22/05/2012 Community Rule. Text as World

 

I was researching into the material for my latest painting Qumran when I noticed this image among other remnants of Dead Sea scrolls from a cave at Qumran, Israel. For some reason my first impression was that this particular image was of some sort of a map (you can almost ’see’ shapes of Africa, India and Australia in that picture). Later on I have decided to base my new painting on the image, history and content of that scroll. The scroll contains a part of Community Rule text – the set of regulations ordering the life of the members of “Yahad” – (direct English translation will be “Together” or “Togetherness”) – the group within the Judean Desert sect who chose to live communally and whose members accepted strict rules of conduct.

Seeing text or its remnants as world was an appealing idea to me – not as opposed to “World as Text” but as another alternative. Besides, viewed as a seminal text to a certain extent – it does contain a world, or a world of promise, developments, and possibilities for future generations. Taken in its metaphorical capacity it triggered my imagination -  and I framed the altered image as a ‘world’ and am intending to present it as a ‘map’ of parchment with the mark-making characteristic of the other paintings within this thesis project. I am still working on this painting, studying the specificity of the script or font – even it is still readable in modern Hebrew of today that I know, there are differences. I want to learn these differences to be able to write the text into the painting as close to the original as possible.  One thing is already certain: the text will be written in oil – somehow for me it represents the most human way medium – with all its flaws, irregularities, and fragility.

The word “Yahad” – ‘togetherness’- correlates with the title of my thesis paper: Constructing a Place of Belonging. Finding or re-establishing this sense of belonging is probably, the most important task for every immigrant or re-located person.

This is the work in progress, the painting with the Hebrew text still to be added:

Community, 05/2012, synthetic polymer, gouache, and oil on canvas, 60″x120″

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04/09 2012 Painting in Post-Medium Condition

Painting in Post-Medium-Condition

(After Jan Verwoert “Why Are Conceptual Artists Painting Again? Because They Think It’s a Good Idea”, 2005)

For the purpose of my thesis and for adequately representing my practice in the contemporary art conditions I am turning to relevant sources that might help me to cope with this task:

Which forms of artistic production can count as contemporary and which should be rejected as irrelevant? With this question Jan Verwoert probes the current status of painting as a medium. Does it make sense to make a single medium the subject of a text or an exhibition? There are two answers, says Verwoert. One is: “No it does not”. Second is: “Yes, it does”. On the one hand, any consideration of painting in isolation tends to be reactionary, because the dismissal of Modernism’s dogmatic restriction of artistic practice to a particular medium is understood as the most significant progress in art in recent decades. This allows every medium to be viewed as one possibility among many. Then the only thing that counts is the artist’s conceptual project.

On the other hand it is necessary to discuss painting qua painting; this is the only way to investigate its true significance. The semantic depth of a painterly formulation can only be adequately appreciated if it is understood as the result of a process of dialogue with the medium. Any art that defines itself solely in terms of content and not in form of its medium-specific form, warns Verwoert, becomes the kind of “issue-related art that critics and curators love… because it comes with ready-made categories to file it under like “identity politics”, “institutional critique”… etc. One can easily adopt one or the other perspective from one case to the next, without having to choose. But it will not be a convincing solution to the fundamental problem of conflict between a conceptual and a medium-specific understanding of artistic practice.

By proving that art can only exist as a concept and must be evaluated in terms of its conceptual performance alone, “Conceptual Art in fact could be understood to have irrevocably severed the connection between art and its medium”, explains Verwoert. This was necessary to refute the “High Modernist” theory that “true art” must be conceived and executed in medium-specific terms. The refutation of the primacy of medium-specificity by Conceptual Art marks what Verwoert calls a “historical caesura” with normative effect and consequences that have to be faced.

According to some theorists like Rosalind Krauss, Conceptual Art dismisses the relevance of medium-specific art practice in favour of a general and fundamental inquiry into the nature of art – in whatever medium. Thus, the practical basis and the historical horizon for the production of all art is set by the ‘post-medium-condition”.

The author quotes Benjamin Buchloh’s essay “Conceptual Art 1962-1969” (1999) next – offering a slightly different view on this argument. While Buchloh agrees that Conceptual Art abolished the dogma of the primacy of reflection on medium, he also warns that the “freedom Conceptual Art gained through its emancipation from the material art object and its manual production is a deceptive freedom”. The suspension of all traditional criteria for judging art, he argues … only strengthens the power of the art institutions. If an object, or a practice producing it, no longer qualifies as art on the basis of recognizable material properties, then it is only the museums or the market that determines whether it is art or not.

In the absence of any specifically visual qualities and due to the manifest lack of any (artistic) manual competence as a criterion of distinction, all the traditional criteria of aesthetic judgement – of taste and of connoisseurship have been programmatically voided. The result of this is that the definition of the aesthetics becomes on the one hand a matter of linguistic convention and on the other the function of both legal contract and an institutional discourse (a discourse of power rather than taste).

Here Verwoert highlights how Buchloh demonstrates that conceptual art through its “fixation on the immaterial qualities of language and the written word, involuntarily replicates the way in which real work has become immaterial in the service society, and thus erects a monument to the aesthetics of bureaucracy” (emphasis mine).

Verwoert derives two “substantive conclusions” here and also introduces the term of ‘conceptual gesture’. If one follows Krauss, she demonstrates that all media are interchangeable and thus proves that media-immanent work is meaningless; she also establishes the conceptual gesture as the “ultimate possible artistic act which can still create a meaning”. There is also a problem with the definition of this ‘conceptual gesture’ as unfolds: “A successful gesture re-writes history. Such a gesture is therefore, by definition, legible and unique”. This definition has serious consequences for the understanding of artistic production; in conceptual terms it limits the significance of an artistic work to the contribution it makes to a “new understanding of art”. Verwoert asks how often this mark can be actually achieved. The pressure to succeed in these conditions can bring about “the tragic figure of a melancholy conceptualist, alone in an empty room waiting desperately for a revolutionary idea to come…”. He later states that the successful conceptual gesture turns out to be nothing more but “a well-told wisecrack”. Verwoert however shows that this idea does not “seal the bankruptcy of the logic of strategic conceptualism”.  Reducing the conceptual gesture to its strategic value alone will make it indistinguishable from the media logic of the publicity stunt and the hit single. How else can we understand the gesture if not strategically? – he asks. He offers Brian O’Doherty’s description of the conceptual gesture in terms of an aesthetics of its own: its formal content as O’Doherty sees it can lie in its “aptness, economy and grace”. This gesture “wises you up”. It depends for its effect on the context of ideas it changes and joins. Even if it is not art, it is about and around art. If it is successful, says O’Doherty, it becomes history and tends to “eliminate itself”. He emphasises that for staging this conceptual gesture a material practice means are used, with a “formal language of its own”. In Verwoert’s opinion this understanding of the material and medial aspects of the conceptual gesture as a form of artistic practice questions “the ideal transparency of the gesture as an inscription in history”. He comments of the meaning of the gesture thus being “not transparent but latent”.

In this light Verwoert explores the role of painting as situative strategic practice which does not take its own legitimacy for granted. In practice, he muses, it is probably easier to produce “surprising reflective situations than to cope with the pressure of producing singular grand events”. Another way he offers for “remodelling painting” according to the logic of situative strategic choices is to “disseminate the meaning of the individual picture in a luxuriant web of references”.

Later he quotes Yve-Alain Bois’ idea of ‘strategic model’ in painting as the “well-considered location of a work within a network of references: … a work has significance … first by what it is not and what it opposes, that is, in each case according to its position, its value, within a field…”.  Bois distinguishes this situative significance from the normative understanding of the historical validity of the work of art. He explains that this strategic reading is “strictly anti-historicist: it does not believe in exhaustion of things, in the linear genealogy offered to us by art-criticism”. Bois in Verwoert’s opinion goes a “decisive step further” in his defence of painting as conceptual practice. Bois claims that the medium of painting is by nature conceptual, and its conceptuality “is produced not only by way of positioning a work with a particular set of external references” – for Bois painting is essentially conceptual when it self-referentially and self-critically addresses its material qualities as well as the symbolic grammar of its own formal language. The strategic instalment of painting among a network of external references constitutes its status of a “meta-critical gesture”. The critical force in this situation is derived from the structural self-inquiry of a medium-specific practice. Through this positioning it is taken to another level. This conceptuality however, Bois warns, is only a potential. Verwoert comments on this that by pleading this” possibility of justifying the medium of painting by developing its immanent conceptual potential”, Bois mediates between a conceptual and medium-specific perspective.

1. http://www.afterall.org/journal/issue.12/why.are.conceptual.artists.painting.again.because

2. Bois, Yve-Alain. Painting as a Model. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990. Print.

3. Buchloh, Benjamin. “Conceptual Art 1962-1969: From the Aesthetics of  administration to the critique of institutions”, Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology. Cambridge:MIT Press, 1999. Print.

4. Krauss, Rosalind. A Voyage in the North Sea. Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition. London: Thames Hudson, 1999. Print.

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On Aboutness. 28/02/2012

A new name came into my life and my thesis – Ellie Epp, a filmmaker, a photographer, and a theorist. I have been writing about her input in the arts in the forums and in my bibliography; now it is time to give an account of her impact on my thesis here, in my blog.

Ellie Epp is a BC-based artist whose films have become classics of Canadian experimental cinema. She has also worked in video, photography, experimental writing, garden design, digital graphics, and the web. The emergence of cognitive science in the late 1980s took her back to school, and she has a recent PhD in the philosophy of neuroscience. Her web book, Being about: perceiving, imagining, representing, thinking was written to work out a body-based philosophical platform for her own and others’ work in art. She teaches embodiment studies at a small progressive college in the US and is experimenting with high definition digital video.

Epp’s films “want to show… the qualities of natural motion, and, beyond that, the experience of how much can be seen” (http://www.ellieepp.com/press/presslinks.html )

In “Leaving the Land: Perception and Fantasy” Ellie Epp talks about being with the land and not knowing it and then going away and learning how to focus and see and feel.

Recent neuroscience findings support the embodied mind’s connection with the environment, with land rather than religious, philosophical or scientific alienation.

In her PhD Dissertation paper Being About: Perceiving, Imagining, Representing, Thinking Ellie Epp explains her rationale for focusing on human ‘aboutness’ – the connection of the embodied mind and its environment in the following way:

          At the core of questions about mind or cognition there has been a question about sentience. It has been hard to know how to ask it. The lingering prebiological tradition says any sentient aboutness is a property of something unusual located in parts of some living bodies. This unusual something can be about other things in the way pictures or sentences are about things other than themselves. Questions about mind and knowledge then become questions about representation: what is the relation between the representation and the thing it represents? …can we know if it is whether it is accurate or true if we never have access to the original it represents? How do we become conscious of our representations? ( Being About, Chapter 1, “Aboutness is not Representation”)

 

The author opines that this manner of speaking misunderstands both representation and biological aboutness. She says that representation is a “poor metaphor for biological aboutness”, because representation is fundamentally communicational and social uses of representing artifacts and events presuppose highly developed kinds of prior biological aboutness (Chapter 1). “The world is there”, writes Epp, “the living thing moves into it… Its whole state of needing and going for in a world that is there around it, is its aboutness”. She adds that in comlex creatures, aspects of structural aboutness are means of sentient aboutness.

Ellie Epp employs a term “excellence” of aboutness for the range of attunement or engagedness there can be between a living thing and its environment. (This term caused quite a stir in my group – can be easily mistaken for a judgement of value for artwork if taken out of the context). Let’s put it back into Epp’s context:

Another excellence of this way of talking about organic relatedness is that the aboutness of the world … is there along with the organism being about it. About thus evokes at one time all three parts of the mutual event: the organism in its doing, the object it wants or wants to avoid, and the background location that supports its doing by holding them related to each other (Chapter 1, “About Aboutness”)

 Ellie Epp argues that because aboutness is a relation, it cannot be localized to the organism at all. To think adequately about it we have to consider the organism and the environment at the same time. For the reason that this relation is the adapted structure of the organism, either in general or in the moment, it cannot be localized anywhere in the body. The author also offers another “order of excellence of aboutness” – complexity of contact, after Totoni and Edelman. She writes that some organisms can be about more things at once and in better-integrated ways. Living bodies she stresses continue to change all their lives. Some changes are called development and maturation, and some are called learning, but all structural changes happen in contact with the environment. Learning, like development and maturation is a structural change; it occurs in a structure already viable, it is evolutionally constrained, it requires an adequate context, and it is co-determined by occurences within that context. 

In Chapter 2, “Cortex and Aboutness” Epp investigates the traditional beliefs of the locus of aboutness: Classical dualist mentalism for example, places it as a ‘property of ideas’ in immaterial minds. The monist contemporary version has it localized in physical structures stored and processed in cerebral cortex, the most recently evolved brain structure.

What the author sees as wrong here is that “representational language, applied to mysterious something in immaterial minds or to structures in material cortex” speaks about a sentient creature is about “the representational structure rather than something in the world”(Chapter 2, “Cortex and Aboutness”).

She offers here that if aboutness is relational, if a whole organism’s structural adaptedness built in contact with an environment, if nervous systems are facilitative to this contact, and if the most recent, most exclusively human additions will have to be evolved to promote effective sensory-motor through-function, it makes dubious sense to say that “a cortical structure  is about anything in particular”.

In “Another aspect of nature, which is nurture” part of Chapter 2 Epp she focuses on development of living beings: bodies adapt through multiple “reconstructions” which are ways bodies come to be about their circumstances by altering in response to them. She writes that “moment-by-moment cognitive function is itself an interactive reordering of cortical microstructure”.

Epp summons the recent work of Edelman (1998), Varela (1984), Churchland (1989), Pribram (1991), Freeman (1991) Van Essen (1991) and Zeki (1997)  – as ways of encouraging our thinking of a cognitive event in physical terms. In a non-dualist theory of cognition, neural events organizing sentient or conscious functions must be imagined as spatiotemporal forms. “We can escape the omnipresent invitations to call those aspects of physical structure that are involved in sentient function representations” she offers,  ”by saying there are structures that are central means of our momentary aboutness, and some of them are means also of our momentary sentient relatedness to things” (Part 2, Chapter 3).

In Epp’s formulation representation and cognition are not synonymous. Where other writers talk about mental representation she speaks instead about cognitive structure or structural aboutness. For her, “A theory of representation is implied within a general theory of cognition; a theory of cognition is not implied within a theory of representation” (Part 3, Chapter 6). The author explains here that representing practices can be used to organize states in the user that are like the state that would be produced in the presence of something. This amounts to a sort of functional equivalence of thing and representation, but the equivalence depends on the user’s response. She stresses that there is no external relation of environmental thing and representational object. There is no re-presenting of the thing, only a re-evoking of a state. The same representational form can evoke different states in different contexts. “Representation is ontologically complex: it uses presence to evoke simulation” (Part 3, Chapter 6, “A cognitive philosophy of representation”).

For letting us be engaged in simulation we need a physical presence of some kind to get this representational effect.

The form and the presence of the representing artifact or event are critical, but they only mediate representational effect, they do not constitute it. In representing, the effective loci are social and cognitive.

Representation is inherently social: it is a collection of social practices by which cognitive beings regulate each other’s structural aboutness. We can use representations when we are alone, but particular representing practices come into use because they work for communities. (Part 3, Chapter 6)

In Chapter 7, “Representational Effects” the author outlines a structural and dynamic way of understanding two sorts of specialized cognitive effect: abstraction and metaphor. Epp insists that both abstraction and metaphor needed an account of “sublexical semantic evocation” which is understood as “subnet activation”. While abstraction is usually studied in relation to the visual arts and has been a topic in cognitive psychology, metaphor is often considered as part of rhetoric or literary theory. Epp views both as instances of related cortical effects. She explains that both abstraction and metaphor build off basic perception-action abilities, but they are also supported and enabled by structure formed through high-cultural practices. Especially when they are simulational, abstraction and metaphor tend to require continuing management by means of representational forms, which may themselves be perceived and produced, or only imagined.

One of the general claims of Ellie Epp’s theory is that the

…humanly prestigious abilities we call thinking are culturally developed variants of base level aboutness. Abstraction and metaphor can be thought of as parts of thinking that exceed base level perception/action capabilities, and even exceed simpler abilities with language and other representational events… base level aboutness can be understood as foundation even to culturally dependent forms of cognition quite remote from base level presence (Part 3, Chapter 7)

 In this chapter Epp addresses schemas as a name for mediating structures thought (after Kant in the 1700s) to be responsible for the experienced orderedness of cognitive function. “Schemas of imagination were … said to mediate between raw nature and perception…” The author says that in a non-functionalist, non-representationalist framework that tries to imagine structure from the outset, the notion of a schema is closely related to the notion of structural aboutness. If we think of aboutness as a state of the whole body (and not just the brain), schema would be embodied in all the spatiotemporal structures that are the means of being able to do or be with something.

Epp offers this account of schemas in a section of abstraction because as she explains, there is evidence that schematic aspects of perception-action wholes can also be evoked abstractly. She quotes Edelman here who calls schemas “high order functional complexes”, “mappings of mappings that have to do with positions and states of the body as it relates to objects/events” (1987, 195).

Ellie Epp distinguishes between transient metaphor (which is referred to as lexical metaphor in linguistic contexts) and structural metaphor. In her opinion, there have been problems with lexical or transient metaphor in its long history: one of them rises from thinking of metaphor as something about representational object itself. (e.g., this phrase, this photo, this gesture, is a ‘metaphor’). Instead we could say that “a representing object or event has metaphoric effect in certain contexts” – in contexts that set us up to take it metaphorically. We can understand metaphor, she offers, “like perceiving, like comparing, like similes, like illustrations, like basic predication -one among other ways of organizing cognitive structure so that we are about particular things in particular ways by means of it” (Part 3, Chapter 7, “Metaphor”). In “Hyperenergizing a subfield” Epp writes that “polysemy is like metaphor in the sense that it has to do with unusual wordings… [it] can also be understood as an effect of shared structure which regulates emphasis” (Ch.7). She asks the reader to think of syntax as a way of routing activation to subnets of simulational structures. This way we come closer to “metaphor proper” (Ch.7).

The author describes synaesthesia as systematic but perceptually irrelevant coactivation of different subnets of a wide net, so that we feel a sensory quality as belonging to an object that dosen’t, or can’t have that quality. Interestingly, Ellie Epp calls the phenomenon of ‘voluntary synaesthesia’ (Singerland’s term) as ‘half-ascribing’ (knowing that, for example, pain is not ‘yellow’, but still describing it like that), while Edward Singerland insists that true synaesthesia is when affected people are sure e.g., that musical note G is green, or that number 4 is blue – they “just are”, no explanation is possible for synaesthetics. All other forms Singerland opts to call voluntary synaesthesia. Anyhow, in this ‘half-ascribing’ or employing ‘voluntary synaesthesia’ “imagining feels intrinsic to the seeing” or feeling in Ellie Epp’s opinion. The means by which we are capable of doing so must have common cognitive origin. (There is a clear link here to the phenomenology of imagination as offered by Gaston Bachelard – mine). 

Epp says that we are not comparing our perception of something and an image of something else and finding similarities: “We are structured in a way that enables us to see different things as similar”. Edward Singerland calls it ‘cross-wiring’ in the brain.

Thinking is described by Epp as “ontologically mixed”, most often includes simulation and is representation-dependent. Representing objects or events can be used to evoke aboutness relevant to non-present objects or events. The author insists that representation can be used to evoke simulational aboutness that is unrelated to here and now; moreover, it is possible to “organize” the aboutness of other people so that they are seeming to perceive, and to feel and understand, a circumstance that may actually exist nowhere. This ability to organize simulational aboutness is used, as structural metaphor, to organize a much more abstract play of simulational aboutness – which is abstract thought. “To accomodate the whole range, from the first stage to the last, there have had to be many changes in the physical structure of brains and bodies” (Ch.7) Every kind of thinking, Epp explains, no matter how remote it is from concrete concerns, must make use of structure evolved, developed, or learned in contact with the physical world. The embodied nature of structural aboutness and the ’wide net’ character of cortical activity is common to all stages and levels of cognitive function.

One of the most important points for my thesis that Epp makes in this chapter is condensed in the last paragraph of “Thinking as structural metaphor”, Chapter 7:

If we understand that our theoretical discourses are grounded in structural metaphors, which in turn are elaborated uses of base level schemas built into the body through the whole of a childhood, we could consider what it might cost, in terms of body-restructuring, to change the metaphors we think with, and what that cost may have to do with resistance to paradigm shift.

In “Spatial schemas in thinking” part of Chapter 7, Epp quotes Lakoff’s statement that “the locus of reason (conceptual inference) would be the same as the locus of perception and motor control” (1987, 231). This scholar accumulated significant evidence that the structure important to sensorimotor spatial function is used act-metaphorically in a very large class of thinking operations. Lakoff describes base level spatial schemas as sources of logics used abstractly. Various sorts of inference or reasoning employ neural structure that is actually part of or makes use of, the sensorimotor system of our brains. Lakoff and Johnson call that  ‘sensorimotor inference’ (199, 200). Lakoff describes base level spatial schemas as sources of logics used abstractly.  ”So-called propositional inferences” also arise from the “inherent topological structure” of schemas of spatial perception and action, Lakoff suggests (1993, 229). Basic spatial schemas used to structure verbal logics could include center-periphery, link, cycle, adjacency, straight-curved, near-far, verticality, horizontality, front-back.

This more motor-involved form of I-it relation used in whole-body behaviours such as e.g., object-targeting, says Epp, can be used when we organize thinking as a trajectory in a scene: we can aim for a solution and submerge ourselves in the specifics of a question.

 In “How thinking is thought” part of this chapter Ellie Epp emphasizes that our thinking about knowing, speaking, thinking, and metaphor is itself metaphorically structured: it means that our abstract talk about knowing and speaking is based on ways of talking about base level social and physical doing. In the concluding paragraph of Chapter 7 the author offers that

  …shared substructure may be just the explanation we need for cross-contextual effects like metaphor. If the very same structure can participate in sensing or imagining two different things, nothing need be transferred or projected. Even conceptual or structural metaphor may be understood as a dynamic effect of shared substructure.

The next chapter deals with pictorial perspective, among other topics. Here Epp recognizes understanding that pictorial media have been developed tostructure light so that it will set up simulational structure in the viewer as a “crucial new move” made by Gibson “…a picture is always a physical surface… [that] has been treated or processed or acted upon in such a way that the light causes a perception of something other than surface itself” (1982, 263). The author comments here on human ability to see and also “seeming to see”. Photographic technologies, for example, focus on and record just those structures in reflected light that will evoke the responsive organization by which we can ‘seem to see’. When we look at a photograph we disregard the technical labour and the deployment of materials with ‘ease’.

A similar ease about our use of drawings and paintings lets us disregard the millennia of technical experiment that allow us to make marks whose overall organization will reflect light to fictive effect. The technical experiment has been experiment with materials, but more importantly it has been cognitive experiment; we have had to discover the visual system’s weaknesses, along with the devices we can use to exploit them.

We are not confused, we know that we are looking not at a real object or place – but our perceptual attitude, a gaze-based orientation to a something located at some particular place, is common to actual and imagined circumstance, Epp explains.

When we add a horizon line to the drawing, we add an illusion of the object’s placement in an enclosing environment. We also add a sense of being ourselves oriented to a background as well as to the object. Drawings use perception to evoke simulation. Backgrounds can also be evoked with an abstract but exact specificity of this sort. Line perspective drawings can be thought of as outline drawings of whole environments. As with object outlines, there is nothing in the drawing to evoke materials, lighting (source direction, intensity, color) or atmosphere.

In Conclusion Chapter: “Constructing Persons as Knowledge” Ellie Epp states that the framework she had constructed in this paper to accomodate an artist’s sorts of knowing is based on the concept of “aboutness” of enitre bodies in environments and on the “wide net” vision of cortical activity. The wide net vision of this activity is related to the whole-body vision of organic aboutness in that complex body tuned to its environment. The nervous system in conjunction with the rest of the body and the environment is “the organ of this integration”.  In Epp’s opinion, this view of ‘integrated net’ allows us to begin to account for the integrated nature of the experiences of knowing. Knowing thus described, Epp emphasizes, is not “in accord” with classical contrasts of mind and body, sensing and perceiving, thinking and believing, language and the non-verbal, concrete and abstract, literal and metamorphic. But, if we make the unified single body and its widespread network of integrated neural function the sites of aboutness and knowing, we have a means of thinking that these functions may happen simultaneously and may include one another necessarily.

 Since body in world is the locus of all the kinds of knowing there are, a vision of knowing based in situated aboutness becomes the basis for a comprehensive unified epistemology. A unified epistemology such as this also gives us a unified theory of representation itself. Epp insists that:

Within such a theory we can see all representational media as manifesting characteristic blends of presence and simulation, and as sharing evolutionary origins in joint attention and a continuing inherent sociality (“Conclusion: Structuring persons as knowledge”)

(Account of Being About completed March 3, 2012)

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On Embodiment (17/01/ 2012)

On Edward Singerland’s book What Sciences Offer the Humanities

A new (or re-curring) inquiery sprang from my encounter with Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local: an inquiery on the developments (after Merleau-Ponty “Eye and Mind”) in the understanding of the roles of the embodied mind. I often experience this sense of epiphany  – every time a great person or a great book comes my way just at the right time, and that was the case with the book of Edward Singerland What Sciences Offer the Humanities. Lippard’s comment on “kinetic or kinesthetic experience of a body, especially a walking body, passing trhough and becoming part of the landscape” made me feel that I want to learn more about our embodied experiences and how they influence our decision making and at a stretch, our art-making.

    In the Chapter 1, The Disembodied Mind, Edward Singerland explains that pure rationality seems to play little role in ordinary decision making. Moreover he states that “an absence of emotion  – a hallmark of the ideal moral agent for Plato or Kant – apparently transforms us into ethical incompetents”. He goes on adding that the very idea of “a unitary, conscious “I” in control of the dumb, animal-like non-self (the body, the emotions) appears to be an illusion” (34).  I learned that even such quotidian achievements as ordinary language comprehension and basic perception of our surroundings rely heavily on “fast and frugal heuristics” and and are guided by embodied and mostly unconscious emotional reactions to our environment (!) .  (Heuristics, according to Wikipedia, refers to experience-based techniques for problem-solving, learning, and discovery).

    Another powerful statement I would like to quote him was that “Perception is not concerned primarily with representation, but with action, and the concepts we acquire from interacting with the world seem to be based primarily on imagery and sensory-motor schemas”. This leads the author to conclude that concepts are not “amodal, abstract, and propositional but perception- and body-based” (34). later on Singerland recruits Andy Clark’s findings on AI systems which are based on explicit data-storage and logical manipulations – that the “filing cabinet/ logic machine” design – are “doomed from the start if their goal is to emulate biological minds, since biological “intelligence and understanding are rooted not in the presence and manipulation of explicit, language-like data structures, but in something more earthy: the tuning of basic responses to a real world that enables an embodied organism to sense, act, and survive” (36).

    If the objectivist model of reasoning and rational decision-making assumes a presence of a unitary, conscious self, writes Sigerland, than there is this locus of rationality and will in the human body. Here he quotes Antonio Damasio and his book Descartes Error, 1994, that one of the main Cartesian errors  is this concept of “Cartesian theatre: a central area of consciousness that experience the world and the self in a unified fashion and serves as a kind of headquarters of of knowledge and decision making” (39). Damasio insists that there is no single region in the human brain ecquipped to act this way.

    In his discussion of the ”body-minded brain”, Damasio points out that the mind evolved in order to assure survival of the entire mind-body unit and that the best way to do it is by “representing the environment by modifying the primordial representations of the body proper whenever an interaction between organism and environment takes place” (43). Coming out of this statement is a note on the functioning of memory: “When we recall an object… we retrieve not just sensory data but also accompanying motor and emotional data…” We also recall the past reactions of the organism to the object”. Needless to say that Damasio supports his statements with substantial data acquired from his clinical research.

How far-fetched would it be to connect this memory-based embodied experience with my painting of imaginary places that bear traces of the lands left behind – in all that emotionally charged way I do it, I wonder. 

Another subject that I felt fortunate to get some clarifications on from this book, was the subject of the role of language in our perception of the world.

    I remember an argument in the forum of our first on-line class in this program where I made a statement and then had a creepy feeling that I am virtually cutting that very branch I am clinging on in my practice of painting by sticking to it. My linguistic training that took place about 22 years ago obviously left me religiously believing that “there is nothing outside language, nothing outside the text”. That could possible be the wrongly read passage of Derrida.

    Singerland clarified that mess for me saying that what Derrida was actually denying was the possibility of human beings’ direct access to extraliguistic reality of objects. Roland Barthes explains it in the following way: “it appears increasingly more difficult to conceive a system of images and objects whose signifieds can exist independently of language: to perceive what a substance signifies is inevitably to fall back on the individuation of language; there is no meaning which is not designated, and the world of signified is none other than that of language” (1968:10) (79). Singerland says that the inextricable embeddedness of human beings – and anything resembling human experience – in such semiological networks leads Barthes to conclude that “man does not exist prior to language, either as a species or as an individual” (1972:135) (79). Singerland reports that later on Derrida had attempted to “distance himself” from that categoric statement of “there is nothing beyond language”. Singerland points out however, that “something like the model of the world as text is still very much alive and well in what postmodern theorists actually write” (80).

    The author quotes Lydia Liu as a counter-argument :”The super-sign emerges out of the interstices of existing languages across the abyss of phonetic and ideographic differnces. As a hetero-cultural signifying chain, it always requires more than one linguistic system to complete the process of signification for any given verbal phenomenon”. Singerland adds that the semiotic approach to the study of human behaviour has the effect of systematically “denying any possibile substative role to bodily or physical processes and thus leads to a sort of social constructivism and cultural relativism” (84).

To be continued…

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01/2012. Creating Contexts

 Creating Contexts  & Another H. Bhabha

A wondering Jew is at home only in time (Stephen Kern).

Remembering is never a quiet act of introspection. It is a painful re-membering, a putting together of the disembered past to make sense of the trauma of the present (Homi Bhabha).

Huma Bhabha. Untitled. 2011, ink and acrylic paint on photograph, 368x555cm

    After the first melancholic quote and the second almost viseral one, I am going to make a sharp turn into a more positive way of viewing past experience – in the light of the present ones. During this past month I realized that my work is becoming increasingly focused on what is happening here and now, and less preoccupied with what was left behind, though, of course, culturally charged and colored by it. Being still under the spell of Lucy Lippard’s book The Lure of the Local, I have learned how different individuals, ethnic groups and artists coped with displacement and adjustment to the new social and geo-political environments. The quotes I opened this post with are two of the four quotes she opens Chapter 6, Out of Place with.

The most important message of this chapter for me and my practice could be distilled in the following quotation: “For those of us whose histories have been marginalized, or who have been colonized or displaced, or have lost a ‘heartland’, memories are all we have… we must re-member and re-invent and create new contexts for our histories and ourselves” (66). Somehow my brain grabbed the one verb without the painful “re-” – create as a call for action. Create new contexts  – this is what I should add to my Manifesto. Creating new contexts – is what I have been trying to do but from now on- what I will be aware of doing.

    In this chapter Lippard moves from analyzing the ways of seeing the surrounding world by the [displaced] people to accounting for the specific cases of individual and group adjustment’s tools and techniques to suggestions of ways of effective coping with the task of adjustment itself (“create new contexts”). I cannot but fully agree with her thought that “If landscape is a way of seeing, there are potentially as many landscapes as individual ways of seeing, or at least as many as cultural ways of seeing”. The author believes that given a choice, people often immigrate to geographies that remind them of home. I have always believed that otherness and familiarity are reinforced by impressions of landscape. Even while living in a seemingly hostile or totally different world immigrants try to find those similarities however insignificant they might be. “Backgrounds inevitably affect foregrounds” – in this beautifully multi-layered metaphor of Lippard’s, artistic meaning is interwoven with cultural and natural ones. It also echoes Gaston Bachelard’s famous “being here is maintained by being from elsewhere” (The Poetics of Space, 208).

    Another important milestone of this chapter for me was to learn how the Bhabha’s liminality or in-between state in which most culturally or geographically displaced persons find themselves, can be described differently, and, fortunately for me, so close to what I have been looking into for the last two months: shelters (!) “Today many [immigrants] live in a hybrid space that can be seen as a shelter between cultures. They are identified by two worlds balancing between where they come from and where they have gone” (62). It can also be called hyphenation or living on the hyphen. While the state itself is nothing new and not particularly appealing to me or generally to anybody, the word ‘shelter’ has much less of the negative connotation the word ‘displacement’ posesses, in my opinion. It has a promise of rest, safety, being… well, ‘sheltered’ or protected. How and when we find that ‘shelteredness’ – that’s another story. Lucy Lippard offers accounts of cases in which groups or individuals “…in their search for a home in this world … created alternative landscapes in art that narrate jorneys, havens, refuges, and freedom… Wilderness, underground and mountaintop – as broad gegraphical metaphors for the search, discovery and achievement of self” (69-70).

   Another Bhabha – is a different story which to my mind, cannot be disengaged from Lucy Lippard’s revelations in this post for many reasons, one of them being that her art is one of the most contemporary examples of creating those positive new contexts Lippard is wirting about. (And her famous namesake, who has been quoted here already, of course). Huma Bhabha, a Pakistani-born, New York-based artist ‘on a hyphen’ – believes that “landscape evokes memories like few other things”. Bhabha’s subject matter includes war, colonialism, displacement, and pop-culture. Although she has achieved recognition for her three-dimensional work, recently she has returned to two-dimensional work, “a powerful and provocative choice” according to Modern Painters (Dec 2011-Jan 2012). It realizes in large, overpainted, and collaged photographs. She begins with pictures she has taken of desolate landscapes and abandoned construction sites, she layers the images with “hallucinatory” streaks of ink in saturated colors and sharp gestural figuration. At first it appears as if the photographs are of completely barren places; closer inspection reveals recognizable elements. Bringing together figuration and landscape, she presents a state of decline that seems neither past, present, nor future. The author of the article “Hopeful Disasters”on Huma Bhabha, Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson says that “although the materials in [Bhabha's] work can allude to decay and trauma, they also connote reuse and rebirth through the creative process” (57). (At this point I said to myself: and this is what my practice is really about! I could not quite put it in words… or rather, did not have the right vocabulary for it last year, but now I believe, I do.) 

   Heidi Zuckerman shared her thoughts on the current political events in North America and in the world as tied to the controversies in Huma Bhabha’s art: speaking of the “occupy” movement and “arab spring” movements as almost simultaneous events she notices that both were often criticized for lacking a “coherent agenda”.

 ”But perhaps”, writes Zuckerman, “therein lies the root of the problem. Society is too bifurcated for a unified message, and people, values, and ideas no longer fit into a neat and uniform box. Individuality and multiplicity abound. For a long time now, and especially since the emergence of postmodernism, postcolonialism, and feminism, people have resisted socially imposed, reductive identities and meanings” (57)

Bhabha’s work, in author’s opinion, reflects this resistance.

Works Cited:

1. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space, 1958. Boston: Beacon Press, 1994. Print

2. Lippard, Lucy. The Lure of the Local. New York: The New York Press, 1997. Print

3. Zuckerman Jacobson, Heidi. “Hopeful Disaster”, Modern Painters, Dec 2011/ Jan 2012

          Artinfo.com

 

 

 

 

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Kinesthetic Experience of a Hermetic Narrative

“Every landscape is a hermetic narrative,” says Lucy Lippard in her book The Lure of the Local, ” finding a fitting place for oneself in the world is finding a place for oneself in a story” (33) This story is always complex; it is composed of histories, ideologies, beliefs, and mythologies. We never mean only the landforms, but “the flavour of the society, the beliefs and the activities of the people who make up a given place”.  

Ungoogled Earth, 11/2011, synthetic polymer and oil on stretched canvas, 60″x92″, (work in progress)

This story is never just your own, add I. The term ‘displacement’ which I (out of being anaware or simply ignorant) have used so often in my thesis proposal last summer, raised doubts in Lucy Lippard’s mind even back in 1997, when this book was written. The author warns that “the sense of place” is simbiotically related to a sense of displacement; she is “ambivalent” about the phrase “sense of place” – she feels it became not just a cliché but a kind of “intellectual property” (33) or a “way for nonbelongers to belong, momentarily”. As a true nonbelonger I immediately feel ashamed; for grabbing the term “displacement” (which was kindly offered to my consideration by Chris Jones last year) greedily, oblivious of the cliché flavour of it if abused, of my predatory skills sharpened by this ever nagging need to find this “intellectual property” – this miniscular piece of global real estate I could finally rest my eyes on and call it ’home’. And I feel even more ashamed because I feel that Lucy Lippard is right: there must be some test (or contest) before you are pronounced by whatever voice a nonbelonger. It should be self-imposed or self-inflicted. One should be challenged and put through trials. Hey, nonbelonger, you have fled before – can we trust you again?

In the article “All Over the Place” – a review on Lippard’s book, Thomas Hine definesThe Lure of the Local “an exploration of Lippard’s sense of multicenteredness… and an embodiment of the concept… To ‘know your place’ is an acquiescence to limits that Lippard is emphatically unwilling to recognize” (2) Hine reprimands Lippard gently on possibly not being too selective (or overly focused) on one aspect of place or belonging, dividing her attention between issues like landscape photography, mapping, archaeology, historic preservation, cultural differences, pollution, and public art. The author of the article also mentions that Lippard includes “dozens of other voices, quoted in long paragraphs throughout the text” (3). As long as she follows the proper citation rules, say I - of course she needs all the issues and all the voices. The notorious “sense of place” is like an ancient disintegrating quilt that needs thousands of stories to be woven back into it and re-surrected for its mending. The article was written a decade ago when human mind was probably, less multi-tasking than today. Thomas Hine is sure that “this strategy of thinking globally, locally and esthetically at once is a formidable obstacle for the reader”. He insists that Lippard tries to “distract us” on every page, with the possible aim of not letting the reader to understand “the lure of the local too quickly”.

I on my part enjoyed the book thouroughly. So many of Lippard’s statements struck accord with me and many more summarised my modest findings. “…memory is  stratified”, says Lippard, “If we have seen a place through many years, each view, no matter how banal, is a palimpsest.” In our imagination we can unpave the roads of our childhood ecquipped just with stories of our older relatives or neighbours. Lucy Lippard calls the experience of building this sense of place over the years a “kinetic or kinesthetic” experience. “Even if one’s story there is short, a place can still be felt as an extension of the body especially the walking body, passing through and becoming part of the landscape.

All places exist somewhere between the inside and the outside views of them, the ways in which they compare to, and contrast with, other places. Lippard says that “A sense of place is a virtual immersion that depends on lived experience and a topographical intimacy”. This topographical intimacy to me can only spread that far for any human being - the ability being measured not by technology but by intrinsically human means like seeing up to the horizon line, or the capability to walk a distance on foot in a day, knowing the names of all small towns and acreages in their geographical sequence to the south or to the north along that higway.  Even the sense of horror at the deer roadkill at a certain point of that road. And seeing the deep red of its blood to be washed away gradually by the autumn rains.  As if measuring with your own body, restricted by natural limits to just how much of space we can call our own, our place, our home. Lucy Lippard gives the reader an example of Michael Steiner’s measure of a ‘region’: ” the largest unit of territory about which a person can grasp ‘the concrete realities of the land’, or which can be contained in a person’s jenuine sense of place” (34).

My own thoughts on the subject, of course, have been evoked by frequent travel to Calgary. I thought of this reverse kinesthetic experience for most of city dwellers: you ‘google’ the map, the Earth before you travel – and the map stays neutral and impersonal till you live through it, till you ungoogle it – carrying your body through it, learning its truths and its faults, and also its codes in your way. My latest painting – still in progress – is titled Ungoogled Earth. It is all about that kinesthetic experience of carrying your registering body through a landscape. Adding to it your own experiential interpretations and visions.

 

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Attack! and S-O-I-L Matters (November 2)

Since Folke Kobberling and Martin Kaltwasser presented their work to our group in the summer of 2010 I have been thinking about different values different societal strata have. I am relating in particular to one of their pieces titledWhite Trash: 

White Trash, 2008

Here’s the information on the piece I found at this site:

 http://www.space-thinks.de/en/realisierungen/folke-kobberling-martin-kaltwasser

“An SUV (sport utility vehicle) will be reconstructed using light-coloured wood and then parked on the central reservation in Karl-Marx-Straße in Neukölln. Over the course of four weeks, this reconstruction of the huge, tank-like Audi Q7 will occupy a number of parking spots. The exposure to the natural elements will cause the wooden structure to swell up, warp and gradually degrade to become white trash.


This piece by Folke Köbberling and Martin Kaltwasser focuses on the way public spaces have become dominated by selfish drivers and a transport policy that seeks to satisfy these drivers. A measure of this problem is the huge increase in the numbers of SUVs on the roads, despite CO2 and particulate matter pollution issues.

The artists have been dealing with the conditions of urban living in their projects since 2002, and they call upon us to go back to the idea of the city as a resource. By using materials that they have found, they offer a critique of the wastefulness inherent in capitalism”.

 The thing is that at the time of that presentation my very own “white trash” – my new Audi Q7 was parked under the old yellow crane right outside Emily Carr University… It would be wrong to say I bought that “huge, monstrous SUV” (Folke Kobberling) only out of neccessity  – you know, it is a very spacious SUV – takes all my rolled up paintings, all my studio equipment, wood, paints, etc. That was not the only reason. Another reason that I am not proud of was this shallow desire to show off  – as an immigrant who made it (!), as a former Russian woman (in 1990 when we were leaving Russia only 3% of Russian women could drive a car and only 17% of the population actually owned one). Though most of the world’s immigrants would be bitterly insulted if they were accused of moving for economic reasons only (as yours truly certainly would), the cold facts of our consuming history in the adopted country speak for themselves.

 So, on that hot July afternoon sitting on a pile of refused board panels – leftovers from the Olimpic Village kitchens’ construction  which were about to be transformed into the future parts of the famous Bulldozer  piece -  I was thinking what enormous gap lay between my narrow-minded, egocentric self and those enthusiastic tanned German artists, so environmentally and ideologically savvy they even refused to have a car of their own. “Will my children ever grow that conscientious?” I wondered. There was probably, no hope for my generation of immigrants…

Several events that almost coincided this fall made me further explore this feeling of being an intruder – if not territorially then from the point of view of environmental and political awareness I definitely feel like one. First, we finally sold our Edmonton house, and no matter how much ‘stuff’ I donated while packing it up – I could not help but feel what  huge producers of waste we actually became.

Second, my Internship Program takes me to Calgary twice a week. I am still driving my White Trash – just can’t give up that comfort – and wasting way too much gas – oil – S-O-I-L.  Soil that you want to spell with a capital S – like the government officials who say “on American soil” or “on Canadian soil”. With a meaning of a ‘new place for your identity’. I am driving through these beautiful grain and grass fields of Alberta peppered with small (private?) oil pumps that look like some peaceful farm animals browsing in the open vistas… Is this bad to admit that it gives me some satisfaction??? We moved to Alberta because it was one of the quickest economically growing provinces in Canada. That probably rang to our immigrants’ ears as a promise of our future individual growth and prosperity. Safety, success, and a kind of ‘Canadian dream’.

Finally, another coincidence – a very lucky one for my growing conscience (and consciousness) was  coming over the work of Annie Roy and Pierre Allard Attack! This work stirred a layer of relatively fresh memories of terror acts in Israel (the home country we left during the last intifada of 2001). Even the mere fact that this piece ‘travelled’ from city to city (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary) sent a chill down my spine. I know what readings there are. Mine could be just way too close for comfort… It does not prevent me from admiring the piece. According to these two artists, Attack! is a “destabilizing and unequivocal experience whose graphic violence heightens the public awareness of the perverse effects of the veneration of these gas-guzzling, power-hungry vehicles” (Creative Expression, Creative Education, 119). With great interest I read that Roy and Allard had to work hard to prepare the public for the exposure to the piece in Calgary. This amazing sensitivity should leave politicians speechless: “By the time we got to Calgary, it had a different political momentum, as Alberta, with its massive oil sands, is the center of oil production in Canada. You cannot just put a work like this in the environment without getting information and knowing a bit more, and understanding what the potential implications are for the people live there” (121). The artists did their research in Alberta and engaged people who were knowledgeable of the industry and the problem. They accompanied the piece with information to “empower people with knowledge to better understand the problem”. Their piece of art became a point of view. The message was not that “oil is bad, but that it is precious and should not be wasted” (122).

 

                                 Attack! #6, Annie Roy, Pierre Allard, 2008, Toronto

This work is a hyper-realistic scene depicting a terrorist attack incriminating – all at once- the automobile industry, consumers, and governments.

Meanwhile, with all these thoughts, I have been painting a piece with a working title

 S-O-I-L Matters

 S-O-I-L Matters, (work in progress),  synthetic polymer and oil on canvas, 60″x76″

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Per Aspera… to the Same Order of “Alphabetization”

Per Aspera… to the Same Order of “Alphabetization”

 (Critical Notes on Luis Camnitzer “Alphabetization”, part 1&2, E-Flux Journal, 11/2009)

This future essay will focus on questions of art education and view several arguments on the subject made by Luis Camnitzer in his article “Alphabetization” through the lens of contemporary Linguistic Educational Psychology, pedagogical practice and … logic.

The central argument of “Alphabetization” is that art has traditionally been taught as literacy, starting with teaching the basic skills – as in letters recognition or ‘craft’. The author claims that this approach “becomes even more dangerous in art than it is in literacy”. In art, Camnitzer stresses, “exercises in building academic skills are designed for instant gratification and efficient grading, but also introduce aesthetic dogmas”. I am going to follow Camnitzer’s alternative way of doing things which he introduces in Part Two of his article – changing the order -  and report his own order of preferences in art education (which I partially agree with):

The author offers a better, a “sane approach to pedagogy” in which he defines four important ‘steps’:

  • Perception of a need to establish and order
  • Explore the origin of this need, and the relevance of power relations
  • Search for the most effective code to transmit (a new) order
  • Mastering the code to achieve effective communication

While this new proposed by Luis Camnitzer order is truly a sane order of steps in contemporary pedagogy, what he uses it as an argument against – is more problematic. His claim is that there is no need in a preceding step in art education – teaching the alphabet, the basics – or the ‘literacy’ which he frequently alludes to. I believe that many art educators would agree that the first step of Art Fundamentals or Art Foundation requires many structural changes and I also know that the best personae in the field are introducing those changes into the system as we speak. My argument (that followed some wild amusement and some mild surprise which was my reaction to the initial reading of “Alphabetization”) is that most of the conclusions Camnitzer reaches in his article are made somewhat haphazardly, skipping certain facts for the sake of arguing the correctness of specific (and probably, pre-determined) outcomes.

      Camnitzer chooses teaching literacy as a parallel to teaching art because both are based on “the recognition and execution of signs” (“Alphabetization”, Part Two). After examining the processes of coding and decoding that are obviously present in both art appreciation /art making (for some reason the author calls it “doing art” – as if specifically denying the traditional art education any possibility of teaching creativity) and reading/writing, Luis Camnitzer makes a shortcut to comparing art education to acquiring receptive skills only. And this is how he achieves this:

    He quotes James Paul Gee that reading is understanding and writing is producing. “This”, he proceeds “puts reading in a category together with art appreciation and writing in a category with art making. Or, more specifically, one category refers to decoding while other refers to coding.” All true: while listening and reading are known as receptive skills, speaking and writing are considered to be productive skills in Linguistic Psychology. Very solid comparison to art making and art appreciation as well. Coding and de-coding.

The unexpectedness of the next statement makes me spill my coffee: “Art and literacy therefore come to be considered as completely separate entities”. How many steps have been missed here? Where have I lost the train of Camnitzer’s thought?

“Reading is the decoding of writing and thus together they presumably constitute a distinct and inseparable couple”. The author here works his individual (!) and thus, following his own thinking, elitist (!) way through the woods very energetically never stopping to see what was accidentally torn away by the resilient bushy aspera he is ignoring: “…literacy leads to an understanding of what other people have done or discovered”. True, but how about literacy being acquired as a tool for creative thinking and creative writing?  What has been thrown out here with the dirty water?  If literacy led to only de-coding, there would be no inspirational speakers and inspirational speeches; no thought –provoking non-fictional writing and no amazing poetry or novels. What a scary thought!

Luis Camnitzer meanwhile has come to a clearing of his own making in the woods I have just described: “The consequence is that society expects the written word to inform, while art is expected to reveal. Where they curiously find common ground is in how, despite differing definitions and expectations, both arrive at their destination only through proficiency” (emphasis mine). Camnitzer’s surprise is understandable – considering his rush to the pre-determined goals – it is easy to skip a step or two; probably even take a wrong turn. If the underlined statement was true, the ever written, printed and published material would consist of sets of instructions, manuals, various data recordings, and weather forecasts would be considered pieces of science-fictional writing at their best. Scarier still!

The best, however, is still to come… The author is in the driving seat now, accelerating through assumptions: “This common ground – making proficiency the foundation – is a curse for both”. (Meaning both literacy and art education) “In the case of literacy, the student is trained to see mastery of the craft of written language”, (not only in manuals and data recordings, hopefully – mine), “as the definitive route to freedom of expression, when the code itself embeds limits to possible meanings. In the case of art, the student is trained in the code of the craft, but without the luxury of being able to think that mastery of the craft will lead to success”. Here I would like to stop this passionate and argumentative flow of thought and consider for a moment why this luxury is granted neither in creative writing nor in art education to begin with. I would claim that the reason is that in both fields ideally not only one code of the craft is taught but an exposure to multiple codification systems is taking place, and thus multiple possibilities (or orders – thank you, Luis Camnitzer) are introduced. That fact in turn pre-supposes multiple possibilities for individual expression and communicating of an individual (!) message is made possible via new ‘orders’, tools, or means. To question orders as the author proposes, the students have to be acquainted with the existing multiple (!) orders, or the orders that have been in use in history of both writing and art making. If these students are here to come up with their own creative ideas, exposure to numerous references is supposed to enrich their bank of possibilities, and not at all limit their vocabulary to one and only “hegemonic language”. One [singular] order is, no doubt, dangerous, reactionary, and dogmatic. Lack of exemplified or demonstrated for triggering a creative process multiple ways (‘orders’) might result in a painstaking and extremely lengthy process of re-inventing a wheel. Anarchy is not only a lack of order. It is an order in itself. Given power, it becomes hegemonic – Luis Camnitzer is particularly eloquent in warning against ‘hegemonic’ – being it ‘orders’, ‘languages’, or policies. 

    Another major concern of the author in this piece of writing is the presence of an ‘instructor’ or ‘teacher’ in the institution of art education. That’s why he promotes co-learning and mentorship as a ‘horizontal’ relationship among the participants as opposed to ‘vertical’ instruction. With his personal account of his own art-education as a young student ‘back in Uruguay in the forties’ – it comes as no surprise that he argues against academic instruction at art institutions. However, many things have changed in the system of that education since ‘the forties’ (of the last century!). Much has been changed in the literacy and language learning as well. As an example I would like to quote a diagram on a successful framework for language learning as introduced by Jane Willis first in 1996 (!) Though this diagram is referring to language acqusition, I trust this example is appropriate as the author refers to the literacy and language teaching in his work:

___________________________________________________________________

  Essential:                                                                                                        

Exposure To a rich but comprehensible input of real spoken and written language in use

Use  Of the language to do things (i.e. exchange meanings)

Motivation  To listen and read the language and to speak and write it (i.e. to process and use the exposure)

Desirable:  

Instruction  In language (i.e. chances to focus on form)

__________________________________________________________________

As we see in this diagram, the weight of instruction is reduced to being not “essential”, but “desirable” and serving or catering for the needs of the students for a particular purpose of delivering the formal component of the training. I would add that it is also meaningful for the facilitating of the exposure in favour of which I have been tolling here today. Hence, the most profitable and successfully facilitated learning has to comprise both horizontal and vertical models described by the author.

    And now- for the title of Luis Camnitzer’s article which I find very telling. According to Thesaurus, ‘alphabetization’ has two meanings:

  1. Arranging in an alphabetical order
  2. Supplying with an order

I would argue here that neither of these meanings does any justice to the author’s intentions. He speaks in favour of students’ freedom of finding their own ‘order’, but ‘alphabetization’, unfortunately, offers or supplies only one – the alphabetical.

To be continued, improved, and further thought-over

 

Works Cited:

1. Camnitzer, Luis. “Alphabetization”, E-Flux Journal, 11/2009

2. Willis, Jane. 1996. A Framework for Task-Based Learning. Edingburh: Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 2001. Print

 

 

 

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Fortleben: The Surviving Structure

                                   Fortleben: The Surviving Structure.

This summer intensive was the brightest and sunniest summit of the 2010-2011 year for me, no matter the actual weather in Vancouver that some called disappointing. For the sake of not uttering empty statements I could offer a brief review of it in a more or less chronological order: our group presentations were highly informative, provided many interesting vantage points into the discourses that started a year ago; we have held fruitful discussions of each others’ practices, learned how to organize critiques and offer judgements that “spring from a work of art’s logic and… go beyond and against its limitations” (Sven Lutticken, 53). We learned how to organize our work within a group exhibition, while making compromises and decisions based on the idea of best exposure for everyone’s work. We also enjoyed a diversity of visiting artists’ presentations and had a glimpse into their experience of the contemporary art contexts. My group and I enjoyed and ‘endured’ the visiting artists’ critiques and registered every piece of advice for immediate and future use. We roamed shows together and exchanged opinions on readings.

    I deliberately account for the Seminar in Dialogues and Interactions as undivided from the rest of the 2011 summer intensive because the seminar bears the name that could easily encompass the whole experience of the period since May 24 till July 30. That in my opinion, comprised what was the most valuable in the intensive – the dialogues and interactions with our instructors, fellow students, and visiting artists. The more focused outcomes and the more specific for my own artistic persona I dare put into the form of a hybrid between a credo and a ‘things to do’ list which might also resemble a manifesto:

  1.  Never send to know for whom they speak, write or toll. Peel your eyes, open your ears: they speak, write, and toll for thee.
  2. Travel light. Do not hoard. Shake off the unnecessary. (“Take away the elements in order of apparent non importance” (The Game).
  3. Be voracious in reading but … go back to #2.
  4. Pursue self-reflexivity and re-contextualization.
  5. If you are prone to crumbling under questioning – have no fear – crumble! You will rebuild yourself later. You will rebuild yourself stronger.
  6. Friendly critiques are friendly. Seek the ferocious ones: they will kick you off-balance. That is the best position for a new start.
  7. Do not dismiss aggressive critiques/ critics. They have a point/position. Find out what that is.
  8. Crisis is an inevitable step in critical and self-critical process.
  9. If you hesitate between a facade touch-ups and demolition in your practice – go for demolition: “deep inside you know you deserve it!” (Joyce Lindermulder, 2010, 2011)
  10. Embrace the idea of kenosis – self-emptying in the spirit of openness to signals from above. Remember: new truths can strike at any time. Be radically open.
  11. “Judgement needs a critical ethos beyond a friendly set of checks and balances. It needs to be repeatedly deconstructed from within” (Tirdad Zolghadr, 13)
  12. Never shy away from questioning the questions, critiquing critics, and judging judges. Make sure the feedback you receive is really useful.
  13. Dissolve sugar-coats. Get to the core.
  14. Eleventh hour aspect is a friend, not a foe. Under pressure – act, do not idle.
  15. Chat over drinks with those who read annotations only. Have long conversations with those who indulge in reading from cover to cover. Always take notes.
  16. Learn how to use your work as a conveyer, not as a container (Atom Egoyan, 26).
  17. Never start your statements with “I might be mistaken but…” Speak up only when you have something to say. Noise is a major pollutant.
  18. Re-evaluate you own position as often as needed. Never sleep on it.
  19. Admire great innovative projects of others. Spread the word. “Create new audiences” (Kristina Lee Podesva, 124).
  20. Count yourself in. Not only others put things on the map. You do too.
  21. Asap: Decide whether your research is practice-led or theory-driven.
  22.  “Welcome professional uncertainty, apprehension and interruption as good, clean, crazy fun” (Tirdad Zolghadr, 20).
  23. Self-centeredness is not self-indulgent: talk about yourself. “We have nothing but our better or worse selves through which to process the world” (Tom Morton, 35).
  24. Do not try to squeeze your life-story in a 15 minutes presentation. Describe a project instead. Let them ask questions.
  25. Follow the model of critique offered by Kristina Lee Podesva:

       a. Describe what you see/ experience in a piece

             b. Offer your interpretations of the piece

             c. Come up with questions clarifying the artist’s intentions

             d. Receive the artist’s answers; discuss them

       26. Go back to square #2. Often.

Works Cited:

  1. Egoyan, Atom. “Surface Tension”, Image and Territory, Toronto: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2006.
  2. Lutticken, Sven. “A Tale of Two Criticisms” from Khonsary, Jeff, O’Brian, Melanie, eds. Judgement and Contemporary Art Criticism. Vancouver: Artspeak and Fillip Editions, 2010.
  3. Morton, Tom. “Three or Four Types of Intimacy” from Khonsary, Jeff, O’Brian, Melanie, eds. Judgement and Contemporary Art Criticism. Vancouver: Artspeak and Fillip Editions, 2010.
  4. Lee Podesva, Kristina, ed. “Panel One” from Khonsary, Jeff, O’Brian, Melanie, eds. Judgement and Contemporary Art Criticism. Vancouver: Artspeak and Fillip Editions, 2010.
  5. Zolghadr, Tirdad. “Worse than Kenosis” from Khonsary, Jeff, O’Brian, Melanie, eds. Judgement and Contemporary Art Criticism. Vancouver: Artspeak and Fillip Editions, 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                          Fortleben. The Surviving Structure. (From a Dialogue on the Way Home).

-          I am thinking of making a sculpture or an installation this fall.

-          Really? Like what?

-          Well, right now I see it as a structure made of wooden panels… maybe, 1/3 or 2/3-s; vertical structure standing 7’ or so high and about 3’ wide…

-          A door? Seriously? It has been done to death! Quite banal too, I would say. (With fear I notice a grin on my husband’s face)

-          Yes, I know. In my abstract sculpture class we had this assignment of starting with a door and making a sculpture around it. No, there will be no door – maybe just a doorframe or something that can be associated with a doorway.

-          And what will that mean?

-          Passages. Leaving. Also fear of unknown: if I found a structure like that in the middle of nowhere, I would be too superstitious to walk through it. And I was always scared to leave… But also an ‘opening’ – you know Chris said that by introducing lines, map elements and other signifiers I possibly “just cracked my method open” for others. I think by “method” he means my abstract print that I always think as ‘my landscape language’ or something that has survived from all the moving and fleeing experience. I believe he was viewing it as just as a mindless process.

-          Do you think a process – any process can be mindless?

-          Chewing? No, I know what you mean. No I do not think that painting process is just a mindless pouring or a mark-making. Not unless you close your eyes. Even so – you made a choice to close them, right? But I want my art to mean more. Or to convey more. I do not think I managed to do this too well up to this point. This structure will tell more, I believe.

-          How so?

-          It comes from theory. Jacques Derrida in The Ear of the Other speaks of the internal border that exists between the two bodies: the body of work and the actual physical border of the author. If you try to divide these two bodies the line is blurred and you can’t make sense of it any longer. That’s why my work is about my experience – immigration, mapping, re-building identity.

-          I know, but what with that door – ?

-          That is just a continuation of the same thought – for me at least – in the same book there is a chapter “Roundtable on Translation” where Derrida quotes Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Task of the Translator”: when you translate from other languages (and from several, too) and still want to understand a text as an original – you have to understand it independently of its living conditions – the conditions obviously of its author’s life. Here Derrida contradicts himself – he just said it is impossible. But he agrees with Walter Benjamin when the latter says you have to understand it instead in its “surviving structure” – he calls it Fortleben. So I thought: if you strip my work which is an embodied experience bare of all the junk, all the untranslatable “living conditions” – what skeleton will remain standing that will still signify the hardships of passages? – I thought of that structure – the doorframe…

My husband looks straight at the road ahead. He does not say anything. I do not ask for comments – I am still thinking. In the next half-hour when I am dozing off, I see that structure, exposed to the elements, surviving the summer thunderstorms, covered with ice in the winter, looking beaten and half-rotten by the arrival of spring 2012… Maybe fallen on the ground with some new arrogant spring growth all around. Still surviving…

 

Works Cited:

  1. Benjamin, Walter. “The Task of the Translator”, Illuminations. Zohn, Harry, trans. Arendt, Hannah, ed. 1968. New York: Schocken Books, 2007, Print.
  2. Derrida, Jacques. The Ear of the Other, 1982. University of Nebraska Press, 1988. Print

 

 

 

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Mapping Identity

                                              Mapping Identity

(after Terra Infirma, by Irit Rogoff)

    “Cartography is the signifying practice of both location and identity, a mode of writing through which we can uncover a set of general laws”  – with this statement Irit Rogoff opens Chapter 3 which is devoted to the subject of mapping in visual arts. She deals with “un-mapping”, “re-mapping” and “counter-cartographies” that can be found nowadays in contemporary art practices. She looks into the signifying systems by which “knowledge is organized and conveyed” (73).

    Rogoff considers “re-reading” and “re-writing” (and by extension, un-mapping and re-mapping) the contestation of post-Enlightenment theories of cognition. As some elements of mapping are starting to appear in my paintings I eagerly read this chapter for a broader view of similar practices and their rationale.

   One of the aspects that I saw as the most important for my own thesis development was the “resituating a theory of cognition within lived experience” (74) as it entails examining the experience of concrete, qualitative subjects rather than seeking formal, transcendental conditions of subjectivity. An epistemological shift like this grants the interpretative authority to an actual subject, as opposed to an ‘objective’ system of knowledge.

    Another aspect is mapping as an activity carried out by the subaltern, the marginal – the collective histories of those who “have not fitted into patterns of agency within universal, overarching histories” (74). Rogoff believes that mapping as an activity from the margins is “exceptionally instrumental” in re-situating of cognition. The author regards re-mapping, re-situating, and translating  – a transfer -  a form of claiming the original for other purposes, quoting Derrida :

          Within the limits to which is possible, or at least appears possible,

       translation practices the difference between signified and signifier.

        But if this difference is never pure, translation is no more so and for the

        notion of translation we would have to substitute a notion of transformation:

        a regulated transformation of one language by another, of one text by another.

        We will never have, and in fact have never had any ‘transfer’ of pure signified

        from one language to another, or within one language – which would be left

        virgin and intact by the signifying instrument or ‘vehicle’ ( as quoted by

Rogoff, p.79)

The author sees transfer as a form of ‘claiming’ of the original for other purposes.

    One of the most interesting concrete examples of how “narrative structures have the status of spatial syntaxes” Rogoff offers one doctor’s account of the spread of AIDS in rural Tennessee and his own tracking and mapping of the phenomenon . With this example she illustrates how narrative structures (reified as spatial syntaxes) regulate changes in space by whole new systems of codes, ordered ways of “proceedings and constraints” (80). Dr Verghese’s account of mapping and spatializing an epidemic through sexuality’s intersection with rural culture leads Rogoff to an assertion that “some aspect of the work of translation from human tragedy to codes of signification needs to be played out in order  for the map to become an enacted heterotopia” (83).

(To be continued)

Work Cited:

Rogoff, Irit. Terra Infirma. Geography’s Visual Culture. London and new York: Routledge,

        2000. Print.

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