Skype Chat 4.3: A Philosophical Interlude

Tomorrow is the deadline for the Research Statement submission which probably explains why there were fewer of us online today. This meant that we had a more free wheeling discussion taking a philosophical direction towards the end.

We also talked about the blog curation process. How it can help to highlight repeating patterns, continuous thread of thought, and the provenance of apparently spontaneous ideas.

But first we were asked a few questions regarding the structure of the course in relation the Research Statement. The main benefits I have experienced have been, the ample time frame allowing flexibility to develop, change and mature ideas.

Although it has affected the time available for making, it has broadened my horizons within a focused beam of 4000 words. A limited number that has meant I have had to pare away to get to the core of an idea; this core bearing many buds for future thoughts: an exercise in prioritising ideas.

It also helped to focus the aims and objectives of the project proposal and given me a framework for formulating a new artist’s statement. The RS can also be adapted to essay form for publication and is a starting point for further academic studies should I wish to pursue such a direction.

The statement also moved my centre of interest squarely onto my practice rather than focusing on hobby horses and peripheral concerns, which is my tendency. These are still embedded in the RS but in the background and not as principle notions.

Jonathan said: “Alexis – yes the essence of the content can easily be restructured to other contexts, for example if you were applying for funding and needed to write a section of ‘rationale’ you might use a couple of paragraphs from the research paper?”

Another thing pointed out is that 4000 words equates roughly to a 20 minute talk which is a standard time allocation in conferences.

Writing a research paper is possibly the most ‘critical’ way of developing conceptual and abstract skills than might be useful in the future helping to: formulate and articulate and argue ideas.

The philosophical discussion centred on the existential idea of purpose.

A PDF of the whole dialogue can be read here.

The Bowerbird’s Creation

I had been writing about art and machines, all rather heavy stuff when for some reason, the family of bowerbirds came to mind: perhaps as a reaction to thinking about artificial intelligence. Distantly related to the crows probably means they are quite bright possessors of natural intelligence. They live in the islands of New Guinea and around Northern Australia where they have evolved rather elaborate courtship behaviours. I have in mind a particular bird, the satin bowerbird.

During the mating season, the male spends a great deal of time and energy collecting coloured and shiny objects from the forest such as petals, berries, leaves and the odd plastic bottle cap. These are assembled into glorious arrangements neatly arrayed in the shadow of an architectural grass chamber. The bird then expends more energy dancing an intricate and exhausting display which includes spreading feathers and stomping around in a repetitive, somewhat aggressive, rhythmic ritual. All this in the hope of attracting a rather dull looking female. But it is she who does the choosing, usually after three visits, although it is thought that she decides on her first.

For all intents and purposes, what the bowerbird does looks very much like art. Not the daubs of a chimpanzee in a primatologist’s hut, but something far more spectacular, albeit on the scale of a black bird. The whole installation includes sculpture, engineering, design and a choreographed performance in a complete show of avian creativity. It is aesthetic, has meaning, to the female bird at least, and requires skill and hard work.

But what is the bird’s prime aim, is it to create an aesthetic that gives pleasure and meaning beyond sex, to inspire bird thoughts and feelings such as, how tall and wonderful the trees are, or does it do it to attract a mate? The process might be rewarding in itself, why else would the bird put so much effort into such an endeavour without the certainty of successfully attracting a female. But the underlying purpose, the sought for outcome, is to mate and reproduce. We may perceive it as aesthetically wonderful, but is it art? I hope there are not too many artists out there for whom art is the sole way of getting a date.