Images above: works by William Latham, John Horton Conway and Andrew Lord
Evolutionary Space: A way of looking at art practice as continual process in a disparate ecology.
Art practices have become widely divergent and disparate in recent years, particularly since the arrival of digital means which have opened out previously unimagined possibilities. Different taxonomies representing a great variety of paradigms, methodologies, thematics, mediums and contexts have given rise to a heterogeneity of approaches when considering practices and the role of artists which can render problematic a holistic consideration of different ways of generating art. Using Conway’s “Life, Latham’s “Mutator”, and the work of ceramic sculptor Andrew Lord as subjects, this paper introduces an approach to discussing art practices, fostering a unified view in the midst of diversity, evolutionary space. Borrowing from the idea of fitness landscape in evolutionary theory, applying it to Olson’s analysis of computer generated life regarding the relationship between pure information and its physical interpretation, in the context of Whitehead’s process philosophy of becoming, and Dennett’s idea of algorithms, a picture is built of how different art practices can be viewed as dynamic information streams coded and implemented in material terms.
The research paper has changed radically and become frighteningly simply because I have a tendency to complicate things. The above may seem complicated but it is in fact a straightforward synthesis of ideas from various fields to construct a different way of talking about art practices which goes some way to avoid value judgements and the need to describe things subjectively. Writing the paper is making me focus on an increasingly narrow narrative as an explication for a broad idea. It is frustrating at times because I want to explore a multiplicity of ideas but by considering a wide field and having to progressively select out is also liberating. It shows me that things can be simple without loosing depth. Implied ideas can be just as powerful in leaving the reader the possibility to uncover them or find new things and feel the sense of discovery rather than having them pointed out. The methodology I am constructing is also feeding into the project proposal: I no longer feel compelled to spell out every idea.
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.
What is gender in society other than an assignment that is carried by the weight of authority, aimed at organising society according to sex, controlling behaviour through roles, aesthetics and expectations. Gender is all too easily seen in terms of biological sex alone yet the properties given to assigned gender characteristics in society are fluid, decoupling often from sex as their determinant. It is largely a question of language embedded in narratives constructed through words and images.
I have looked at my work so far and language underlies much of it; language’s ability to define paradigms and redirect expectations and points of view; language in its broadest sense. The MA so far has been an unmethodological essay in artistic research that is extending my practice into areas both predictable and unexpected.
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.
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…
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.
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
Edited for clarity endeavouring to maintain content.
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.
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.
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.
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
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]
There was one large sculpture that had the kind of almost Jewish candle, almost, form, ceremonial form
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…
These might just be the narratives we develop [as] the audience and maybe it should stay on video.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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].
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…
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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”
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.
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
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…
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?
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.
I have started a new maquette for ‘Oracle’. This is the stage where I start to confront the technical problems of material, making and installation.
‘Forgetting’ the former maquettes I started with a thumbnail sketch of a possible installation that incorporated some of the former arrangements…
..this moved on to a pen and ink rendering which came closer to a 3-dimensional representation of the eventual ceramic piece.
The pieces are maleable and fragile while the clay is wet. When fired they will be fixed in their final form. One of the challenges is maintaining the fluid, organic nature of the forms as they dry and harden; how to relate one piece to the others while the clay is wet and translating this to the fired forms.
The forms leave their traces as I move them creating a drawn presence, a graphic imprint of their passing.
How they relate to words spoken is the challenge. And I must also make a support frame.
The maquette is approximately 1:3 with the final piece standing around 2.4 metres not including support framework.
We label all the time. Here I have labelled finishes to terracotta surfaces. Labels, however, are far from superficial, they are at the root of our construction of the world. A label is much more than a name for something. Labels are one of the principle building blocks with which we build a relationship with the world and communicate with others. A word is more than its phonemes, a symbol more than its shapes and lines.
When humans reached the threshold of speech, they recreated the world; in thought and speech; separating us from the other; creating boundaries that can be passed on. In the beginning was the word, logos, knowledge. The word is the fruit from the tree at the centre of that mythical garden from whence we emerged. A place lost in our memories forever hidden by the labyrinth of life, a life spent trying to find the way back.
The word sets roots in the mind and like a garden flourishes or casts its poisonous shadow across the soul. The word made flesh, the symbol, the picture, the letter and grammar, are abstract entities given material resonance in poetry, then literature and mathematics. The word cries out meaning, ‘I…. you’.
The word separates the world from us and brings it closer, it says goodbye to the animal met in the womb. The infant, whole, cleaves to the world the new mother that kicks you in the teeth and holds you up to the sun and gives you warmth. The word is inside us and out there where it shapes our destiny. It is what says ‘I’ and ‘you’ and ‘we’ and ‘they’ encompassing the world or shattering it into confusion.
And when all has been said and done, the word is all, the word is death, the word is life and all in between. In the beginning was the word and in the end silence.
Hermes and Aphrodite bore a beautiful son. Hermaphroditus was raised in the caves of Mount Ida by fresh water naiads. Growing bored of his life he went walk about around the cities of Phrygia. One day, he wondered into the woods of the city of Caria near Halicarnassus where he was seen by the water nymph Salmacis. She at once fell in love and lusted after the handsome but still young boy pouncing on him in an attempt at seduction.1 Hermaphroditus rejected her attempts and on thinking she had gone, undressed and entered the pool to refresh himself. On doing so, Salmacis sprung on him and wrapped herself around the boy wishing by the gods never to be parted from him. Her wish was granted and the two blended together creating a creature of both sexes.
This tale, one of many told by the Roman poet Ovid in his book Metamorphoses came to mind as I made a new clay model. It is a blend of ideas from the Willendorf Venus to retro rockets; from Philippe Stark’s juicer to the Sputnik satellite, deep sea monster and nimble crustacean. Cult and functionality melded without overt reference to the human form for hermaphrodites abound in nature.
The emergence of sexual reproduction long ago conferred greater plasticity to complex organisms enabling them to better adapt to different environments. Hermaphrodite animals have adopted this form of sexuality as a strategy for increasing fecundity, with respect to plants it is the norm. Only amongst the flowering plants do you find separate male and female individuals. These are dioecious plants such as the holly. Only female hollies bear fruit. In humans the sex organs begin to differentiate only after nine weeks but then sex is different to gender. The gendering of objects is deep rooted in culture. Ascribing a gender to a particular type of thing is common in many languages but not all languages assign the same gender to an object. I am always a little disconcerted when referring to a flower in Spanish and then Italian. In the former case it is la flor, whereas il fiore is the Italian masculine for the same word. Two romance languages with common roots, at what point in the linguistic womb did the two diverge? German also includes a neuter gender whereas English has pretty well lost all its grammatical genders other than for people, animals and a few other things such as ships (with a few dialectic exceptions).
A professor (who is no longer with us) said to me a few years ago that my work is gendered. I wondered what he meant at the time as I know that my intention in Chaos Contained was to move away from a binary representation of life. I was working in a neutral but fecund world full of life force transcending the cosmically parochial issue of gender. To this day I do not know to what audience he thought the works might relate to, if that was indeed what he was getting at. Ironically, the touring show of CC was managed, promoted and funded purely by women.
We are apt to see ourselves reflected in things and events including questions of gender. We live in times when questions of gender are being revised of their historical baggage. Whatever the case might be, it is so difficult to be objective about affective things. Emotions are at the heart of art practice and appreciation. That is why academic writing for an artist can be a stretch but it can open windows to new horizons through critical thinking. However, critical analysis has to be treated with an awareness of its implications for creativity.
Salmacis was the only naiad that did not take part in the hunts of Artemis on account of her idleness and vanity. She preferred to wash her beautiful limbs and tend to her hair. Ovid, Metamorphoses. Book IV, 306-312 [↩]
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 first term has ended and with it comes the continuation of what has gone before. I do not see it as the completion of a phase but rather as the beginning of what is to come. The term has been a time orientation, revisiting and rebeginning, looking at things afresh: all I do seems to ascend in a cycle.
A popup exhibition entitled Virtual Particles has been organised at Camberwell and rather than making a completely new piece, I decided to work on post-truth-hurtling, the kernel of a sketch done earlier in October and take it a little further. With the direction for the mid-term coming into clearer focus through the elaboration of the project proposal, I thought I would try to reflect this in the work. In so doing, I discovered that which I had suspected. That the themes that have emerged, were embedded within the process only to be unveiled by the elaboration of the project proposal. The title tells me everything I need to know; it encodes a number of elements that I had identified in the PP as my way forward for now:
Mythopoeia – the making of a myth.
I – that this is only a beginning of a cycle
post-truth – dealing with current socio-political concerns
hurtling – my sense of physical things and time being expressed in many different ways, hurtling being one of them
Combining elements of my research in one piece I turned the video sketch into something more layered. The sound track incorporates elements other that Storm Callum . I have begun compiling a fresh archive of sound files and engineered tracks that will serve me in the future. This follows my thoughts in the recent post, Breakthrough from the Simplest Source. It also ties in with what I will talk about in a latter post relevant to my process: that of making a ritual of the recordings.
The video incorporates shadows and moving light sources giving which initiates an idea I have had for a while. Animation, of sorts, in an installation that I would grudgingly call for now, Plato’s Cave. My difficulty with this name, although convenient as a temporary place holder, is that Plato’s metaphysical explanation for the illusion of reality was based on people not seeing the true actors and props but only their projections. My idea, on the other hand, is to have three layers of perception in which the actual scenario that creates the illusion is clearly visible and exposed and perhaps even open to interaction.
The text in the video, is a reworking of the original, a selection, distillation, concentration. I aimed at something more incisive and yet ambivalent by taking out the superfluous. As the video unfolds, each word or phrase subsequent to the preceding ones changes the overall inferences. I want the words to remain maleable. Only at the end is the context alluded to.
The Lime Tree that looks over the studio: one of the elementals contributing to the making of the video
The elemental characters that went into the making of the video remind me of creation myths in an almost Miltonian sense. I avoid icons of or references to the human world. All that I leave is a sense of imputed volition. It is my way of saying that anthropomorphism is a emergent property of who and what we are, seeing the world in our own image. This is a key element of creation myths in contrast with evolutionary theory. Even in the case of the latter, scientists use teleological language as shortcuts for what would otherwise be very lengthy explanations. A simple example is the phrase, ‘evolving towards’. This assumes a direction or goal, something that is counter to the contingent nature of evolutionary processes; a trap we fall into when describing non goal orientated natural phenomena, because we see things with hind sight as though they were leading to some predetermined goal.
Another notion I wanted to imbue the video with is the sense of things continuing ad infinitum even when one is no longer there: an intimation of eternity. This is something I may work on in the future although it has been done numerous times in different ways. The relentlessness I wanted to give the work is part of its possibly dark interpretation; the soundtrack plays an important role in this. At the end I counterpoise this sense of unrelenting descent with the partial revealing of the context at the end: the open, fresh, natural phenomena used to create spontaneously a dark vision. Sun, wind, tree, clay and water: elements often appearing in creation myths conspiring to weave the ‘horror of creation’, as Ted Hughes might put it, or the dissolution of paradise in a Miltonian world where truth is subverted by lies.1
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).
This week the conversation was lively and went over various themes relating to classification of art forms. The elusive elements in defining mediums, methodologies and thematics in art, itself a difficult term to delineate in the contemporary context, to my mind are in themselves of little use to the artist… or perhaps very useful. Now, which is it? Taxonomy in the arts can certainly be seen as divisive way of classifying what an artist does… for the artist. However, as in most things, the reality is somewhat more nuanced. For what is a taxonomy other than a means of ordering according to type and hierarchy classes of related things? We all need to order and prioritise our thoughts, and there lies the paradox. To do so in the private sphere of one’s own practice is quite a different thing to how taxonomy is used in the public arena.
There is an element of practicability when it comes to categorising art forms to give an idea of what someone is going to experience when visiting a venue or dedicating time on screen or audio. However, the recent loosening of artistic paradigms and breaking of barriers combined with a (natural some would say) need for people to identify and subsequently classify in terms of type and hierarchy has, to my mind, led to a confusion and profusion of terms more granular than ever before. With the emancipation of artists in the C19th and the growth of private middleclass patronage and galleries, the mediatory phenomenon of the critic emerged. Critics began describing different art forms with epithets such as, impressionism in France and I Macchiaoli in Italy, often without understanding the artists’ intentions and at times derogative in the first instance as in the case of the latter. Eventually artists in the C20th, seeing the marketing power of such nomenclature and affiliations, began denoting themselves as belonging to or having invented this ism or that. Giving name to the different styles that arose, as artists felt freed from the constraints of academism, created a many headed hydra that has metamorphosed into contemporary terms which have proliferated as interested groups have clamoured to delineate their own boundaries, often in an attempt to give themselves prominence. Does this serve the artist, or more precisely does it serve an artist’s self actualisation? I believe that it may serve artists in a worldly, status or commercial sense but whether it serves the majority of artists in terms of self actualisation barring the lucky few, I think not.
So who does this benefit? I feel that the atomisation of the arts has been propagated by artists themselves in conjunction with the pressures of commerce and status, although I do not think they are wholly responsible for the consequences and often fall victims of forces far greater than themselves. It is a paradox of the art establishment that no harder do some try to blur boundaries and foster interdisciplinary ideas, others create borders by defining their turf and defending it like crabs on quickly submerging islands built of sand. This is partly due to the academisation of the arts, in a way not too dissimilar to what happened to academic art in the C19th, but this is a discussion for another time. It is also a phenomenon effected by the market and the commoditisation of the arts despite anti-commodatisation movements. Museums, databases, arts organisations, education institutes, competitions, curators are all tied into this system of categorisation (see this table, a small sample of the variety, some would say confusion, certainly fluidity in just one sector of the contemporary artistic environment – link). Although understandable, it has led to a form of schizophrenia for artists. How do I describe myself, how do I fit into this particular taxonomy relating to this particular context? This is further exacerbated because for an artist to move from one domain to another can present other problems, often generated by the ‘turf’ syndrome mentioned earlier. Unless they are resolutely independent, outsider artists could fall into this category, practitioners can find themselves constrained to responding in terms of what others expect. This can lead to a diminished self actualisation in terms of the practice and place an onerous weight on finding success in other terms such as fame and wealth, one could say power.
Are there any advantages to identifying methodologies, modalities, means and contexts in an atomised environment? Having said all that I have, as an artist I do find that classifications can be useful for the critical analysis of my own practice. Identifying labels for what I do has at times altered perspectives and introduced language that has helped me clarify ideas. At other times, usually in response to outside demands, the result has been restrictive and sterilising. Aware of this latter consequence combined with the former, the result has been a clearer articulation of what I am about: knowing what not to say as much as what to say, all part of developing communication within my own internal dialogue as much as with others. Language can divide ideas but it can also unify them. A word such as performative can be applied to the act of painting and ballet, the placing of sculptural elements and the making of music. This opens up a whole world to holistic, lateral thinking: turn something on its head and new thoughts will come out. It keeps me on my toes with regard to semantics and enables me to play with ideas as abstract and realised.
So elusive taxonomies in themselves are neutral and as all words, labels by which we can respond to, build, and order a world (view). They can be used positively as well as in a pernicious way. But this is the way with all human activities. Something can be a force for good or quite the opposite. Perhaps the thing is that responsibility does not lie in the thing itself but in those that use it.
The moon broke free last night. Leaving the earth she hurtled towards the sun leaving pieces of her behind as trees reached out to pull her back by her wake and got their fingers scorched by the sun who gloated, and sunk behind a blackened horizon. Finding herself free of all things, the moon lost interest and decided to drift, like a lover, content with her waxing belly, as men sent shiny rockets full of tiny people vertically, past the trees and past the moon, their roars swallowed by the immense distance, turned to comets. The earth in its shyness turned over and waited for the grubs to wake the soil.
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.
Studies: graphite on paper, 316 x 237 mm. From the maquette
Today I made the first maquette for the work I am currently calling Oracle. It is a continuation of the sketches in Drawings 1 and Drawings 2 in unfired clay and metal wires. Although the final intention is quite the reverse, I am thinking about how language is digested and deconstructed through the alimentary canal of human behaviour. Starting as incoherent noises a comprehensible message emerges at the other end. The Oracles of ancient Greece and Rome worked on this principle and functioned as political spin, from the personal and local to the national and imperial, ambivalence and ambiguity almost always the mode of interpretation. Has it ever been any different for those in power, regarding today’s politics? Is this not what religions do when interpreting the numinous in a bid to acquire and keep hold of power? Take an unexplained phenomenon and make of it what you will.
However, as I mentioned at the start, this work is intended to reverse the process: converting a comprehensible message into an incomprehensible babble in real time. Words are deconstructed as in a form of Chinese whispers from the initial utterance to a final noise. Along the way different iterations of this deconstruction are audible adding to the confusion… all in real time. Is this not what happens to what is said as it passes down and away from its source? This is at the heart of the process of collective assimilation of individual attempts to communicate.
The maquette is already cracking and breaking up. It disintegrates as do so many thoughts that need be transcribed into a more durable form for retrospection and reflection. This disintegration is part of the cycle of things… I envisage the sculpture being held up by iron rods and suspended from above with iron wires. I can use other materials as I look into different configurations while I research the sonic component. But the things is to always start with what is at hand: plaster, air drying clay, paper mache, metal, stone are all considerations. Eventually I shall make a more permanent scale model to resolve difficulties in making and installation; I am sure that new ideas and solutions will meet me along the way. And as I work on this I will consider it holistically with the other works in mind. Language, myth, ritual, group, self, absence, disintegration, unification, permanence, transience…
As the maquette disintegrates, its container is made: the rests of an idea.
My first tutorial with Jonathan was a far ranging exploration of my practice and how to develop ideas currently in formation. It has taken me a while to assimilate the conversation and for the sake of my own clarity I have limited myself to the main points. I can see a framework starting to form that I can return to time and again.
Jonathan’s key questions are paraphrased in italics.
1. Blog Journal: Role of
Writing the blog journal is emerging as an important element in my practice. It is possibly the sought for connective tissue between the different parts of my practice that I had mentioned at the start of the course. In the few weeks that have passed, the writing of posts has become less laboured and easier even though I have to focus on the content just as much.
Is this role for the writing due to the contrast between words and images or objects?.
I think that words are a good way of organising thoughts and ideas. Images and objects function in different ways. Words are regulated by syntax and grammar which enable complex ideas to be formed. I try to avoid jargon because I feel that when I do so, there may be an element of trying to cover up the fact that I do not fully understand what I am talking about. I have to scrutinise my thoughts and feelings and why I want to put them across and how. This process can lead to a clarity not possible with images and objects alone. These are more open to ambivalence and ambiguity.
Is that clarity for yourself or for another reader?
I always have a reader in mind. This is helping me to develop a voice which in turn allows writing to flow more easily. The voice can vary depending on the purpose of the writing. The reader I address takes two forms: an imaginary person and myself. Knowing that someone will probably read this during the MA, earths that imagined reader into a live entity and focuses my thoughts on clarity and above all authenticity. A problem, however, that has arisen out of this facilitated writing is the growing amount I want to put down in words. Additionally, writing for an audience has also brought in the possibility of publishing which adds another level of responsibility in terms of clarity, interest and authenticity.
Do you feel you have to strike a balance between writing and making or are the two more integrated?
I do make a distinction between the two process: writing is more analytical whereas making is more felt. However, by working in both modes I find they support and inform one another rather than being at odds. They function at different levels of affect and meaning in a reciprocal rather than reductive or divisive relationship. This runs counter to what I had initially thought might be the case.
With a clearly defined practice what do you hope the process will bring to it?
What are your plans or dreams assuming you have those if not, what do you hope will happen?
I am still opened minded about this aspect of the course. More so than when I started. I thought I had all the works lined up and I could envisage the final show. I am not so certain now. Ideas are in constant flux and open to change. My current aim is for a collection of works that are bound together by an overt and or covert idea. For me the work itself is very important it has to stand on its own unsupported by text and explications. [In retrospect I could have answered in terms of galleries, further research, exhibitions, but for now I am living in the present with the work.]
How do you measure whether it stands on its own?
I would evaluate this in two ways: how am I and others affected and what inferences are made from it?
I would consider holistically how skilfully ideas, aesthetic considerations and the craft of handling the medium are embedded in the work’s making. How these elements are brought together and how effectively the ‘message(s)’ is encoded in the work. Each medium uses a different coded language which is expressed in a particular way. I look at how effective this coding is used in communicating without explication, how this unfolds and how it differs from when an explication is offered. The difference would be interesting and can point to how successful the work is in fulfilling my aims.
I am becoming more interested in the politics of the work. Not so much as issues but rather in terms of existential concerns: the individual and the collective. The dynamics of both are very different. Politics tends to address the individual as part of a collective and disregards the sense of self other than as part of the group. This interest in human behaviour has brought me to consider an element of performance in my practice.
3. Proposed Projects
We discussed projects I have in mind, primarily two performance ideas and three installation based works. I see some of the ideas as thought experiments and Jonathan encouraged me to consider these as more than such. They are workable and could give rise to interesting and unexpected outcomes. I shall write more at length about these projects in the future. For now, I shall outline the salient points that were discussed for each one.
a) Scripted work involving video on what reality means in a digital environment. The work requires very precise timing, rehearsal and scripting. I thought that three levels of depth involving two screens and myself were the limit of what could be done. Jonathan suggested that if this were extended, the chaos that would ensue beyond the control of the script writer / artist yielding interesting results would be both intriguing and pertinent.
b) Axis Mundi uses my physicality and sense of self in a ritual that involves maintaining a centeredness involving inertia, gravity and movement. It touches on ideas initiated by Poincare’s double pendulum. Two points arose from this conversation. The first regarding the reversal of point of view from the axis rod using a camera so that rather than my movement being evident, I appear and remain fixed while the world is in motion around me. This introduces two diametrically opposed view points of the same process. Secondly, what is the meaning of making the axis in bronze other than its weight and long making? We discussed the ritual implication of casting in bronze and a further subsequent conversation with Janet suggested that the lengthy process of casting in bronze itself is a ritual and part of the inertia of the work. What emerged was that there are many levels of meaning to uncover in the process which can all go towards making the work.
We also discussed: c) Sculpture Waiting for Meaning or Shrine, d) Oracle, and e) Shadows. Jonathan pointed me to MAX MSP at cycling74.com as a way of real time processing sound for these projects which does not require coding but rather works as visual language programming. With regards to d) Oracle, Jonathan suggested that the final incoherent sound could then be fed into a translator or interpreter which would then try to make sense of the sound and it would be interesting to see what words would be formed from this. c) also brought to mind Plato’s cave are we talked about the merits and negative impact of Plato’s philosophy on the world over the past two thousand years.
These ideas will no doubt change as the process of bringing them into being affects the ongoing outcomes. This relationship between process and outcome is analogous to that of observer and observed.
4. On Motivation
Considering all the different ideas, what motivates you most out of all of them?
I had to think long and hard about this. I do not have a single overriding motivation in terms of the different ideas. The works all have different motivations. I have to break the answer down into principal and secondary motivations. Firstly, I am motivated by building a world, a place I can inhabit both actively and in the imagination and in so doing hope to interest others. I do need feedback but it is not my prime motivation, this is to make: I am compelled to do. Other motivations or rather impetuses, are derived from this. Affecting people, dialogue, admiration, shock, comment are derivatives. The point is that if there were to be no audience, I would still do what I do. To have feedback, an audience, is important and there is nothing like the joy of making a connection with someone else but in the end it is an impetus that comes from within and not externally located that has set things in motion. I am imprisoned by it.
Do you feel imprisoned by the work you have done so far, do you feel that is part of the world you have created?
I think so. The work overrides everyday matters to some extent. I started with the hubris of youth wanting to conquer the world, make money, be admired but I soon saw what that does to other artists. It alters the person and what they do and not always for the better. So many artists what they really want to do is go off and paint or make in some way: to have a primal connection with what they do. I do not feel so much imprisoned by but rather contained within an internal world. As an afterthought, I have always been interested in containers, boxes… could this have something to do with the sense of self imposed imprisonment, of trying to control the internal environment, order, or is it more to do with maintaining an axis mundi, keeping the self close by?
Jonathan encouraged me to work on all the projects even if only to the maquette stage not worrying too much about the finish. I guess it is about keeping a momentum and not getting entangled in the problems of achieving a perfect result. I shall certainly follow this through bearing in mind that the more I look at the overall shape of things, the details will resolve themselves as the process moves along.
The tutorial has given me both an overall direction in this new exploration and some detailed analysis of my work and practice. At the start of term I had prepared a Project Proposal. It was vague and open for which I am glad because it can accommodate being altered and brought more into focus with what I am doing. In fact, its flexibility now comes into play as a living document that can evolve and adapt.
5. What to do Now
The tutorial has helped clarify where I am currently. I can now plan more effectively for experimentation, research and development. Reflection on and in process can also be more relevant. I can now return to the tabula rasa and start using it as a palimpsest rather than have it sitting in the studio accusingly posing the question, what did you make me for?
Short Term Outline plan:
develop Project Proposal;
work on maquettes;
research MAX MSP;
develop writing skills – registering for Iowa University International Writing Programme MOOC ‘Writing and the Natural World’;
Distorted, by the unseen cause of its motion:
Cast down by light
Towards innocent surfaces,
Bearing the scars of altered perspectives,
Reasoned at distance
By the movement of multitudes
Whose affect is close,
It only looks down,
Away from where it has come
And in a small instant, vanishes,
Entwined with the light that gave it a shape,
It dares not look
At the source of its making
Hurtling, into the silence of its own darkness,
Its own darkness.
28 October 2018
Shaping a poem is possibly the hardest thing for me when writing. Discussing this with Janet, we looked at how it could be positioned with the preceding video sketch Source of Motion . I came to the realisation that prose as in Ancestral is how I think. This may reflect the difficulty I have with rhythm. I am currently learning hand drumming, and it is quite challenging for me to follow movements which I would have expected to have come easily. Poetry is very much to do with rhythm, internal rhythm, whereas I am more tuned into the cadence and melody, the movement of ideas that flow in prose writing. In prose there is also rhythm but it is free and unencumbered by what I see as an externally imposed form.
This is the same poem written as I would perhaps have done had I not tried to write ‘verse’. (See Post Truth Hurtling)
Distorted, by the unseen cause of its motion: it is cast down by light towards innocent surfaces bearing the scars of altered perspectives, reasoned at distances by the movement of multitudes whose affect is close, so close. It only looks down and away from where it has come and in small instants vanishes entwined with the light that gave it shape. It dare not look at the source of its making as it hurtles into the silence of its own darkness.
I decided to start using them today and soon found myself with a problem, which words to select. I know that it should be significant words but which ones are significant and which ones can be left out?
I put the problem to Janet and we had a long conversation where it was raised that the problem lay in my view of the process. You see, I have a tendency to view the search for certainty as somewhat futile. Everything I do tends to point to my trying to demonstrate this. But is that not trying to find a kind of certainty? Not entirely but I see the point. Using the tag cloud at first sight looked like a futile activity. This brings me back to what I said in my Symposium presentation, I am full of contradiction.
The clue in how tags work lies in the term tag cloud. A cloud’s shape is contingent on unpredictable meteorological conditions. The shape changes in a dynamic process that is beyond one’s control. Meta tags work in an analogous way. Put them in and they start to acquire an order, albeit simpler than those in the sky. They fall into a hierarchy depending on their frequency across blogs regardless of what you think. It is spontaneous.
For this algorithm to be of any use, to have a meaning, the tags have to be chosen without prejudice. Selecting words in or out, consciously or not, defeats the object of the exercise. The whole value of the tag cloud is that it is out of your hands, unpredictable. The tag hierarchy takes shape in unexpected ways outside of your control. This can have a number of positive consequences:
Contact with others you might otherwise not have made
Insight into one’s own thoughts and ideas
Spinning conceptual threads and links that can inform and connect in new ways
Fostering an open mind
I have decided to put down all words that confer meaning to a blog and see what comes. I have become somewhat indiscriminate. I cannot put in enough tags. This is much more exciting and interesting than putting down only what I think is interesting or significant.
Now what does this have to do with my work? Simply this, that my whole practice is like a tag cloud. I have worked in so many mediums with a wide variety of themes in disparate contexts and they continually move around in my mind, shuffling like marbles in a bag. They are tags, but for what? Perhaps they represent ideas, experiences, feelings, events. They obviously are connected but how. It is my aim in this MA to find those connections. The way I put it is, to uncover the connective tissue of my practice.
This is not to say that this is my sole aim. It is part of finding connective tissue that can stabilise the internal architecture of my practice as I reach out to the outside.
What is the relationship between your artwork’s internal cause or impetus and its external input or stimuli? I would ask this of a thinking machine were such a thing possible. The question comes with the implicit premise that during its making, the artwork and artist or in this case machine, are necessarily bound together in process regardless of what happens subsequently. As Aristotle first noted, the internal cause of an artwork cannot be considered to arise from within and of itself. In short it cannot begin to create itself. Unlike a plant seed, it does not contain within it all that is necessary to independently set its growth and development in motion. Art requires an external input. I do not consider the role of the artist as simply that of a vehicle for some sort of transitive phenomenon as it is sometimes suggested. The artist has agency and is integral to the process by which the artwork comes about. Without a maker art cannot be. Although art, as Dewey suggests, is the result of experience and dependent on context, the actual coming about of the thing itself is very much dependent on someone conceiving and giving it birth. This is not a trivial matter when it comes to considering the role of machines. Now that it is possible to envisage a machine doing something we might interpret at least superficially as art I would ask it, where does your art come from, where is its source?
All things gather meaning in our eyes. For art to have a transmissible meaning that transcends ordinary explications, its maker must be authentic. By this I mean, that the process by which an artist does something has to come from deep inside them and in unison with the process of making. There is an element of origination from within. Without this immanent synchronicity between artist and process and medium, the artwork cannot encompass a multiplicity of meanings while retaining its own, could I venture to say identity? If what Dewey said is taken to be the case, then the meaning will always change with changing circumstances. However, if the artwork can retain a core of meaning from its inception, it then retains the potential to engender something that goes beyond a mere intellectual construct. Words can be used to weave such mind games around any object or event to make it look like art. But art has a special significance and to retain this, it has to possess a traceability with its origin and the origins of that which gave rise to it. Why is this important or even relevant, does art not reside in the explanation rather than the thing that acts as its emblem? I believe that the way we look at art and its making impacts on how we see ourselves in a world where machines do wonderful things, and often better than us.
Say I am presented with an everyday manufactured object as a work of art and nothing else. The reception of such a thing would be totally open to interpretation. In such a case, it is I the receiver and those around me that would make the art. The intention of the artist would be somewhat irrelevant: much as a statistician would say, correlation is not causation, any coincidence of meaning between the artist and myself a matter of just that, coincidence, unverifiable since the artist’s true intention must remain undisclosed. Having no contact with the maker, I would construct its meaning, metaphorically and or literally from my personal experience and collective knowledge. I would research contemporary and subsequent texts if they exist. I would listen and evaluate hearsay and legend. I could even personalise it by weaving a narrative with me or my society as protagonist to make it more relevant. My question again, where lies the source of the artwork, does it lie within me and my response? I have no way of tracing its origin, any immanence or synchronicity at the point of its coming into being, must remain silent and the art must lie in my explication, or that of another.
This explanation of an artwork may be philosophically valid and perhaps even be sound, but I feel that it does not go to the heart of what an artwork could be or perhaps even should be in the age of the machine. If a work remains open to interpretation but in and of itself holds a core meaning of its own throughout that interpretation, one that has been generated during its formation, then the piece becomes significant in a different way. It conveys something which can be traced back to a point of origin notwithstanding its transformations by circumstance. The receiver can interpret it in the way that is most significant to them at the time, but the thread of meaning contained within the work cannot be detached from it. It is a form of empathic connection which goes beyond circumstance, it speaks of a common humanity. Yes, the object such as a spark plug or paper cup is also a human product and speaks of humanity and has meaning. So where am I in this train of thought?
Perhaps the difference is one of specificity. You could say a thousand things about the spark plug or maybe a urinal. That is the art of the poet. The poet takes the general and makes it personal, or makes a local specific, common to all. That is their gift. Whichever way round it is, whether looking down a microscope or a telescope, it is about intimate thoughts expressed in words. But a visual artist, to present something which could be described in terms that are applicable to anything else, would represent a loss of intimacy. Is that significant? Perhaps it is better that nothing is said if the same could be said about practically anything else. To do otherwise, the matter would become banal and superficial. In short, there has to be a specificity to meaning and a correspondent to that meaning, for a particular artwork to be meaningful in more than just a cursory way. But that specificity also needs to be flexible and adaptable to different circumstances. Context does give meaning, but context also changes. Is an artwork to be floating forever in the churning maelstrom of circumstance?
Why does this matter? It matters because in an age where machines can be used to make wonderful things, it is of paramount importance that the human element or the human origination to be more precise, remains the core of an artwork. And for this to be the case, the inception and process of making an artwork have to be immanent with it, not simply reside in its explication. It must draw the artist and receiver into an intimacy that could be recognised by others. If this is so, it can become timeless and say something common to all at a distance from its making.
Art made by a machine would have a hard time to create a true intimacy that is endogenous to it. Where would the source for its intimacy reside? Algorithms can process unimaginable amounts of data to produce a simulacrum of human intimacy, and there lies the danger. Are we to be duped by machines, then what? Sentimentality takes over as we fall in love with homunculi and virtual damsels, pine for virtual grannies and call out for the affections of a synthetic dog?
The machine cannot think as we do. We think not only with what we know but also with what we do not know. Uncertainty is what we humans live in and our whole culture, beliefs, history and future, emotions and feelings are centred around that sense of not knowing. It is a major drive behind our responses to the world. We may understand the initiating programmes that start self-learning but once that process begins is there any traceability of its thoughts? Can a machine have the same sense, feeling of uncertainty that we have? Cold logic cannot have a sense of uncertainty and once the initial algorithms are left behind, lost in countless levels of self-learning and unimaginable traversals, can we know where its source lies? Can we have a sense of the machine’s true source? Such a scenario may not be for the immediate future, but it raises questions regarding our humanity that art can only intimate.
Machines having developed their own language alien and impossible to understand, all traceability to the origins of their thoughts and feelings, if that is what they are, would be lost. The result might be, art done by machines for machines. This would be truly meaningless to us. The idea would certainly raise curiosity but it would also be at best entertainment, alien watching, a circus where the public are invited into the cage with the lions. To experiment on how machines might create art might well be valuable research into artificial intelligence. However, art is made by people for people and if machines are to be used in its making, let it be as a tool and not as a prime source generator. A world in which ‘art’ is generated by machines might well lead to one devoid of humanity. Will it happen, does it matter? Time will tell, but I say, leaving what it is to be human to machines is indeed a dangerous path to tread.
Close my eyes, and I see my parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so it goes on with the people that came before me. As time goes back they become strangers. What lives they led, what thoughts they held, and the world they saw is as much a part of me as it is not. Much the same and so very different, time tracks back tracing humanity to earlier times when there were no wheels and horses had yet to be ridden. The dawn of our time is still an unimaginable distance away from now and yet I go back further. As I think of ancestral forms on hot plains and cool dangerous places, the primitive becomes me, what I am now. Polar jungles and salty seas grow around me where I swim and swelter under an unfaltering sun. Yet I am still there, a small part of me survives the odds of existing. An unimaginable self that still dwells in me, that single creature twisting against its fate, giving birth again and again. I cannot any longer think but feel the cold water against my outer surface as my existence becomes slender. The slight trace of what I would become fading in the darkness, diluted in those moonlit nights when the tide throws me against the furrowed rocks and yet, I am still here. My possibility becomes lessened with every turning of the sun and each generation sheds a part of me as time recedes and me with it and still I am present. I no longer feel but my instinct is still to move with the light and smell the water for traces that are unknown to me. The silt is the dread I cannot know and now all sense of life slowly sloughs off and still the insensate part of me is here. The dim light of life is gently, slowly snuffed out in my thoughts.
By way of an introduction to my practice and projected area of investigation to fellow course students, I have been given five minutes to present an overview of my recent practice and project proposal next group session. It is never easy to summarise what one does in a short amount of time but getting to the point is always a good exercise in extracting the essence of what one does. It can also leave many questions unanswered which I hope will foster future engagements and lead to new thoughts and ideas. Each word has weight, each phrase needs to convey enough information to say something worthwhile yet remain open, the overall has to hang together but avoid being restrictive. This is particularly true of a video that has to give a sense of what I am about in three hundred and sixty seconds, give or take a few. Then you are always left with the possibility of misunderstandings, assumptions, lack of clarity or focus; then ambivalence may be one of my areas of interest and this seems to be a good place to start.