Mythopoeia IV

 

I have been very busy of late and my current work is in a state of incompletion, so I am glad to have just completed a video to accompany a small sculptural work for the interim Summer show at Camberwell. Its simplicity has given me the space to think about a deep level aspect of what I am doing. The narrative in the words of the scrolling text are deliberately anachronistic. I worked on the few words in various versions: directed in the you and I form, playing with tenses, making the content more or less personal. Finally I ended in the place where my instincts had led me to start; with the intention to distance myself from the subject whilst bringing it into direct contact with me in the present as I reflect on its future set in the past. Bringing together the deep past, present and future is very much what my research statement is about albeit taking a narrow field of view. It is interesting how this synchronicity occurs from time to time. 

 

Impromptu: Emperor at 2 Girls

 

 

Four digital prints I submitted to the 2 Girls Gallery ‘Impromptu’ show. They are mouse drawings. That means I drew them using an old mouse. I like this technique because of the difficulty of controlling the mouse as opposed to the ease of use of a pad and stylus. This friction creates a tension between what I want to draw and what is possible. The space that lies between the two tells me something of how striving for perfection is conditional to the means and circumstances. The analysis required is in contrast with the poietic maelstrom involved in working with sodden earth. It is where I can stand back and consider a different aspect of the source of what I do.

The technique of drawing with a mouse I see as embodying that continual striving for perfection by imperfect means that characterises humanity: by necessity flaws become the paradigm. And it is this process of turning one’s shortcomings into something of real affecting power where the magic of process lies.

I originally thought of presenting photographs which had been digitally altered, coloured. However, I was dissatisfied with the results. I have often found that combining digital marks with photographs whether analogue or not, does not give me a good sense. I am not talking about manipulating a photographic image or set of images in which case the material sources are of the same kind. This is exemplified in the work of an artist that Jonathan suggested I look at. Emily Allchurch creates imaginary landscapes based on old master paintings using a library of photographs she has compiled. She works with source material of the same kind and treats it in the same way: there is an inherent coherency here. I am rather referring to adding, superimposing, layering digital marks to photographic images: sources of a different kind. There is always something to be said for breaking rules and mish-mashing but I have found that this approach only works for me when what I am doing has a graphic design This I find only works when the sought after outcome is primarily one that resides in the area of graphic design… and then not always. This is something I would ordinarily leave to someone else who has affinity and experience in this domain. 

Skype Chat 3.5: Research Statement 2

Today we went over some other research statements. What constantly comes to mind is the need to avoid jargon as one develops an idea. I used to use jargon a lot and quite honestly, as I have mentioned before, it does nothing but obscure meaning and prevent clarity of exposition and explication. If a complex idea is explained in simple words, it more often than not open out pathways which were previously barred. Jargon and technical language really serve as shorthand and I try to use only one the idea is fully formed or after have introduced a definition in context. Of course it is not always possible to do this but it is a very good discipline to nurture and develop. It has made me more critical and saved me from a lot of bull shit I might have come up with otherwise. 

Other things that came to mind during the session are as follows:

  1. Writing started as a mystical act which changed into pragmatic bureaucracy.
  2. Distinguishing between the real and the virtual needs a defined idea of what is real and virtual much as for the difference between the natural and the artificial. It enters the area of discerning what is true and what is false. Truth and falsehood. As far as art is concerned, I cannot deal with absolute truths, reality or any other such paradigms. I can only deal with tropes and morality or values. Tropes are cognitive comparators and morality is culturally relative, unless one accepts certain inalienable and self evident ideas. It all becomes very difficult to argue in the face of contrary views. I have grown to think that authenticity and integrity, at least for me, are the more important conditions for an artist. And out of this arise observations and descriptions created with tropes that bear some relevance to life.
  3. In order to distinguish between two things, to think only in terms of comparison makes things harder without its sister contrast. Similarities tell you something about why it is difficult to distinguish between those given things but it does tell you why one is considering them as different. Contrasting on the other hand tells you why they cannot be the same and perhaps whether they differ by degree or in kind. 
  4. When comparing and contrasting two ideas, objects or events, it is as well to consider any new insights or notions that this might lead to. 
  5. Regarding a hobby horse of mine: the word ‘issue’ is much used instead of ‘problem’. I remember when all this issue about issue started, it was a way of thinking positively about something harmful rather than negatively and therefore more approachable in terms of a solution. However, I think it has gone too far and serious circumstances have become issues. Issues are really topics for debate and the word does not necessarily demand solution. So I now like to think of problems as something to confront and issues… you can take them or leave them.
  6. Looking for examples before having formed a clear idea of what they are mean to show can sometimes make it hard to find them. I find it is a good idea to look for the large things such as principles and work my way down until I find examples. It is about taking care of the large things and the details will take care of themselves. It is much harder to construct generality from the particular. However, one small caveat to that is when tidying, I always find I need to deal with the small things first in order to clear the decks for arranging the large things. 

Finally I need to prepare some files for the ‘Impromptu’ show at Two Girls Gallery by next Monday (17 June) – A3 files.

Site and Touch: Molyneux’s Problem

I came across an article about the 300 year old Molyneux’s Problem regarding the relationship between sight and touch as it concerns internal world building. This is something that has come to my mind many times in terms of the aesthetics of three dimensional objects and my approaches in making something tangible. 

What was once taken as purely a thought experiment due to the impossibility of giving sight to someone congenitally blind has now been presented with an empirically verifiable solution. 

In 2011 Richard Held and Dr. Pawan Sinha leading a team at Project Prakash (Prakash mean light in Sanskrit) demonstrated that which Locke had intuited. That the cognitive association between touch and sight have to be learnt and are not hard wired in our brains.

The experience of shape in each sense is independent of the other and they are not associated from birth. A congenitally blind person being given sight would not recognise a cube, say, on seeing it for the first time even if they were offered an identical one for comparison. However, they would soon learn to relate what they experience through touch with what they see. This seems self evident enough but it was not verifiable until recently with advances in eye surgery and indeed many thinkers thought otherwise. Look up dear old Bishop Berkeley: yes the one that thought if you turned your back on something it disappeared.  

How does this affect my ideas about making? I work a great deal with touch through my hands. I have been aware that if I were not able to see the composition of a work it would be very different using touch alone. The aesthetic qualities that would arise out of working blind would pertain to another world; one in which light is alien and the mind would navigate and construct form in quite a different way. 

 

 

I have often referred to navigating form in my mind with an inner eye, moving around the object in question in a virtual world. Although I am not using my eyes this ‘sighted’ world relies on having experienced sight. How different this would be had I been congenitally blind. So imagining being able to create in the absence of light experience would be well nigh impossible

 

 

 

Critique on Latest Study

Porcelain high relief in drying box 18 x 19 x 11cm

This study has led me to reflect on what I am currently doing both in terms of work and conceptual content. Working small on a large scale idea is not always easy. It is different in the way one part relates to another, everything is seen at a glance rather than experiencing a gradual discovery as an informal circular dance is choreographed around the work. Viewing distances are bodily contract towards immobility as I end up very close to the work, without glasses, in an attempt to restore a large scale visual relationship.

In this work my thoughts have focused on a particular set of notions and shifted from an Apollonian ideal found in the Studies for H to a more Dionysian sense of things. The subjects remain the same and the methodology similar but with its content altered in someway. As always a dichotomy is expressing itself like night and day. 

The study has been difficult to accept in terms of its composition but I have learnt a great deal in how I could approach a more ambitious work. This would be many times larger which itself presents a number of technical issues of drying out and weight. I may have to construct a specific humidity box to maintain the necessary moisture content over a prolonged period. Then again covering may be the only thing necessary since the mass of material will keep its moisture content more readily due to the reduced evaporation caused by a decreased surface to volume ratio.

Its implied motion suggests to me an animation in the form of a ‘dance’ that traces ideas underlying the work. In addition it is in high relief whereas what I envisage as a finished work extends in height and may be on a circular base: perhaps a subliminal allusion to old master depictions of the Tower of Babel: an icon of chaos and the hubris of man (and women?).

 

 

But what is it I am doing, evoking the weight of generations, the struggle for life, are these metaphors for humanity? This latter question refers to my previous post title, ‘What is the Difference’. This is not a de-humanisation but rather a de-centering of the anthropic view of things. We are part of the whole and not separated from it, a view that has proliferated during the Anthropocene. We are as subject to the same blind and dispassionate forces that brought us about as any other part of nature… with one difference. We have a heightened capacity to change our behaviour. But the individual dynamic is not the same as that of the group and this creates an inertia which naturally tends towards conserving the status quo. Which way things will go is still in the balance; a race against time for the majority of future humans. Extinction is unlikely to be total but annihilation of a large number if not majority of people is certainly a clear possibility.  

 


 

It has just occurred to me, why am I writing all this down, I have never done such a thing, why post so much since I hold all these thoughts in my mind as I work? One, it provides a contemporary document that may prove valuable in the future: the memory plays tricks and history is constantly retold in the light of the present. Two, writing practice has enabled me to move more rapidly through ideas, build on them, alter them and articulate them more clearly

Skype Chat 3.3: Four Assumptions

Over a week ago I was travelling back from Cluj Napoca, sitting at the Chiorean’s dinner table with laptop next to me trying to follow the conversation as it transpassed me online. The framework around which the chat revolved were four sets of assumptions taken from Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

The following assumption can generate highly personal and interested arguments that can contradict, overlap and synthesise. I have put them below to reflect on. Much of what is said is self evident in the light of experience but to those new to artistic practice they may help to clarify the confusion that can come from  lack of knowledge and experience, ambition, received notions and the weight of art history. These writings largely confirm what I have come to know over years of hard work, triumphs and disappointments. The essence of these notions, after they are made one’s own, make the act of making, of creating, of art so much more authentic. That is why I say, each to their own, art cannot be canonised but for one’s own eventual authority in what one does.

Assumptions

1   ARTMAKING INVOLVES SKILLS THAT CAN BE LEARNED.
The conventional wisdom here is that while “craft” can be taught, “art” remains a magical gift bestowed only by the gods. Not so. In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive. Clearly, these qualities can be nurtured by others. Even talent is rarely distinguishable, over the long run, from perseverance and lots of hard work. It’s true that every few years the authors encounter some beginning photography student whose first-semester prints appear as finely crafted as any Ansel Adams might have made. And it’s true that a natural gift like that (especially coming at the fragile early learning stage) returns priceless encouragement to its maker. But all that has nothing to do with artistic content. Rather, it simply points up the fact that most of us (including Adams himself!) had to work years to perfect our art.

2   ART IS MADE BY ORDINARY PEOPLE.
Creatures having only virtues can hardly be imagined making art. It’s difficult to picture the Virgin Mary painting landscapes. Or Batman throwing pots. The flawless creature wouldn’t need to make art. And so, ironically, the ideal artist is scarcely a theoretical figure at all. If art is made by ordinary people, then you’d have to allow that the ideal artist would be an ordinary person too, with the whole usual mixed bag of traits that real human beings possess. This is a giant hint about art, because it suggests that our flaws and weaknesses, while often obstacles to our getting work done, are a source of strength as well. Something about making art has to do with overcoming things, giving us a clear opportunity for doing things in ways we have always known we should do them.

3   MAKING ART AND VIEWING ART ARE DIFFERENT AT THEIR CORE.
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. That belief, if widely embraced, would make this book unnecessary, false, or both. Such sanity is, unfortunately, rare. Making art provides uncomfortably accurate feedback about the gap that inevitably exists between what you intended to do, and what you did. In fact, if artmaking did not tell you (the maker) so enormously much about yourself, then making art that matters to you would be impossible. 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.
For the artist, that truth highlights a familiar and predictable corollary: artmaking can be a rather lonely, thankless affair. Virtually all artists spend some of their time (and some artists spend virtually all of their time) producing work that no one else much cares about. It just seems to come with the territory. But for some reason — self-defense, perhaps — artists find it tempting to romanticize this lack of response, often by (heroically) picturing themselves peering deeply into the underlying nature of things long before anyone else has eyes to follow.
Romantic, but wrong. The sobering truth is that the disinterest of others hardly ever reflects a gulf in vision. In fact there’s generally no good reason why others should care about most of any one artist’s work. The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential. X-rays of famous paintings reveal that even master artists sometimes made basic mid-course corrections (or deleted really dumb mistakes) by overpainting the still-wet canvas. The point is that you learn how to make your work by making your work, and a great many of the pieces you make along the way will never stand out as finished art. The best you can do is make art you care about — and lots of it!
The rest is largely a matter of perseverance. Of course once you’re famous, collectors and academics will circle back in droves to claim credit for spotting evidence of genius in every early piece. But until your ship comes in, the only people who will really care about your work are those who care about you personally. Those close to you know that making the work is essential to your well being. They will always care about your work, if not because it is great, then because it is yours — and this is something to be genuinely thankful for. Yet however much they love you, it still remains as true for them as for the rest of the world: learning to make your work is not their problem.

4   ARTMAKING HAS BEEN AROUND LONGER THAN THE ART ESTABLISHMENT.
Through most of history, the people who made art never thought of themselves as making art. In fact it’s quite presumable that art was being made long before the rise of consciousness, long before the pronoun “I” was ever employed. The painters of caves, quite apart from not thinking of themselves as artists, probably never thought of themselves at all. What this suggests, among other things, is that the current view equating art with “self-expression” reveals more a contemporary bias in our thinking than an underlying trait of the medium. Even the separation of art from craft is largely a post- Renaissance concept, and more recent still is the notion that art transcends what you do, and represents what you are. In the past few centuries Western art has moved from unsigned tableaus of orthodox religious scenes to one-person displays of personal cosmologies. “Artist” has gradually become a form of identity which (as every artist knows) often carries with it as many drawbacks as benefits. Consider that if artist equals self, then when (inevitably) you make flawed art, you are a flawed person, and when (worse yet) you make no art, you are no person at all! It seems far healthier to sidestep that vicious spiral by accepting many paths to successful artmaking — from reclusive to flamboyant, intuitive to intellectual, folk art to fine art. One of those paths is yours.

Skype Chat 3.4: Research Statement I

Yesterday we went through some of the initial research statement ideas; next week we shall look at the rest.

My initial research statement outline is fairly advanced by this stage. I have been thinking about it for a number of weeks and it builds on notions I have had throughout the course as well as bringing in constant interests of mine including archaeology-anthropology, mythology, palaeobiology and big history. My trajectory has changed markedly over the past seven months. I started with the idea of looking at the relationship between sound and sculpture. However, I have moved away from this as has my work. I think it important that the RS bear some relationship with developments for it to be of use to me and open out onto avenues into the future whilst linking with my past practice. The ideas I am working with now I believe offer greater possibilities for poetic notions to infuse into what I do: what I was thinking previously in terms of sculpture and sound was more of an aesthetic-technical question. 

The response to the plain English summary I prepared was well received although I did feel that the lack of greater detail did lead to misunderstandings that might not have occurred had the text been written in more technical language. It is always a delicate balancing act between clarity and accessibility. Assumptions have to be made either way and reception very much depends on the audience. Nevertheless, I was able to answer and clarify queries during the chat and I also gathered useful reminders of what I need to bear in mind. 

Jonathan asked me whether the final questions regarding contemporary digital environments would be looked at through a particular lens for example any specific artists. I must admit that this is the area I need to research most. It is a large arena and I have to keep to very specific examples. What comes to mind is Asimov and the like but there is new work being carried out in the field of AI which presents a challenge but I am sure that once immersed in the details of research I will find a rich seam of examples. 

Danni suggest contemporary science fiction as a source. Although this is true in terms of fantasy, the field is vast. The Andromeda Strain by Crichton has sudden come into my head and is one way of looking at things. However, I wish to end the enquiry with more concrete virtual examples. 

I think Jonathan’s observation that the final question regarding perception of AI created mythological beings as philosophical rather than an exploration of existing work is a very interesting one. I must bear in mind not to loose my word count, way, by following this sort of enquiry which quite honestly can be never ending. 

I am very glad that Jonathan observed that the two contextual ideas of Dennett and Wengrow made what would otherwise have been a ‘way too big’ research question manageable. I was aware of keeping things tight and Dennett and Wengrow create a very neat way of encompassing what could become a titanic struggle. Today I made a break through in the correlation between the emergence of large metazoan Cambrian fauna and the proliferation of composite creatures in the Early Bronze Age. This offers a methodology that can be applied to many situations, not just this one. By comparing the energy input of both environments as causes and not the causes of the energy changes in both cases, the whole argument is simplified. I need only explain how increased energy input into each respective ecology occurred comparing the effects of that increased availability of energy: oxygen in one case and food supply in the other. The causes then become of secondary (but no less interesting) importance reducing the amount of contextual explanations. Increased energy levels then correlate growth and motility in both scenarios with Hox genes and writing the information codes that enable the development of complex forms. How I shall explain in the text which I believe can be done cogently. This correlate then sets up the scenario for considering modern and contemporary ideas.

I know that I will have to keep focused and as J says, I shall have to exclude a lot of the material due to the word count. Keeping to the contextual lenses will help. But this is all a good thing because it means that if I should wish to take things further in terms of writing. academic research,  or some other pursuit, there is plenty to expand on. 

Dannii brought up a parallel with music: composing with code to produce what does not look like music yet might be called such. This was interesting in the light of my previous ideas for a research paper. This is something I may still incorporate in the project proposal. Dannii referenced Mark Pilkington. Looking through some of his works on his web site I find some of the things worth listening to in parts but on the whole lack cohesion. The works seem to be predictably random and without shape with isolated elements presenting imaginative glimpses into what might be but it is never sustained. I think that the main problem is one of rhythm and pacing sacrificed to a love of novel effects. It follows the traditions of electroacustic tradition and musique concrete without a sense of the whole. 

 

Research Statement in Plain English

 

I have condensed the initial ideas for the research statement into as plain English as I can. This may help me see what lies ahead more clearly and explain what I am doing. After all, if I were not able to talk about the subject in an accessible way, what would it say about my understanding of it?

 

The Genesis and Proliferation of Natural and Virtual Monsters

The ways by which things come about in different areas of life often appear to bear little resemblance to one another. But if you look closely enough you can see that they often share processes that, regardless of the what, where and when, give comparable results if not the same: biology and art are no exceptions despite their very great differences. I am looking at correlations between how large animals evolved – the number of body parts, their shape and the way they are put together – and the creation of the mixed up creatures described in art, religious texts, mythologies and other imaginings. There are strong connections between the ways these real and imaginary animals evolved and spread in nature and across cultures. My research statement will explore the similarities between these processes and their conditions helping to understand how the digital world might influence the creation of future composite mythological beings.

Throughout the time humans have been on this planet, the overwhelming majority of imagined creatures have been what could be called intuitive forms. That is to say, they come readily to mind, eating, breathing, moving and living emotional lives, much in the way we do. However, with the arrival of non-living mechanisms such as computers and their programmes the question arises, what forms might such artificial creators bring forth? Virtual or real, these new organisms might not be readily recognised. as such by we humans. They might well be described as non-intuitive creatures, in other words not coming easily to mind, alien.

A very long time ago, over 500 million years in fact, the world was a very different place. The environment was changing radically, opening out new opportunities for early complex life to evolve new forms or body plans. This was the time of the Cambrian explosion when genetics and the oxygenation of Earth were great driving forces that led to the rise of totally new animal body plans and ways of living. Free movement, predation, heads with sensory organs were formed during this time. Moving forward half a billion years, the world was still changing but in different ways. Ice Age glaciers had long receded and gradually people started to live in large cities leaving their old hunter gathered ways of living, embracing the new sophisticated urban centres in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, the Indus basin and the Far East. This changing social environment also brought with it opportunities in which different ideas and beliefs could come together and forge new mythological beings. They grew in number, variety and extension during the Early Bronze Age, promoted by ever greater and finer divisions of labour, growing trade and the invention of writing. These composite creatures like chimaeras and sphinxes breathed, reproduced and lived emotional lives much as we do. These two means of creation share a great deal in fundamental processes despite their very obvious differences.

Today we are on the threshold of another new world, one we share with machines. Machines affect us profoundly and it seems reasonable to predict that their intelligence may also, in the not too distant future, conjure new mythological beings. Present day conditions too can be seen as corresponding to those of the Cambrian and Bronze Age. However, the internal processes of artificial intelligence are rapidly becoming a mystery even to those that create the programmes. If artificial intelligences were to one day create their own mythological beings, what form might they take? One could say that the old familiar creatures are intuitive to our sensibilities but would we even recognise the new non-intuitive artifices as virtual or living organisms? How would we react to them, with fear, revulsion, wonder, understanding or even empathy?