Friday, 29 January 2016

Drawing as data visualisation.

"3 Drawings of Chess Games no.18" by Noah Gubb

The drawings of Noah Gubb remind me of a another tradition in drawing, one that has been documented in detail by Edward Tufte. This type of drawing is usually seen as being the preserve of graphic designers, but as with all visual languages it can be put to use by anyone.  These drawings by Gubb are simply visualisations of various moves in chess games, and of course this reflection on the game of chess returns us to the now familiar grid. As Rosalind Krauss stated in her seminal text 'Grids', "modernist practice continues to generate ever more instances of grids."

Data visualisation is becoming important as the Government are making more and more public bodies release the information they have on us. For instance the health service has statistics on ageing, birth, geographical location of illness, percentage of deaths occurring due to cancer, inherited conditions; local authorities are supposed to open their databases on housing, the police force on crime figures, etc. These figures can be visualised and artists can engage directly with them. 

I believe that if drawing is going to respond to what is happening now, open source data is going to be one of those areas that will provide rich material. As always these things are not new, look at this drawing (below) of Napoleon's troop numbers and their erosion during his Moscow campaign. 

Charles Minard's map of Napoleon's loss of troop numbers is a complex representation in two dimensions of six types of data: the number of Napoleon's troops, represented by a thinning line; distance, represented by the scaled map, which also includes place names and main rivers; temperature, represented by the linear graph at the bottom of the image; latitude and longitude; direction of travel, represented by beige for the outward journey and black the return; and location relative to specific dates. It also creates a remarkable 'abstract' image, this time of course the data visualised is much more about a tragic human folly, than a simple chess game. 

Aaron Koblin (above) has used data to make complex drawings based on aircraft flight patterns. Unlike Minard's diagram they include no other information, they simply show us how beautiful the patterns are, and yet these images also allow us to reflect on how interconnected we all are.   
This drawing machine (see video) was created by capturing and illustrating dozens of individuals’ heart rates, showed each person’s “unique physiological response” to their environment.

This animation (see video) is close to the way I suspect artists will be driving data visualisation in the future. As an area to work in it has the underlying rightness of geometry and a Modernist aesthetic and at the same time can be used to make clear statements about the world and the strange nature of the human condition. 

Mark Lombardi was the artist who brought the diagram of connectivity firmly into the art world. In particular, by undertaking long and intensive research into the connections between people, he was able to open out a dialogue in relation to power structures and to visualise who was related to who and who was making decisions in relation to who was holding both corporate and public money. His work crossed both art and politics, the structures of interconnection he revealed were visually beautiful, but they often revealed the dark underbelly of corporate finance. As Shakespeare would put it, there was a canker in the rose.

Mark Lombardi

This is also an area where collaboration could be used to great advantage, someone who can number crunch is needed, as well as a data manager who can explain what data means to the layperson, the artist of course can add vision into the mix. 

You dont have to be an artist to produce beautiful drawings. This sequence of drawings below are diagrams of engineering formulas, their beauty lies in their authority which comes from what I would call the 'rightness' of mathematical conviction.

The implications of this type of art are immense and if any of you are thinking of a way to extend your skill-set and make it one that will make you more employable, this is an area to get into. 

A Noah Gubb print

Before approaching this type of work read 'The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Tufte', the library has several copies. 

A research program that looks at linking visual data to art and design. I Squares

Other posts of interest:

Computer generated art
Virtual reality
3D Printing
Computer animation
Artificial intelligence 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Josh Armitage

Josh Armitage is the new artist in residence at the centre for recent drawing. See
He is in residence 15 - 29 January 2016 and there will be a reception 6-8pm on the 29th of January if anyone happens to be in London and wants to see how things are progressing.

This is the C4RD statement about his work:
'Josh Armitage's practice has a firm foundation in drawing and animation, expanding over the last two years to include painting. It is Josh's intention during the residency to make a series of large-scale drawings and use this as the basis for his work throughout 2016.
Armitage is influenced by the ideas of artists Henri Matisse, David Bomberg and Roy Oxlade. When drawing, he says his aim is to discover something new. The discovery might be the drawing itself, marks within the drawing, shapes, textures or an idea brought forward by seeing the drawing. If he were to have a complete idea of a drawing in his mind and complete control while he produced it, then for Armitage would be nothing left to discover. Observation allows Armitage to overcome this problem; allowing observation, the observed subject and the process of drawing as integral to the generation of the drawing'.

As always I'm interested in how drawings arrive and so this sentence in particular caught my eye, 'the observed subject and the process of drawing as integral to the generation of the drawing'.

Below are some drawings done on the residency.

There is a straightforward simple exuberance about these drawings that remind me of how enjoyable just making a set of marks in response to what happens to be in front of you can be. Step ladders are always good to draw they exist as a 3D beginning of a grid, as soon as you begin to draw them they start to make interesting structures. You can see Roy Oxlade's influence, Armitage is prepared to just let the marks and lines happen and isn't worried if a mark looks 'child-like', in fact he celebrates the  freshness of any drawing that appears to just arrive out of thin air with a 'rightness'. I would suggest that perhaps the yellow stepladder is closest to Oxalate's temperament, and Armitage has left this alone, obviously feeling that as an image it makes enough of a statement. Compare Armitage's drawings with Oxlade's below. 

Roy Oxlade

The drawings of David Bomberg and Roy Oxlade point to a fascinating but short lived moment of English art education. Oxlade was briefly a student of David Bomberg and therefore he would have been very aware of Bomberg's teachings and the idea of the 'spirit in the mass'. Bomberg had developed a situation around which a small group of artists were drawn, all of which were facinated by the fact that “there is no finality to any form ultimately – everything we see, touch, or know, can always be something else.” This constant re-engagement with looking was at the core of what Bomberg was looking for. Each and every time a drawing was made it was a re-discovery of what it was to look and at the core of this process was a discovery of how something was seen in time. This was 'the spirit in the mass'. Bomberg was very influential on a whole range of British artists, in particular artists who were centred on how to record the awareness of the perceptual dance associated with looking at the world. Cliff Holden, Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach and Dennis Creffield were all members of what was then known as the Borough Group. (This was in the late 1940s early 1950s).
It's interesting to see that this tradition is still seen as a worthwhile pursuit. For some time more conceptual approaches to drawing have held sway, but I have recently seen a return to 'looking' and perpetual questioning. Of course all looking is to some extent conceptual and even the most cool conceptual work involves perception, so there are no hard lines between the two approaches, but the balance shifts and perhaps each time a concept is revisited, something new is brought to the table.  In Armitage's case I would suggest there is more of an awareness of performative approaches. Drawing as both a performance and as a record or documentary of performance action has been of much interest over the last few years and artists currently practicing are therefore, even if not themselves overtly dealing with performance, aware that contemporary audiences 'reading' drawings, often take performative issues into account. 

Centre For Recent Drawing
2-4 Highbury Station Rd LONDON N1 1SB

See also these earlier posts
Denis Creffield
Life drawing

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Mick Peter: Between sculpture and the cartoon

The upcoming KAWS exhibition at the YSP reminded me of the work of Mick Peter. Peter has developed a practice that juxtaposes the solid reality and gravitas of sculpture with the 'throwaway' language of the daily cartoon. His cartoon figures can look as if taken from the work of cartoon artists such as Robert Thompson or Larry but they are in fact illustrations designed by the artist himself.

From the Pyramid Selling exhibition at Tramway: Glasgow

Peter's work has examined the interrelationship between the flat, iconic language of drawing and the material language of sculpture in various previous exhibitions. 

Drawing for Trademark Horizon

Trademark Horizon

The work in the exhibition 'Trademark Horizon' takes the shapes of typical logos and folds them into 3D forms, the drawing for the exhibition, shows how straightforward his working process is, however by pushing the work's scale and creating an installation, he is able to transcend what could be a trite idea and elevate these concerns into a dialogue about the nature of the relationship between flat images and sculptural concerns. 

This is an old dialogue. During the Renaissance debates as to the merits of painting versus those of sculpture were common. Leonardo sets out the main issues. He argues that the demands placed on a painter are much greater than of a sculptor. While the painter had at least 10 visual problems to solve, “light, shade, colour, body, shape, position, distance, nearness, motion and rest”, the sculptor only has to work with “body, shape, position, motion, and rest.” Leonardo also argues that sculpture demands less talent than painting, going on to state that painting importantly involved less physical effort than sculpture, thus illustrating how painting was more cerebral. He rubbishes sculpture, saying that it “causes much perspiration which mingles with the grit and turns to mud”. The sculptor’s face is “pasted and smeared all over with marble powder…his dwelling is dirty and filled with dust and chips of stone.” The painter on the other hand “sits before his work at the greatest of ease, well dressed and applying delicate colours with his light brush”. His home is “clean and adorned with delightful pictures” and he enjoys “the accompaniment of music or the company of the authors of various fine works”. This of course is a key issue, because artists were at the time trying to make sure that their profession was seen as something higher than a mere craft. By pointing out the 'workmanlike' aspects of sculpture, he was trying to associate it with humble 'craftwork'. Leonardo accepts that sculpture’s greatest asset is its three-dimensional quality, however he goes on to state that the painter can equally achieve the effect of relieve (3 dimensional relief) through modelling in light and shade. It is unlikely that Michelangelo agreed with Leonardo on these issues. For centuries the arts had been divided into two categories. “Liberal” and “Mechanical” arts. The Liberal arts were considered to be fitting pursuits for free and noble citizens, being above the labour of handicrafts. Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music represented the scientific Liberal arts because they were based on mathematics. Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric represented the rational side because they dealt with language. Both painting and sculpture had been classed amongst the mechanical arts because they required manual labour. Leonardo argued “With justifiable complaints painting laments that it has been dismissed from the number of the liberal arts, since she is the legitimate daughter of nature and acts through the noblest sense. Thus it is wrong, O writers, to have omitted her from the number of the liberal arts, since she embraces not only the works of nature but also infinite things which nature never created”. 

These arguments as to what is 'proper' or high art, continue, and Mick Peter's work reminded me of how my own interests in art were 'rubbished' by my art tutors when I entered art college in the late 1960s.  My own particular art hero was the cartoonist Giles. I thought his work wonderful and directly relevant to me as a young lad from a working class background. As well as Giles, the Marvel comics illustrator Jack Kirby seemed to me to be someone who could give real visual excitement to a graphic image. However I was soon guided away from these things and told to look at 'proper art'.  Looking back on those times I can now see these debates as continuing ones, ones that will perhaps always be there because those that set the taste for society as a whole tend to be those rich and powerful enough to have their values listened to and taken seriously. We now have a debate as to what are 'English' or 'British' values, another debate as to who tells who what things are good and what are bad. Over time values change, my own work would have been derided as 'illustrative' 40 years ago, it is now accepted as 'narrative' art. 

If you look at Peter's earlier work immediately above, you can see him thinking through the dilemma. His sculptural work is obviously directly influenced by 2D imagery, it operates as relief sculpture and/or sculptural line drawing, however the sources have been effectively covered up or hidden. His more recent work brings his interests out into the open, he is prepared to show full-blown cartoon type images and have confidence that they won't be derided as simply blown up cartoons, but that they will be accepted as interesting reflections on sculptural language and popular culture. 

Mike Peter

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

KAWS, Disney and the aesthetics of babies

A drawing by KAWS

KAWS is coming to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. This is an ideal opportunity to re-examine comics, popular animation, pop art and popular culture as an influence on contemporary practice.
KAWS’s career began as a graffiti artist in New York, in the early 1990s. He went on to study a BFA and then became a freelance artist working for Disney. By the late 1990s, he was designing and producing limited-edition toys. His career spans commercial, street art and fine art, his output blurring the distinctions between these at one time distinct areas of production. What is interesting here is that Pop Art was seen initially as a genre of Fine Art that commented on commercial culture, a practice like KAWS is quite different, it operates as commerce, his toys selling extremely well in Japan whilst at the same time, his presence at the YSP means that his work is taken very seriously in the world of Fine Art.
These blurrings in the differentiation of disciplines suggest that old definitions for Fine Art are breaking down. Academics writing about the discipline I notice are arguing more and more about what it is and what it should be. These are usually signs that a discipline is facing what is called a ‘Paradigm Shift’.  I.e. the reason there is so much new theory about what art is and what it isn’t means that all the old definitions fall short of how the term  ‘Art’ is used now. 
KAWS appropriates the methods and procedures companies like Disney use to broaden their market base. Initially of course relying on entry sales to cinemas to bring in cash, Disney now has a huge range of associated merchandise that it uses alongside its Disneyland franchise. Yes an artist could comment on this, but like Keith Harring before him, KAWS simply operates like Disney.
Bansky has recently opened a theme park, and when you think about it, is all that merchandise sold at the entrance to the Tate and other national museums any different? It could be argued that this type of art celebrates art under capitalism and in looking for opportunities to extend its markets, only reflects the dominant philosophy of its times.

KAWS in working for Disney would have been exposed to one of Disney’s key selling points, ‘cuteness’. Even though KAWS uses skull and crossbones motifs, all his forms have been rendered 'soft' by curvature. They are like Mickey, the product of a compass. 

So in one short step we are back in the world of aesthetics. Why are certain things ‘beautiful’ or ‘seen to be so’. There is arguably an underlying geometric rightness to the psychology as to why we like Mickey Mouse as well as a basic evolutionary necessity. 

Steven Gould’s A biologicalhomage to Mickey Mouseexplains how Mickey evolved from a rather thin rodential form into a more round squat creature with a big head, big eyes, and short limbs. He explains that Mickey was undergoing neoteny: the evolutionary process whereby juvenile features in an ancestor are retained into adulthood in a descendant. Gould also argued that the baby animals we love so much have relatively bigger and rounder heads and eyes, like human babies. 

This softening or rounding of forms is also found in computer drawing software. The curves we find aesthetically pleasing being often 'baby' like in their form. 
We now have a new word 'Disneyfication' which means to take something harsh and difficult and by applying a Disney type aesthetic, make it much more palatable. 

So basically we are hard wired to like babies, thus protecting them from harm and nurturing them when we see them. So those soft curves in a drawing that seem so calming, perhaps strike a chord at the back of the brain that says incoming baby, start calming down and get ready to be nice.
Don't try this at home

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Kabir Hussain

Kabir Hussain: Grimston to Knights Hill, 2013 Bronze

Dont forget to visit the Kabir Hussain exhibition in the college gallery. In particular make sure you look carefully at his charcoal drawings. They are very delicate explorations of space within a landscape format. Look for the careful choice of paper shape and format echoing the strategic placement of spatial divisions made by the charcoal lines. Kabir is an ex-student from the college and was taught on the Foundation course here. At that time we spent many hours looking at 'carving' a line out of the space of the paper. In particular we spent time investigating the Dales out Buckton way. Kabir's work is a welcome reminder of how fruitful landscape can be as a subject, and that sometimes you need to get out of the town and experience nature in its more raw state.

The idea of carving a line in space was initially introduced to students of Kabir's generation using a metaphor of space as a stretchy plastic membrane. See

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Abstraction, mathematics, metaphor and creation

I have recently been looking at ways to write about the moment of a drawing's becoming, trying to find a way of articulating an image’s inception. In my post of January 1st I wrote this sentence as an attempt to get at what I meant, ‘The grounding of the image in the materials of its making, coming together with the force from which the image arises’. See 
However on reflection the writing didn’t really get to grips with what could be called the ‘ontology’ of being faced with the empty vacuum of a clean sheet of paper. Ontology is a metaphysical concept concerned with the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality. Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being, therefore ontology could be seen as the area of study where you get right down to the core of what’s going on.
A mathematical structure is in its essence a set of abstract entities with relations between them. I would argue that we live in a relational reality, our awareness and understanding of the world around us comes not from the properties of its basic components (quarks/electrons/gravity/electromagnetic force etc), but from the relationships that exist between these things.  Therefore my idea that an image arrives from a relationship between materials and some sort of energy or force still to some extent holds water but as an idea it is not as yet stripped down to its conceptual root. In order to do this I am going to attempt to use some mathematical theory, an area I tend to avoid because as an artist I am you could say “mathematically challenged” but as an artist I am also able to poke my fingers into any discipline that helps me understand something or help me with the development of an idea, so bear with me.

The following proposition is a response to George Spencer-Brown’s ‘Laws of Form’, written in 1969.

Let the blank page ☐ denote True or False, because it is a space for possibilities to happen and let a ≠ symbol be read as Not or not as things were. I.e. if the blank page was a sort of truth, then once ≠ was added to it, things will have changed, this difference would mean that what was a truth is now something else, it is not true. Conversely if the blank page is in some way false, by adding ≠ to it, it is now something different and if it is not false it can now be true. 
Then the primary arithmetic would have the following sentential reading:
If ☐ = false, then ☐ ≠ = not false = true
If ☐ = true, then ☐ ≠ = not true = false

This interested me because I hadn’t thought about mathematicians being interested in the blank page. Read in this way the moment before a mark is put on a blank piece of paper is either true or false, however once a mark is put down some sort of truth or falsehood is made and then interestingly when a second mark is put down, that first truth or falsehood is questioned, so we now have an untruth or a new truth. 

The ≠ sign symbolises the essence of how we think about ideas, it indicates the capability of differentiating a "this" from "everything else but this." It represents the drawing of a "distinction", and can be thought of as signifying the act of drawing a boundary around something, thus separating it from everything else; it also represents that which becomes distinct from everything by drawing the distinction or boundary as well as the crossing from one side of the boundary to the other.

So in effect the first mark we make changes things, we have made a distinction between one thing and another, we have created a difference, and in creating this difference a new possibility is born.

This is reminiscent of another area of theoretical conjecture as to how to visualise the moment of creation itself, that moment of the Big Bang; which as Stephen Hawking has stated, was ‘a quantum fluctuation out of nothing’. In the 1960s John Wheeler and Bryce DeWitt combined quantum mechanics and general relativity into a mathematical framework now known as the Wheeler-DeWitt equation. By integrating Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle into the Wheeler-DeWitt equation He, Gao and Cai have argued that a small empty space can come into existence probabilistically due to fluctuations in what physicists call the metastable false vacuum.
‘When this happens, there are two possibilities. If this bubble of space does not expand rapidly, it disappears again almost instantly, but if the bubble can expand to a large enough size, then a universe is created in a way that is irreversible’. (He, Gao and Cai, 2014)
Perhaps there are very close parallels between the moment of a drawing’s inception and how we think about the coming into being of the universe.

Spencer-Brown takes us into some interesting areas. This is a thought experiment taken from the beginning of the first chapter of ‘Laws of Form’.

Draw a distinction.
Call it the first distinction.
Call the space in which it is drawn the space severed or cloven by the distinction.
Call the parts of the space shaped by the severance or cleft the sides of the distinction or, alternatively, the spaces, states, or contents distinguished by the distinction.
Let any mark, token, or sign be taken in any way with or with regard to the distinction as a signal.
Call the use of any signal its intent. (Spencer-Brown in Farrell, 2010, p. 47) 

Going back to Hawking’s ‘quantum fluctuation out of nothing’, we would have to think about ‘nothing’ as existing infinitely and extended everywhere in every direction. However just to be able to think about this is impossible unless you use a metaphor and in our case it is the empty sheet of paper.

This rectangle represents a blank sheet of paper that itself represents an empty box with no sides that exists infinitely and extends everywhere in every direction. The dashed line used to make the rectangle, as explained in the previous post, representing an idea that is not solid, or to some extent invisible. This infinitely extended ‘no-thing’ can be mathematically expressed as an empty hyper-set like so: Ø. Within this space we can draw a simple distinction: (Based on Farrell, 2010)

We now have two spaces, one inside and one outside the circle. The circle in effect is a circumscription of a space. It is though important to remember that what is now inside the circle is actually also the same as but now defined as different from what was circumscribed. Because the original space was infinite the selection would also be infinite.
So a crude mathematical expression of this would be:

If Ø1 represents the original empty hyper-set, then Ø2 could be used to represent the simple distinction or selection and Ø1,2 the boundary that is in effect the common surface between the two spaces that have now been distinguished. We now have three distinguished nothings. A primordial trinity that always includes Ø within it because everything is always composed of what was the original infinitely extended no-thing. This abstract topological construction can now be used as a metaphor for a moment of becoming, of making something from nothing.

This is where mathematics and religion begin to fuse together. The Vedic Padama Purana states:

‘In the beginning of creation the Great Vishnu, desirous of creating the whole world, became threefold: Creator, Preserver, Destroyer. In order to create the world, the supreme spirit produced from the right side of his body himself as Brahma then, in order to preserve the world, he produced from his left side Vishnu; and in order to destroy the world he produced from the middle of his body the eternal Shiva.  (Wilkins, 1991, p. 116) In Christianity we have God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit’.

In my post on Mathematics, Rightness and Underlying Beauty I mentioned that mathematical order, was a 'supreme value', one that is basic to the whole universe. Perspective as a tool is uniquely able to synthesise the practices of observational drawing and geometry, its basic triangular format allowed it in Renaissance times to be used symbolically to represent the Christian ‘Trinity’. As Panofsky states, ‘perspective transforms psychophysiological space into mathematical space’, (p.31), and in its turn mathematical space can be itself subsumed within a theological space, the vanishing point of perspective, effectively becoming ‘the eye of God’, a point from which all others can be derived. See 

What I’m skirting around is that old conundrum, the one that Duchamp was getting at when he decided to reject ‘retinal’ art, I’m looking for structures that can hold meaningful concepts, trying to explore the possibilities for complex thinking within existing frameworks and looking for pointers towards alternative ways of communicating ideas. By moving between disciplines it forces us to use areas of our brains that can become lazy, but perhaps more importantly we can be open to new ideas because we are able to see what we are doing from a different position. In particular I’m interested in how value is made, exchanged and transformed across disciplines. From Marx’s idea of the ‘fetish’, to the concept of money, from art as an honorific term suggesting that it gives a particular value to things, to religious concepts of good and bad. All of which seem at one point or another to slip between meanings and to become at times substitutes for each other. Number becomes a way of measuring the world; money is used to transfer value, itself becoming an abstract measure for the worth of ‘real-life’ transactions. Original sin becomes a debt we all have to pay for, but religious art can command some of the highest prices for commodities that exist in our world. What makes a Van Gogh so expensive? Where does its value lie, and how is an art concept evaluated, weighed and measured against a human life? Well mathematics and order do appear to give underpinning resonance to concepts and Pythagoreans did stress how all life could be underpinned by this mathematical order, including their support of monetary systems which operated using the fact that life's actions such as work could be actually valued/measured as currency. Something that didn't have value before now has one. Monetary value was created out of something that was about life and action, a material, such as silver, is given its validity by the stamp put upon it as it is minted. Paper is stamped with assurances that it is now worth something and we make drawings on paper that may well be worthless, but may also be meaningful. So I'm touching on that something, but not yet putting my finger hard on it, which is quite a good spot to be in, as whenever I try and press too hard down on something it can shy off like a tiddlywink. 

I seem to have rambled into some odd territory, this post was supposed to be about moments of becoming and how to think about creation from nothing. All is I suspect relational, or context dependent; I cannot but bring my own concerns to the table, but in doing so perhaps I can trigger off an interest in someone else, someone with more of a mathematical grasp of possible readings might be intrigued enough to take these ideas further, someone perhaps like Hanne Darboven. 

Hanne Darboven

As an artist Hanne Darboven was able to integrate mathematical logic with her artistic preconceptions. Her drawings often consisted of rows and rows of number sequences. She made lists of numbers from complicated additions or multiplications of personally derived numerical sequences. She developed ‘checksums’ that she used to expose the way that we were driven by the year’s calendrical progression. She developed a drawing system to represent time as both the continuous flux of life and an all-embracing order. ‘Her installation Cultural History 1880–1983, reduces the Gregorian calendrical notation to only forty-two denominations for each century, weaving together cultural, social, and historical references with autobiographical documents, postcards, pinups of film and rock stars, documentary references to the first and second world wars, geometric diagrams for textile weaving, a sampling of New York doorways, illustrated covers from news magazines, the contents of an exhibition catalogue devoted to postwar European and American art, a kitschy literary calendar, and extracts from some of Darboven's earlier works’. See 
Hanne Darboven: ‘My systems are numeric concepts that work according to the laws of progression and/or reduction in the manner of a musical theme with variations.’

Hanne Darboven

Darboven’s attempt to grasp the huge variety of life and its images within a mathematical structure reminded me of what Frances Yates called ‘memory theatres’. One of the chief protagonists in her wonderful book, ‘the Art of Memory’ is Giordano Bruno, his writings not only dealt with rhetoric and associated memory training, but also postulated an alternative to orthodox Christianity, a position that would eventually see him burnt at the stake. Both his works on memory and on cosmology refer to structures, that both impose order and give meaning at the same time. His influence has been long and continuous, James Joyce (1925) stated that ‘His philosophy is a kind of dualism – every power in nature must evolve an opposite in order to realise itself and opposition brings reunion'. He had a concept of God that subsumed in itself the multiplicity of existence, a concept not unlike the idea of a primordial unity of nothingness that infinitely extended throughout everything, which was where I started from, creation and the blank sheet. 

As I make a shape on a piece of empty paper, I am aware that this shape becomes a figure, the surface a ground, this figure and ground relationship develops and changes as I add more shapes, eventually the interrelationship between these two elements may shift, what was a series of shapes may now become a form that operates as a ground, be this abstract or figurative this is a dance out of nothing, a fluctuation of nothings that become somethings, and so it goes, on and on, each time an image is made, each time someone thinks of creation, someone will become fascinated by the process and in this fascination may open a new doorway into their own existence.

 Kant spoke about ‘an intuition of the bare two-oneness’ he was thinking about the time before mathematics came into being, a time when someone began to intuit the idea of counting. Perhaps we are in a similar position when regards to thinking about creation itself, best perhaps to simply create, and not get mixed up with trying to think too much about how to communicate what it is.


Dongshan He, Dongfeng Gao, Qing-yu Cai (2014) Spontaneous creation of the universe from nothing Cornell University Library arXiv:1404.1207v1 accessed on 7. 1. 15

Erwin Panofsky (1991) Perspective as symbolic form New York: Zone Books

George Spencer-Brown (1999) Laws of Form Leipzig: Bohmeier Verlag

James Joyce, Letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver, 27 January 1925, Selected Letters, p. 307

W. J. Wilkins (1991) Hindu Mythology New Delhi: Heritage

Frances Yates (2014) Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition London:Rutledge

Frances Yates (2014) The Art of Memory London: Bodley Head 

Joseph Farrell (2010) Financial Vipers of Venice Port Townsend: Feral House

See also:
Mathematics, rightness and underlying beauty