“There is a desperation in al certainty. The category of political uncertainty, philosophical uncertainty, uncertainty of images is much closer to how the world is”, says South African artist William Kentridge in this video presenting his work.
Research Statement Tutorial
Earlier today, I was able to get feedback from Gareth regarding the RS. We had a very interesting conversation around some of the subject areas touched on in the paper.
I am happy that the paper has focus and am grateful to Gareth for the suggestions he made in the last tutorial, namely William Latham’s Mutator. The paper works better than the original drafts, in that it avoids many of the former complexities which were hard to resolve within the word count of the paper while still keeping some original elements.
One of the things I have to add is a line or two to say that some ideas presented are subject to current debate. This goes particularly for the first paragraph in Part 2 which deals with, yes you’ve guessed it, aesthetics. No single area of art causes more debate than aesthetics, or perhaps be more interesting. And that is perhaps why the Research Statement proposes a way of mitigating subjectivity when discussing more than one artistic practice at a time.
This does not mean I have found a universal and infallible modus operandi. It is more of a gateway to further discussion and debate, perhaps future research. In fact, there are many potential papers nested in the RS. All these side branches or spurs to other areas, can only be hinted at in a four thousand word paper. So this is another thing I should mention in the paper, the potential areas to be investigated. Areas such as the idea of whether AI can make art, final causality and autonomy of action.
I have one hundred and sixty four words left. This should be enough for any corrections and additions. One thing I was glad of was that I do not need any further citations. They just take up on the word count. This makes life so much easier. There is just one I could add in paragraph 1 of Part 2 where I could explain where the idea is coming from: the part that mentions … not requiring teleological control. This paragraph is debatable which in the context a short paper can be moved through. These are things many books have been written on.
The first paragraph of Part 2 could go in many directions, and I am aware of this. The paper tests ideas and does not sit on its own. Gareth mentioned Paul Crowther who has written on the phenomenological theory of art, Phenomenology of Visual Arts which would be interesting to read in the future.
I have been concerned with the way the paper transitions from life simulation to looking at art practice as a life process, whether I have been clear enough. Gareth mentioned the Hegelian idea of Geist and in Hegel’s terms art practice is a form of sublation, in which something evolves and changes, and parts are negated to become something else.
Look at Heraclitus in the context of process philosophy which predates and counters the Aristotelian and Platonic ideas of being, the four causes and the realm of the ideal.
All the ideas touched on are a rich field to take forward but most importantly they are never far from practice based work.
Gareth Jones, in his essay, describes the historical changes in the relationship between sculpture and sound. This dichotomous tension is straddled by Gil’s work in Sonic Plasticity proposes the use of sound as a malleable material – one that can be stretched in all dimensions, encompassing height, width, and depth, with curves, edges, and changing geometries. His Aural Fields and Resonant Bodies combine physical structures set to vibrate, creating geometric fields of sound perceivable in space with edges and form.
This is an interesting field I am currently investigating with respect to the final proposal with respect to sculptures. I am not proposing to do the same sort of thing but Gil’s work does have correspondence with how I see sound as creating a physical entity in itself.
My idea is to counterpoise the readability and sensuality of the solid pieces with the pure perception and sensuality in another modality of sound. I am concerned about the cancelling out of one another: should solid sculpture reside in silence, should sound be disembodied? These are questions I intend to explore and aim to resolve in some way. The use of digital interactive devices is something I have been working with enabling an element of audience interaction. But then again, the work in silence also speaks of itself. This is an interesting area of empirical research which needs a trial and error, or heuristic, approach.
An amputation is not something one would want. Sculptures have suffered amputations throughout the ages, some repaired, others restored and yet others left as they were found, This Herakles, Venus de Milo, the Belvedere Torso and so on. Limbs at times distract from the sense of form, many artists have known this, others have incorporated the limbs so that it merges into the body.
I have had a problem in that I want to make large ceramic works but the kiln is only so large. I have a top loader 59 cm diameter and 69 cm high which needs to be wired in. This is not small but neither is it large enough. What to do?
I had thought of jointing the pieces much as I did with the works in Chaos Contained. But this is not in keeping with the informal, organic sense of the works I am currently engaged with. Chaos contained was about symmetrical growth from within, an outward radiation. Now the works are internally generated, handled in a completely different way.
So I looked at how I could make the pieces in parts to be put together later after firing. I came across the work of Giovanni Vetere who works with glazed ceramics. The pieces are much larger than would fit in a regular kiln. In addition they would be unstable and too fragile for firing in one piece. On closer inspection of his work I noticed that they are made in pieces using the glaze patterns to camouflage the joints.
I could try to hide the joints when installing but would there be a better way? To show the cut, a severance, a clean cut that must signify something. And it opens the way for future large works where the cut plays a part. It may even lead to being able to show a work in its pieces arranged meaningfully or at least aesthetically.
What this does for my ongoing work is to provide a formal solution to having a kiln smaller than the fluid forms I want to make: the parts can be fitted together after firing. It also solves the problem of how to insert and remove sound equipment. Conceptually, this technique offers the opportunity for representing vulnerability, fragility and reformation; perhaps also creating compositions, of parts that relate to one another and reconstituting them in different configurations.
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.
Betty brought Marguerite Humeau to my attention during her feedback to my Mid Point Review. The artist works with similar ideas I work with, organic life, sound, the past and myths. It is interesting but I do find her installations somewhat too clinical and the sculptures lacking in depth. What I mean by this is that they do not have scales of vision: they are large and smooth and had all their interest sanded off them. The slickness lacks humanity and looks rather plastic and artificial which does not seem quite in keeping with her ideas. They look like reproductions of Blender renders in fibreglass or some similar material. In any case, I like that she works with mediums and ideas that I can identify with and is one of very few artists that is in my direct sphere of interest.
My Research Statement started clearly but tailed off towards an uncertain ending. I had the thread, subject knowledge and so on but crucially what I was thinking was only of slight relevance to contemporary art. I had been dealing with histories of knowledge and putting together a viewpoint that although very interesting to my mind, it was not pertinent to contemporary art and did not contribute to my practice, neither methodologically nor theoretically: I just found it interesting.
I had written around two-and-a-half thousand words when the recurring feeling of dread that asks, where is all this going, became too strong to ignore. I had barely started to look at contemporary artist that might be relevant to the paper. I looked at some suggestion Gareth had given me. Most were examples that were nothing close to what I was talking about, but you only need one, and one did stand out ticking all the boxes. I found that William Latham has been working in a similar way to me for years. He has developed an evolutionary art with computers, I have done it with sculpture. I looked up some references I was familiar with to do with cell automation, a bit about AI and found these things fitted into the contexts I had thought of previously: the Cambrian explosion and the Early Bronze Age.
I am excited in that the hypothesis I am now proposing brings together art, biology, anthropology/archaeology, the digital environment, virtual worlds, philosophy and the future. The idea is not fully fleshed out yet but it is on its way and would not have been possible had I not started the way I did. The idea came a few days ago as a need to find a way of talking about very different artistic processes in the same terms. I have found that despite all the talk of breaking down barriers, merging and blurring the boundaries, art has become too disparate and dispersed. A fog of taxonomies, political stances, power plays creates in me an inability to talk about things cohesively and clearly without having to ignore the unique characteristics of each practice or making crass generalisations. This is not an attempt to judge or weigh one art form against another. On the contrary, it is a way of critically looking at each practice and identifying what makes it unique without recourse to subjectivity. I know that this is a bold claim and it may unravel as I write the paper but it is an interesting exercise. It is probably just another supporting piece of thinking. Many attempts have been made to do this since structuralist, post-structuralist and subsequent theories. I think Wittgenstein wrote something along these lines but it was based on a philosophical logic form that is not easy to understand.
And finally, it is directly relevant to me by helping to re-contextualise my practice in the contemporary environment. I think it could be one way of universally thinking or rethinking about process, categories, art, anything that involves change, which is virtually everything.
Note to self: writing this down is a way of telling myself to continue writing, researching and composing ideas.
Warning: this post contains very subjective material.
After over six months I still remember one visit and one work in particular. At the Annka Kultys Gallery in the London City Island an exhibition of digital works was showing entitled Re-Figure-Ground. Two things I remember, the video-game-like virtual reality goggle-based immersive 3D videos complete with kinetic controls with which to travel within the virtual world, and a simple 3D animation that did not do much with a spoken audio.
The VR works were interesting enough from the point of view of technology but quite honestly they left me underwhelmed on account of their lack of conveying any point to them other than showcasing the technical work. And to add, the resolution was so poor that it left me wondering whether I needed new glasses. This inconsistency between the vision and the actual vision left me somewhat frustrated. Claudia Hart’s augmented reality was like walking through a myopic fruit machine of social media icons along pointless corridors. The fact that she is examining the body, perception and nature ‘adapt[ing] the forms and software normally used to create 3D shooter games was no compensation for what was clearly meant to be a transformational experience.
The Karst cave by Snow Yunxue Fu’s was, as she says, an attempt to embody the concept of Plato’s cave in a virtual realm. She then continues to say, ‘providing a contemplative environment for the visitor to wonder; walking and teleporting within the control of the wireframed virtual hands that are given to them’. Really, Plato’s cave? That is certainly not what Plato was on about when he described our secondhand manipulated perception of the world. Leave that bit of referencing and you are left with an enjoyable, if somewhat, again myopic trip fantastic.
The rest of the show I found cold but one work did stand out for me, and it was not the most accomplished technically. Morehshin Allahyari’s video installation She Who Sees the Unknown, Aisha Qandisha was a back projected video1 of a 3D animated figure that did not do much other than turn around a bit and sit in some sort of digital sea. On its own it would have graced any number of album covers for some group or other singing about whatever. However, when combined with the narrative it became something else. It transported me to another world of magical realism in some ancient past which is very much present.
The combination of powerful scripted content with a weird large image moving, now menacingly with the audio gave me the sense of a deity being displayed before its awestruck followers. This remains in my mind not only for the content but how something relatively simple in digital terms, can still have impact compared to more sophisticated presentations.
Much of her earlier work does not do much for me. It is overtly political and lacks depth; mimicking the tired old tropes of various movements in previous years. Thankfully, she has developed a more personal voice that has moved her into a rich imaginative space.
- Onto a white acrylic sheet (transmits around the require 50% of light for a good back lighting as Jonathan explained to me) suspended from the ceiling and cleanly fitted onto the sheet by means probably of some sort of projection mapping
As I work, I think of how the final pieces will look. Porcelain is a strange material. Silky smooth when fired with a grainy feel if left unglazed. I want to give the surface a skin-like feel.
The Belvedere Torso in the Vatican collection was a seminal inspiration for Michelangelo. Signed “Apollonius son of Nestor, Athenian”. Marble acquires a softness that bellies its nature as stone. Sculpture in stone influences my choice of material. But I choose ceramic as a pliable stone which is transformed by the alchemy of heat. Porcelain is like the white marble of stones and glazing it seems to me betrays the traces of handling and so an essential characteristic of its making.
Why do I choose the Belvedere as an example of marble statuary? Because arms and legs are functional, locomotory and grasping. The body is the centre of physical being from which other things radiate. As it was with our primordial ancestors, so it is with the forms I am working on.
Glazing speaks to me of function, impermeability. The body is not impermeable but in continual transaction with the world. In early times the clay was burnished to render vessels less porous. Decoration has always been applied to ceramics, from the rhythmical marking of the beaker people, to the finest renderings. From symbolism to shear exuberance and delight, ceramics have diversified and many left function behind long ago evidenced in the heritage of form only.
I have experimented extensively with Parian clay which was developed to look and feel like marble, it is soft, vitreous and warm, but it is hellishly difficult to use and is subject to warping and cracking. It is better suited to casting large pieces. Casting at this stage is not for me, it is not sufficiently spontaneous and better left as a means of reproduction. However, I shall continue to work with it on smaller scales.
I do not want to use glaze because it covers detail and the sculpture looses the surface nuances developed during its making. However, the raw biscuit low fired material is brilliant white and unsubtle. It is also prone to get dirty and due to its porosity very difficult to clean. When fired to a higher temperature, the surface vitrifies and becomes sealed to a large extent, less porous and prone to atmospheric damage and the dirty that comes with handling and storage. However, the crystalline surface is still very white and lacks the organic surface quality I am looking for. When the porcelain is unfired and still wet, it has a flesh like look, a warm grey that responds to handling developing a beautiful sheen where it is burnished. However, this disappears on firing. I have looked for a finish that can restore to some extent that sense of sensual softness and has the following characteristics:
- does not yellow over time,
- is colourless,
- does not create a thick layer,
- is not glossy
- and is easily restored.
Having experimented with a number of possible candidates I have found that the humble paraffin wax candle is the ideal substance. The porcelain is heated with a hot air blower and the wax rubbed on building a very thin layer that penetrates the microscopic pores on the surface and creates a colourless, translucent finish. Finally it is burnished with a cloth or brush.
It has finally arrived, a beautiful collection of poetry. A few weeks ago, as is my habit, I woke up during the night and settled to listen to the radio. BBC 4 Extra was playing a programme about the life and works of Rebecca Elson. A cosmologist, equally known for her poetry who died tragically young. She wrote about life with as much insight as her work as a physicist. Her latter writings deal with her imminent death in an inspiring fusion of fact and vision. I was enthralled.
Elson brought science and art together in a way seldom done. When the two branches of knowledge come together, not as appropriation, comment or illustration but to speak in a single language of experience, empirical fact and authentic metaphor, something powerful is unleashed capable of prising open this world to reveal others as nestled together, ready to be felt and understood as though they were here. Ted Hughes does something similar but from a darker interior, a biblical horror as opposed to a cosmological creation. The beauty of both poets lies in the merger of nature and culture, with an insight and ability to move from the very small to the unimaginably large, to show the connectedness of all things and that existence is something greater than us.
What struck me when I got the Arduino board was, how small it is, how small all of the things are. And that means, that they will be far less obtrusive than I had previously thought. And seeing how easy it is to work with I look forward to learning a great deal.
The next step is to get to grips with the coding. Fortunately there is a lot of help on the web and even if some piece of code is not exactly what I need, I feel much more confident to be able to tailor it to my needs.
How do I feel about using digital sound in conjunction with sculptures? I have always felt there is an equivocal relationship between sculpture, or statuary to be more precise, and sound. Is a statue not meant to be silent, to be contemplated without the distraction of noise?
But what if the sound comes from within, trapped, allowed a small breathing hole to reach one’s ears, fingertips, barely audible, sensed; a sound that is neither music nor the result of some kinetic accident? I see the sculpture as the receptacle of its own soul, the embodiment of what it is in its nature to be gently radiating outwards, translated into vibrations seeking connection.
There is of course an element of humour in all this, for it to be otherwise would be melodramatic and to what end: humour can be poignant, questioning, engaging, cathartic. All I know is, I go with where the work takes me as it also follows me.
Always you were drawn to the composite creatures, the broken and reassembled, for that is what you are.
The first Research Paper tutorial was a sounding out of the initial outline. It was helpful in thinking about the way the narrative might go and how to apportion space to each component. My responses so far are:
There is a dialogue between the literal and metaphorical manifest as the biological and the cultural.
This leads me to think that I am dealing with three different ecosystems: biological, cultural and machine;
embedded in the Cambrian explosion, Early Bronze Age and the age of digital (for now) machines.
We are currently living in the cultural age which is on the threshold of the cultural-machine thinking period.
Useful worker to look at is William Latham.
Comparison between biological systems and machine systems – for now the human element is still the predominant one and machines are used as ‘intelligent’ tools.
The tutorial helped me in re-evaluating what I have done so far and how to place the historical knowledge element as a contextual framework for talking about the contemporary state of things. This will need a great deal of focussing but I think I can condense the historical elements into just a few hundred words.
The paper really touches on the philosophical ontology of current biology-computational art in relation to truly biological systems… in the context of culture.
Useful worker in the field of computer generated life: Eric T. Olson at Sheffield. He looks at the relationship between animals and humans at a philosophical level.
I mentioned in a recent post that I am now ready to look into a contemporary context for my work. This is not altogether easy as what I do is not centred on one idea or medium alone. I know that many artists today are cross disciplinary and work in various mediums; this makes contextual correspondences all the harder to find. I have to be careful not to mention every one and sundry that I like or identify with in some way. This sort of openness would only confuse and lead to a lack of direction. What would making a long list do, help in the project development, show my wide taste in things?
No, what I am looking for is work that directly contextualises mine in terms of contemporary ideas and environments. Andrew Lord, ten years my senior is one such practitioner. Although he would not like to be called a potter, his body of work very much centres on the idea of vessels and clay, something I also work with.
Lord’s central notion is an interesting one. It is an idea that many working in clay have followed for some time, that of ‘rescuing’ pottery from still life painting. As Mark del Vecchio lucidly points out in his book, Postmodern Ceramics:
From Pablo Picasso to Giorgio Morandi, Vincent Van Gogh, and George Braque, pottery has tended to be the visual anchor of most still-life compositions. Contemporary ceramists have begun to reverse the compliment and draw inspiration from the paintings in which these pots appear, returning them to the three-dimensional realm, but retaining some painterly associations.
Looking for what is common between two and three dimensions is a process which also requires an awareness of what is lost in translation. Only in this way can an essence of the object be made manifest.
Andrew Lord displays his work in such a way as to allude to the still life genre by placing objects on tables and plinths, carefully arranged in terms of light, time of day, space and so on. The arrangements often remind me of Morandi’s still lifes, treated as emerging from the material becoming objects felt in the making. He leaves overt traces of how the object is formed often to the point of caricatured.
This work is consonant with elements of some of my work, playful and ‘rough modelled’ caressed into being aimed at a sense of Platonic idealism imperfectly fashion in and on (E)arth.
It also interest for me to note that in some cases, vases are displayed just off the floor in a similar way to how I plan to show H’s Play Things in the final show… with one twist.
Much of this approach is consonant with what Heidegger says in his essay, The Origin of the Work of Art:
- The material (clay) is central and clearly evident in the work.
- The clay is subservient to what is being portrayed yet it ‘shines forth’1.
- There is a struggle between the nature of the material and what it tries to portray, what it is formed into or as Heidegger would say, between the Earth and the World.
- The vessels are not the product of craft yet he uses, techne or mode of knowing, to bring out hidden Aletheia, or being.
- The being of the thing is not just made, it is brought forth and made evident. It is generated from within through phusis as though through natural law.
But what is the role of craft in this act of phusis? Heidegger does become confusing, or more likely confused unable to articulate a distinction between craft and art: he descends into subjective ideas of the mystical and the sublime and sacred to support his thesis. Perhaps a simple, if still elusive reply is that the impetus for a work of art comes from within an internal process of natural growth, whereas craft’s impetus is external to its growth. It is clear to me that this categorisation is false in many cases and can only be considered from piece to piece and not generically.
Having said all this, Heidegger does provide a useful way of thinking about art as a spontaneous act of emergence in the making also raising interesting questions regarding the relationship between what is ‘being creative’ and artistic practice.
My works are based on a strong sense of materiality as a means of grasping abstract ideas. To translate these from objects of the mind to ones that occupy three dimensional space is to rescue them from ephemerality. This in itself changes their nature as they arise in the making, capturing feeling in the material, moving away from the imagined to the physical. Concrete as they are, they probe into what is ephemeral and evanescent. Is it the phenomenon of being or the idea of being that is being represented here?
Clay is a material that can be shaped according to one’s own senses. Its inertness permits me to freeze moments of feeling and embed them in its corporeality. It is ideal for my approach, not to represent in some way thematic notions but to reify them. What emerges from these thoughts is that cycling and continuity are the abstract processes that underlie the thematics of time and life; and that in the work, space becomes actual material and that material defines the work, its thingliness, alongside its theoretical and contextual characteristics and qualities.
Albeit I see the work as the thing itself, it is also a vessel holding allegorical content. It brings forth into reality the very notions that led to its making. However, in all probability these might well remain hidden if not layered with or disclosed by context. Context can wrap around the work in many ways, through text, juxta-positioning, placement, images, sound and so on. It is an area that I must work on diligently..
To make the object of the mind otherwise, digitally printed, commissioned or projected in another (more resistant) material, would not be the same. I need the direct contact between hand, eye, mind and material that makes it what it is and nothing else. The directness of touch as a principle conduit for embedding feeling in what otherwise might be materially impersonal. It is a synthesis of the untouchability of an idea and the inability to express that ideal form physically. It is as direct as stroking an animal or smelling a flower yet one can not be an animal or a flower. This creates a bridge between maker and receiver that subverts the continual increase in faux intimacy engendered by the current use of technology in today’s society, as in social media and infinite multiples of the same thing.
The human haptic mode encodes a complexity of information transmitted from in-the-making and passes on to experiencing. They come close to being one and the same thing. The object becomes more than something that can be seen and touched: it is a vehicle for subtle empathy. Not the sentimentality we attach to cherished, used objects of mass production.
This subtle empathy which, placed in a human context, links me to the themes of the work relating to natural forces. I no longer am an observer but a participator in creating and remaking the world. The work is overtly human but also non-anthropic. It reminds me that we are part of nature but not necessarily central to it. We only make it so for existential reasons as do all other plants and animals. It is this survival, cycle, continuity that is again at the root of my ideas. But unlike an animal or a plant I can see beyond my immediate world, give form to other worlds and times. This gives me a special privilege and responsibility.
As to the basic form of the vessel that appears in much of my work? The vessel is a plane, folded on itself to become a container. We all were born as balls of cells that began their journey into the world as simple dimpled spheres from which a vessel was formed. This form defines the boundary between the physical inner and outer environment. It defines the limit of our corporeal existence. We can only project out of it through our senses and the mind. However complex the vessel might become, its fundamental property of containment remains.
I see the vessel as inviting exploration of what is within and without and more importantly what it is that connects the two. My particular area of interest is not only located in the now but in the connections with the past and how this is part of what the future might become. The present is the vessel for all things yet it is elusive, an idea ever changing. It is an elusive membrane whose allusion becomes object in much of what I do. The membrane of the present, the inside and outside, the self and other.
Walking along the East England coast at Mablethorpe, against that watery panorama, the hidden drama of life below the waves was being cast onto the sand by the receding tide; empty detritus waiting for the wading birds, once star dust become flesh dismembered one by one of existence in an instant of countless moments. Was the crab or the jelly fish aware of its being as I of theirs and my own? Able to witness in the cloud of thoughts that is constantly shaped by constellations of cells inside my body I too will drift and bear their fate in a struggle, dispassionate and brutal that brings forth beauty and engenders awe.
A single starfish lies nearby, I toss it back, no thanks or waving arms, only my knowing, does that count in the grand scheme of things? I can not live its life but in that moment see myself thrown and saved in some fashion, it is the way of things. As we all were once inanimate, only I made in this present form am able to save my other self.
How is this relevant to my project ? Mine is not an exercise in empathy, that cannot be for the subject is alien in form and substance. It is an expression of proximity to the other, I am made of the same paste, only arranged in a different ways, able to say this and pass it on. It is not entering some other life I seek but communion with that which is mute.
I have returned to Forest Hill from the Camberwell College library with an armful of books and eyes set on the horizon. In the previous post I took a broad, summary view of what I have done so far. One major characteristic of my methodology to date has been my intention to limit new artistic influences. My reasons for this are twofold: it has been an opportunity to re-evaluate my practice and articulate its synthesis whilst keeping things open and in order to do so maintain a clear view of the context and content.
The need to write the Research Paper now, is catalysing a process of finding new sources from within the contemporary artistic field which lie outside my own familiar domain (in all senses). I see this period as a time for drilling into the content of my work and looking at new artistic sources within and external to the paper. The time has come to take off one set of clothes and put on another.
I am not looking for direction, that I have in abundance, but rather for greater depth of means and idea. I have to be mindful not to overcomplicate things but this I can avoid by paring down to the essentials what I elaborate, again selecting, distilling, in this case correspondences with writers and other artists. The cuttings themselves will be useful for some other projects. The books I have taken out today and will borrow in the future I feel will help me in this regard: whether confirming, refuting or synthesising my ideas, any of these processes arising will prove valuable along the way to build on my understanding of things.
Put another way, so far during the first two phases I have been largely self-referential and self originating. I feel now in the position to absorb new influences into a robust framework that is stable enough not to be disrupted towards confusion and sufficiently flexible to adapt to new ideas and contexts.
Janet’s final show is now over. The works de-installed and packed, I now sit in the library at Camberwell looking at books. So many interesting books; it is a good way to introduce the third phase of unite one. The First phase was one of doing and as I did so, of looking around within a familiar space. From this space I moved in and out forming ideas, refuting others, articulating, clarifying and creating generalities out of which specifics could be selected, filtered and distilled.
The second phase has been one of articulating a thesis, closing some windows and passing through the one that is left to find myself in a vast landscape. It has been a time of deciding on a general direction and envisaging some sort of outcome partly manifest in the final show. I currently find myself in the narrow waist of an hourglass. Much time and many ideas have passed through and I now find myself on the threshold of what is to come. I have a clear idea of what that might be but I have yet to focus on particulars.
Being in Camberwell on and off for around three weeks has given me time away from the blog journal and making. I am forgetting and remembering, sloughing the superfluous which nevertheless has informed my journey. I now have a new perspective leading to a third phase.
The third phase is one where, although what I shall be concentrating on is more or less settled in form, the actual details of making, contextual framework, presentation, background are not yet clarified. This is a time where, having identified the domain in which I will be working, I can focus more deeply on every aspect of the work(s), layering deep sediments to form the body of this practice, making connections, meanings, engagements, and expressions, through techniques, symbols and tropes, modalities and affects.
It is a fascinating process because I now have to plan the works whilst keeping the process open. This I need to do because the making side of things can take a very long time. I also have to experiment new methods and techniques in order to incorporate the ideas I am working with. In addition, I have to contextualise those ideas and forms to position them meaningfully in the contemporary environment trying not to lose sight of where they have come from and the future.
What I have written here is a broad sense of what I am to do. What this is specifically, I shall write about later. For now I am still moving bodies in a mental space which are waiting to be reified and exposed. It is all so very open…
History, or at least the study of it, is in bad shape these days. Almost everyone agrees that knowing history is important, but in the United States, except at the most elite schools, the study of history is in freefall.
Pinkard opens with explaining how history is a process by which, ‘humanity experimentally seek[s] to understand itself in the myriad of ways in which it gives shape to itself in daily life, and also how historical change is intimately linked to changes in our basic self-understanding.’ As he puts it, shape-shifting ourselves across time.
This is at the core of what I do across Big History. Seeing how we are indissolubly part of our origins and yet try to shake off the past, blindly, without realising that it (the past) clings onto us, embedded in our very flesh.
In ‘What is the Difference’, the creatures shift shape as they rise the Babel-like tower, crude to refined, latent to defined, yet they bear a deep relationship woven into the fabric of life.
Hegel’s first fundamental idea for his philosophical history, self-consciousness, corresponds to the microcosm of the act of reflection in action and the meditative holistic sense in making. His second idea corresponds with the notion of context and placement in a social space in which the first person viewpoint implies a dialectic. Further down the line, the I is separated from the individual ‘flesh-and-blood’ agent as it becomes the we in the accumulation of acts. This in itself reminds me of Buber’s philosophy of relations in ‘I and Thou’.
Hegel’s third idea refers to how circumstance largely dictates how things can go better or worse for an individual. We are all the offspring of history and constrained by the socio-familial-political and cultural environment. Although we are constrained by these factors, we also possess a greater or lesser amount of self determination, the ‘I’, that can set the way amongst the ‘we’.
All three ideas are contained within my work and the setting apart of directly human iconography is in some way the setting oneself apart from the ‘we’ whilst being in it. A toing-and-froing of the two forms which converge and diverge as do the Apollonian and Dionysian ways I spoke about in the tutorial.
I constantly seek to reshape ideas as we do our lives, break with habits and reconcile others; shave off the animal in me whilst embracing it as my history and seeing how I cannot be without that part.
The instability of things inherent in Hegel’s view of the world is reflected in the use of brittle, fragile material capable of resisting eons yet its form subject to catastrophic events. Porcelain is, as far as I am concerned, eternal, yet the form it is given is as fragile as the contingencies that surround it allow.
Pinkard talks about new form of life emerging from the cultural rubble of an unbearable former one. So it is with the works I do, they look into a future as though they themselves are the past, with us absent from the scene yet we are here to witness it. This paradox, at the core of what I do, is the source of much of my difficulty in pinning down an essence. So I have reconciled with the evanescence of certainty, accepting the duality of things including my work.
Pinkard continues to talk about hierarchy and the Ancient Greek world’s moving beyond the freedom of a single person in society. This sense of democracy is implicit in what I am doing, all forms are equal and different without any containing an inherent authority over the others. They are all part of a great whole without which each would lose meaning with the loss of others.
This sense of freedom: does it pass onto me, and if I am free, am I independent? To proclaim oneself truly independent is to self-alienate, a social nothingness that negates an important function of the human self. Freedom does not lie in total independence but in the shape of agency that we assume in the context of one another and circumstance. A series of exchanges that at times result in a negative and at others a positive ‘balance sheet’. But in the end, it is the dialogue, the dialectic, that gives the ultimate fruit of synthesis and progression free from brut force, and art is only part of that but an essential component: in shaping tropes we shape ourselves; therein lies the power and danger of art.
- For the actual content see the conversation transcript.
We spent most of the time talking around one recent post, Critique on Latest Study.
This summary is taken from our Conversation.
We discussed the ebb and flow between refined and crude thinking and handling during making and how a maquette is a condensation and clarification of this process before embarking on a large-scale project. How two approaches are kept in harmony: of keeping the dynamism of the sketch and the clarity of further finishing. That visibly incorporating both can give a sense of the kinetic essence of the process of making.
We also discussed the sense of something arising out of the material and the struggle involved. That this maelstrom of life, with crowded entities entering and exiting a surface is a metaphor of life and how this can also speak about aspects of humanity. How humans are part of and not separate from nature.
The forms represent individually more or less formal approaches and that this duality is emblematic of how I work, between the emotionally literal and the rational artificial, ritual and representational.
We discussed a variety of ideas for larger scale work: the evolutionary ideas and the mythology that arises from them leads to the whole created using modular units, interchangeable and capable of fitting together in various ways.
We discussed the central notion of seeing life in a non-anthropocentric way and how alluding to humanity in this way can be a powerful way of raising questions about our place.
The various responses to my work raised the question of whether the works are related to the idea of monsters, something we do not quite understand. Monsters are harmful, I do not see my works as monsters but rather as inhabiting a parallel world, asking the question what if we were not here?
This led to a discussion about the Anthropocene and how my work is an expression of my relationship with the world and view of human relationships, particularly the nature of individual vs individual and individual vs group dynamics.
Language is part of this argument and the image of the Tower of Babel, used in a post on my Research Paper was discussed as bearing a variety of conceptual meanings as a metaphor for difference and variety.
We continued to talk about the study as a means of opening out different elements. The sense of the emotional and rational, the Apollonian and the Dionysian and where I might place my work in relation to these paradigms. The balance appears to be constantly shifting between the material and the idea: how the two exchange during the process of making, what the trigger points might be and how they coexist in a final work. I think that this unresolved internal dialogue becomes resolved as a conversation between two works.
The material itself is neutral and whether the rational or irrational predominates is a function of how it is approached. Which predominates is part of the selection process as it is difficult to treat the material of clay with the same philosophies at the same time. It might be possible, but my personal structure prefers to oscillate between the two. The balance between the rational and irrational in a single work could be seen, as being created during the making process by alternating the two approaches. However, as I said earlier, the resolution of the two is expressed as a conversation between works rather than within a single work.
What I appear to be doing is exploring the referencing of ideas through my visual language having created a vocabulary over time. Time during which I have transitioned from working with ideas at a distance to breaking open the carapace of rationality, found in earlier works, to dig deeper beneath the surface to find what lies underneath. And if it is sound, authentic, it might ring a bell in someone else.
At his point we started to talk about how I might lead someone into the work, particularly as the current artist environment is very much centred on the overtly societal and human anthropocentric.
Jonathan sees my work as presenting an ambiguity that encourages investigation. However, a lot of visual culture exemplified by Instagram, with its dangerous description of the world, works against pausing, waiting, taking time. He thinks that sadly, most people will not engage but those that do will be richly rewarded.
I asked Jonathan how explicit does one have to be before becoming didactic (not a good thing) to open out a deeper conversation, how does one signpost possibilities? Is it not our gift to do so and alas a task for the viewer? We agreed this is an impossible question to answer but explored some ways of answering this.
We looked at how the time for ‘demystifying art’ has hopefully passed and how confusion in a gallery is a way of catalysing a conversation in a gallery. We then looked at the importance of titles. Jonathan sees what I do as emotional and the title is the rational companion to it, a balance of the emotional and the rational. This is a very interesting idea and one I have often considered but not quite in this way. A title can be seen, as an entry into the work, a poetic entry. However, there is a caveat: not to overburden the work with a title that closes-down its meaning with the choice of words. Reducing the space for its meaning can damage it as well. Questions such as, ‘What is the Difference’, are good.
This led to the question of Jargon and how it can cover a multitude of misunderstandings and how having simplified my language, I have been able to express complex ideas more clearly. Jonathan suggested that writing about the work, not necessarily explicitly for the reasoned discussed above but as another layer could be an interesting and effective way of rewarding further investigation. I have been thinking of ways to do this. The important thing is not to close the work down with words but rather say, ‘this is my offering to you as to what I was thinking but actually there is a space for you’.
Finally, we looked at how I am planning my work and how there is still plenty of time although my methodology requires careful planning ahead.
I have been away from my journal for the last ten days, helping Janet to set up her final show at Camberwell as well as others showing with her. But my mind has not been idle and I have been collecting a number of thoughts regarding work during this period. The insight I have gained regarding how the whole thing works in the context of Camberwell has given me an idea for work. Exhibiting in a group show where each offering is in effect a solo show is challenging. This is particularly the case with sound, an integral part of many digitally based works. In many cases earphones are the solution but some consider the ambient phenomenon an essential part of their work, whether conceptually, aesthetically or just to attract attention. Having this in mind, for next year and other similar situations I am considering using particular bands of the frequency range to circumvent the sonic clutter (and traffic noise) of the group environment, without affecting the latter significantly. In order to deliver this final point, I am considering the use of sensors that modulate the viewer-work interaction periodically. For now I wish to keep this idea private since, if it were to become a meme, its singular affect would be lost.
I came across an article about the 300 year old Molyneux’s Problem regarding the relationship between sight and touch as it concerns internal world building. This is something that has come to my mind many times in terms of the aesthetics of three dimensional objects and my approaches in making something tangible.
What was once taken as purely a thought experiment due to the impossibility of giving sight to someone congenitally blind has now been presented with an empirically verifiable solution.
In 2011 Richard Held and Dr. Pawan Sinha leading a team at Project Prakash (Prakash mean light in Sanskrit) demonstrated that which Locke had intuited. That the cognitive association between touch and sight have to be learnt and are not hard wired in our brains.
The experience of shape in each sense is independent of the other and they are not associated from birth. A congenitally blind person being given sight would not recognise a cube, say, on seeing it for the first time even if they were offered an identical one for comparison. However, they would soon learn to relate what they experience through touch with what they see. This seems self evident enough but it was not verifiable until recently with advances in eye surgery and indeed many thinkers thought otherwise. Look up dear old Bishop Berkeley: yes the one that thought if you turned your back on something it disappeared.
How does this affect my ideas about making? I work a great deal with touch through my hands. I have been aware that if I were not able to see the composition of a work it would be very different using touch alone. The aesthetic qualities that would arise out of working blind would pertain to another world; one in which light is alien and the mind would navigate and construct form in quite a different way.
I have often referred to navigating form in my mind with an inner eye, moving around the object in question in a virtual world. Although I am not using my eyes this ‘sighted’ world relies on having experienced sight. How different this would be had I been congenitally blind. So imagining being able to create in the absence of light experience would be well nigh impossible
I have condensed the initial ideas for the research statement into as plain English as I can. This may help me see what lies ahead more clearly and explain what I am doing. After all, if I were not able to talk about the subject in an accessible way, what would it say about my understanding of it?
The Genesis and Proliferation of Natural and Virtual Monsters
The ways by which things come about in different areas of life often appear to bear little resemblance to one another. But if you look closely enough you can see that they often share processes that, regardless of the what, where and when, give comparable results if not the same: biology and art are no exceptions despite their very great differences. I am looking at correlations between how large animals evolved – the number of body parts, their shape and the way they are put together – and the creation of the mixed up creatures described in art, religious texts, mythologies and other imaginings. There are strong connections between the ways these real and imaginary animals evolved and spread in nature and across cultures. My research statement will explore the similarities between these processes and their conditions helping to understand how the digital world might influence the creation of future composite mythological beings.
Throughout the time humans have been on this planet, the overwhelming majority of imagined creatures have been what could be called intuitive forms. That is to say, they come readily to mind, eating, breathing, moving and living emotional lives, much in the way we do. However, with the arrival of non-living mechanisms such as computers and their programmes the question arises, what forms might such artificial creators bring forth? Virtual or real, these new organisms might not be readily recognised. as such by we humans. They might well be described as non-intuitive creatures, in other words not coming easily to mind, alien.
A very long time ago, over 500 million years in fact, the world was a very different place. The environment was changing radically, opening out new opportunities for early complex life to evolve new forms or body plans. This was the time of the Cambrian explosion when genetics and the oxygenation of Earth were great driving forces that led to the rise of totally new animal body plans and ways of living. Free movement, predation, heads with sensory organs were formed during this time. Moving forward half a billion years, the world was still changing but in different ways. Ice Age glaciers had long receded and gradually people started to live in large cities leaving their old hunter gathered ways of living, embracing the new sophisticated urban centres in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, the Indus basin and the Far East. This changing social environment also brought with it opportunities in which different ideas and beliefs could come together and forge new mythological beings. They grew in number, variety and extension during the Early Bronze Age, promoted by ever greater and finer divisions of labour, growing trade and the invention of writing. These composite creatures like chimaeras and sphinxes breathed, reproduced and lived emotional lives much as we do. These two means of creation share a great deal in fundamental processes despite their very obvious differences.
Today we are on the threshold of another new world, one we share with machines. Machines affect us profoundly and it seems reasonable to predict that their intelligence may also, in the not too distant future, conjure new mythological beings. Present day conditions too can be seen as corresponding to those of the Cambrian and Bronze Age. However, the internal processes of artificial intelligence are rapidly becoming a mystery even to those that create the programmes. If artificial intelligences were to one day create their own mythological beings, what form might they take? One could say that the old familiar creatures are intuitive to our sensibilities but would we even recognise the new non-intuitive artifices as virtual or living organisms? How would we react to them, with fear, revulsion, wonder, understanding or even empathy?
Immediately I think, are not all things perceived in time and since rhythm is a function of periodic patterns in time, is static a valid adjective? With sound and even moving images the question is self evidently answered with a yes. But when it comes to things which do not perceptively change in time such as paintings and non kinetic sculptures, how can this question be approached?
This came up with Janet and Florian yesterday in a conversation about audio illusions and how tone and rhythm are dual aspects of frequency. Janet has been reading Jason Geiger’s paper, Can a Painting Have Rhythm? This brought together considerations of sound and visual experience in an interesting way. When I look at a painting, I cannot focus on all elements at the same time. I move over the picture surface, labelling each element in some way in my mind over time. If there is repetition in the composition, the successive recognition of these similar elements will constitute a rhythm or periodic pattern hence rhythm. This is something that is intuitively used in design and composition and brings the idea of rhythm into the visual sphere. As with music, rhythm is a fundamental element of visual art. Its harmonious use or disruption can be used to create a multiplicity of experiences and meanings such as recession-proximity, reinforcement, continuity, surprise and so on.
What is it that puts the ‘fine’ in fine art? In the past fine denoted something different to the applied arts and crafts, the artisanal element of making. Fine was meant to raise the level of thinking away from the primarily functional and the folk art of the general population. It was meant to educate and impress. Today, this attitude is no longer relevant and neither is it desirable. Artists have often relied on artisans for their initial training and preparations. They have been inspired by the folk, ethnic, primitive, call it what you will, throughout history. Beethoven and folk music, Brancusi and folk art and Renoir started as a ceramics decorator.
Art today is seen within a spectrum of activity from the rawest of expression to the most worked and polished making. The ‘fine’ today is something different. I see it as the polishing of an idea, honing an argument, refining the making. Any one of these processes transforms poietic activity into an agent of change, stimulating the imagination, engendering empathy and raising curiosity amongst many other things. The constant refining, selecting, filtering, distilling are all part of what might be called fine art.
The above study in its original form was enough as a place marker of an idea and initial exploration, in short a study. However, I decided to take it further, to refine it. I wanted to take the making process further, to extend its limits in a continual process. By doing so, the idea itself is transformed, maybe slightly but nonetheless altered. The sketch may hold its own dynamic vigor, something to hold on to but not always. A case in hand is Rembrandt’s etching of the crucifixion, which as many of his etchings, underwent through many states, each complete in itself and also a phase towards a transformed more refined end point but no less powerful.
I feel that the sketched beginning possess more life imbued in its making. This is the difficulty in refining, not to loose that freshness. But there are also crudities that distract. It is a balancing act. Moreover, refinement is a way of exploring the capabilities of a medium hand in hand with the notions that underlie it: meditating on the idea, reflecting in action. Neither does the above image indicate an end to refinement nor is it a completed transformation as a study in preparation for further work.
The first Skype chat of the third term was an introduction to the Research Statement.
The following are additional observations regarding writing such a document.
The RS can take many forms so long as the central methodology is based on critical thinking. For example, it can take the form of a dialectic or the stepwise construction of a hypothesis to be tested. In the current context of the MA tested in the realisation of the project proposal.
The RS could deal with any area of interest but it would be a good idea to make it useful in terms of relating it to my practice with a link to the project proposal.
To make the RS distinct from the area of interest with respect to the PP would be to loose the main benefits of writing such a paper which I would summarise as follows:
- build a framework on which to base the PP and final project outcome
- creating a conceptual platform/framework, wholly or partially, on which to base future work
- contributing to my artist’s statement and other forms of presentation
- contextualising my practice
- and perhaps start the process of outlining a statement of intent for a doctoral thesis
Both a research statement and a research paper contain a developed argument. However, a RS is not quite a research paper but more something that might be presented at an academic conference: 3000 – 4000 words represents a presentation of around 20 to 30 minutes. It is more a description of an intended area of research or of the context in which one’s practice/research is placed but not about it. On the other hand, a paper is more likely to document an element of some actual research focused on ones own practice.
Writing objectively, outside my practice can positively impact on it:
- developing a critical articulation of what I do
- building meaning into work
- broadening and deepening the context of work
- writing generates – as Jonathan says – contexts. It is actually hard to find a context that is coherent and articulable, particularly without thinking about it critically all the time. The MA has set the context for constant analysis and thought running alongside making which has helped immensely in developing a contextual framework (which is in constant development).
- A corollary of this is that theoretical thinking, reflection, introspection, observation, etc can stimulate the production of work and not simply be its post-production explanation.
This latter point is very important but it is also important that the area of research or theory, should sustain my interest.
A useful algorithm Jonathan gave us to formulate a research question:
- Find a broad subject area
- Narrow this interest to a specific topic
- Question that topic from several viewpoints
- Choose the question whose answer is the most significant to you
The blog journal has been immensely useful in finding patterns of thoughts helping to identify the subject area. I feel as though I have already gone through this process of selecting and filtering. During the Skype chat I took away a very useful approach. That two or more ideas can be looked at in the context of a third idea perhaps suggesting a thesis which can then be further examined.
I would like this to be the case for my RS: to extract a thesis or more correctly a hypothesis; in art nothing can be proven, only argued and subjectively appreciated. If it were to hold under critical evaluation I would be very pleased. In truth, what I have in mind is more a set of correlations between causal circumstances that have certain conditions in common. These conditions are not substrate dependent and can contribute to the described outcome spontaneously. Not being the whole picture I would say that what I am looking at is a partial algorithm, a part driver in the given process.
Pen and ink study
Following from my previous post, ideas start to form as to how the two aspects of what I am working with, the raw and the refined can coexist. The transition from the radially symmetrical, ordered Chaos Contained to the more poietic gut forms has been a journey from the external to the internal, searching for the internal world contained within the carapace. I have oscillated between one and the other and it seems that the symbolic reifications have been and still are gestators for what I am working on now. I see the possibility of the chaotic inner world nascent from, evolving and bursting out of the idealised concept of the type form. This may be too literal an interpretation of what I am thinking but in the working with the material is where the transformation can take place.
Plato thought that our world was a mere shadow of an ideal one, our backs turned to the light and all we see is a third hand puppet show – which makes me think of the shadow videos I have previously put together. Aristotle got his hands covered in the slime of dissections and the analysis of the literal world that we see and touch each day. He looked at it straight in the eye and tried to explain it.
These drawings are the first attempts at placing markers for the ideas that are forming in my head. From them I can develop and evolve these ideas, make them less… obvious; more about the struggle between knowledge and knowing, existence and experience, than biology.
Pen and ink study
In the first visualisation, the internal bursts forth from the carapace; in the second, the metamorphosis of form from raw compost to ideal form. (It reminds me in a way of the empathic climb in Philip K. Dick’s Mercianism.) Two ways of reconciling through transformation. This is where the strength of the myth lies, in the potential to transform mud and dust to a higher state. It is an idea that holds psychological voltage.
Yesterday I started a small scale study in porcelain – no larger than twenty centimetres in its largest dimension – for H’s playthings in porcelain. What I show here is the first stage, the plasma. It is small so I can quickly assess its outcome before investing more time in how to proceed on a larger scale. The question for now, is whether to move in the direction of a baroque, visceral rendition or a more schematic, symbolic one. I am thinking that the former might be too ‘noisy’ for it to be receptive to a sound element in the work.
I feel that the two approaches are different aspects of what I am looking to express. This makes me think that there is space for both to coexist, a conversation contextualised in the transition from a mass population engaged in an ecology and the symbolic representation of each class type. The former an animated, raw, poietic emergence from inside me, the living expression of thought. The latter a cerebral aesthetic product, distanced, engaging on another level. Can the two ways be reconciled and merged or are they mutually exclusive?
Not all bodies of work need to be homogeneous. I have talked of heterogeneity before, it represents the outer layer of deeper commonalities. Multitudes exist within one idea, am I to be restrained by the aesthetics of conformity? This may be my own prejudice: the need to replicate serially to create distinct bodies of work.
It may be possible to combine the two in synchronous dialogue, resolving a dialectic within a single work. A transition from raw to refined, from animated foam to schematic idolatry. After all, I am looking for a myth and myths are about origins, creation.
A chronological series of six pen and ink sketches for the H project
These are studies done not for the way the sculpture might look but to exercise in what spirit I will approach its making. I see part of this making as painting. Pen and ink is ideal for this, its fluidity and indelibility require seeing ahead a fraction of a moment before committing to the paper surface. And older than paper, its manufacture, a step away from charcoal belies its sophistication. Artists in the past have used this as a tool for analysis, for its closeness to painting: ink is liquid, applied with a brush of sorts, the unforgiving rigid point the focus of decision. The act of drawing with pen and ink is akin to delineating the boundary between the passages in a painting thereby creating a virtual line only that this line is the embodiment of something that does not actually exist. To do this needs an analysis and understanding of the line’s function in relation to what is being drawn must be done without inhibition or hesitation if the form is to come alive. In the case of sculpture, which deals with weight, pen and ink can express the lightest of touches as well as the heaviest of masses. Its calligraphy is a language inflected and nuanced by where and how the ink is placed and the freedom acquired can equally be translated into other mediums.
Only in the penultimate sketch did I use pencil as a preliminary. Doing so disrupted the rhythm but more importantly, resulted in a drawing lacking in invention probably on account of the forms coming more from the head and less from a more visceral centre. Below is the initial sketch in biro I made a few days earlier featured in my previous post.
I have seldom used glazes when working with ceramic material; I usually concentrate on form and light and find that colour can place strong unwanted overtones on a work. In the Zoan series however, I want to emphasise the symbolic and psychological over the naturalistic and biological with the intention of placing these works firmly in the human sphere. I see the use of highly coloured, glass-like glazes as a way of suggesting a sense of artificiality.
The above image is one of a number of monochrome photographs I am colouring as preliminary sketches. The result is not the same as the specular surface of glazes but it does give me an idea. I could alternatively paint the sculptures but having tried this in the past, I have found that painting ceramics obscures the surface qualities of the material and defeats the object of using it. It might be something for larger scale work but not for more intimate pieces.
These are some instruments such that H might play with. For those that have been reading my posts, it should be possible to work out who or what H is. Pythagoras divided, Ovid reassembled although Theophrastus is the first author of this unification.
I am looking to render such things in different ways.
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.
Instrument of Gender in Porcelain (unfired)
I have been thinking about the direction of my work so far during this MA. It has been a period during which things have moved from one thing to another, a period for exploring ideas and dipping my toes into all kinds of areas. With the Research Statement in mind, I need to move things onto a more decisive footing in order for me to have the time to complete an ambitious project proposal next year.
In the past I have written about my practice as a molecular construction from atomic elements giving way to a more poetic, informal modelling of material. I have also written about a search to unify my disparate practice; something that has proved elusive. I remember what Will said about my Mid Point Review presentation, that he would like to see a whole room full of works which are not necessarily interconnected. He spoke spontaneously about something that I have continuously reiterated in everything I do. Collections and series, sequences and lines of descent have always fascinated me and heterogeneity has been constantly manifest. Dannii also hinted at another aspect which I have worked on previously, that of creating a legacy from a speculative world that is not necessarily ours. Some of my past exhibitions have touched on these aspects: Chaos Contained, An Artificial Natural History, Traces of Life, Sacred Places, Steel to name a few. These projects have contained an element of evolutionary repetition in a rational collection form.
What I have largely done so far is attempt a synthesis through a taxonomic approach: seeing the whole as a collection of different elements and trying to connect them by defining their degree of connectedness or relatedness. This approach can work as a system of classification, atomising the properties and characteristics of a practice. This in turn is helpful as a means of combining and recombining things in novel ways. However, this approach can also be divisive creating boundaries and exclusion.
An analogy would be seeing all living organisms as somehow related and attempting to systematise this connectedness in a meaningful way. I feel that what I have done is akin to constructing a genetic tree of my own practice. In the case of biology this throws light on the mechanism of evolution and descent. However, evolution does not have foresight, it is not teleological. Artistic practice on the other hand, has a strong element of aiming for something, a goal or purpose be it wealth, influence, change, discovering or what have you. Taxonomy although useful, is an analytical tool that does not provide all the answers, it is not contextual. Another analogy would be that of taxonomy in biology only tells us about how related organisms are, but to find out more about how they interact, we need to look at their behaviour in their given environments, their ecology. I am not surprised that the Linnean system of classification predated by a considerable period the first ecological observations by Humbolt.
The shortcomings of taking a classification approach was highlighted in the two group sessions we had on Elusive Taxonomies. In short, taxonomy is only partially helpful in giving a synoptic view of a practice or in developing a methodological and philosophical synthesis. In order to get a fuller picture I need a different optic, invert things so that instead of looking at the relationship between areas of work, I look at how each component relates to a whole. Respective interaction then become predicated on inclusion, as part of the whole in which they participate. Each component then shares a parthood with every other component in relation to the whole. Connections are therefore a function of this parthood rather than a more reductive inclusion exclusion defining their place and function.
This is a subtly different way of thinking. Taxonomy is useful in seeing how things relate to one another; parthood, or mereology, helps to conceptually bring together things that might not appear related in the first place. With respect to my practice, looking at it mereologically, what brings together its different aspects would be things such intent, response, experience, circumstance. (There is one element, modality, that seems to straddle the two ways of thinking and presents and interesting conduit between the two.)
All this of course is an analysis of what arises out of intuitive thinking. It is also complicated by how my practice has changed over time. This introduces an evolutionary element which needs to be largely set aside for the moment: I need to concentrate on the now. However, it does highlight an important element that goes into the heterogeneous character of what I do, that I cannot endlessly repeat an idea or process. The reasons for this are for another time.
To summarise: using taxonomy and mereology together is a powerful way of critically analysing my practice… after the fact. This analysis influences but not necessarily directs what I do in action . Taxonomy is a means of understanding the component parts and their interactions a way of building a framework; mereology on the other hand helps identify the context and reasons for my particular methodology.
It has been some time since the Low Residency. Many thanks to Ed Kelly for condensing into a relatively short time frame a great deal of theory and making. I was already very familiar with Audacity but there is always something to learn and I have taken on board a number of ideas. The great usefulness was to clarify and formalise certain practices that I have followed either intuitively or uncritically. The principle one is the idea of cutting or editing at zero. This avoids clicks and pops producing clean edits. The other is more a concept, that of fragmentation or deconstructing sound into atomic elements which can then be used as building blocks. This ties in with the introduction to Musique Concrete in a Skype lecture a few weeks ago.
We spent time harvesting sounds from a variety of objects. I was particularly taken by a small music box mechanism that Ed brought along. He turned the handle in short bursts while I recorded. This broke up what would have been a familiar melody into fragments of sound. It is a fascinating approach to capturing sound, so much so, that I ordered a number of mechanisms over the web with which I have started to experiment.
Ed mentioned Pure Data, a visual programming software which was, however, too much of a learning curve for the workshop. Although I have started using it, it is too early to say if I shall be using it in the final works, much depends on whether I can find work-arounds to my aims rather than spending too much making-time learning how to use it.
After collecting the sounds, each one of us put together a short soundwork (below). I was particularly taken by the reverberation in the stairwells (pictured above) running up the new building at Camberwell.
The rectangular spiral staircase resonated in my mind with the spiral stairs at the Queen’s House we visited in Greenwich.
Unconcerned curves hide the sharp pricks that bleed me in your making. Without remorse. Deep from within the surface of your smile again you bear your self determination, one of Gorgon’s tresses fallen with pride glinting as juice that trickles from rotting fruit; dry as husks in autumn scattered in a storm… yet you are the start of something not quite new but close enough. The indecision of the surface skin broken into pieces and made clear in the late Winter sunlight. I see now that things must be all things and I must double my response as you reflect your shadows in a dancing pair. Light does not come from one source alone; I cannot be one but many. My thoughts are not wedded to a single species but a whole kingdom, writhing, wrestling with life and loyalty rests only with the sense that there is nothing that cannot be.
I have thought hard about which way to go in terms of the aesthetics of the project: surfaces, forms, degree of working, colour, details and so on. I mentioned in an earlier post about the tension between unity of style and variety of content. My nature is such that there is no answer but to encompass all ways and let the underlying algorithms of my mind make the connections and trust that these rise to the surface of what people see: the Mid Point Review has been a great affirmer of what I thought.
I now have a clear way forward; to allow crazy variety, if that is what happens, to manifest itself. The works themselves must be all they can be and not constrained by some overall sense of stylistic cohesion: the world manifests itself in wonderous variety. So now I must work and test, experiment, and reach and grasp outcomes that inform what is to come and trust the process I have gone through. There is much to do in the given time so from now on I shall gather what I have made in my mind and build with it the steps to another world grounded in this one. The above is an image of a porcelain piece in progress accompanied by a written impression of how the process of deciding within one piece affects me.
NB: The surface skin refers to the outer aesthetics of the finish.
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
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.
The Mid Point Review is a moment for revision and evaluation of what I have done so far and give some sort of indication as to where I am going. I do not intend for the MPR to be a literal description of how I work but rather a summation of my philosophical approach and how it has developed during this period. I see it more as a document of inspiration, an indication of where I am heading. Five minutes would not be enough to unpack the lineage of the activities, their provenance, let alone the detailed methods, materials and so on, these reside in the blog itself and elsewhere.
A transcript of the video is included below and can also be found here
I started this course asking myself, how I might bring together the disparate areas of my practice.
Previously I had dealt with this concern by accepting the variety and differences between outcomes while focusing on core ideas which I expressed and connected but not necessarily in overt ways.
Since October, I have engaged in a period of research and reflection; evolving and synthesising, deepening roots through a series of sequential stages as well as more intuitive, simultaneous orchestrations of video, photography, drawing, sound, sculpture, illustration and text.
The different means of expression and transformation I employ, affect facets of my practice in different ways addressing interests that lie in the domains of natural and human activity, science and the humanities, domains which are normally separated but which are nonetheless deeply connected.
The blog itself plays a critical role in the elaboration and synthesis of ideas and solutions as well as serving as a document for retrospection.
Each path I take articulates a different way of seeing. I embrace this multiplicity as I do the complexity of human society which in turn I see as a reflection of the natural world.
David Wengrow furnishes an insight into how composite cultural ideas and forms arise from the plurality of evolved societies. As a society becomes increasingly complex, with a multiplicity of world views, religions, writing, trade and so on, the idea of composites such as imaginary creatures and complex works of art proliferates.
An analogy can be made between this cultural phenomenon and nature’s way of ‘experimenting’ with body plans and life strategies in new and changing environments, as it did during the Cambrian explosion about 5 00 million years ago.
Navigating this ecology of ideas where relationships are often assimilated, sublated and hidden behind a chaotic order, I look for correlations between natural and cultural processes and how new rules of engagement emerge and overlay preceding ones.
This emergence happens when thresholds of complexity are crossed. Thresholds such as the origin of life, the emergence of consciousness and now the digital symbiosis that appears to be encroaching on us.
I am particularly interested in the poetic possibilities of cross-fertilising modalities such as the relationship between sound and sculpture and how meaning and nuance in language can be variously disrupted and manipulated.
These are not only responses to and a way of reconciling with what Ted Hughes called ‘the horror of creation’ but also a rejoicing in the wonder of life and existence underwritten by the question, why is there anything at all?
I see an evolutionary universe in which being becomes becoming, impermanence discloses change, and the desire for permanence and stability becomes a quest for understanding the nature of continuity and time.
For now, I envisage the final show as a compendium in which interrelated themes from different domains are expressed as on the connected faces of a solid, looking outwards, yet out of one another’s sight. A whole in which the existence of a continuity of relationships is inferred from a unity of form.
These outcomes are not set but may include: sound and sculpture installations, a series of videos and a graphic book… maybe even a performance.
The idea of inversion of methodology is one example of how I am currently approaching work. Where previously I embedded sound in sculpture from whence it subsequently emanated, now I am looking at ways of collecting externally sourced sounds within a body where they can resonate and sublate into a transformed essence.
The low residency period has been a transformative time for recontextualised reflection away from daily life. It has brought challenges that have facilitated a clarification of questions posed by the many directions which any one work might take.
It has sharpened my awareness of the need to wield clarity and control with as light a touch as is within my grasp, and that context and experience should ebb and flow through the permeability of the self; filtered and selected to allow the beating core of what I do to sound its own rhythm, be the principle impetus. In all this, my relationship with the external world can be taken as a given, I am immersed in it, self evidently unseparated from it.
I look forward to the next fifteen months, always transforming, always evolving, continually finding the vulnerable protean soft body inside an ordered and constrained carapace.
The focus of the session was on different approaches to sound as a medium. What Ed means by this is the abstract conceptual manner of seeing sound.
He started with Walter Murch’s categorisation of sound, relating it to colour.
I always find it interesting how sound, music and colour are often correlated. Kodaly is another example of this idea as in his pedagogical work. I would leave the colour aspect out of this discussion and concentrate simply on the semiotic aspect which seems what this diagram tries to convey. There are so many ways of classifying sounds. I have to bear in mind that Murch is a film sound editor. However, the point is to think about sound in terms of its affect and the information it encodes: emotive, descriptive, semantic, associative, allusive, illusive and how these modes are conveyed. Fore example, are they conveyed through rhythm or pitch, distinctive or chaotic? There are so many ways of looking at the matter but in the end I feel the important thing is thinking about sound in terms of its affect, the reason for that affect, how the sound is made, and the context in which or for which it is created.
We looked at musique concrete, starting with Pierre Schaeffer and his first work Etude aux Chemins de Fer1948, who attempted to categorise sound in his Traité des Objects Musicaux. Michel Chion wrote a guide in English PDF where he lists sounds and their qualities as experienced.
Musique concrete treats sound as abstract objects each with its own qualities. Particularly intriguing was Bernard Parmegiani’s De Natura Sonorum from 1973 composed using the altered sounds of rubber bands using analogue tape, filters, real echo chambers, delays and altering the tape speed.
Diagetic sound is almost the opposite of this. It is associated with a visual cue as though the situation portrayed is the source of the sound. Musique concrete decouples the corporeality of the sound for it to become the corpus of sensation itself. In a conceptual sense, it has no source other than its own sound. The way it is made may be a curiosity or of methodological interest but in its truest essence only a vehicle. It is as an Acousmatic experience in which the cause and origins of the sound are removed so one can concentrate on its sensations and qualities.
Ed introduced the idea of copyright as a ‘spanner in the work’ and then goes on to give some examples of postmodernist sound collages where recording are appropriated to create mixes. Whereas in the case of John Cage’s 1953 mix, in which each situational element is recorded in his own house over a period of time, here we are talking about taking pre-existing recording and butting them either as live performance or recordings. The copyright situation is complex here depending on duration of play, recognisability of the segments taken and in the case of live performance, proof of actual appropriation. Perhaps that is why one of the people doing this uses discs. Ed describes each discrete segment as the ‘cultural grain’ of the whole rather than musique concrete’s sonic texture. It is interesting to look at it in those terms.
Below are a list of Ed’s links
Book: Michel Chion: Guide des Objects Sonores, 1993. English translation by John Dack, 2009: Guide to Sound Objects
John Cage: Williams Mix
John Cage: Williams Mix, 1953
Dafeldecker’s Williams Mix Extended site with an extract from the piece
Williams Mix used sounds recorded by Louis and Bebe Barron (of Forbidden Planet fame) in 6 categories, organised according to the I-Ching using a 193 page score.
Note: see the notes below the Youtube clip for the track listings, as these are entire albums of work!
Jean-Claude Risset: Sud, 1985. Note that this is interesting in that it shows the spectral display (sonogram) of the work as it is playing.
Culture Jamming / Appropriation of Recorded Media
Christian Marclay is represented by White Cube gallery
Nic Collins: Rhythm Wish for drums and skipping CD player, performed in 2016
The Tape Beatles: Music With Sound, 1990. This was released as a public domain release (before Creative Commons existed) to circumvent copyright law.
John Oswald: Dab taken from Alien Chasm Jock, 1989. Oswald was ordered to recall the CD and destroy it along with the master tapes
John Oswald: Plexure, 1993. As stated on the CD sleeve: No rights to the appropriate copyright owners, as everything here has been genuinely stolen.
The word is shaped as I work.
Action and thought flow into one another and take form transcending the word as it approaches its own making. Speaking it dissects its anatomy but only once the task is completed, exposed to close scrutiny. Then, mind and eye, memory and knowing become its making and fill the sentient void.
The rigid form from fluid matter is hard to coax as a single moment; the process slow and deliberate, tricks and turns. A morsel of the conscious mind passes through and changes, as change must come from passing. Observed, there will be no certainty of meaning, only the possibility to listen and hear its change.
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.
This experiment on video follows from a previous trial video. I was interested to explore further the idea of lineage lost in time and distance by loss of resolution. I also wanted to increase the distance of travel of the line and so used chalk and large blackboard surfaces. I consider this video to be a failure and a success.
It is a failure because the form does not really say anything of itself. Wanting to see what would happen when using chalk on blackboard as a way of using a larger surface and reversing tonalities, the sense of line is lost by virtue of the thickness of line and therefore its loss of sharpness and resolution with distance. In addition, the lack of aesthetic consideration with this doodle also led to a meaningless design which does, however, contain some useful information encoded in its making.
But what does this experiment tell me?
The action encodes ideas that extend the first trial video and suggests further work. It also synthesises ideas I have talked about previously, notions of repeating patterns through time and how it is difficult to discern the nature of the reiterations.
The line itself become irrelevant as a device for demonstrating the loss of clarity with distance. However, it does connect the far with the near. The pattern drawn near the camera is arbitrary (and therein lies one of the problems with the experiment, lack of meaningful content). But it is largely discernible even though most is out of focus. It is like looking at the near past. When the distal pattern is drawn, I can only see the broad movements similar to the proximal drawing but the details of the pattern remain undisclosed and the broad nature of the pattern is a matter of inference. Lines connect the distal with the proximal, this is mere metaphor.
When the whole design is seen at the end of the video, the sense of repeating patterns becomes evident. The distal pattern is a simple version of the proximal one. This is a metaphor for looking for patterns over time. There are clear correspondences in the forces that shape one period and another. Only that the further back in time one goes, the less certain one can be of the shape of things and what is putatively known can only be partially inferred from evidence. However, such evidence and inferences lead one to believe that things in the past bear a close relationship to the present. Perhaps not so complicatedly, as in the drawing.
This exercise is a metaphorical, or analogous, demonstration. I do not consider it as an artwork but rather a thought experiment documented.
What to do next? I will return to the Rotring pen line which is less expressive, more precise and therefore able to convey more accurately and dispassionately that which I wish to imply. That resolution of form is lost with distance and time. The technical remedy to the extension of the line into the distance can be achieved using larger paper. Making these changes I think will raise the aesthetic element sufficiently to make a passably interesting film. In short, it needs more curation.
I am also thinking of doing something similar with text, words change over time, meanings alter making hermeneutic methodology difficult to manage. The same could be done with symbols and pictograms. This is not taking me away from my major work but rather creating a conceptual underpinning and contributing to ideas for the Oracle, Shrine and Mythopoeia.
In summary, I feel that the conceptual framework needs to be supported by an affecting aesthetic work. To work purely conceptually may be interesting, fascinating and absorbing in its own right but it does leave me with a sense of depression and sterility as creative work. A work made purely from the head with no heart or guts leaves me feeling incomplete and dissatisfied. That is because the vehicle conveying the idea is not felt but only thought and after all, the artist that I am, I cannot work purely from the head. But such an experiment does lead me to finding new contributions to a conceptual framework without necessarily considering aesthetics, that can be absorbed into my practice.
Today’s Skype chat and discussion of Lev Manovich’s essay was a timely event in view of the ideas I have been working on lately offering a way of placing them in the contemporary environment.
Today we had a talk by Xavier Sole Mora. It was interesting to see how Xavier reaches his audiences making use of his advertising background to attract people to what he does. He also generously showed and explained his proposal brief for the Aspen Commission. This showed his approach to the competed for commission. This video of his talk that includes the Japanese footage has been blocked by Nippon Television Network Corporation for copyright reasons. I have commented on this below.
There are a number of things that I took away from the session in terms of the artist’s position when it comes to placing work ‘out there’. These are all very worldly things and perhaps only have importance when facing a critical audience or placing in the commercial sphere.
Precedence and originality
- Make sure you research what you do in terms of precedence to establish originality of idea or;
- show how your work extends preceding practices.
- Publish what you do constantly in some form to establish precedence in case you need to show that your work is original.
Commissions and who owns the work
- Establish in a contract who owns copyright. If this is pre-set as is the case in many competitive commission call outs, try to negotiate some kind of access and use of the work after handing it over on completion. Many companies commission work for tax reasons, as branding and or because they are a requirement of funding or planning permissions. Clarify who owns the work if the commissioning body is incorporated into another, bought out or closes down. Otherwise the work could well languish in obscurity, archived or even ‘skipped’.
- If such an agreement can be settled on, secondary rights could also be clarified which can have financial implications in the case of sale of work or organisation (see below).
Copyright, attribution and appropriation
If work, whether images, audio or any other form of intellectual property is appropriated, copyright issues might ensue, particularly in a commercial context.
This is a complicated part of the law and can differ from country to country which makes it particularly complex in terms of digital work which easily crosses jurisdictional boundaries in all kinds of ways. For example, if a digital work passes through a particular server, the jurisdiction in which that server resides could well apply. Since much of the world’s digital traffic passes through the USA in one way or another, it is likely that a digital work will fall under US jurisdiction. Proof either way can be complicated and expensive.
There is no problem if all work is sourced and or generated by the artist although there are obscure terms which can define copyright owned by software companies although this has not been tested in court to my knowledge.
The aesthetics of digital mediums is very much governed by fashion and fast changing paradigms of taste, appreciation and acceptance and is also subject to what is possible at that time and subject to rapid change: digital work is very prone to look out of date. For this reason the content and message of the work has to be considered, whether it stands in its own right. It is all too easy for digital work to land in the area of entertainment. It is often hard to separate aesthetic and functional experimentation from art in the early pioneering stages of a technology. It is also difficult to know how such work will be seen in the future, work which will also be subject to technological changes.
Such technological changes will affect how current work is presented in the future and in many cases access may be seriously compromised due to the obsolescence and or disappearance of working hardware, software, technicians capable of renovating and or using them and importantly, money to finance the necessary processes. Some formats are more future proof than others such as PDFs which were designed to continue well into the future due to their coding simplicity and universal adaptability of the information contained.
Need for working in teams
It is clear that work is not always feasible for one artist alone. Film, public art, architecture are such examples. Often large teams are required to process the large quantities of material and large scale process. However, when an artist is compelled to project manage, fund raise, lobby and recruit they are taken away from the primal work of making.
Large scale projects have a significant impact on an artist’s practice and life. However, by involving large numbers of people in a project the work can reach much further in a shorter period of time than working alone. Leading a team, delegating and project managing can be a very powerful way of reaching audiences and influencing people. However, the direct contact for the artist with their material can be somewhat compromised and involving many people brings in relational politics which can become overwhelming. In addition the financial requirements for large scale works usually necessitates the involvement of a wealthy third party, whether a gallery, government, individual or organisation, to support the realisation of the project. Such involvement almost invariably places pressure on the artist to conform to external needs which may not be part of or contradictory to their own philosophy.
Some people are well suited to work this way, others are not. It is very much a case of navigating a way through the vicissitudes of working as an artist, and perhaps not being swayed by the powerful propaganda that resonates in the ether of the art world, often obscuring a different reality for the artist.
The tutorial was far ranging in ideas and reflections on what I have done so far. I have made notes since then but have needed time to think about what we discussed before committing to a post. I want to distil the essence of the conversation and see where it takes me.
The tutorial started with Jonathan expressing an interest in the Graven Images series and what they were about. These are caprices, sketches that embody many of my thoughts in disparate areas: in biology, parallel biology, science fiction, mythology, modularity, religious effigies and gods. The graven images of which there are many more to come, become relevant in the light of other things I have done. They are a curious combination of non-intuitive imaginings and rational ideas. They are about worship, profanity, and how the imagination can create gods from composite ideas.
Because I have a well-developed process of making, Jonathan was interested in how I felt about the actual process I have been engaged in over the past few months, particularly the blog journal. I have found the journal of immense benefit.
The process externalised in the form of the blog journal, is opening out the possibility of contextualising my practise in a deep sense. A sense that can be articulated and externalised not in terms of issues, themes or subject matter, these are material, but in terms of the deepest parts of me. I do not use the word soul because that defies definition, I prefer to say the I in the world as part of the world.
It documents the convergence and synthesis of different ideas and interests.
The process requires time to deepen and broaden my thinking but I can already see the shape of things to come.
Different means of working including, writing, making, reflecting, researching, doing and walking are weaving that elusive fabric I alluded to at the beginning of the MA.
I am seeing repeating patterns that emerge out of disparate areas that reflect how all things have arisen from the whole with fundamental laws governing the behaviour of all things.
As complexity increases, new principles come into play. The traversal from a lower order of complexity to a higher one brings into play new laws: life, consciousness, complex civilisations bring with them new ‘rules of the game’ that often hint at their provenance from deeper set ones.
To represent or express this in an artwork is challenging because I do not want to go down the purely conceptual path in which an idea is illustrated by some trope. I am drawn to the visceral, existential, matter of things. I have to find ways of linking ideas through a methodology that encompasses multitudes.
Jonathan had a concern about the amount I write in terms of the shear task. Fortunately, the writing comes relatively easily. I am developing a writing methodology in which ideas are worked out as I pour in the ingredients.
The post writing is not only a reflective tool but also an experimental one where I test out ideas in the abstract.
Synthesis often occurs while writing. Often a posteriori to act of making.
Jonathan questioned me on whether I am able to filter through the posts in a way that I can gain from them. Is it possible and how do I do it? He noticed that one of my most recent posts is succinct.
My being able to this is as a result of having worked things out along the way. Then space is made for new things.
Jonathan also wanted to know if the blog was not only useful for working things out but whether it was useful in retrospect when looking back at what I had written.
I find this an interesting corollary to the former question. When going back over old posts one of the interesting things is that I see repeating patterns in different contexts, and how ideas group together.
I also see where I have made assumptions, created a fallacy, something needs explicating or could have been said better in fewer words. Am I falling into a trap?
The blog posts are engaged in a dance with one another. That dance can be chaotic at times, but that chaos is not random or irrational, it is complex. An important task is to tease out the simple elements, some more obvious than others, and how they correspond to one another.
What to do now with the blog journal
I am resolved to revise the categories and tags but not in terms of content because there are too many candidate words and there is a limit of 45 tags being shown in a normal tag cloud plugin.
I will look at the broad ideas and use tags that correspond to external criteria such as learning outcomes rather than my own internal ones. This I think will help me a lot more.
The projects are precipitating out and things have shifted into a clear set of patterns. So, categorizing the posts will be much easier. I will compare original and new categories to help me clarify my way forward and I hope that by Easter I should have a much clear view towards more ambitious work . This is particularly important since the Research Statement will be starting around then and require a great deal of work.
The point Jonathan rightly makes is to make sure that I can gain the most from the large body of material I have collected in a short space of time. Just the act of going back and reorganising will be a deep reflective process. I could even use a different way of organising the material better suited to my needs. This is an interesting point that I shall think on.
We discussed the video work as a possible way forward; as a means of tying together different strands in my work.
Working from the first video, post-truth-hurtling, I am developing a methodology from first principles that gives a degree of control over ephemeral phenomena without losing the spirit of contingency and heuristics.
The way I work with video is as a performance that could be enacted live.
This work is almost complete and it links with my idea of Mythopoeia and the shadow world.
I feel that the direction this project is taking is an exciting one. One which can be extended to form a suite or series also behaving as poetic labels for other works.
With the video I have the same philosophy as with my mouse drawings. Working with limitations gives way to greater freedom. Not relying on having the perfect conditions.
An interesting conversation pointing to the potency of shadows as a medium.
Jonathan observed that my work with shadows in their details capture a lot of what I talk about.
The loss of information, as the three-dimensional world is projected onto two dimensions creates a space for the imagination.
Following on from this dimensional approach, the video of the line intrigued Jonathan and we discussed ways of extending the idea by removing the horizon. I have since thought of ways of overcoming the slight technical impediments that had precluded me from doing this in the first place. He would also like to see the ‘failed’ experiments online, something I will do because it is these as much as the successful experiments that can show new pathways.
The line video is a metaphor for my working with past material allowing the imagination to roam without consequence and seeing the present through a different optic. Ideas can then be brought into the present and critically analysed in the contemporary context.
We discussed the idea of modularity my methodology and the Graven Images. How modularity is not only about construction but also human interaction such as trade, religion, science and so on.
The proliferation of composite creatures tying up with the emergence of complex body plans in the Cambrian Explosion.
Just as there is the emergence of physical characteristics, you also have the emergence of predation which is a behavioural strategy linked to the physical such as the development of the alimentary canal, a salient element in my work.
There must be a parallel with human society. What could this be and what could this say about our society?
Heuristics and Playfulness and Control
I work heuristically, analysis taking place afterwards the fact. The action research cycle starting with the work, leading to ideas and alterations that then inform new work.
I strive for a level of control that is subliminal, built up from experience, that does not interfere with the heuristic element but allows me to decide on the directions I take.
Jonathan suggested that the heuristic, playful nature of the videos is in contrast with the constraints imposed by ceramic practice involving planning and staging.
I also think that it is in contrast with the side of me that is risk averse and needs to plan and think ahead. By relinquishing a predetermined outcome, I am able to delve into different areas that can bear a variety of novel, hybrid fruit.
I like the idea of the rational being subliminal during making and becoming more overt after the event when it can inform and explain, explicate and imagine (often as a reflection of the self). I have enough experience for this not to be a blind shooting but like a experienced fisherman, casting the line into the water with knowledge borne of experience.
The process often begins with a what which then moves to how and the why is the much harder part to work out.
The what and how are often contextual and technical. Then there is the external why as a response to the world and the hidden,elusive reason(s) which is much harder to fathom. It reaches down to the deepest recesses of the self.
I explained about the emerging idea of metamorphosis, process philosophy and the relationship between being and becoming. How metamorphoses can take place within a closed, short term system and over time within a wider context.
I discussed the possibility of consulting with Ed Kelly in relation the MAX MSP. I am not looking to learn how to use the software for some unspecified future idea. I am looking to use it to perform a specific task and in doing so learn how to use it perhaps for something else. I have a clear purpose and direction, so it becomes about how to get there with the appropriate tool.
Jonathan liked the contrast to other posts provided by the East Coast images. We discussed correspondences with my other work in terms of why I am drawn to that way of working and the significances of the subject matter. I see it as a reflection of one thing in another as I have mentioned in the post.
Jonathan also noticed that in the East Coast post images gallery, the images are followed it one continues clicking by images of the maquettes, something I did not know. That is an accidental juxtaposition of the images and ideas for a work which show a great deal of relatedness. What a lovely surprise!
And indeed, not having people in the pictures gives another view onto the correspondences between things.
Jonathan was drawn to the post Labelling the World Post in which I discuss the awakening of the self through language. This is another more conceptual stream which could yield interesting things to do with separation, boundaries and relationships
A discussion on Buber and Heidegger followed, and how they view the world in complementary ways.
Jonathan is interested in how I am expanding my well-established process and not afraid of not making things perfect. He would, though, like to see some of the alternative works such as for the line video. We discussed this aspect of the blog and indeed, to show abandoned trials could yield something yet unknown. For example, the line could be extended so that there is no horizon. To get around the issue of the camera’s field of view vs depth of field, one of the large black boards could be used.
Talking about animation, I said that I do not want to get to much into that medium because I do not want to repeat what others have done so so well. We then discussed old Rotring pens!
Something I have not discussed in a post is whether using Rotring pen or an expressive old pen nib. This is a dialectic than will resolve itself with doing.
I like moving from one thing to another when working with different ideas. I find it useful to go from one thing to another. Jonathan told me about ‘Clock Maker’s Wife’ where she used coloured pencils on a notebook, she was able to do something simply as an alternative process.
We also share a love of working late at night, when it is quiet and ideas come on the breeze of silence.
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
The projection of one dimension onto another, limits the information transmitted creating imaginative possibilities from the cast shadows.
Following our Skype chat on Tuesday, which I have yet to comment on, I thought again why I am wary of sole reliance on digital means for my practice as artist. We discussed control and it is this that engenders a will not ro surrender to the seduction of the computer. I work with analogue, organic, mechanical source material which may or may not be transformed, projected, presented, manipulated digitally. The key here is that the source material is primarily non-digital with the exception of source material directly generated using raw digital quantities, parameters and algorithms rather than simulations of analogue sources. I do not want the aesthetics of what I do to be dictated by a coder, programmer or company that has little or no concern for what I do. To surrender myself to the seductive facilitation that digital programmes bring to create source material, is to hand my imagination to another unconnected individual or set of individuals and loose self actualisation and independence. There are of course exceptions to this but awareness of the process into which one immerses oneself is paramount. I feel that a great deal of digital output is primarily there to enhance the experience of the receiver in ways that verge on, if not fully realised, entertainment and sensationalism. Perhaps this applies more to the so called ‘creative industries’, but the boundaries in this regard are constantly being blurred.
Having said this, I still use digital technology to work with as a tool, a wonderful tool, and in a few cases as a source material but not as a means of creating art. Photoshop and digital cameras, 3D rendering and sound editors are tools used when working in mediums, I do not treat them as mediums I their own right. There are exceptions where work arises out of a given technology offering a new means of presenting, or the work arises out of the ‘material’ of the technology.
In the end it is not about whether something is valid or not as art, that would be crass. The point is that I do not want to be controlled by this tools and what they can do. That is why it is important for artists to question, challenge and use digital technology as a tool for making art, imposing their imagination on the machines, to extend limits and set boundaries while individualising the process. After all, there is a difference in the way the artist and the receiver use their respective imaginations.
The question of control is pertinent to the video I am currently working on. It follows from post-truth-hurtling whose source material was natural and contingent. The outcome was subject to a number of atmospheric and seasonal factors which were beyond my control and which I had to seize in that moment. In order to be able to continue and elaborate on this methodology, I have had to devise ways of recreating the conditions in the studio. Only this way could I build on what was started then. I am experimenting with surfaces, objects, light sources, different ways of creating wave interference, narratives and so on. It is a fascinating journey which also brings in sound, text and other mediums. The essence is that I can control ephemeral events and phenomena, control materials and recording means, control methods while letting go of control of outcome and let the process guide me, let the process feed my imagination, let the process bring things together and create new avenues to explore, let the process create meaning. I am in control and so is the process. What it boils down to is that I need to be aware of what I am doing and why but not force the agenda. I have enough experience behind me for meaning to arise from whatever emerges during the process. It is a two way dialogue, a dialectic, a heuristic process, abductive, inductive and deductive, intuitive and rational, it is all things in one.
A corollary arising out of the previous post on ƒ(u) ∼ dt u , this is an abstract musing in the tradition of many popular science abstractions. One such imaginative piece of writing, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott (1884), came to my attention many years ago. A satirical novella set in a world with only two dimensions.
Your are looking down a cosmic microscope where an infinitesimal point fills your field of vision. Sight becomes infinitely resolved.
A. Imagine a dot, an infinitesimal point in three-dimensional space and time does not exist.
Now imagine this point repeated infinitely so each point touches the next along a single axis. The point is now a line.
At any point in space, the line will appear as a single point. You cannot see the line because time does not exist and therefore you cannot move from one point to the next.
B. Now imagine an infinitessimal point in time without spatial dimensions.
The point is now extended in time to form a line.
Remembering there is no space, you cannot perceive the timeline, only a point in time.
C. Now take a point in a world where space and time exist together. Extend it to form a line. You can now see the line because it extends both in time and space. You are able to move through both space and time simultaneously. You can now perceive the line as a continuum of infinitesimal points extending in space and moving through time.
This thought experiment has many caveats and appears reductive: an infinitesimal point seems counterintuitive as does a dimension devoid of physical extensions with only time as a parameter and conversely a space without time. In addition, a line itself without thickness or breadth, only length is also a pure abstraction. The whole thing is counterintuitive. These things are hard to imagine and can only be spoken of in metaphor or using mathematics because to our brains that are seated and immersed in a spacetime world these things do not make sense in view of experience. Experience tells us that it cannot be so. We are made and exist in this world. Our perceptions and minds have been formed as fractals or reflections of ‘real world’ phenomena and the laws that govern it. Such things cannot exist in our Universe.
My simplistic thought experiment is a way of imagining space and time as inextricably linked to form the conceptual fabric containing all becoming, existence and change in our universe. Strip one from the other, and the impossibility to experience existence becomes self evident. This was one of Einstein’s insights following on from Maxwell.
Add another spatial dimension and we enter a world which is alien and again counterintuitive. We can only construct projected shadows cast from such a world onto ours by the imaginative means of strange solid forms. Likewise, our-world solid objects project shadows onto flat surfaces, as an infinitesimal slice of the object that projected it. An idea Abbott made use of in Flatland with the passing sphere.
We have no problem in perceiving and conceiving of shadows as projections of a higher (our) dimension because they exist in a world of lower order than ours and one in which we experience shadows everyday. However, when confronted with a world containing more than three linear dimensions it becomes impossible to imagine such a world and we make recourse to geometric shadows in the form of strange solids and mathematical means to describe them. It is only possible to hint at what a world with four spatial dimensions might be like using animations. It is indeed a strange world.
When I think of my work in three dimensions, I perceive it in time too as my mind traces the surfaces and contours. When I see shadows projected by the work, I see something else, a journey through space riding on beams of light and reforming the world. A world that exist in three dimensions at a subatomic level, but appears flat, in two dimensions. I then recreate that universe in my mind to one that is congruent with an intuitive mind formed in this universe of spacetime.
Looking into the past and future is also a work of shadows: shadows of ideas and events that do not fully form into rounded experience but play themselves on the screen of the mind as words, pictures and imputed movement.
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 wrote the following as part of the previous post on writing. When revising what I had written it seemed a bit of a non-sequitur. It was more about creating a context for linking writing about science with writing about art. The ideas I touch on here need expanding but I think it serves as a note-to-self for the future.
The scientist has to assume, indeed believe in the uniformity of the universe, otherwise no finding would have applicable value elsewhere, everything would be relative. What this means is that the laws of physics apply equally wherever you are located in the universe, there is no place where the laws might be different or behave in some other way. This is not to be confused with the theory of relativity and its stated relationship between mass, energy, time and space which is always the same, with the speculative exception of black holes or the very beginning of the universe when the ‘Big Bang’ occurred. If the universe were not uniform regarding to the laws of physics, there would be no possibility of confirming scientific theories or indeed refuting them, for there would be no basis for predicting outcomes according to a hypothesis, phenomena would be subject to local laws only. This assumption is one of the basic principles of the scientific method and experimental philosophy and so far has not been refuted.
The religious person must also believe in uniformity regarding god or gods, otherwise there could not be an ultimate authority for morality and therefore behaviour could not be regulated. Religions rely on a uniformity of consequence, justice, compassion, love, etc. as a central tenet to their universality. Correspondences and conflicts between religions come down to what they have in common as well as how they differ in their universal applicability as much as ritual practices, credos and the like. Likewise, an artist has to trust that there are universals that when applied, bring thought and people together rather than divide them. These universal ideas or the search for them create the possibility for a coherent vision on which to base a philosophy and practice.
In all three cases, these deep level ideas, simple in themselves are nevertheless hard to demonstrate. As for proof, for now they must remain elusive paradigms, ideals, questions of faith. There also appears to be an increase in fragmentation regarding the nature of uniformity. By this I mean that scientific philosophy requires there to be what is known as the doctrine of uniformitarianism applying to all branches of science and technology. The doctrine remains the same for all practitioners whether one is talking about medicine, chemistry, biology or physics.1 With religion on the other hand, the nature of uniformity can change according to belief. The divine agency and its effects differ or agree from one religion to another. The plurality is directly proportional to the number of practitioners that adhere to one particular belief or another. When it comes to art, the situation becomes even more fragmented. The variety and number of different paradigms is a function of the countless movements, groups and individual artists that work and have worked to a particular vision across all societies.
In science, there is a constant search for the consistency of the laws of the universe or perhaps better put, for any inconsistencies that might be observed which in turn, could lead to revised, refuted or new theories which would nevertheless still be based on the assumption of universal uniformity. The spiritual believer is ever racked with doubt about the justice of things, questioning the purpose or reason for the world behaving as it does; asking why justice, redemption and even punishment take the shape they do. Recourse is made to faith in the divine as the pillar on which the belief structure is supported. And the artist has to be authentic in themselves, find what is at the core of their being in order to make sense of things and synthesise them into something that creates a commons with others.
Uncertainty, Time and Distance
Each one of these persons must trust in a different kind of uniformity but this is not static. It is a concept implicitly embedded in the idea of change. The implication being that the same change would occur under the same conditions wherever and whenever they occur. The key here is, under the same conditions. Conditions change and so do outcomes, but an outcome is not as a result of different laws acting. The outcome is the result of the same laws acting on a different ‘mix’ of elements. This means that the laws are reliable but not necessarily predictable. Quantum mechanics has shown us that the predictable world is an illusion created by the averaged sum of an inherently unstable and unpredictable fundamental substrate. However, reliability is the knowledge gained from experience and a belief in universal uniformality, including the unpredictable quantum microcosm.
When it comes to art the matter is somewhat more subtle because art is contextual. Context is an elusive characteristic of complex circumstances or conditions. At first sight, the ‘doctrine’ of uniformitarianism might appear to fall apart but this is an illusion. An illusion created on the surface of things due to context being a chaotic complex of influences and forces, relationships and interactions that provide ‘unique’ conditions resulting in the individuality of artistic visions and production. However, there is no reason why the forces acting on each and every artist are not the same, only altered by circumstance, genetic and cultural predisposition, historical antecedents and so on. The outcomes may differ due to different causes but the underlying laws remain invariant. The result is that although they may appear vastly different to us, there are commonalities which when averaged out produce the sum of human culture. And the wider the sweep of observation across societies and periods in history, the fewer the global correspondences giving rise to the difficulty in defining what art is.
An example of outcomes being vastly different but the laws at work remaining the same, would be the existence of life. Life exists on Earth, no other life has been yet found anywhere else in the solar system. Yet, the abundant, exuberant ecology of our planet is subject to the same fundamental laws found anywhere else in space. The differences are due to local conditions and which laws apply or not and in what proportion. For example, life on Earth is very much dependent on the planet’s distance from the Sun, its magnetic field, age and so on.
The interesting thing though, is that the fundamental laws acting on say, the Moon are the than those acting on Earth: yet nothing much changes on the Moon except for a few parameters, conditions are much simpler. The planet Venus on the other hand has a complex active surface, more complex than the Moon’s with an atmosphere and geological activity, yet it is much simpler than Earth’ surface. On Earth, once life emerged, perhaps as long ago as nearly four billion years, a different set of laws arose. A traversal takes place with the emergence of an ecology which in turn gives rise to evolutionary processes. New laws come into play, sub-laws which are nevertheless subject to the fundamental laws that existed before and continue to do so such as, the laws of thermodynamics. However, these new laws are also different in kind because they act on different kinds of systems such as living organisms (in which case reverse entropy). Could the same be said about consciousness, that once consciousness emerges, a new set of laws comes into action?
Art is a product of our consciousness and part of human culture. Art emerges relatively late on in our evolution, it took some time for art, religion and science to emerge in human culture despite humans appearing in their modern form long before. Could there have been a hidden mutation that caused a leap in human activity, or was time needed for new proceeses to emerge out our consciousness and interactions with the world? And if so, are these processes subject to the same laws acting on new conditions or are the laws a new emergence from consciousness? Or put another way, are there correspondences between the processes that govern society and culture and those that govern other forms of life? If so what are they? If not, what is special about cultural laws?
My hunch is that there are correspondences, as stated by Dawkins in his idea of the cultural meme acting as a selfish gene; also, crudely put, Malthusian-like forces acting on how populations react to conditions. Research into free will is throwing light on how free we actual are, whether it is an illusion or partial illusion and what the forces are that act on us to make us behave and perceive in a certain way. But my intuition also tells me that there are some elements of human activity that have produced unique rules. Whether these are inherent in the domain, such as mathematics and aesthetics or universal and stand outside the need for human presence, is a matter of constant debate.
For the very reason that uniformity is masked by differences in local conditions, the forces at work are often not self evident. They would go against experience and be counterintuitive. To begin to understand them requires prior knowledge or experience, at least familiarity with the field. You cannot understand a scientific theory without the antecedent knowledge that goes to make it up. In a similar way, to understand or appreciate a ‘piece of art’ an experience connecting one with it in some way helps. Whether it be by association, familiarity or knowledge of the field, as Dewey might have said, context creates the artwork in the receiver’s mind.
Perhaps these are intuitive thoughts trying to deal with counterintuitive ideas, such as probability (which is why quantum mechanics is such a difficult field to grasp and accept)… and certain forms of art. But why does art produce such strong emotions when debated? Art in particular divides opinion far beyond its apparent effect on everyday life with opinions being expressed in ways they would not about other matters even to the point of causing offence more readily than in other situations. I think that the effect of art runs much deeper than one might realise. People in power or seeking power have known this since early times. Art can be used to mould opinions, beliefs and allegiances from politics to economics, from status and fashion to the expression of wealth, social and philosophical ideals. Art can even persuade people to be kind, generous and cooperative or cruel and violent. Art is at the root of religion, fashion, status, politics, all complex human activity. Whether it is a simple bead necklace from the Kalahari or Michelangelo’s Pietá, whether a feature film or Homer’s Iliad, they are all expressions of human interactions between themselves and the world. The anthropologist R. L. Anderson suggests that art is:
culturally significant meaning, skilfully encoded in an affective, sensuous medium.
- I am talking here of the doctrine regarding the laws of physics and causality, not the more specific reference to early geological ideas which were proposed in opposition to catastrophism
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.