Living Presence Response: a Description of the Ineffable?

 

 

This post was written before and subsequently posted after the previous one. This explains any anachronisms that appear in the text.

In my previous-but-one post, I started by describing how the reconstruction of a narrative by its very nature is at best an approximate endeavour. The description of a past reality in and of itself is in all probability a chimera made of many parts pieced together as best as one can with the sensory and intellectual tools at one’s disposal. This is the main thrust of Donald Hoffman’s thesis that proposes the impossibility to see the world as it really is. He explains that we experience reality in terms of ‘fitness payoff’ and that this evolutionary pressure has shaped the way we perceive things in terms of what is the best way for us to survive in the world, not the most accurate description of it. So is a narrative a question of convenience and advantage?

Hoffman’s shift in the way the age old problem of describing reality is approached is another example of how contemporary paradigms are shifting and being replaced at an ever increasing rate. Thanks to an increasing knowledge base ever more accessible, the ability to bring together disparate areas of interest in one place has stimulated holistic approaches to almost every area of study. Crossing disciplines is essential if new insights are sought.

Alfred Gell’s revision of how artworks might function in society, is another example of seeing things differently. His book, Art and Agency singles out precisely the mechanism by which viewers interact with art as though the latter were similar to living beings. Gell sees this in terms of agency, i.e. influencing viewers to behave as though they were engaging with something alive rather than inanimate. An artwork lies within a context, a social environment or art nexus, as van Eck calls it. Van Eck puts it rather well: 

[Gell] considers objects of art not in terms of their formal or aesthetic value or appreciation within the culture that produced them. Neither does [he] consider them as signs, visual codes to be deciphered or symbolic communications. Instead, Gell define[s] art objects in performative terms as systems of actions, intended to change the world rather than encode symbolic propositions about it. Art works thus considered are the equivalents of persons, more particularly social agents.

Gell identified one mechanism by which viewers can be influenced as technical virtuosity. This presents something made in a way that is hard to comprehend, functioning as a form of ideal or magic. The key is that this thing  is achieves what viewers try to do in other areas. This technical virtuosity can take many forms and is not confined to the skill of carving or painting. 

This view of art as a performative agent is at first sight somewhat at odds with Richard Anderson’s view of skilfully encoding culturally significant meaning in a sensuous affecting medium. The skill element is common to both as is the significant meaning. However, in Anderson, emphasis is placed on encoding meaning, whereas Gell’s hypothesis sees agency as the main function for the art work.

Anderson in his anthropological idea is trying to bring together very disparate areas of creativity. In his book Calliope’s Sisters his examples are taken from across very different societies some of which do not recognise the idea of art. Gell’s approach is more art historical. Both Anderson and Gell are trying to identify art and its function in a way that does not fall into Western artistic paradigms of aesthetics and semiotics. Anderson’s hypothesis focuses on the semiotic content of an art object whereas Gell’s focuses on the mechanism by which an art object exerts influence. Gell’s idea is closer to Bayles and Orlando’s proposition that art changes the world in that he states that the agency of the object [or event] consolidates or reforms a world view in a social setting. This is very much the case in sacred contexts but also in the way art is perceived and responded to in secular white cube spaces to mention just one of many possible examples.  

Gell borrows from Peircian semiotics and TAG analysis and replaces terms such as object, meaning, interpreter, sign, signifier etc with words that are more readily applicable to the arts. 

  • Agency: the power to influence the viewer, this is mediated by the
  • Index: the material object that elicits responses
  • Prototype: the thing the index is representing. 
  • Artist: the immediate cause or author of the existence of the index and its properties
  • Recipients: those affected by the work or intended to be by the index.

Semiotics, structuralism and post-structuralism originally resided in the literary and anthropological domains. What this does is to slim down the complexities that arise when analysing work in terms of their function in a humanities context. Focus is placed on the visual arts aspect without losing contact with the humanities.  Most significantly, the term meaning is exchanged with prototype. This reminds me of the Jungian idea of archetypes. But rather than presenting as a Platonic overarching concept, the prototype can be specific to the index in question.

Prototype is an important departure from meaning because it enables the representation of something ineffable. The living presence of the object is enhanced by, in many cases dependent on, its social context. So the art object becomes the explanation of the ineffable rather than ‘the problem to be explained’. 1 Because of the social nexus, in appropriately reinforcing circumstances, the effect becomes proofed against rational explanation. A response mechanism is created that is emotional and volitional rather than rational and cognitive. 

These taxonomies are useful when attempting to disentangle relationships and the role of each player in the social nexus in which they are enmeshed. This system of analysis may be a helpful tool in confirming putative or identifying actual causal relationships between the art object its social, anthropological and psychological effects. This form of analysis has been used primarily in art historical context but I can see how I can apply it to tease out aims and objectives from intentions in artistic practice.

I see aims and objectives as analytical descriptions of process. They are the functional and purposeful surface ideas that have to be worked out, arrived at and articulated through cognitive processes. Intentions on the other hand are more deeply rooted. They lie beneath reason, often unrevealed or tacit. To find one’s intention is like holding one’s beating heart. It can be dangerous or bring well being, we often keep intentions well hidden inside the mind; somewhere deep in the brain. Intentions are tinder waiting to be lit. They can give light and warmth or burn everything to ashes. 

  1. Van Eck,[]

Constructing Irretrievable Narratives to Living Presence Response

 

Trying to Grasp the Irretrievable

To connect with the past through an atavist organic self, is to reconstruct not only events but the notion of sentience in another time. How can this be possible if the past is out of reach? Humans have grappled with this problem of creating an uninterrupted narrative in one way or another since people have wondered what it is to be. Ultimately, is it not about trying to explain the world as it is and how we got here, and perhaps by discovering some best explanation, for that is all it can be, have a glimpse of purpose, or if indeed there is one? Abductive reasoning is at the core of this, there is no certain conclusion, only evolving ideas that change as evidence accrues or new paradigms are installed as others are packed away.

Describing such a narrative is about filling the spaces between what we know to create mass. An uncertain substance yes, but it is something to hold on to, to shape our view of the world. Mass is a speculative place holder for something we can probably never come to know, experience for certain, only through projections and models that we build of the world, again as best fit explanations for their time. Knowledge is at best, one long sequential series of inferences that bring the world to life, a vision limited to our lives and senses in this four dimensional existence.

Personal memory, collective memory are acts of reconstruction, constantly discarding and reforming narratives in a dough constantly kneaded into shape. We sail in a ship of Theseus of the self, shedding and accreting thoughts that keep our sense of momentary self in some sort of integrity. 

A medium is a metaphor, an analogue even of part of such mass, malleable, reformable. Clay is such a medium, however, the conversion of clay into ceramic stone, the alchemical process of firing, is the consolidation of an idea into what could be seen as a dogmatic shape, no longer responding of itself but only capable of being responded to. It is at this point that making ceases.

The process that gives rise to a work of art becomes translated into another behaviour. The work of art becomes more than the frozen embodiment of the intentions of its maker. It becomes an agent, a social agent not just of those aims and desires but a vessel accruing the actions and feelings of those that experience it. The work of art is kept alive in this sense, by the communion of the recipient. In that way the work leaves the hermit shell of the artist and grows into something else. Something undetermined but possibly significant. It is fed by the context it inhabits; living, dying, resurrecting as circumstances may change, paradigms shift, society attempt to reconstruct a narrative, a new narrative, so long as it survives the vicissitudes of history and nature. 

I have given a preliminary look at Alfred Gell’s seminal work on art anthropology, Art and Agency. It is a continuation of Dewey’s idea of art as experience. Gell applies this to situations in which artefacts become objects of ritual, veneration and even fetishism. It is a fascinating area for me because it forms a way in which I can articulate some of what I am doing. This in turn has its origins in Sanders Peirce’s work on semiotics. It is a way of explaining the relationship between artwork and viewer when the viewer treats the object as a living entity. Caroline van Eck explains this dynamic in clear terms in her paper, Living Statues: Alfred Gell’s Art and Agency, Living Presence Response and the Sublime. It contextualises my practice in that domain, where the object is treated as living without the need to talk of it as a biological metabolic organism. This ties in with my paper on Evolutionary Space: Looking at Artistic Practice in a Disparate Art Ecology. It is about the transfer of information. And this transfer of information is not necessarily one in which free will or even action is required on behalf of the art object. The art object  is the carrier of information in much the same way as a printed book or screen does. The container of information is a vehicle and its intrinsic value as art is perceived, just as a sacred rock is seen as such even though it is physically no different to any other rock. Both Gell and Eck extend the argument to looking at why an inanimate object should illicit a response of the kind that art objects and artefacts do, a living presence response. These texts are of course mainly written in the context of ritual anthropology and pre-contemporary art history. However, they can be useful in considering the function and affect of a contemporary artwork and how this might influence art practice. It certainly is not applicable to all forms of art but the future destiny of an artwork is often if not always beyond the grasp of the artist or their contemporaries. 

I may write more about this as it enters into domains directly pertinent to my own interest but I need to study the texts further before doing so. these texts deal with salient aspects of my very first project proposal draft, A contract with the Ineffable, and may be useful in my explication of what I am currently doing. Eck concludes her paper pretty well where I began with my first draft project proposal, ‘[the] living presence response considered as an experience of the representation of the unrepresentable’.

Textual Layering to Work

Following my tutorial with Jonathan, seeing the use of QR codes by Ziyang and discussing accessing the video of Janet’s Mind Mirror at the selected show where monitors present a curatorial problem: adding text to the display of words not in physical format but online using QR code. This adds another layer to the work and not to close meaning down approaching it as, ‘this is my offering to you as to what I was thinking but actually there is a space for you’. For example prose poems or writings around related subjects. 

Another possibility is to create the graphic book with a series of stories or narratives that augment the ideas behind the work without explicitly stating this is what it is. Blurb magazine format is a good option as seen with Dwa’s book. Alternatively a small square book as in the case of Iris’ story. However this latter solution lends itself more to pictures and text. 

Talking of Origins

Unfired porcelain and cast shadows

 

I often talk about origins: the imagination lights the journey into the past and the future stretches out ahead visible by the same light. Each one of us searches for a story of origin. The sense of continuity that we build for ourselves is perhaps a way of constructing a little piece of immortality, connecting us to the eternity that preceded our birth and what is to come. I say this in the plural voice, there is safety in numbers or so they say but it could equally be said in the first person.

Although these stories are raised to the status of myths and have the power to change the very nature of time, they all too often remain buried under accumulating layers of daily life… but such stories continue to bubble deep beneath the crust that surrounds the self. 

 

Adam and Eve: Rembrandt 1638, etching

 

Instruments of Gender

 

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.

MPR Comments and Response

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

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

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

The whole video of the day can be found here.

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

 

Sound file of the studio comments

Transcript

Edited for clarity endeavouring to maintain content.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed: and speculative and that’s fine.

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

Danni: Like the British Museum          

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed: So you are asking him to be less literary

Dannii: He is using very specific words to articulate himself

Ed: It is very sophisticated

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

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

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

 

Skype Chat Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher:
A taxonomy

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

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

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

Skype Chat 2.4: The Practice of Everyday Life

Lev Manovich’s essay The Practice of Everyday (media) Life was the focus of today’s conversation. The essay touches on a number of ideas I have been thinking about for some time. 

Such as the idea of consumption and production of cultural objects and how the origination of material from scratch is being affected by the current environment that facilitates and enhances appropriation of material from other authors on a wide scale. I feel that this has had an effect on the idea of transformation in art works, particularly from the physical material to the idea and message. 

The colonisation of the imagination by new technology and those that use it is another related issue. Michelle brought up the question of independence of artistic process in this regard and its corollary uniqueness in the context of commercial imperatives in the media. I feel rather pessimistic about this, it requires a great awareness and resolve to make an affirmative choice not to be swayed by the pressures around us including social media and advertising.

The tensions between strategy and tactics and those that employ them is an extensive subject area brought up in the discussion. The image below illustrates this tension: between the tactics of individuals in response to corporate/civic strategy in the context of urban living. 

 

As Jonathan aptly put it…

the strategy of the city planners was the path went round the grass circle — the tactics of us the people was to say no and walk our own way – yes straight over

Amongst other things said, Pav mentioned rightly that qualities of tactics include creativity, critical analysis and intelligent problem solving.

Jonathan also added tentatively, individuality and community as in subcultures gathering around shared tactics. What Manovich points out is that subcultures have in recent decades become commoditised and commercialised so that their rebellious, subversive nature is subsumed into a larger field of social acceptance and monetisation. Perhaps one reason why subcultures change rapidly and new ones emerge as another example of tactics in navigating a controlled environment.

Tactics are decentralised, impermanent and unmappable (De Certeau), they are also adaptable and modular. Jonathan points out that unmappability is due to the sheer numbers of people creating their own individual tactics. However, Manovich suggests that Web 2.0 has made many tactics mappable (traceable), permanent and visible. Control has been handed over to the users but could this be an illusion? Are tactics shaped by the controls of the technology, is this part of a grand design, a spontaneous set of behaviours arising out of a chaotic and competitive field, or is it a question of individual freedom being manipulted? One way of looking at this problem is find out who owns the code, the data and who controls the data. I fear that the answer may not be that optimistic. It is an evolutionary process, inexorable and pitiless. How could this process be described?

When our attention turned to AMVs, Manovich’s example of user generated content, the discussion quickly turned to the aesthetics and merits of such videos and the process of making. However, the point was about the videos being the makers’ tactics. The question posed, are they subverting the original narratives of the anime films and the music or are they being colonised by the tools used? Does the tech and the appropriation of material shape the feel and look of the film too much? I think that seeing these are videos made by fans showing off their technical savvy and skill, they are meant to have a close correspondence with the original source material. However, I also feel that for the majority, the learning process is too tied to the style which might well embed itself in the aesthetic space of the makers stifling their individuality: one is pretty much the same as another. But could this not be said of any school of artistic practice?

One thing, it may limit the imaginative and creative possibilities in the future for those that learn through this pathway but it is empowering. As with many things there are pros and cons which cannot be considered dogmatically. The empowerment is a way of rewarding those that allow themselves to be controlled at a deeper level. Then again, the AMV maker of today might subvert the genre and go on to create something complete new and different, the one in ten thousand.

The overall sense of the discussion intersects with my own interests in the dynamics between the individual and the collective, group, corporation, state and the tools by which control and manipulation are exercised. And within this, the place of the artist and their role in a world where the making and consumption of art has become a mass commodity. Is new technology making a new space for artistic practice or is it controlling it? 

Life is one continual tactical process with the occasional strategic goal emerging out of vision, dreams, idealism, experience, fear, and hope. As the title of the conversation points out, everyday life is something that one practises and it needs practice to constantly become more adept in dealing with what life throws at us and to adapt. Questions were raised about what I do in a positive sense. Both as an affirmation of what I do and also a way of reaching out. It makes me think that being an individual artist is a precious thing in the light of the corporate/collective storm in which we stand. Technology is a great enabler but I do not take it as an end in itself. To do so would be for me to abandon the origin of things and lose my way in a system that is dispassionate and sterile. It would be like dreaming of living in the jungle and at that moment being dropped into that world where survival becomes the only thing to do. 

For me, the act of making and thinking during and after that act is everything in the moment. The message arises only after. The message is not something I wish to control or should I. That is why responding to open calls is something that I have to consider very carefully. My making is a expression of my relationship, communion with the world, not an explication of it; it is a net and a funnel, a bottleneck, an hour glass; both rational and irrational, a distillate and a generality, an acquisition and a gift, latent and active. If it transmits something, then that is its message, swaddled in its own making.

Skpye Chat: 2.2 – Interaction, Narrative and Play

What I take from today’s session is that, seeing an artwork in terms of its behaviour helps to consider its impact in terms of interaction. Its behaviour engenders a response in the receiver which sets up a dialogue. This dialogue can then engender a response in the artist which can inform future work. If the artist considers this relationship when thinking of their practice it can lead to a broadening of possibilities and deepening of significance. 

It is part of process philosophy, of the idea of becoming, of dynamic semiotics. 

Questions to ask:

  • how does the receiver interact with the work
  • what is the nature that interaction
  • what meaning is conveyed in interaction
  • how does it resonate in the after experience
  • how does what arises affect future work
  • is the level of interaction excessive, insufficient or about right for meaningfulness 
  • is the level interaction appropriate for the aims set out or could it be improved

Uncertainty, Distance and Time or I Caught My Thumb in the Car Door

 

 

ƒ(u) ∼ dt u

We all notice the little things, even the mouse hidden under the scaffolding for Anne Boleyn’s execution has a story. The bruise on my thumb also has a story, drawing the eye to its notice. Of what relevance is this to the main narrative? Who can say, but it is part of the world and to someone as, if not more important; perhaps someone who has just done the same thing.

Was there a mouse under the scaffold? Who knows, but I am certain of the events that led to the bruise, can you  be? The further one’s mind goes into the past, the more uncertain the truth of events. With the passing of time, accuracy of narrative diminishes and the latitude for the imagination increases. What happens in the past is always an imagining in the present; a speculation based on facts gleaned in the present. The past is a story of broken pieces tenuously joined in rapidly fading light.

Likewise, the present is connected in space and so often certainty in concurrent events are subject to distance. Communication technologies attempt to alter this trend but the veracity of remote news is subject to a large variety of factors. Generally speaking. distance increases the sense of uncertainty regarding an event, in its causality and sequence. This is something that affects us in the everyday. Space, distance and time are great arbiters of fear and hope. Am I talking here about control, or the illusion of control?

The future is also subject to a similar relationship only that there are no pieces to put together, only inferences which are subject to contingency and based on probability. It becomes a matter of approximating as best one can the chances of an imagined or inferred narrative coming about. There is also no past narrative presented for verification, only precedence. Does history repeat itself?  1

I am interested both in the deep past and the future, areas of thought that stimulate the imagination; prehistory, ancient history, science fiction deal with these areas. The closer one comes to the present moment the greater the burden of responsibility for its consequence. An understanding and critical view of history and honest informed political planning are perhaps the two greatest factors in determining how the world develops from now. These are the two things hardest to influence, because they are subject to strong emotions, biases and misunderstanding which affect events today and in the future.

  1. This is an idea I have touched on in previous posts.[]

Learning New Things

 

I have never done something like this before. I am finding it a challenge but not because I lack the skills of drawing, composing, digital or manual. It is more a case of sequencing and seeing how  detail fits with the overall. This might appear to me a matter of applying what I do in other domains to this, the graphic narrative or comic. However, the applicable principles are to be used in a completely different context; one in which the single image does not stand alone but is seen as part of a much larger narrative in images. In addition, the attention of the viewer has to be maintained throughout the process of sequential page turning: rhythm, sequencing (how one images corresponds to subsequent images), pacing of the script and consistency of vision are all part of the process. In short, it is about working with a carefully crafted script. Something I am going to have to do when working on the multiple screen video performance. So this is a way of introducing that process. 

Probably the way for me to break down what I have done is to look at the first page and see how the problems presented have necessitated shifts in how I view the overall work. The interesting part of the process is how the initial vision, feeling, has had to be changed in order to convey a more compelling narrative through visual means. 

I was fixated with a particular ‘look’, a simplicity that quite frankly was getting somewhat boring. I tried to reduce detail to focus on the narrative but found that this had the opposite effect. It is the detail surrounding the central character that conveys the story, after all, there is only so much that can be done with a single creature in a barren landscape. So what I have done is spend a while looking at the great many solutions that others have used for both comics and graphic novels. This has helped me in seeing how I could do something more affective.

So what have I done? The following is a list of the changes that I have sketched out in my mind and tried out, not shown above:

    •  

    • Change the geographical transitions to convey a sense of the psychological journey of the creature. I had maintained this constant with the result of convey nothing more than repetitive monotony. Although this was the initial intention, it did not seem to hold the attention or even convey the meaning I was hoping to impart. I worked with process but there came a point where an intervention to change direction was needed to increase the affectiveness of what I was doing.

 

    • Introduced minor characters which heighten the creature’s isolation much as a lost person would feel in a forest full of unfamiliar animals and plants. This also personalises the character with the viewer creating a conversation between parties. This is a more intuitive direction, after all, most people’s experience is not that of living alone on the Moon or Mars. 

 

    • Not repeating stances and views, keeping the pace of the storyline going while relating each vignette to the others. This can be done using colour, line, composition and tone as well as the particular characterisation of a given scene. The direction of sight needs to move in a sequential narrative and lines of tension, repetition, reflection and so on, are all devices that can be used to achieve this visual journey.

 

    • Most importantly, elaborate the script so it includes details that help create interest in and engagement with the character and its story. The script, to my surprise, is perhaps the most important thing. It does not have to be about speech, it is also description of the scene, emotions, details, incidental action, time, season, terrain. All these are important to compose in an abstract sense so that the drawing phase is not always starting from the beginning when an impasse is encountered.

 

    • Work with what I am familiar. This is important in creating a believable situation and characterisation. It is much easier to work with elements of which I have experience rather than trying to set events in locations that I cannot relate to. For this reason I have chosen the Venezuelan savanna, land of tebuys and Conan Doyle’s Lost World. An appropriate setting for the story that unfolds. 

     
    But what is this narrative about? I have been thinking if it was about loneliness, or perhaps the dark side of companionship; about a search or about the indomitable spirit of survival. In the light of what I have been exploring in the past few day there is something else, the emergence of predation, not in the sense of a literal figuration of the strategy filling an ecological niche. It is more of a metaphorical account. If examined carefully, again it is not so much about predation but competition, territoriality or even status. There are multiple inferences in the storyline, that is the point of it, ambiguity, and the ambivalence of what is loneliness and what is solitude. 

    There are also technical elements which are can be worked out in the process. One thing I have found though, although I have spent some time on the project, I am amazed at how little work I have actually done. I can see that I need to do much more ground work. But now I am clearer as to what is needed, I can move on at a more productive and energised pace. What relation does this have to the main project proposal? Everything is still up in the air but there is a strong correspondence with other elements I am working with, metamorphosis, culture and the deep past as a counterpart to the contemporary. 

     

Finished Graven Creature

197 x 260 x 156 mm, fired clay and gold.

So, I have managed to repair and finish the piece using my own version of kintsurukoi; something I would like to explore further with more abstract pieces: dialysis and synthesis. 

This is a development of the creature around which I am building a narrative. It offers possibilities on many levels arising out of what I feel are its currently two-dimensional qualities.

 

Start of a Graphic Narrative

 

I have  been working on ideas arising from drawings I did earlier in the first term. I did not know where they were necessarily going but that is the nature of artistic experiments. However, it is not a case of not knowing what I am doing but rather allowing what I do to take me somewhere new in the spirit of experimentation.

Over the past days I have learnt a great deal about comics, their layouts and techniques which are helpful in creating narratives concerning my work and ideas. It is an interesting way to work; with hand drawing, computer graphics and photography. What I have in mind is a set of accessible works that sit alongside my mainstream pieces.

I decided to start with a principle character working it out through drawing. I used the seeds sown in a series of pages of sketches drawn earlier, particularly Drawing 4…. The  creature above is by no means definitive in morphology but it bears the fundamental elements of its making. Around this creature, I am writing a number of scripts in order to build an narrative structure for sequencing images. As I started this project I was also experimenting with the camera on my reflective walks. The context of these wanders over the same territory has become an important element in what I do, a setting for the imaginary world of the works and their interactions: perhaps the stage I mentioned in the symposium video at the beginning of term. 

Working this way has opened out many ways for the unification and expansion of my practice. I still have a long way to go as I work in parallel with other projects but it is rapidly becoming part of a scenario for originary things, a mythopoeitic process.

Mythopoiea and Metamorphosis

Emperor and Four Ways of Being Inspired

Mythopoeia is the act of making myths. Today it takes its meaning from the title of a poem from J. R. R. Tolkien in his book the Tree and Leaf. His work takes from many strands and weaves them into his epic sagas, something I can relate to. The word today takes its contemporary meaning from his work as a genre of fiction that merges archetypes with traditional mythological themes.

My proposal is the beginnings of a myth expressed in primarily visual and sonic form. As I hinted in What is the Character of a Myth, I am not looking to create character and plot based narratives like the Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. These are tightly composed works. My idea is more open in interpretation and focuses on mechanisms. 

It has taken a term to get to the point where I have finally found the overarching theme of the project proposal. With hindsight, I was heading this way all along but things are rarely that obvious when attempting to elaborate something new, that is cohesive, within a complex ecology of ideas. In the group session earlier this week, Jonathan introduced the idea of mixing, merging, hybridising, editing, scripting and scoring. This is pretty well what I have been doing as well as filtering, curating, and amplifying disparate ideas which somehow held together in my mind. 

In the post What is the Character of a Myth I looked at myth, not as characterisation but process. This led me to focus on underlying processes which are applicable to a variety of narratives. What underlies all creation myths and cosmogonies is change. This change can be gradual or catastrophic. For example, punctuated evolution proposes long periods of relative stasis in species evolution punctuated by brief periods of radical change, as opposed to the gradual changes that occur in classical Darwinism. Equally, the Garden of Eden in Genesis is a story of catastrophic change, with the expulsion of Adam and Eve and the disappearance of Eden things change radically after which things slow down, gradually moving towards a society, in which Jehovah destroys the world in a cataclysmic flood in readiness for a new beginning. 

There may be little in common between these two timelines, but one thing is shared by both, change. It is fundamental in all cosmogonies whether scientific or faith-based. And what is the nature of this change? Metamorphosis. This may be a transformation of form, relationship, organisation or, as in many myths, from the divine to the mortal after which we enter into the territory of folklore.

Metamorphosis can be intra-organismal within a single lifetime, as in the case of the frog or the butterfly or over longer periods of time in the evolution of species. Metamorphosis can be the process of making a mortal eternal, as in Ovid’s Metamorphoses or whole belief systems can undergo fundamental change, as described by Robert Graves’ The White Goddess. History shows us how metamorphoses within societies, revolution, war, disease, commerce, technology, and everyday politics, leading to radical changes in the way people live. Metamorphosis is the essence of existence, process.

What I find interesting is that metamorphosis is a concept that applies to so many of the ideas that interest me and is at the core of artistic transformations: taking matter or concept and altering its properties to give rise to something new: from the metamorphosis of clay into fired stone to that of manipulated sound, to the evolution of ideas. I can see this as a rich seam beginning to be uncovered for mining when it comes to the Research Statement. 

And what is the relevance to the contemporary world? We live in a world undergoing great change at all levels of society and in the very fabric of our environment. This time of great change now called the Anthropocene, has profound implications for us all and more so for future generations. Expressing them in ways that connect with origins and their past transformations gives continuity to our world and meaning to the future, reminding us of what is at stake.

 

Project Proposal Renewed

Parallel Universe

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

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

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

 

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

What is the Character of a Myth?

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

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

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

Image above: Theriomorph. fired clay, height 94 mm

Breakthrough from the Simplest Source

Today I started working on another branch of my project using old sound files I have recorded over the years. This proved rather frustrating and the results were disappointing. I took a walk with Janet where we discussed this temporary impasse. The problem seems to come down to using pre-existing files for new work. It is like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, to use an overused metaphor. But why should this be? Perhaps it is because the old files were created in different contexts and with end points in mind that do not correspond with my current aims. These two reasons seem true enough. However, I also felt that what I was doing was tiresome, jaded. It emerges that simply put, the sound files are not fresh. They have to be recorded or made in process, why? Because that way I am close to the source, in its own environment, sensible to its meaning, affected by what I see, hear, smell, feel and touch. 

I recorded a sample from a simple domestic source and low and behold, I was able to work effortlessly, manipulate the sound waves, and create with the utmost simplicity something that I can work with. The result is something I can build on; create an archive of sounds with which to compose. There is also another important principle at work here that is relevant to the project. From simple, everyday phenomena, readily at hand, an entire world can be created without sophisticated processes. Myths are created not just from the unusual and spectacular but from the everyday, humble things that surround us. So this is what I will be working on over the next few days amongst other things: build a narrative in sound that runs parallel with the more tactile and visual processes. Whether the two modalities come together is still an open question. This I suspect will be the direction of the Research Statement assignment later next year: the relationship between sound and sculpture. 

A Cyclic Return

 

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

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

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

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

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

Drawing 5: Ennoia

Studies: graphite on paper, 316 x 237 mm

I am drawing as a way of originating an idea. The word idea has its roots in the Greek Ennoia which literally means “act of thinking” as well as “form” and “the look of a thing”. Related to this is idein, Ancient Greek for “seeing in a creative manner”. How fitting it is that a drawing should be a creative way of seeing an idea: a visible manifestation of thinking. This is such a powerful tool for origination.

Images and words are starting to merge; not as equivalents but as different expressions of an emerging idea. My use of words follows drawing, as reflection on the act follows reflection in the action. This process is leading to ideas related to what I said at the start, that I see my practice as a stage on which a play of sorts is enacted. 

The narrative I alluded to in a previous post, started to emerge in drawing 4 and these sketches have crystallised this a little more, particularly in the context of drawing 3. I do not want to say too much at this stage; to keep the revealing in motion and not cut the process prematurely. The creature stands as I, on the threshold of something broad and unknown. Through this metaphor I have seen a glimpse of a transformative process leading to a collection of existential works. It is the origination of a personal mythology. 

 

Drawing 4: Some Sort of Story Starts to Emerge

Studies: graphite on paper, 237 x 316 mm

 

Today has been the darkest day of the season; rain and cloud but it is not cold. Does the weather influence work? It may do but what it most certainly does is influence mood and interpretation. If interpretation is part of the work, particularly in-action reflection, then the weather must in some way influence the work.

These sketches unlike the previous ones are more of a sequence than a series. It appears to me that one sketch led to another and that by the time I had reached the final vignettes a narrative had started to emerge. I really was not trying to create a narrative but it seems to have come about spontaneously. Is this because subconsciously I look for a narrative or is it that having completed the previous series of drawings, I am becoming more fluent and synthetic? Is it that I am linking the images despite myself?

I was not aware of any particular theme at the outset but during the course of the sketches, a familiar notion has started to show its face. 

Drawing Studies 3

Studies: graphite on paper, 237 x 316 mm

These rough sketches are a change of stance from the previous drawings, approaching the idea called for now ‘Oracle’. Exploring the inside and out of an imaginary prototype, I inhabit the space. This is not an aesthetic exercise in drawing, neither is it a testing ground for the work. It is more of an immersion into the idea, to understand where its physical form comes from. It lives in a landscape but is trapped in the context in which it is found: should be in a desert but it must sit in a room, an exhibit collected and appropriated from the imagination and displayed… for now. It is small yet pyramid-like in conception, is it to be simple or ornate? Is it a temple or a receptacle for sound; the Holy of Holies or a profane Pandora’s box; a landscape contained in the sounds that enters it, sounds processed and altered as a message must be arranged and packaged for its destination


It is now evening and having thought about the work’s geographical limitation, the idea has come to me that, although contained and relatively small, the sculpture can contain the world. Instead of the microphones collecting the sound being located within the same space, they could transmit from anywhere that they might be placed. The sculpture is then no longer limited to its location but it can encompass the world… or at least a greater part of it than before. 

Drawing Studies 2: The Simplicity

Studies: graphite on paper, 237 x 316 mm

Today I drew another set of studies.  It really is an exploratory activity and a reacquaintance with drawing. The images do not conform to the ideas I have for project work but I am glad for that. Breaking away from the constraint of a predetermined outcome fills me with a sense of freedom and renewal; what I talked about in my first post, Elastic Thinking, Synthesis and Renewal. It is in the true spirit of the MA. From these studies something may come but come what may, the thing itself seems to be what matters. The action, the thought, what it might lead to, give me the same feeling I had when I first started years ago. This happens from time to time but for it to happen now is wonderful. 

As I draw I think. I think about what I am doing and how it can be done better. I am learning rapidly as it comes back to me compounded by what I have learnt and experienced along the way. These small sketches represent much more than what they are in themselves. 

As part of my brain focuses on the technical activity, another part nudges me into feeling my way, sensing the concept and translating it into a language expressed in pressure, sense of space, distance and closeness, weight, light, volume. These are all empirical technical aspects. There is also another part of my brain that is released and wanders and thinks of other things. Reflection on the doing and reflection on the reflection. 

I like the way that all this is achievable with the simplest of tools. A block of toothy paper and two graphite pencils. Is this not the simplicity with which artist worked before? From Lascaux to Phidias, Michelangelo to Ingres, Picasso to Moore. The most exquisite work was done with simple tools and materials. How does this compare with digital media? Is the digital another freedom or is it a self imposed exile into consumerism? I have drawn with digital media and found it a rewarding exercise but more for the outcome than process. The smooth layers, the faultless line, edges that leave no ambiguity. It is indeed very seductive and aesthetic. I have rationalised it and it appears valid. But I ask myself, have we become so accustomed to perfection that we are in danger of losing sight of what human creativity is and where it comes from? Is the machine to be the paradigm by which we measure and are measured and origins lost in time and made irrelevant? So many questions come to mind offering contradictory views it is overwhelming. For now I shall continue building this small, simple, limitless world and see what happens.