Assessing Nuances and Focus



I have finished another component of Enshrinement, one of the main works for the final show. there is still so much to do. There is not only the modelling and finishing, but firing, setting and mounting, audio and its embedding, testing, packing, photography and so on. As I work on the pieces, ideas come to me and it is hard to stay on the path. I bear in mind what Jonathan says in his Unit 1 Assessment:

As you continue to experiment, adding sound and possibly interaction from the audience, remain flexible, adaptable and willing to discard elements if they don’t absolutely meet your exacting standards or the purpose you need them to fulfil. Obviously there will continue to be surprises and exiting discoveries that may suggest other paths to explore, choose wisely which to follow. Not everything needs to be resolved in the timespan of the masters, many ideas and concepts will need to continue way beyond the next 8 months.

What I get from this is that I can simplify, clarify, focus my intentions on a single moment and radiate other ideas across many other moments. To realise that the final show is only one moment of many and not try to bring all notions to bear on one single point. So many ideas have come to me over the past months that I have to remind myself of this. I feel the freedom to not complicate matters is a luxury but it is in fact a necessity. Fortunately, the core idea is flexible enough to allow me to nuance the work in different ways. The common thread that has led me here is strong enough to withstand such turns of perspective. Above all, I must not confuse things by over complicating them.

Jonathan also mentioned that,

… building on a granular approach to time-based media, could be a way for you to move forward with your sound work.

This statement underlines an aspect of the work which I have been thinking about. The granularity of the audio takes me back to Ed’s workshop last year. How linear things can be fragmented and reformed to create a different sense of the same content. This idea is consistent with much of what I have been thinking. Breaking sound and reconstructing it either as a composition, stochastically or most probably a bit of both. This could be a way to introduce the sound element in Enshrinement. The intention would be to trickle notions into the inferences catalysed by the sculptural forms. This is a form of nuance and I feel the acoustic source material is important but less so in the context of the whole: it must serve its function. Is the approach I am taking led by process or content? I feel I am having to carefully pick my way between the two. Making those choices is a honing of two sides of a blade I constantly cut myself on: intended meaning and constructed inference. Central to all this, however, is making and experimenting.

The wrapping above was incidental rather than experimental. It was to keep the porcelain from drying out. But as Jonathan says, there will be ‘surprises and discoveries’ which need to be thought of carefully and used wisely. I do not have time to ramble as in the past fourteen months. It is not easy as I continually work with a paradox, that is, to clarify through ambiguity and ambiguity by definition can lead in many directions. Jonathan pointed this out by quoting me back:

Reality is smooth and simultaneous, granular and causal.

I had forgotten I said this and had to think hard what I meant. Things appear to be infinitely and infinitesimally connected however distant they might be. There is a sequentiality to events, yet things connected happen at the same time. Matter and time can be broken down into component parts, parts of a whole without disconnecting from it. Science tells us this, matter and time are continuous while things are broken into quanta and quarks, and those into strings and granular gravity. The world is split and whole, we experience reality yet we cannot know the true nature of things as we are locked in our way of perceiving. Light appears to  behave as discrete particles and continuous smooth waves at one and the same time. Predictability is the illusion of massed random events and the moment at which an inevitable catastrophe on a large scale ensues cannot be pinpointed with any accuracy if at all.

Wrapping inflects the work in a powerful way, as sacrifice, enigma, suffocation, preciousness; an ambiguity that raises questions and sets me to think deeply about what I am seeing. I also see that it might allow the sound element in the installation to breath; the sound’s granularity permeating the continuous material forms. The sound may or may not be sequential, intended towards a narrative that cannot sit still, being contingent, balanced on the knife’s edge of an imputed catastrophe. A catastrophe made by humans but in the making long before we were ever here: the laws of the universe are immutable.

NB Wrapping reminds me of visiting the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice where there are a number of drawings and maquettes by Christo who worked with his wife Jeanne-Claude.


Skype Chat 4.6: Economics of Being an Artist

This week Jonathan catalysed a discussion on how economic strategies affect artists. We talked about the value of time over money and possible government interventions such as universal basic income, universal basic services. The talked ended with the idea of artists’ cooperatives and tactics to access resources to continue working as artists.

Ideas on vocation, or calling, spanned the spectrum from  Homo habilis and Homo sapiens, to  Homo ludens: the inventor, the thinker, and the game player. Deep rooted intentions in artistic practice is something I wrote about briefly in this recent post. Whatever the motivation, money is clearly useful and time is precious. Universal basic income and services in an ideal world would free the artist from having to think about gathering survival resources. We do not live in an ideal world, but talking about such things feeds vision. As far as I am concerned, that is the underlying process an artist works with. It is not only the eyesight. It is also the act of seeing into the future, seeing something beyond what is being experienced in the now, using the imagination to create narratives and solve problems. These are things that create surprising and novel things. They enrich and change the world. 

I have found the lamentable situation where artists do not work unless they have funding. To stymie oneself in such a way is a sad state of affairs. All you need is paper and pencil to create a world. All else is a scaling up of ideas. One can always work as an artist, to expect work to be funded a priori before picking up the tools is putting the artist in the position of labour. This is a compromise of idea and vision. It is perfectly valid to look for funding for projects and ambitious work but to not create in the interim? That brings into question many things, intention, motivation, viability.

We finished with a link from Jonathan to a European cooperative:

The UK is not part of this organisation but it perhaps is not needed. There are different organisation here that function variously to cover what smart does. The UK is actually quite advanced with respect to this and processes are well developed, from procurement, invoicing, information etc. Organisations such as AN, Axis (which has been scaled down), DACS, Arts Councils. The main difference is that the arts professional actually make a contract with Smart. Smart then partners the worker(s) through the processes for the completion of a project, mentoring and dealing with organisational issues. Each country has its own way of doing things and in fact, the respective site for each nation is quite different in how it explains the workings of the organisation. However, Smart has an overarching structure so I imagine that workers can work across borders with relative ease.

The biggest difference at first sight between the UK and Smart countries is that in the UK, the artist is pretty well on their own at the outset and has to harvest expertise and help from a fragmented infrastructure. Smart appears to be a place to go which can help bring these decisions in one place. Obviously being in the UK this is not of any immediate use but with Brexit looking it may prove useful in the future in the event of possible relocations.

Smart Coop

Smart enables workers, entrepreneurs and organisations to invoice, to work together with other professionals and to manage a budget on an occasional or a long-term basis. Smart places the worker, bearer of economic and social value, at the centre of its mission so that he/she can acquire social rights and develop his or her professional activities to the fullest.

Living Presence Response: A Description of the Ineffable?


This post was written before and subsequently posted after the previous one. This explains any anachronisms that appear in the text.

In my previous-but-one post, I started by describing how the reconstruction of a narrative by its very nature is at best an approximate endeavour. The description of a past reality in and of itself is in all probability a chimera made of many parts pieced together as best as one can with the sensory and intellectual tools at one’s disposal. This is the main thrust of Donald Hoffman’s thesis that proposes the impossibility to see the world as it really is. He explains that we experience reality in terms of ‘fitness payoff’ and that this evolutionary pressure has shaped the way we perceive things in terms of what is the best way for us to survive in the world, not the most accurate description of it. So is a narrative a question of convenience and advantage?

Hoffman’s shift in the way the age old problem of describing reality is approached is another example of how contemporary paradigms are shifting and being replaced at an ever increasing rate. Thanks to an increasing knowledge base ever more accessible, the ability to bring together disparate areas of interest in one place has stimulated holistic approaches to almost every area of study. Crossing disciplines is essential if new insights are sought.

Alfred Gell’s revision of how artworks might function in society, is another example of seeing things differently. His book, Art and Agency singles out precisely the mechanism by which viewers interact with art as though the latter were similar to living beings. Gell sees this in terms of agency, i.e. influencing viewers to behave as though they were engaging with something alive rather than inanimate. An artwork lies within a context, a social environment or art nexus, as van Eck calls it. Van Eck puts it rather well:

[Gell] considers objects of art not in terms of their formal or aesthetic value or appreciation within the culture that produced them. Neither does [he] consider them as signs, visual codes to be deciphered or symbolic communications. Instead, Gell define[s] art objects in performative terms as systems of actions, intended to change the world rather than encode symbolic propositions about it. Art works thus considered are the equivalents of persons, more particularly social agents.

Gell identified one mechanism by which viewers can be influenced as technical virtuosity. This presents something made in a way that is hard to comprehend, functioning as a form of ideal or magic. The key is that this thing  is achieves what viewers try to do in other areas. This technical virtuosity can take many forms and is not confined to the skill of carving or painting.

This view of art as a performative agent is at first sight somewhat at odds with Richard Anderson’s view of skilfully encoding culturally significant meaning in a sensuous affecting medium. The skill element is common to both as is the significant meaning. However, in Anderson, emphasis is placed on encoding meaning, whereas Gell’s hypothesis sees agency as the main function for the art work.

Anderson in his anthropological idea is trying to bring together very disparate areas of creativity. In his book Calliope’s Sisters his examples are taken from across very different societies some of which do not recognise the idea of art. Gell’s approach is more art historical. Both Anderson and Gell are trying to identify art and its function in a way that does not fall into Western artistic paradigms of aesthetics and semiotics. Anderson’s hypothesis focuses on the semiotic content of an art object whereas Gell’s focuses on the mechanism by which an art object exerts influence. Gell’s idea is closer to Bayles and Orlando’s proposition that art changes the world in that he states that the agency of the object [or event] consolidates or reforms a world view in a social setting. This is very much the case in sacred contexts but also in the way art is perceived and responded to in secular white cube spaces to mention just one of many possible examples.

Gell borrows from Peircian semiotics and TAG analysis and replaces terms such as object, meaning, interpreter, sign, signifier etc with words that are more readily applicable to the arts.

  • Agency: the power to influence the viewer, this is mediated by the
  • Index: the material object that elicits responses
  • Prototype: the thing the index is representing.
  • Artist: the immediate cause or author of the existence of the index and its properties
  • Recipients: those affected by the work or intended to be by the index.

Semiotics, structuralism and post-structuralism originally resided in the literary and anthropological domains. What this does is to slim down the complexities that arise when analysing work in terms of their function in a humanities context. Focus is placed on the visual arts aspect without losing contact with the humanities.  Most significantly, the term meaning is exchanged with prototype. This reminds me of the Jungian idea of archetypes. But rather than presenting as a Platonic overarching concept, the prototype can be specific to the index in question.

Prototype is an important departure from meaning because it enables the representation of something ineffable. The living presence of the object is enhanced by, in many cases dependent on, its social context. So the art object becomes the explanation of the ineffable rather than ‘the problem to be explained’. 1 Because of the social nexus, in appropriately reinforcing circumstances, the effect becomes proofed against rational explanation. A response mechanism is created that is emotional and volitional rather than rational and cognitive.

These taxonomies are useful when attempting to disentangle relationships and the role of each player in the social nexus in which they are enmeshed. This system of analysis may be a helpful tool in confirming putative or identifying actual causal relationships between the art object its social, anthropological and psychological effects. This form of analysis has been used primarily in art historical context but I can see how I can apply it to tease out aims and objectives from intentions in artistic practice.

I see aims and objectives as analytical descriptions of process. They are the functional and purposeful surface ideas that have to be worked out, arrived at and articulated through cognitive processes. Intentions on the other hand are more deeply rooted. They lie beneath reason, often unrevealed or tacit. To find one’s intention is like holding one’s beating heart. It can be dangerous or bring well being, we often keep intentions well hidden inside the mind; somewhere deep in the brain. Intentions are tinder waiting to be lit. They can give light and warmth or burn everything to ashes.

  1. Van Eck,[]

Living Presence Response


I was watching a video featuring the blue ringed octopus, a poisonous creature that warns would-be predators by the appearance of iridescent blue rings as part of a rapid colour change. Unusually bright colours in animals and plants are often protective warning signs that they are poisonous, a strategy used advantageously by innocuous opportunistic mimics. Equally, bright colours can also attract as part of courtship and mating in many animals as well as a means of plants encouraging the ingestion and subsequent dissemination of their seed. Animals respond to such cues just as we are attracted or repelled by colours, movement, smells and sounds. This raises the question, is there a correlation between the living presence response elicited by artworks and the way we respond to the natural world?

Gell, van Eck and others have looked at the phenomenon of living presence response from an art historical stance but it seems to me that a lot can be learnt from observing our responses to the natural world. Van Eck in Particular talks about the role of the sublime. The sublime as a topos has been written about copiously since the enlightenment, however, this is as much an area for behavioural and evolutionary psychologists as it is for those interested in art history and theory.  Responses of awe, terror, pleasure and overwhelming presence have been used by artists ever since people have been making things. Authors and facilitators have employed notions of scale, beauty and technical virtuosity to great effect. These are amongst a number of properties found in nature and religion. What could be more sublime than an idyllic landscape or an all encompassing deity whose beauty is such that it cannot be imagined let alone looked upon, maker of all the world?

Authors and enablers of art have often been motivated by the desire to possess at least a small piece of the cause for awe, sublimity, beauty and power through the facilitating and making of great works. And we raise such things to mythical heights, from the Sistine Chapel to the Pyramids. It is this close relationship between our emotional response to natural things and art objects that interests me: the reason we look upon certain art as though it were alive despite knowing it to be inanimate. We speak of such works as speaking to us, living, and we respond to them with emotions and thoughts that are close to those with which we react to animals, plants and indeed other human beings. We treasure them, often above other humans, and we make pilgrimages to see them in the hope of experiencing their purported transformative properties. Centres of power have long recognised this as self evident.

Religious icons, large painting cycles, marble statues, tribal carvings and video installations vary in the way they create responses but all hold in common the desire for us to engage with them beyond cognitive interactions. The aim in such cases. to engender a gut reaction, a psychological jolt that brings us into an emotional-volitional nexus with it. This entanglement is most often set in a social context. The art object gives rise to a dialectic and perhaps consensus of its meaning and function. There is a toing and froing between the art object and the viewers of response, inference and rule making. In this way, the art work’s agency could be seen as not only being defined by social conventions and interactions but its characteristics which are then assimilated into the social nexus and become part of the way in which it is viewed.

How this agency is created is largely the role of the artist. The artist’s charge is to imbue the work with sufficient information for the work to act with agency in its respective social setting. However, this of itself is not enough. The social setting must be receptive either by prior knowledge of the domain in which the art object functions or be informed of the aims or function of the art object so that the viewers can be guided in their response by a set of rules of reaction.

The skill of the artist is to enable this nexus of meaning and function. The artist can employ many strategies and tactics to do so, but for the work to elicit the living presence response, he or she much be aware of the context and receptivity of its audience.

NB: the terms I have used so far could be replaced with Gell’s. This would make the writing and reading of the text much simpler as in my previous post, namely: artist, index, prototype, recipient, agency.

I have not mentioned examples as this sort of post is more of a place holder for a fuller text. 

Constructing Irretrievable Narratives to Living Presence Response



Trying to Grasp the Irretrievable

To connect with the past through an atavist organic self, is to reconstruct not only events but the notion of sentience in another time. How can this be possible if the past is out of reach? Humans have grappled with this problem of creating an uninterrupted narrative in one way or another since people have wondered what it is to be. Ultimately, is it not about trying to explain the world as it is and how we got here, and perhaps by discovering some best explanation, for that is all it can be, have a glimpse of purpose, or if indeed there is one? Abductive reasoning is at the core of this, there is no certain conclusion, only evolving ideas that change as evidence accrues or new paradigms are installed as others are packed away.

Describing such a narrative is about filling the spaces between what we know to create mass. An uncertain substance yes, but it is something to hold on to, to shape our view of the world. Mass is a speculative place holder for something we can probably never come to know, experience for certain, only through projections and models that we build of the world, again as best fit explanations for their time. Knowledge is at best, one long sequential series of inferences that bring the world to life, a vision limited to our lives and senses in this four dimensional existence.

Personal memory, collective memory are acts of reconstruction, constantly discarding and reforming narratives in a dough constantly kneaded into shape. We sail in a ship of Theseus of the self, shedding and accreting thoughts that keep our sense of momentary self in some sort of integrity.

A medium is a metaphor, an analogue even of part of such mass, malleable, reformable. Clay is such a medium, however, the conversion of clay into ceramic stone, the alchemical process of firing, is the consolidation of an idea into what could be seen as a dogmatic shape, no longer responding of itself but only capable of being responded to. It is at this point that making ceases.

The process that gives rise to a work of art becomes translated into another behaviour. The work of art becomes more than the frozen embodiment of the intentions of its maker. It becomes an agent, a social agent not just of those aims and desires but a vessel accruing the actions and feelings of those that experience it. The work of art is kept alive in this sense, by the communion of the recipient. In that way the work leaves the hermit shell of the artist and grows into something else. Something undetermined but possibly significant. It is fed by the context it inhabits; living, dying, resurrecting as circumstances may change, paradigms shift, society attempt to reconstruct a narrative, a new narrative, so long as it survives the vicissitudes of history and nature.

I have given a preliminary look at Alfred Gell’s seminal work on art anthropology, Art and Agency. It is a continuation of Dewey’s idea of art as experience. Gell applies this to situations in which artefacts become objects of ritual, veneration and even fetishism. It is a fascinating area for me because it forms a way in which I can articulate some of what I am doing. This in turn has its origins in Sanders Peirce’s work on semiotics. It is a way of explaining the relationship between artwork and viewer when the viewer treats the object as a living entity. Caroline van Eck explains this dynamic in clear terms in her paper, Living Statues: Alfred Gell’s Art and Agency, Living Presence Response and the Sublime. It contextualises my practice in that domain, where the object is treated as living without the need to talk of it as a biological metabolic organism. This ties in with my paper on Evolutionary Space: Looking at Artistic Practice in a Disparate Art Ecology. It is about the transfer of information. And this transfer of information is not necessarily one in which free will or even action is required on behalf of the art object. The art object  is the carrier of information in much the same way as a printed book or screen does. The container of information is a vehicle and its intrinsic value as art is perceived, just as a sacred rock is seen as such even though it is physically no different to any other rock. Both Gell and Eck extend the argument to looking at why an inanimate object should illicit a response of the kind that art objects and artefacts do, a living presence response. These texts are of course mainly written in the context of ritual anthropology and pre-contemporary art history. However, they can be useful in considering the function and affect of a contemporary artwork and how this might influence art practice. It certainly is not applicable to all forms of art but the future destiny of an artwork is often if not always beyond the grasp of the artist or their contemporaries.

I may write more about this as it enters into domains directly pertinent to my own interest but I need to study the texts further before doing so. these texts deal with salient aspects of my very first project proposal draft, A contract with the Ineffable, and may be useful in my explication of what I am currently doing. Eck concludes her paper pretty well where I began with my first draft project proposal, ‘[the] living presence response considered as an experience of the representation of the unrepresentable’.

Flowers for Algernon


These days I  hear a great deal about neuroscience, identity, empathy and so on. All matters that address the question, what makes us who we are, where does the seat of the self reside? Just as philosophers have wondered about the soul, today we scratch around in search of explanations for the mind. Before neuroscience was anything at all, writers speculated on the workings of the brain, the distinctions that make each one of us unique and yet closely alike. This seems all the more pertinent today as we learn about the working of not only our brains but those of other vertebrates. Indeed, sentience itself is at the very core of such empirical and metaphysical enquiry.

I read Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes in my teens. It is a moving tale of Charlie, a janitor with an IQ of 68, volunteering to have an experimental surgical procedure that has been shown to increase the intelligence of a laboratory mouse called Algernon. This is successful, but as Charlie reaches the height of his intellectual powers, Algernon’s increased intelligence starts to reverse. Charlie discovers that he too will revert to his former self and desperately tries to find the flaw in the procedure. As he finishes his work, it is too late to halt the reversal and rapidly regresses to his former state. He attempts to return to his job as a janitor but cannot bear the realisation that he would be tolerated by his work colleagues out of pity. Charlie leaves home to wander away from the city. His last wish is that flowers be put on the Algernon’s grave buried in his back garden.

This book is considered to be a science fiction work but it is much more than this. It is a commentary on society’s attitudes towards the vulnerable, drawing from Keyes’ experiences teaching special needs. The narrative contains other autobiographical references, drawing from his conflicted relationship with parents who wanted him to study medicine and time at university. It is also a masterful work of empathy, the mouse itself becoming an object of transference of emotions as one hopes against hope that things will go well for Charlie. However, the story ends in reverting to reality and the status quo, leaving behind the quasi scientific ideal of enhanced intelligence.

I remember the story possessing a tender claustrophobia. It questions normative judgements about mental capacity. Human behaviours are seen through the narrative of the people around the main character and the psychological tension between him and the mouse is kept taught by the changes that affect the sense of self of Charlie. It is a tragedy of self realisation. The journey that Charlie undertakes is not too dissimilar to that of Mary Shelley’s monster, one of awakening to the knowledge of life, and like Frankenstein’s creature, doomed to dissolution and despair. It is a moral tale of the dangers of playing with the laws of nature, akin to the search for immortality in The Monkey’s Paw. A case of, ‘careful what you wish for’.

This story has always stayed with me and was brought back sharply in focus when we returned back from being abroad and found a new inhabitant had moved into our home. A field mouse had made its presence clear, evidenced by its physical traces and the noises it made at night as its tiny claws tapped on the wooden floor. Not wishing to kill the creature, I ordered a humane trap and set it the very night it arrived. The trap branded itself as professional, notwithstanding its low price, and indeed fulfilled its every promise. Janet went to bed while I worked a little more on this blog. No sooner were the main lights out, Janet called out, ‘he’s caught’. It had taken only a few minutes for the naive creature to enter the metal box and release the trap doors shut.

We kept the creature until the following afternoon in an acrylic display case. It was at this point of capture, observing its behaviour, making itself at home with half a grape and a few grains of muesli, that the mouse became a quasi mythical creature endowed with anthropomorphic characteristics. I felt a joy at not having killed the animal and at its release a few hours later by a hedgerow where it promptly jumped and skipped its way back to live out its short natural life.

I say all this because this experience made me reflect on the porcelain creatures I have been making for Spes Contra Spem. Being encased but observed made me wonder about the mouse and how conscious it was of its life, capture and release: what might be the quality of its sentience? Obviously any empathy felt towards the little animal was purely coming from me. I have not delusions that given the chance, the animal in all its innocence, would have caused harm had it stayed in the building.

This event started a thought pattern which led to the resolution of a problem I had been struggling with for some time in relation to embedding sounds in the sculptures. I was bothered by the conceptual relationship between the sound and the porcelain sculptures. I asked myself, what should this relationship be like; is there a synthesis between the two modalities in the context of the porcelain pieces; what sounds would be consonant with such a pairing?

A week after the mouse’s release, just a few days ago. The encasement of the mouse in an acrylic display case made me think of the porcelain being encased. This idea goes hand in hand with the nominal theme of the project proposal, Enshrinement. An idea that emerged during the preceding tutorial to this post. However, this could not just be a means of display. A vitrine is not terribly interesting in and of itself, it is a curatorial convenience and could even be seen as a lazy way of conferring status to a work with its associations of museums. Additionally, I would be removing the works from the ability to touch them.

The encasement of the porcelain I see as creating a sealed space not only inhabited by the solid works but also the sounds of the work. The case creates a boundary, a separation, a sacred space where the sound is sealed and barely audible. However, by creating perforations in the acrylic glass, a possibility is created to approach the case and listen in, eavesdrop on the conversant pieces. This invitation to the viewer, becomes a physical act of engagement aimed at bringing one into closer proximity with the work whilst remaining separated, another theme of the project. My aim is to raise questions, infer ideas parallel to those others offered by the installation as a whole. For me, these questions lie in the domain of sentience, empathy, curiosity, purpose, sacredness and profanity.

However, such a scenario remains a relatively static one. In a world where movement is so evident in everyday life, I have thought of converting the vitrine from a piece of furniture to a mode of movement. The aim is to imply potential movement in which the viewer is encumbered with its psychological inertia. A connection is therefore thickened between the work and a no longer passive viewer. The aim is that inferences of ritual, procession, celebration and burden become part of the narrative unfolding in the project proposal, forging connections in which the self is only part of a wider ecology of selves, past, present and future.

I do not want to disclose images of the proposed work at the moment but would rather disclose parts, documented during making, as a puzzle slowly pieced together. This is a way of keeping the work alive in an evolving process and narrative – a secret in the open.


A Place for Tags and Categories

It has taken me all this time to work out a useful function (for me) for these two classification criteria. This has been an important result of the blog curation process. Simply put, categories are very wide groupings similar to chapters in a book. They tell something of the area of interest but not its content. Tags can be likened to the contents section of a book. It is there where one searches for a particular term used, name, place, process, etc. Tags like content will list all the relevant words that I might find useful in the future if I wish to search for something. For example, if I want to look up a particular artist I have written about and cannot remember where to find it, I type the name and all the posts that contain that name will appear. There is an even more powerful function, and that is, if I want to refine the search because too many posts appear in the search, I can type two or more keywords, or tags. This will narrow the search results to only those posts that contain all those words. 

So far I have 1092 tags. This may seem a large number and no doubt will continue to increase. However, the number is of no consequence. It is only important if one wants the tag cloud plugin to say something useful. But the cloud plugins only deal with a small and limited number of tags. For this reason I have decided to remove the tag cloud widget from the side bar. As for categories, I have been able to cull them to be less confusing.

Skype Chat 4.5: Andy Lomas


On Tuesday we had a visit from Andy Lomas, a former mathematician turned creative computer artist. His work stems from an interest in dynamic systems simulating biological growth. An interest stemming from his encounter with the work of Darcy Thompson, particularly his pioneering book Growth and Form, became after a period in the film and television industry, curiosity in what can be done that could not be done before. Lomas works on the edge of control and predictability wanting to be surprised rather than being in control of algorithms whose outcomes are directed by the exigencies of the film industry.

He sees himself more as influencing than controlling events when setting up his algorithmic simplified systems, which while not trying to replicate nature, bear strong correspondences with biological rules of growth.


The systems he works with are bounded in themselves and do not relate to an outside environment. The parameters or rules of engagement between cell entities are contained within and between the cells rather than communicating with an exterior world even though some simulation, such as how much light falls on a cell try to emulate real life conditions.

Something that struck me during the talk was how the artistic domain gives him the freedom to experiment and play with mathematical models and their aesthetic outcomes. However, it does seem to stay within that sphere, the personal perspective. His relationship with the work is more that of a craftsman than an artist. He is curious about his methodology, he extends the limits of what he is doing, he controls the material with mastery. However, the work itself says little about the person than made it other than their obvious skill. Little of him comes across in the work as algorithms do not in and of themselves depend on any particular person or thing that either generates them or uses them. They are autonomous abstract entities depending only on being implemented in some way to have any meaning. Taking Margaret Boden’s idea of creativity, the results are certainly creative, as for artistic, perhaps that is in the gift of the viewer.

What does this tell me about the work and the worker. The work can certainly be viewed as art, but is Lomas working as an artist or a craftsman? All depends on his intentions and when asked what these were, we were left wondering if he himself knew. He enjoys making the animations and work arising out of them, and he does appreciate their aesthetic appeal, but I for one would want to look more into the content itself of the work. What does it say about me, the world, society and how does it function in different contexts?

All these questions were left mute by virtue of Lomas’ immersion in the process itself, often by necessity. I feel that it is not enough for something to be art simply because it is creative. And if context is everything, perhaps what happens is that the work is taken up as art by others, leaving its maker behind so to speak, personally, as a creative rather than artist.

If all this seems rather harsh, I am only applying the same criteria I have applied to myself. As someone who studied sciences, I have often been frustrated, no infuriated, by how artists all to easily append the label, art science to what they do, appropriating the domain of science without really understanding what they are dealing with. That is why I made the decision not to do scientific art, i.e. appropriate techniques and methods, illustrate ideas, pretend to be doing science that in some way turns into art. All an artist can do is draw inspiration, be influenced by, illustrate yes, the scientific. Likewise, a scientist cannot be an artist simply because they make something aesthetic or useful to artists or illustrates some artistic trope. A scientist can be influenced by, borrow from, be contextualised by art, but that in itself is not enough.

For a scientist to be an artist, they must think as one with every fibre of their body and likewise if an artist wishes to be a scientist they need to fully understand the paradigms that govern the scientific mind. The two domains work so differently that one has to give way to the other. You can be a poet and a scientist, a scientist and a painter, but you cannot be both at once. Science relies on being replicable and independent of personal input, art conversely is deeply personal in terms of the ideas and relies on an element of uniqueness, aura. Artists that attempt to remove any trace of the personal and make an idea or method doable by anyone, still function under artistic paradigms and do not fall within the scientific. Likewise, an electron photomicrograph of a pollen grain, however beautiful, cannot be a work of art unless it is transformed to say something other than what it is. In neither scenario is there a transformation from one paradigm to the other. They both enter the sphere of the other but cannot be the other. It is a nuanced view that can be argued with, but nevertheless, is serves to illustrate the point that science and art are separate, yet have an entangled relationship.

This places Lomas’ work in somewhat of a no man’s land, albeit a comfortable one. The renderings of the algorithms can be seen as art just as Blosfeldt’s photographs are considered artistic photographs. However, in the case of Blosfeldt, the images were made for a very practical purpose, as source material for art students. The fact that they have entered into the artistic canon does not necessarily make Karl Blosfeldt an artist at the moment of making them but more of an artisan. The art resides in the way the photographs have been received and experienced. Similarly, Lomas’ renditions are a search for the limits of what certain algorithms can do and how resolved the animations can become. They are visual illustrations of mathematical curiosity, how they are perceived is another journey towards an artistic conversation which does not necessitate knowledge of their maker. This in some way is what he said adding that he would be only too happy to explicate their genesis to those interested.

Perhaps one day Lomas will consider the wider poetic implications of what he has done and engage new poetic criteria which will undoubtedly alter his process and conceptual horizons.

Project Proposal V 3.1

ENSHRINEMENT: Spes Contra Spem

A Dialectic Between the Sacred and the Profane Essence of Material Separation

I change but I cannot die
Shelley, ‘The Cloud’ 76

To unfold and merge creation myths and evolutionary ideas into layered, mythopoietic narratives addressing existential concerns in the recently defined Anthropocene:

  • engendering a sense of our part in a story that lies beyond our own time;
  • seen through a window onto another world that reflects tensions in the narratives as a way of asserting dynamic relationships.

To research and develop means for encoding and implementing information carrying the aims embodied in the narrative,

employing a variety of digital and non-digital strategies to create different modes of engagement,

layering respective modalities catalysing interdependent inferences by means of reciprocating with the viewer,

using sculpture based on ceramic material, sound, words, and moving and still images.

also incorporating the idea of evolutionary space formulated in the Research.


Contemporary and Modern

Artists dealing with the deep past using a variety of modalities, particularly sound, sculpture, virtual reality and words, including: Marguerite Hameau, Mohshin Allayaii, Mimmo Paladino. Andrew Lord – ceramic sculptures that have correspondence with my work.

Poetry: Ted Hughes and Rebecca Elson – cosmological and existential

Sound – Wolfgang Gil creating invisible form in which geometry is delineated with sound.

Science Fiction – Philip K. Dick – political, social and philosophical explorations in monopolistic societies; Walter M. Miller Jr. – A Canticle for Liebowitz – the cyclical nature of history and religion vs secularism.

Studio – shared with Janet Waring Rago in continual conversation and reciprocal interrogation. A chapel in rural Lincolnshire: removed from the artificiality of the city amidst a man-made countryside; a paradox reflected in my work which questions the place of humans in nature whilst being part of nature and ours effect on it.

MA Peer group


Evolutionary theories – Richard Dawkins, Stephen J Gould, Darwin, Pinker, Wilson and others.

Spes Contra Spem – the enigmatic Latin phrase from Romans 4.18, in the KJV, “who against hope believed in hope”. This phrase has many meanings and has been paraphrased in a variety of ways, variations of which can be found in the Bible.

Evolutionary Space – A term coined in the Research Statement which describes art practice as continually adapting to an ever-changing ecosystem.

Process Philosophy – everything is continually changing.

John DeweyArt in Experience. Art and its meaning, contextually residing in how it is perceived and experienced rather than in the artwork itself.

Martin HeideggerThe Origin of the Work of Art – describing the artist’s relationship with their work, the nature of that work, and its relationship with the world.

Kraft von Maltzhan – ‘Nature as Landscape’, a brief history of knowledge and our changing relationship with nature.

Roberto Mangabeira – human agency and the dynamics between the individual, state and nature.

Gareth Jones The Object of Sculpture, traces the history of the reciprocal relationship between sound, music, sculpture, and architecture.

Wolfgang Gil sonic plasticity. Using sound and its physical geometry in space

On Art – Richard L. Anderson “culturally significant meaning skilfully encoded in an affective sensual medium”; David Bayles and Ted Orlando, art changes the artist and the world.


Magic and  myth – Religious and secular texts: Graves, The White Goddess; Fraser, The Golden Bough, Lucretius, De Rerum Natura; Aristotle, Plato and pre-Socratics, etc.

Natural History and Art – Ernst Haeckel, Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, Rodin.

Florence – formative period of ten years immersed in the Classical, Humanist and Renaissance culture, and Romanticism, engendering a strong sense of the materiality of art both in content and experience.

Biology graduate of Manchester University. Life processes, structure, connectedness.

Linnean Society – Fellow of  the oldest extant natural history society in the world.

Religious and sacred iconography


Separation – (or awakening) of the human self from nature. Influential texts include those of Martin Buber, Robert Graves, Richard Dawkins, and Kraft von Maltzhan, amongst others. The emergence of life and traversals of complexity; the emergence of the “I”, labels and language.

Metamorphosis – of substance and idea and continuity in a world of constant and cyclical change.

Language – as a vehicle for communication and miscommunication.

Struggle – Life, contingency and inevitability.

The Anthropocene – The Gardener and Eden

Creation myth and religion – explicator of mysteries? Principle sources include amongst others: Ovid’s Metamorphoses; The Bible; texts on evolution including Darwin’s, On the Evolution of Species.


My practice is driven by the feeling of flux being the natural state of things and that I am connected to the most distant time by an unbroken thread of contingent events: the indissoluble strength of the past and the vulnerability of a fragile future existence. I give this shape, expressed at the point of giving material form and meaning, synthesising rational and poetic thought. I aim to make this corporeal through ceramic material. The alchemical process it undergoes links me with the past through its brittle archaeology and beyond that as a fossil of its living, malleable self. This enables me to create a space in which layered with sound, intersecting meanings can come into existence, catalysed and unfolded as a multitude of inferences occupying the same space. A space shared with words, all three modes delivering resonances at differing rates and on various levels. Modularity of thought and making come together using strategies of engagement that offer me an adaptive flexibility for working in what I identified in the research statement as evolutionary space.


  • Techniques and methods
  • hermeneutics of sacred texts,
  • modern and contemporary scientific evolutionary theory,
  • philosophy and history of science,
  • world creation myths,
  • poetry,
  • historical and contemporary art practices,
  • archaeology and anthropology.

Research Methods

  • practice based,
  • text based,
  • conversations with peers, staff and audience,
  • collaborations,
  • analysis and reviews of works and exhibitions,
  • reflective critical writing.


  • ceramics
  • images
  • sound
  • painting and drawing

Techniques (principle)

  • modelling
  • carving
  • digital
  • voice
  • video
  • text
  • projection (shadows)
  • drawing
  • virtual reality
  • embedding sound in sculpture mixed media display fabrication


  • blog journal containing
  • sound recordings


An installation which gives a sense of being a space containing sacred and profane associations with the following possible works:

  • ceramic sculptures in a vitrine with sound filling the inner space perceptible through grill openings in the transparent walls.
  • Horizontal, suspended, ceramic sculpture with responsive low frequency sound/vibrations.
  • Wall or stand mounted sculpture collecting environmental sound emitting it after passing through its body.
  • Smaller contextualising works and handling pieces
  • recorded verbal narratives heard through headphones
  • Handling pieces
  • Possibly image printed and or on-screen


October – January 2019

Period of orientation: identify and develop the area of study and work for the MA period; Project Proposal, exploratory drawings, maquettes, develop critical and reflective writing in blog journal, build on video editing and digital sound software, explore theoretical, contextual and poetry texts. Experiment, research, develop, filter and select.

January – April 2019

Continue with the above, filter ideas, theory and techniques. Start developing an artist statement in the context of the proposal for the eventual final show. Build on Low Residency experience.

May – September

Test first prototypes; develop work further; research digital sound techniques for real-time interactions. Research Statement, develop Project Proposal, curate work for Unit 1 Assessment.

October – November

Complete Unit 1 – crystallise ideas for the final show


start Unit 2 – A period of intense developing and making in the context of previous research and experimentation to deliver project proposal. Throughout this period work on text and drawings for sound narratives.


Finished sculpture pair and half way through large horizontal sculpture. If time allows also explore an idea for puppets.

January 2020

Complete large horizontal sculpture and begin wall mounted work and free-standing silent work.


Continue work on sculptures and other work; Low residency period; begin to plan and make display and curatorial elements.


Complete works and begin silent sculpture and begin to finish works and curatorial elements.


Continue with silent sculpture and complete other work.


By end of May all work should be completed and show planning well underway, also procure materials for packing and transport of work

June – July

Pack work, curate and prepare for final show, review project proposal and prepare for unit 2 assessment. Delivery of work, installation, final show and de-install.


(Principle sources)

Anderson, R.L. (1990) Calliope’s Sisters: A comparative study of philosophies of art. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, p.238.

Arber, A. (1950) The natural philosophy of plant form. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Arber, A. (1954) The mind and the eye: A study of the biologist’s standpoint. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Arber, A. (1957) The manifold and the one. (1957) London: John Murray.

Bayles, D. Orlando, T. (2002). Art and fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking. UK: Image Continuum Press

Esslin, M. (1961) The theatre of the absurd. 3rd edn. London: Penguin Books.

McCormack, J. (2012). Creative ecosystems: Computers and creativity. Eds. McCormack, J. Inverno, M. Springer: Heidelberg. DOI 10.1007/978-3-642-31727-9_2 [accessed: 19 August 2019].

Boden, M. A. (2010). Creativity and art: Three roads to surprise. London: Oxford University Press.

Coen, E. (2012) Cells to civilizations: The principles of change that shape life. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press

Dawkins, R. (1976). The selfish gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dawkins, R. (1996). Climbing mount improbable. New York: Norton

Dennett, Daniel C. (1995). Darwin’s dangerous idea: Evolution and the meanings of life. Penguin Books, London.

Dennett, D. C. (1995) Darwin’s dangerous idea: Evolution and the meanings of life. London: Penguin.

Dewey, J. (1934) Art and experience. London: George Allen and Unwin.

Esslin, M. (1961) The theatre of the absurd. 3rd edn. London: Penguin Books.

Fry, H. (2018). Hello world. [s.l.]: Doubleday.

Genesis 1-4, Holy Bible: King James Version.

Gil, W. (2018) Sonic plasticity, an introduction. [Online] Medium. Available at: [Accessed 13 August 2018].

Gould, S. J. (1991) Wonderful life: The burgess shale and the nature of history. London: Penguin Books.

Graves, R. (1961) The white goddess: A historical grammar of poetic myth. London: Faber and Faber.

Griffin, J. (2011). First published in Art Review, Issue 47, Jan-Feb 2011.

Heidegger, M. (). The origin of the work of art. Translated by Roger Berkowitz and Philippe Nonet. Draft, December 2006. PN revised. PDF downloaded from

Herodotus (1890) The history of herodotus volume 1. Translated by G. C. Macaulay. London:

Macmillan & Co, [Online] Gutenberg Project. Updated 2013. Available at: [Accessed 14 Sep. 2018]

Hughes, T. (1998) Lupercal. London: Faber and Faber.

Hughes, T. (2001) Crow: From the life and songs of the crow. London: Faber and Faber.

Jones, G. (2007) ‘The object of sculpture’ in Hulks, D. Wood, J. Potts, A. (eds) Modern sculpture reader. 1st edn. Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, pp.426-436.

Lewis-Hamilton, D. (2002) The mind in the cave. London: Thames and Hudson.

Margullis, L. (1998) The symbiotic planet: A new look at evolution. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

O’Connor, D. (2010) ‘The horror of creation: Ted Hughes’ re-writing of Genesis in Crow’, Peer English, Issue 5. pp 47-58. Available at: (Accessed: 16 November 2018).

Ovid () Metamorphose. Trans. Kline, A. S. available at

Rescher, N. (1996 ) Process Metaphysics: An Introduction to Process Philosophy, SUNY Press. p. 60., (2016) Roberto Mangabeira Unger. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Sep. 2018].

Smith, K. A. (1992) Structure of the visual book: Book 95. Fairport: The Sigma Foundation.

Tucker, W. (1977) The language of sculpture. London: Thames and Hudson.

Von Maltzahn, K. E. (1994) Nature as landscape: Dwelling and understanding. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Wengrow, D. (2014). The origins of monsters: Image and cognition in the first age of mechanical reproduction. Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford

Other Key Texts: To Be Referenced

  • Purusha Sukta – Shatapatha Brahmana
  • Upanishads
  • Pre-Socratics
  • Aristotle – Poetics, Physics
  • Plato
  • Virgil
  • Lucretius
  • Herodotus
  • Milton – Paradise Lost
  • Berkley
  • Darwin – The Origin of the Species
  • Frazer – The Golden Bough
  • Freud – Totem and Taboo
  • Aquinas
  • Da Vinci – Note Books
  • Spinoza
  • Mircea
  • Buber – I and Thou – Man and Man
  • Benjamin
  • Darwin
  • E.O. Wilson

Skype Chat 4.4: On Focus and Attention Span

This Skype chat had a very practical aim, probably aimed at those of us easily distracted by social media and the demands the internet and web make on our attention. Attention, concentration and focus are key when making art works.

Jonathan presented recent evidence that suggests our way of thinking, our brain architecture, so to speak, is being altered by the way we interact with computers and the internet; how the ever increasing processing speed with the commensurate increase in our responses. He also presented a quote regarding how this effect can hide in plain site:

People will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
Neil Postman Amusing Ourselves to Death 1985

This was said early on in the context of the world wide web. The difference between this and other technological innovations in the past is the speed at which it has developed and proliferated.

A recent paper “the ‘online brain'” comes to three conclusions:

Internet is becoming highly proficient at capturing our attention, while producing a global shift in how people gather information, and connect with one another.
…found emerging support for several hypotheses…
…Internet is influencing our brains and cognitive processes…
3 specific areas…

1. …multi-faceted stream of incoming information…

[Attention switching and ‘multi-tasking, rather than sustained focus]

2. …ubiquitous and rapid access to online factual information…

[outcompeting previous transactive systems potentially even internal memory processes]

3. …online social world paralleling ‘real world’ cognitive processes…

[possibility for the special properties of social media to impact on ‘real life’ in unforeseen ways]

Firth, J., Et Al. (2019). The ‘Online Brain’ How The Internet May Be Changing Our Cognition. World Psychiatry, 18: 119-129

This speeding up of things occludes the spaces where subliminal, independent thought can take place. I feel that it could be seen as a form of indoctrination which uses the malleability of brain architecture.

Jonathan then went through the conclusions to unpack what all this might mean.

conclusion 1 – important to note that most experts agree there is no such thing as ‘multi-tasking’ – it is only possible when one this is ‘automatic’ like walking and talking at the same time – the walking element is automatic…
therefore we are creatures of very fast attention switching.

…they found emerging evidence that the online brain is bombarded with so mush stuff that fast switching means it is increasingly hard to sustain focus.

… that is the sort of evidence that is emerging – but they are not saying it is positive or negative – just that there is evidence for this — we have to decide what to do about this ourselves.

…the challenge is – does the very medium of the web demand this reduced focus – or has it just been hijacked by commerical forces!

I feel that this may be so, but the highjacking may not always be commercial, there are also attention seeking forces as well as lobby groups. I guess the major influences, however, can be traced back to some commercial motivation.

there is clear evidence that when we switch attention quickly – it means nothing is deep and concentrated – we have to decide if that is doing us harm or not (more likely there are times when fast switching is incredibly useful and times we need sustained attention but we may need to work harder to develop the sustained focus skills?)

There is competition for attention and space for information of whatever sort.

The point made here is that making is a great training for sustained focus skills. Particularly hand-eye making with material, not computer based making. We are physical beings and so need physical, and not just mental,  interaction with the world. This means that focus needs time and computers, ‘steal’ time from us.

2. …ubiquitous and rapid access to online factual information… outcompeting previous transactive systems
potentially even internal memory processes
this point it more subtle but equally important to the first point
transactive knowledge – idea developed by Daniel Wegner 1985 – groups collectively encode, store, and retrieve knowledge

I feel that this point is about our being rewarded by fact acquisition, ‘fact gluttony’. This satiates our curiosity but leaves us with a diminished sense of wonder… and wondering again is about have the time to engage in it. We are exchanging information for our time. This makes me think that we need to be more discerning about the information we seek.

This idea regarding factual information posited by Jonathan is very much about collective memory…

on transactive memory – Wegner suggested – transactive memory system can provide the group members with more and better knowledge than any individual could access on their own

This collective memory is vulnerable to political and commercial forces which can influence it. This is particularly the case with social media. However, social media can also be used by counter movements. It could be argued that propaganda in the past was more effective because it was the main source of information for the population at large. Today, there are many sources of information… it is a constant struggle between competing positions.

so their conclusion is that the online brain having so much access to instant ‘factual’ information means there is evidence now of it changing the way our brains function  and maybe even our internal memory systems —
whatever we think of this we need to be aware of this emerging evidence

What might we lose with we engage less in transactive memory – the building of memory by exchanging memories and ideas between individuals? Intelligence but above all wisdom. And the challenge in today’s society is that transactive memory is difficult to sustain when people leave disparate, asynchronous lives.

Finally we came to how all this might affect our work as artists

as artist does our work suffer with the instant access to the ubiquitous and rapid online factual information?
or are we enabled like never before because we have access to the ubiquitous and rapid online factual information?

I feel that too much information can lead to a form of artistic paralysis. The availability of so many paths and directions can be confusing and preclude one from entering into work with depth. In addition, some skills require many years to acquire. However, Aristotle did mention an interesting idea: T-shaped skills arrangement where a main skill is formed in depth over time adding other minor ones on top of it.

There is one physical problem I see with the growth of computers as sources of information in the future. Computers are highly sophisticated and cannot be easily made with simple tools and technologies as books and printing presses can. Also, computers are needing an increasingly large amount of electric energy. What will happen when everything runs on electricity as is being proposed? These two points make us very vulnerable to technological catastrophes.

3. …online social world paralleling ‘real world’s cognitive processes…
possibility for the special properties of social media to impact on ‘real life’ in unforeseen ways

3rd conclusion is less certain and is more speculative – they are aware of the growing impact but importantly there are many unforeseen ways that might impact on us

‘The problem with the internet,’ Firth explained, ‘is that our brains seem to quickly figure out it’s there and outsource. This would be fine if we could rely on the internet for information the same way we rely on, say, the British Library. But what happens when we subconsciously outsource a complex cognitive function to an unreliable online world manipulated by capitalist interests and agents of distortion? ‘What happens to children born in a world where transactive memory is no longer as widely exercised as a cognitive function?’, he asked.

the Guardian newspaper, article

The outcome to this conversation was an awareness of the need to develop response strategies as artists to the emerging evidence that the online brain is changing us

This conversation was useful in terms of raising my awareness of the influence of the computers and the web on my workflow and ways of thinking and how I need to be vigilant.

The following are some of the strategies I have adopted:

Use the computer as a tool to making, documenting and communicating during interludes in making. This interlude creates a space from the physical, material activity which changes the mental space and refreshes the mind. I find myself stepping from making to writing and post-producing photographs in a constant cycle of production with my brain engaging in two forms of function linked by the same activity. This physical workflow is a conversation between the outer and inner-world interacting physically. I feel it is dangerous to ignore the fact that we are physical beings, symbolic life is not actual life.

Jonathan introduced Doug Belshaw’s response:

Doug Belshaw who writes a lot about ‘digital literacies’ has 3 initial thoughts on how to respond:
1. seek other networks
2. look for voices you want to give attention to
3. avoid constipation!
1. deliberately look for networks to engage with – eg this course right now, or more decentralised online networks – where money making is not the main issue
2. look for interesting people – not just on social media – look for newsletters, zines, blogs, podcasts – slower forms of online engagement?
3. horrible metaphor!! but — massive info consumption – gets stuck – need better throughput! — careful reflective writing can really help – extract the nutrients from what reading listening to etc.

Jonathan ended the chat with the same statement he started with:

our attention is sovereign
1. we decide where we put our attention
2. in acknowledging this – we take responsibility
… where we put our attention
… past and future