Archive for January, 2012

Monica Cook: Volley

Posted in Uncategorized on January 22, 2012 by pauljohnwhite

Monica Cook’s “Volley” consists of a stop-animation video, and a group of moveable sculptures and photographs. In “Volley” a series of intimate narrative vignettes takes place in a world of human-like cave dwelling monkeys. Tender, expressive, attractive and repulsive all at once they live, love, dream, and die. The video is hard to watch and at the same time impossible to stop watching.

Animation is a form of magic because movement is a sign of life. To endow a creature with the power of motion is to bring it, partially, imperfectly, to life. Monica Cook’s monkey-creatures are animated by some very wild magic. Cursed by their creator with deeply corrupted bodies, with scarred skin and secret interiors, with pustules and orifices and inconvenient fluids, these creatures are uncomfortably, undeniably alive. And in their imperfection, they are not only individual, they are beautiful. Volley is a love story, in a sense it is the Love Story, that grand tale which we never cease to applaud: The brutality of biological lust tempered by the delicate delusions of adoration. Cook’s beast-beings inhabit a world the colors of spun sugar and wedding mints, where rutting lust and infinite tenderness are indivisible. A mutant monkey with too-human eyes strokes a contented wolf-puppy who dreams of devouring entrails. A perfect luminous monkey-goddess hovers unapproachably, bedecked in lewd sequins. Idealized passions fuse with the violence of birth. Cook renders the sufferings and storms of biological life with loving, unflinching regard, inviting the viewer to both voyeurism and self-reflection.

“It’s tempting to call the film sweet and captivating, except that it is simultaneously repulsive and disturbing. The monkeys are pockmarked with surreal, iridescent growths. We are confronted with bodily functions of fluid and flesh that accompany the typically romanticized themes of love and animal connection. Even more disconcerting is that these terrifying-looking monkeys move and act in a way that reminds us of ourselves. It’s unsettling to think that our bodies have anything in common with these bodies”.-Wyatt Williams

Information located at http://www.re-title.com/exhibitions/PostmastersGallery.asp and accessed on 21/01/12.

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Hal Foster: The Return of the Real

Posted in Uncategorized on January 22, 2012 by pauljohnwhite

Each epoch dreams the next, as Walter Benjamin once remarked, but in doing so revises the one before it. There is no simple now: every present is nonsynchronous, a mix of different times; thus there is no timely transition between the modern and postmodern. (p207)

In “The Mirror Stage” Lacan argues that our ego is first formed in primordial apprehension of our body in a mirror (though any reflection will do), an anticipatory image of corporeal unity that as infants we do not yet possess. This image founds our ego in this infantile moment as imaginary, that is, locked in an identification that is also an alienation. For at the very moment that we see our self in the mirror we see this self as image, as other, moreover, it is usually confirmed by another other – the adult in whose presence the recognition is made. Importantly Lacan suggests that this imaginary unity of the mirror stage produces a retroactive fantasy of a prior stage when our body was still in pieces, a fantasy of a chaotic body, fragmentary and fluid, given over to drives that always threaten to overwhelm us; a fantasy that haunts us for the rest of our life – all those pressured moments when one feels about to shatter. In a sense our ego is pledged first and foremost against the return of this body in pieces; this threat turns the ego into an armor (a term Lacan uses) to be deployed aggressively against the chaotic world within and without – but especially without, against all others who seem to represent this chaos […] The modern subject becomes armoured – against otherness within (sexuality, the unconscious) and otherness without (for the fascist this can mean Jews, Communists, gays, women), all figures of this fear of the body in pieces again, of the body given over to the fragmentary and the fluid. (p210)

In the New World Order (brazenly defined by George Bush) difference is an object of consumption too, as mega-corporations like Coca-Cola (We are the World) and Benetton (United Colours) know well. (p212)

Foster, H (1996) The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century. MIT Press. London.

Laura Buckley: Fata Morgana

Posted in Uncategorized on January 22, 2012 by pauljohnwhite

Fata Morgana is an ambitious single screen installation. The title refers to a highly complex superior mirage where inverted and erect images are stacked one on top of another causing an object on the horizon to be distorted beyond recognition. The name also refers to Morgan le Fay, mythical figure from the Arthurian legends at once a villain, seductress, witch, healer or goddess, her unquestionable power is dictated by her ability to shape-shift throughout the myths and legends in which she appears.

This personification of a natural phenomenon and anthropomorphic sensibility in humanity gently riffs through Buckley’s work. For the past four years the artist has been producing multifaceted installations incorporating components ranging from motorised plywood structures, Perspex sculptures, sound and projected moving image. Her idiosyncratic use of light both within her installations and films is exacerbated by the sleek surfaces she includes which reflect projections onto the viewer, or are the focus and subject matter of the films themselves.

Where previously mechanical movement of objects has made up an important part of her installations, in Fata Morgana both the film and the sculpture are static. This allows the fast paced edit of the film and surface of the sculpture to interact with the body and perception of the entering viewer, including and absorbing them into the kaleidoscopic installation.

Originally trained as a painter Buckley now builds upon her experimentation with image making via techniques of scanning. Her recent investigations into the abilities of a flatbed scanner to record objects in motion are entitled Moving Image Series and are included alongside the more overtly sculptural work. By moving readymade and assembled sculptures over the bed of the machine she allows the mobile lens of the scanner to capture their foreshortened surfaces and movement. For Fata Morgana, Buckley has used the most basic form of animation – filming a still image by scrolling it in-front of the cameras lens – in much the same way the objects themselves were moved before the lens of the scanner. Thereby transferring them between sculpture and moving image work to create a physical and visual presence from light rather than paint.

Often shooting her digital footage on a mobile phone or handheld camera Buckley’s projected digital films conjure up memories of early modernist experiments in form and motion by László Moholy-Nagy or Marcel Duchamp’s Rotoreliefs. Focusing on simple everyday encounters with the world, which when absorbed by the entire installation become elements of a larger composition or abstract narrative. By dissolving the resolution between artwork and the body’s encounter with it Buckley allows the viewer to become entirely subsumed by the abstract image causing a hypnotic or trance-like experience.

Information located at http://www.re-title.com/exhibitions/CellProjectSpace.asp and accessed on 22/01/12.

Rupert Sheldrake on intuition, creativity and ‘morphic fields’

Posted in Uncategorized on January 16, 2012 by pauljohnwhite

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake is best known for his concept of ‘morphogenetic fields’. His interest for the idea of morphogenetic fields grew out of the conviction that processes in nature are not governed solely by the known laws of physics and chemistry. He gradually became convinced that the conventional approach was unnecessarily restrictive and dismissed the idea that, for instance, the chemical constitution of the genes determines the forms and instincts of organisms. He describes the current paradigm shift as one from a mechanistic to an organismic (or holistic) theory of reality. The key word in his organismic view of the world is ‘habit’. His theory of morphogenetic fields proposes that memory is inherent in nature. It suggests that natural systems inherit a collective memory from all previous things of their kind.

“When any particular organised system ceases to exist, when an atom splits, an animal dies, its organising field disappears from that place. However, morphic fields can appear again physically in other times and places, wherever and whenever the physical conditions are appropriate. When they do so, they contain within themselves a memory of their previous physical existences. The process by which the pat becomes present within morphic fields is called ‘morphic resonance’”. This implies that each species has a kind of collective memory from which all members of the species draw and to which all of them contribute. (pp253-254)

Sheldrake compares the functioning of morphogenetic fields with that of the unconscious. “Consciousness,” he says, “is only one aspect of our mental activity.” The morphic fields he is occupied with largely work unconsciously, habitually. Sheldrake proposes a level between mechanism and consciousness – the realm of unconscious soul or unconscious habit – which is organised by morphic fields. In his view animals and plants are purposive but these purposes are unconscious. The hypothesis also suggests that styles and forms of art represent morphic fields. The notion of morphic resonance helps us to understand the origin of new fields. Sometimes we have intuitive flashes that are completely original, that are new. In those cases they cannot be explained in terms of a memory of what has gone before and we are confronted with the mystery of creativity. Morphic resonance explains how habits develop and endure. But Sheldrake says it does not explain how creativity comes about in the first place. New morphic fields – new paradigms – begin as insights, intuitive leaps, guesses, or conjectures. They are like mental mutations. “Our fascination with innovations and human creativity is one way in which we experience evolution as a living idea. Should we find that we are indeed living in a world of evolving habits, we will have to change our way of thinking entirely. We will have to adopt habits appropriate for a world that is living and open to continuing creation.” Creativity is always working against the backdrop of habits which, if successful, is then repeated: habits therefore grow out of creativity. In art creativity brings about new styles. There are paradigm shifts in art – like the outbreak of Modernism – attempts to move out of patterns of habit. More popular arts like popular music, architecture, cinema and television are obviously very important but are not normally considered ‘art’. Only looking at the past do we see some important changes in science that were preceded by artistic leaps, such as the use of perspective in the Renaissance. (p254)

The question I am dealing with is how form and order come into being in living organisms and indeed in nature as a whole. The idea of form-shaping fields, morphogenetic fields, has been around for at least sixty years. This idea of invisible fields which shape and guide the development of organisms is the starting point for my own ideas. What I am saying is that the form and the instincts of organisms are inherited as a kind of collective memory from past members of their species and that this inheritance does not go through the genes, but is a non-material kind of memory. Organisms tune in directly to past memories of the species. (p256)

The present conventional world view in biology is based on a mechanistic theory of nature which says there is no life, purpose, spontaneity, or truly self-organising capacity in living organisms the=at bears any relation to what people used to call ‘the soul’. There is no animating principle. It says that living organisms are inanimate. What I am suggesting with the idea of the morphic or morphogenetic field is that there is an organising principle within organisms, that living organisms are not inanimate in the normal sense, but that there is this invisible organising field which plays much the same role as the soul used to do in older kinds of biology. If one takes the view that nature is alive rather than dead, that organisms have a kind of inherent memory, that the laws of nature are in fact more like habits, then one has a completely different view of reality. It is a view of reality in which things are possible that are not possible in the conventional world view of science. I think that the worst thing about the mechanistic system is that it tells us that nature is not truly alive, but is just machinery. It is extremely anthropocentric. It involves projecting our own human concerns on to the whole world, without really looking at nature as it is. That leads to a false view of nature because it is too man-centred. We are the only organisms in the universe that create machines and our preoccupation with machines and mechanisms is projected on to the whole of nature, so the whole of nature is seen as some kind of machinery, rather than as something that is truly organic or truly alive. This alienates us from nature. It creates a false sense of what the universe is and what life is. It also leads us to think of ourselves as machines. People like to think of their bodies as machinery; the heart is just a pump, the brain is just a computer. That kind of view takes us out of our bodies and out of nature. It is as if we are somehow outside nature. (pp256-257)

The mechanistic world view drives the soul and the spirit out of nature. It says nature is just an inanimate, purposeless mechanism and our bodies are just inanimate, purposeless mechanisms. When Descartes drove the soul and the spirit out of nature, the only residue of the soul left in the whole natural world was a small part of the human brain, the rational soul which he thought was best expressed by doing mathematics. Other people say, “Well there is no such thing as the soul or the spirit in the human brain. Human brains are just mechanisms like everything else”. In theory that indeed totally eliminates the soul and the spirit from the whole realm of nature. Of course in practice it doesn’t eliminate it. (p257)

I think the key thing to recognise is that consciousness is one aspect of our mind. But there is a large part of our mental activity of which we are not conscious. I think that something like the unconscious mind is operating throughout the natural realm. The morphic fields I am talking about which organise the development of plants and animals, largely work unconsciously, habitually. They are more like our unconscious minds than our conscious minds. There is a level between mechanism and consciousness which is that of unconscious soul, or unconscious habit. That realm I think is organised by morphic fields. So I think that animals and plants are purposive, but I don’t think their purposes are conscious for the most part. Just as our own unconscious minds are purposive, but we are not conscious of their purposes or their activity most of the time. (p258)

There are tests in animal behaviour that can be done. The theory predicts that animals trained to learn a trick in one place will influence other animals of the same breed elsewhere, so that they subsequently can learn the same thing more quickly by an invisible connection acting at a distance. It should happen anyway, even in the absence of any known means of communication. When you actually see birds flying in flocks or spiders spinning their webs or flowers blooming in gardens, the scientific picture seems very two-dimensional. It seems to be leaving some essential feature of life out of the picture. The idea that there is a kind of inherent memory came to me in a flash. (p259)

There are two kinds of intuitive flashes. One is an intuitive flash where you are intuiting something that millions before you have known. You may suddenly have an insight which is original for you, but which is not original for humanity as a whole. Each of us goes through various stages in our education when we suddenly realise things, but they are usually things our fathers and mothers and grandparents and many others before us have realised in the course of their growing up. These kinds of intuitive flashes are things where morphic resonance, which is sort of an inherited memory, may well play a part. But sometimes we have intuitive flashes that are completely original, that are new, that are things that other people haven’t thought of at all. They can’t be explained in terms of a memory of what has gone before, because they are new. We come up against the mystery of creativity, of how things come to happen. (p260)

All of us are creatures of habit. We build up our own habits and we inherit cultural habits. For example in our language we inherit the whole vocabulary. I have not invented the English language. The vast majority of words were already there when I was born. The basic habits, the metaphors, the implicit cultural understanding that go with the language are habits you inherit. So most of us inherit cultural habits, we build up our own personal habits, we have social habits and our creativity happens against a huge background of habit. If individual creativity is successful, if it is useful, something takes root and is repeated, then new habits grow out of that creativity. (pp260-261)

I think mechanistic science is related to the single point of view of perspective painting. It is also related to a sense of the detached observer. In the Middle Ages the standard world view was that of a static earth with everything moving around it. The change in the Copernican picture was that the earth was spinning on its axis, moving around the sun. The changing point of view involved stepping outside the earth. The Copernican point of view requires us to imagine that we are observing from outside the earth, imagine that we are looking from the moon or looking from space. It involves imagining that we are disembodied minds, that we have left our bodies behind us, because minds can travel freely through space. There is a sense in which the vision of the earth from the moon that the astronauts saw was nothing new. It was nothing surprising at all. Ever since 1540, since the time of Copernicus, this is exactly what people expected to see. They had already seen it with the imagination and we have already seen it in every schoolroom. In every geography class there is a globe with its axis, a ball that spins on its axis. That has been the standard world view for four hundred years or more. (p262)

Tisdall, C, Wijers, L, Kamphof, I (Eds.)(1990) Art meets Science and Spirituality in a changing Economy. SDU Publishers. Amsterdam.

2001: A Space Odyssey (surreal ending sequence)

Posted in Uncategorized on January 16, 2012 by pauljohnwhite

Francisco Varela

Posted in Uncategorized on January 16, 2012 by pauljohnwhite

Francisco J. Varela is a biologist/neurophysiologist and also a Buddhist. His theoretical work concerning perception as a cognitive domain – where what we perceive is created by our very own mental process – is certainly of interest to artists, since artists invariably have to deal with human perception as the principle vehicle of artistic experience. (p184)

Together with (Humberto) Maturana, Varela proposed the notion of the organism as an operationally closed system, whereby any knowledge about the environment is the result of internal processing of perturbations partly coming from the environment, but partly also due to the internal dynamics of the system. An organism can only know about its environment via changes the environment introduces into its own structure. Thus the old notion of representationalism – that there is a one-to-one relationship between the outside world and our internal image of it – is replaced by the notion of coherence. The viability of our image of reality is checked against the ‘truth’ of survival. If the match between the world and our image of it is not close enough, we will not survive. Any direct check against the ‘facts’ out there is only an illusion, since we only have access to those facts through the processing of neurophysiological events within our nervous system. From the point of view of the organism, there is only ‘itself’. The notion of an outside reality is a concept, an abstraction, based on repeated experience. How then can we be sure there is an outside world? In terms of traditional philosophy, this notion of operational closure might be referred to as solipsism or the idea that everything other than the self is only an idea, ultimately non-existent, that the self somehow dreams it up. At this point it is important to consider biology. Solipsism is an abstraction. It resembles a still photograph. It doesn’t incorporate time. In nature everything involves time. The logical abstraction ‘If A, then not-A’ may be a paradox in philosophy, but applied in nature it resembles the principle of an electric buzzer. The closing of the circuit (‘ON’) triggers a switch that breaks the circuit, resulting in a continuous ON/OFF-sequence. When time is introduced, paradox (static) becomes oscillation (dynamic). Varela describes the act of perceiving as a dynamic process. It deals with differences in time (on/off states in neurons). Also, perception as an evolutionary faculty has developed over time. Whatever I ‘see’ is determined not just by what happens in that very moment, but by my own structural coupling with my environment, both during my lifetime (learning and other social phenomena) and during the evolution of the human species, its learning process. Language is not just a ‘tool’, a ‘means to an end’ but a level of complexity, a ‘domain’ within which we exist and which makes us human. Varela, “Language was not made by man, but rather the other way around.” (pp186-187)

When I see something which seems to be out there, like a book or a shape or a colour, it is fact not something sitting out there waiting for me to recognise it as if I was somebody parachuted down from another planet. Rather there is a mutual history of what it appears as the world and what I am as a living being with brains and a body. We cannot separate these two poles of the reality equation. We are just beginning to apprehend the realities out there. Marvin Minsky said: ‘The human brain is a computer made of meat’. That is the main line of the Western tradition. We can broadly call it the rationalist tradition, wherein knowledge and mind are fundamentally about abstraction and reasoning and deduction and logic. When the cognitive sciences today try to understand simple things like seeing a colour or a shape, they find that this particular view of the mind that has dominated our tradition simply won’t do. (p188)

When we examine the processes of cognition and knowledge and we use computer metaphors, we are actually missing what is the most interesting part of cognition. Firstly, the fact that whatever it is that we know, it is not separate from what we do to know it. There is that inseparatability between knower and known which is not at all what happens in an engineering perspective, where the machine is supposed to know what you expect of it. Secondly the key is the question of creativity. For an animal, or a living being, the world is something that he actually shapes and creates in evolution and its own history. It is not something that is a given. Mind and cognition are fundamentally about being embodied into actions in the world. (pp190-191)

The way you and I as primates see what we call colour is not at all the way other species see it. It is easy for human beings to understand that different cultures have a different view of what beauty or justice is. We have no problem accepting that we live in a multiverse of social constructs. What I’m trying to show with this research is that multiversality carries on all the way down to how you feel and how you perceive. The proper cross-cultural comparison would be between humans and birds and fishes and insects, because each one of these groups has something that is proper to call colour-vision, but that is so different from ours that it cannot be accounted for as just another view of the same thing out there. It is in fact a different world. For example birds happen to have a different dimension in their colour space. Their vision of colour is as different as our perception would be to a creature that only has two dimensions. A third dimension in space is inconceivable for a flat creature. (p193)

Maniacally we want to solidify things, maniacally. If you don’t know that you have blind spots, if you don’t know that your understanding is not really profoundly grounded anywhere, then you are going to approach your life in a very different way. The Buddhist tradition has made its own discovery of this groundless nature of human reality which is one of the reasons why I’m so interested in it. It says that you cannot rely on some absolute truth or absolute judgement, that every form of knowing and every form of ignorance is contextual. If you don’t pay attention to what it is for you in your life to confront that lack of foundation, you are going to fall into the pitfall of nihilism. (p195)

Causality is not just out there. Causality also applies to your own mind. That is, what you know and what you ignore is also a matter of internal dynamics, of an internal cause pattern. What you call yourself – this is the key point – is also a result of causality. There is not something intrinsic and profound, and transcendental that you call ‘me’. What you call ‘me’ is a designation for something that has a cause and effect. Every time you try to decompose a process of mind, be it a memory, perception or awareness, you find a pattern that then gives rise to a certain process. It is the same as you find everywhere in the world. The mind itself can be seen as a process. (p196)

On creativity

Normally when we think of our mind we have the feeling that there is a great continuity, that it is a solid thing. But the creative process, and for that matter the spiritual process, is partly a process of learning to be much lighter. It means a light touch about what is happening in your mind. So there is a moment when you can just let go. And at that moment there is a break, a gap, and within that gap there is that open ground which is ‘Being’. Out of that comes the eternal source of novelty and insight. In fact insight is something that comes at the point of discontinuity. In the practice of meditation you see that very precisely. Artists know that very well too. They always say “Relax your mind. Don’t manipulate your state of mind”. If you want to really create something you can not be in control, you have to let go. (p197)

Language

When we grow up and constitute this ‘it’ that we call ‘me’, this does not happen just inside my skull, because it happens among human beings as a constant process of exchange. We actually emerge and arise within language. Language doesn’t belong to you, to me or to anybody. Language in fact exists like air. It is a medium in which we all exist. It is not that we actually learn language, it is more like language learns us. It is very intimate, because my ‘self’ and your ‘self’ have exactly the same source, yet we human beings continue to exchange language as if it were just a process of ‘communication’. Without language it is just not possible to have that ‘you’ you call ‘you’. You have ways of exchange through all sensory modalities. The great novelty of language is that it actually allows an unbounded creativity of multiverses within it. Any of the other forms of sensory coupling do not have the capacity for self reflection. Colour cannot reflect upon colour. (p198)

Tisdall, C, Wijers, L, Kamphof, I (Eds.)(1990) Art meets Science and Spirituality in a changing Economy. SDU Publishers. Amsterdam.

Jaume Plensa at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Posted in Uncategorized on January 16, 2012 by pauljohnwhite