limit of five in any case. I shall see how I get on. 

I shall start by using the following keywords as tags for this blog: tags and keywords.

A Foreign Land from Familiar Things

 

Distorted, by the unseen cause of its motion:
Cast down by light
Towards innocent surfaces,
Bearing the scars of altered perspectives,
Reasoned at distance
By the movement of multitudes
Whose affect is close,
So close;
It only looks down,
Away from where it has come
And in a small instant, vanishes,
Entwined with the light that gave it a shape,
It dares not look
At the source of its making
Hurtling, into the silence of its own darkness,
Its own darkness.


Posterior Cogitatio

28 October 2018

Shaping a poem is possibly the hardest thing for me when writing. Discussing this with Janet, we looked at how it could be positioned with the preceding video sketch Source of Motion . I came to the realisation that prose as in Ancestral is how I think. This may reflect the difficulty I have with rhythm. I am currently learning hand drumming, and it is quite challenging for me to follow movements which I would have expected to have come easily. Poetry is very much to do with rhythm, internal rhythm, whereas I am more tuned into the cadence and melody, the movement of ideas that flow in prose writing. In prose there is also rhythm but it is free and unencumbered by what I see as an externally imposed form.

This is the same poem written as I would perhaps have done had I not tried to write ‘verse’. (See Post Truth Hurtling)

 

Hurtling

Distorted, by the unseen cause of its motion: it is cast down by light towards innocent surfaces bearing the scars of altered perspectives, reasoned at distances by the movement of multitudes whose affect is close, so close. It only looks down and away from where it has come and in small instants vanishes entwined with the light that gave it shape. It dare not look at the source of its making as it hurtles into the silence of its own darkness.

 

An Aside

I have begun teaching myself Premiere Pro. It is a steep learning curve but I have taught myself other complex digital software before. I have used Final Cut before but my apple computers are now too old to integrate easily with the new PC I built last December. Using the PC platform and windows has taken a little while to get used to but building the machine and integrating all the software has helped in my understanding of how it functions. Since then I have also built a smaller portable NUC. It is so neat. It uses laptop hardware but works as a PC with its own monitor, keyboard etc. I travel with it everywhere.

Unseen Cause

In my last post I started to talk about the shadows projected by sculptures. I also talked about the shadows projected into the studio from the lime tree. It brings together many aspects of interest and this is the beginning of a project.

The shadows of objects in the studio are projected onto surfaces. They move as the light constantly changes by virtue of the movement of the leaves in the lime tree. The leaves move because of the wind. The wind is unseen. The shadows move yet the cause of their movement is unseen.

The leaves obscure the light and let the light through intermittently. This causes a change in the apparent direction of light altering the objects projected shadow. These changes superimpose one another in succession. The surface is set in motion, animated. The shadows moved by an unseen cause and I am set in motion and transported to another world for an unseen reason.

The projection from three dimensions onto two is a transformation of the world. I saw this in Chaos Contained, I see this everyday. The flattening creates multitudes in the mind with its own reduction. These multitudes inhabit the imagination and give rise to abstract thought. Shadows cannot be touched, smelt or heard. They cannot be walked around or picked up. They are only seen, ghosts of another world.

An unseen wind moves the shadows, what if Storm Callum recording were to be attached to such shadows? Next Post.

Reality and the Shadow

One of the aims of this blog is to bring ideas together and forge new works and trajectories. As this process moves on, the bewildering breadth of possibilities presented before me makes it clear that I have to know where to dig deep and what to leave behind. Along the way I will make mistakes: this is the essence of selection.

Despite the title, this blog is not going to be about Plato’s Cave. His is a fable told to demonstrate that our reality is restricted by our bodily senses and willingness to think beyond them. Its elegance far outstrips what it has to tell us about reality. Nevertheless, although Plato got a lot of things wrong and was responsible for much of the wrong headed thinking that followed, particularly since the advent of Christianity, he does present a paradigm to push against.

Logic is not always the friend of an artist. Absurd juxtapositions and non-sequiturs, intuitive thinking and metaphorical rhetoric often lead to far more affective productions than through logic and reasoned argument alone: that can be left for building an argument between stages or after the fact. Plato has inspired far more artists than Aristotle who did not consider it much at all other than the moral benefits of drama theatre. There I go again, talking about the very thing that I said I was going to avoid. However, I do so because it is relevant to what I saw yesterday

During the period of Chaos Contained  I noticed that the shadows projected by the sculptures, as part of the installations, held a fascination that went beyond the curious and had the potential for future work. I have held onto this idea and played with it in my mind until now: I have started to experiment… I will talk more about this in the next post.

The Soul of a Shadow: Project Idea 2

Yesterday the lime tree that oversees our studio, keeps us cool in summer and accompanies us in the winter; the tree that invites birdsong and marks time in its slow arboreal way; this tree was trimmed. Cutting away dead wood and suckers, opened it out to sunlight, letting it flood past the leaves as they are pushed aside by the wind.  Shadows cast into the studio bring surfaces to life and everywhere a frantic dance is choreographed in light. To walk amongst these flickering pools is truly magical. 

The spectacle showed in many places was on the constant move. I videoed the vignettes, each one a jewel. As I did so, Armenian folk music played in the background. It was then I realised there was a connection. The music was as though synchronised with the visual movements, a dance that had a deeply hidden meaning. 

We perceive the world on our scale. From a fraction of a millimetre to several miles we can encompass its size and meter on our terms. Time is measured with the heartbeat and the seasons. It is these things by which music is made. Rhythm is not that of the fly’s or mountains’ but the beat of the heart. Pitch is not that of the bat, the whale or a galaxy but that which we can hear in the voices of those around us. Colour is not that of the infrared and ultraviolet and beyond but of what we need to know without confusion.

 

 

I saw the dancing, for that is what it was, of the shadows cast around and the meter and cadence of the dance matched that of the music. Music that draws from what is around it and nature, that is the essence of folk music. There was a synchronicity between the two and it seemed wondrous and yet natural: not a trick of coincidence but a natural consequence. It now seems as though the two are matched because what causes them is matched in scale and breadth. The wind, sunlight, perceived time and a mind that can see them as one. And if what I tell myself is only a confection, it seems as true as any other truth I can be sure of. 

What I shall do is build on these videos and they may add to the Sculpture Waiting for a Meaning or stand alone as projections. They are verbs to be placed in a sentence. All at the moment is latent and expectant. 

A Sculpture Waiting for Meaning: Project Idea 1

I have many ideas, often all at the same time. I aim to rationalise the documentation of these ideas using this blog. But I do not wish to hamper the processes of openness by which these ideas come about with a restrictive system. However, I realise  that by placing them in some ordered way, I can access, integrate and develop these ideas as I move forwards with other more conceptual and text-based elements currently in progress. It is a balancing act.

This first project idea is one that naturally follows from what I have done so far. Until now, I have taken sound and embedded it into the body of the sculpture so that the sound emanates from it. What if the sound were brought in from outside and were somehow processed within the sculpture’s body

Ceramic shrines are common to many cultures, the pre-Columbian America, The Middle East, India, are all  places where these form part of the archaeological heritage. They sometime have the effigy of some deity held within, but at other times they are quite empty. This is the case for early Middle eastern cultic miniature shrines. Made of stone or clay, they are plain or decorated but always found empty.

I first thought of calling this project shrine but that presumes knowing what its use is and maybe even its content. I have no idea what it might contain at this point. I have many possibilities, and they change with every moment. Even the idea of feeding sound from its surroundings and concentrating them in the space held within the enclosure leaves open the question as to what sounds.

It is clear to me now that this is a sculpture that is waiting for its meaning. It is a structure with a latent destiny. And that is what I find interesting. There are of course aesthetic considerations: how much detail or no detail at all; what materials to use and its size and proportions. These are all things that can be developed as context is refined and intention clarified. Perhaps it could be made of small bricks, each brick imprinted with a significant mark… there are so many things that can accrete. At the moment it is a latent idea. One that can move and alter with time; one that can be integrated with other projects, assimilate them or move to one side. 

Chat Session 1.3: Symposium 1 Second Week

The third skype chat session was the second week of the first symposium: 3, 2, 1…

It was a lively session with a lot of discussion on and off topic but I shall dwell here only on the work shown. We only saw four practices so it gave us plenty of time to open out the conversation into all sorts of areas. The practices were very different indeed, from illustration to curation, psychology to installation. 

Christopher Tayah shows an eclectic range of mediums, from 3D printing and sound to video, painting and digital design. His work uses psychology and psychoanalysis, with himself as the protagonist and thematic center, to create a collage of means expressing states of mind and the fragmented nature of perception and memory. The video Rouge might be taken as emblematic of his current ideas. It takes the form of a surrealist descent into a dream-world that features water, fragmentary found footage from his childhood, and a focus on the colour red in the midst of a desaturated world reminiscent of French and Spanish surrealist films. 

Friederike Hoberg works under the alias of Sophie Petit. Her figurative paintings and drawings are in contrast with her sculptures that go from using found objects in the manner of Arte Povera to installations using resistant materials such as glass and metal. The presentation focused on Air : an installation comprising coloured glass hanging from metal chains at varying heights in concentric from the ceiling of a commercial centre. The geometry and play of light in the space, demonstrate her stated concern for the material and aesthetic aspects of her practice and the emotional affects these might cause.

Irina Bourmistrova is a curator. Interesting to have a curator on the course. A completely different slant on things. She has experience in curating and managing exhibitions and galleries in different countries and is primarily interested in digital works that deal with science, technology and ecology. Irina wants to explore the natural history of the gallery in today’s society and whether it will survive and in what form it might adapt. She has opened a gallery space in London and it will be fascinating to see how her perspective as a gallerist and curator might impact on the course and conversely how the context will inform her trajectory.

Sandra Wilmann is an illustrator who has recently entered the digital graphics field. Her work takes everyday life as its theme expressing what is referred to in Norwegian as stemming, a feeling inferred from the environment and felt by the subject. Her illustrations have an interiority that reflects this notion. She has of late also started to introduce animation into her images and is currently taking inspiration from East Asian styles and artists, primarily the manga genre of both Japan and South Korea. 

Again the symposium threw up a disparate set of practices. In contrast to last week, the themes and concerns were also very different. As a whole, this makes for an eclectic mix on the MA course which can only be a good thing. It makes for conversations that encompass different views and aims, a context ripe for contingent ideas that can only help fertilise the ground over the next two years. Whereas last week the overall sense I took away was one of existential concerns, this week what arose in my mind was how aesthetic priorities affect a practice and its perceived standing; also how the outside perception of a practice form can influence the practitioner and not always beneficially. This is very much a matter of environment: is it always necessary for the artist to be responsive to the society they find themselves in?

What to Do with Tags?

I decided to start using them today and soon found myself with a problem, which words to select. I know that it should be significant words but which ones are significant and which ones can be left out?

I put the problem to Janet and we had a long conversation where it was raised that the problem lay in my view of the process. You see, I have a tendency to view the search for certainty as somewhat futile. Everything I do tends to point to my trying to demonstrate this. But is that not trying to find a kind of certainty? Not entirely but I see the point. Using the tag cloud at first sight looked like a futile activity. This brings me back to what I said in my Symposium presentation, I am full of contradiction.

The clue in how tags work lies in the term tag cloud. A cloud’s shape is contingent on unpredictable meteorological conditions. The shape changes in a dynamic process that is beyond one’s control. Meta tags work in an analogous way. Put them in and they start to acquire an order, albeit simpler than those in the sky. They fall into a hierarchy depending on their frequency across blogs regardless of what you think. It is spontaneous.

For this algorithm to be of any use, to have a meaning, the tags have to be chosen without prejudice. Selecting words in or out, consciously or not, defeats the object of the exercise. The whole value of the tag cloud is that it is out of your hands, unpredictable. The tag hierarchy takes shape in unexpected ways outside of your control. This can have a number of positive consequences:

  • Contact with others you might otherwise not have made
  • Insight into one’s own thoughts and ideas
  • Spinning conceptual threads and links that can inform and connect in new ways
  • Fostering an open mind

I have decided to put down all words that confer meaning to a blog and see what comes. I have become somewhat indiscriminate. I cannot put in enough tags. This is much more exciting and interesting than putting down only what I think is interesting or significant.

Now what does this have to do with my work? Simply this, that my whole practice is like a tag cloud. I have worked in so many mediums with a wide variety of themes in disparate contexts and they continually move around in my mind, shuffling like marbles in a bag. They are tags, but for what? Perhaps they represent ideas, experiences, feelings, events. They obviously are connected but how. It is my aim in this MA to find those connections. The way I put it is, to uncover the connective tissue of my practice.

This is not to say that this is my sole aim. It is part of finding connective tissue that can stabilise the internal architecture of my practice as I  reach out to the outside. 

Storm Callum

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

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

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

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

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

Sound Palimpsest

 

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

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

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

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

 

Tabula Rasa

 

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

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

Chat Session 1.2: Symposium 1 First Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art and the Machine: Thought 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ancestral

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

The Bowerbird’s Creation

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

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

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

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

Symposium I

  • video

If you are viewing this on a small screen, full screen is advisable.

NB: Although I compiled this video as a powerpoint at just over five minutes, when converted to mp4 the duration lengthened to over seven. I have a copy which compresses the length of play but the transitions are too fast for easy reading of the script.

Preparing for Symposium I

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

Chat Session 1.1: A Beginning

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

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

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

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

  1. On Skype []