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.  

 

Elusive Directions: Taxonomy and Mereology

Instrument of Gender in Porcelain (unfired)

I have been thinking about the direction of my work so far during this MA. It has been a period during which things have moved from one thing to another, a period for exploring ideas and dipping my toes into all kinds of areas. With the Research Statement in mind, I need to move things onto a more decisive footing in order for me to have the time to complete an ambitious project proposal next year. 

In the past I have written about my practice as a molecular construction from atomic elements giving way to a more poetic, informal modelling of material.  I have also written about a search to unify my disparate practice; something that has proved elusive. I remember what Will said about my Mid Point Review presentation, that he would like to see a whole room full of works which are not necessarily interconnected. He spoke spontaneously about something that I have continuously reiterated in everything I do. Collections and series, sequences and lines of descent have always fascinated me and heterogeneity has been constantly manifest. Dannii also hinted at another aspect which I have worked on previously, that of creating a legacy from a speculative world that is not necessarily ours. Some of my past exhibitions have touched on these aspects: Chaos Contained, An Artificial Natural History, Traces of Life, Sacred Places, Steel to name a few. These projects have contained an element of evolutionary repetition in a rational collection form. 

What I have largely done so far is attempt a synthesis through a taxonomic approach: seeing the whole as a collection of different elements and trying to connect them by defining their degree of connectedness or relatedness. This approach can work as a system of classification, atomising the properties and characteristics of a practice. This in turn is helpful as a means of combining and recombining things in novel ways. However, this approach can also be divisive creating boundaries and exclusion.

An analogy would be seeing all living organisms as somehow related and attempting to systematise this connectedness in a meaningful way. I feel that what I have done is akin to constructing a genetic tree of my own practice. In the case of biology this throws light on the mechanism of evolution and descent. However, evolution does not have foresight, it is not teleological. Artistic practice on the other hand, has a strong element of aiming for something, a goal or purpose be it wealth, influence, change, discovering or what have you. Taxonomy although useful, is an analytical tool that does not provide all the answers, it is not contextual. Another analogy would be that of taxonomy in biology only tells us about how related organisms are, but to find out more about how they interact, we need to look at their behaviour in their given environments, their ecology. I am not surprised that the Linnean system of classification predated by a considerable period the first ecological observations by Humbolt.

The shortcomings of taking a classification approach was highlighted in the two group sessions we had on Elusive Taxonomies. In short, taxonomy is only partially helpful in giving a synoptic view of a practice or in developing a methodological and philosophical synthesis. In order to get a fuller picture I need a different optic, invert things so that instead of looking at the relationship between areas of work, I look at how each component relates to a whole. Respective interaction then become predicated on inclusion, as part of the whole in which they participate. Each component then shares a parthood with every other component in relation to the whole. Connections are therefore a function of this parthood rather than a more reductive inclusion exclusion defining their place and function.

This is a subtly different way of thinking. Taxonomy is useful in seeing how things relate to one another; parthood, or mereology, helps to conceptually bring together things that might not appear related in the first place. With respect to my practice, looking at it mereologically, what brings together its different aspects would be things such intent, response, experience, circumstance. (There is one element, modality, that seems to straddle the two ways of thinking and presents and interesting conduit between the two.)

All this of course is an analysis of what arises out of intuitive thinking. It is also complicated by how my practice has changed over time. This introduces an evolutionary element which needs to be largely set aside for the moment: I need to concentrate on the now. However, it does highlight an important element that goes into the heterogeneous character of what I do, that I cannot endlessly repeat an idea or process. The reasons for this are for another time. 

To summarise: using taxonomy and mereology together is a powerful way of critically analysing my practice… after the fact. This analysis  influences but not necessarily directs what I do  in action . Taxonomy is a means of understanding the component parts and their interactions a way of building a framework; mereology on the other hand helps identify the context and reasons for my particular methodology.

Pure Data

The previous post talked about sound and sculpture in terms of building blocks of non-verbal language. This is a fascinating area of theoretical practice that seems somewhat neglected whether because it is seen as irrelevant or the two areas are separated by a formal academic-professional gap I do not know. Artists have used sound and sculpture together, but as I have said before, one as the container or instrument of the other, not as equals. I do not presume to find a perfect balance between the two but I do approach them as having, at least theoretically, homological correspondences. Using basic units as the building blocks of each respective language, much as phonemes are the basic units of speech, I can perhaps meld the two together. Curiosity as to whether this succeeds is part of the impetus for the exploration.

I still maintain that sculpture is silent and sound disembodied. Sculpture primarily finds its place in my kinetic being, sound vibrates the corpus as an intangible organ sounding within me. Regardless of how they are interpreted they at least have this in common, that they inhabit the body as the closely related physical senses of touch and vibration. 

I have been looking at Pure Data as a means of generating sound, the basic components of it, vibration as frequency, pulse and volume. At last I have worked it out by following some videos on YouTube. The actual mechanics are simple, the syntax is straightforward enough. The learning curve seems to reside in understanding what each object does and how it interacts with other components. From this sounds can be generated without reference to outside associations. This seems the way, at least in great part, for crossing the boundaries between sculpture and sound in the purest sense; how sound can be shaped and moulded to correspond with sculpture… and vice versa, or perhaps even shaped synchronously. Sounds generated can then be edited in some other software or generated in situ and manipulated in real time. 

Language and Shape

Study in porcelain, unfired

 

I have referred to the central role language plays in my work. This role is not an overt one, I have not used text or words explicitly so far. However, in this blog journal I use words as a glue that binds together ideas in some way trying to make sense of what are at the outset subliminal responses to experience. In the Mid Point review I recently mentioned language as a principle theme in the project proposal as I did in the initial symposium back in October; the time has come to attempt at explaining this. 

Why is language important to me? Beyond emotions, physical responses and sensations, in order for me to think about the world around me in ways that build on experience and gain some understanding I need a more complex and flexible way of ordering thoughts. This way comes in the form of verbal language, spoken and then written. A word is an abstract entity that stands for something we encounter in the world. This label is made up of individual sounds or phonemes. Phonemes are recombined to form words, words form phrases and sentences and so on articulating complex thoughts. 

This correlates with how I work through sculpture. The basic building blocks, or ‘phonemes’ are shapes. Each shape raises a response in me just as the sonic values of phonemes carry with them an emotional-auditory response. This idea is used in poetry as in alliteration giving a sense beyond the abstract meaning of the words. In Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood’ the poet uses alliteration just for its sonic effects,

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless
and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched,
courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the
sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.

However, he also uses metaphor and rhythm to build a vivid sensual picture full of emotional as well as cognitive tension that goes beyond the semantic values of the words. It is a shaping of the world in words.

Sculpture can also work in poetic terms, the semantic-associative value of shapes when combined give rise to thoughts that go beyond the sphere, cone and rod, nose, finger and pear. I use shape as a response to thoughts and ideas; what emerges is not an ekphrastic embodiment but an intention towards a more poetic form. Sound too can be used to build ideas but its very essence conveys a deeply subjective emotional meaning, one that can be used to build emotional narratives that in turn can create associative responses. Words, sounds and shapes act on our senses and thoughts in different ways but they all bear a commonality in that their basic component units can be combined and recombined to create a complex language. Where they differ is in what they communicate and this is why combining, in my case sound and sculpture does present a valid case. 

This leads me to ask, should a sculpture be silent and sound disembodied? This purist idea is difficult to refute and has been the ground for a silent debate during modern European history. Perhaps in the end sculpture should remain silent. But then again, I can see that shaped sound could inhabit a sculpture and pulsate within its form, tracing its contours as it pushes against silence, forming a boundary of perception so that the very space around the sculpture is contiguous with it; a symbiotic intertwining of form and sound tracing reciprocal interactions between two modalities that go beyond the semantics of the words involved in explaining the relationship. 

The study in porcelain shown above is one form that challenges me to think how sound might correlate with form. Not this particular form, ostensibly it is part of another work, but as I am looking to bring together different works as part of the project proposal it does ring bells in my head. Is scale important? I think that viewing distance may play a part, perhaps sound responding to the placement of the receiver in relation to the form much as the visual is rewarded with different perceptions: long distance – overall structure and its relationship with the environment, intermediate distance – component parts and their interrelationships, close up – surface and texture. This is all of course separate to the associative meanings the form might bear. How can sound be distilled into this sort of relationship, frequency, pulse, detail? Can the same be applied to sound as to solid form, are their analogies or am I dealing with something different in kind? These are all questions I aim to explore…

 

Grappling with the Angel

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel: Jacob Epstein, alabaster (in Tate Britain)

 

The Jacob of Genesis wrestled with the angel, some say with God, taming a vengeful angry deity and forging a new relationship between humankind and divinity. I see this divinity as the all encompassing material universe made flesh in a dream as Malakh. 

After completing the Mid Point Review I woke to a new realisation, that of grappling with a multitude of ideas trying to reduce them to a single point with a focused coherence of some sort. It did go through my mind to do the Tantra thing and make a painting symbolic of this synthesis into a whole: a point for meditation. However, my nature would not allow me to settle on such a solution. You see, I view the world as a continuum panning vertically from the infinite to the infinitesimal and horizontally across the fastness of time and space. The world is a whole simple single entity and it is a complex of interrelated elements divisible and united. Reality is smooth and simultaneous, granular and causal. This duality is not a matter of indecision but of phenomenological understanding. 

So the problem I was wrestling with can be summed up as, do I present a single work that tries to represent a multitude, issues, subjects, material solutions and approaches, a symbolic sign or do I present, what I call in the MPR, a compendium of interrelated works, each able to stand on its own? The former requires a silencing-out of ideas, the latter risking to appear disordered and confused. If I am to be honest, the minimalist approach does not satisfy my nature however elegant it might appear. I am a mongrel of ideas and influences, philosophically and genetically heterozygous .

In an attempt to resolve this problem I am lead to ask of myself, what is the glue that would bind the works if I were to take the second path? I have already gone over this in a much earlier post. I also hinted at the answer in the MPR where I have written, words are the labels of my thoughts. This is at least partially true. I am not a good speaker but I enjoy the act of putting ideas into words the semantics of language and their syntax. Much of my understanding of the world is worked out with labels, shuffled and shunted in my mind until they fall into place only to be moved again and again. I am talking semiotics here; touched on in the previous post Significance and Meaning.

Having settled on my general direction and that is not to have to create a single work, however holistic it might be, and that words are the narrative glue that binds their content, I start to think about the relationships between the works. In so doing, they start to take shape in my mind, decisions have a rational and an intuitive element: working with Dionysian impulse and Apollonian restraint towards a balancing and rebalancing a weaving of interrelations, invisible lines of tension that burgeon into some physical form in each part.

But do I explain these relationship in words or should they be left to be uncovered, discovered, debated and vulnerable to misunderstanding. I must leave this to the receiver but the trick is to leave sufficient breadcrumbs for way into the wood to be made accesible. A catalogue or a statement, a performance or poetry, for now that question can be left unanswered, there is time for that to develop and mature.

Now for some content. The very provisional titles with which I refer to each principle work, yes there are also small morsels I plan to sow in the interstices, are significant as monikers for the links being forged. Hermaphroditus deals with gender, language and religion through the channel of myth. Logos/Oracle again inspired by the myths deals, as logos alludes, with the disruption of language and understanding through biological and geological metaphors of the gut and the cavern: the devouring of reason and dissemination of ambiguity and ambivalence. Language links these two works but the third installation is unspoken, the absence of word. Shadowland translates the three-dimensional world into two dimensions, constantly reiterating in analogue and digital means the simplification of form, altering its meaning. Whereas Hermaphroditus unfolds and Logos confounds, Shadowlands simplifies and in so doing creates another narrative. 

The trilogy of unfolding, confounding and simplification represents in some way how I see this project. An attempt to simplify and synthesise entanglements through unfolding. The nature of interpretation and mutation of meaning links the works and suggest further works. Is this not the essence of myth? As I write I start to draw together the elements I outlined in the project proposal and as I do so other considerations start to fall in place, considerations such as the aesthetics of each piece. This starts to look less important and somewhat superficial. However, it is still important as a means of conveying a sense defined by the thoughts that go into the work. 

Finally, there is the fourth element, the antecedent to all three which for now must remain undisclosed lest I should abandon its making and disappoint myself. It is a relic of times past and gives context within my own practice, what you might make of it is not for me to say. 

I now feel renewed, on the threshold of a dawn having wrestled the angel. Like in a dream I did not realise I was in quite such a struggle. This realisation has come with the Low Residency and the MPR. There is much planning and preparation, experimentation and workings out. The projects are ambitious in meaning and in making and I cannot afford to leave things to sort themselves out. I cleared a path but it is yet to be trodden and tested. It is now time to take the next step… and keep writing. 

Significance and Meaning and the Mid Point Review

Having completed my Mid Point Review video, I sat back and thought about it, what does it communicate, how would it be seen by my peers? The video touches on some of my current research and development, nothing concrete as yet, no final work(s) to show or indicate their latent presence. Ideas and thoughts strung together, loosely milling in my brain taking up positions, making connections, only to be shaken up again. 

I was struck by the coherency of the other presentations, how singular and linear, how focused on a single target. In Michelle’s video, she talks about the small history, not found in books, encapsulated in conversations and daily actions. This made me think that I deal with large history, quite a different proposition. But at a point the two must meet. Where does the individual become society and vice versa? This is something I think about a lot; the tension between the small and the large. I would be interested in following this line of thinking further in my work. 

Held in all that is said and done lie two things, meaning and significance. These are words often used synonymously. Both convey information but in subtly, or perhaps not, different ways. They can convey roughly the same information with very different implications. Meaning is about the information contained within something and how it is represented, it is symbolic. What is the meaning of, ‘a thirst for knowledge’? The desire to know more about things. Significance on the other hand is more about the relevance or importance of the contained meaning, its impact or consequences: your thirst for knowledge in this research is significant to what you might find. 

Both ideas work with information but in different ways, symbolic versus causal.  What I am saying here is that my work deals with both the symbolism, the semantics of something and its consequence. Another example arises out of the question, what is the meaning of your work, what is it about?  I have plenty of answers to this but are they significant, will they affect the person or just switch them off. This ties in with the conversation had with Pav during the group presentations on the second day of the Residency. I have to be interested in the meaning, it is one of the things that sustains my interest in what I do. However, it is more relevant to be talking about the significance of the work: how does it affect the receiver. And for this, a conversation needs to open and remain open. I cannot tell what the significance of a work will be. I can work with significant matter, but how it affects someone else, that needs to be part of an exchange.  

This brings back to mind Anderson’s idea of art, ‘culturally significance meaning, skilfully encoded in a sensuous, affecting medium’. It is ‘significant’ that he deliberately uses the two words in his anthropological summation. The meaning is encoded through a medium that both affects and is perceived phenomenologically, not just semantically. The skill lies in how effective the artist is in doing this. The point then becomes, how significant is the meaning and all that is done with it, to others?

I have some ideas as with Hermaphroditus and Logos.

A Reminder When Writing

I came across this rather irreverent table yesterday. It is aimed at the authors of science papers but I think it can equally apply to the arts if clear thinking is considered a desirable thing in this field. I can say that I have been guilty of writing bullshit at times. That is why I constantly need to remind myself against doing so. When writing I ask myself a number of questions:

  • Do I understand what I am dealing with?
  • Do I have the means by which to speak of it?
  • Am I aware of the holes and caveats in my own argument?
  • Am I using a fallacy to support an argument? For example, begging the question; when the conclusion is used as the premise, all too easily done. 
  • Am I trying to be objective or subjective? Which ever might be the case, I need to make clear my stand point; observation and opinion are two very different things. 

But, I must also remember that I should not be afraid to make mistakes, take risks and make intuitive leaps. The absurd can be a useful tool to highlight an issue. 

The logical, the heuristic and the intuitive may seem at odds here, and on the surface they often are. However, artistic practice is far more complex a process for one to be constrained to rules adhering to a particular paradigm. Like the whole of life itself, to question is to remain open and live to the world, and one’s art practice is a personal reflection of the world lived. Being an artist, particularly today, provides one with the privilege of stating the speculative, imaginative, daring and singular, the uncomfortable truth and the lie, promote change and be dangerous or liberating, perhaps at one and the same time. It is about making a personal statement that if sincerely and honestly stated, being authentic, it is possible to make a wider statement that speaks for and to more than one person and is communicable. I can only deal with a small area of a vast world case. To attempt otherwise would be to assume that one can understand the entirety of things.

I try not to obfuscate in my writing although at times, for the sake of brevity I must make assumptions and express myself in a form of shorthand which may need unpacking: a necessary avoidance of overly long posts at the expense of time spent making. Returning to the original point about writing, I think it apt to finish with this cartoon that makes the point in a humorous way:

Stand the monologue on its head and one comes nearer to the truth. 

I now have to be careful to live by this…

…and take risks at the same time.

So long as I am aware of what I am doing I hope to avoid unintentional bullshit. 

The Origin of Monsters and Imaginal Discs

Bronze Man and wounded Centaur, mid 8th century BCE

Having started to read The Origin of Monsters: Image and Cognition in the First Age of Mechanical Reproduction by David Wengrow, many ideas are forming in my head relating to the way I work, metamorphosis and modularity.

The basic idea behind the book is that the assemblage of imaginary creatures comprising body parts from different species including human, is a construct that became established and spread primarily out of the urban way of thinking during pre-Bronze Age civilisations in regions such as the  Indus and Mesopotamia. Wengrow invokes contemporary cognitive research positing that the creation of such creatures conforms to our modular way of thinking and our cognitive understanding of the world from a non mono-causal complex mix of social, technological and moral processes. The most culturally stable composite creatures are those that can function ‘normally’ in the world, breathing, eating, moving, seeing, hearing. They are the most enduring and widespread being the least counterintuitive, least fantastic and most believable, such as dragons, griffins and centaurs. This way of thinking was fostered by and proliferated in early urban societies where the codification of a variety of ideas in the state, organised religions, and writing in particular, promoted modular thinking or as I would say, synthetic poietic thinking. In such environments, counterintuitive views made of composite elements reflected the complexity of city life and intercommunal communication. Represented in object and pictorial form, and propagated and ‘reproduced’ through literature, they became culturally significant and widespread, their metastasis fostered by trade and commerce. Before the bronze age, composite creatures appear much less frequently in the artistic output of cultures, a correlation that Wengrow uses to support his thesis. The one question that is outside the scope of the book is the actual genesis of composite creatures in the imagination. The thesis simply states that the establishment and proliferation of these composites is an emergent property of our way of thinking combined with cultural transitions. Wengrow admits that this is a mid-range study, however, it is rich in imagination and fosters further imaginings. 

This idea of modularity relating to cognition and composite creatures brings to mind the non-teleological evolutionary processes that gave rise to the Cambrian explosion, the advent of metamerism, predation and nature’s ‘experimentation’ of body plans. In order for body plans to be transformable and parts to be interchangeable, a form of modularity is required. Multicellularity is not enough, it is inconceivable that the simple, relatively loose agglomeration of specialised cells in, say a hydra, could be recombined to give rise to a new body plan, only another version of the same. There is a problem in creating a variety of body plans without a form of modularity. During the Cambrian this problem was resolved with the emergence of metamerism or segmentation. If an organism is made up of segments, the genetic regulation of each segment’s respective development becomes much simpler. Each segment can bear relation to the others and yet develop to accomplish different functions such as the head, limbs and tail. We know that HOX were critical in metazoan evolution regulating cell differentiation and thereby the morphogenesis of plants and animals. Modular segmentation allows for a high degree of interchangeability of body parts through genetic recombination without necessarily causing  disruptions that would make any change unviable. One can imagine that this modularity reaches right down to the fundamentals of multicellularity including the brain itself. It is not too far a reach to think that the our thinking reflects that modularity and that that in turn reflects our way of thinking and the imagination. Ray Kurzeil, describes how complex mammalian brains function in a hierarchical modular fashion and how workers in artificial intelligence are trying to create homologues of this architecture. (Kurweil posits a future, in which a traverse in human development occurs through hybrid thinking: simply put, the downloading of network information into the brain, accessing the combined computing power of the web, or similar structure. An interesting idea in which our intelligence can be enhanced by means of ‘plugging in’ to an artificial neural net capable of far faster computations than we are.)

 

Artist’s impression of Anomalocaris, approx. 500 M yrs ago

The flexibility in body plans meant that complex ecologies could arise with the important and transformative emergence of predation. The new relationship between predator and prey brought about the necessity, probably synchronously, for movement, vision, an alimentary canal and a form of awareness of direction. Vision, to see your prey or attacker; movement to catch and evade; a head to distinguish direction of movement. With all these new perceptive and locomotary abilities, the sense organs and mouth would be best placed at the anterior end of the body or head: the first part of an organism that meets the approaching environment when moving forward. 

The alimentary canal is an important part of this new development in survival strategies and must have developed very early on in segmented animals. It is essential for motile organisms, enabling them to ingest, digest and assimilate food on the move. This allowed animal life to expand into environments that would have been otherwise out of bounds. A homologue to the alimentary canal features in many of my works. It is of primal function with a great number of metaphorical connotations. Not only is it of biological and evolutionary significance, the gut from mouth to anus is also the prime organ of the deadly sin of gluttony; it is an internal boundary with the outside world that we share symbiotically with a diverse, and for each one of us, unique flora; the gut is recognised as being in close and complex communication with the brain via the vagus nerve, one of the longest in the human body; and we figuratively make decisions using our gut instinct. 

 

Organic form in as yet unfired porcelain: length 590 mm

The project proposal at the moment features metamorphosis as one of its main themes. I work modularly: when thinking critically about something I break the whole into components which can be loosened and rearranged into new configurations. This is the nature of metamorphosis from within, dialysis followed by synthesis: as a caterpillar digests itself within the chrysalis, it keeps structures known as imaginal discs for each body part as proto-building blocks around which the future butterfly will form. In my case, the soup is as the negative capability from which creative thinking is shaped; the imaginal discs, the prior knowledge applied to give shape to abductive notions. Call this intuition if you wish, but this belies the formal structures that underlie what appear to be informal processes. And so my project proposal continues by harvesting, selecting, distilling and assimilating and intoxicating ‘soup’. 

I am still forming, synthesising, juxtaposing and assessing. It is a long slow process that must fail before it can succeed. As in the case of the Creature narrative I am currently working on. More on this in a later post…

Project Proposal Renewed

Parallel Universe

Identifying a clear pathway for composing the project proposal has not been an easy thing to do. With many influences and ideas, and a continually changing vision, the victim has been coherency. But then I did state my awareness of this in my first symposium and project proposal. Coherency of vision is a necessary element in my practice. This does not mean having a fixed stance or perspective but rather a clear understanding of the formal and conceptual elements with which I am working. I made a small break through documented in a recent post followed this morning by a subsequent one which has had a profound impact on my project proposal.

I have experienced difficulty in putting together a sufficiently clear narrative that could precipitate the relevant key elements of a Project Proposal. This was due in large part to the piecemeal way in which I added ideas on my PP Sandbox and never really confronted this confusion. But then, confusion often preceeds clear thinking. What I did, was to create a narrative, in conversation with Janet, that brought together different elements of what I have been thinking. Relating this sequentially, placing cause before effect, I was able to put forward an argument that on reflection clarified my thinking. Undergoing a pruning of ideas, my mind opened out to a new vista which did not reject what I have done before but prioritised thinking: an example of the cyclical nature of artistic practice evolving from a source core. The nature of the project proposal does tend to mitigate against long narratives, concentrating the mind and avoiding cluttered thinking.

I wrote down the narrative and extracted its key elements. These have formed the contextual part of the proposal forming a flexible framework open to change, adaptation, development, innovation, pruning and lateral thinking. The narrative is relatively crude but serves its purpose. I am developing it in an external document for possible inclusion in this blog at a later date. Once this narrative was put down, the title presented itself effortlessly together with aims and objects. Organising ideas in a prose narrative form has helped me in creating an outline applicable to the proposal. In my mind, if I consider the headings’ contents, such as the title, context, outcomes etc, as details, then the overarching narrative becomes the large scale structure. I have almost always followed the axiom when making a work, ‘deal with the large scale things first and the details will fall into place’.1 I now have a flexible, overarching framework and can now get on with making with a purpose: the thing I have been seeking this term, a search documented in this journal.

 

  1. This is a paraphrasing of a universal principle clearly articulated in, The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour by the C19th painter, Alfred East. Alexander Cozens the C18th watercolourist also demonstrated this principle more than one hundred years earlier in his pamphlet A New Method of Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape. []

What is the Character of a Myth?

I have been thinking for some time about the fact that mythical protagonists are almost always animal, human or both. At times, natural phenomena may come together to give rise to cyclopean offspring as in early Greek mythology or Polynesian tales. These unions tend to occur at the beginning of time after which, almost invariably the main characters behave in a human-like fashion whatever they might be. Much has been written about what stands for what and how, whether crossing between the spiritual and real world, creating the world or giving rise to what takes place in ordinary life. However, what about the mechanisms? These are often left to the explanation, the reading of the myth, the hermeneutics of scholars. Take the garden of Eden for instance, it has been given many meanings, from a literal reading of the Genesis text to cultural transitioning to psychoanalytical interpretations. Whatever the case might be, it is difficult to get away from focusing on the characterisation of ideas through theriomorphism or anthropomorphism.

But what if I were to focus, not on characters but mechanisms? Even in Big History, a contemporary explanation – some would say a modern myth – for how the world came to be and how life emerged on this planet, we are compelled to look at the ancestral fossil record and visualise evolution as a series of animal and plant transformations. But there are deeper principles at work than, as in this case, hyperlapses from one body form to another. I feel that to solely concentrate on characterisation might be somewhat trite and predictable; what if I were to explore the mechanisms that drive myths? What if I were to create works that act as representations, metaphors, analogies or some other trope of these mechanisms? This would free me from the usual narratives, from having to contextualise in a forced manner, from fixing the ideas in a temporal locus. These ideas are timeless, without boundaries; they are not confined to any given period. By releasing my thinking from structuralist or post-structuralist constraints, from period context, from contemporary fashions, the relevance of the ideas embodied in myths might become self-evidently natural rather than contrivance. 

This is not an easy thing to do. It is a way of creating an alchemical admixture of ideas and material form: I hope not too obscure. I shall not speak of these mechanism yet. I need to think more clearly, allowing the idea to walk hand in hand with the making: the concept with the affect and aesthetic.

Image above: Theriomorph. fired clay, height 94 mm

A Cyclic Return

 

Two days ago I received a copy of Ted Hughes Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow together with a copy of Lupercal, an earlier set of poems. Last night I read an essay about Crow  by Danny O’Connor and it all came flooding back. Years ago I completed a cycle of paintings called Traces of Life. shown in Italy and in London and one of the paintings entitled The Horror of Creation was inspired by Hawk Alights, particularly the following words:

Crow saw the herded ountains, steaming in the morning
And he saw the sea,
Dark-spined, with the whole earth in its coils,
He saw the stars summing away into the black, mushrooms of the nothings forest, clouding their spores, the virus of God.
And he shivered with the horror of Creation.

The Crow cycle of poems is an ambitious text that rewrites the Creation in Genesis and places the eponymous Crow at the centre as a trickster prefiguring Satan and Christ. Crow, observes, frustrates and subverts a God’s less than omnipotent and omniscient attempts at making and intervening in the world. Hughe’s challenges the concept of God portrayed in the Abrahamic religions and how this creation has gone awry. Like John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the poetry is full of allusions that are magisterially crafted in such a way that the deep seated meaning is clear but needing careful unveiling. However, Hughes’ at times fragmented narrative is reminiscent of the theatre of the absurd and comic strip characterisation – comics together with folk tales were a great influence on Hughes together with the grim realities of farm life in the North of England. The logic is hard to understand on first reading, and here is where this great work distinguishes itself, it contains a deep logic and understanding of what the poet is doing notwithstanding its apparent absurdness. However, Unlike Milton, Hughes’ is not an interpretation of the sacred text but rather a critique and extension of the holy narrative fuelled by what he experiences and sees all around him. 

Reading Crow brings together once again, many of the strands that run through my work: the separation of the human psyche from nature, the arrogance of anthropocentrism, the denial of the animal part of being human, our origins in and our continuation of a long cycle of transformation and traversal from microbe to what we are now, how language has been used to control knowledge and manipulate behaviour. Could humanity have become the trickster, deceiving itself from the reality of who we are and what we are? Many of these ideas are explored in Robert Graves, The White Goddess, and Kraft Von Maltzahn’s, Nature as Landscape, studies in the history of poetry and science respectively. Both books review cultural transformations through the ages, not always progressive in terms of quality of life.  This does not mean that I would have preferred (as if I had had a choice) to have lived in another time. There are countless things about our age that shine as outstanding human achievements. However, the Twentieth Century also looms as a dark cloud over our history both in scale and wanton stupidity, something the trickster, be he man, be she woman, be we the mass of humans, is only too happy to help forget any lessons that have arisen. 

So where does this put me with respect to my current work and project proposal? I can see how what I have thought and done so far fit together and more importantly, how plans and conjectures can now change trajectory. There is a central core that is gradually being defined, creating a gravitational pull towards it. A path is being cleared towards something more encompassing, relevant and consistent. Creation myths from around the world also come into the picture for their differences as well as their similarities to one another. Another aspect of interest is the relationship between the linear and circular chronologies of Western and Asian beliefs; there is a little bit of each in both. 

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. 

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.