MCP506 Thesis Rough Draft
Research Advisor: Andrew Cooks
It all began with death.
An unfamiliar shadow disconnected from a familiar landscape.
My focus centred on a palm-sized digital screen. What happens when I/we/you look up?
What happens if - where once I breathe a hot, humid, crowded city - I now stand alone - consumed by snow and arctic wind?
I look up, and the light of an ominous indigo sky greets me with the promise of an afternoon storm.
I stop and breathe this foreign space and question the traces that will remain.
Wandering through a frozen desert landscape of blue light and 1000 shades of white.
Why have I come here?
“…distant places give us refuge.” 1
In territories where our own histories aren’t so deeply entrenched we are given space to imagine different stories, other selves, simply to breath the quiet. 2
The following pages hold an interwoven story spoken from two perspectives: one is a story exhaled from instinct.
A nonlinear and holographic memory of experiences; the other emanating and immersed in research.
Inhaling the thoughts and dust and cells of others.
Both perspectives are necessary to create a meandering path traversing two worlds.
The tangible and stable world of the landscape walks with the unexpected and unpredictable world of air.
(Well, actually, that isn’t entirely true. This land is one of the most unstable landscapes on earth. But, as they say, never let the truth get in the way of a good story. The air is unpredictable, that part is true).
My fascination with air is cloaked in death.
The sudden death of a close friend changed everything, and I then began a slow walk into new territory.
Initially, my project and related research began with a phenomenon.
One that occurs when two people hold hands and their hearts synchronise, beating to the same rhythm and pace.
The synergy that intimately connects internal human biology with the external world initiated a train of thought, questioning my perception of skin as a border containing the self.
Could a shift in this perception collapse imaginary boundaries between each other and between the human and non-human world in which we are enmeshed?
A sense of disconnection from the planet that supports us is a concept that permeates most modern human experience.
The complexity of constructed networks and intricately entangled detachment fostered by immersion in technology and global addiction to digital screens, has opened both an opportunity and a need to re-evaluate the human and nonhuman relationship.
A (re)connection to our environment is one of the most critical issues of our time.
Contemporary society is deeply entangled within the complexity of multiple networks. And it is challenging to navigate my way through a different mode of thinking, even when I grasp the urgency of the ecological problem we now face.
We all breathe.
And the air that we breathe connects us across time and space.
Air entangles us into everything beyond the perception of self.
Air defy borders.
THE LANDSCAPE SIGHS
I inhale the cold arctic air.
It travels along a tube, into lungs, across porous alveoli, into warm, viscous blood, through a beating heart, along a complex circulatory network (that resembles the root system of a tree), and dissipates into a single oxygen molecule that finds its way into a cell.
A biochemical process of energy exchange takes place, and the cell breathes a carbon dioxide particle back into the blood, through the circulatory system, the beating heart, the branches of the lungs and along the bronchial tube.
And the air returns into the vast, atmosphere of wind and waves and currents and weather.
Ascending high into the gulf stream and rapidly heading south, west.
The air particle finally floats back down towards land to rest in the mist of a Costa Rican cloud forest. The day breaks.
Temperatures rise, the cloud lifts and the carbon dioxide particle drops and floats toward the forest floor.
It is interrupted along the way down by the inhale of a nearby lichen moss that clings to the fur of a Brown-throated Sloth hanging lazily in the humid forest canopy.
“…reincarnation, the eternal renewing of life and the world, which of course also means eternal dying. In the warm, damp regions everything disintegrates, regenerates, must be rebuilt…and the air is full of spores and bacterias and insects eager to consume and transmute.”3
In colder climates, the cyclical processes are much slower and more subtle, but they each flow into one another in a continuous pattern of freedom and movement.
According to the scientist, inventor, and co-founder of Google X, Tom Chi, planetary wind patterns show that the air we inhale at this very moment was on the other side of the planet being exhaled by a plant 4-5 days ago. 4
In turn, you exhale and part of what you once considered yourself will form part of a plant’s internal structure in a remote corner of the Amazon in 4-5 days from now.
“We are literally ingrained within the movement of the planet.” 5
The visual clarity of invisible air moving across the surface of the earth somehow stirs my imagination.
Possibly because air feels so familiar.
A single breath feeding a plant on the other side of the planet portrays the interwoven connected environment in which we participate.
Air changes the perception of scale.
Air defies borders.
Does the breath, therefore, hold the pedagogical potential to (re)instate a greater value onto our environment?
Can the breath go so far as creating a perceived value high enough to justify the transition from economy to ecology in the mind of humans?
I set out on this journey to consider air… to investigate one of the most intimate and yet complex networks we share.
I question if air holds the potential to demystify the power and complexity of all other networks in which we are entangled.
“Networks don’t merely accelerate or markets, our news, and our innovation, they revolutionize the very nature of their power.” 6
According to the author of the book, Seventh Sense, Joshua Cooper Ramo: by understanding the power of networks, we then have the potential to develop the intuition required to override the downside associated with the accelerated connected entanglement we now find ourselves in.7
“Never before have more people been dependent on, embedded into, surveilled by and (voluntarily) exploited by a network of webs. It seems overwhelming...and without an immediate alternative.” 8
Can something invisible like air help to visually clarify our understanding?
The myriad of networks that are currently impacting our lives are invisible, intangible, pervasive (invasive) and persistently present.
Just like air.
My aim is not necessarily to establish definitive answers but rather to journey into the fascinating and unexpected territory where these questions lead.
The artist Roni Horn has a writing practice that runs parallel to her art practice. Her writing has provided a lot of insight into the ideas that surfaced during my time in the Arctic landscape.
I intentionally avoided reading her essays until I returned.
As an artist who spent a significant proportion of her career in the Arctic, I didn’t want to be influenced by her words before embarking on a similar experience.
I wanted to travel with my own thoughts.
Upon returning, I found comfort and familiarity in Horn’s words.
I was surprised to read aspects of my process of investigation expressed in Horn's writing:
“It’s more of a questioning. I’m not interested in answers per se. The answers create closure.I don’t think there are any answers anyway…” 9
Roni Horn’s work is focused towards the documentation of identity, whereas my work is ephemeral and aims to find expression beyond the borders of self.
However, it is the intelligence of ideas presented in Horn’s written documentation and the experiences she invests in to create the work, which resonates strongly with my practice.
The fact that we end with different artistic outcomes by following a similar line of enquiry is what fascinates me most about Roni Horn’s artistic practice.
THE LANDSCAPE OF IDEAS
All my research leads into thin air… that invisible presence that permeates our entire existence.
Air is the medium of creation, life and death.
I began this process by investigating time, light, drawing, connection, networks. All has since been distilled into a single, simple, elusive and yet pervasive phenomena…Air.
THE SCIENTIFIC LANDSCAPE
I approach my studio and theoretical research with a scientific lens.
This is unintentional and usually pointed out by others.
And while I do admire the accomplishments of western science, I am also critical of certain aspects of the scientific models used to categories and compartmentalise everything.
I believe the thinking associated with the politics of science needs to be reassessed.
Cross-pollination of knowledge and a vision of the whole picture is essential for our future understanding of the planet.
Alternate, scientific models are being addressed by a revolutionary few within the science world.
Nobel Prize-winning chemist Ilya Prigogine has reconsidered the “scientific account of wonderful world-systems in which responsibility for the emergence of things includes the intervention of creative events.” 10
Scientific methods are, therefore, not static observations, but dynamic and unpredictable because of the very system of particles that make up the world.
Quantum particles are chaotic and impossible to predict.
When viewing the universe at a subatomic scale, you soon realise we live in a nonsecure world where things emerge without adequate cause or sufficient reason. 11
And so old methods of scientific inquiry are quickly becoming obsolete in light of the developments in quantum physics.
In my studio practice, it is the unpredictability and inquisitive experimentation along with the acceptance of both failures and successes that I relate most to with traditional scientific processes.
Kosky explained the process perfectly when he wrote:
“…here is the place for throwing things to the wind, for scattering what remains and creatively letting go of things as they drift on and rise up to new forms unknown to me, most likely in a future never even retrieved by me - being in a creative dissipation towards the sea.”12
THE LANDSCAPE OF IDEAS part 2
I have invested time into the words and thoughts of others.
My studio is full of books.
And even though words and I are not friends, I love language when expressed by others.
Books open possibility.
When I use words, I feel restricted.
Language for me creates the very borders I am aware of dismantling.
Research and reading have been a large part of my process. Articulating my understanding of the research can feel constricting for me at times.
However, when I reflect back on the experiments, drawings and studio process, it is evident that visual language flows far more freely from ideas.
My research has led to areas of sensory perception, neuroscience, psychology, physics and biology along with the perplexing shadows of mysticism, creation theories and cultural psychology.
A studio practice of wandering, breathing, collecting, gathering and drawing in silence has informed the visual communication of ideas unearthed through research.
My research aims to highlight the psychological friction caused by our current relationship with our environment.
I hope to reinstate connection by dismantling the fence that, ’protects’ the perfect borders and manicured lawns from the fast approaching ecological storm.
I am not claiming that the following paper holds the solutions required to adjust the historically embedded structures and systems of politics.
I am far from having the understanding necessary to develop the political theories required.
I am merely posing questions and addressing the potential held in changing our perspective on the issue.
Most curiously, this inquiry provoked an encounter with solitude, silence, darkness and light in a vast and unfamiliar landscape. A wondering through a frozen desert under northern skies and indigo air.
Distance, both physical and psychological, developed into a valuable research tool.
From a distance “…this far away you see the patterns, the connections, and the thing as a whole, you see all the islands and the routes between them. Up close it all dissolves into texture and incoherence and immersion…” 13
The visual distance of the space I experienced was equally important as the distance I felt from the familiar.
For me, the familiar is a city.
And as the author, Jeffrey Kosky explains, “In the city…There are lots to see but the close-up view means no distance adds depth to your vision…in the great desert vastness, I began to look into the distance, where less and less at first appeared to be seen as more and more distance opened up whatever I did see.” 14
Our brains become highly attuned to our senses when we experience contrasts. We tune out when life remains monotone.
We are wired to appreciate variation.
To push ourselves into the unfamiliar.
Upon reflecting on death, it made sense to me that I became enchanted by solitude, the unfamiliar, the nonhuman; by the silence of this experience.
The question is, how to weave a silent story of death and life where the warp and weft are air and light?
THE LANDSCAPE OF HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY
Humans love creating truths.
And the one thing we love more than creating truths is believing in them.
Convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt.
There is so much light beyond that shadow; it holds the potential to be blinding.
““The light,” after all, “shines in the darkness. It does not shine where there is full or total light, and the shining does not extinguish the darkness without obscuring the light itself.” 15
A particularly well entrenched speculative truth that we humans hold most dear surrounds the security of borders.
Designed to contain, divide, and restrict the freedom to move.
Imagine the possibilities if boundaries could vanish into thin air.
Borders force us into compartments.
They challenge the very essence of growth.
They prevent the expansion into new territory.
They restrict our ability to learn, to move, to wander, to explore curiously, to seek refuge.
They restrict the flow of humans, displaced by war, famine and climate.
The world’s refugee crisis is forcing an unprecedented flow of human movement around the globe.
The politics and psychology surrounding borders need re-evaluating if we have any chance of coping with the humanitarian crisis.
Climate refugees will create the worlds most extensive flow of people over the next decade, far higher than the number of people currently fleeing war and persecution.
Senior US military and security experts have told the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) “that the number of climate refugees will dwarf those that have fled the Syrian conflict, bringing huge challenges to Europe."16
“If Europe thinks they have a problem with migration today … wait 20 years…See what happens when climate change drives people out of Africa … and we’re talking now not just one or two million, but 10 or 20 [million].” ,” according to retired US military corps brigadier general Stephen Cheney 17
The psychology and perspective needed to respond to the Anthropocene and the ecological mutation we are causing needs to be independent of nations, borders and compartmentalised decision-making policies.
The weather flows freely across the globe.
And so might the solution.
Upon reflection of this research, I realised that I naturally gravitate towards materials and ideas that defy borders.
Air. Light. Breath. Silence, Storms...Pause…Time. Death.
Each has a unique way of defying containment.
THE LANDSCAPE OF DEATH
All paths lead to death.
It is inevitable.
“Time wins this battle; our victories are merely delays.” 18
Life is usually created by the death of something else.
The video artist Bill Viola reflects on the portrayal of death in his work by stating: “Death is a transition. A perpetual beginning and ending, violence and beauty.” 19
We inhale, and life begins.
We exhale, and life ends.
Air is both the capital letter and the full stop of our life sentence.
What happens in-between is a series of experiences, that transforms into a cloud of memory.
What happens at the end is anyone's guess.
What we do know is that air is the ever-present companion we share with time.
Death disconnects entangled threads.
I am more fascinated by the entangled connections that occur before death’s grand gesture.
And so I began by questioning our connection to each other.
Over time the research expanded to encompass our connection to the “whole.”
How do we influence the historical landscape in which we participate?
How does the landscape shape us in return?
The endless loop of breath, influence, time and space.
(Side Note: I am no 100% sure that the first sentence of the last paragraph is true. According to senior scientist and parapsychology researcher, Dean Radin, “When the fabric of reality is examined very closely, nothing resembling clockwork can be found. Instead, reality is woven from strange, “holistic” threads that aren’t even located precisely in space and time.” 20 So its possible death doesn’t disconnect the thread of entanglement. Who knows).
The scares we cut run deep.
Humans marvel at their cleverly constructed artificial landscapes.
And until recently, very few questioned the impact.
The network of ecosystems has become compromised significantly as the ramifications of the Anthropocene start to take hold. “… the Earth is now ‘reacting’ to the symptoms…” 21 of our cleverness.
“How can we simultaneously be part of such a long history, have such an important influence, and yet be so late in realizing what has happened and so utterly impotent in our attempts to fix it?”22
The criticism associated with the Anthropocene is that it implies that humans are an independent governing body, inflicting their influence over nature from the opposite side of an imagined fence.
It would be far more beneficial, as the French Philosopher and anthropologist Bruno Latour has suggested, to see the relationship from an alternate perspective.
One where humans view themselves as part of the entangled web that is nature.
From this perspective, humans are playing a hugely influential part in the mutation of their own web.
This perspective also holds the potential to demolish the border between nature and culture. 24 The term culture carries divisive undertones that suggest humans have evolved to become superior to nature.
Landscape as environment.
Landscape as atmosphere.
Landscape as an aesthetic.
Landscape as an artificial space.
Landscape as human psychology.
Landscape as political agenda.
Landscape as plant agenda.
Landscape as biological self: “a vast and enigmatic landscape of interiors, flows, chemistry, cells, systems, and samples.” 25
Landscape as spatial perception: “bound to experience, imagination, emotion and the senses.” 26
Landscape as “..reflection concerning new and different fields of the real, questioning not only the definition of reality but rather breaking through imaginative limits [borders] regarding the perception of reality” 27
The landscape is not fixed.
The landscape jumps between thoughts, ideas, perception and spacial experiences.
The landscape is not concrete.
The landscape is nebulous and transitory, precisely because of the diversity it encompasses.
In the words of Michel Foucault, we live in a complexity of relations that are organised spatially within one space, one nature, one landscape. ref.19
Art loves a good landscape.
Art history is full of landscape paintings.
“But to say a work of art is about landscape does not mean it merely depicts trees and grass. A landscape is a spectacle, perceived and interpreted by the human eye. A landscape is a space..”29
Andrei Tarkovsky has captured both the visual and psychological essence of a landscape is his 1979 film Stalker. (I will add more here after I rewatch the film)
There is a space in-between…a pause…that holds you in a moment.
Then you exhale a small part of yourself into the atmosphere.
We often perceive the skin as a border that contains the self.
Pain and touch are reminders of the boundary of self.
Except when you breathe.
The breath defies that border; it extends you, yourself, the self, the physical, the psychological out into the world.
The leprosy specialist Paul Brand wrote, “Pain, along with its cousin touch, is distributed universally on the body, providing a sort of boundary of self,” but empathy, solidarity, allegiance—the nerves that run out into the world—expand the self beyond its physical bounds.” 30
Breath goes one step further and expands the physical aspects of self beyond the bounds of skin.
It takes the inside out into the space that surrounds.
PAUSE part 2
A pause, a moment that holds you temporarily in a surreal landscape of air and ice.
Caught in-between the land and the sky.
A moment of silence and then you exhale.
The sky begins at your feet.
How often do we look down to see the sky?
I have realised that the ground/sky relationship holds potential for my studio work.
THE LANDSCAPE IS NOT FIXED
There is a space in-between the inhale, and the exhale, and not in the opposite direction.
When we force all of the air out of our lungs,
the alveoli creates a vacuum.
The vacuum instantly pulls air back into the empty space that remains.
There is no pause in this direction.
Little pods of thin tissue ensure we never stop breathing.
With each exhale, a little of our selves is given to the atmosphere.
With each inhale, a little of the world is given to us.
A pause is needed before we let go.
The exchange that occurs between ourselves and the environment raises the question of how much is of the self is actually what we perceive as self and how much is the external world we have inhaled?
Empty space is political.
The average human adult exhales one kilogram of air in a day.
If we assume, that our average human adult is of average weight, at 70kg.
Then exhaling equates to 7% of your body weight given out to the environment every single day.
Over the course of two weeks (approximately), you exhale the rough equivalent of your entire body mass.
The replacement of body cells also occurs continuously.
Each year you exchange 98% of the calcium in your bones.
Every seven years you have an entire body of new cells.
How much of what we perceive as self is in fact self and how much is a continuous mutual exchange between our body and our environment?
THE LANDSCAPE OF MIND
(I will add more here later)
THE LANDSCAPE OF PRESENCE
I was asked this question a lot.
Won’t you get lonely?
Also a popular question.
What can I gain from removing the social hum and chatter of our never-ending obligation to be present?
Inspired by Robert Irwin and Adrian Piper, who both chose a time of self-imposed isolation at different points of their practice. (I will add more detail here about their practice.)
For me, it was about distance and time away from expectation.
As a way of becoming invested in a vast, silent and empty landscape.
To be as far away from the familiar as I could be.
To see the patterns of connection in an entirely new light.
To see air in an entirely new light.
I had many preconceived assumptions (subjective beliefs) before embarking on this journey.
I have since altered my perspective on a number of those beliefs.
The first assumption was that the landscape is silent.
Time alone in this space made me realise that the more silent I was, the louder the quiet became.
Most of the time it wasn’t even quiet.
Once the human chatter subsided, I realised the landscape is almost as boisterous as we are.
And it is the air that is the loudest of all in this space.
Even when everything is still, air will be the sound that you hear.
The sound is particularly interesting when the air and stillness hold the electrified energy of anticipation for the approaching afternoon storm.
Storms were frequent and fierce.
The landscape was often violent and loud and only sometimes quiet, but never silent.
I was the one who had to become silent.
THE LANDSCAPE OF SILENCE
The Norwegian poet, Jon Fosse, wrote the following seven words:
there is a love no one remembers.
Seven words that hold you captive, trying to decipher the answer.
When the author and arctic explorer Erling Kagge asked about this line, Fosse replied, “In a way it is the silence that speaks. To speak is precisely what the silence should do. It should speak, and you should talk with it, in order to harness the potential that is present… And whoever does not stand in wonder at this majesty fears it…many are afraid of silence…”31
Sound can be measured and contained within borders; silence cannot.
Silence is more of an idea than a physical entity, and it is more often occupies an internal space rather than something that exists out there.
Paradoxically, the internal nature of silence takes you outside of yourself and into the vast open space.
You breathe to find silence.
That is it.
The last thing you hear before the silence is your breath and heartbeat.
And then there it is, the pause in-between.
It is hard to hold onto; it doesn’t like to be contained.
“For thousands of years, individuals who lived in close quarters with no one but themselves around - monks, hermits, … explorers… have been convinced that the answer to life’s mysteries can be found in silence.”32
Most Eastern philosophies have their foundations grounded in these ideas.
Most Western “philosophers nowadays are geared towards politics, language and analytics.”33
And although these are important topics, that contribute to the foundation of human knowledge, very few choose to focus on silence. (Silence 79)(?)
As Kagge explains, several even remarks, “that silence is nothing and therefore uninteresting.”34
Marina Abramovic has made silence a significant part of her art practice.
And even though I am in two minds about her practice I found her explanation for the silence she experienced during her performance, The Artist is Present at MoMA in 2010, insightful.
“During the first days... she heard the same noises that we all hear inside a packed museum. People walking, milling about, speaking in hushed tones. After a few days she was able to perceive the cars passing outside the building. A few weeks later she heard the humps from cars driving over one particular manhole cover in the street…” 35
According to Ambromovic, "Silence is a tool helping us to escape the surrounding world. If you manage it, it becomes like a “waterfall in your brain,” she says. 36
Eastern Philosophy profoundly influences Ambramovic's art practice. And while I appreciate her commitment to teaching her ideas and process, I find the ego involved in naming the process, The Ambromovic Method, a contradiction to the teachings of Eastern Philosophy.
( I will also want to add Tehching Hsieh here and thinking of taking Ambramovic out).
The experience of heightened senses during times of silence was also spoken of by Danish Philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard: "The electricity in the air changes when the world is shut out. It may last for a long time. Or only a mere fraction of a second. Time stands still in silence.” 37
"You sit still and count your breaths and become aware that stories of the past and future constantly arise in your mind’s eye. You learn that you have a propensity for mental storytelling over and above the tendency for the silence the present moment holds."38
My second incorrect assumption before experiencing this space was that the landscape was empty.
This landscape was far from empty.
There were no trees (the Vikings took care of that 1000 years before) hence the description of the island being a wet desert.
There are also very few animals that can withstand the weather.
Removing the obvious allows for subtle shifts in perception as others aspects of the landscape gradually came to life.
“What I see now, when I look with eyes of such a scientist [naturalist], is hardly a world of objects fixed in place, but a world of things that happen and, happening, flow in time. “39
The French Philosopher, Michel Serres: “…invites you to see them [the rocks, land, cliffs], not immobile but slow.” 40
The landscape moves at a much slower pace than ourselves. It does not mean it is standing still.
When you observe a frozen landscape your measure of time changes.
“The solid and stable presence of all things, each in its place under the sun is animated and begins to flow - the sandstone cliffs and lava fields…as Serres learned from the geologists: “water flows but so too does the cliff; it flows…like water and the history of men, in as many and still more stages and levels.” 41
And quite literally, here, in this enchanted landscape, the lava fields are still flowing with eight active volcanos.
THE LANDSCAPE OF GHOSTS
Another incorrect assumption I had was that I would be removed from human contact.
Human traces are visible everywhere.
There was a grave less than 100 metres from the house. An ancient Viking grave, on a trail that traversed the 500-acre property.
I shared the landscape with ghosts.
Silver lines of artificial cloud were regularly drawn across the sky.
Rock formations were scattered throughout the landscape, to appease the mischevious tendency of the hidden people (huldufólk)
A Landscape seeped in mythology.
THE ARTISTIC LANDSCAPE part 3
Time alone in the landscape was a time of collecting and writing and walking and breathing and thinking.
Walking across the vast white space; the only human noise was my own.
Táta (my dog) made her fair share of noise, but not human noise of course.
The words of Erling Kagge explains the idea of silence perfectly:
“Alone on the ice, far into the great white nothingness, I could hear and feel the silence.”42
You can hear silence, and therefore it does not exist.
Even deaf people are highly attuned to feel sound and therefore can not bath in silence so easily.
Christine Sun Kim is a sound artist who is deaf.
She expresses her perception of sound through drawing and installations and her unique perspective of sound, redefines the concept of silence.
She sees her practice as reclaiming sound, after being told that this was something that would never belong to her.
I appreciate that she uses her art practice to defy the borders imposed upon her by others.
THE LANDSCAPE OF LUXURY
In my familiar landscape, there is constant sound.
Computers ping, phones chime, voices murmur, planes rumble, the city hums, the lights buzz.
City noise is so overwhelming we learn to drown the sound out.
We reduce it to a single manageable hum.
In the new, unfamiliar landscape, there were days that the sound was so subtle it was barely present.
In this space, the quiet becomes louder and louder.
The more still I became, the louder the silence was.
“Silence is a true luxury,” according to Kagge 43
We are conditioned to believe that luxury is about gaining something.
And yet silence is about removing.
Silence offers the removal of interruption. 44
“…to be unavailable. To turn your back on the daily din is a privilege…The decision not to reply to text messages or pick up when the phone rings”45 where the expectations of others can be ignored.
How often do we allow this of ourselves?
Interestingly, the modern demand for being permanently present has its foundation in the philosophy of meditation.
Although, I am pretty confident the predicament we now find ourselves in is not quite in line with the original teachings.
Modern presence comes from the instantaneous expectations of society on everything. It is an extension of our methods of communication and the internet.
Of course, we have also managed to capitalise on the idea, with the economy of art profoundly entrenching itself with the economy of presence. 46
The Artist is Present has moved far beyond the performance. Artists are now the draw cards for a lot of galleries, museums, openings, talks, workshops.
“…presence can be easily quantified and monetized. It’s a thing that few people get paid for, and a lot of people pay for, and is thus rather profitable.” 47
THE LANDSCAPE OF HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY part 2
The few times my phone did ping I could feel the frustration resurface far quicker than it took to make it rest.
It was one of the things I would change about my process.
If I could redo the project, I would not take any devices.
I would be ‘completely unplugged’ as Robert Irwin fortuitously declared back in the 1960s. 48
Well before there were this many plugs to disconnect.
I have an addictive personality, so as much as I would like to say I took my devices out of a sense of obligation to others.
The truth is I think I liked having them there.
I refused to check emails or social media, which isn’t that hard for me. However, I realised that the pinging of a text message is the trigger of dopamine addiction for me.
I could not resist reading them.
THE CITY LANDSCAPE
The city as a landscape holds energy in which the intoxication of sights and sounds merge discretely from the dissociation of the senses. 49
It takes time, space and silence to re-associate those same senses.
I love cities because of the energy they create.
And before this research, I had never questioned the neurological response to overexposure to sensory stimuli. (I have some more to add here about the senses).
THE LANDSCAPE OF NOISE
Noise isn’t just about sound.
Noise can be an addiction.
Noise can be the constant anticipation of a digital screen.
The more we are inundated with messages, the more we wish to be distracted, to feel needed, considered, valued.
There is a neurological dopamine biofeedback loop that creates addiction.
We check and recheck our phones, our computers, our social media feeds.
We need validation that we are here, that we are achieving something, that someone has noticed us, anything will do.
The New York Review of Books has labelled this phenomenon “the new opium wars.” The paper claims that “marketers have adopted addiction as an explicit commercial strategy.” 50
So it turns out we can blame biology for our global lack of common sense when it comes to digital addiction.
The two neuro-chemicals at play are dopamine and opioids. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that control’s the brain’s sense of pleasure and reward.
It is the same chemical involved in all forms of addiction.
Opioids produce a morphine-like effect associated with feeling satisfied once we have achieved the desired goal.
Unfortunately, dopamine is a stronger neurotransmitter than opioids.
So seeking out pleasure far outweighs the satisfaction of achieving it.
Even if you’ve attained all your goals (ping…1000 likes on your Instagram image), you will still feel the need to repeat the same process. (But what about the other image, why only five likes (sad face)?)
Hence the dopamine loop.
It is more fulfilling to anticipate and seek, to wander in circles than simply to value and appreciate the fact that you have fulfilled your initial goal. 51
Silence is the opposite of addiction.
And silence is hard to achieve when you are surrounded by the noise of anticipation.
The mindless chatter of addiction will continuously try and convince you to surrender to the temptation.
Even Steve Jobs limited his children’s time with the digital screen. He was fully aware of the addiction they foster.
THE LANDSCAPE OF ATMOSPHERE
Silence can be light.
It can also be heavy, and it can be boring.
For the most part, I wasn’t bored.
I was alone but far from lonely.
I had my thoughts and ideas that were given the space to be heard.
And I had Táta.
As Kagge eloquently explained it, “The future was no longer relevant. I paid no attention to the past. I was present with my own life.”52
According to yoga philosophy, the only way to remain present is through mastering the breath.
So, although silence is purely an idea that doesn’t physically exist,
we can make ‘outside’ feel silent if we are still ‘inside.’
And we make ourselves still through the breath, even in a distracted city landscape.
Once we are still, we can start to hear our thoughts.
Once the thoughts are quiet, we can start to hear the silence.
So to answer the initial question, why solitude?
The answer is silent.
THE LANDSCAPE OUTSIDE
(I don’t think this part is needed???)
“The Nature that confronts the reveries of a solitary walker is such an unmitigated expression of the thoughts of the dreamer that no distinction between inside and outside can be made.”53
The only other time that I can remember a silence like this was while night diving in the Andaman Sea.
Letting go into complete darkness.
The only sound was my rapid breath.
Slowly calming down, until eventually, even the sound of the breath disappeared…into the deep darkness.
Weightless and floating in a sea of black that swallows all your senses and yet simultaneously heightens your awareness.
There is no border between inside and out when submerged and consumed by the ocean at night.
No light; only a blanket of pure black.
Time takes on its own dimension when you are sharing it with a foreign space.
There is something slow and sustainable about this pace.
THE FROZEN LANDSCAPE
The skin is thin, and the breath is heavy when you are cold.
A story spun around a storm that cocoons you in a tread of expectation.
Everyone’s story is a variation of one they have been told before. Breath creates a form when the air is cold.
I lost all my words somewhere between New York and Sydney - somewhere between the two hemispheres of earth, multiple borders, war zones and oceans.
The only words I remember writing were:
“I descended through indigo clouds into a line of fire and light,” I remember this as vivid visual memory, and so the words remain.
It was the first thing I wrote upon arriving.
Within the lost writing, was a story.
THE LANDSCAPE OF CLOUD
Memory feels like it rests in a nebulous and unstructured cloud. Every experience is remembered differently when we retrieve it anew.
It becomes clouded by the present emotional and psychological state, peppered with imagination and altered by forgotten details.
A cloud creates a haze over our vision.
It distorts the edges.
It defying boundaries and prevents us from seeing clearly.
And yet we are enchanted by its haze.
In a world saturated in high definition, a cloud softens our visually overloaded landscape.
It is no accident that the humble cloud has become ubiquitous with the storage of data from our computers.
In a way, the cloud has become all-consuming.
“As the cloud more and more becomes the place of these connections and relations, and the temporal and spatial difference supposed by communication are over-come by nearly instantaneous and omnipresent transmission, we more and more interact, moving together as a faceless mass in one extended present, rather than communicate.” 54
Architects, Diller + Scofidio’s project ‘Blur’ was an enchanted nebulous architectural design.
They created an ever-changing cloud of mist that wrapped around what appeared to be a formless structure.
“...as the visitor nears the fog mass, visual and acoustical references are slowly erased…; what remains is an optical ‘whiteout’ and the ‘white noise’ of the pulsing fog nozzles.” 55
The indistinct edges and hazy borders push the boundaries of architecture and the psychology of space. The psychology of space is an essential consideration for the work I am preparing in my studio.
THE LANDSCAPE OF CLOUD part 2
When wind sweeps across the frozen land, it feels like broken glass. Air charges up the mountain from the sea carrying ghosts as it sweeps up ice.
The air feels like it cuts the skin and clouds the eyes.
I only fell through the ice once.
And there was no wind on that day.
No ghosts were sweeping across the landscape.
But the clouds hung low.
Clouds that sit low make the light soft and diffused.
Táta and I were the only ones I could perceive moving.
A lone figure and her dog traversing the ice.
Down what invisible path to walk?
There was only white.
Is there even solid ground to tread?
Or are we walking into the cloud?
"Who in this modern world of visual certainty, would put themselves is such a doubtful place?” (Ref ?)
The arctic ocean is 3000 meters deep.
I didn’t fall that far, and I wasn’t even on the ocean.
But the ice that covers moving water is the same.
It moves and sways and slides ever so slightly.
You learn to perceive the nuances.
On this occasion, it cracked, and I fell into the turquoise water below.
THE LANDSCAPE OF CLOUD part 3
On Some mornings I awoke above the clouds, some mornings I was below them.
In this space, the sky doesn’t just start at your feet.
It can start well below that.
The beauty of a sky that changes position is that it completely alters your perspective.
Above begins to reflect below.
THE LANDSCAPE OF SCALE
I am fascinated by the way we perceive and the events that change perception.
The psychology of perception has been a valuable line of enquiry for this project. (inspired by Turrell and Irwin…)
Three events in the 20th Century greatly changed the course of human perspective.
One was an image of the Blue Marble floating in space.
This was the first time Earthbound humans could see their planet from above.
Before 1974, it was purely a vision of imagination.
It changed our psychology and perception of scale.
The change in perspective coincided with the land art movement of artists such as Nancy Holt, Richard Long, Michael Heizer and Walter De Maria.
It also coincided with the start of environmental activism.
The other two events were the developments in Quantum Physics and the mapping of DNA protein sequences.
All three have completely changed the course of human perspective.
“One of the most surprising discoveries of modern (quantum) physics is that objects aren’t as separate as they may seem. When you drill down into the core of even the most solid-looking material, separateness dissolves. All that remains…are relationships extending curiously throughout space and time.” 56
Side Note: Another consequence of the developments in Quantum Physics were the 2 nuclear bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These catastrophic events also changed human psychology but are included here under the one title of Quantum Physics. On a more positive note, Quantum Physics also completely changed our perception of reality. In the words of Einstein, “reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
Everything is connected, everything is intimately interwoven, all matter exists from the same material, from an absence and a presence at the same time.
Every cell in your body holds the energy of a nuclear bomb inside the nucleus.
The energy of 100 suns.
The mushroom and the mushroom cloud.
There are visual clues for connection everywhere.
This was a topic that also fascinated Leonardo da Vinci during the Renaissance.
da Vinci spoke of connection and visual similarities with nature in several of his notes and drawings.
The winds on this landscape carry the ghosts of the past and the future.
Glaciers hold pockets of air that were once consumed by bacteria millions of years ago.
I could see these air pockets trapped.
I could walk under the glacier, through an ice cave.
I could run my hands over the slow drip if melting ice and see the air coming towards the surface.
When the last time this air was experienced?
I am worried that the glacier is melting.
Walking into the ice felt like the myth of Wu Tao-Tzu stepping into his painting.
I, of course, had not painted my landscape but I had imagined it for years before.
The canvas of imagination no longer a border unable to be entered.
I appreciate the stories of Wu’s character.
According to the legend, he was unrestrained and indifferent to trivia.
He was known to drink while painting, undeterred by the judgement of others and confident in his ability.
His paintings spoke of his brilliance (non-remain) but his character created the myth, and the myth shatters our perception of reality contained within the border of a canvas.
THE LANDSCAPE OF LIGHT - unifinished.
- Hi Andrew - if you made it this far you are a champion. I haven’t finished this section obviously. The paper is already way too long. I need to edit. I think I need to write more about different artists. I have a lot of research on many artists I would love to include.
I also have so much more research I haven’t included here. But I think it is becoming a bit disjointed particularly the end. I need to take a lot out before I add any more. What do you think? Also, I know we spoke about the idea of writing a hybrid thesis or project report - then what word count should I be aiming for? Should I write more about my actual work? Also, I have lots of images to include here but haven't yet obviously. The referencing is not sorted yet either - I think I need to ask you for some guidance on that also.