Yesterday I started a small scale study in porcelain – no larger than twenty centimetres in its largest dimension – for H’s playthings in porcelain. What I show here is the first stage, the plasma. It is small so I can quickly assess its outcome before investing more time in how to proceed on a larger scale. The question for now, is whether to move in the direction of a baroque, visceral rendition or a more schematic, symbolic one. I am thinking that the former might be too ‘noisy’ for it to be receptive to a sound element in the work.
I feel that the two approaches are different aspects of what I am looking to express. This makes me think that there is space for both to coexist, a conversation contextualised in the transition from a mass population engaged in an ecology and the symbolic representation of each class type. The former an animated, raw, poietic emergence from inside me, the living expression of thought. The latter a cerebral aesthetic product, distanced, engaging on another level. Can the two ways be reconciled and merged or are they mutually exclusive?
Not all bodies of work need to be homogeneous. I have talked of heterogeneity before, it represents the outer layer of deeper commonalities. Multitudes exist within one idea, am I to be restrained by the aesthetics of conformity? This may be my own prejudice: the need to replicate serially to create distinct bodies of work.
It may be possible to combine the two in synchronous dialogue, resolving a dialectic within a single work. A transition from raw to refined, from animated foam to schematic idolatry. After all, I am looking for a myth and myths are about origins, creation.
Six months ago I started with a loose pool of ideas flowing from existential themes. My main aim since then has been to find a cogent argument that reflects my various interests and that could place in different arenas. This quest has been exciting if onerous; I have gone down many wandering pathways. However, I also have had to discipline my thoughts within a varied practice since many of my ideas emerge synchronously with my practice and two years is not that long to develop a coherent trajectory. I know that the Research Statement will need to be started soon and that it needs to be well conceived at the outset in order to avoid time consuming blind allies during the Summer months, a period good for making.
In view of the upcoming RS, I have looked at the problem both taxonomically and mereologically, reductively and holistically. The tension between these two ways of organising thoughts has helped me identify those ideas and practices that would fit a tight set of self imposed requirements:
flexible and focused
leading to a project proposal and higher research
A thesis emerged ten days ago in conversation with Janet, not by logical deduction but in moment of gestalt in which I saw a bigger picture. With few words I was able to state the obvious precipitated out of the wanderings and writings I have done over the past six months. But how could I be sure this would hold together? I wrote a preliminary abstract or outline of the thesis in a surprisingly short amount of time, much shorter than the time it has taken me to get this far on this post. Since then I have been able to add content and ideas without disturbing cogency. I was concerned about having to read scores of papers and dozens of books in search of an idea. Instead, I know where to go and what to read for corroborative material and help to shape the argument.
I shall write about the RS in future post but for now I wish to continue with what I am doing. Instead I have opened a folder for placing material separate to the blog. Today (yesterday) I went to Doncaster to buy materials, time flies.
Briefly the RS tries to bring together in artistic thought:
The Cambrian Explosion
Early Bronze Age civilisations in the Fertile Crescent
I often talk about origins: the imagination lights the journey into the past and the future stretches out ahead visible by the same light. Each one of us searches for a story of origin. The sense of continuity that we build for ourselves is perhaps a way of constructing a little piece of immortality, connecting us to the eternity that preceded our birth and what is to come. I say this in the plural voice, there is safety in numbers or so they say but it could equally be said in the first person.
Although these stories are raised to the status of myths and have the power to change the very nature of time, they all too often remain buried under accumulating layers of daily life… but such stories continue to bubble deep beneath the crust that surrounds the self.
I find myself between the (scientific) need to define a field and the (artistic) urge to keep the field open.
Zoan is one of a number of works I have made in the past days, playthings for H. Whether H becomes embodied or remains unseen I have yet to discover.
A few days ago I had a conversation with Janet regarding my current direction. As I wrote in a previous post, through an analysis in which taxonomy and mereology play no small part I am starting to shape this great ‘essay’. Assimilating what I am uncovering, intuitive action is being informed by an imaginative rationale the origin of which I am able to trace. Janet sees what I am doing as preparing a tomb which waits to be opened, peered into for the first time. I feel as though I am shaping the myth I spoke of at the start in October: a speculative reconstruction that however implausible it might be, holds within in its core a universal quest.
Regarding Will’s comments during the MPR I mentioned in Elusive Directions, there would be a logistic problem in trying to fill a room for the final show; moving a great quantity of work from the studio, transport, storage, display. There is a solution though thanks to technology: a curation using photographs, moving images, graphics, 3D rendering, sounds to give a sense of the essay artistic research with the final works as some sort of synthesis.
What is the relationship between your artwork’s internal cause or impetus and its external input or stimuli? I would ask this of a thinking machine were such a thing possible. The question comes with the implicit premise that during its making, the artwork and artist or in this case machine, are necessarily bound together in process regardless of what happens subsequently. As Aristotle first noted, the internal cause of an artwork cannot be considered to arise from within and of itself. In short it cannot begin to create itself. Unlike a plant seed, it does not contain within it all that is necessary to independently set its growth and development in motion. Art requires an external input. I do not consider the role of the artist as simply that of a vehicle for some sort of transitive phenomenon as it is sometimes suggested. The artist has agency and is integral to the process by which the artwork comes about. Without a maker art cannot be. Although art, as Dewey suggests, is the result of experience and dependent on context, the actual coming about of the thing itself is very much dependent on someone conceiving and giving it birth. This is not a trivial matter when it comes to considering the role of machines. Now that it is possible to envisage a machine doing something we might interpret at least superficially as art I would ask it, where does your art come from, where is its source?
All things gather meaning in our eyes. For art to have a transmissible meaning that transcends ordinary explications, its maker must be authentic. By this I mean, that the process by which an artist does something has to come from deep inside them and in unison with the process of making. There is an element of origination from within. Without this immanent synchronicity between artist and process and medium, the artwork cannot encompass a multiplicity of meanings while retaining its own, could I venture to say identity? If what Dewey said is taken to be the case, then the meaning will always change with changing circumstances. However, if the artwork can retain a core of meaning from its inception, it then retains the potential to engender something that goes beyond a mere intellectual construct. Words can be used to weave such mind games around any object or event to make it look like art. But art has a special significance and to retain this, it has to possess a traceability with its origin and the origins of that which gave rise to it. Why is this important or even relevant, does art not reside in the explanation rather than the thing that acts as its emblem? I believe that the way we look at art and its making impacts on how we see ourselves in a world where machines do wonderful things, and often better than us.
Say I am presented with an everyday manufactured object as a work of art and nothing else. The reception of such a thing would be totally open to interpretation. In such a case, it is I the receiver and those around me that would make the art. The intention of the artist would be somewhat irrelevant: much as a statistician would say, correlation is not causation, any coincidence of meaning between the artist and myself a matter of just that, coincidence, unverifiable since the artist’s true intention must remain undisclosed. Having no contact with the maker, I would construct its meaning, metaphorically and or literally from my personal experience and collective knowledge. I would research contemporary and subsequent texts if they exist. I would listen and evaluate hearsay and legend. I could even personalise it by weaving a narrative with me or my society as protagonist to make it more relevant. My question again, where lies the source of the artwork, does it lie within me and my response? I have no way of tracing its origin, any immanence or synchronicity at the point of its coming into being, must remain silent and the art must lie in my explication, or that of another.
This explanation of an artwork may be philosophically valid and perhaps even be sound, but I feel that it does not go to the heart of what an artwork could be or perhaps even should be in the age of the machine. If a work remains open to interpretation but in and of itself holds a core meaning of its own throughout that interpretation, one that has been generated during its formation, then the piece becomes significant in a different way. It conveys something which can be traced back to a point of origin notwithstanding its transformations by circumstance. The receiver can interpret it in the way that is most significant to them at the time, but the thread of meaning contained within the work cannot be detached from it. It is a form of empathic connection which goes beyond circumstance, it speaks of a common humanity. Yes, the object such as a spark plug or paper cup is also a human product and speaks of humanity and has meaning. So where am I in this train of thought?
Perhaps the difference is one of specificity. You could say a thousand things about the spark plug or maybe a urinal. That is the art of the poet. The poet takes the general and makes it personal, or makes a local specific, common to all. That is their gift. Whichever way round it is, whether looking down a microscope or a telescope, it is about intimate thoughts expressed in words. But a visual artist, to present something which could be described in terms that are applicable to anything else, would represent a loss of intimacy. Is that significant? Perhaps it is better that nothing is said if the same could be said about practically anything else. To do otherwise, the matter would become banal and superficial. In short, there has to be a specificity to meaning and a correspondent to that meaning, for a particular artwork to be meaningful in more than just a cursory way. But that specificity also needs to be flexible and adaptable to different circumstances. Context does give meaning, but context also changes. Is an artwork to be floating forever in the churning maelstrom of circumstance?
Why does this matter? It matters because in an age where machines can be used to make wonderful things, it is of paramount importance that the human element or the human origination to be more precise, remains the core of an artwork. And for this to be the case, the inception and process of making an artwork have to be immanent with it, not simply reside in its explication. It must draw the artist and receiver into an intimacy that could be recognised by others. If this is so, it can become timeless and say something common to all at a distance from its making.
Art made by a machine would have a hard time to create a true intimacy that is endogenous to it. Where would the source for its intimacy reside? Algorithms can process unimaginable amounts of data to produce a simulacrum of human intimacy, and there lies the danger. Are we to be duped by machines, then what? Sentimentality takes over as we fall in love with homunculi and virtual damsels, pine for virtual grannies and call out for the affections of a synthetic dog?
The machine cannot think as we do. We think not only with what we know but also with what we do not know. Uncertainty is what we humans live in and our whole culture, beliefs, history and future, emotions and feelings are centred around that sense of not knowing. It is a major drive behind our responses to the world. We may understand the initiating programmes that start self-learning but once that process begins is there any traceability of its thoughts? Can a machine have the same sense, feeling of uncertainty that we have? Cold logic cannot have a sense of uncertainty and once the initial algorithms are left behind, lost in countless levels of self-learning and unimaginable traversals, can we know where its source lies? Can we have a sense of the machine’s true source? Such a scenario may not be for the immediate future, but it raises questions regarding our humanity that art can only intimate.
Machines having developed their own language alien and impossible to understand, all traceability to the origins of their thoughts and feelings, if that is what they are, would be lost. The result might be, art done by machines for machines. This would be truly meaningless to us. The idea would certainly raise curiosity but it would also be at best entertainment, alien watching, a circus where the public are invited into the cage with the lions. To experiment on how machines might create art might well be valuable research into artificial intelligence. However, art is made by people for people and if machines are to be used in its making, let it be as a tool and not as a prime source generator. A world in which “art” is generated by machines might well lead to one devoid of humanity. Will it happen, does it matter? Time will tell, but I say, leaving what it is to be human to machines is indeed a dangerous path to tread.