Tutorial 5: 04 October 2019. Gareth Polmeer

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. 

 

Evolutionary Space

 

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. 

Research Statement: Taking Another Direction

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.

Skype Chat 3.5: Research Statement 2

Today we went over some other research statements. What constantly comes to mind is the need to avoid jargon as one develops an idea. I used to use jargon a lot and quite honestly, as I have mentioned before, it does nothing but obscure meaning and prevent clarity of exposition and explication. If a complex idea is explained in simple words, it more often than not open out pathways which were previously barred. Jargon and technical language really serve as shorthand and I try to use only one the idea is fully formed or after have introduced a definition in context. Of course it is not always possible to do this but it is a very good discipline to nurture and develop. It has made me more critical and saved me from a lot of bull shit I might have come up with otherwise. 

Other things that came to mind during the session are as follows:

  1. Writing started as a mystical act which changed into pragmatic bureaucracy.
  2. Distinguishing between the real and the virtual needs a defined idea of what is real and virtual much as for the difference between the natural and the artificial. It enters the area of discerning what is true and what is false. Truth and falsehood. As far as art is concerned, I cannot deal with absolute truths, reality or any other such paradigms. I can only deal with tropes and morality or values. Tropes are cognitive comparators and morality is culturally relative, unless one accepts certain inalienable and self evident ideas. It all becomes very difficult to argue in the face of contrary views. I have grown to think that authenticity and integrity, at least for me, are the more important conditions for an artist. And out of this arise observations and descriptions created with tropes that bear some relevance to life.
  3. In order to distinguish between two things, to think only in terms of comparison makes things harder without its sister contrast. Similarities tell you something about why it is difficult to distinguish between those given things but it does tell you why one is considering them as different. Contrasting on the other hand tells you why they cannot be the same and perhaps whether they differ by degree or in kind. 
  4. When comparing and contrasting two ideas, objects or events, it is as well to consider any new insights or notions that this might lead to. 
  5. Regarding a hobby horse of mine: the word ‘issue’ is much used instead of ‘problem’. I remember when all this issue about issue started, it was a way of thinking positively about something harmful rather than negatively and therefore more approachable in terms of a solution. However, I think it has gone too far and serious circumstances have become issues. Issues are really topics for debate and the word does not necessarily demand solution. So I now like to think of problems as something to confront and issues… you can take them or leave them.
  6. Looking for examples before having formed a clear idea of what they are mean to show can sometimes make it hard to find them. I find it is a good idea to look for the large things such as principles and work my way down until I find examples. It is about taking care of the large things and the details will take care of themselves. It is much harder to construct generality from the particular. However, one small caveat to that is when tidying, I always find I need to deal with the small things first in order to clear the decks for arranging the large things. 

Finally I need to prepare some files for the ‘Impromptu’ show at Two Girls Gallery by next Monday (17 June) – A3 files.

Critique on Latest Study

Porcelain high relief in drying box 18 x 19 x 11cm

This study has led me to reflect on what I am currently doing both in terms of work and conceptual content. Working small on a large scale idea is not always easy. It is different in the way one part relates to another, everything is seen at a glance rather than experiencing a gradual discovery as an informal circular dance is choreographed around the work. Viewing distances are bodily contract towards immobility as I end up very close to the work, without glasses, in an attempt to restore a large scale visual relationship.

In this work my thoughts have focused on a particular set of notions and shifted from an Apollonian ideal found in the Studies for H to a more Dionysian sense of things. The subjects remain the same and the methodology similar but with its content altered in someway. As always a dichotomy is expressing itself like night and day. 

The study has been difficult to accept in terms of its composition but I have learnt a great deal in how I could approach a more ambitious work. This would be many times larger which itself presents a number of technical issues of drying out and weight. I may have to construct a specific humidity box to maintain the necessary moisture content over a prolonged period. Then again covering may be the only thing necessary since the mass of material will keep its moisture content more readily due to the reduced evaporation caused by a decreased surface to volume ratio.

Its implied motion suggests to me an animation in the form of a ‘dance’ that traces ideas underlying the work. In addition it is in high relief whereas what I envisage as a finished work extends in height and may be on a circular base: perhaps a subliminal allusion to old master depictions of the Tower of Babel: an icon of chaos and the hubris of man (and women?).

 

 

But what is it I am doing, evoking the weight of generations, the struggle for life, are these metaphors for humanity? This latter question refers to my previous post title, ‘What is the Difference’. This is not a de-humanisation but rather a de-centering of the anthropic view of things. We are part of the whole and not separated from it, a view that has proliferated during the Anthropocene. We are as subject to the same blind and dispassionate forces that brought us about as any other part of nature… with one difference. We have a heightened capacity to change our behaviour. But the individual dynamic is not the same as that of the group and this creates an inertia which naturally tends towards conserving the status quo. Which way things will go is still in the balance; a race against time for the majority of future humans. Extinction is unlikely to be total but annihilation of a large number if not majority of people is certainly a clear possibility.  

 


 

It has just occurred to me, why am I writing all this down, I have never done such a thing, why post so much since I hold all these thoughts in my mind as I work? One, it provides a contemporary document that may prove valuable in the future: the memory plays tricks and history is constantly retold in the light of the present. Two, writing practice has enabled me to move more rapidly through ideas, build on them, alter them and articulate them more clearly

Skype Chat 3.4: Research Statement I

Yesterday we went through some of the initial research statement ideas; next week we shall look at the rest.

My initial research statement outline is fairly advanced by this stage. I have been thinking about it for a number of weeks and it builds on notions I have had throughout the course as well as bringing in constant interests of mine including archaeology-anthropology, mythology, palaeobiology and big history. My trajectory has changed markedly over the past seven months. I started with the idea of looking at the relationship between sound and sculpture. However, I have moved away from this as has my work. I think it important that the RS bear some relationship with developments for it to be of use to me and open out onto avenues into the future whilst linking with my past practice. The ideas I am working with now I believe offer greater possibilities for poetic notions to infuse into what I do: what I was thinking previously in terms of sculpture and sound was more of an aesthetic-technical question. 

The response to the plain English summary I prepared was well received although I did feel that the lack of greater detail did lead to misunderstandings that might not have occurred had the text been written in more technical language. It is always a delicate balancing act between clarity and accessibility. Assumptions have to be made either way and reception very much depends on the audience. Nevertheless, I was able to answer and clarify queries during the chat and I also gathered useful reminders of what I need to bear in mind. 

Jonathan asked me whether the final questions regarding contemporary digital environments would be looked at through a particular lens for example any specific artists. I must admit that this is the area I need to research most. It is a large arena and I have to keep to very specific examples. What comes to mind is Asimov and the like but there is new work being carried out in the field of AI which presents a challenge but I am sure that once immersed in the details of research I will find a rich seam of examples. 

Danni suggest contemporary science fiction as a source. Although this is true in terms of fantasy, the field is vast. The Andromeda Strain by Crichton has sudden come into my head and is one way of looking at things. However, I wish to end the enquiry with more concrete virtual examples. 

I think Jonathan’s observation that the final question regarding perception of AI created mythological beings as philosophical rather than an exploration of existing work is a very interesting one. I must bear in mind not to loose my word count, way, by following this sort of enquiry which quite honestly can be never ending. 

I am very glad that Jonathan observed that the two contextual ideas of Dennett and Wengrow made what would otherwise have been a ‘way too big’ research question manageable. I was aware of keeping things tight and Dennett and Wengrow create a very neat way of encompassing what could become a titanic struggle. Today I made a break through in the correlation between the emergence of large metazoan Cambrian fauna and the proliferation of composite creatures in the Early Bronze Age. This offers a methodology that can be applied to many situations, not just this one. By comparing the energy input of both environments as causes and not the causes of the energy changes in both cases, the whole argument is simplified. I need only explain how increased energy input into each respective ecology occurred comparing the effects of that increased availability of energy: oxygen in one case and food supply in the other. The causes then become of secondary (but no less interesting) importance reducing the amount of contextual explanations. Increased energy levels then correlate growth and motility in both scenarios with Hox genes and writing the information codes that enable the development of complex forms. How I shall explain in the text which I believe can be done cogently. This correlate then sets up the scenario for considering modern and contemporary ideas.

I know that I will have to keep focused and as J says, I shall have to exclude a lot of the material due to the word count. Keeping to the contextual lenses will help. But this is all a good thing because it means that if I should wish to take things further in terms of writing. academic research,  or some other pursuit, there is plenty to expand on. 

Dannii brought up a parallel with music: composing with code to produce what does not look like music yet might be called such. This was interesting in the light of my previous ideas for a research paper. This is something I may still incorporate in the project proposal. Dannii referenced Mark Pilkington. Looking through some of his works on his web site I find some of the things worth listening to in parts but on the whole lack cohesion. The works seem to be predictably random and without shape with isolated elements presenting imaginative glimpses into what might be but it is never sustained. I think that the main problem is one of rhythm and pacing sacrificed to a love of novel effects. It follows the traditions of electroacustic tradition and musique concrete without a sense of the whole. 

 

Research Statement in Plain English

 

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?

Research Statement: Preliminary Title

   

A preliminary title is an uneasy mapping out of a journey towards an idea without necessarily knowing the best route. This preliminary title is somewhat long winded but it does contain the elements of subject area, context and argument which may well serve as a condensed abstract. The fact that it will need pruning goes without saying but a kernel of an idea does reside in its immature state.

Composite body plans and their proliferation: A comparative examination of the algorithmic increase and propagation of hybrid creatures in the Cambrian, Early Bronze Age, Late Medieval Period and the Digital Environment in the context of D. C. Dennett’s definition of algorithm and D. Wengrow’s archeo-anthropological hypothesis ‘the origin of monsters’. 

This is basically looking at how analogous outcomes can arise from disparate cultural and biological substrates and what this might say about ongoing contemporary developments. I see the Late Medieval element, seen through the optics of Hieronymous  Bosch, as a bridge from the ancient to the modern. However, I need to think about the length of the RS and it may prove too much to weave Bosch’s particular narrative into the whole: his hermeneutic influences may be too mono-cultural relative to the other areas under examination providing an antithesis to the general thesis of the cultural and biological emergence of composite creatures or so called monsters which, it could be argued, depend on more complex environmental conditions. Nevertheless, as a counter argument it creates an interesting dialectic which unfortunately may be beyond the constraints of 3000 to 4000 words.

Skype Chat 3.1 – An Introduction to the Research Statement

 The first Skype chat of the third term was an introduction to the Research Statement.

Research Statement Brief

Using Zotero

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. 

Research Statement: A Start

Six months ago I started with a loose pool of ideas flowing from existential themes. My main aim since then has been to find a cogent argument that reflects my various interests and that could place in different arenas. This quest has been exciting if onerous; I have gone down many wandering pathways. However, I also have had to discipline my thoughts within a varied practice since many of my ideas emerge synchronously with my practice and two years is not that long to develop a coherent trajectory. I know that the Research Statement will need to be started soon and that it needs to be well conceived at the outset in order to avoid time consuming blind allies during the Summer months, a period good for making. 

In view of the upcoming RS, I have looked at the problem both taxonomically and mereologically, reductively and holistically. The tension between these two ways of organising thoughts has helped me identify those ideas and practices that would fit a tight set of self imposed requirements: 

  • original
  • cogent
  • flexible and focused
  • contemporary
  • leading to a project proposal and higher research
  • poetic

A thesis emerged ten days ago in conversation with Janet, not by logical deduction but in moment of gestalt in which I saw a bigger picture. With few words I was able to state the obvious precipitated out of the wanderings and writings I have done over the past six months. But how could I be sure this would hold together? I wrote a preliminary abstract or outline of the thesis in a surprisingly short amount of time, much shorter than the time it has taken me to get this far on this post. Since then I have been able to add content and ideas without disturbing cogency. I was concerned about having to read scores of papers and dozens of books in search of an idea. Instead, I know where to go and what to read for corroborative material and help to shape the argument. 

I shall write about the RS in future post but for now I wish to continue with what I am doing. Instead I have opened a folder for placing material separate to the blog. Today (yesterday) I went to Doncaster to buy materials, time flies.

Briefly the RS tries to bring together in artistic thought:

  • The Cambrian Explosion
  • Early Bronze Age civilisations in the Fertile Crescent
  • Medieval thinking
  • Science fiction
  • Myths
  • The digital environment 
  • Coding of information
  • Algorithmic development and chaotic order

Talking of Origins

Unfired porcelain and cast shadows

 

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

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

 

Adam and Eve: Rembrandt 1638, etching

 

Zuihitsu – Assay – Essay – Blog

Studio still

 

Let all flowers bloom – as long as the garden is tended  1

 

Reading Emily Huurdeman’s paper on essaying art has made me think that what I am doing here, with my work and blog journal, is to create a form of essay (something I mentioned in my previous post). The very nature of the journal, an aggregate of personal responses to my artistic context, its heterogeneity and what Theordor Adorno called unmethodological methodology, makes it very much artistic research. The apparent disparateness of modes connects with the early Japanese quasi essayistic form Zuihitsu. Literally meaning ‘follow the brush’, my thoughts and actions have been in response to what has emerged at each stage in a never ending process.

The noun essay derived from its verbal antecedent assay meaning to test. The essay form defies definition as does artistic practice, it is neither scientific eschewing wholly critically derived content nor completely artistic responding to subjective experience. The essay is a form that pushes boundaries, breaking free from established rules, shaping content in a personal way, free from methodical constraints but not uncritical, not without method. This is the very essence of essaying.

The online blog journal can be seen as new Zuihitsu, a digital workspace where ideas are exposed, weighed and published in a variety of forms: sound, photographs, videos, text, digital interactions in all their forms. But this artistic research although fascinating is not an end in itself but as I mentioned earlier a continuous process. It is a means of better understanding, challenging, renewing and extending what I do. It is a way of harvesting new input and refreshing old ideas, of innovating paradigm shifts, developing and consolidating practices.

Since I started this MA, I have ‘followed the brush’, exercising a freedom from the constraints of a single path and given method. The essayistic form has helped render the elusive graspable and turn the opaque into layered transparencies. Fully aware that I have already touched upon such matters I recognise that many discoveries are only made after many passings over the same territory each time with a different eye.

 

  1. From the book, Artistic Research – Theories, Methods and Practices. Hannula, Suoranta and Vaden. 2005. Paraphrased to correct a slight, forgivable stilted English []

Language and Shape

Study in porcelain, unfired

 

I have referred to the central role language plays in my work. This role is not an overt one, I have not used text or words explicitly so far. However, in this blog journal I use words as a glue that binds together ideas in some way trying to make sense of what are at the outset subliminal responses to experience. In the Mid Point review I recently mentioned language as a principle theme in the project proposal as I did in the initial symposium back in October; the time has come to attempt at explaining this. 

Why is language important to me? Beyond emotions, physical responses and sensations, in order for me to think about the world around me in ways that build on experience and gain some understanding I need a more complex and flexible way of ordering thoughts. This way comes in the form of verbal language, spoken and then written. A word is an abstract entity that stands for something we encounter in the world. This label is made up of individual sounds or phonemes. Phonemes are recombined to form words, words form phrases and sentences and so on articulating complex thoughts. 

This correlates with how I work through sculpture. The basic building blocks, or ‘phonemes’ are shapes. Each shape raises a response in me just as the sonic values of phonemes carry with them an emotional-auditory response. This idea is used in poetry as in alliteration giving a sense beyond the abstract meaning of the words. In Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood’ the poet uses alliteration just for its sonic effects,

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless
and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched,
courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the
sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.

However, he also uses metaphor and rhythm to build a vivid sensual picture full of emotional as well as cognitive tension that goes beyond the semantic values of the words. It is a shaping of the world in words.

Sculpture can also work in poetic terms, the semantic-associative value of shapes when combined give rise to thoughts that go beyond the sphere, cone and rod, nose, finger and pear. I use shape as a response to thoughts and ideas; what emerges is not an ekphrastic embodiment but an intention towards a more poetic form. Sound too can be used to build ideas but its very essence conveys a deeply subjective emotional meaning, one that can be used to build emotional narratives that in turn can create associative responses. Words, sounds and shapes act on our senses and thoughts in different ways but they all bear a commonality in that their basic component units can be combined and recombined to create a complex language. Where they differ is in what they communicate and this is why combining, in my case sound and sculpture does present a valid case. 

This leads me to ask, should a sculpture be silent and sound disembodied? This purist idea is difficult to refute and has been the ground for a silent debate during modern European history. Perhaps in the end sculpture should remain silent. But then again, I can see that shaped sound could inhabit a sculpture and pulsate within its form, tracing its contours as it pushes against silence, forming a boundary of perception so that the very space around the sculpture is contiguous with it; a symbiotic intertwining of form and sound tracing reciprocal interactions between two modalities that go beyond the semantics of the words involved in explaining the relationship. 

The study in porcelain shown above is one form that challenges me to think how sound might correlate with form. Not this particular form, ostensibly it is part of another work, but as I am looking to bring together different works as part of the project proposal it does ring bells in my head. Is scale important? I think that viewing distance may play a part, perhaps sound responding to the placement of the receiver in relation to the form much as the visual is rewarded with different perceptions: long distance – overall structure and its relationship with the environment, intermediate distance – component parts and their interrelationships, close up – surface and texture. This is all of course separate to the associative meanings the form might bear. How can sound be distilled into this sort of relationship, frequency, pulse, detail? Can the same be applied to sound as to solid form, are their analogies or am I dealing with something different in kind? These are all questions I aim to explore…

 

Tutorial 2.1: 17 January 2019. Jonathan Kearney

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.

Graven Images

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. 

Blog Journal

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.

Video

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. 

Shadows

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.

The Line

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.

Modularity

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.

On Change

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. 

On Sound

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. 

East Coast

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.

Miscellaneous

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. 

 

Hermaphroditus

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.

  1. 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 []

Uniformity, Local Conditions and Culture

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.

 

  1. 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 []

A Reminder When Writing

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. 

Chat Session 1.8: Elusive Taxonomies 2

This post was finished over a week after the session.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mythopoiea and Metamorphosis

Emperor and Four Ways of Being Inspired

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Project Proposal Renewed

Parallel Universe

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

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

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

 

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

What is the Character of a Myth?

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

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

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

Image above: Theriomorph. fired clay, height 94 mm

Fall

You divide me, so that I might know which way is light and when to face away. You give me one side and so another that I might know which way to turn and with this gift: a centre for the back and forth, a dim picture of the world so smell and distance no longer the only place where I am and I am hollow: forced to follow hunger for the other and that drives and bestows dull fear that moves me to and fro along the edge. I pierce the horizon and still must eat and hide but as a growing pain that weighs on my breath, pushes from outside my skin, I leave my mother’s liquid, sprout and walk about, deeper into different worlds and lift above and shovel earth yet this journey that has no end; always changing and with this change a distant sense of wanting always with me takes another’s shape, now warm, with me rejoining that which cleaved before me long ago and as it does so my sight turns inwards. Inside the world shapes new forms, and places I cannot see or touch but know that they are there. I feel the cold and heat and sweat and become knowing of a fear that no longer makes me run but ask for reason. Yet I continue, tear and gnaw, be ripped apart in turn until I grasp that stone or stick or clench my fist and strike with all my life imbued over countless ages, countless times, and scream and shout. And in that moment call and word is formed together with the why as I see my neighbour die. And now I make, and history with it on walls and rocks and trees to tell of my death and how my birth was done, and the reason why, we all must die.

A Cyclic Return

 

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

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

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

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

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

Tutorial 1: 01 November 2018. Jonathan Kearney

My first tutorial with Jonathan was a far ranging exploration of my practice and how to develop ideas currently in formation. It has taken me a while to assimilate the conversation and for the sake of my own clarity I have limited myself to the main points. I can see a framework starting to form that I can return to time and again. 

Jonathan’s key questions are paraphrased in italics.

1. Blog Journal: Role of

Writing the blog journal is emerging as an important element in my practice. It is possibly the sought for connective tissue between the different parts of my practice that I had mentioned at the start of the course. In the few weeks that have passed, the writing of posts has become less laboured and easier even though I have to focus on the content just as much.

Is this role for the writing due to the contrast between words and images or objects?.

I think that words are a good way of organising thoughts and ideas. Images and objects function in different ways. Words are regulated by syntax and grammar which enable complex ideas to be formed. I try to avoid jargon because I feel that when I do so, there may be an element of trying to cover up the fact that I do not fully understand what I am talking about. I have to scrutinise my thoughts and feelings and why I want to put them across and how. This process can lead to a clarity not possible with images and objects alone. These are more open to ambivalence and ambiguity.

Is that clarity for yourself or for another reader?

I always have a reader in mind. This is helping me to develop a voice which in turn allows writing to flow more easily. The voice can vary depending on the purpose of the writing. The reader I address takes two forms: an imaginary person and myself. Knowing that someone will probably read this during the MA, earths that imagined reader into a live entity and focuses my thoughts on clarity and above all authenticity. A problem, however,  that has arisen out of this facilitated writing is the growing amount I want to put down in words. Additionally, writing for an audience has also brought in the possibility of publishing which adds another level of responsibility in terms of clarity, interest and authenticity.

Do you feel you have to strike a balance between writing and making or are the two more integrated? 

I do make a distinction between the two process: writing is more analytical whereas making is more felt. However, by working in both modes I find they support and inform one another rather than being at odds. They function at different levels of affect and meaning in a reciprocal rather than reductive or divisive relationship. This runs counter to what I had initially thought might be the case.

 

2. Practice

With a clearly defined practice what do you hope the process will bring to it? 

What are your plans or dreams assuming you have those if not, what do you hope will happen?

I am still opened minded about this aspect of the course. More so than when I started. I thought I had all the works lined up and I could envisage the final show. I am not so certain now. Ideas are in constant flux and open to change. My current aim is for a collection of works that are bound together by an overt and or covert idea. For me the work itself is very important it has to stand on its own unsupported by text and explications. [In retrospect I could have answered in terms of galleries, further research, exhibitions, but for now I am living in the present with the work.]

How do you measure whether it stands on its own?

I would evaluate this in two ways: how am I and others affected and what inferences are made from it?

I would consider holistically how skilfully ideas, aesthetic considerations and the craft of handling the medium are embedded in the work’s making. How these elements are brought together and how effectively the ‘message(s)’ is encoded in the work. Each medium uses a different coded language which is expressed in a particular way. I look at how effective this coding is used in communicating without explication, how this unfolds and how it differs from when an explication is offered. The difference would be interesting and can point to how successful the work is in fulfilling my aims. 

I am becoming more interested in the politics of the work. Not so much as issues but rather in terms of existential concerns: the individual and the collective. The dynamics of both are very different. Politics tends to address the individual as part of a collective and disregards the sense of self other than as part of the group. This interest in human behaviour has brought me to consider an element of performance in my practice.

3. Proposed Projects

We discussed projects I have in mind, primarily two performance ideas and three installation based works. I see some of the ideas as thought experiments and Jonathan encouraged me to consider these as more than such. They are workable and could give rise to interesting and unexpected outcomes. I shall write more at length about these projects in the future. For now, I shall outline the salient points that were discussed for each one.

a) Scripted work involving video on what reality means in a digital environment. The work requires very precise timing, rehearsal and scripting. I thought that three levels of depth involving two screens and myself were the limit of what could be done. Jonathan suggested that if this were extended, the chaos that would ensue beyond the control of the script writer / artist yielding interesting results would be both intriguing and pertinent. 

b) Axis Mundi uses my physicality and sense of self in a ritual that involves maintaining a centeredness involving inertia, gravity and movement. It touches on ideas initiated by Poincare’s double pendulum. Two points arose from this conversation. The first regarding the reversal of point of view from the axis rod using a camera so that rather than my movement being evident, I appear and remain fixed while the world is in motion around me. This introduces two diametrically opposed view points of the same process. Secondly, what is the meaning of making the axis in bronze other than its weight and long making? We discussed the ritual implication of casting in bronze and a further subsequent conversation with Janet suggested that the lengthy process of casting in bronze itself is a ritual and part of the inertia of the work. What emerged was that there are many levels of meaning to uncover in the process which can all go towards making the work. 

We also discussed: c) Sculpture Waiting for Meaning or Shrine, d) Oracle, and e) Shadows. Jonathan pointed me to MAX MSP at cycling74.com as a way of real time processing sound for these projects which does not require coding but rather works as visual language programming. With regards to d) Oracle, Jonathan suggested that the final incoherent sound could then be fed into a translator or interpreter which would then try to make sense of the sound and it would be interesting to see what words would be formed from this. c) also brought to mind Plato’s cave are we talked about the merits and negative impact of Plato’s philosophy on the world over the past two thousand years. 

These ideas will no doubt change as the process of bringing them into being affects the ongoing outcomes. This relationship between process and outcome is analogous to that of observer and observed. 

4. On Motivation

Considering all the different ideas, what motivates you most out of all of them?

I had to think long and hard about this. I do not have a single overriding motivation in terms of the different ideas. The works all have different motivations. I have to break the answer down into principal and secondary motivations. Firstly, I am motivated by building a world, a place I can inhabit both actively and in the imagination and in so doing hope to interest others. I do need feedback but it is not my prime motivation, this is to make: I am compelled to do. Other motivations or rather impetuses, are derived from this. Affecting people, dialogue, admiration, shock, comment are derivatives. The point is that if there were to be no audience, I would still do what I do. To have feedback, an audience, is important and there is nothing like the joy of making a connection with someone else but in the end it is an impetus that comes from within and not externally located that has set things in motion. I am imprisoned by it.

Do you feel imprisoned by the work you have done so far, do you feel that is part of the world you have created?

I think so. The work overrides everyday matters to some extent. I started with the hubris of youth wanting to conquer the world, make money, be admired but I soon saw what that does to other artists. It alters the person and what they do and not always for the better. So many artists what they really want to do is go off and paint or make in some way: to have a primal connection with what they do. I do not feel so much imprisoned by but rather contained within an internal world. As an afterthought, I have always been interested in containers, boxes… could this have something to do with the sense of self imposed imprisonment, of trying to control the internal environment, order, or is it more to do with maintaining an axis mundi, keeping the self close by?

Jonathan encouraged me to work on all the projects even if only to the maquette stage not worrying too much about the finish. I guess it is about keeping a momentum and not getting entangled in the problems of achieving a perfect result. I shall certainly follow this through bearing in mind that the more I look at the overall shape of things, the details will resolve themselves as the process moves along.

The tutorial has given me both an overall direction in this new exploration and some detailed analysis of my work and practice. At the start of term I had prepared a Project Proposal. It was vague and open for which I am glad because it can accommodate being altered and brought more into focus with what I am doing. In fact, its flexibility now comes into play as a living document that can evolve and adapt.

5. What to do Now

The tutorial has helped clarify where I am currently. I can now plan more effectively for experimentation, research and development. Reflection on and in process can also be more relevant. I can now return to the tabula rasa and start using it as a palimpsest rather than have it sitting in the studio accusingly posing the question, what did you make me for?

Short Term Outline plan:

develop Project Proposal;

work on maquettes;

research MAX MSP;

develop writing skills – registering for Iowa University International Writing Programme MOOC ‘Writing and the Natural World’;

start planning and composing performance works.

 

Action Research and Reflection: Jonathan Kearney Lecture

 

Note to self – watch the video again, before reading once more what I have written. This is not a regurgitant of content, it is a spontaneous assimilation awaiting future reflection. So watch the video from time to time even if I think I already know what it says.     www.bitly.com/MA-youtube2018-19

This lecture is an excellent exposition on methodology and how not to suffocate with dogma, prejudice, lack of direction, inappropriate and imposed expectations: to be all you can be as an individual amongst individuals. But to have it so clearly and concisely laid out belies the time and thought that has gone into such a simple explication. It brings together complex aspects of creative thinking without even touching the medium used or the work itself. This deft handling of practice methodology leaves matters open and flexible. It is not a prescriptive way or approach but a practical philosophy based on experience, knowledge and research. I feel very at home with the ideas and to have them put across in such a clear and simple way helps me identify where and how I can improve on my thinking or better said, how I can avoid wrong thinking.

But avoiding wrong thinking is not the same as avoiding mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process and the finessing of a craft. It is necessary to make a mistake to know what not to do. This may appear counterintuitive but to aim for the ‘right’ or correct thing, to have a set paradigm, often leads to wrong thinking. Wrong thinking starts out as knowing exactly where it is going and as it starts to loose its way, asserts its stance with greater force, but it is only heading towards a mirage. This is a cycle in which learning is reduced and can only lead to frustration. Mastery is the removing of veils, it is a reduction to the core of something. It is not about making it right but avoiding mistakes once made: knowing what not to do. 

I have often wondered what action research is. It is the everyday process that an artist engages in. It is to focus from within what is being done regardless of the esternal world. Perhaps this is what is meant by the much abused term, art for art’s sake. It is a cyclical process that never ends, where learning never ends, and that is exciting. 

Reflecting on reflection: at the start of these two years, three weeks ago, I stated in my first Project Proposal draft, that I was looking for the connective tissue in my practice. What is starting to appear is a picture where writing links the various means and outcomes I am involved in. This journal is beginning to create a framework. I have so many things to write about in relation to my practice, ideas, experiences. I am excited to see how the framework emerges, a body constructed with the elements of my practice acting as organs, limbs and manifestations of the whole. After all, what Jonathan talks about in the lecture is about knitting together a holistic dynamic process of integration, accretion, assimilation, and making it your own. Where this might lead is an open question that will only be resolved later along the course of these two years; even then the process does not end but starts, again. It is not something that cannot be hurried, only intensified. 

Jonathan also talks about the idea of reflection on and in-action. To reflect in-action is so much easier if you are already practiced at what you are reflecting on. When learning something new, I aim to understand, then do and finally, usually after a pause during which assimilation takes place, I can fully immerse myself in the activity so that I can step outside the doing while being in the action and reflect as it is done. This process is one of detachment and integration at one and the same time. I become one with what I do and also aim to be able to explain what is being done. That is why simplicity is essential. If the matter in hand is made complicated or appears complicated (makes no difference), reflection in-action becomes thwarted. This is why practice is so important. Practice makes something ‘automatic’. However, there is something about practice that is little understood. Practice does not of itself make perfect. Practice makes permanent. That is the reason why it is more important to know and focus on what not to do rather than on striving towards a paradigm.

[I have to say that since I started this journal, writing has become easier and each piece of writing takes less labour. But I still have to focus equally; it is just that it comes more easily and takes less time.]

Jonathan’s list of what to keep a record of in the blog journal is worth revisiting regularly:

  • actions
  • decisions
  • thought processes
  • successes and failures
  • issues you are dealing with 

The lecture also covers the difference between art and science research. Science is what I started with. I loved the themes and ideas but to have done research was not for me. Science is a victim of its own success. It is constrained by the scientific method. This can be summarised as the need for repeatability, falsification and personal detachment. It is the antithesis of artistic practice which emphasises individuality, uniqueness (which is very different to originality) and verification. Scientific ideas are universal, open to appropriation and waiting to be shown as false. Art is personal and subjective, it is also universal.

I am a metaphorical being seeing the world and explaining it in terms of labels: that is how language works. Language is the basis for reasoned thought. Whereas science looks to tropes as ways of explaining and understanding but always with caveats, art embraces metaphor and other tropes as means of opening out to nuance and subjective communication and of asking questions. I wanted to be nuanced and have the possibility of portraying ambivalence and ambiguity in my work, speculate and imagine. That is why I did not continue with science. I still attempt to be logical but not as a reductive, deductive mechanism for inference. The logic of what I do is often hidden in the weave and texture of the work and reflection is part of teasing it out and making it more apparent to myself, to start with. This is a principle aim of my MA research. It is a matter of constructing a valid argument but not necessarily a sound one. The reason for a sound argument not being desirable or even possible lies in the very way art practice evolves. By every definition that contains humanity at its core, art is subjective. A non-false premise, for that is what a sound logical argument must have, need be objective. Therein lies the point of potential conflict in any artistic discussion. Validity and soundness of argument are two very different things. To believe in the soundness of an artistic argument is a false notion and requires as back up falling into dogma and faith, something that an artist might well have difficulty in contending with if they are to maintain openness and follow a holistic approach. 

An interesting proposal nearing the end of the lecture was that science leads to no change in the world whereas art does. This opens up a whole new and long discussion but I would like to finish off by reminding myself that science is not technology. Science is about finding explanations for how the world is. Technology applies these but it also applies social, economic and other non-science based ideas. Technos comes from the word techne which although closely related to the meaning of episteme (knowledge and understanding), it emphasises active application of knowledge. Whereas science is about understanding, technology is about applying understanding. Both techne and ars refer more to human activity than disembodied knowledge. Note that this disembodiment of knowledge becomes a universal idea that can be appropriated by anyone whereas technology and art very much bear the stamp of authorship. This is embodied in the concept of copyright, you can copyright a means of doing something and an artwork but you cannot copyright an idea.  

 

 

More on Tags

I soon realised after writing the post, What to do with Tags?, that not all tags were showing in the cloud. I subsequently found out that WordPress will only show the top 45 tags in the cloud. This limit can be circumvented with a bit of coding but it requires messing with the php of some templates and this I am not prepared to do with my insufficient knowledge. In any case, it is some sort of blessing: I have come to realise that putting down any number of tags is somewhat crazy; akin to throwing a box full of things in the air hoping that they fall in a neat ordered arrangement. I know this analogy is flawed, in that a heuristic approach is not random but it would create an awful lot of work curating the avoidable. Time better spent on other things.

The upshot of this is that, I shall have to go through my posts and select out the words contained within them or that best describe them. I know that in academic papers, the abstract is followed with five keywords. This is probably a good practice to adopt for each blog. The limit this puts on the number of keywords should have two desirable outcomes: a simpler and more consistent systemisation throughout the blog site and, perhaps more importantly, make me think more deeply about the content of each post. Some flexibility is required here: for short posts fewer that five keywords may be more appropriate and for long posts the number could perhaps be stretched to six or even seven if the content demands it. However, I have a feeling I should stick to a limit of five in any case. I shall see how I get on. 

I shall start by using the following keywords as tags for this blog: tags and keywords.

What to Do with Tags?

I decided to start using them today and soon found myself with a problem, which words to select. I know that it should be significant words but which ones are significant and which ones can be left out?

I put the problem to Janet and we had a long conversation where it was raised that the problem lay in my view of the process. You see, I have a tendency to view the search for certainty as somewhat futile. Everything I do tends to point to my trying to demonstrate this. But is that not trying to find a kind of certainty? Not entirely but I see the point. Using the tag cloud at first sight looked like a futile activity. This brings me back to what I said in my Symposium presentation, I am full of contradiction.

The clue in how tags work lies in the term tag cloud. A cloud’s shape is contingent on unpredictable meteorological conditions. The shape changes in a dynamic process that is beyond one’s control. Meta tags work in an analogous way. Put them in and they start to acquire an order, albeit simpler than those in the sky. They fall into a hierarchy depending on their frequency across blogs regardless of what you think. It is spontaneous.

For this algorithm to be of any use, to have a meaning, the tags have to be chosen without prejudice. Selecting words in or out, consciously or not, defeats the object of the exercise. The whole value of the tag cloud is that it is out of your hands, unpredictable. The tag hierarchy takes shape in unexpected ways outside of your control. This can have a number of positive consequences:

  • Contact with others you might otherwise not have made
  • Insight into one’s own thoughts and ideas
  • Spinning conceptual threads and links that can inform and connect in new ways
  • Fostering an open mind

I have decided to put down all words that confer meaning to a blog and see what comes. I have become somewhat indiscriminate. I cannot put in enough tags. This is much more exciting and interesting than putting down only what I think is interesting or significant.

Now what does this have to do with my work? Simply this, that my whole practice is like a tag cloud. I have worked in so many mediums with a wide variety of themes in disparate contexts and they continually move around in my mind, shuffling like marbles in a bag. They are tags, but for what? Perhaps they represent ideas, experiences, feelings, events. They obviously are connected but how. It is my aim in this MA to find those connections. The way I put it is, to uncover the connective tissue of my practice.

This is not to say that this is my sole aim. It is part of finding connective tissue that can stabilise the internal architecture of my practice as I  reach out to the outside. 

Ancestral

Close my eyes, and I see my parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so it goes on with the people that came before me. As time goes back they become strangers. What lives they led, what thoughts they held, and the world they saw is as much a part of me as it is not. Much the same and so very different, time tracks back tracing humanity to earlier times when there were no wheels and horses had yet to be ridden. The dawn of our time is still an unimaginable distance away from now and yet I go back further. As I think of ancestral forms on hot plains and cool dangerous places, the primitive becomes me, what I am now. Polar jungles and salty seas grow around me where I swim and swelter under an unfaltering sun. Yet I am still there, a small part of me survives the odds of existing. An unimaginable self that still dwells in me, that single creature twisting against its fate, giving birth again and again. I cannot any longer think but feel the cold water against my outer surface as my existence becomes slender. The slight trace of what I would become fading in the darkness, diluted in those moonlit nights when the tide throws me against the furrowed rocks and yet, I am still here. My possibility becomes lessened with every turning of the sun and each generation sheds a part of me as time recedes and me with it and still I am present. I no longer feel but my instinct is still to move with the light and smell the water for traces that are unknown to me. The silt is the dread I cannot know and now all sense of life slowly sloughs off and still the insensate part of me is here. The dim light of life is gently, slowly snuffed out in my thoughts.

The Bowerbird’s Creation

I had been writing about art and machines, all rather heavy stuff when for some reason, the family of bowerbirds came to mind: perhaps as a reaction to thinking about artificial intelligence. Distantly related to the crows probably means they are quite bright possessors of natural intelligence. They live in the islands of New Guinea and around Northern Australia where they have evolved rather elaborate courtship behaviours. I have in mind a particular bird, the satin bowerbird.

During the mating season, the male spends a great deal of time and energy collecting coloured and shiny objects from the forest such as petals, berries, leaves and the odd plastic bottle cap. These are assembled into glorious arrangements neatly arrayed in the shadow of an architectural grass chamber. The bird then expends more energy dancing an intricate and exhausting display which includes spreading feathers and stomping around in a repetitive, somewhat aggressive, rhythmic ritual. All this in the hope of attracting a rather dull looking female. But it is she who does the choosing, usually after three visits, although it is thought that she decides on her first.

For all intents and purposes, what the bowerbird does looks very much like art. Not the daubs of a chimpanzee in a primatologist’s hut, but something far more spectacular, albeit on the scale of a black bird. The whole installation includes sculpture, engineering, design and a choreographed performance in a complete show of avian creativity. It is aesthetic, has meaning, to the female bird at least, and requires skill and hard work.

But what is the bird’s prime aim, is it to create an aesthetic that gives pleasure and meaning beyond sex, to inspire bird thoughts and feelings such as, how tall and wonderful the trees are, or does it do it to attract a mate? The process might be rewarding in itself, why else would the bird put so much effort into such an endeavour without the certainty of successfully attracting a female. But the underlying purpose, the sought for outcome, is to mate and reproduce. We may perceive it as aesthetically wonderful, but is it art? I hope there are not too many artists out there for whom art is the sole way of getting a date.