Saturday, 20 September 2008

The constant exhibition

It’s saturday Morning and to give some perspective to my week: I installed an exhibition on Monday, previewed Portraits of the Tor on Tuesday and exhibits until tomorrow night, Wednesday I did a get-in to the Phoenix and thursday showed Dance Floor, Yesterday, Friday, I installed and showed Un Tempo Una Volta and then premiered The Unfurling. It has been intense. This afternoon I install Water Table which exhibits tonight. Audiences have been committed and engaged and I’ve been trying to detect and determine what of my work is working and why.

A few thoughts: When I toured In Other People’s Skins the remarks about the way people engaged with the work described them as a living Caravaggio. When shooting Un Tempo, Una Volta the reference was Canaletto and some one also mentioned Turner, when exhibiting this work the audience fell into a tableau Vivant reminiscent of Maxfield Parish at another moment the audience sat around the ‘well’ created for the piece and seemed to resemble the graces in Victorian painting, nymphs beside a pool with light bouncing up on them in a way reminiscent of Wright of Derby.

Portraits of the Tor drew references to Irving Penn (‘better than” in fact as it was shown and received as a ‘photographic’ piece in that instance, therefore the reference was photographic and also the person was a photographer), but that person had been to one exhibition and found the other exhibition and was moved by the work and the demonstration of individual lives. Powerful, engaging and mesmeric have been coming up as epithets to describe the work.

When the work shows people are clearly engaged and several are transfixed and tell later of being powerfully engaged and affected; one or two do not talk. I’m pretty sure that my work has passed a 50% barrier and works at percentages above that figure and sometimes maybe rises into the 90’s for effectiveness. My enquiry is about how to make work that doesn’t slip below this level so that it achieves the end goal of being a brand if you like that registers in the popular psyche. The use of resolution has proved to have been effective in that higher resolutions do actually promote higher engagement and I’ve even begun to allow myself to use other techniques that I originally disallowed myself. Music for instance is a delicate and difficult issue, yet this is a moving image and sound medium. I kept originally to whatever sound had been produced on the shoot and then if the work was slowed down, then so was the soundtrack producing the familiar drone at a low level of all slowed down images, so yesterday I allowed myself the use of Tabula Rasa by Arvo Part, that were he around, I would have asked him to write a piece and hopefully it would have done what that particular piece did, alchemically, when combined with my image conception of pointing the camera at the sky to feel the ubiquitousness of water that flows around Venice, without actually seeing it.

I am quietly excited about each piece individually now, because somehow the time and process has allowed each one to ferment or mature sufficiently to come to that point where my anxiety about each has been replaced by a simple act of decision of what to do to achieve completeness in the work (the thoughts would have bred in the unconscious for a long long time before). After all I have practiced this for many years and so it is an appropriate function of being an AHRC Creative Fellow, to draw out of me this work that is relevant and engaging.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The Gaze

Two days ago I installed the exhibition of Portraits of Glastonbury Tor at the Somerset Rural Life Museum in Glastonbury. Last evening we held the preview and the response to the work was enthusiastic and delighted. People’s comments were that the large screen presentation enhanced the quality of colour and that the subjects were life sized - obviously a size that was relatable to. Importantly, people loved the stillness of the work with the wind blowing elements of clothing or hair but the subjects holding their poses perfectly still. One person didn’t realise that these were moving images until with a start at around twenty seconds, they noticed a white dot, a person, moving on the Tor. Another person commented that the representation of the Tor from ‘Paradise Field’ exemplified what they thought was the essence of the landmark.

These are simple observations about the effect of the screening on a local community. The community itself, like all communities can be expected to be delighted by being represented in this way, as did the people of Cannaregio 5 days before in Venice. Venice had a much smaller screen, about one fifth of the size, but I did exhibit Portraits of the Tor the to equal delight, as I exhibited Portraits of Cannaregio at the Somerset screening. An exchange of images to challenge Baudrillard’s presumptions about the eradication of meaning and significance within the ubiquitous flow of images

The iconography of the image, the exploration of a place seen many times seems to be in tact, but it was not the particular function of the work to challenge this element, yet I did feel the image was made afresh. It is clear to me that I must continue this strand of work to gather together different communities in one space as a response to the globalisation of the world. In a combined traveling exhibition of communities from around the world with each soul being represented individually, yet together with others, the specialness of the individual self can be maintained against the flow of images which washes across the individual experience. At the moment the development of the self at the beginning of the 21st century is conflicted: on one level it is further individualised (as compared to that of an Egyptian slave for instance, the 21st century self is less likely to submit its self-hood to the overall community) but the self has taken to representing itself through an avatar, both telematically - myspace and face-book require a description of self as a collection of likes and dislikes and commodity choices which say ‘I am this’ because I have these brand loyalties' and also via a status representation in real life through actual purchase of cultural elements that have 'value' amongst peers. The outer self pervades the inner self. If we transmit our self image and avatar telematically from London to Beijing via the internet, then simultaneously we transmit the outside world in terms of choices and allegiances equally as far inside - to an inner Beijing.

The image that I asked each person to transmit to a viewing audience was one whose gaze was unfaltering, one who understood the act which I was at pains to convey before each subject took their portrait moment. Each person nobly stepped up to the mark and unfalteringly gazed at the camera lens - and each audience member did the same and met the gaze at the plane of the screen which was also of course, the surface of the lens. This is a clear transmission, a clear broadcasting of self unfettered by conceptions of the avatar, of a need to say I have this intellectual property so see me as such. As a matter of information I ask people to look into the lens, past the surface - this is a techniques derived from singing into a mike. Every singer knows to sing into the stem of the mike rather than it's surface. the light sensor in the camera is where the audience resides.

With my original conception for the piece I thought of early photography and its need to have the subject be still for a period of time for technical reasons and I wondered what that might do as an act to the way the person might be portrayed yet I didn’t realize it would demand a performative stance from the person themselves - literally. Sometimes I am astounded by my own naivety at not realising this before. With reference to 18th century portraiture and the need to show something of a person via props or locale I asked people to bring an element of their experience as reference to what was happening in their life.

These props say: I have these signifiers around me and I bring signifiers to show you something about me, but these are partial, I am more than this and I stand here, clear about my self-hood - this is of course an avatar of me but the energy with which I am engaging my gaze is the same as the energy that you are engaging your gaze and we may meet at the surface where both gazes meet - and in the act of engaging my gaze I also remove my self.

Despite the high technical demands of 4k cameras of which there are very few around the world and extremely few people who can operate them and I pride myself in being within a small group of people who have taken the time to understand these processes to the point that we shot on a wednesday and a thursday and presented on a friday with only a laptop to create an innovative workflow, when shooting on the Tor or in Cannaregio the main issue was to try to make art work that explored the issue of resolution and what it means at this point in time and why it means what it means.

After a year of my enquiry I am beginning to know some things, but these come to me in dreams for later articulation and are therefore enigmatic, but later will become clear and deciphered. At the moment I can only render them here as aphorisms (and Patanjali made himself fairly clear with aphorisms, so that for the time being, is fine with me:

Resolution equals time

Attention is energy

Increased frequency of sound equals more resolution

Engagement of Self is within the gaze

During engagement time ceases

When self-aware, then image aware

or, Velocity = position (as Heisenberg understood)

When self is engaged, self is forgotten

There is a self-fulfilling prophecy of decay

as there is a self-fulfilling prophesy of desire

The gaze is resolution and is also time, as time equals resolution

Loosely, what I’m trying to get at here are some simple truths - or one simple truth - but it’s taken a year of research to frame and articulate what I am beginning to understand. The way that I know that these are truths is that they are simple and when you tell them to someone they do not blink because the truth of the thought is obvious - it just needed saying for the first time.

The key to all of this is that when you increase the resolution of a displayed image, then the more resolution of detail within the image then simply, there is more for the gaze to scrutinise. One has to bare in mind that the gaze is an expenditure of energy which rises or falls to meet its challenge - in that sense it is similar to wavelet transforms which are the apogee of the digital paradigm (albeit invented in 1807) in that they intelligently examine the data they are to deal with and then appropriately deal with them. Also there’s the modular transfer function which basically states that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link: you may have an extremely high resolution camera, but if computational equipment or your display projector is lower in resolution, then that is the determining factor of the representation of data.

So, in expending energy in concentrating, discriminating, ratiocinating and utilising all the separate factors that usually constitute self as an intellectualising entity, in the act of the gazing the self is momentarily forgotten and effectively parked whilst one’s energy is focussed upon an ‘image’.

Three issues here: a) there is the use of language in describing the actions of concentration which is currently derived from photography: ‘to focus’ and from that the idea, the larger idea with a nod to Chomsky, that throughout history and the development of the self the language of our most recent technology is utilised to describe the actions of consciousness (to ‘gather’ ones attention as perhaps deriving from peasant culture and the simple act of finding foodstuffs and medicines in the woods, or perhaps Plato’s notion of apprehension which derived from the idea tat the world presented itself through signs portents and therefore divination was possible - where the world gave signs of what might come - therefore his proposition that things were already known, one simply had to apprehend their truth which was ‘universal’).

b) The second issue is the notion of the image. Just what is an image after you strip away what we all collectively agree the image is? Notionally it is some form of pictorial inscription in a medium. Charcoal on paper, oil on canvas, media on media, etc. But there are images in the mind - pictures - and also less 'material' ideas of images - concepts. Duchamp championed the notion of the value of the concept above its material manifestation. Strip away the material and all that is left is immaterial - just like the digital realm. The Hindus say that there are two fundamental levels of mind: the first deals with specifics, 'this specific cup, that tree over there, this hand which is mine'; the second level of mind is causal mind, the mind of concepts: 'the general idea of a cup, the idea of a tree, the idea of a hand, the idea of mind'. They would also say that as you read that sentence you gave energy to 'thinking'. I shall have to come back to this issue at a later date as I intuitively feel there is substance here that relates to resolution that needs investigating.

c) The third issue is whether or not it is worth thinking of performativity in this act - the response of self to the engagement with greater detail is a worthy level to analyse the act. Of course performativity happens - but how important is it when compared to the play of energy of mind across an image, whether two or three dimensional. I should say here that for me a theatrical presentation or sculpture has similar qualities to a two dimensional image, at least it shares more similarities than differences.

So I’m enquiring about the use of energy in terms of engagement and therefore it seems to me that more detail offers more engagement equals more expenditure of energy.

As a note to the above I have to consider the idea of dependent origination so beloved by Buddhist philosophers which on one level conflicts with Hindu propositions. Bill Viola, as a sometimes Buddhist artist (I hope he doesn't mind that description) occasionally acts within that notion - for instance in the 'Reflecting Pool' of 1979, Viola considers what is that is mind and what is it that mind reflects. Also in 'I Do Not Know What It Is That I Am Like' of 1986, Viola looks into the eyes and existences of animals - and of course himself - all of which are dependently originated. We come into being together, as we go out of being together. The gaze of the viewer, the viewed and the act of viewing are all one arising together, dependent on each other. It is this connectivity that I am exploring in terms of resolution.

I note the recent pseudo scientific approach to what entertains a person by analising eye movements or watching skin resistance as bio feedback, but for me it seems that any art or entertainment that is produced with this sort of thing in mind will be adhering to a prior paradigm for the production of art and entertainment, that is by utilising notions of commodification we simply refer back to mercantile capitalism, by looking at things as objects tat can be bought and sold. Of course it’s possible to think of a scheme to sell air and water, but this diminishes living to a marketplace - and there are plenty of other places to go besides than with a heavy purse by one’s side.

In all of this I have to fictionalise these elements so that I may form an articulation of a terrain so that it might be discussed and thought about and reflected upon. In this tale I have developed the simile that there is a surface or interface where image meets gaze and gaze meets image - as if there was an exchange to be had between both. There is, but it is displaced by time. The act of shooting is at one time and the act of displaying is at another. Each can be enriching for the participants, but for a true exchange one would need immediate high definition broadcasting (of the highest order). There are forms like ultagrid that promise HD live exchange, but it is severely compressed and compression, put simply, is a blurring of detail. I have some projects that require direct telematic transmission between various parties but that shall have to wait until I have fully identified the issues in the act of high resolution imaging first.

So, in terms of the art and the exhibition, Portraits of Glastonbury Tor and Portraits of Cannaregio worked for the audiences that saw them - admittedly audiences with a vested interest, that of appreciating being appreciated - but in terms of the acts involved, imagining, creating, shooting, post-producing, inviting an audience, exhibiting, creating an engagement with performative elements and then collating the response I believe these two pieces are working at a reasonably high level. As I always say at this point, you have to see the work yourself.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Un Tempo, Una Volta

7.30 am monday 15th September. I should have written whilst shooting Un Tempo Una Volta in Venice but it was too intense to even think of doing so. We achieved a great deal in a short time. But my mind is whirling so I’d better bring some order to my thoughts. I woke up thinking that I should create an image and sound track of silence so that I could have something that was not flowing past fast - but then a that would be creative, a John Cage like work, and b it would give some credence to a view 5 oppose, that of Jean Baudrillard that the ubiquitous flow is unstoppable and meaningless. Only in the minds of lesser people, Jean.

I may well create that silent track - later though, later.

So, Venice: including myself I organised a trip for 6 people, artists all who were also conscious of how to document, how to make work on the run, how to gather thoughts for later so that works could be made and exhibitions staged. For myself I was there specifically to shoot Un Tempo Una Volta with the 4k Red One. This was a re-formulation of a piece that was a response to the challenge I had set myself many years earlier whilst working on Building SItes, a ten minute series about wonderful architectural designs explored by an artist, journalist, philosopher and not least of course, the director. I had shot Biker Wall with Beatrix Campbell, a favorite thinker of mine, then the Boots Wets Building with Iwona Blaswick who now runs the Whitechapel Gallery. Richard Rogers shiny Lloyds Building had to be done but no one wanted to do it as it had been shot so much before.

Michael Craig-Martin had come forward, brave soul, to present and of course there was I ready to try to re-present the formidable building which was really just an open space cleverly re-imagined to seem to not be so. The challenge was the re-presentation of the iconic in way that made it a fresh experience and so that was the base concept of going to Venice and showing once more but in a fresh way.

The first rule for the artist is to look differently to everyone else, to find a new direction to come from. I had considered looking only at the fading and broken plasterwork of Venice, the beautiful decay - but then that seemed too straightforward and therefore not fresh. Water, boats, old buildings, sky, people, were the stuff of Venice so they either had to be present or obviously not present and also the experience of looking at a work in a gallery space had to be taken into account - or decidedly not a gallery space as Susan Sontag has written of the experience of an accompanied stroll, which in itself disempowers what one is strolling past.

So I decided to hire a boatman and point the camera upward with a wide angle lens to not see the water, but feel it in the boats and therefore image’s motion, nor to see people (except for the odd person putting out washing or idly gazing out, to see the tops of buildings and not the point where land meets water - and so on.

A simple conception to be shown on a 16 feet by 8 feet screen (a 2:1 ratio which I now vastly prefer to 16:9) also, all of my art work will inform my gaze when shooting as a DP.

Here I have to begin to mention the group of artists, in terms of them being artists as opposed to them having specific roles such as fixer, translator, camera assistant, documenter, producer etc. Alex Bynge, who like all of us needs to look through a camera and make images besides helping organise the complex act of shooting with a data camera (which by now we are very happy with), Deborah Weinreb, who took to shooting bursts of photos to co-respond to my act of shooting moving, yet still images (so: still yet moving images), Lucietta WIlliams who made pin-hole exposures of a scene as a direct opposite in terms of technology to the 4k resolutions we were working in, Bronwyn Bradshaw who picked up a small handheld video camera to engage with what we were doing videographically with far less pixels and Charlotte Humpston who will be creating an installation based on textures, textiles and images of the surface of things, inspired by Venetian light.

The second project I was making was a second attempt at the representation of people and space I set up in Portraits of the Tor which I am staging as an exhibition today at Somerset’s Rural Life Museum in Glastonbury. The camera stays still reading the world (like a mobile scanner as Tim Sassoon, LA Grader calls it) in extreme high definition. That in effect is my research - how resolution interfaces with time. SImply put, there is a relationship between higher resolutions of representation and the amount of time the attention is taken up with perusing what has been represented that is mediated by the interface itself. WHat I mean here is if you look directly, then that is the experience you get - you and it. If you look via a medium, film, video, a telescope, a ride on a helter skelter, that’s the elemental resource that mediates that gaze.

The Second project is called Ritratti di Cannaregio or Portraits of Cannaregio, a district where ordinary people live to the north of the island of Venice.

Monday morning we shot some footage for a piece ‘The Unfurling’ at 120 frames per second at 2k resolution.

We went to the airport and took the plane which arrived on Monday evening, Tuesday we met the boatman, Franco who was a shear delight. The rest of Tuesday we met Kishi and Robyn our Venetian contacts who were helping with the local community. Wednesday morning we recce'd what route we might take and so I decided where we wold go from Franco’s suggestions then shot on the boat starting at 3pm by hanging silk banners on several bridges on the route and beginning the one-take shot at 4 and once again directly afterwards. The we hauled all the equipment back to the apartment. Wednesday night I prepared and edited the footage into a work we could show later. Thursday we fetched up at the location near Misericordia and planted down the camera on a bridge and then stood in the heat all day long as our portrait subjects came and went and we occasionally found more people who we could make understand what we were doing there at all. Thursday night I prepared the footage for editing and Friday morning finished the edit in time to go out for a couple of hours before the exhibition itself. We went to my most favorite gallery anywhere in the world, the Palazzo Fortuni.

Friday evening, when the footage had finished rendering at 7.40 p.m. we took the projector we’d brought with us to the Gallery Scarabocchio and arranged it for the exhibition to start at 8 p.m. precisely. That was a fine estimation of time.

When the hardboard came down off the window and the images of Portraits of Cannaregio fell upon the cloth as a back projection I could see around 60 Venetian faces waiting and then seeing with surprise the image of their own neighborhood and familiar people coming to stand in front of camera, then waiting and gazing at them before turning and walking away to be replaced by someone else they knew.

Outside the was a table by the canal side with fresh block of parmesan cheese, a whole wheel, plus prosecco and a lot of delight. The bridge set at 90 degrees to the canal side had people sitting on it drinking, looking and laughing with delight as familiar faces came and went. Yes it was in 4k resolution but shown at 1k and yes resolution etc was important, but more important was the representation of their own world through different yet familiar eyes. Later I showed Un Tempo Una Volta, then I Re Ansel Adams and Portraits of the Tor. Deborah showed a slide show of her portraiture then I again showed Portraits of Cannaregio and finally Portraits of the Tor was again requested.

The audience were presented with their own world, the subjects walked to the camera with pride and stepped up to the mark and took the gaze, the re-presentation in high definition fulfilled the task, the gondolier looked into Un Tempo and said this was world he was familiar with. We were basically accepted into their world - especially when in Portraits of Cannaregio I had asked the crew to walk up to the mark in front of the camera and also hold the gaze. As this was shown I paused the playback and we all walked in front of our own image for real and I started to speak through Robyn and thank them for allowing us into their community and let us make this experiment. Later we went and ate and I had a deeply fulfilling experience with some prosecco and a calzone made the way I like it...

Saturday we packed and then wandered around Venice like tourists for a couple of hours before getting a plane home to Bristol at 12 am. Sunday we sorted the kit and I prepared the footage for this weeks shows. It’s now 8.40 am Monday Morning and I have to stop writing as we have to put up an exhibition at the Rural life museum at 10 am.

I will of course be reflecting more, as these three weeks of exhibitions carry on until I have to file my report on my acts at the end of this month. Not very poetic, but true.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

A High Definition view of the Universe, (after John Lennon)

Imagine life’s evolution on earth, all of it, from the first microbe, bacteria, or whatever came first, that we might now recognize as life, to whatever we now feel is life’s apogee. Imagine that long road of evolution and as some would have it ‘route of selection’, where chance favoured those specimens of each genus that had the longer neck, the wider tail, the brighter plumage, the faster limb, the stronger jaw. Or, intelligently designed by whomsoever and perfected in the day-to-day testing of that design that then produced changes. Whatever you predilection, whatever you bias, whatever fits for you, whatever rings with your intuition.

Then having imagined from the first moment to the last, where either the sun grows cold and expands past earths orbit yet is still hot enough to evaporate the material the whole earth is made from, or where due to some inbuilt damage or exterior asteroid or meteor crash whose impact casts dust clouds throughout the remaining atmosphere and nuclear winter or nuclear summer and desert abounds - but where in either case the life on the planet just stops - imagine from that very first moment to the very last as a glowing incandescent display of the planets move toward trying to establish a self-reflective consciousness which blinks into existence and then blinks out of existence in a natural way.

Then reflect on the fact that the infinitely large universe holds an infinitely large sum of stars, galaxies, nebulas, birthing places of stars and also cemeteries of stars - and around a small number of those stars there are planets that hold life. And reflect on that small number as being in fact, millions, billions, trillions of planets with life coming into being and coming out of being. Imagine a neural net of flashes of the light of life being universe-wide having no mind to time, except to use time as a tool to manifest this neural universe-wide net of thoughts of a self reflective consciousness representing the infinitely large mind of what we might call god, being the very purpose of life itself - to signal the meaning of it all through the glowing interior, yet paradoxically exterior light of self-consciousness which says: “let there be light”.

We are the 100 Monkeys

I’ve begun to realise how long it takes for a concept to reach maturity and then when it is expressed technologically in one form, it is in fact the expression of a concept that seemed to have begun in another form. In other words, the real world follows thought.

Take for example the Edisonograph - an invention by Edison of a means of recording sound on a wax scroll. All praise to the inventor for the act of invention and to paraphrase Einstein, all of those inventors upon who’s shoulders he stood.

It seemed like an analogue invention: the way the signal was encoded on the scroll used analogue technology and was susceptible to all the faults of the analogue. Think of Chinese whispers, tell a tale from one to another and before long the tale is changed through reproduction. This is a simple way of understanding the analogue mode. It copies and also copies the faults of the medium until eventually all the faults outweigh the original content. This is called the signal to noise ratio. The content is the signal, the faults (hiss etc) are the noise. The signal to noise ratio is how much there is of one compared to the other.

I note that even in my language I refer to an earlier invention to describe the inscription of the wax scroll as writing, which refers to that of writing on Egyptian papyrus - I called Edison’s roll of wax a ‘scroll’. This speaks of our entire set of inventions before the digital as if they were all analogue in form. This is simply revisionism through hindsight. Projecting back one understanding upon everything that preceded it - and I’m about to embark on another revisionist projection and suggest that everything before the digital - was in fact digital.

Cultural ideas had begun to spread from culture to culture at the beginning of the analogue age and as soon as a commodity was invented to transmit value and therefore its culture, the wax scroll, the disc, the tape etc, then the digital age had begun. The East was privy to the culture of the west as was the West privy to the culture of the east - and each was of course as valuable as the other - and so it was ten centuries ago and more. Digital media was latent within analogue media. The printing press did that very same job as ten centuries before that, word of mouth with its analogue Chinese-whispers form, using letters carried between readers by non-readers or people telling myth and tale to transmit data from the thinkers of each culture to each other.

So to the concept of the hundred monkeys: when the hundredth and last monkey on an island learns to wash the potatoes (taught by a zoologist or anthropologist) then the first monkey on another island somehow seems to develop the ability to wash a potato before eating, as if by magic.

Nowadays children show each other their ipod or variant and even if they can’t speak the same language they exhibit their cultural leanings to each other by asking each other to listen to what their listening pattern is - this is simple demonstration. They use digital media - it’s just faster than learning a linguistically based language and could be argued to be a meta-language. It dispenses with the detail and cuts to the chase. So now we’re learning to communicate with other abilities derived from our sensorium (this is my favourite word to describe the overall set of senses, intuitions, emotions, physical state etc that we exist within). It avoids a spiritual description, but equally avoids that nullifying Aristotelian description much loved by the followers of scientism, determinist or materialist. I use this because as Hamlet told Horatio, to paraphrase, there are more paradigms dreamed of in our current intellectual grasp.

Chomsky proposed the dependent origination of language and thought, a concept cherished by Buddhists - that everything arises in relation to everything else. Westerners say you can only know one thing about something to the exclusion of other things (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle). We romanticise Eastern thinking by imagining that the sanguine response to that contention is that the wise Buddha figure sits patiently by reflecting that this is not so, that all you have to simply defocus your ratiocinations and mentations and various anxious frontal lobe activity that are constricting your ability to perceive both at once - that is, the mental activity of alienation that is so beloved by cold-climate western thinking.

In all of this, that which appreciates logic in us, “this fact, this fact, this state, this idea should follow each other” and the prime form of logic is simply ‘yes and no’ - the two digital states when encoded into voltage. Philosophically of course this might break down when applying the Buddhist philosopher Nargajuna’s thinking: “Neither this, nor that, nor both and also, neither”. Perhaps there’s an extension to digitality when we transcend yes and no. Nargajuna was probably quite happy washing potatoes when he had to. There’s a line form a story by John Cowper-Powis that comes to mind as a critique of the inebriation that can be caused by mentation and ratiocination: An old housekeeper is in the kitchen washing potatoes as the old gardener comes in and sits at the table and muses philosophically about the events that happen in a garden. “She listened with the patience of women of all ages, as men as they are wont, muse upon things greater than themselves”.

So with a mind to the women who might be smiling to herself as I say this, as well as the Buddha sitting with the Bonopo Monkey in the corner: at the moment it seems to me that digitality is in fact a simple washing of potatoes before we eat - after all, aren’t we supposed to be apes too?

Monday, 1 September 2008

We have always been Global

It’s happened: I knew it would happen, but what’s taken me by surprise is that it happened whilst I was watching and I didn’t see it happen. I pride myself on being aware, conscious of the flow of things in the world - it’s a lesson in itself that the need to define oneself as self-aware does not actually produce self-awareness - or world-awareness.

What’s happened is this: the connections across cultures have been made. If you were a Japanese you too would have heard a famous English tune, as Haruki Murakami speaks of the Beatles song in his novel “Norwegian Wood”.

I thought at the time, that this song, this reference was too specifically English to spread. Yes it was famous, yes it crossed barriers, yes it was popular - yes ‘the Brits were coming’ etc. So I imagined that we in the West, or in the dominion of the West, really would be familiar with the song - and not all of us would know it well either, just the cognoscenti.

Yet the notion of the ‘West’ has spread, even the ‘East’ is now the West, even though the governments of the East mistakenly believe they should preserve the notion of the East. The West as a notion carries certain meanings around politics and culture: the interests of the West for instance, energy, cheap clothes foodstuffs and so on - around culture as well - short skirts, a lax attitude to the culture of the country the notion resides in (where has the English folksong gone unless it as a notion can be harnessed to further extend the very idea of the West as in recent years) - and so on. But the ‘West’ and more specifically ‘The American Dream’ is the dream of the species for itself as it sheds the clothes of a former existence.

I don’t want to detour into the problems of America, or more the problems of the country that is the key exporter of the baser levels of the idea of the West, it is after all, simply the baton carrier after the UK, France, Spain, Holland and Portugal and to a far lesser extent Belgium, Switzerland and a few other countries, as the reins of empire were handed over after the second world war. The Japanese though coy at first took up European dress and ideas, as did Korea and now, massively, China, with its censored internet, itself a contradiction which will be the motive power for its own change, then there’s the rest of Asia, South America, India and so on - finally we are in a global village where unlike the global concept of the 60’s where small cultures exchanged cultural values, now the digital is in fact the currency of exchange as grinning children adopt faux Hollywood posses the world over to seem to themselves more than any other that they too are the heroes and heroines of their own lives.

The pictures and soundtracks they carry on their data sticks, pads, panels, wrist gadgets and pods are the motive soundtracks of their own lives displaced, so that they are themselves the audience for things-that-happen to them and the beat goes on trying to convince them that they are in fact the experience in a consumption pattern which itself denies the idea of the experiencer, for it in effect supplies a notion of an active consumer rather than experiencer.

All of us are now bi-directional, multi-directional in fact. We are polymaths going into the net and coming back like raiders who have a swag bag of assets as if they were un-cut jewels that we had to polish through using them with other raided assets: pictures, sounds, moving-images, whatever - next to each other in the form Herman Hesse described in his book The Glass Bead Game. By placing them next to each other we imagine we are creatively involving ourselves in the world by using the rotting bones of others creativity. Yet as we all say to each other, those of us truly engaged in creating work “nothing is new, it’s all been done before” and so on. Yet if we are true 'creatives' we don’t believe that stance as we say it, because the search for the new - the philosophers stone - is what drives us. The newly created is transformative of the one that is the vehicle for the manifestation of the new thing - that is what we are searching for - not a set of assets, old rags that can be bumped up against each other so that the seams and divisions are obscured in a blur so that the middle-adopters can’t tell the difference. They never could, they never will until humanity has gotten over placing itself anywhere along any kind of curve - bell, octagonal, straight line - or whatever.

As I grew up I was an early adopter and therefore amongst the leaders of the bell curve to take the new things up as they appeared, I didn’t need to be told things by others; I found them myself and swapped directions with the other explorers to the new incoming esoteric places within culture that validated my sense of self which hinged upon being different.

I remember later though being told by the middle adopters, those people in the very middle of the Bell curve about a music group who for me, by now, were old and tired. I remember the very same person had called me weird when I had tried to tell him about this very same music early on whilst in the early adopter phase. He mocked me and exposed me to his fellow latecomers and they mocked me too. This however is now the past. We are all early adopters now because the notion of the bell curve is now at least truncated, if not redundant.

Something appears and commodity fetishism is the dominant value to receive it: “In the Kingdom of Consumption the Consumer is King” (this is my paraphrase of a series of ideas outlined in 1967 by Guy De Board in the Society of the Spectacle and not forgetting in the same year Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday life - two texts that a friend of mine was raided for and arrested in the seventies - now the authorities celebrate this text as it is the bible of late capitalism, and not its critique - C’est la Guerre).

A few years ago, at the beginning of the new digital age everyone who had adopted a stance to the Net had a webpage and the page told the world, telematically, of the likes and dislikes of that person - ‘what I like, what I don’t like, what identifies me to you’ and asked the question, ‘are there others of you, like me, out there?’ But this was a simple extension of the late twentieth century self that had become porous, where it’s boundaries both external and internal were far further, yet far closer than they had been in previous centuries. Also these likes and dislikes were a simple collection of commodity values. “I like this group, this colour, this wallpaper. I decorate my soul in this way”. But what was that soul? Just another middle adopter with a taste derived from the commodities that make up the taste of the general mass of humanity? And even if you were an early or even a late adopter (and those were formed from a need to be different by not following the mass which in itself seems good if you look with an attitude formed by the criteria of the old paradigm - that to be a middle ranking soul was good, a high ranking soul even better, and a low ranking soul not good at all), even if you were one out of the ordinary, were you not also just a ragbag collection of details?

I’m railing here about the dominance of commodity fetishism, which seems so fluidly connected with the tsunami of innovation of wavelet digitality*.

Now though, whether you’re a young Turkish person going to a coca cola backed music and light festival in Istanbul which seeks to evoke the original festivals of the ‘West’, or a young Nicaraguan, or a Thai fisherman’s son you will be connected to the waves and pulses that pass through culture as they happen with a set of references that grow out of the Aquarian digital explosion of meaning of the sixties.

It happened back then and I was there all the time saying, “I wonder where it’s happening - I can’t find it”. The magic of course was that it’s always happening and never detectable by those present - except for the mad man and it wasn’t my place to be mad. A reading I had from a 5000-year-old ‘book’ told me that I was placed close to the centre of a vortex to observe. Should I become too involved the vortex would suck me in and I would become the vortex itself and therefore become unconscious - which in my world is the only crime. Well, not a crime, there are no crimes in a universe where there is no good or evil of course.

So what does it mean? It means that the human race is flourishing and growing out of its state where it’s emotion is too connected to mind - or rather, the evolutionary stage of needing cold-mind to be tempered by hot-emotions is passing with mind made a little more compassionate. And when we get over this stage we’ll all become creative beings because we’ll no longer be acquisitive of others ideas, thinking that if we possess them they’ll ennoble us, make us better in some way. The only thing that’ll do that of course is when we get over the desire or need to demonstrate to all the others that we have the right badge to join their club - to be looked up to because of what we have. The only determinant in the end is of course what we are - and - of course, unsurprisingly, we are all the same when we stop thinking of self and just become channels for the creative energies that surround us from our birth. The stuff that comes through is devoid of self, it just naturally ‘is’. I speak from the perspective of someone who is familiarising themselves with the creative act and the creative space one has to maintain to make the creative act.

But: more than two million years ago before the first migrations, when we still sat in our shaded and dusty places after first venturing from the tree canopy, with our nearby water, covered from the sun, defensible from wild animals that might see us as lunch, or other family groupings that might want something from us (for free) - as we sat around at that moment free from worry, free from labour, free from care, we might tell another person about something we’d seen or found. We might tell them of a place we had found that we might re-visit because its memory had stayed with us for some reason, yet we did not populate that dream ourselves. It had stayed with us dreamtime-like as a symbol of something that meant something more than the ordinary things around us, than the flints we used, the skins we tanned, the sex we had, the warm cuddles that protected us from the cold that surrounded us. This memory was the echo that would stay with us for two million years or more. It is the memory of the connection of the singular to the many; of the wholeness felt by the yogi as she enters a union with the only narrative we have, of flowing back to the one that we are derived from. I do not mean this spiritually; I mean this simply, logically, without sentiment. I mean this as a statement of fact, that we have always been global in thought and mind and soul - the very root of us as the one and the many at our root.

So in talking of an historical moment when the ‘digital’ might register as a significant moment, this somewhat misses the point. We are encouraging ourselves to become more self-reflective, more analytical, more conscious of what is happening as it is happening, so that the world we make is as good as it can be. But it is becoming apparent that simply to look does not mean that we shall see. As Heisenberg pointed out we might know something about a particle, but we may not know all about a particle. It is in the looking, in the condition of the act of looking that we create a tunnel through which to look - a telescope that isolates the thing that is looked at so that we may see it more clearly. ‘Clearly’ in the terms of a telescope means brighter and sharper because the form of ‘looking’ is of an optical nature.

So the form of the looking, the state of the enquirer, the state of mind, the values, the quotient for the sensibilities that the looker is composed of is the determining factor about what will eventually be seen at the end of the act of looking.

So it would seem that the concepts that underlie an idea, which precede it’s manifestation come long before the thing itself and that is what is almost impossible to note when they actually occur - at least in terms of the language that might be formulated later when due time has passed for the moment to ‘come into focus.

So by now I can see that the thing that I’ve been alertly looking for has happened and yes it took me by surprise: the connections across cultures have been made. The issue now is - what are those connections in their deepest form. They seem on the surface to this writer to be simply signs of a growing fetishisation - and in the previous paradigm to festishise was to displace, by simple definition. One was left with a purist reading which says: if you have the thing itself why would you have a symbol that same thing as having greater power than the thing itself? But then this idea comes from a world where authenticity was the dominant concept within the paradigm. But with the digital comes the telematic and the telematic of itself brings the necessity of the representative to conduct the actual business - in past ages did not the powerful potentate send his or her ambassador to affect treaties and conduct new business?

The Situationists held that 'In the Kingdom of Consumption the Consumer is King' and a contemporary reading of that might be: In the Age of Digitality the Avatar is king.

*Wavelet digitality is a phrase which seems apposite in its description of this phase of the advance of digital technology in that it is in my estimation the very thing that has superseded the old analogue paradigm that was being applied to early digital technologies vis a vis: Joseph Baptiste Fourier invented some maths, the Discrete Cosine Transform in 1800 which served us well until around 1990 but was damaging of data compression especially when applied to images, whereas Fourier’s 1807 invention, Wavelet Transforms was the very piece of mathematics more perfectly rendered around 1990 that intelligently’ dealt with data compression, but not only this it is far more efficient in that it’s internal Mathematical Algorithms respond to the data in a more sympathetic order and also with greater effect in terms of reducing the information that has to flow between the devices those that have entered into the world of the commodity fetishised require in their depicting of their own lives as a Hollywood story - to themselves and others. My only problem of glamorising a life is that you may no longer be attached to the authenticity of that life - though I do know there are pitfalls in having allegiance to this notion - it’s part of an older paradigm for a start - but authenticity seems to me to be necessary for an authentic unit to uphold. Mind you, we are all genetic copies so this may also be an outdated median to follow.

Mind the Gap

I nearly began this entry by writing: 'you must forgive me for being absent for so long’. But of course this presupposes that there is a ‘you’ reading this. At this time I tell myself that I am writing this blog so that I can record what happens (happened) whilst I was upon my three-year fellowship. How did the ideas grow, how did the thinking manifest itself and mature into concepts that I could exchange with a real reader. But actually it would be more correct to write “I must forgive myself for being absent”, but then I don’t believe in blaming myself so that would be redundant.

What has been happening is that I have been ‘realising’ my six new pieces for an award that I received in October 2007 and I have made an agreement to complete these by the end of September 2007 - and it is now August 26th 2008. Since my last entry I have been absolutely flat out either arranging for the shooting of the new work or actually producing it - weekdays and weekends too.

The reason I can write this, that I have the time to write this is that I am in Turkey in 37-degree heat and I cannot possibly do anything to advance any of my productions. When I get back in 8 days time I hit the ground running and have to go to a post-production suite to finish some images at 4k resolution and prepare them for 2k display, then shoot another production, the Unfurling, then go direct to Venice to shoot Un Tempo, Una Volta over 6 days then return too stage 10 exhibitions until the end of September by when I will also have to lodge my interim report for the first 12 months of my Fellowship.

In amongst all of this I also have to formulate some ideas about what I’m doing - and why, and this of course goes to the heart of my fellowship itself. I have what is known as an Arts and Humanities Research Council Creative Research Fellowship in… I hesitate here because there are some issues to hold back to discuss. The first 4 words, the AHRC, is a government-backed council empowered to give away money for research. So far so good. But there’s the caveat buried in the next bit `Creative’. I am a Creative Fellow - in all senses. It’s taken me years to come out of the closet and admit to creativity publicly - but I can do that now so that’s not the issue. I’ve been flexing my creative muscles for as many years as I’ve been able to make a mark - I know how to do it, it’s up to the audience to judge how well.

The real issue is that my research has to take place within the idea of the creative, which is more Euclidian and less Aristotelian. Here I make reference to an old but influential text: “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ where the author, one Robert Pirsig notes that creativity is in the eye of the beholder. His work is about the creative juices that have to be invoked over and above intellectual acuity when compiling, in his study, a set of instructions. One may be intellectually acute but that does not mean to say that anything valuable gets communicated. It was Pirsig’s contention that Aristotle created the split between the creative and the scientific. Aristotle created a world view where things had value if the were weighed and measured - all else was irrelevant - according to Pirsig. Euclid, through this writer’s a vague avoidance created a more whole worldview through his geometry.

So going back to the idea of creative research - what does that mean in terms of the Aristotelian imperative? Clearly one cannot weigh and measure the creative act, yet the money says you can - so somehow I must at least make an attempt here where I reside in a Euclidian universe. I’m using this epithet in a lax way - what I mean here is that unlike Heisenberg - who has been in my thoughts a lot lately - I believe I can know both my velocity and my position. That’s what artists do, they utilise what the Aristotelian thinker can never use - a Euclidian sense of worth. A real bastardisation is happening because I like the idea of geometry as propose by Lewis Carol in Alice through the Looking Glass - things are relative and valuable and measurable within the circumstances by those that would take up a tape measure to a brush stroke by Cezanne. The scientist can only know the length of Cezanne’s brush stroke, or its colour, or its tone in relation to other colours and brush strokes - practically everything else that is valuable in art is unknowable and unfathomable by the scientist.

But the ‘money’ says that you have to try to know something about what your intuition is telling you. And here I have to make a small commercial break because at least some wise soul in authority knows that there is something to be had here in the outer reaches of the investigation of creativity and has made provision for people like me to try to know it.

I assert that I am on the right track to find something out about what I’m doing. I can’t make reference to anything that can substantiate that statement. I just ‘know’ it. And what I’ve been doing as a process toward finding something out within the boundaries of the scientific method, i.e. make a hypothesis and test it, tells me that all the lights are on green and not amber or red - the conditional sense of the notion of a hypothesis has given a thumbs up to the contention that, in my specific case - making art with High Definition Technologies will bare reward. Even my tests on standard definition or the lower realms of High Definition are delivering an audience response that speaks of a transmission between artist and audience that bares the fruit of pleasure (at least) for the audience. Pleasure has limitations, often we want the audience crying or at least reaching for a handkerchief so that the audience is ‘moved’. If we move them then we as artists might feel satisfied. But like Brecht, I have a suspicion of emotionalism - my goal is higher that that.

The Hindus say that the emotions are a lower frequency response (note with me how I slip so easily into scientific language when describing the non-scientific), let me rephrase that then with a musical metaphor - the Hindu’s say that intuition is an octave higher than emotion - that the same quality as emotion at a higher octave is what we term intuition. That the still small interior voice is simply a clearer articulation form within, from the mechanism within, about what it finds in the world.

Brecht wanted to touch the audience but not make become emotional. Perhaps he just wanted to communicate a political idea, perhaps he wanted more, I don’t really know and I’d rather leave that to people who really know about Brecht. I want to give the audience something that allows them to be truly creative in their response. If I can make art that has sufficient space within it then they too will respond creatively and become engaged with the work and also generate performative acts for themselves that are an integral part of the work - in fact, ideally, the work should itself fall away and then what the audience does becomes the work itself.