Monday, 26 July 2010

New understanding of the mimetic and the diegetic in the creation of art

This is an image free version of a paper I gave at the Xi'an Academy of FIne Arts, July 2010

First the audience sees my short experiment ‘In Re Ansel Adams’ To be found here:

Eight million years ago, when our oldest primate ancestor sat and gazed across the tree canopy in an absorbed, reflective and contemplative act, the look our uncle was engaged in was full of sentient conscious energy. That attentive gaze has been with us ever since and is now resident in the gaze of the visitor to the museum, cinema or art gallery - and that energy is met by the gaze looking back out at us, captured in every image where the subject stares back out at the world.

I’m interested in the energy of our gaze. I’m also interested in the gaze of the subjects of portraits who send a similar energy back towards us. Because of this I’m also interested in the surface of the image, the meniscus of the meeting point of those two energies as they are displaced in time by the surface of the screen.

- When we represent the world we sometimes show the self captured in the medium looking back out at us with an extra-diegetic gaze, with an energy that is mediated by the surface of the medium, be it paint or pixels. The energy is shifted in time by the surface of the screen from when the subject was captured to the moment of ‘now’, when the audience sends its energy to the subject.

‘in Aristotle's Poetics, diegesis is the reporting or narration of events, contrasted with mimesis, which is the imitative representation of them: so a character in a play who performs a certain action is engaged in mimesis, but if he recounts some earlier action, he is practising diegesis, he is telling us about an event. The distinction is often cast as that between ‘showing’ and ‘telling’.

- That gaze whether it is of the subject looking out at us, or us the audience looking back at them, is full of the sentient energy shared with our ape ancestors and it is now measurable in audiences as a small voltage change generated by the massed neurons jumping across the synapses of the audience’s brains. MFRI scanners can visualise for us the movement of attention across the brain – one of the surprise discoveries of this technology is that the brain makes choices before the conscious will. Also, it has been found, by the end of a long period, like watching a feature film or a play, everyone in the audience will blink at the same moment – we as a group will have decided when it is the least important moment to look.

In the life of the Amoeba it will occasionally stop the process of subdividing to then ‘entrain’ with other Amoebas. They come next to each-other and then an extension of themselves, a bridge made of their own flesh, is offered between the two and they exchange internal substance – they ‘entrain’ and become part of each-other.

- If two clocks with pendulums are placed in the same locality, they eventually come into synchronicity and their pendulums swing together. This example of entrainment and synchronicity is not supernatural, but a product of physical processes.

This idea of entrainment is a metaphor, a key to unlocking and developing an understanding of the audiences evolving requirement that has surged ahead of current theory of the display of art, which in the West is rooted in ‘interpretation’, which comes to its apogee in the foundation of the Institute of Social Research, known as the Frankfurt School, whose propositions now inform the contemporary mindset that determines what is regarded as meaningful in art and what is not.

- Frankfurt School“The philosophical tradition now referred to as the "Frankfurt School" is perhaps particularly associated with Max Horkheimer (philosopher, sociologist and social psychologist), who took over as the institute's director in 1930 and recruited many of the school's most talented theorists, including Theodor W. Adorno (philosopher, sociologist, musicologist), Erich Fromm (psychoanalyst), Herbert Marcuse (philosopher) and Walter Benjamin (essayist and literary critic).”

The School developed an evaluation of what art is and does through interpretive ‘reading’. This function has worked until recently but now digital innovations begin to overthrow the medieval innovation and subsequent techniques of the reproduction and mass availability of text - which finally prompted the school’s ‘reading’ of art. This is a methodology derived from archaic and classical values.

- However, the audience has changed and developed beyond this narrow definition. The audience is now silently demanding that new transdisciplinary arts and sciences deliver to them, not what has become a simple interpretive relationship to works of art, but instead a complex gestalt response from within themselves to art - and this cannot happen if the curatorial elite deny this evolution, by themselves being ignorant of it.

In all of this there is the issue of language itself – and here I have to nod in respect to Noam Chomsky - and make an intelligible list of some of the language

The descriptor of ‘attention’ constantly changes:

- In the 12th - 16th centuries in the West, we gathered attention – gathering being a word derived from agrarian language
- In the 19th century we focused attention – deriving from the important technological invention of photography
- In the 19th and 20th centuries we used the phrase: ‘to pay attention’ – this derives from commerce
- When focusing on something - we attend to it – we wait, we have patience – is this use derives from Monastic pursuits ?
We talk in terms of attention penetrating an idea – is this derived from an act of warfare, or perhaps from biology?

We also give attention, seek attention, catch attention or at worst, when we can’t be bothered: We feign attention, meaning we deceive the other person.

We have attention deficit when we can’t concentrate. When really challenged the subject has attention deficit disorder - we have fractured attention – did this derive from accidents in 14th century Venetian glass workshops?
- When we map attention we reference 13th century Portuguese map making
- some things require attention – they demand attention which necessitates the giving of attention – this seems to come from a Royal demand, an Emperor perhaps…
- and in the army we stand to attention to demonstrate total commitment of self to subject….

In his study of women’s magazine advertisements, Trevor Millum distinguished between forms of attention:
▪ - attention directed towards other people;
▪ - attention directed to an object;
▪ - attention directed to oneself;
▪ - attention directed to the reader or the camera;
▪ - attention directed into the middle distance, as in a state of reverie;
▪ - direction or object of attention not discernible. 
The invisible world.

Millum also categorized relationships between the above depicted thus:
▪ - reciprocal attention: the attention of those depicted is directed at each other;
▪ - divergent attention: the attention of those is directed towards different things;
▪ - object-oriented attention: those depicted are looking at the same object;
▪ - semi-reciprocal attention: the attention of one person is on the other, whose attention is elsewhere

Daniel Chandler has also made some notes on the kinds of gaze one can identify within an image. There is:

▪ - the spectator’s gaze: the gaze of the viewer at an image of a person (or animal, or object) in the text;
▪ - the intra-diegetic gaze: a gaze of one depicted person at another (or at an animal or an object) within the world of the text (typically depicted in filmic and televisual media by a subjective ‘point-of-view shot’);
▪ - the direct [or extra-diegetic] address to the viewer: the gaze of a person (or quasi-human being) depicted in the text looking ‘out of the frame’ as if at the viewer, with associated gestures and postures (in some genres, direct address is studiously avoided);
▪ - the look of the camera - the way that the camera itself appears to look at the people (or animals or objects) depicted; less metaphorically, the gaze of the film-maker or photographer.

- In my image for you of the great ape above the tree canopy reflecting on the image that he sees and reflects upon - when he comes down from the tree canopy he might engage with another ape and try to tell them of his experience of wonder as he looked at the sun going down. Now maybe he tried to replicate his experience in primitive theatrical gesture, or maybe he used grunts and gestures, elementary language, or maybe he scratched lines and marks in the earth. In all of this he would have used both mimetic and diegetic forms of description

- But a large and unspoken problem is always nearby – in English we call it the elephant in the room – something very large that everyone tries to ignore the existence of - because its presence is so difficult to accept.

Here I wish to raise Walter Benjamin’s famous question of 1936 - of whether or not a reproduction can maintain any element of the aura of the original, to the fore. Benjamin started a process whereby we have to look at the idea of the creation of art as a special activity and now we have to consider the question anew as to whether or not as society around the world changes in nature and form with relation to new digital media, should art change its nature and form?

When our ape ancestor made its sounds, gestures and marks concerning its experience of wonder – how much of that original experience was retained in its telling?

So – this is my first proposition, that we have always made art and that its nature and intentions have always been relative to the state of humanity, its consciousness, its technology and its concerns at the time.

- A second proposition might be that we are now on the edge of a paradigm change. Arguably we are always on the edge of a paradigm change because paradigms are of different durations: one of the smallest is a chronon – one instant of time. A much longer paradigm would last from the end of the last ice age through to beginning of the next – which if the scientists are correct, is very soon.

As I mentioned before, the recent intellectual paradigm of ‘interpretation’ as the most important way of understanding and valuing art was derived from the investigations of the Frankfurt School and this had previously derived its thinking from archaic and classical values.

In Western Greek mythology, the tale is told of Echo and Narcissus. Narcissus was beautiful but vain and Echo had fallen in love with him. - Narcissus had betrayed a youth who prayed to the Goddess Nemisis to correct the situation and Nemesis created a judgement that Narcissus should fall in love with the next person he saw – As it happens, that person was his own image reflected in a mountain pool - so Narcisuss became fascinated with his own image.

- Meanwhile, Echo who had already fallen in love with Narcissus, had angered her mistress, the Goddess Hera and Hera then punished Echo with a curse: that fro then on she could only use the words that she heard others speak. - So, coming upon Narcissus looking at his own image in a pool and talking to his image lovingly, Echo tried to tell Narcissus that she loved him, but of course she could only echo his words, which to Narcissus sounded like his own image responding…

- Now that’s what we call a feedback loop.

One reason for recounting the tale of Echo and Narcissus is to note their eternal relationship to eachother in their many and varied forms – for intance as sound and image in modern digital art – but also in terms of mimesis and diegesis – showing and telling. The process of Interpretation, as introduced by the Frankfurt school, because it separates the self from the experience through the act of intellectual discrimination, has the problem of potentially developing a feedback loop, which then renders the strategy as dis-functional.

Not only are we captivated by the reality of the image, by committing ourselves to suspending disbelief and believing the reality of the moving image, we are deceived by it.

As I mentioned previously, my major study as a research fellow is the effect of increased resolution on the audience.

‘More than a third of the people in the U.S. with HD capable sets believe they are watching HD all the time, when in fact they have no source of HD programming whatsoever - no off-air, no HD cable or HD satellite programming, no BluRay or even HD-DVD payer. They will argue that they're watching HD because their set is HD capable and they have it set up so the images fit the full width of the screen, and they have an "upconverting" DVD player. What that proves to me is that lots of people have no clue what they're watching, don't care that much, and the ongoing (Professional cinematographers) debates about how many pixels can fit on the head of a pin are an academic exercise at best when it comes to televised material. Survey after survey shows that what drew people in was that the sets could hang on a wall like a painting, and looked good when they were off.
Wed, 17 Mar 2010, Bob Kertesz’

This professional commentator is complaining about the lack of sophistication of the general audience with regard to mediations of the world by media that rely on hyper-real similitude, yet argues that their grasp of concepts around ‘taste’, chooses the artifact of delivery, as opposed to that which should be delivered. Not only are we not shooting the messenger – we are agrandising him. The fact that this very artifact in is the main deliverer of the agreed value system of democracy in its news and entertainment systems seems secondary to its commodified aesthetic.

- So what’s going on here?

- The surface of a painting captures the likeness of the subject. We stare into the painting, penetrating the time-space differential – the painter gives us the means of moving between our own time and the time the painting was made. The surface of the painting – the paint itself – is the means with which we travel across time. This is as much true of paint as of patterns of light on glass on the surface of a plasma or LED display

So, we now know that the human gaze radiates outward from the human self that looks in terms of energy. We know that the focus of attention of audiences’ brains can be charted by the voltage fields they generate. We can now map attention – we can now map the internal world of the apes.

In our art there is often a person depicted - who is displaced in time from the audience by the surface of the display – the meniscus of the medium - and the energy of their gaze can be met by the energy of the gaze as offered by the audience.

- So this is an important philosophical issue where we who exist now, are always captured in time and reality is always a little behind us… If you remember I mentioned that in recent work with MFRI scanners, one of the surprise discoveries of this technology is that the brain makes choices before the conscious will. So though time exists in some senses, our default mechanism is to exist prior to the surface of our contact with the world - beneath human consciousness something is choosing - prior to information being gathered by the senses for the mind to examine and judge. This too is another kind of meniscus, this time of consciousness.

- Here in China, a long time ago, King Wen formulated the 64 divisions of reality - - these 64 divisions, deriving initially from a binary pair, the digital byte, - the zero and the 1, the on and the off, the yes and the no – digital reality - these formula all describe the Dao – which exists at the meniscus or surface of consciousness – which some us when we close our eyes, experience as a screen – though some philosophies, such as Hinduism suggest that reality is a projection of our own energies.

- So – what do all of these ideas mean in terms of what contemporary art is becoming, or should become? I can only really truly answer by talking about what I’m doing artistically at this moment because my work is a direct response to the philosophical problems I’ve described above.

By end of August 2010 I will have completed a 3 year UK Arts research Fellowship in high resolution imaging. My core research question has been - :

In what ways will High Resolution Imaging change the work produced in the convergence of art and visual technologies and consequently, our experience of that work?

In researching the effect of increased detail in the moving image on the audience I have created a series of new artworks that exploits the effects of higher resolutions and is at a level of detail not yet seen before in either electronic or photo-chemical forms. This work has been produced at some 32 times that of standard televisual imagery, 8 times that of the cinema display and 4 times that of High Definition.

I have made a simple discovery. Engagement and resolution exist in an equation where engagement step changes in direct response to changes in resolution that are quantum and not quantative. That is, the onset of different and greater states of engagement, require step changes of resolution to have measurable effect – and the measure is the time people spend engaging with an installation at different resolutions.

Video -

With that in mind I am currently working to develop questions around portraiture in relation to the issue of photo-realistic representation and depiction, by creating works that exploit differences in scale in order to develop a high resolution aesthetic. I choose portraiture because it offers the possibility of mimesis - showing rather than telling - but also of allowing an exchange between the audience and the subject of the portrait, albeit mediated by the surface of the screen and displaced in time.

The work you see playing from Venice Italy is captured at a resolution 4 times that of High Definition and is usually shown life-size so that the subjects can be approached and scutinized by the audience. Usually each portrait remains on screen for 1 minute to reference long Victorian photographic exposure times.

Recently I have augmented the series with Portraits of New York, Portraits of Beijing and when I return to the UK I will create Portraits of London. My intention then is to present all 5 works in a large pentagonal shape so that the audience can step inside and witness on five large separate screens the photographic reality of people from around the world. The audience will look to the meniscus of the screen - as will the subjects. A spin off work, Portraits of the Somerset carnivals can be seen in the Expanded Cinema screening on Saturday.

- For many years and in this forthcoming show in particular I have been concerned with challenging the idea that the screen should be on the wall, that people should sit in seats passively to watch the exhibition. I have made works for instance where the audience must lie on the floor and look up at a large screen which is hanging 15 feet above them at an angle of 45 degrees where I have shot the passage of a boat through the narrow canals of Venice – by that I mean I have shot the buildings and the sky with the gentle rocking of the boat and the water and then asked the audience to entrain with the experience by taking the point of view the work was shot from.

- I also show works where I construct a well, or a hole in the ground where the image plays and the audience is invited to climb down and become part of the virtual and past experience – so that it becomes for them an experience that is happening now.

I will also exhibit my ‘sculptural work’, ‘In Other People’s Skins’, which you can see here in Xi’an – this is currently showing at a cathedral in New York.

My intention in this work and a lot of my work is to photograph something that is real – then project that very thing back on to itself – so with this installation I shot 5 dinner parties from above and projected them back down on to a table of the same size – the audience could then imitate the gestures of others – they could connect through the meniscus of the screen, through the surface of the display and entrain and exchange their conscious energy with that of others. By imitating the hand gestures of others they could inhabit the skins of others. Around the table there are 12 seats, which is reminiscent of the Last Supper in Christian mythology, on the table are 12 white plates – twelve white screens to catch the virtual food.

In Other People’s Skins attracts an audience of people that normally do not attend art galleries – very many of the audience comments speak in terms of entrainment as opposed to interpretation. This level of display asks the audience to entrain, or become engaged with the work, rather than simply interpret it to ‘mean something’. To interpret, we look for clues and so ‘read’ the work with a specific part of the intellect, yet entrainment uses synchronisation – another part of the intellect - to perform artistic alignment - and interpretation and ‘reading’ then follow as opposed to leading the process.

So – to answer the philosophical questions I raised previously – and perhaps to entrain with the distant gaze of our ancestor the ape in the tree canopy, I am trying to develop work that insists on the conscious-awareness of the audience of their own gaze, to amplify the energy present within that engagement. It is then my hope that this then enables the audience to take the time to look. I am interested in the exploration of the gaze stripped of the effects of interpretation – and here’s the main strategy and reason for this - so that I might then enter into a negotiation with the audience whilst acknowledging their intellectual autonomy, and consequently go beyond standard forms of contract between audience and artist which so very often involves a degree of disempowerment for the audience. We are not only artists and academics – we are also the audience.

My research has revealed to me that greater resolution produces greater periods of engagement. It is my conviction that the ‘effortless gaze’ that can be engendered and the experience that accompanies this, will chime with Maxwell Anderson’s propositions in his paper ‘Metrics of Success in Art Museums’. More than any other issue in the ‘Display of Art’, is the growing engagement of the concerned and discriminating viewer – the notion that success is in the quality of the experience of the art experience, that this is the most meaningful metric of success available.

Within current neuro-scientific studies it is becoming clear that our physical senses reveal only one ‘octave’ of a potential 80 octave spectrum of energy – this limitation itself is already a mediation of ‘reality’ and predicates an examination of ideas more familiar to science than the humanities and arts. I would hope that this inquiry might stimulate the beginnings of an investigation into what it means for art to exist on a surface that is itself a disjunction between two or more time periods or two or more energy states, that here is a potential to exploit the synchronous and gestalt concept of entrainment that could become used more and more often in the forthcoming paradigm shift that has already begun.