Archive for June, 2011

Adrian Piper: Catalysis series (1970-71)

Posted in Uncategorized on June 29, 2011 by pauljohnwhite

Piper’s Catalysis was a series of conceptual performances in Manhattan that violated social norms of public behaviour. The resulting photographs document the artist bearing a WET PAINT sign in a crowded street, stuffing her mouth with a towel on public transportation, wearing smelly clothes inside a store, and playing a recording of belching sounds inside a library. Piper never announced that she was performing; unlike televised pranks, the interventions offered no moment of revelation for the strangers who witnessed her behaviour. By escaping the confines of the art context, Piper risked appearing repellent, if not crazy. Acting as a catalytic agent for chance reactions, she dissolved the boundary between art and life.

Casting photos

Posted in Uncategorized on June 29, 2011 by pauljohnwhite

The Mind in the Cave – The Cave in the Mind: Altered Consciousness in the Upper Paleolithic (David J. Lewis-Williams)

Posted in Uncategorized on June 14, 2011 by pauljohnwhite

Altered States of Consciousness

The human nervous system generates consciousness, an extremely difficult state to define. It also generates altered states of consciousness that are easier (though not much) to define, even if only in relation to an intuitively understood “normal  consciousness.” Upper Paleolithic people must have experienced not only “normal consciousness” but also altered consciousness because altered states are wired into the human nervous system and, moreover, are induced by a wide range of factors that include the ingestion of psychotropic drugs, audio-driving, hyperventilation, sensory and social deprivation, pain, intense concentration, and certain pathological conditions. Add “dreaming” to this list, and the experience by at least some Upper Paleolithic people of altered states becomes indisputable. Altered states of consciousness are part of being human, part of a “package deal” (for a review of research on altered states see Siegel and West 1975). What Upper Paleolithic people made of their altered states is another question altogether.

 The ways in which altered states are experienced and interpreted are not “given” or universal. In understanding this point it is useful to think of consciousness as a spectrum. At one end is “normal” or “alert” consciousness. This grades into daydreaming, deep reveries, dreaming, “light” trance states, and, at the far end, “deep” trances in which subjects are not aware of their surroundings at all, but are part of a fully hallucinatory realm with its own rules of causality and transformation. That is the way that many Westerners think of it. But the spectrum is divided up by each society or subculture in its own way. What passes for madness in one community may be esteemed as divine revelation in another. What is a vision to some people is, to others, hallucination. The definitions of variously distinguished altered states are therefore socially situated. But there is more to it. The definition of altered states is also implicated in the negotiation of social statuses and political power. Visions of the future may earn a person admiration in some societies, but they will hamper rather than facilitate election to Congress. Because altered states are part of being human, all people have to come to terms with them in one way or another.

 So too, it must have been during the Upper Paleolithic. Were those people hyper-rationalists who dismissed all altered states as aberrations? Unlikely. Or were they like all known hunter-gatherers (and, of course, others as well) who place high value on certain precisely defined altered states? Indeed, the ubiquity of crossculturally very similar altered states among hunter-gatherers points to the high antiquity of the form of ritualized altered states that we call shamanism.

 The Shamanic Cosmos

We now consider two features of altered states of consciousness that contribute to these cross-cultural similarities (Lewis-Williams 1997).

First, as people go into altered states, they often experience sensations of attenuation, rising up and flying. As images appear before them, they believe that they are entering a spiritual realm set in or above the sky. The sensation of flight, naturally enough, suggests transformation into a bird, and, with changes in perspective, they look down onto the level of daily life. Birds are, of course, closely associated with shamans in many cultures. Secondly, as people move towards the “far” end of the spectrum, they experience and are drawn into a vortex. On the sides of this vortex there is sometimes a lattice, in the segments of which appear the first iconic images (Siegel 1977). Feelings of constriction, difficulty in breathing, and of being drawn into the vortex often suggest entrance into a tunnel that leads underground. At the other end of the tunnel is a new realm inhabited by its own beings, spirits, animals, and monsters. All this is wired into the human nervous system. There is a cave in the mind. In shamanic societies these experiences lead to belief in a chthonic realm, an underworld that shamans have the power to visit.

The Mind in the Cave — the Cave in the Mind: Altered Consciousness in the Upper Paleolithic

David J. Lewis-Williams. Anthropology of Consciousnees Volume 9, Issue 1, Article first published online: 8 Jan 2008

DMT Sessions

Posted in Uncategorized on June 13, 2011 by pauljohnwhite

Nearly everyone remarked on the “vibrations” brought on by DMT, the sense of powerful energy pulsing through them at a very rapid and high frequency. Typical comments were: “I was worried that the vibration would blow my head up,” “The colours and vibration were so intense I thought I would pop,” “I didn’t think I would stay in my skin.”

This tidal wave of DMT effects quickly led to losing awareness of the body, causing some volunteers to think they had died. This dissociation of the body and mind paralleled the development of peak visual effects. We typically heard phrases like: “I no longer had a body,” “My body dissolved – I was pure awareness.” There seemed to be a clearly identifiable sense of movement of consciousness away from the body, such as “falling,” “lifting up,” “flying,” a feeling of weightlessness, or rapid movement. ” (Strassman 2001: 146)

“DMT does a lot to our consciousness, but not everything. If we can limit the number of type of experiences DMT produces, we can start focusing on a manageable number of hypothesis to help understand them…Another reason to catagorise these experiences is to support the hypothesis that outside-administered DMT elicits altered states of consciousness similar to those that people report during spontaneous psychedelic experiences: near death and mystical states…

Three major groupings capture nearly all the various experiences within these reports. While most people’s actual drug sessions partook of at least two of these types, one particular catagory usually predominated. These three catagories are personal, invisible, and transpersonal experiences.

Personal DMT experiences were limited to the volunteer’s own mental and physical processes. DMT helped open avenues to his or her personal psychology and relationship to the body…Once volunteers began approaching the furthest boundaries of this catagory, near-death and spiritual themes began to emerge. The personal then became transpersonal.

The hallmark of the invisible catagory is an encounter with seemingly solid and freestanding realities coexisting with this one. When these planes of existence were inhabited, contact by our research subjects with these “beings” made for the most disturbing and unexpected type of DMT session…

The most sought-after and highly prized sessions were the transpersonal ones. These involved near-death and spiritual-mystical experiences.” (Strassman 2001: pp154-155)

Dan Graham: Performer/Audience/Mirror (1977)

Posted in Uncategorized on June 11, 2011 by pauljohnwhite

“Since the mid-1960’s Graham has produced a body of work that functions as a sustained phenomenological inquiry into architectural space and time. Performer/Audience/Mirror (1977) investigates the nature of perception and participation. In the video documentation of his performance at Video Free America in San Francisco, we see the artist standing in front of a silent, seated audience with a mirrored wall behind him. His improvised, continuous observations and interpretations of his and the crowds physical movements articulate the cycles of awareness occurring within his own consciousness and between himself and his viewers. The piece proceeds through four basic stages: Graham faces the audience and describes his external features and behaviour; he describes the audience’s external appearance and behaviour; he turns to face  the mirror, moving about as he describes himself again; and then he describes the audience as he sees it reversed in the mirror. The mirror serves to diminish the boundary between performer and audience as the group collectively becomes conscious of their own bodies and of th performance context. The piece emphasises the shared present moment, with a constant play between delayed observations and instantaneous visual perception.

At the same time that he was videotaping his performances, Graham was also producing installations using mirrors and live recording situations to probe real versus delayed time. In Opposing Mirrors and Video Monitors on Time Delay (1974), the viewer sees him- or herself in a seemingly infinite space created by surveillance cameras, monitors, and mirrors reflecting the opposite side of the room. The images recorded by the cameras are played back on the monitors with a five-second delay. Graham has used the device of time delay repeatedly in his installations; he considers the effect to be present even in works without cameras, such as his pavillions. One such structure, Double Cylinder (The Kiss), commissioned in 1994 by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is constructed of two-way mirror, transparent glass, and steel. The mirror (a central motif for Graham and a number of his contemporaries) both extends and disrupts the space, which is ultimately activated only by the presence of the viewer who moves in and out of it.”  

Zimbardo. T (2008) In Freiling. R (Ed.) The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now. Thames and Hudson. London.

Peter Campus: Dor (Closed circuit colour video installation 1975)

Posted in Uncategorized on June 11, 2011 by pauljohnwhite

“In the 1970’s Campus developed a series of closed-curcuit video installations that examine the viewer’s confrontation with his or her own image. The work Dor, for example, probes the nature of vision and the relationship between absence and presence. Moving toward the entrance of a dark, empty room, the viewer steps into an arena surveyed by a video camera, becoming part of a live recording that is projected onto a wall inside. Entering the installation, one crosses paths with one’s own electronically generated image, an illusion that disappears once the viewer is inside. Campus makes us aware that we can never perceive ourselves as others do.”

Zimbardo. T (2008) In Freiling. R (Ed.) The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now. Thames and Hudson. London.

Peter Campus

Posted in Uncategorized on June 11, 2011 by pauljohnwhite


Born in 1937, Peter Campus studied experimental psychology at Ohio State College and film at the City College of New York. His early tapes explore the anatomy of the video signal in relation to human psychology and perception. “The video camera makes possible an exterior point of view simultaneous with one’s own. This advance over the film camera is due to the vidicon tube, similar to the retina of the eye, continually transposing light (photon) energy into electrical energy… It is easy to utilize video to clarify perceptual situations because it separates the eye-surrogate from the eye-brain experience we are all too familiar with.”

Campus was one of a group of artists in the mid-70s who produced work in the experimental TV labs at WGBH in Boston and WNET in New York. In addition to numerous single-channel works, he has investigated the characteristics of “live” video through closed-circuit video installations and elaborate sculptural works whose structural components included video cameras, projectors, and monitors.