Treasure

 

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

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

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

MPR Comments and Response

Yesterday we had the silent crit of everyone’s mid point reviews. It was a long day and I am glad I had prepared my comments and questions, there was a lot going on and seven minutes for commentary after viewing each presentation made it almost mandatory that responses should be prepared. 

Below is the studio based discussion as audio and transcript followed by the written Skype comments from online students. 

I felt that I gained a great deal in thinking of the work of others and the responses I gave in writing can be found here.

The whole video of the day can be found here.

I found the comments thought provoking, affirming, and stimulating; in time I shall respond to them, in the meantime…

 

Sound file of the studio comments

Transcript

Edited for clarity endeavouring to maintain content.

Ben:
These sculptures remind of video games such as [inaudible] group simulations that focus around evolution. I don’t know if they would be any use. There are lots of simulations on line that kind of simulate evolution and a lot of creatures end up looking like that. So, if he is looking going more into digital that might be quite useful.   

Dannii:
I really like the ideas that he is exploring the alternative the alternative forms of creation. There is one particular image in there that resonates with me it brings together all of his ideas in a single image that’s got ceramics in a bowl with different combinations of materials that it speaks [of] anthropology, archaeology and science fiction. The fact that they are made out of ceramics has this ambiguity about whether they are from the past or not or whether they are future artefacts, the way they look is quite science fiction. It holds you in this wonder space where you don’t know where these objects exist in time and space and that for me was the most powerful out of all the images.

Ed:
I’ve got a question which is, is there a way of imagining an ecosystem in which these fictional beings have an interrelationship

Jonathan: what, like in a whole universe, similar to what Ben said [ about] simulations… a whole environment 

Ed: Because I mean they have an organic style and if you were to put several of them on a table together, as has been suggested in some of the images we saw where you start to try and work out how they feed off one another or how they co-habit, that could be a useful tool in…research.

Ed:
I was wonder, suddenly there were two churches in there and then everything went back to the organic, you see that there was a church and then a mosque then it was…  we’re back, we’re back to the fluidity of form… like there is an existential angst to his work that is represented in the faces crying out from this [inaudible] thing… maybe I’m misreading

Dannii:
They seem more like sacred artefacts that have been displayed they are very different, they are   much more ordered, elegant, symmetrical they were very very different from the other more organic [inaudible]

Ed:
There was one large sculpture that had the kind of almost Jewish candle, almost, form, ceremonial form

Dannii:
That’s the culture that’s connected to the organic life forms that’s the human culture that’s evolved from the same environment that these other organisms have evolved from that’s the link between the [two] that’s the human culture relative to the…

Ed:
These might just be the narratives we develop [as] the audience and maybe it should stay on video.

 Betty:
There’s an artist that Alexis might find interesting called Marguerite Humeau, she’s French she’s quite young, she had a room in Tate Britain quite recently and she calls herself the Indian Jones of Google Times.  She makes sculptures of animals or things that could have been but hadn’t been so she’s worked with scientists and all that but she displays them very differently to how Alexis shows his work. It is very slick it’s almost like you’re in a designer store but she incorporates sound into her work as well. It might be someone you could look at, Alexis.

Dannii:
It made me think, what about, a lot about the legacy of life forms and what they leave behind […] because ceramics is one of those things they leave behind because it is so durable but maybe the thing that we leave behind is plastic everywhere maybe there is this plastic after that, maybe explore materials and explore and contrasts things like plastics and other materials with ceramics.

Ed:
There are lots of different… I think the thing is with his work it just touches on so many different areas and you almost want to say, alright, go for the archaeology, go for the anthropology.

Jonathan:
[Jonathan reads the second half of Pav’s comment adding] at this time in the course it still quite big and broad

Ed: and speculative and that’s fine.

Will:
You can tell the way he’s thinking in quite a dense way, I actually would like it if he went full on maximalist and maybe really immersed in this whole room of objects not necessarily interconnected.

Danni: Like the British Museum          

Ed: Like a Hieronymus Bosch triptych or something like that, where you have an overwhelming deluge of material

Will:  I think I would go that way because that’s where his head is at with it and embrace the quantity then the role of [inaudible]

Donald: I think, when you look at pictures of his studio, he’s doing that anyway

Will: That’s what I said, it looks like the Chapman Brother’s studio, there is so much stuff in there, l really like that.

Ed: Well, the Chapman Brothers definitely reference Bosch, ‘Hell and Fucking Hell’ are like three-dimensional Heironymus Bosch triptychs there is a conscious appropriation of that.

Dannii:
I was wondering whether [he’d] be interested in trying in a practical process way to explore the edge-lands of his work, particularly in ecology where the sea meets the land and we have this incredible explosion of creativity whether his singular practices he can bring them together and they can almost cross-pollinate each other and what that would turn into

Ed: Hybrid. He is all hybrids, everything he is doing is a hybrid of one thing or another. I guess it does cross-pollinate. The question is how the ideas cross pollinate in curatorial [setting].

Betty:
How important is that people understand his work because I think I would need to take away his artist’s statement and spend a couple of hours before I could understand all the ideas that he is trying to articulate and does that matter. Do you care if someone just takes your work at a very face value…

Dannii: I don’t know, I think there is a possibility to discover the language into something much clearer and purer with a more simple language that can make it much easier and accessible, just simply using more common words for example

Ed: So you are asking him to be less literary

Dannii: He is using very specific words to articulate himself

Ed: It is very sophisticated

Dannii: He could be a bit more generalist in his language and then I think more people could potentially could [noise] the work.

Ed: But I think presenting it in a gallery setting could be poetry that he indulges in rather than prose in order to actually make sense of…

Leah:
I have read this text for a very long time because the words, the English is quite hard for me. But I quite like the idea of inversion of methodology and cross-fertilising, it’s quite interesting for me, but I am trying to figure out the meaning, it is the same meaning in Chinese, when I saw his work I just could not find these things in his work, this is my question.

 

Skype Chat Comments

ASH:
My favorite piece in your works shown in the video is the one using face as the core element. I can even hear of something from the picture as the opening mouth is so noticeable. I would recommend you to check the Radio Tower at the Tate Modern, maybe you can put a speaker inside the pot then it will works as the ‘voice’ of man?
Video mapping works really well.
Old time room is much better than white cube way of exhibiting.

Friederike:
Alexis I really liked the idea that nature in choas creates new forms of life and so does the artist. It really made me think of evolution in an instant way. Evolution seems always so slow, but in reality the creation of new forms happens all the time, you made that connection for me, which is so simple, but somehow did not occur to me like that before.

Christopher:
I am fascinated by the way you transform your sculptures from being still life to a machine of emission. I’m curious to eventually encounter the ways in which you integrate digital mediums within your more tangible work.

Matt:
Relationship between drawing and sculpting reminiscent of Henry Moore – organic similarities, connectivity and fluency in form and growth. ‘The digital as an entity that is separate and encroaching on us’ – i am interested in this notion relating back to conversation we had during low residency – is this something which you could push or consider in terms of how that relates to your feelings about evolution and states of nature – what is ‘natural’? It is something that has a label of belonging to a category and a construct – do we percieve the encroaching digital as a shadow that follows us and belonging to its own dimension in some manner? Is technology threatening? If so why – isnt it that if anything we are our own threat – we gave constructed and clung to a fixed idea of what constitutes ‘wilderness’ or the ‘default’ – I wonder whether intentionally provoking those concerns and shaping a voice for them might be constructive

Aristotle:
Brilliantly written as always. It leaves me with a feeling of awe and admiration. It takes me somewhere whery primal and very deep at the same time. Eerie and drawing at the same time. Very dense in theoretical information, maybe a bit too much. I would like to see more physical examples of work currently in progress and any struggles relating to that.

Pav:
You have developed a sound reportage on your intellectual enquiry into the Universe. Your practice and research have resulted in the production of quirky and diverse work, which is based on a broad theoretical framework. Your video has strong documentary qualities and provides an erudite and detailed record of your approach in a clean and highly aesthetic manner.
However, I felt that the contextual element was underplayed. There was a sense of confusion regarding your research question and the overall focus. Your creative intentions remain ambiguous and undefined. Is it possible to produce work about the dynamics and complexities of our holistic existence?
Can your project be about “everything”

Michelle:
Alexis – Ethereal and Primordial and appearing almost religious and evolutionary bringing lots of ideas and philosophies together. Seemingly precious objects appear as though they are from a past time.

Christopher:
A taxonomy

ASH:
and i think you can even use some echo in your sound work as mythology is included in your contextual research so i guess using echo might be able to imitate the ancient voice. i hope this advice would be useful

Taiyo:
Alex’s work reminds me of a documentary of nhk. It talked about life was developed by accident cross accidents which is just like a miracle. And most life was came from ocean and I feel like through your work I can imagine how they develop…

Kelda:
The idea of fragility and permanence and your interest in an evolving society stand out to me. Though I found the overall video quite confusing as there was so much in it! Lots of great ideas in there… Maybe it need honing down a bit moving forward?

Anthropology and Archaeology

 

Images taken on the East Coast of England. I took them without people. This was a deliberate choice: focussing on formal elements and wanting to give a sense of isolation both geographically and socially. The locations are both Skegness and Cleethorpes off-season, East England coastal holiday towns that have seen better times. As I was doing this, it came to me that removing the people does not remove the human element. What it does is it turns the immediately anthropological to a latent archaeology. What I mean by this is simply that, anthropology is the study of living populations, archaeology the study of what is left after they are no longer present. Both fields try to throw light on how people behave and the causes for that behaviour. The pictures give me the sense of something that has been left behind with the potential to form a future archaeology even if only in images.

I was struck by this relationship between what is present and what is gone while focussing on the structures and environment: the correspondences between the visitors, the infrastructure and their respective purposes and their provenances. The two seaside resorts were built up as holiday destinations for the workers of the industrial Midlands and South Yorkshire. They are places of fun and relaxation yet, the very structures that were built to fulfil this functions reflect the machinery and structures of heavy and manufacturing industries: steel, coal, mechanised production lines in the rows and rows of penny arcades, roller coasters and helter skelters, ferris wheels and paddle boats, Even the restaurants and cafe’s are reminiscent of factory canteens. This is the industrialisation of leisure that followed the rise of the urban industrial society and catalysed by the mass transport of the railways in the C19th. Productive industry was directed to leisure using the same tools and knowhow. 

It is ironic that as such industries have declined over the decades, so too have the resort towns; and what were once bustling rail links have either disappeared, in the case of Skegness, or reduced to light traffic to Cleethorpes. The infrastructures of leisure and fun, entertainment and distraction engender in me a sense of an almost lost civilisation: settlements reduced largely as refuges for the less fortunate pushed to the margins of society and day trippers often intent on doing what they would not do elsewhere. 

I know this seems a bleak view of the areas but they do possess a poignant beauty rich in life where the sea meets the land, the future the past, and an indomitable desire to create a fantasy land still persists in the midst of struggle. And facing all this, growing legions of wind turbines, sentinels of new technology and power generation; replacing the old… at a distance both physical and metaphorical.

 

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…

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.