Saturday, 25 April 2020

Drawing for site specific proposals

Occasionally I decide to look at one particular artist or artwork in order to highlight a certain aspect of drawing practice. I have looked at Krzysztof Wodiczko before but in this case what I wanted to do was to show how important drawing can be for project visualisation, and as a help when thinking through how to communicate site specific proposals. 

Monument for the Living

'Monument for the Living' is a work typical of Wodiczko's practice and it shows how he can fuse a political message with a gripping visual image, in this case a talking statue. Political art can so often be dry and visually uninteresting, but Wodiczko is aware of the need for messages to be contained within seemingly magical structures, especially if they are to have resonance beyond the particular and go on to have mythical impact. 

'Monument for the Living'

Wodiczko has always used drawing as a way to think through his ideas. 

Mobile Home for the Homeless 

Drawing for projection

Ideas for various previous projects

In developing 'Monument for the Living' Wodiczko uses drawing to work out how it would be possible to project onto a statue and where a projector needs to be sited in order to achieve his ambition. 

Drawings made to work out the positioning of a projector 

The drawings above are working drawings and would not normally be exhibited, but they are vital to an understanding of Wodiczko's practice. Look at this proposal  that Wodiczko put together for a different but related site specific public monument. Once again drawing is central to the communication of the idea. This time he is using a drawing to communicate how the piece would work to the project commissioners rather that as a way of thinking his way through to an idea's solution, this is why it is a far more 'finished' drawing. But I would hope that the relationship between the two sorts of drawings is clear. Without the initial 'thinking the idea through' drawing, he would not have been able to put together the finished drawing for the proposal.  

Speaking statues: installation proposal drawing

It's interesting to compare his practice to Michelangelo's who also had to propose large scale public monumental art works and convince people to pay for what he was making.

Michelangelo working drawing

Michelangelo: 'Finished' drawing for a client

Using drawing to think through proposals and to communicate your ideas to other people is perhaps going to become more and more important, especially if as artists we are going to find ourselves having to communicate more on line. Wodiczko is a particularly interesting artist to research if you are wanting to think about the potential for site specific projection work. 

See also: 

Monday, 20 April 2020

Drawing and isolation

Carlo Giambarresi

We are all being forced to spend a large amount of time isolated from each other and this means that all activities, not just art and drawing are being seen in a different light and there is an undercurrent of debate as to whether or not things will ever return to 'normal'.  However this situation isn't new and it has been coming, almost inevitably for a while. Therefore it seems an appropriate moment to both contextualise the situation and to provide some links to places where as students you can get help to think about the on-line presentation or archival of your work, as well as links to sites that can help you with on line software tutorials and interesting art. 

During the early 1980s New York was a thriving centre for culture, it had a large number of artists and other creatives that had been attracted to the city because of the policies of Ed Koch the then mayor, who used a combination of arts grants and low rents to attract artists to a then crumbling inner city with a large amount of vacant buildings. The cultural mix was eclectic and exciting and many of the iconic artists we now see as seminal (Jeff Koons, Peter Halley, Ashley Bickerton, Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring) emerged from the city of New York during this time. However then AIDS emerged and as it did it changed the way that people thought about creativity and human relationships. Close sexual contact, first of all between same sex partners, (it was quickly realised this wasn't a 'gay plague' as the media would have liked to call it), and then simply between people, became fraught with worry and the idea of social distancing came into being, especially because at the same time the use of mobile phones was rising and so was the use of the internet, which meant there was an alternative technological space to mentally live in. In 1984, William Gibson uses the term 'cyberspace' for the first time in his science fiction novel Neuromancer, a book that set out an idea of a future whereby humans would interact more with technology than other humans.  For the first time in human history a plague had coincided with a way of isolating that still allowed people to carry on with their lives. But we have had to live with the consequences. As Franco Berardi put it, "AIDS was mainly a psycho-media epidemic. It was based on the communication of a retro virus, but it resulted in the communication of fear." (2018, p. 71) 
See: Berardi, F (2018) Breathing South Pasadena: Semiotext(e)

Mark Lombardi

If there was any one artist that I would suggest exemplifies the issues arising at the time, I would suggest it would be Mark Lombardi. Lombardi's drawings were of relationships, relationships that illustrated the connections that people in power had and how their networks made things happen. Power, privilege and money were seen to be the result of often hidden relationships and Lombardi's images demonstrated the strange diagrammatic beauty of these things, with drawings that at times could look like forms of cellular life. Although he began making his diagrams in the late 1980s Lombardi didn't become well known for this type of work until the mid 1990s, but essentially his work is rooted in 1980s political culture. If there is a historical precedent for Lombardi's work it is probably Hans Haacke's, 'Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real Time Social System as of May 1, 1971', which traces the New York properties of a single slumlord through charts, maps and photographs. What both these types of work have in common is the fact that the real messy lives of people are no longer central to the work, what the artist does is stand back and reveal the systems that destroy or shape people's lives, rather than the emotional messiness of lives themselves. Physical contact between humans was beginning to become inessential. 

Hans Haacke

Theoretically if you were to look back in history for a book that began to lay out the arguments in relation to human beings and technology it would have to be Lewis Mumford's 'Technics and Civilisation' first published in 1934. (Mumford, L. (2010) Technics and Civilisation Chicago: University of Chicago Press) The book looks at the history of technology and its role in shaping and being shaped by civilisation. He argues that it is in the moral, economic, and political choices we make, not the technology we use, that we shape our destinies. So what choices will we make as to how we want society to develop after we come out of enforced isolation? As artists we will have to engage with these questions and as educators those of us with teaching roles will have to ensure that the implications of choices made are both understood and clarified. These are interesting times indeed. 

So what resources should you be looking at in order to temporarily present work using online resources? 
My old friend Terry Hammill sent me a link to an online drawing exhibition recently and it reminded me that we will all need to be able to show work online in future. Philippa Nikulinsky is an interesting artist that takes one category of art, the depiction of nature, and by developing the implications of format begins to transcend the category and make work that stands on its own as 'art'. However I don't want to get into the old is it art or illustration debate, as far as I'm concerned it just comes down to 'is it interesting or not' and in this case I'm interested. In particular its interesting how this work sits within an online gallery. You can look at Nikulinsky's work here and the website has a virtual gallery walk through to try. Compare the way the work looks with the Subsidiary Projects online Gallery. I have tried to use 360 degree camera technology myself as a way to show drawings, mainly because my drawings tend to include too much detail for single on screen images to work, but I never quite resolved it. Anyway thanks to Adam who took the images and developed the process of knitting the images together, without him I would never have started the process. You can get an idea of where we got to by clicking on the two links below.

Garry Barker 360 degree exhibition 
Garry Barker 360 degree studio drawing 

However if you just want to draw up a more convincing space within which to exhibit artwork, for instance if wanting to demonstrate where paintings might be hung in an exhibition, you could use SketchUp to model the space or use an on line gallery template.

From this week I begin doing on line tutorials and we will be using Google Hangouts. I'm sure things will be fine but as its the first time I've used the technology I'm a little worried, especially because my bandwidth here is not very good and when I tried before I managed to get a lot of frozen faces on small screens and very occasional voices emerging from a very slow time delay, I might as well have been using a telegraph system. 

However new resources are becoming available, try this new blog

and here are more links to online information for students

On line resources 

Personally I like to see what's going on in the art world by looking at Art 21

For those of you thinking about how to put portfolios together for assessment you will be getting e mails about changes from your heads of years. 

For those of you getting stressed try some of the techniques suggested in the 5 blog posts on Drawing and Mindfulness  

See also:

Drawing as exhibition proposals

Current second year exhibition of Leeds Arts University fine art students

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Patrick S. Ford: A Dialogue with the Landscape.

Guest drawing blogger: Patrick S. Ford

A Dialogue with the Landscape.

I Grew up in England, with its long tradition of landscape art, and studied at Jacob Kramer College (as Leeds Arts University was known at the time). I first studied there from 1977-78 and then again from 1980-81.

Among the many wonderful and unforgettable experiences I had at Jacob Kramer, the week-long drawing trip to Wharfedale was arguably the high-point for me. I could never forget sitting up on the hills in the cold for hours on end making marks, erasing marks, making new marks, struggling to capture the particular character or personality of a specific section of the valley. The search for the appropriate marks that could express weight and convey distance and form in the landscape were the goals of those drawings. I quickly became aware that the resulting drawings were not simply an objective recording of the chosen landscape, nor were they merely an attempt to depict the landscape as a two dimensional image. The final images were more than that, they seemed to be a struggle to find a way of conveying a physical experience by recording that experience as a specific collection of marks, in a similar way to how binary code stores complex sets of information about the world.   

‘Wharfedale’, 1981

As I made these drawings I first had to ignore the temperature and the fact that I had not dressed appropriately for a day on the hills. I sat on a plastic sheet, with snow lying all around me. As I drew a stick of compressed charcoal across the sheet of paper, I followed the lines of the drystone walls I could see on the opposite side of the valley. I imagined myself walking there, hugging the walls for protection against the wind, climbing the hill towards the crest. As my imagination walked across the hillside, the piece of charcoal in my hand scraped correspondingly across the paper surface.
The resulting drawn image may not have been an exact visual copy of that part of Wharfedale but that would only be apparent if the drawing were held at arm’s length to the valley beyond. Once a drawing has left the location that triggered its creation it must work as an independent, resolved image able to exist on its own merit and not reliant on any comparison with a particular place and in my case a particular part of Yorkshire.

Fast forward now around 40 years and I found myself living on Cheung Chau Island, part of the territory or Hong Kong. During the 6 years I had been living on the island I had developed a regular late afternoon walk which I undertook every Saturday and Sunday unless it was raining heavily. Along the route of the walk I had noticed numerous boulders that lay in various parts of the island. Some of them lay very close to the path I traced and as I walked quite slowly I had time to look at them closely. On many of them the surface had been eroded by the wind and water into a texture that resembled miniature vermiculation reminiscent of the type to be seen on the lower stories of renaissance buildings. One in particular attracted me due to a large crack that ran vertically down the rock. The combination of the fissure in the rock and the surface texture I thought was quite striking. It could almost have been sculpted deliberately.
At the time, in my notebooks, I had been testing various drawing materials, such as willow and compressed charcoal, pastels, soft pencils and so on by laying thin sheets of paper onto the floor on my balcony to see which materials picked up the details of the floor surface in a more effective way. I was investigating different methods of mark making although at the time I did not have a particular application in mind. When I saw the fissured rock on my weekend walk I put the two together and decided to trace the wonderful texture of the rock with the most effective materials I had determined from my tests. 

The next weekend I took out a few sheets of thin, Chinese ink painting paper, some willow charcoal and located a few rocks that could serve as experimental subjects.
I spent a few minutes deciding which part of the rock to lay the paper on and then laid out my materials to be at arms-length while I worked. I would be holding the paper with one hand and pressing the charcoal onto the paper with the other. I carefully picked up the texture of the rock by utilising the frottage technique, the kind often used to record brass memorials in old churches. Care was needed and some practice required as I found that a certain amount of pressure was needed to pick up sufficient texture from the rock, but not too much pressure as that would tear the thin Chinese ink paper. I worked on 3 different rocks before moving on to the one with a distinctive crack running through it. This I felt to be the best of the group as it had an individual, distinct character. Although I was picking up the natural texture of the rock by rubbing the charcoal across the paper, I found that I could intensify certain parts of the emerging image in order to create emphasis. I therefore realised that I could exert some control over the marks being made and it was not simply a matter of recording the rock texture mechanically. The hand that held the paper in place while I drew was forced to move as I concentrated the drawing on different parts of the paper and through that hand I could sense the texture and temperature of the rock beneath.

In this way, as I used my hands to sense the form of the rocks, I gained an understanding of their make-up and which allowed me to respond later in an empathetic way. I had already expected that I may then have to work further on these initial images in order to clarify the visual imprint the rocks had left.

The drawings were the end result of a direct tactile interaction between the natural landscape and my hands. The experience was quite sculptural in a way, almost as though I was physically shaping the rocks in clay or a similar malleable material. It was as if the activity I was engaged in would somehow record the residue of the rocks’ presence onto the paper. Paul Klee would suggest that this residue would be generated by the naturally occurring energy of the rocks. Although the scale was different, I now realise that this ‘presence’ was what I was attempting to record onto paper back in Warfedale.

Reviewing my first round of drawings on Cheung Chau, I sensed that some drawings seemed to be almost fully resolved while others required some further work in order to resolve them. This further work was completed back in my studio and it was important for me to reflect on the experience I gained out in the landscape, so that my responses in the studio would be sympathetic with the marks made out in the field.
My overall aim was to combine the natural marks and textures created by the technique of ‘frottage’ and the sympathetic application of marks and tones added later in the studio.

Relief Drawing A – 33(h) x 22cm(w)

Relief Drawing B – 29.5(h) x 34.5cm(w)

Relief Drawing C – 32.5(h) x 35cm(w)

Relief Drawing D – 31.5(h) x 34.5cm(w)

Following this initial experimentation, I decided to move on to the next stage.
For this second round of experiments I chose a spot on a local beach. Here I found horizontal rocks emerging from the sand, full of character and ideal for my project. As these rocks formed the ground I walked upon it was therefore easier to lay out larger sheets of paper and use rocks as weights, rather than relying on my left hand to hold them in place while I worked.
On the day I chose to make my drawings it was very hot. I wore a straw hat from Okinawa that gave me shelter from the sun and allowed air to circulate through the weave. During the session that day I aimed to make two drawings. I took the roll of Chinese paper and a large square of paper that was not as sensitive as the Chinese ink paper, but being much larger it allowed me to experiment on a larger scale. It made sense to document the process and Nina, Yiu Lai Lei made the video recording for me.

Video: the making of relief drawing1

Working on the beach: Relief Drawing 1

Video: the making of relief drawing2

Working on the beach: Relief Drawing 2

Back in the studio I laid out the two drawings and reviewed them. The one I had made using the roll of Chinese ink paper seemed to me to be fully resolved. It had recorded quite a lot of the surface texture and the overall image had a strong personality. It seemed there was nothing missing and therefore nothing for me to add that could have improved it.
The larger, square sheet seemed a little unresolved so I felt I had to work more on it. Perhaps as this sheet of paper was not as sensitive it had not picked up as much of the surface texture. The contrast in the marks was greater (fewer half-tones had been created) and the marks seemed quite linear when compared to the other drawing. At first I was disappointed. I had been so pleased with the first drawing I assumed the larger drawing to be similar but more extensive. However, as I began work on it I realised my assumption was wrong. The paper surface was different, it was thicker and smoother and had not picked up as much of the delicate texture, only recording the main lumps and bumps beneath. I was mistaken to think that this paper could result in an image similar to the other paper that had such different qualities. Instead of being disappointed I embraced the larger drawing and as I continued to work I began to sense this drawing’s own personality. The image that began to emerge was not as three dimensional, the marks were almost calligraphic in nature and did not merge together so much in places as had happened in the previous drawing. Once I had found the new direction for this work I found the work much more enjoyable.
I tried to find equilibrium between the marks that were directed by the textures and fractures in the rocks and my own, considered response to them. The rocks led the way by setting out a basic structure, the scope of the drawing, and I then later followed their lead by responding to their clues and hints.

In order to make these drawings I had to adapt my usual method of working that would eventually allow me to make an honest and direct response to the form of the rocks. It is so easy to impose preconditions on a drawing and then attempt to push it in that direction rather than allowing the work’s specificity to dictate one’s working methods. 
I have always found experimentation exciting and I enjoy the thrill I receive when I am not in control and don’t fully understand where a particular project is headed. In future I now plan to explore this topic more and test the specificity of this method through the use of different surfaces and different types of drawing support. The fact that the results of such a project would be unpredictable is what drives me on. 

Relief Drawing 1: Chinese ink paper drawing – 138(h) x 35cm(w)

Relief Drawing 2: Layout paper drawing – 119(h) x 88cm(w)

Patrick S. Ford’s contact details

Monday, 13 April 2020

The problem with mountains and words

What is a mountain? It is defined in the English language as a large landform that rises above the surrounding land in a limited area, usually in the form of a peak. What do we understand of a mountain from this definition? For instance is an undersea mountain such as the Ampere Seamount off the coast of Portugal not really a mountain because it is under water? Where does a limited area begin or stop? Words as soon as you probe them seem to become unstable and drift. 
A fixed set of mountain relationships

A more dynamic set of relationships

What is interesting in both these diagrams is how words 'anchor' the possible reading of them. 


I have been reading again. An activity that is always rewarding but which can also be very frustrating and my main frustration is how words work, especially nouns. I’m reading Levi Bryant’s ‘The Democracy of Objects’, looking to find a way of using words to help understand how we relate to objects. As seems to always be the case Bryant struggles with the problem of the ‘noumenon’.  The noumenon is something that exists totally independent of human perception, as opposed to a phenomenon, which is anything that can be sensed by humans. 
So the problem is this, if we can never ‘see’, ‘touch’, ‘taste’, ‘hear’ or ‘smell’ reality itself, but only sense what we sense, how can we ever include this posited thing that we sometimes call ‘reality’, the thing that is beyond our sense perceptions, in a framework of thinking about the world?
For an object orientated ontologist this is a real problem because if as Kant argued we can never experience the noumenon, and therefore we must act as if it doesn’t exist, only things experienced by human beings are therefore important. Indeed if Kant’s argument was to be followed in terms of its implications, it wasn’t worth even thinking about something that couldn’t be proved to exist. Kant also is responsible for that central plank of the aesthetic sensibility, 'disinterested interest', an idea of contemplation that involves a judgment of satisfaction without reference to one's desires or appetites. A situation that suggests that human beings can in someway disassociate themselves from their entanglement into the systems of the world they live in. Kant it seems to me is very responsible for this objective/subjective divide yet he implies on the one hand that we need to stand outside of the world to make objective judgements but on the other hand that we can never actually experience the world but only our subjective perceptions of it, which appears to be a contradiction in terms, or once again a problem with words. 
But things do happen without human beings and the universe has obviously been getting along fine without them for billions of years, making stars and planets and using gravity, electro-magnetic and nuclear forces to construct all sorts of things way beyond our capacity to even begin to understand what is going on. So what is the problem, why do philosophers always get stuck here? It seems to me to be about the nature of words and if we all communicated using physically made things it would be a different matter. 
In the diagram above 'A' represents reality or what is actually out there; everything; stars, worlds, tables, foxes, trees, including ourselves and our perceptions. 'B' represents the totality of an individual human being's experiences, or perceptions or imaginative world. It is obvious that this must be smaller than 'A' and that most of 'A' is never experienced or perceived or even imagined. 'C' is the capacity of human language to articulate things about 'B'. Language is only a part of a human being's make up and as such it is only a small aspect of any individual's totality of experience. However because humans use language to 'think' with when articulating certain sorts of problems, they can get confused with the way language as a system works. We tend therefore to be always reflecting on 'C' because of this loop. We are not for instance aware of the over 50% of our body being bacteria and how that thinks or operates or does whatever it does. You will find it very difficult to regulate body temperature by using language but your brain is doing this all the time without any conscious effort on your part. 

Levi Bryant is looking at systems theory, in particular how the differences between autopoietic and allopoietic systems, can be thought through. Bryant points out that a system draws a distinction between itself and its environment. In this way he begins in his own way to get around the problem of the noumenon. For instance if a system is a closed thing, you can argue it is all about itself and you don’t have to include things from outside the system in any conversations about the system. So for instance Bryant points out that if human society is all about communication, it is the system of communication that constitutes society and humans can be seen more as a perturbation or possible irritation that might be inflecting the system from its purpose. A way of thinking that I think is interesting, but very strange. It pushes the most important aspect about the system, its purpose, away and sees it more like an ‘irritant’. So is this how we must think about ‘reality’, as a sort of itch we need to sctratch?  Maturana and Varela’s first description of an autopoietic system was of a biological cell. Its structure; acids, proteins, membrane, cytoskeleton etc. reflecting how the external flow of molecules and energy is internalised, a process that in itself was actually producing the components, which in turn both maintained the cell and co produced the components that made it up. (This it is often pointed out is not unlike a wave propagating through a medium). In contrast allopoietic systems, such as a car factory, use raw materials to generate organised structures like cars, which are something other than the factory. The system also includes the factory's wider "environment", such as supply chains, workers, dealerships, customers, contracts, competitors, cars, spare parts, and so on. As this system becomes self-supporting, then Bryant argues it could also be considered to be autopoietic. I began to feel that in Bryant’s model a factory could come into being without an external thing predicating it, the raw materials I presume coming from one part of its system and labour from another but the car manufacturing system has to at some point acknowledge a reality external to it. For instance what if oil runs out? But things are never one thing or another; everything is an infinity of possibilities and words tend to hold those possibilities in check. It is as if they ring-fence existence and don’t allow us to really think about the awkward physical objectness of objects. I think this objectness is a complicated twisted up infinite complexity that is so awkward that we can only ever experience bits of it and this is why we cant admit to the ‘noumenon’ because as an ‘it’ or a thing in language it cant really exist, because humans cant step outside of human language to think about things. In fact language can't even really articulate much about what it is to be a human being, because humans are far more complicated than language, as the ABC diagram above illustrates, human language is just a small part of being a human. But I’m using words so will have to either continue to have a go at using them to get my ideas across or draw something. 

I have been drawing mountains lately because for me they represent a whole host of things and I like the slippage of representations that they can go through. In order for me to use ideas about mountains to communicate concepts I have to make some sort of relationship with the idea of a mountain and as a in many ways, ungraspable object, I need to see it as something graspable. My drawings are part of that process of 'befriending' the mountain, looking for what's 'inside' the idea of it. 

As you grasp the mountain it could be that it becomes something else, in this case a flowerhead. 

I had been thinking of how birds and flowerheads could be made into one

Once you inhabit a concept you are yourself changed by it. 

Think of a mountain as a large series of interconnected eco-systems. The first one near the top is very rarefied. It’s cold and icy here and only a few creatures live there. The mountain is several thousand feet high and at that altitude snow and ice are normally found most of the year around. As we descend the mountain things change and the mountain begins to support a much wider variety of creatures. Trees grow and soils become established for the growth of other plants and in turn insects, birds and mammals proliferate. The mountain is an integral part of an autopoietic system, a part that cant be removed without the system collapsing. 
However this particular mountain is now part of another system, a thinking tool that I am using to make a point about words, I first saw this mountain when I crossed the Alps to go to Italy by train over 50 years ago and it has lodged itself in my memory ever since, and is used by myself as an image to carry certain ideas.
This mountain is also one climbed many times by serious mountain climbers. They have developed a series of maps, tools and equipment as well as a network of specialist guides in order to ensure the smooth running of the ‘club’ of mountain climbers that tackle this mountain every year. The communication network that connects these climbers being not unlike the idea of communication that Luhmann argues society actually consists of. He, as Bryant puts it, would say that there is no pre-established or pre-given environment to which a system must ‘adapt’. (Luhmann is another systems theorist who takes Maturana and Varela’s initial ideas and applied them to society at large). 

Routes through the Pennine mountains

Mountain with contour lines imposed upon it

The relationship between contour lines defining heights and their positioning on a plan view

A cone shaped mountain

Exactly the same diagram I used to represent reality and the relationship we could have with it, can be used to illustrate the dividing lines associated with changes in height as you progress up a mountain. You can never know all of a mountain 'A', my experience of it is 'B' which can only be a certain aspect of the mountain and the ability of my language to articulate that experience is 'C', those aspects of my experience that are translatable into a language. However 'A' could also represent a contour of 1,000 feet, 'B' 1,200 feet and 'C' 1,400 feet. 
A much more comprehensive system lies over and above both the mountain and anyone experiencing any part of it.

In all cases the mountain exists as a central aspect of an environment within which several interrelated systems operate. I understand clearly that I would only ever be able to experience a tiny amount of the infinite number of different aspects that the mountain has as its totality of being. This would be the same for all other things experiencing the mountain. However if I can just accept this, I can develop a belief system that also accepts that the mountain can be all these things, most of which will be invisible to me, but which at times when bits of the mountain’s existence bump into my own, can be brought into play by systems within which I operate. 
But in order to think about this I need to get past the word ‘mountain’ and the word ‘I’. If instead there were no things with defined edges, or names but instead different experiences that overlap, communication would be more to do with processes of exchange and development. In exchange for the changing heights experienced by weather, creatures, minerals and plants, different systems are constantly evolving, including new ones that are predicated by glacial melt due to global warming. The mountain as an entity disappears and is replaced by a series of possibilities, some of which I am interacting with, even if only by engaging a few brain cells with a memory of a time when I experienced travel through its environs. These interactions avoid the tendency of words to polarise situations, the making of them either or. The idea of a dictionary that defines each word is itself a problem, because nothing is what it is. Just as a whole mountain is not experience-able by myself, nothing else is either. I cant see the subatomic structure of my fingers as I type these words but I am aware that others have seen the sub-atomic structure of human finger bones and ‘trust’ or have a belief system that I rely on to see me through. I have a belief in some sort of conditions of knowledge and of course I also realise that logic would argue that all beliefs are suspect because they are not grounded in fact. But my argument would be that the word ‘fact’ is itself a false idea and that there are no things as such like facts, but only ever changing circumstances, ones that I have to either work with or against. By working with these changes I might survive longer than by working against them, for instance as I feel it gets colder as I climb the mountain, I put on my gloves. This is a systems relationship, but all parts of the system are constantly in evolution, some more quickly than others. This allows for various timeframes to exist all concurrently, the rocks existing in slow time, whilst the insects exist in a fast time. Only the humans exist in a word stream, the mountain has no words for humans and neither do my fingers. This is why I feel happier when working with materials, I sense the plastic nature of clay as I work it and it responds to the shape of my fingers as I squeeze it. A series of forms emerge as a dialogue between us, but when I use words it is as if only my inner word stream exists, it makes itself as it strings itself together and it obeys a particular logic. 
So go stand outside and grab hold of a clump of earth and draw it, smell it and grind it between your fingers, just sense it for a while and don't think about it, because your thoughts will quickly turn to words and your words will make it very hard to believe in the reality of that dirty thing that soils your fingers and is becoming a new finger/dirt thing experience as you do. 

See also

Connecting the singularity
Faraday's lines of force Theory, what is it and when to use it
Why I draw A reflection on the limits of verbal and written languages
Drawing as climbing
Drawing as an entanglement with life
Object orientated ontology

*NB the uncaptioned watercolour of a mountain is an image by Caspar David Friedrich. His images have often been written about as meditation aids, whereby you can gain a perspective on the human condition and become more aware of our insignificance in comparison to nature. 

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Connecting the singularity

A bird flower

I have argued before that drawing is a great way to problem solve, so what sort of problem are these posts designed to solve? What sort of problem in fact are my own drawings trying to solve? (The slight shift in sentence structure is useful, 'what is it my drawings are trying to solve ?', being a better way of putting it than, "what is it I'm trying to solve through making drawings?" It gives more agency to the process or the event.)
I'm someone that uses drawing to think, a person very interested in aesthetics and how to think about them. I have also been posting quite a few thoughts about my worry over words and objects and that I am beginning to think that all we really experience are events and sometimes we play a big part in them and at other times we are very much a bit part player. Therefore I'm less interested in aesthetic objects and more interested in a capacity that aesthetic situations might have to bring ways of living into being or to transform themselves in order to be more inclusive or entangled into the events that occur. Politically I'm worried that a rigidity of thought may be developing that leads to a fascist future and in opposition to that I'm trying to develop ideas that celebrate flexibility and the possibilities of new futures that come from the mixing and recombining of peoples and their cultures with the world itself. 
If you think of the world as constantly 'problem generating' then humans, like all the other things that exist, use experience of it to try to respond to the problems it sets. For instance the problems associated with basic physical forces. Our bone structure, our size and physical makeup are all answers to the problem of gravity, as a mammal we have found a pretty unique answer in standing up on two legs and learning to walk on them. We can also climb trees. However the dinosaurs evolved a very different answer; feathers, hollow bones and wings became much more useful than large sizes and sheer bulk. Theropods surviving eventually as sparrows and hawks and leaving behind their giant cousin the tyrannosaurus. By being sensitive to their entanglement into the possibilities of changing events, birds escaped the extinction moment that ended the time of dinosaurs. But how do bodies know they can do things like this, how has all that previous experience been passed on, and how do cells know how to put a body together to be able to do these things? There has to be some form of memory of these events, and how they shaped reality, to enable the experience to be passed on. Memory begins for both birds and human beings in their bodies, or more precisely their bodies are the product of memories. Could it be that the bird or the human is in fact an idea that can be passed on? If so, this is about formal principles and if that is right, it’s about ‘aesthetics’.  If it is though, we will need to approach the old chestnut of aesthetics from a different perspective, one of inbuilt necessity, patterns or the forward planning that is found in the structure of basic elements.  I'm suggesting a way of thinking about aesthetics that explores capacity for possible change in relation to given forms; rather than looking for sets of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty, I'm looking for aesthetic principles of connection. The 'beauty' of any one situation being its processes of attraction for other forces and the 'rightness' of its relationships. It is in the joints between things, and in an awareness of how connections are made that this aesthetic domain lies. 
This situation or situatedness (a theoretical position that posits that the mind is ontologically and functionally intertwined with environmental, social, and cultural factors), also means that ideas themselves have to be aligned with material forces not just by being sensitive to the possibilities that any material offers, but in a sense that ideas are ‘driven’ by their material nature and their use value is dependent upon how they can reveal a possibility or understanding of relationship within any identified complex of interrelatedness. This is why a human or a bird can be seen as an idea, they are both responses to formal principles passed on by physical memories and forms that allow for future possibilities. I’m suggesting that memory is actually rather like an empty cast, a shape from which things have come in the past and will come from in the future, but as with all memories things are never exactly clear, there is never quite a one to one correspondence between a memory and what is remembered, just as there is never a one to one correspondence between you and your father or mother.

Pen and ink forming images on paper

It has been impossible for me to escape thoughts relating to the corona virus, especially because of the imposed social isolation. The situation has heightened my awareness of what you could call 'the aesthetics of existence', or “what the heck’s going on?” Why things are the shapes and forms they are is a question written about extensively by Raymond Ruyer, and I can feel his concept of embryogenesis seeping through my recent images. Elizabeth Grosz uses a quote from Ruyer to open the chapter, 'Ruyer and an embryogenesis of the world' in her book, 'The Incorporeal'. 

He stated, 'Memory is not the property of bodies. Bodies, or what appear as "bodies", are the property of memory'. 
From: 'There is no Subconscious: Embryogenesis and Memory'

Ruyer's text is a strange read and I found the religious aspects very suspect, but there was an idea in there that rang bells. Consciousness begins with the very first material idea. A forming principle is at work, right from the beginning and this 
principle or set of principles directs all actions. That's why he points out that "bodies", are the property of memory. Every cell forms itself out of the 'memory' of the principles adhered to by sub-atomic forces. What we think of as consciousness, is no more and no less than the movement of relationships between atomic forces. How they can move and in what possible variations is dependent both on the structural principles inherited from all the previous generations of electrons and protons, neutrons and / or electromagnetic or other forces that underpin everything and the way these rules determine the possibilities of events coming together in different arrangements.
A virus, is no less conscious in its formation than a tree, they both follow a certain set of organising principles and both are in constant interaction with all the other constantly changing sets of circumstances that we call reality. For a few moments in time a certain set of material circumstances combine to form what we call a virus, circumstances that have been many other events before and which will become part of many more in the future. But in this local time frame, the events associated with societal responses to a viral pandemic have caused the ink that I use to draw with to be moved about on paper to form images of things that reflect an instability of scale and image identity and at the same time follow the implications of a memory; a memory of what the virus looks like, images of which are all around me on various media outlets, but also images of plants and flowers I have looked at and drawn previously and all the other things that for one reason or another have stayed in my memory. We shouldn't blame the virus for what it clarifies for us, but be thankful for the complex of interrelatedness that exposure to the virus reveals. We as humans are not separate from the world, we are deeply embedded into it and as such our actions need to take this fact into account. The images that I am producing being the product of the coming together of a series of different forces, from the cellulose structures of plant life, via the metal amalgam of a gold tipped drawing tool, combined with arthritic fingers linked to an ageing brain in a mash up with news footage, invisible microbes and viruses, social networks and quantum mechanics and yes a memory of a reading of 'Ruyer and an embryogenesis of the world'. There is a framework within and out of which which these images emerge, a framework that gives shape to them before they are thought, but which is directing possibilities, in just the same way that my originating cells directed the possibilities for my growth.
Try to think of a memory as a chemical change and a chemical change as a product of elemental particles interacting according to the fundamental laws of physics. In this way you can begin to sense ‘originality’ or where something comes from; its roots.
Originality is often misconstrued as ‘newness’ or ‘novelty’, which as far as I am concerned has nothing to do with art, simply to do with fashion or titillation. But an awareness of the deep structures which impel form, that give shape to possibilities is a different order of thinking and of aesthetic value. Memory in this instance being the passing on or inheritance of a sort of code or template on which can be built different possibilities. So my suggestion is that your memory is no different from your arm or your hand. The idea of ‘memory’ is encoded in your genes, just as the idea of a hand is. You don’t have to invent memory as a youngster, it just gets used, just as you don’t have to develop a hand it just gets used, and as you use it you get better and better at working out what to do with it.
So where do what I might call short term ‘human’ or ‘local’ memory and long term ‘elemental’ or ‘universal’ memory come together at their optimum? I would argue in the act of perception, itself. Let’s say you are looking at some marks in soft ground, experience tells you from the shadow cast around them both something about the time of day it is and what might have taken place to leave the marks. The sun is shining low in the sky in that moment and you have also seen it shine at different angles to the ground and memories of these things fuse in your awareness that its morning rather than midday. Your fusing of a memory of deer passing and leaving hoof prints in soft ground, allows you to conjecture that it was deer that left the marks in the ground in front of you. But there is room to move. What sort of deer, black or red coated, young or old? A more experienced observer might be able to tell you from the shape of the hoof prints whether or not the deer were old or young, but there is always ‘wriggle room’ for invention. It is in this wriggle room that I draw.
The space for invention is about possibilities, but and this is where the two sorts of memory conjoin, only certain possibilities are possible. However the more connections that the ‘consciousness’ has become aware of, the more possibilities become available. In this way we can avoid thinking about humans as being special. We have as much right to claim consciousness for ourselves as anything else, we are not special, we are interconnected and as I have pointed out before, one of our roles as artists is to help others see this.

Lifelines of humans, plants and viruses

This is also about the flow, the sense of a way through things, the invisible forms that you discover as you move your body through them are all possible connections. This is why every drawing is also a performance, every moment that you exist within being a sort of ‘swimming in a sea of the possible’. Our propensity for rigid structures and systems within which to operate is a mistake, a mistake that has misunderstood structural possibility for a cage. We like to think that photographs tell us something about the world, but because they are always taken from one point of view they cut us off from the possibility of interconnectedness by framing things. Drawing on the other hand can deal with emerging possibility as well as awareness of perception at the same time.

So, what sort of problem are my own drawings trying to solve? It is a problem of ontogenesis, or where does it all come from? What lies behind the evolution of life? What shapes do possibilities form and how is everything interconnected? Above all what is existence and how do I engage with it? Questions that have been asked over and over again, but life’s like that, we are all born, we all grow and we all die.

The pattern of our lives is something like a game. In response to these things I have now finished designing a game based on the votives I have been making in ceramics. There are 52 different cards, the virus cards, positive and negative, being played like trumps. But that's another story. 
Two cards from the votive pack

See also:

Faraday's lines of force

When the past overhauls the present Includes link to 360 degree view of exhibition
Drawing it all together