History and Shape-shifting Across Time: Rethinking a Tutorial

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tutorial 3: Jonathan Kearney – 17 June 2019

 

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

This summary is taken from our Conversation.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psychological Voltage

Pen and ink study

 

Following from my previous post, ideas start to form as to how the two aspects of what I am working with, the raw and the refined can coexist. The transition from the radially symmetrical, ordered Chaos Contained  to the more poietic gut forms has been a journey from the external to the internal, searching for the internal world contained within the carapace. I have oscillated between one and the other and it seems that the symbolic reifications have been and still are gestators for what I am working on now. I see the possibility of the chaotic inner world nascent from, evolving and bursting out of the idealised concept of the type form. This may be too literal an interpretation of what I am thinking but in the working with the material is where the transformation can take place.

Plato thought that our world was a mere shadow of an ideal one, our backs turned to the light and all we see is a third hand puppet show – which makes me think of the shadow videos I have previously put together. Aristotle got his hands covered in the slime of dissections and the analysis of the literal world that we see and touch each day. He looked at it straight in the eye and tried to explain it.

These drawings are the first attempts at placing markers for the ideas that are forming in my head. From them I can develop and evolve these ideas, make them less… obvious; more about the struggle between knowledge and knowing, existence and experience, than biology.

 

Pen and ink study

 

In the first visualisation, the internal bursts forth from the carapace; in the second, the metamorphosis of form from raw compost to ideal form. (It reminds me in a way of the empathic climb in Philip K. Dick’s Mercianism.) Two ways of reconciling through transformation. This is where the strength of the myth lies, in the potential to transform mud and dust to a higher state. It is an idea that holds psychological voltage. 

 

What is the Difference etc

   

Yesterday I started a small scale study in porcelain – no larger than twenty centimetres in its largest dimension – for H’s playthings in porcelain. What I show here is the first stage, the plasma. It is small so I can quickly assess its outcome before investing more time in how to proceed on a larger scale. The question for now, is whether to move in the direction of a baroque, visceral rendition or a more schematic, symbolic one. I am thinking that the former might be too ‘noisy’ for it to be receptive to a sound element in the work. 

I feel that the two approaches are different aspects of what I am looking to express. This makes me think that there is space for both to coexist, a conversation contextualised in the transition from a mass population engaged in an ecology and the symbolic representation of each class type. The former an animated, raw, poietic emergence from inside me, the living expression of thought. The latter a cerebral aesthetic product, distanced, engaging on another level. Can the two ways be reconciled and merged or are they mutually exclusive? 

Not all bodies of work need to be homogeneous. I have talked of heterogeneity before, it represents the outer layer of deeper commonalities. Multitudes exist within one idea, am I to be restrained by the aesthetics of conformity? This may be my own prejudice: the need to replicate serially to create distinct bodies of work. 

It may be possible to combine the two in synchronous dialogue, resolving a dialectic within a single work. A transition from raw to refined, from animated foam to schematic idolatry. After all, I am looking for a myth and myths are about origins, creation.

Zoan: H Emerges from Ambivalence

I find myself between the (scientific) need to define a field and the (artistic) urge to keep the field open.

Zoan is one of a number of works I have made in the past days, playthings for H. Whether H becomes embodied or remains unseen I have yet to discover. 

 

 

A few days ago I had a conversation with Janet regarding my current direction. As I wrote in a previous post, through an analysis in which taxonomy and mereology play no small part I am starting to shape this great ‘essay’. Assimilating what I am uncovering, intuitive action is being informed by an imaginative rationale the origin of which I am able to trace. Janet sees what I am doing as preparing a tomb which waits to be opened, peered into for the first time. I feel as though I am shaping the myth I spoke of at the start in October: a speculative reconstruction that however implausible it might be, holds within in its core a universal quest. 

Regarding Will’s comments during the MPR I mentioned in Elusive Directions, there would be a logistic problem in trying to fill a room for the final show; moving a great quantity of work from the studio, transport, storage, display. There is a solution though thanks to technology: a curation using photographs, moving images, graphics, 3D rendering, sounds to give a sense of the essay artistic research with the final works as some sort of synthesis.

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…

 

Low Residency – Day 2: Group Tutorials

 

The group tutorial was led with a light touch by former student Andrew Fairley. This allowed us to navigate one another’s practice openly. My presentation, based on the blog journal, allowed me to summarise what I have done during the course period in the context of my previous work.

Pav asked me what challenge, what question am I posing with my work? This question that can be opened out in many ways. For some, it is a simple case of stating concerns regarding an issue of social or cultural significance, for others it may be a technical or philosophical matter about their practice. However, I feel that it is important to allow the receiver to infer from what I present and do, any questions or challenges that they might see in the work. It is not for me to impose the questions I pose myself onto their contextual standpoint. Of course I have my own questions and challenges, they are in this sense a framework around which my practice is built. However, at the moment of presenting I am more concerned with what the response might be. 

Nevertheless, what I do feel important is, to give the receiver some sort of lead as to the provenance of the synthesis embodied in the work in the form of some text or conversation. Enigmatic presentations are all well and good in engendering debate, but they can also risk work being dismissed or, perhaps less importantly, deeply misunderstood. Minimalist works are especially susceptible to this as are conceptual works, particularly in the case of the latter if they are no aesthetically engaging. With more complex works, the obvious tensions and relationships between parts of a given work can furnish plenty of cues for conversation and polemics.

In the past, my work has succeeded in transmitting much of its content and given rise to much else without my having to give much of an explanation. But the nature of the affect is very much dependent on what the receiver brings: this is true conversation, an exchange of ideas, experience and perception. I find that people react very differently, from fascination and delight to repulsion and unease; they may wonder at the making process or pass it by and react to associations and allusions. All these response feedback directions and insights that help inform how I might go about things subsequently. But above all they give me a sense of external context.

I feel that all too often challenges and disruptions can become vehicles for some sort of power play. I feel that responses and reactions to life’s vicissitudes are important, no essential, but I also seek a balance between what is in my nature and how I navigate the social world. I am not about power play, if authentic an artwork should have a power from within to speak out in its own way. And whether this matches some current political issue or not is a matter of chance.

A Decision Made

Unconcerned curves hide the sharp pricks that bleed me in your making. Without remorse. Deep from within the surface of your smile again you bear your self determination, one of Gorgon’s tresses fallen with pride glinting as juice that trickles from rotting fruit; dry as husks in autumn scattered in a storm… yet you are the start of something not quite new but close enough. The indecision of the surface skin broken into pieces and made clear in the late Winter sunlight. I see now that things must be all things and I must double my response as you reflect your shadows in a dancing pair. Light does not come from one source alone; I cannot be one but many. My thoughts are not wedded to a single species but a whole kingdom, writhing, wrestling with life and loyalty rests only with the sense that there is nothing that cannot be. 


I have thought hard about which way to go in terms of the aesthetics of the project: surfaces, forms, degree of working, colour, details and so on. I mentioned in an earlier post about the tension between unity of style and variety of content. My nature is such that there is no answer but to encompass all ways and let the underlying algorithms of my mind make the connections and trust that these rise to the surface of what people see: the Mid Point Review has been a great affirmer of what I thought.

I now have a clear way forward; to allow crazy variety, if that is what happens, to manifest itself. The works themselves must be all they can be and not constrained by some overall sense of stylistic cohesion: the world manifests itself in wonderous variety. So now I must work and test, experiment, and reach and grasp outcomes that inform what is to come and trust the process I have gone through. There is much to do in the given time so from now on I shall gather what I have made in my mind and build with it the steps to another world grounded in this one. The above is an image of a porcelain piece in progress accompanied by a written impression of how the process of deciding within one piece affects me. 

NB: The surface skin refers to the outer aesthetics of the finish. 

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. 

Chat Session 1.8: Elusive Taxonomies 2

This post was finished over a week after the session.

Last week the discussion ranged over the classification and categorisation of art practices with particular reference to digital means. This week the discussion extended to the relationship between the digital and the non-digital and how the perceived gap might affect practitioners and how they approach their work. One of the main points of discussion was whether working in the digital environment was any different to what could be called more physical ways of working. 

An idea brought up by Jonathan, citing G. Fifield, was a ‘friction-less and gravity-free’ space with respect to digital tools such as Photoshop. The reference comes from the 1990s and things have moved on almost unrecognisably. However, the notion of friction is interesting being as it is, a physical one but it could also indicate an abstract, conceptual form of resistance. In fact, I have worked extensively with the mouse as a tool for drawing. I have chosen this way of working when making digital drawings, eschewing the tablet and stylus for the very reason that the notion of friction articulates very well. What do I mean by this ?

I feel that the computer seduces us with its perfect lines and even surfaces and gradients. The vision of perfection it offers is not only commonplace now but relatively easy to achieve, offering little resistance with a modicum of skills. However, there is a caveat to this that Jonathan proposed later: that the aesthetic outcome is very much dictated by the parameters set by the software used whether it be by Adobe or any other company. The digital imposes a style or aesthetic that is hard to release oneself from.

Drawing with the mouse has a resistance to the perfect line and form because of the way it works: not being under one’s total control, it can be a little temperamental. This creates a physical and ‘virtual’ friction or resistance to the process both on the surface on which the mouse moves and the screen. A space is formed by the tension between perfection and imperfection. Here the imagination can dwell with contingent outcomes: the endeavour towards perfection by imperfect means is often delicious. 

Another area of discussion was that of aura, with Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. This is a very wide field of discussion that has personal, psychological, religious and political implications. Jonathan proposes that Benjamin is a starting point from issues of reproduction towards new forms of production and there is a debate about notions of ‘real’ and ‘virtual’, ‘simulation’ moving towards ‘substitution’. This is in fact a form of sublation and something I am working on with regard to a video and live performance work requiring very careful scripting and timing. This opened the debate on simulation and the nature of what is real and what is not. I think the idea of authentic comes into this as does original. These are perhaps best described as notions, as most qualitative descriptors are. Any definition is vulnerable to the deformation by subjective view points and conversely any rigidity too readily turns into dogma. I think the best thing is to remain open to change but be clear about what is changing. 

We ended the session by considering some further terms that are useful when describing how a work comes about. Words that come from a variety of sources, from semiotic theory to acoustics, from physics and chemistry to sociology, words such as: filtering, curating, signalling, amplifying, merging. Being all gerunds, they denote action whereas others such as hybrid, score, script and remix are adjectival. Grammar is a wonderful thing, how a word can be transformed from doing to being to inferring. I could describe my work as a hybridisation in which ideas are scripted and encoded as a means of signalling amplified filters of perception. This sounds grand but without content meaningless. They can only help to articulate what is already there to express. The two go hand in hand. Thinking of what one has to say and how to say it are inseparable when using words; the same goes for any other medium.

Coming back to something I mentioned earlier, the final word by Jonathan was regarding the digital: that artists appear to be well placed to do some of the work in ‘revealing the ideology baked into code’, (whether financial, aesthetic, social, etc). 

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.