I have always been drawn to the archaeological departments of museums. Shaped, inscribed stone fascinate me. I am not sure why. Perhaps it is a communion with past peoples, perhaps the immortality of words written in stone, or maybe it is that I imagine myself engaged in some similar activity. I feel an urge to make, to fashion, carve mould, shape. It is a fundamental need, to change the physical world, to alter it in some way, to make art. Carving is a direct link to nature. Working with natural material and limited means is something that is within reach of anyone. It is a human thing to do. It is both earthly and divine, the extension of a transient thought, moment, place.
I see words encircling Logos. I see them appearing and disappearing, emerging as an accumulation of reading of repeated passages of text.
After setting up the work bench I tried something out that came to me as I was travelling down to the Residency in February. I am currently working on the text and will soon apply it to the sculpture components. I made the first marks with what will no doubt be the stylus I use for the script.
I have always had difficulty with my calligraphy, but somehow this form of writing suited me. I enjoyed inscribing the soft material with the wooden tool, lightly dragging it through the flesh to be made stone. It seems so appropriate to the text which ties up the two main pieces of the installation.
Thinking about the textual link between the two pieces, the third work has suddenly, as I write, become resolved. I was in two minds as to which of a number of works I would use. The answer is clear: the silent ‘What is the Difference? (I can also add the video if there is time; brings in another dimension to the overall idea).
The material as flesh; the words becoming flesh: An allusion to the process as well as biblical references. This is part of the composition of the verse Logos. Layering meaning into the large sculpture of the same name.
I have been very busy of late and my current work is in a state of incompletion, so I am glad to have just completed a video to accompany a small sculptural work for the interim Summer show at Camberwell. Its simplicity has given me the space to think about a deep level aspect of what I am doing. The narrative in the words of the scrolling text are deliberately anachronistic. I worked on the few words in various versions: directed in the you and I form, playing with tenses, making the content more or less personal. Finally I ended in the place where my instincts had led me to start; with the intention to distance myself from the subject whilst bringing it into direct contact with me in the present as I reflect on its future set in the past. Bringing together the deep past, present and future is very much what my research statement is about albeit taking a narrow field of view. It is interesting how this synchronicity occurs from time to time.
I have referred to the central role language plays in my work. This role is not an overt one, I have not used text or words explicitly so far. However, in this blog journal I use words as a glue that binds together ideas in some way trying to make sense of what are at the outset subliminal responses to experience. In the Mid Point review I recently mentioned language as a principle theme in the project proposal as I did in the initial symposium back in October; the time has come to attempt at explaining this.
Why is language important to me? Beyond emotions, physical responses and sensations, in order for me to think about the world around me in ways that build on experience and gain some understanding I need a more complex and flexible way of ordering thoughts. This way comes in the form of verbal language, spoken and then written. A word is an abstract entity that stands for something we encounter in the world. This label is made up of individual sounds or phonemes. Phonemes are recombined to form words, words form phrases and sentences and so on articulating complex thoughts.
This correlates with how I work through sculpture. The basic building blocks, or ‘phonemes’ are shapes. Each shape raises a response in me just as the sonic values of phonemes carry with them an emotional-auditory response. This idea is used in poetry as in alliteration giving a sense beyond the abstract meaning of the words. In Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood’ the poet uses alliteration just for its sonic effects,
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starlessand bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched,courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to thesloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.
However, he also uses metaphor and rhythm to build a vivid sensual picture full of emotional as well as cognitive tension that goes beyond the semantic values of the words. It is a shaping of the world in words.
Sculpture can also work in poetic terms, the semantic-associative value of shapes when combined give rise to thoughts that go beyond the sphere, cone and rod, nose, finger and pear. I use shape as a response to thoughts and ideas; what emerges is not an ekphrastic embodiment but an intention towards a more poetic form. Sound too can be used to build ideas but its very essence conveys a deeply subjective emotional meaning, one that can be used to build emotional narratives that in turn can create associative responses. Words, sounds and shapes act on our senses and thoughts in different ways but they all bear a commonality in that their basic component units can be combined and recombined to create a complex language. Where they differ is in what they communicate and this is why combining, in my case sound and sculpture does present a valid case.
This leads me to ask, should a sculpture be silent and sound disembodied? This purist idea is difficult to refute and has been the ground for a silent debate during modern European history. Perhaps in the end sculpture should remain silent. But then again, I can see that shaped sound could inhabit a sculpture and pulsate within its form, tracing its contours as it pushes against silence, forming a boundary of perception so that the very space around the sculpture is contiguous with it; a symbiotic intertwining of form and sound tracing reciprocal interactions between two modalities that go beyond the semantics of the words involved in explaining the relationship.
The study in porcelain shown above is one form that challenges me to think how sound might correlate with form. Not this particular form, ostensibly it is part of another work, but as I am looking to bring together different works as part of the project proposal it does ring bells in my head. Is scale important? I think that viewing distance may play a part, perhaps sound responding to the placement of the receiver in relation to the form much as the visual is rewarded with different perceptions: long distance – overall structure and its relationship with the environment, intermediate distance – component parts and their interrelationships, close up – surface and texture. This is all of course separate to the associative meanings the form might bear. How can sound be distilled into this sort of relationship, frequency, pulse, detail? Can the same be applied to sound as to solid form, are their analogies or am I dealing with something different in kind? These are all questions I aim to explore…
This experiment on video follows from a previous trial video. I was interested to explore further the idea of lineage lost in time and distance by loss of resolution. I also wanted to increase the distance of travel of the line and so used chalk and large blackboard surfaces. I consider this video to be a failure and a success.
It is a failure because the form does not really say anything of itself. Wanting to see what would happen when using chalk on blackboard as a way of using a larger surface and reversing tonalities, the sense of line is lost by virtue of the thickness of line and therefore its loss of sharpness and resolution with distance. In addition, the lack of aesthetic consideration with this doodle also led to a meaningless design which does, however, contain some useful information encoded in its making.
But what does this experiment tell me?
The action encodes ideas that extend the first trial video and suggests further work. It also synthesises ideas I have talked about previously, notions of repeating patterns through time and how it is difficult to discern the nature of the reiterations.
The line itself become irrelevant as a device for demonstrating the loss of clarity with distance. However, it does connect the far with the near. The pattern drawn near the camera is arbitrary (and therein lies one of the problems with the experiment, lack of meaningful content). But it is largely discernible even though most is out of focus. It is like looking at the near past. When the distal pattern is drawn, I can only see the broad movements similar to the proximal drawing but the details of the pattern remain undisclosed and the broad nature of the pattern is a matter of inference. Lines connect the distal with the proximal, this is mere metaphor.
When the whole design is seen at the end of the video, the sense of repeating patterns becomes evident. The distal pattern is a simple version of the proximal one. This is a metaphor for looking for patterns over time. There are clear correspondences in the forces that shape one period and another. Only that the further back in time one goes, the less certain one can be of the shape of things and what is putatively known can only be partially inferred from evidence. However, such evidence and inferences lead one to believe that things in the past bear a close relationship to the present. Perhaps not so complicatedly, as in the drawing.
This exercise is a metaphorical, or analogous, demonstration. I do not consider it as an artwork but rather a thought experiment documented.
What to do next? I will return to the Rotring pen line which is less expressive, more precise and therefore able to convey more accurately and dispassionately that which I wish to imply. That resolution of form is lost with distance and time. The technical remedy to the extension of the line into the distance can be achieved using larger paper. Making these changes I think will raise the aesthetic element sufficiently to make a passably interesting film. In short, it needs more curation.
I am also thinking of doing something similar with text, words change over time, meanings alter making hermeneutic methodology difficult to manage. The same could be done with symbols and pictograms. This is not taking me away from my major work but rather creating a conceptual underpinning and contributing to ideas for the Oracle, Shrine and Mythopoeia.
In summary, I feel that the conceptual framework needs to be supported by an affecting aesthetic work. To work purely conceptually may be interesting, fascinating and absorbing in its own right but it does leave me with a sense of depression and sterility as creative work. A work made purely from the head with no heart or guts leaves me feeling incomplete and dissatisfied. That is because the vehicle conveying the idea is not felt but only thought and after all, the artist that I am, I cannot work purely from the head. But such an experiment does lead me to finding new contributions to a conceptual framework without necessarily considering aesthetics, that can be absorbed into my practice.
Today’s Skype chat and discussion of Lev Manovich’s essay was a timely event in view of the ideas I have been working on lately offering a way of placing them in the contemporary environment.
The first term has ended and with it comes the continuation of what has gone before. I do not see it as the completion of a phase but rather as the beginning of what is to come. The term has been a time orientation, revisiting and rebeginning, looking at things afresh: all I do seems to ascend in a cycle.
A popup exhibition entitled Virtual Particles has been organised at Camberwell and rather than making a completely new piece, I decided to work on post-truth-hurtling, the kernel of a sketch done earlier in October and take it a little further. With the direction for the mid-term coming into clearer focus through the elaboration of the project proposal, I thought I would try to reflect this in the work. In so doing, I discovered that which I had suspected. That the themes that have emerged, were embedded within the process only to be unveiled by the elaboration of the project proposal. The title tells me everything I need to know; it encodes a number of elements that I had identified in the PP as my way forward for now:
Mythopoeia – the making of a myth.
I – that this is only a beginning of a cycle
post-truth – dealing with current socio-political concerns
hurtling – my sense of physical things and time being expressed in many different ways, hurtling being one of them
Combining elements of my research in one piece I turned the video sketch into something more layered. The sound track incorporates elements other that Storm Callum . I have begun compiling a fresh archive of sound files and engineered tracks that will serve me in the future. This follows my thoughts in the recent post, Breakthrough from the Simplest Source. It also ties in with what I will talk about in a latter post relevant to my process: that of making a ritual of the recordings.
The video incorporates shadows and moving light sources giving which initiates an idea I have had for a while. Animation, of sorts, in an installation that I would grudgingly call for now, Plato’s Cave. My difficulty with this name, although convenient as a temporary place holder, is that Plato’s metaphysical explanation for the illusion of reality was based on people not seeing the true actors and props but only their projections. My idea, on the other hand, is to have three layers of perception in which the actual scenario that creates the illusion is clearly visible and exposed and perhaps even open to interaction.
The text in the video, is a reworking of the original, a selection, distillation, concentration. I aimed at something more incisive and yet ambivalent by taking out the superfluous. As the video unfolds, each word or phrase subsequent to the preceding ones changes the overall inferences. I want the words to remain maleable. Only at the end is the context alluded to.
The elemental characters that went into the making of the video remind me of creation myths in an almost Miltonian sense. I avoid icons of or references to the human world. All that I leave is a sense of imputed volition. It is my way of saying that anthropomorphism is a emergent property of who and what we are, seeing the world in our own image. This is a key element of creation myths in contrast with evolutionary theory. Even in the case of the latter, scientists use teleological language as shortcuts for what would otherwise be very lengthy explanations. A simple example is the phrase, ‘evolving towards’. This assumes a direction or goal, something that is counter to the contingent nature of evolutionary processes; a trap we fall into when describing non goal orientated natural phenomena, because we see things with hind sight as though they were leading to some predetermined goal.
Another notion I wanted to imbue the video with is the sense of things continuing ad infinitum even when one is no longer there: an intimation of eternity. This is something I may work on in the future although it has been done numerous times in different ways. The relentlessness I wanted to give the work is part of its possibly dark interpretation; the soundtrack plays an important role in this. At the end I counterpoise this sense of unrelenting descent with the partial revealing of the context at the end: the open, fresh, natural phenomena used to create spontaneously a dark vision. Sun, wind, tree, clay and water: elements often appearing in creation myths conspiring to weave the ‘horror of creation’, as Ted Hughes might put it, or the dissolution of paradise in a Miltonian world where truth is subverted by lies. 1
Two days ago I received a copy of Ted Hughes Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow together with a copy of Lupercal, an earlier set of poems. Last night I read an essay about Crow by Danny O’Connor and it all came flooding back. Years ago I completed a cycle of paintings called Traces of Life. shown in Italy and in London and one of the paintings entitled The Horror of Creation was inspired by Hawk Alights, particularly the following words:
Crow saw the herded mountains, steaming in the morning. And he saw the sea Dark-spined, with the whole earth in its coils, He saw the stars, fuming away into the black, mushrooms of the nothing forest, clouding their spores, the virus of god
And he shivered with the horror of Creation.
The Crow cycle of poems is an ambitious text that rewrites the Creation in Genesis and places the eponymous Crow at the centre as a trickster prefiguring Satan and Christ. Crow, observes, frustrates and subverts a God’s less than omnipotent and omniscient attempts at making and intervening in the world. Hughe’s challenges the concept of God portrayed in the Abrahamic religions and how this creation has gone awry. Like John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the poetry is full of allusions that are magisterially crafted in such a way that the deep seated meaning is clear but needing careful unveiling. However, Hughes’ at times fragmented narrative is reminiscent of the theatre of the absurd and comic strip characterisation – comics together with folk tales were a great influence on Hughes together with the grim realities of farm life in the North of England. The logic is hard to understand on first reading, and here is where this great work distinguishes itself, it contains a deep logic and understanding of what the poet is doing notwithstanding its apparent absurdness. However, Unlike Milton, Hughes’ is not an interpretation of the sacred text but rather a critique and extension of the holy narrative fuelled by what he experiences and sees all around him.
Reading Crow brings together once again, many of the strands that run through my work: the separation of the human psyche from nature, the arrogance of anthropocentrism, the denial of the animal part of being human, our origins in and our continuation of a long cycle of transformation and traversal from microbe to what we are now, how language has been used to control knowledge and manipulate behaviour. Could humanity have become the trickster, deceiving itself from the reality of who we are and what we are? Many of these ideas are explored in Robert Graves, The White Goddess, and Kraft Von Maltzahn’s, Nature as Landscape, studies in the history of poetry and science respectively. Both books review cultural transformations through the ages, not always progressive in terms of quality of life. This does not mean that I would have preferred (as if I had had a choice) to have lived in another time. There are countless things about our age that shine as outstanding human achievements. However, the Twentieth Century also looms as a dark cloud over our history both in scale and wanton stupidity, something the trickster, be he man, be she woman, be we the mass of humans, is only too happy to help forget any lessons that have arisen.
So where does this put me with respect to my current work and project proposal? I can see how what I have thought and done so far fit together and more importantly, how plans and conjectures can now change trajectory. There is a central core that is gradually being defined, creating a gravitational pull towards it. A path is being cleared towards something more encompassing, relevant and consistent. Creation myths from around the world also come into the picture for their differences as well as their similarities to one another. Another aspect of interest is the relationship between the linear and circular chronologies of Western and Asian beliefs; there is a little bit of each in both.
Distorted, by the unseen cause of its motion: Cast down by light Towards innocent surfaces, Bearing the scars of altered perspectives, Reasoned at distance By the movement of multitudes Whose affect is close, So close; It only looks down, Away from where it has come And in a small instant, vanishes, Entwined with the light that gave it a shape, It dares not look At the source of its making Hurtling, into the silence of its own darkness, Its own darkness.
28 October 2018
Shaping a poem is possibly the hardest thing for me when writing. Discussing this with Janet, we looked at how it could be positioned with the preceding video sketch Source of Motion . I came to the realisation that prose as in Ancestral is how I think. This may reflect the difficulty I have with rhythm. I am currently learning hand drumming, and it is quite challenging for me to follow movements which I would have expected to have come easily. Poetry is very much to do with rhythm, internal rhythm, whereas I am more tuned into the cadence and melody, the movement of ideas that flow in prose writing. In prose there is also rhythm but it is free and unencumbered by what I see as an externally imposed form.
This is the same poem written as I would perhaps have done had I not tried to write ‘verse’. (See Post Truth Hurtling)
Distorted, by the unseen cause of its motion: it is cast down by light towards innocent surfaces bearing the scars of altered perspectives, reasoned at distances by the movement of multitudes whose affect is close, so close. It only looks down and away from where it has come and in small instants vanishes entwined with the light that gave it shape. It dare not look at the source of its making as it hurtles into the silence of its own darkness.