# Chaos – Modeling Strange Attractors

The study of Chaos, a kind of math that looks to account for all the possibles and helps define the Quantum of things, has a visualization called the “Butterfly Effect”. This was popularized with a metaphor of cause and effect, that all things are interdependent; that a butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane. But this was not quite the point… it’s more like the Elders put it. False: A single cause can have one result, or many results, many causes do not lead to a single result. True: Many causes have many results.

The Butterfly Effect is actually a model of elegant math expressions that were discovered, that show while chaos means spinning off in all sorts of directions… when we add up all those directions, there is a tendency to hover back towards a central point. There is a folding, that when graphed looks like the wings of a butterfly. Or a magnetic field. This tendency for things to group locally is called an Attractor. They’ve found a variety of elegant equations that give similar ‘concentrating tendency’ results. Quantum, which means “all the possibilities at once, simply held as one tangle”, is nicely illustrated with Chaos theory here. It shows there is within the chaos of all possibilities, there is a natural attraction to cluster towards something like order. It is natural, *deep down in the basic numbers themselves*. Or to put it another way, Nature, in its utter chaos, is naturally prone to evolving towards increasing order.

In a dryly humorous application, the most famous use of the Butterfly Effect recently is the Finance Attractor, which shows economies fundamentally are less prone to trickle down or distribute, than they are to cluster and concentrate, and that loose ‘trickles’ ultimately will be attracted to a singular center. It was proposed as a reassurance, ‘don’t worry if you lose financial control, wealth will always return to wherever it is most concentrated”. This might have been something Cronenberg was attempting to touch on in his latest movie.

The Law of Attraction has become a popular folk belief today, that wishes come true. According to chaos theory, there is a law of attraction already at work in everything, wishes or no. What may be poetically drawn here, is that every action, however small, will contribute towards its concentration, the ‘butterfly effect’ being a very real law of attraction. Small acts of good do contribute to the overall quantum of good, small acts that stress add to the overall concentration of oppression. “There is always room for new input into the system, which gives the scope for free will.”

Please note that contradicts another elegant observation: the law of entropy, that all things ultimately break down, and nothing can remain unchanged. This is one of the great stumpers, mysteries, of physics.

In any case, from a human perspective, what your disciplines permit as contemplations in your mind, no doubt, are concentrated and increased within your mind. These attractors are as much at work forming elements within stars, as they are formations in the virtual chambers of our thoughts. Dwell on fear, and we concentrate fear. Dwell on anger, we concentrate anger. Dwell on ambition, we concentrate demand.

(This bit inspired by the stunning work of a designer known only as “Chaotic Atmospheres” of Geneva.  Plugging Chaos math formulas into his 3D design software yielded stunning visuals of the strange undertones of our world.)

# Halverson Frazier

As an artist, Halverson Frazier can be approached from several points of reference.  Viewing one exhibit is like standing in the center of a panopticon, observing but a slice of an encircling range of expressions.  Turn around and an entirely different voice from the artist’s refined retinue of skills is encountered.

It is necessary to mention in passing a few links in the chain of his accomplishments, but the strength of the Transpositions Series, a collection of abstract paintings shown at LA Artcore in December, 2012, is more than sufficient to form a discussion.  From the exceptional draftsmanship of his figurative drawings, to his award winning work as a Los Angeles designer (in permanent collection at MOMA in New York, no doubt satisfying for a native of Rochester), Frazier has not only made evident strides in the efficacy of his hands, but has taught extensively, both abroad and in the LA area.

In his carefully worded statements, he describes a rekindling of interest in the Renaissance, and the artist could easily wear the hat of a contemporary from that time period, if only for the splendid combination of humanistic concerns that drive him.  But this is in no respect an allusion; possessing capabilities as finished as they are diverse, from series to series he comfortably shifts between the requisite ardency such an interest requires, and the levitation above mental constructions that is part and parcel of pure abstraction.  The polish in each arena of his work indicates thoroughness and canvas mileage, while his language indicates a vision of the artist that today is more often dismissed, than actually attempted in earnest.

What we encounter in his recent abstract paintings is a dismissal of conflict, done through the wordless grace of being devoted to skillful means.  Indeed, besides the clear evidence that he is beckoning his mind to think in color, his own words express a clue to the central beam of his career’s structure – he is seeking his identity, as an individual, through the expression of his art.  His life and his work are not separate, therefore no conflict arises as he moves from one interest to the next, his only authority the feeling of color, discovery, and the shape it takes in his imagination.  Having this more primal, pivotal point to work from, his paintings are exposures like rock formations in the wild, and in that way histrionic, rather than a postured drapery of theoretical historicity.   Any chance that this is a paradox dissolves before the actuality of the artwork.  You can sense a sort of victory in these works, a directness of experience for the artist, even without full knowledge of the comprehensive skills his portfolio reveals.

The Transposition Series stands out in another respect from his previous work – there is a sense of finality to them, like the aftermath of purification.  Like long exhalations after letting go of the sights, structures, narratives and preoccupations of the outer world, these pure abstractions create a surface where colors seemed to do the thinking, while the artist became the medium.

R. Seitz

www.halversonfrazier.com

# Suthat Pinruethai: “The Last Chapter”

(Press Release)

Suthat Pinruethai has a history of relational art, taking an interest in the representational space of artist and audience. He reshapes the gallery to hold both object and presence, preferring to create a stream of time than to completely hand off our awareness to the artifice of a finished object. He often displays personal effects, sometimes in assemblage, (an exhibit in 2010 with Rirkrit Tiravanija featured a recreation of his bedroom), accompanied by performance. During that exhibit his voice increased the personal concentration of the event, chanting as performance the Buddhist suttas he ordinarily performed each day, in the privacy of his home. Looking at the relationship between viewer, the artist’s private and public life, and the nature of the art space, his work oscillates between the very real and the very representational, as he seeks to break down the ‘fourth wall’ that includes the viewer’s own perceptions.

There is an overt urge in Pinruethai’s work to demonstrate that no element of our life is any less important than another, uncovering an objectified time, and more importantly, trying to illustrate the substance and nature of our own attention. From meditative practice, a great deal of discernment is developed that reveals the distinction between an isolated object we are observing, and the layers of importance and meaning, emotion and projection we pour on top of everything we see. He is very interested in stacking relational elements, demonstrating that nothing, not even the language we use, stands alone when it comes to human consciousness, and revealing how involved we are in the ‘being’ of the everyday objects and ideas that surround us.

Pinruethai’s work is also informed by a relationship to language… as a northern Thai, the artist experiences the English language as an exotic collection of objects and ornaments, every bit as curious and full of discovered associations as his assemblage works. Ranging from curiosities of the past that are laden with postcolonial meaning (for their manufacture and culture-specific nostalgia), to the simple delight of wordplay that can only be fully appreciated by someone for whom English is a third language (his first is Thai, his second is Pali, the ancient language of the earliest Theravadan suttas that he recites each day), he has arrived at a wholly organic way of deconstructing language. In addition to his installation, he will perform a work that involves text projected against his body. This recalls Jeanette Winterson’s aesthetic work Written on the Body, which opens, “Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights: the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like Braille.” Pinruthai has found himself not in a space of analysis, but through his travels between cultures and modes of expression, he found a physical relationship to subjects that are most typically taught in a theoretical framework. For this  artist, the curious intersections of time, object, language and meaning are sensual and best understood by encountering them within a living (lived) frame.

# The Thirteenth Floor

[Can also be found in Paraphilia Magazine's rolling Periodical.]

They say that we are already who we need to be. I don’t know, it sounds like destiny and the last thing we want is a human authority on that subject. But I think in terms of appreciation, and even stretching… body has this full range of motion from cannonball in a swimming pool to the full extension on Voyager’s plaque. But mercy my limbs aren’t keen to fold or extend with full ease… and maybe that’s what they mean by already who we need to be… only thing left to do is the stretching to get the full use.

The full use of anything is raw resource, and just as possibly a terror as a segue. We remember the self-replicant language and the mazes of Borges, but it was a little work by Blanchot that set me wandering the streets and looking for the wavelengths of words. He smelled in the ruin of industrial expansion that one day even the password will change so often no one will be able to remember, or it will be unrecognizable. He found his fiction in that truth. He was just not straight enough to align with Time’s Arrow, so like his passwords he is largely forgotten, but if you’ve ever taken a fortnight’s walk into the moonless wilds, you will know that familiar can be a noun. So nice to know someone else is enraptured by the observation of Language as a Something (and even more daring, a Something Else) and that makes it possible to find courage in anywhere. But he’s dead so there is no rush, read my story instead, just in case. Because my password is still active, and the realm of action is where we will meet, in the if and when.

The thirteenth floor was a mezzanine where you switched elevators, to the fifteenth and the mica tiled chevron patterned entry of the restaurant’s level, and the sixteenth floor, a dizzying rooftop bar edged with little more than thick tricky plates of architectural glass. Without a breeze the height could be artificial, if not for the swirling of children on the little traveling ice rink in Pershing Square below, distant told with a complete silence of movement among a cloudy smattering of red lights. Close enough to string a clothes line across, the Deco tower of the Title Guarantee building suggested a mid-management demi-demiurge who had turned out the lights and was home for dinner. Flagpole bare, ingenious balconies that seemed placed for four elders to sit out the days in the sun and thinned auto vapors, alert and rheumatic reminiscence faced in four cardinal directions.

There was something about being in the building that called me to make trouble, a little fuss, to be certain the security guard on the 13th floor was at the heart of it. The whole point was to walk, to look up at the extremities and join them. Neither urgency to escape, a thought one doesn’t fancy lightly when walking the heart of a city, nor the breaking free and hiding in the clothes racks that boundless indifference and situation can inspire in children. The finger of the building held up a morsel of something I was invited to try. It reminded me of walking through an indigenous market in Oaxaca, where an old one eyed lady hissed to get my attention. Standing over a caldron of stew, part of what I imagine was a skull languidly rising above its bubbling red surface, she offered me a few shreds of goat’s meat from the extended tip her hand. The fine folds of her hand, the stain of the chiles folding her and the stew into one dish.

That’s what brought me to the rooftop… folding into the dish. Back to the thirteenth floor, eyeing a portal behind the security guard. A simple, marble-framed cut entrance, with stairs ascending. It was unlit – that was the oddity, and the arch was strangely low, so the steps seemed to ascend into empty black space. It hummed with a cool opposition to light, as though dark matter was discovered to radiate a coolness in its beams, and was invading the floor just above us. Contemplating it, both elevators burst open, packed six each with young professionals in the clean but understated city standard that reflects our time. Excess is concealed in matters of health: the water, flora and fauna they will enjoy comes from a tidy Avalon of healthy soils and dirt roads, wealth dressed in a sheepskin of common sense, golden corn fed to golden calves and gently lifted to the eating houses in ample slings of silk, loops gently drifting beneath the observation decks of silent dirigibles. Lighter than air they tie off at that miniature homage to the Chrysler Building’s spire, just across Hill Street, and the calves are rubbed down with avocado oil and tattoo’d under spray anesthetic by a former intern of Wim Delvoye. The contentment of the calves is recorded and archived on humming servers whose blue droplet lights can only be seen during a citywide brownout, when the Deco tower’s redundant backup power supply kicks in and the mirror polish of the concrete provides a sort of omnidirectional launching ramp for its watery photon ripples. A crowd-funding dinner is held in the Crystal Ballroom at the nearby Biltmore, where they are introduced, paraded and priced by cut and pound by celebrity food talent, according to their decoration. They are finished in a makeshift abattoir deep under the sidewalks, perfect cube chambers with stainless rails, lined in glistening zirconium dioxide ceramic tiles. At each step the chambers are hosed down by repurposed factory robots with a tea tree and vinegar solution, and blasted for a split second of stellar grade heat. Much later, when javelinas would run the halls, the tiles could be chiseled away and sharpened into spearpoints, perpetuating the grand cycle. Finally they are smuggled in tunnels under the streets to the 15th floor kitchen in order to avoid exposure to UV, and served one slice at a time under the starless night of downtown Los Angeles.

I was neither hungry or thirsty, I was curious about the shadowy passage behind the guard at the thirteenth floor. He leapt from his stool at the rush of people, all of them confused by having to change elevators, and tried to sheep-dog them in the right direction. It was my break, and I was up into the dark stairway in a flash.

I already knew a line was being crossed by the tenth step. The stairwell did not turn but steadily moved upward like a Looney Tunes scene, impossibly up and beyond the walls of the building into what dimensionally should have been the open air. Yes, I thought, pay-dirt. A simple wood door with a handsome and anachronous engraved escutcheon greeted me. There was no key, and it did not give when I pushed. I pulled at the brass edge of the keyhole with my fingernail, and reached into my pocket. On my keyring was a skeleton key that once belonged to a dresser I left behind to the covetous hunger of a sociopathic landlord better forgotten. It fit, and turned slowly with rusty hesitation, until the key finally snapped at the very instant the door gave in.

Inside was a long hall, a curved vaulted ceiling, a library of incredible length. At its far end a rose window and along its length four massive portals for light, their depth revealing the thickness of the walls, easily as a dense my body’s length lying prone. Its entire perimeter was a railed walkway carved throughout with the fruits of a Baroque imagination. The stacks reached eight shelves high, conformed to every vertical space. I suppose it says something about my mood to mention the library first, before describing the curious contained and churning sea that filled the center of that great chamber. As though sliced from the center of a squall in international waters, waves sloshed and whirled in that space contained in it, but with the volition and energy only possible for waters that are working out the waveforms of vast distance in every direction. The library was an enclosure for a force of nature that did not obey the same physical laws. I stood inside that room, the head of a contradictory table, and the books seemed a light matter. They were the other guests, our banquet was the mathematical absurdity just beyond the rail. It was transfixing, naturally, and then my eye followed the momentum of a wave, watching it and aware its crest would breach the barrier of the hand rail and threaten to soak the books. I watched the water strike something like a glass barrier, but one so crystalline and transparent it might have been thinner than rice paper, and only then did I step forward, pulling the door closed behind me, and began to inquire what records this impossible place served to keep.

# Joel King

Joel King is a serious painter. His passion for art and his way of life have been closely tied for most of his life. His paintings are concerned with a certain kind of purity, even a pure way of life as an artist.

Departure from the discussion of motive is a major element in his work; he explains that having a motive such as profit or a more conceptual motive like the Surrealists had is too much impurity. By setting aside motive he can see clearly his own arc of creativity, one that began as a child, long before he was exposed to contemporary art. It is an unbroken interest that evolved from investigation to professional independence, and it is fascinating to observe how this independence is closely linked with staying true to his earliest inklings.

His first memory of an object of art, and the desire to participate, was a pair of Van Gogh lithographs of The Vicarage at Nuenen and Fountain in the Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence that his father brought back from Marseille during World War II. At seven years old he recalls spending time studying it, looking for some kind of meaning. His family had creativity in their lives; his uncle was a Sunday painter, his mother loved arts & crafts. Living in Indiana country (he remembers one summer when the well went dry), he spent his time making comic books in free notebooks his father brought home.

Lectures at his Junior High in Indianapolis were his first introduction to art history. He found himself good at collage, and was fond of filling the page from edge to edge, an interest he kept throughout art school and is present in his paintings today, as well as rejecting illusionistic space and fixtures. In this respect King can look back and see to what degree his own instincts are the source of his painterly interests.

The family moved often, and he grew up always being the new kid, starting over. This made his family very tight knit, relying on each other for familiarity, and is a source of the necessary independence an artist requires to develop. The constant change meant he was accustomed to being alone, entertaining himself and working on his own. He reflects that after moving often enough, you can even get impatient when you’re ready to move, and this helps propel his paintings to completion.

King: “I’ve heard that some artists are never alone, like Rauschenberg or Hirst. When you grow up the way I did, it schools you in how to be alone. You create your own space to do this. If you don’t like being alone, making art is much harder I think. That might be what inhibits people from being creative, they don’t want to spend time alone.”

He describes the advantages of marrying a kindred spirit, artist Jae Hwa Yoo. “My wife grew up in a similar situation during the Korean War, we had the same experience of moving and learning to be alone. Similar personalities alone together, studios next to one another. It’s everything to find a real friend who can look you in the eye and be honest.”

Art school had its challenges at first – he discovered he was behind the other students, at that point he had been so absorbed in his own interests he had not taken in the art magazines, and wasn’t inspired by the Pop Art culture. Remaining on his own until he discovered Duchampe, a study trip to Europe, and an interest in Happenings, by the time he reached graduate school at USC in 1970 he had been pulled into critical dialogue.

“I made my studio perfectly white and empty. But it was already a thing, and I hated bringing other things in. I would bring found stuff, photograph them, and remove them, short term installations.” He found critical support in a number of contemporaries. Bruce Nauman, who also moved frequently with his family, once said, “If I was in the studio, everything I’m doing is art.” The questions Arte Povera was raising in Italy during the 60’s, about art’s ethical right to exist, and the resulting use of unconventional materials and styles, also intrigued him.

Provisionality in particular was a current which contained parallels to his thinking at the time, as he sought independence within the critical setting. Paul Valéry wrote that a poem is “never finished, only abandoned.” Antonin Artaud declared that no longer will there be masterpieces in the world of art. Rauschenberg’s cardboard works embrace mistakes, willful chromophobia, and generally a “first thought – best thought” methodology. In Joan Miró’s early work, defacement was part of a rejection of the finished or the finishable. The sometimes punk, often intentionally amateurish strategies of refusal and acts of negation in provisional art appealed to King’s own sense of creative breathing room, and as a way to be involved.

The provisional perspective offers a lot of room for an individual who is driven by his own determinations when it comes to creativity. The often-cited post-war sentiment, that previous generations had left only scraps for his own, meant the artist had to deal with the question of impossibility, something new in the discourse. In this way the disconnected, such as the trivial or incomplete, the passing instances in which performance art takes place, the visibility of progress, or the intentional impediment in the finish, all become a new form of synthesis. Provisionality is primarily how continued critical discourse was considered possible by its adherents.

King notes that while these influences brought meaningful insight to his participation in the arts, not all of the work meshed with his sense of integrity. On Josef Beuys, who was an activist for this kind of art at the time: “These conformist types have a tendency to create a new life. He was wrapped up in a mythology of himself, his work with fat for example relates back to when he was shot down as a pilot, and a peasant saved his life [from hypothermia] by covering him in fat.” [Beuys Lecture series Energy Plan for the Western Man, 1974]

King was not interested in inventing a new life. Instead, he gravitated towards the stripping away of unnecessary myths, engaging the materials, doing without most of the critical concerns and liberated from their expectations. Examples offered include Eva Hesse, who worked essentially for herself (with only one solo show in her life), and her teacher Sol Lewitt; Mario Merz, the anti-fascist developer of Arte Povera, who discarded Abstract Expressionism’s subjectivity in favor of opening to exterior space; Richard Serra when he was throwing lead. King liked the rough, ragged and messy. “Instead of composition, balance, and beauty, dragged out of a confrontation with minimalism, I’m interested in what comes after the end of art, more Dionysian than Appolonian.” With little interest in the political or critical when it came to art, he found in formalism analysis he couldn’t disagree with. Terry Barret’s concern for what’s there, art for the sake of art, form and material rather than narrative, and Barnett Newman who observed that empty physicality and powerful meaning both rely on the phenomenology of plain language. By sticking to the fact of the painting King would make use of the anti-humanist, anti-sublimatory strategy of debasement that Georges Battaille coined as the informe.

Explaining further, “From where we’re standing, all art is taking place at the same time, from Hans Holbein to the Byzantines. I don’t put them in the past or any ‘other’ place. Not a hell of a lot that’s really new anyway, art now seems to be adjusting to things that are already there. Reassembling material in your own way, it isn’t about being original anymore. It relates to Heiddegger describing the way of being, the way you’re in the world is not knowledge, rather it is action and anxiety.” Martin Heidegger coined two terms to describe the way of being, dasein, which describes the pre-reflective understanding of being, and aletheia, or a state of being evident, in disclosure (not-closed). As a painter King brings plenty of both to the canvas, pursuing creative goals set before his introduction to critical matters, and striving for work that is pure and stripped of attached meaning.

King remembers a class where the subject of meaning in art was being discussed, and how worried the students were about it. The teacher told them, “Don’t worry, it will just be there. Meaning has its own being.” King reflects, “I don’t necessarily know my own being, but I can know what he’s doing.” His biggest breakthrough in art school then was not through a critical window but by putting the canvas on the floor. “Against the wall the canvas was always too much. I don’t use compositions – it’s all action, repetition, there’s no plan, and I don’t consider my working time sacred. I’ve made a life of working time. Before working this way there was conflict (with the critical approach), and because of this I have no use for aesthetics. I am aesthetic experience. Even banality can be good, instead of the heroic, special or dramatic. It’s about being awake while it’s happening. I want to be here with the work – I watch myself, track my own activities.”

With a 40-years-plus career under his belt, King’s integrity comes from a serious pursuit that is entirely his own making. Along the way he has found affinities with other artists that suggest something essential in this approach. Agnes Martin famously defined her work as she experienced it, instead of allowing it to be defined by its appearances, by right of it being an extension of herself. It is a similar case with Robert Ryman, whose work blurred the line between minimal and conceptual.

King described his process at his solo show at the Union Center for the Arts. He begins with many successive colors, because he is a colorist, speaking and thinking in color. He seeks a resolution to his questioning until he arrives at a monochromatic top layer. The texture that comes through in this process is very important to his work.  He sticks to a plain language of steady work, which conceals an intellectual refinement, much the way his monochromatic final layers conceal the movements of buried color history.

There is something of a Western approach in a process of intellectual questioning that is eventually validated by finding kindred spirits. With this validation, the artist becomes clear. A friendship with painter Park Seo-Bo, founder of the Ecole de Seoul, and other artists from that movement have been important factors in his thinking, in addition to a strong feeling of connection with Asia, particularly Korea and Japan. The Eastern school leans towards a meditative approach, with a different goal of unifying the senses and achieving clarity by increasing awareness of the nature of passing thoughts. The ultimate goal of connectivity and total function of being can also result in being clear. Between Seo-Bo and King there is the validation of arriving at a similar place through different means, and the visible affinity between their work is fascinating to observe.

It is through personal affinities and dedicated questioning that King has created a body of work that hums with color and reveals layers of subtle working. He offers the viewer an immersive experience and a definitive encounter with his no-nonsense, thoroughly involved paintings.

Robert Seitz

# The Hunt

(for Concord Collective Archival Project, Dec. 2012)

[Author's note: This is experimental. It's designed to entertain by puzzling the language circuits.]

Just who do we think we are when we overturn the rubble and find remains? Truly beyond the pale of the present, genuine remains, not memories still being digested. We run into an unfamiliar legal arena – sovereignty.  It begins with only a split hair, the difference between reality and realism.

Karen LaMonte, Glass Dress.

One fact seems loyal to our sense of passing time – this tree is in my orchard, so the fruit it bears is mine to eat.  But when a stump is pulled up from the field, and it exposes a frail skeleton that grips the golden disc of history, who can say they own these bones?  In this dream, we share the domain of the present with the past, but it seems rare that our thoughts would turn to the tree, bearing fruit, to see how it once belonged to people of the past, and perhaps was for them equally as remote.

For an archaeology of the recent past that is transparent to the single person, say an artist, one must have a clue where to begin. The earnest shoulder their picks and shovels and survey the site, strewn evenly across with fluttering sheaves of paper, gold reared gears, coils of nucleic acids.  Every word turned over with smooth fingertips, to blow on its petals and see it flutter.  All to see it live, to model it with the mind, whether the wind of time could carry it intact all the way here from a point marked on yellowing charts.  Can we bear to be a part within a whole, and surrender our sovereignty over time?

What do we inherit by calling anything Contemporary?  Are we counting breaths, counting lives, clear who we are?  Can we keep our eyes from the river of glittering treasure stolen, melted, reshaped?  Was it most alive in the sweat of the miner’s palms, the golden mask of an emporer, a chalice, wedding bands?  Do we taste it as we reach deeper into the hilltribes to devour their traditional adornments?  Do we lay beside it as we reach for ever more exotic predictions of doom, does this mend the fences?  How are we to even know which direction the sun sets, watching history so closely?  Are we certain of ourselves by knowing our function?  By knowing our places – from, going, and belong?   Does certainty come from dreams, is there a foothold in the suspension of gravity that takes place beneath our consciousness, does our raw complexity insulate us from the phantasmal food of the past?

Katie Scott.

It isn’t decay that fills the cosmos with background radiation – it’s the hissing sound of aftermath.  We sort and set aside, brushing at the stone of our adopted home, but the one who digs does not experience loss.  It is the instance and the spark, long nights and involutions that reveal we are not scraping away at tangible dead time but reconstructing time to include, and match, our findings.   If we could not project, the past would be ruins (even less than that) instead of the elementary building blocks of inner life we use it for.

Thankfully we can know, by that eminence in our being: therein lives a creator.    We don’t feel remorse for what is lost, because what we gain was built from scratch, past to present, so every sepia tone ancestor and rattle of the shaman’s chants is gripped as a discovery, never considered a survivor.  We own what we make.  This is a hunger on a floodplain, and all that has washed up at our feet offers itself to this end.  The variety of things washed down is vast, all materials waiting for assemblage.  So our hunger comes without despair, satisfied with such abundance – it instead should be called youth.

It seems appropriate to look to poets this time, to those who recover from the noise of broad language stray sounds of meaning.  René Char, about eight decades ago:

“With my teeth I have seized life upon the knife of my youth.  With my lips today, with my lips alone.”

And it is a hunt, to find anything about the past that could deliver itself unfallen.  It is hunger that drives youth to claim what it will – what it can? – of the past, quickly, by reflection.  The first claims from the floodplain of time are proxies.  So certain in a shared existence, so sure are we that in the past a heart beats still, that we track the past as nothing less than an extension of ourselves.  Outnumbered in time we amend ourselves to its stream.  We call to the spirit of the past, paint it on the walls, sacrifice effigies, until the hunting ground is ours.  And if we find something promising, don’t we celebrate?  Or returning empty handed, will we know nothing is lost?  Will we know we have won ourselves, are more intact than before?

We take from the past and we do not ask, because we know by now that the hunt may as well be called ritual as survival.  May as well be called fashion as feeding the people, may as well be executed as a replica in fine gold, as served roasted and tenderly put to the mouths of the elderly and the children.

Carmen Stiffelman, Diana.

History migrates away even as we prepare ourselves to hunt it.  Its potency is spilled, all bottles drained; we could know that when we are drunk on the glory or the burden of it, in truth we drink not of the past but from our own vitality.  But we never seem to know this; the lives beside us warm, and each of us gripping our knives, we seem to know quite clearly that hunger drives this feast, but never notice we share a table with the dead.  Char later wrote:

“Just like a lamp whose halo of light is perfume, she will leave, her back to the setting sun.
It would be sacrilege to talk to her.
Little sandals brushing the grass, let her pass.  Perhaps you will be able to discern the ghost of the night’s dampness on her lips.”

The colony ships crashed upon the shores of human consciousness so long ago the masts have been pounded to soggy shreds in the surf, dispersed into the sands like the billowing hair of a siren in the saline fluid of memory.  The undersides of every leaf on the Tree of Life seems coated with the soot of our encampment fires.  We build fantasies where the past is allowed to survive, modeled and predicted, tracked like wild game, inventoried like the fruit of an orchard tree.  Islands in a sea of stars where observation gives our creativity the breath of life.  In our experiments there are bunkers, holdouts, forgotten paradises, Shangri-La’s.  If we know them well enough, our lives attest to their reality.  Our own reality, in these places, becomes discernable theory in action.  Our own reality then is only threatened by the proliferation of other places, so we spend a part of each lifetime, after the hunt, to willfully erase from the charts this lion’s share as terra incognita.   And none of this ever seems to be much bother, for all the clouds painted above our palace of preservation, our excess is eagerly painted over with an arch vault of night.  Each brick placed by trading the feeling drawn from living for precursors made of found object thoughts.

Agostino Arrivabene, White Stag

How noble then is the diver in the wreckage!  What words could be used to describe the hunt outside of hunger, the stillness beneath the waves?  What more loverly touch can be offered the marbles of sunken cities than to be observed by the living?  And what becomes of the wanderers in time’s wilderness who, sparingly distributing the glory and secure retirement that their resurrection palaces might provide, instead climb these steps with the cool eyes of post-fortune saplings to build what is never finished?  Could they brush so close with their inheritance and remain living, something constituent, somehow present, by their own merit?  We were handed all these questions, that is the book we open when we identify this moment as Now.  Adrienne Rich wrote about this curious hunt, hungering not only for the known but the new, as it happens one person at a time.  She seemed to know where to place the surface of the abyss, and the ladder to the surface.  She wrote,

“I come to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done, and the treasures that prevail.
[..] The thing I came for, the wreck and not the story of the wreck.
[..] We are, I am, you are by cowardice or courage the one who finds our way back to this scene carrying a knife, a camera, a book of myths in which our names do not appear.”

If overwhelmed by time, falling into identification with the past, we move smoothly into the enfolding wilderness.  But while we hold the knife, we are passing through, breathing and still alive.  All the same, the dive into the wreckage is unnerving, the veil so obviously thin.  The line between observed and considered, reality and realism, present and past.  Later, Rich wrote on the stakes in Equinox,

“Time split like a fruit between dark and light,
and a usual fog drags over this landfall.
[..] Dull acres of developed land as we had named it:  Nowhere
wetland   burnt garbage   looming at its heart
gunmetal thicket    midnightblue blood and
I thought I knew history was not a novel.”

Sonja Vordermaier, Formed absence of light.

What do we inherit as contemporaries?  The same flood, the same treasures and choices, which produce by our character their own outcome.  Is it overwhelming, the hunt?  You could consider the old saying, “Against untenable odds, reconsider your imperatives.”  Here it is, all of everything else, trade it if you can for the single pearl of a lifetime.

# Rufus Snoddy

Rufus Snoddy produces colorful, intriguing work that speaks of the plurality of modern life.  Accustomed from childhood to significant change and contrast, rural and city, neighborhoods and commuter islands, his work is a result of his observations of life.  Being educated among the sounds of a hundred spoken languages made complexity into texture, made imagination not only possible but unrestrained, as the artist found creation as a way of being amidst the city.   Finding texture and pattern in the broad spectrum of a multi-cultural environment is a way of finding order in chaos, but in another sense, from the native’s perspective, it is simply elevating enjoyment out of the fabric of the familiar. This act of self-selection in the urban creative leads to a lasting interest in exploration.  Finding a way to participate in diversity, by investigating the variations within one’s own creativity, can be powerfully accelerated by the sort of pressure/permission that the city generates.  Any artist who is able to draw nourishment from this environment is likely to become a natural at finding the magical in any setting, anywhere they travel.

Shield of Doghin

From such a fostering ground, Rufus Snoddy has felt at ease in his career essentially refusing boundaries.  His artwork is a blurring of painting and sculpture, vivid Construction Paintings that are rich in both aspects.  The materials are drawn from found objects, wood, and other elements, and contain a nod towards Assemblage as a natural development of inner city life.  The artist however cites a stronger initial inspiration in Constructivism, having studied kinetic sculpture.  This progressed into painting for a time, and returned to an interest in building up a structural expression that moved beyond pictures, something also contained within the kernel of the Russian art movement.  Frank Stella, Elizabeth Murray and John Okulik are counted among his compliment.

Red Ginger, 2011

Another possible parallel to Constructivist developments is a drive to have the work rooted in a relational context, to have a use that integrates art and life.  Snoddy explains that much of his work is an investigation of genetic memory, supernatural vision and faith.  He attributes the cause for this to a hunger for structural and formal content.  There is a motivation to have in the work something that carries an unspoken message, and he is not satisfied with producing inert, meaninglessly decorative objects.  Indeed, he doesn’t see much reason for anything in life to be meaningless, preferring a state he describes as natural, and devotes part of his attention to the forces that are removing human experience from this natural state. Snoddy finds there is an encroaching happening with the development of technology, a paving over of the greenspaces both literally and internally.  Betye Saar expressed some of this by creating Voudon-laced weavings of computer chips alongside mystical amulets and charms in Assemblage form, elements sharing one space and even competing for it.  For Snoddy, these interactions and conflicts do not take place in an isolated realm of outside artifacts, and this distinguishes his work from Assemblage.  It takes place physically, in the being:

“Personally, I find it more difficult to be in touch with physical survival instincts… for every natural urge there is a technological device designed to quell it by creating convenience or making it a step removed from significant physical activity.”

Remnants of Past and Now, 2010

He draws from this situation a root connection between instinctual aspects of creativity and the deeper ‘soul’ of survival that would be found in the matrix of his ancestral past.  A step towards one is a step towards the other, with the result that his work is oriented less towards vanity and consumerism, and more towards the essential sources of human creativity, and universal language itself.  He finds this leads to confounding questions, among them, why is natural beauty not enough for us?

Omen, 2007

While the ancestral investigation has a strong contemplative allure for him, his influences in art were drawn less from the direct portrayal of the passions and dignity of Black America, that were part of the political climate of the 70’s, such as Charles White, David Hammons, and Bennie Andrews.  He was drawn more towards the boundary dissolving work of Sam Gilliam, Martin Puryear, Fred Eversley, artists who showed few traces of ethnicity.  In his own work, the early attention to issues of identity moved towards the thematic, investigating reality and illusion, taking on the challenge of critiquing the very social frameworks that shape our perceptions of reality.  When he writes about his work, which is a major part of the artist’s presentation and includes a book, The Critical Eye, he is less apt to offer conclusions, often closing subjects with clusters of questions: What does one know with only sound-bytes of information?  How does one do anything surrounded by so many opinions?  What is quality when affordability is ruled by quantity?  What is advertising doing to our sense of identity?

A Captive’s Audience, 1991

Being led by the work to a physical perspective, looking for the throne of the soul of survival, places the identity of the artist at odds in a number of respects to the perceptions of identity that rule the world.  Transforming these questions and pursuits into art is itself a big step away from the expected norm, with perhaps the only normalizing factor for an artist being recognition from a scant few institutions.  It is a peculiar position, being a human seeking relevant identity and physical vitality against what seem significant odds, yet relying on the recognition of a few specialty venues to provide this identity for millions.  This strengthens the artist’s self-view as radical individualists and iconoclasts… but this is also a parallel of the everyday consumer and their belief that they are making choices through their own judgement.

Kahuna Daydreams, 2007

In the exhibit held at Artcore’s Brewery Annex, examples of work inspired by ancestral shields hung beside work developed towards a more symbolic look at consciousness. Human heads culminating from bubbling, rising foam of material, or twigs, threads and splinters running together as though human identity is being modeled out of the elements themselves.  All produced in brilliant colors that left the viewer satisfied they had something tangible to weigh. In his upcoming exhibit at The Dennos Museum in Traverse City, Michigan, the artist will unveil his latest development – massive suspended wings based on the story of Icarus.

Through a progressive evolution in approaching his art, Snoddy today works in symbols. He quotes Rainer Maria Rilke, “Symbols are where we live.”  His work delves deeper than the surface identities that one hears on the evening news to the realm of language and structure itself.  Semiotics, unconscious symbols, the way we handle chaos, the artist pulls together from his instinct manifestations of this challenging territory.  These topics are poignantly postmodern and make Snoddy a contemporary philosopher in his own right.  The artist has volunteered, no doubt in part being infused with courage by the tremendous plurality of inner city life, to dig in to the foundations of human identity itself.  As a cosmopolitan, a ‘citizen of the world’, the artist travels where his imagination pleases, works as he likes, doing whatever is required to achieve the expressions he is after.  To be an artist, and choosing to root the worth of his efforts in him, there is no territory that is off limits, no boundary that can deprive the natural soul of the human its curiosity.

Artist’s Website: www.snoddyart.com
Robert Seitz

# Bastiaan Arler

My Name Is Gilgamesh, Video Still

When I first met Bastiaan Arler, I was instantly struck by an affable character eager to communicate and charged with a notable lack of guile.  This balance of expressive energy and essential humility is a rare combination, and I did not hesitate to visit the open studio for his residency at RAID Projects.  I discovered an array of projects that pointed to a subject in art that always draws interest for me – systems.  With the concept of an overall aesthetic being demoted to the technician’s toolkit, one glance at the artist’s work makes it plain there are ideas at work, investigation, reflection, and finally artifacts that seek to contain the artist’s total practice.  The individual projects are messages, windows into the inquiry and curiosity of an intelligence that is tensed like an archer’s bow towards a target of understanding, with the artistry dedicated to shaping an earnest sharing of his interests. The projects refer to actual thought, effort, and an attempt to convey, revealing an intentional energy that is so often encountered only in aesthetic caricature.  This is the absence of guile that I refer to, and it is in every sense fitting that it would match in both his character and his work.

The approaches used to reveal his pursuits are clearly varied to preserve interest, but they carry no contrivance, none of the typical willful abstractions one sees that only suggest the systematic: mock technical diagrams that refer only to an appearance. I have come to see such mock diagrams as an extension of simulacra, decorative tracings of reality that echo most everything we see in media, advertisement and social convention.  The philosopher Jean Baudrillard defined three orders of simulacra, and these empty systems easily fall into two of them – the transcendent value placed on technology, a myth of Promethean expansion, and the immanent value placed on the system itself, our cultural environment of simulated reality.  It doesn’t take very long, looking at the work and speaking with the artist, to discover these are not sketches and daydreams, they are not meant to make the artist look smart.  They are the notations of an active mind, they carry the weight of consideration, and point to more.  They are not even blueprints for assembly, but relics of honesty – like the endless drawings of flying machines that pepper Da Vinci’s notebook, or the interpretive displays of cosmology at the Griffith Observatory.

Big Bang

Arler produces art out of system, but more importantly he produces visual representations of honesty.  There is a growing interest in finding ways to visualize; to make efflorent the scientific as it exponentially unfolds features of humanistic beauty and puzzlements that are often exclusively visible to the mind’s eye.  These interpretations, for their impact, absolutely rely on a sincerity of investigation to be convincing, or even possibly useful.  And such interpretation, essentially a pursuit of the sublime, is no different regardless of its subject from one of the oldest motivations behind the pursuit of art.  Our conversation reflects these relationships quite well.

What led you to become an artist?

I was not allowed to study art, so I took to design and worked in the field for ten years.  I thought something was missing, design was too much function, too formal and shallow.  A chair is designed to sit on, the best you can do as a designer is subvert that, but the function does not change.  I entered competitions to break out.  My first hit was a WWII monument to the resistance movement in Italy.  It was a bronze sculpture, a giant pedestal with a scar, and I designed it to memorialize both the losses suffered by the resistance and the other party, the people who made the mistake of fighting on the wrong side.  After all, there are no winners; a war cannot be won, it can only be stopped.  I placed 7th of 90, where the top 6 are funded, which I was told made me the moral winner.  That was encouraging.  My project led to a residency in France, and that was the beginning of a new practice and way of engaging the world.  The residency project was a mood equilizer I called the Chromatron – I used concepts of chromatherapy (therapy using color), choosing red, blue and white light for their effects, as a way to give people a therapeutic experience.

You explain that you’re interested in the meaningful, and it makes sense that coming from design you proceeded to it directly.  Hearing an artist say this is surprising, I’d say the majority of artists I talk to make it clear they are not interested in meaning.

On the contrary, my interest in meaning may have come from design, where meaning is fused with the functional.  I became interested in the challenge of making an image that isn’t exclusively appealing.  Nature does have an inherent beauty, but it’s hard not to see the system in it.  Eventually I would like to work in natural forms.  Right now I am exploring ideas such as growth and decay.  I’m looking for the meaning in them, the base system behind them, and I like to think ideas are not abstract.

Ideas are inherently charged through systems.  Turning them into art gives me a chance to study, a place to start.  So it’s about approachability.  I’m fascinated by the fact that they are probably interconnected.  Most things are studied by isolating them into two opposing factors, I would like to break out of that and transcend dualistic thought.

This is a conversation I have fairly often.  The problem of the binary, the black and white, seems to be an old problem.  You have the bicameral brain, or the basic tool of the measure involves defining a scale between two points. It’s often the dialectic that is brought up as a traditional way to try and break through that approach, when it comes to ideas.  We often discuss if there is anything beyond the dialectic.

Yes the dialectic is very interesting.  And the line, produced by two points, is so useful, a very evident message.  A line works in any dimension, while you cannot represent four dimensions in two.  But there’s also the infinite loop that is suggested in interconnection.  With The End of Duality, my koan tape, “…the answer is the question is the answer…” attempts to dissolve this into tertium.

The End of Duality

I really got a kick out of the barrier tape, it defines an area as undefined.  An enclosure that is not absolute.  The economic clock you are working on, I think it’s interesting that it is composed of wheels.

And beyond this, the wheels turn different ways.  The project will eventually lead to a calculation of gear ratios, I’ll be working with an engineer on that part.  Some of the wheels move one direction, some change directions, some are a spiral that move inward or outward.  Connecting it together in this way allows me to look at the system differently, to move beyond the books that inspired the investigation.  It shows me there are links and pieces that are missing and maybe I will discover new constants.

With the traditional koan practice, you have a statement that isn’t meant to have a clear psychological value, as a way to break through the illusion that most if not all of our ideas are considered concrete, but are really entanglements that point to other things.  With semiotics, treating language as objects, the cognitive role of ideas seems to have more to do with relationships than independence and finality.  Deconstruction is often used similarly, to break down the absolute meanings and beliefs we apply to ideas.  But I find deconstruction is often used as a convenience to justify work that simply has no meaning, because it is so widely understood it has become a simulation of meaning itself.

Yes.  One person I’ve been reading is Stephen Pinker, a cognitive scientist.  He looks at the neurobiology behind ideas, and the logic process in language, showing we have a natural system behind language itself.  I once held a workshop called Extra-Theistic Icons.  I was wondering, how could we isolate constants in religious iconography, identify what is useful and still derive spiritual benefit?  This is more to do with cognitive science, I’m not interested in removing the beneficial interactions and completely erasing, I’m looking for structure.  Deconstruction does not want structure.  It’s a different objective, and better serves the goal behind having no meaning.  When you do give a narrative, there is less that you can project on to it.  The more it’s spelled out, the less the audience can engage with it, that’s my theory behind avoiding meaning.  But if you spend time with my work, you will see that all of my projects relate, that my approach to ideas includes the systematic and relationships, and it’s very different from deconstruction.

I could see it right away, which is what drew my interest.  What do you think about defacement?  I consider it something like soft deconstruction, perhaps also playing a role as a symbol of critique?  You know, like the facial obliterati that paint or sculpt figures with obscured faces, or the very common use of juxtaposition to put, say, a McDonald’s sign in a wasteland.  Sometimes it strikes me as incredibly lazy.  Add to this that it seems without defacement, many artists will simply reject a work or artist.

Well, art should make a point.  But as you know, the statement is often contrived, because it works, and creates a sort of instant recipe for identification as art.  Take an iconic image, add a simple intervention, and it gets results.  It’s not lazy, it’s just one trick.  And I have to laugh, I don’t say trick as a way to cheapen it, it’s just that they’re tried and true ways of achieving a response in the viewer.  There’s Semir Zeki’s work on neuro-aesthetics that explores how aesthetics affect logic.  And Vilayanur S. Ramachandran (whose work also involves behavioral neurology, and what he calls visual psychophysics) categorizes how we consume art into ten moments, such as the “Aha!” Moment resulting from the use of contrasting elements.  So transposition is a non issue for me.

As Origin Unfolds

Interesting, again you look to the understructure, the system beneath the ideas.  These researchers are amazing, bringing cognitive science to areas of the humanities that have historically been based on subjective opinion and speculation. So what is an issue for you?

I think it would boil down to a very private idea of spirituality – I think some of my work has an aura.    Is it odd to use that word?

I don’t think so – It relates to the ‘other factors’ that one encounters as they study the system objectively, and points to the very indirect ways we perceive what we think we know.  And this is often one’s first layer of knowledge, as we often say, ‘getting the sense of it’.  You have to begin somewhere.

Yes.  Going back to my economic timepiece:  There is a beginning, which is time itself.  Time is so central it drives everything, but not in a linear sense… it’s really experienced as moments and pockets of now.

I’m fascinated with the feeling of time, the pace of time as sensory experience and the way it is remembered. It’s one of my main interests in your Economic Timepiece, the wheels within wheels.  Speaking of time and systems, how do you feel about the internet?

I have many interests, which is lucky in a way.  I start a lot of my research on the internet, but I don’t like the social aspects; I’m not very social anyway.  There is a blurring of authority, as anyone can have a following.  And you constantly encounter ideas which are more lodged, which may seem to give them more weight.

Nowhere Fast

Let’s talk for a while about the auras of meaningful pursuits – how does your creative process factor in to all this?

It begins as infatuation, and leads to digestion, then grasp, until I create a workable form or visual form.  But creativity does not equal art.  I would say it’s a notch below.  Artists make art out of need.  For a painter the need goes beyond creativity, there’s an urgency to it.  Probably most importantly, art provides psychological satisfaction.

But as an artist, I am a happier person because I can work out my psychological needs through it.  The way I see it, everyone has creativity, a lot of what we do everyday is creative, but most don’t make the leap to art, so they have one less instrument in resolving things.

Art saves world?

No.  We are doomed!

Does the artist have any responsibility, to society?

Well, there is the artist as medium, but that only works if they are on topic for you.  Yes, the artist does have a role.  It’s perfectly ok to make art for yourself, so long as you’re willing to take responsibility down the line.  I’ve always found the outsider that is not conscious of an audience as fascinating, they’re working for pure psychological relief.  But if the artist is conscious of an audience, they can’t not think of a role.  As an example of the not responsible artist, I would say someone who is focused on sheer market concerns, a commercial sellout.  You know, the classic example, Damien Hirst.

What’s an example of great responsibility?

Public art, relational art.  These are relatively new art forms, communication where the artist places their social role above themselves.  In that role comes respect, it takes everyone up.  Lawrence Weiner comes to mind.  I have done an analysis of his Declaration of Intent which addresses these problematics.  He shows respect for this role, and this means you maintain a sort of integrity, honesty.

The Manifesto Stripped Bare

Another fairly rare answer, that an artist should be responsible.  When I think of artists I’ve spoken with who replied the same, a majority of them were educated in the East.  It seems to go along with a general indifference towards the self-import of Western history, as though art was viewed more as a matter of personal refinement that benefits others, rather than being placed as an individual in the company of a historic timeline.

When I was young, visiting museums and such, I would always exalt art.  I placed it high.  As a professional in a different field, I never lost that feeling.  Once I entered into that world, the exaltation remained, and all I really see is the challenge of it.  I think I have more in common with the Eastern view, which is something like ‘technique is never ending.’  With the West is seems to be more like, ‘evolution / revolution is never ending.’

Talk a little about the diversity you include from project to project.

They all relate to each other, maybe there is a proto-idea that it all relates to.  Systems are basically similar to each other.  Microscopic realms have the same forms as macroscopic, you know the Fibonnaci sequence, we see the same forms in plants as in spiral galaxies.  Sometimes in my work unexpected things overlap – artifice and nature.  It’s not really my doing, I just try to highlight the systems in some way.  With the Economic Timepiece I’m physically working it out with gear ratios.  This will lead to mechanics.  So these economic and political ideas, arranged this way, point to other systems.  Maybe there are fixed ratios, perhaps even more constants that I will discover this way.  There are constants that relate, and will appear however you would imagine them, as physics, politics or philosophy.  We create ourselves in our own image.  With my Interchange drawings, it is obvious we follow the shortest line, an economy of elegance.  There is a relation to the same occurrence in nature, look at an artery system.  So yes there is a lot of diversity in the subject matter, but then again a certain uniformity in exploring it.

Autobahn

There are differences even though the visual results seem similar.  Lichtenberg figures in lightning are the dispersion of energy, the circulatory system uses a pump and capillary action, tributaries respond to material density through erosion.

In the density of the large urban system, there are attractors.  There is a lower cost of housing outside the city, opportunities within that create these.   One reason I came to LA is to observe the infrastructure.  When I looked at aerial views of urban centers like London and Paris, I thought, isn’t this the same as cancer?  The city pulls the blood in towards it.  Los Angeles works more like a neural network.  It has hubs that relay information.

From your observations, do you see the potential for sustainability?

Sustainability?  We’re beyond that state.  Not looking for solutions so much as looking at connections.  For me, connections are a great solace.  If I can relate one system to another, I can find solace in understanding them and  relating them to nature.  It means that this idea or situation which seems unnatural is in fact an ordinary part of the way things work.  At that point, I can find a beautiful meaning in it.  It’s the necessity that drives my art.

A lot of the more socially conscious artists I talk to seem to think if your work isn’t addressing, focusing on or identifying problems, it’s not socially useful.

Oh yes, problems!  It’s a very American idea that problems can be resolved; in Europe and the East it’s more about living with them successfully, through acceptance.  Which is where you see something that actually looks more like a workable solution.  Many artists are obsessed with differences; I’m much more interested in the constants.

I’ve lost interest in most of the categories – at the moment I try to stand above, below, outside it to make ulterior sense.  The concern for art & identity is more dissolving, you could say I’m living a happy regress.  I think the notion of progress is really fake, typically Western.  Like the way we base everything on a measure of GDP.  But you could see regress as a positive thing.  We come to believe so many things, and progress is one of them.  Being able to get rid of these notions and working instead from proof can be extremely uplifting.  Like a religious belief that prevents you from accepting evolution.  If you dissolve your religious belief by seeing the proof in evolution, yes your identity takes a hit, but in the end you’re stronger, happier.

Where’s it all going?

There’s an acceleration, but there’s also a lag.  My grandfather went from riding in a horse & buggy to witnessing the Apollo moon landing.  His father had a cart all his life.  Things are speeding up, there is a bettering, but nothing really new.

So ultimately, your art is largely for the psychological relief you derive from it, the relief of understanding how things relate, and the result has been seeing beauty in nature and its systems?

I don’t always see the beauty, but I do try to look for it.  I even try to see the beauty in the political system, and other ominous systems.  Some are beautiful, and there’s some truth in beauty.  There is beauty in simplicity and comparative complexity.  The way simple rules lead to complex things.  Our nature is to come up with simple rules, to live by, to repeat to each other.  When we create them, they may seem like a solution at the time, but ultimately they will lead to new complexity.

Lifelines of the Electric Collective II

So what’s next for you?

In Turin, Italy I’m doing a site-specific work on their old historic Chamber of Commerce.  I’m looking at the physical building, the organization.  I will create an Organigram, and look at how it relates to real time use of the building.  Tracing the flow of traffic – opening doors, counting people coming and going, elevator use – I’ll place it somehow on an architectural model or blueprints. I’m looking for a macro aspect, a context larger than itself, with a different artwork for each aspect.  I’ll take snapshots of the most recurrent activities – picking up the phone, sitting in a chair, the mouse click, try and focus on the place into absurdity.  There’s a lot of meaning in reducing things to the absurd, because we have a tendency to relativize the importance of our lives.

Born 1972, Bastiaan Arler “grew up between the Netherlands, Japan, Sweden and Italy. He studied Industrial Design at the Istituto Europeo di Design and at Futurarium in Milano. He has worked as concept designer for numerous studios and his own design atelier Britefuture. His designs were distributed in Milano, Berlin, Tokyo, and by the MoMA in New York. He lives and works in Torino, Italy.”

His work can be found at www.nuke.arler.net

# Woman in Screens

(Short Story)

Soft, even light.  Lungs pulling gently, drawing themselves full of clean, pure air.  The sensation of tingling in the thumbs, then the fingertips.  Soft light gently prying open the eyelids, one thin line at a time.  The crunch of a billowing comforter, early morning eyes drawing faint lines to distinguish between the coverings, the walls, ceiling, and the surrounding soft light.  The light had no source, evenly drifting through the six planes of the room like an atmosphere.

Her voice, soft as the light, spoke, “Garden, please.”  The panels to her right, the direction she faced, slid apart.

The hardness of the green growth seemed to rush forward, seemed to be the movement that pushed the screens apart.  A courtyard, three times the dimension of her room, the sound of running water.

Her eyes studied the leaves, looking for movement.  She watched the red pearl of a ladybug settling on an orchid.  Over the garden, no ceiling; in this room the light had a source.  A faint overhead chirp of a bird.  She sighed, and returned her gaze to the leaves, stems and tendrils of life.  Still, she found herself seeking upward, and felt annoyed.

“Why is there no sky?” the waking woman asked.
“You know why,” came a female, factual voice from behind her.  A soft, blue glow appeared over the garden.
“It’s just not quite right.”
“It will be corrected. Would you like to have the garden rotated?”
“No.  I am finished.”  The screen silently pinched off the courtyard view.
“Eliza C.”
“Good.  How are your physical sensations?”

Eliza moved her awareness with practiced deliberation throughout her body, starting from her scalp, and ending at her toes.  She sat up, letting the covers drop, and felt the hem of her feather light garment.  Her body felt perfect, balanced, and light as her clothing.  She stood and began stretching.

“All here,” she answered.  “Is anyone else awake?”
“Good.  No one else is awake today.  Did you have any dreams?”
“No… wait, something, a bird.”

Across one of the wall panels, the shadow of a sparrow-like bird flew across, and its song.
“Larger.”
Another shadow, the cry of a hawk.
“Not a predator.”  The cry of a raven.
“Yes, that’s it, a rook.  I remember.  In the dream, a rook casts its shadow over me, then settles on the top of a bare tree.  It’s in a desert.”
“Good,” replied the voice.  A woman’s silhouette replaced the raven’s shadow.  It was standing at attention. “Anything more?”
“The rook is a friend.”
“I am your friend.  Shall we begin?  There is a nest on the seashore, a turtle’s nest.  The soft eggs begin hatching, and a hundred tiny turtles start crawling their way to the ocean.  The distance is significant, and difficult.  There are gulls beginning to circle.  They will eat all the hatchlings they can.”
“What is the question?” as Eliza, touching her face.
“I am spellbound.  I can’t save them all.  What should I do?”

Eliza crossed her legs, straightened her back, and breathed through her nose.  After a few moments, she replied.
“Scoop them up and carry them to the water.  Your involvement has tipped the balance, both for you and the newborn turtles.”
“Good.”  After a pause, the shadow receded.  The floor slowly rotated Eliza around, and three new shadows appeared on another wall.  They were standing close by one another, outlined in familiar uniforms.

“Are you prepared to provide tribunal service?” one of them asked.  It was an unfamiliar voice.
“Yes,” Eliza responded.  “Who are the others?”
“Citizen Hwang, Sat 5, Unit 589, Third Watch.  Citizen Smith, Sat 4, Unit 1322, Third Watch.  Celebrity Perfection, Taiwan, Gold Lion Media Group.”

This was unusual.
“Why am I being placed with third watch citizens?”
“A solar storm interrupted the second watch in Sat 2.”
With almost comical timing, the light behind the panel to her right, where the garden that ran the length of Sat 2 was, flickered with a glitch.

“Hello Hwang, Smith, Perfection.”
“Hello Eliza,” came three voices in chorus.
The woman’s silhouette appeared behind her.
“Good.  First plaintiff, Velocity Tech Human Resources, Second Director.  Citizen Case ID 4839922345.”

This number appeared floating to the right of her face.  A synopsis unscrolled below it as she read.
“Tribunal, there may be a mistake.  I counsel on juvenile cases.”
“No mistake.  The solar storm made a rescheduling of priorities necessary.”
“I see.  Why is there no defendant statement?”
“In profile cases neurobiology is the standard testimony.  Do you understand your instructions.”
Eliza read the text floating beside her once more.  “Yes, but I do not understand the process.”
“This is very straightforward,” came a voice from among the three.  It had a melodious vibrant quality, and Eliza placed it as the celebrity’s.  “You provide the counsel, the brain scan results come in, and the results are self evident.  These go very quickly.  Are you ready?”
“Yes, alright.”
“Good.  Citizen, your counselor is online.”

In the panel to her left, an image of a figure, sitting slightly reclined in a chair with their legs up.
“Hello,” came a male voice.  It sounded mature, professional, as though prepared for a virtual interview.
“Hello, you sound slightly tense.  Have you been relaxing?”
“Yes.”
“Where are you?”
“I am sitting in the shade, beside a waterfall.”
“Good.  Are there birds?”
“Yes.”
“I want you to concentrate on the birds.  Take your time.”

Some moments passed, and a faintly audible exhalation from the man.
“Are you completely relaxed?” asked Eliza.
“Yes.”  It was apparent in his voice that this was so.
“Good.  Now, I want you to pray.  Pray deeply, intently.  I want you to pray for everyone that you love, I want you to speak directly to God.”
“Uh, ok.  Is this a normal request?”
“Relax.  This is routine.”

Some moments passed, and Eliza waited, for what she did not know.  A soft tone eventually chimed, and the silhouette of the reclining man faded away, replaced by the plaintiff.
“Show us the results,” he said.
In the center of her chamber, a hologram of a human brain, accompanied by the case ID, appeared in slow rotation.  It was divided into four colored areas.  Eliza raised her hand to touch it, but paused halfway.
“Results,” came the voice behind her.
Two bright points of light began to glow towards the back of the brain.
“Occipital Lobe.  Visualization Meditation training.  Tribunal?”
The three voices spoke in order.  “Guilty.” “Guilty.” “Guilty.”
The voice behind her, “This tribunal finds Citizen Case ID 4839922345 guilty of lying under oath.  This citizen does not possess a belief in God, therefore violating their oath, and should be removed from government employment immediately.  Sentencing is at the discretion of the plaintiff contractor.”
“Thank you tribunal,” said the plaintiff, whose shadow vanished.  A new shadow appeared.

“Yes.”
“Good.  Second plaintiff, Sunshine Quad Biotech.  Citizen Case ID 5238491922.”
Eliza scanned the new summary, it was more of the same.
“Hello, I am your counselor.  Are you relaxed?”
“Not really,” came a young man’s voice.  “Why am I here?”
“I am on a rock, in the desert.  The sun is setting.”
“Is the sunset appealing?”
“Oh yes, its very beautiful.  I don’t remember how I got here though?”
“You fell asleep.  I want you to concentrate on the sunset.  Take as long as you need, and let me know when you are relaxed.  I’m going to give you instructions to guide you until you are relaxed.”

The case took much longer.  Finally, it was time.
“Are you relaxed?”
“Yes.”
“Good.  Now, I want you to pray.  Pray deeply, intently.  I want you to pray for everyone that you love, I want you to speak directly to God.”

Once the tone sounded, she watched the brain hologram intently.  And waited.  “Results,”  Came the voice behind her.  No bright spots appeared.  “Zero activation, atheist.  Plaintiff, is this the citizen’s first complaint?”
“Tribunal, this is the first complaint, and we request leniency.  The citizen volunteered for trial as a precondition, and has desirable qualifications for our agency.”
“Tribunal is instructed that the verdict options are as follows – Violation, Ministration, Non Violation.”
The three figures spoke in turn, “Ministration.”  “Ministration.”  “Ministration.”
“Plaintiff be advised a conversion minister will be assigned to the citizen.  This case will be automatically reconvened in one year’s time.”
“Tribunal, is there no possible way of reconvening sooner?”
“Plaintiff, you are permitted to advise the citizen that they may apply for an earlier hearing if their conversion takes place sooner.  Dismissed.”

“This is the most unusual experience!  I had no idea what other tasks counselors undertake.”
“Yes.”
“Good.  Tribunal, be advised the global shadow has shifted over the western region, we are now hearing cases in the eastern region.  Please review your new verdict guidelines.  Counselor, please review your new guidance suggestions.”

Eliza scanned the floating text, and was relieved to see her instructions were limited to relaxing the citizen, with no call to prayer at the end.  That part of the procedure made her decidedly uncomfortable.
“Eastern region is even easier,” said one of the tribunal shadows.  “We almost never get a guilty verdict.”

“Third plaintiff, the Party, Citizen A.  Citizen Case ID 4375689999.  Assessment for elevation of third agricultural secretary to rank of second agricultural secretary, begin.”
Eliza guided the man into relaxation, and waited beside the resulting brain scan.  No bright spots.
“Tribunal, what is your verdict?”  “Not guilty.” “Not guilty.” “Not guilty.”
“Minister will be appointed.”

“Fourth plaintiff, the Party, Citizen B. Citizen Case ID 5496732200.  Assessment for Softech Mfg. Conglomerate assembly line position, begin.”
The relaxation was taking some time.
“Pause.  Why are there long delays when we speak?  This is making guidance difficult.”
“This dialect is highly regional and requires additional processing time, Eliza.”
At last a hologram brain rotated in the chamber.  A bright light appeared in the front of the brain.
“Frontal lobe.  Prayer, strong belief in personified divine beings or God.  Tribunal, what is your verdict?”
“Guilty.”  “Guilty.”  “Guilty.”
“Citizen B is advised that Party guidelines prohibit technology employment to non atheists.  The party may add any additional measures as it sees fit.”

“Fifth plaintiff, the Party, Citizen C. Citizen Case ID 1244435677.  Sentencing assessment of self designated artist, unofficial, for corruption of morality.  Counselor you may proceed.”
“Hello,” said Eliza.
“Hello,” came the voice from the reclining shadow.
“Are you relaxed?”
“Very.”  By the voice it seemed to be so.
“Where are you?”
“I am in a large coliseum, surrounded by an angry mob.  It is a show trial, and there are lions in cages that are about to be released.”
Eliza, “Pause.  Do you call this a relaxation environment?”
The voice from behind, “Confirming.  Citizen is in a Spring Grassland environment, modeled after his home province.”
Eliza began again, “Are you sure that is what you see?”
“Yes.  I know this calm grassland is not real, this breeze feels great, but I know that if I started to run, I would still be in this prison no matter how far I travelled.  Where I really am, I will be eaten alive by wild beasts to entertain the people, without any way of preparing.”
“I am relaxed,” he said.  It was apparently true.  “And where are you?  On a calm river, a mountain top, floating by on one of these clouds?”
Eliza considered this.  “I am floating on a cloud.  I want you to look at those clouds closely, take as much time as you need, and deeply relax.”
“This is a happy, beautiful place.  A wonderful illusion, I almost do not see the lions.  What I don’t understand is why they would want me to be comfortable, relaxed, when they could do anything they like with our lives.  That’s why I planted that garden in the middle of the highway.  I wanted to show everyone that we’re not actually comf…”
“Citizen is paused,” the voice came from behind her.  “Details of the case are not for the tribunal’s consideration.  Is that understood?”
“Yes,” the tribunal replied.

“Counselor, proceed.”
“I’m going to have to ask you to stop speaking and relax.  Is that alright?”
“You sound like a kind person, I’m sure the soothing way you speak means you are doing exactly what you are best at.  I don’t think you are a lion in disguise.  But I wonder if your ‘floating cloud’ is any more real than my ‘breezy grassland’?  Alright, I will begin to relax.”
Eliza stared at the shadow on her screen.

After a long silence passed, the neural scan hovered beside her.  In it, a slight glow in the front half of the brain, and two bright spots in the rear.  It was the brightest brain yet.
The voice behind startled Eliza slightly.  “Results.  Deep meditative training.  Frontal lobe activity, Occipital Lobe pronounced activity.  Indications of illegal cultivation guidance.  Citizen C, Party regulations require a full investigation of the subject’s personal contacts.  Tribunal, what is your rule?”
“Guilty.”  “Guilty.” “Guilty.”
“Celebrity tribune, you are being transferred to Media Central.  You may present the case, verdict and sentence to the public.”

“Garden,” Eliza said.  “And a stabilizer.”
“As you request, my friend,” spoke a woman’s voice.  The garden panel slid open.  She watched the leaves bounce slightly in the artificial breeze.  A few moments later, Eliza’s form relaxed, and she half reclined.  “You know, that last case, his readings would qualify him to serve as a Sat counselor just like me.  He had all the developments necessary.”
“I am not able to offer any insight on a specific case.”
“Do you think he will go to prison?”
“I do not have that information, as you know we can’t access Media Central here.  Usually, there is a prison sentence, or an Access Downgrade.  Would you like some music?”
“Yes, that would be nice.”
“Good.”

# The Flying House

Manuel Rodriguez Sanchez

In researching contemporary art I have encountered an image that, while not entirely new yet not very common, seems to have gained increased circulation. The image is that of the flying house, defying gravity and drifting.  The image, especially without apparatus, gives a feeling of slowness, and so a paradox, as though the weight of a house would somehow limit the degree to which it is defying the laws of physics.

It is an image I find strangely compelling, as though it possessed some measure of meaning that might reside in dream logic. In circumstances where some mechanical explanation is given, the method is similarly paradoxical, with a cluster of balloons, elaborate (and weight increasing) gear-works, or magic, which only enhance its curiosity.  In my personal encounter with the images I have run across, I have paused and said to myself, ah, there is another one!  The presence that I feel from the image, the weight and suggestion of slow movement, seems to be confirmed as a profoundly unconscious dream symbol for a number of reasons.  First, it is most typical to run across the house as a singularity – it is typically just one house.  Secondly, the house serves as the single focus of interest, typically combined with a landscape that serves to cradle the relative disturbance the symbol is creating.  For these reasons we are delivered a deep symbol of human consciousness, and I will demonstrate as we go on that for its dreamy character, its isolation and its reflective capacity, we have in the flying house an inner symbol of human identity as an individual.

Before we embark on this visual essay, it would be suitable to define what the house might symbolize itself, which won’t take much.  Four walls and a roof, basic shelter, comprise an image of belonging and permanence.  The house is a symbol of social roots – the privacy and property of a house distinguishes homeowner from renter, householder from wanderer.  A house in the country signifies an extension of personal, social roots into wilder spaces.  Long ago a young husband built a house for his family, a settler built a homestead to convert the land.  The significance of the private dwelling as a symbol of the natural family unit is pervasive even where families do not dwell in houses.  A study held at Cabrini Green, a housing project in Chicago, asked children to draw a picture of what a home is, and all produced a simple, four-wall house with a peaked roof.

Today the house may carry as much anxiety as it might stability, being a symbol of access to the middle class, a place where the banks may be partners in ownership, an instrument of leverage for entering significant debts, subject to taxation and eminent domain, the place of keeping one’s valuables and so the place where they may be stolen.  The house is subject to weathering, neighborhood decline, fire and natural disaster.   But the flying house is a completely different story.

Antigravity

Because the flying house has the characteristics of dream logic, it would seem to belong in the category of Surrealism, which often claimed to draw from psychological and dream material, but the symbol itself is much older than that movement, as I will demonstrate.  As it happens, for such a potent image the subject of the flying house was only touched upon by a few of its artists, among them Rene Magritte and Remedios Varo, both of whom could be characterized as working so deeply in human consciousness one could say there is a sense of mysticism.

Rene Magritte, The Castle in the Pyrenees

Viewing the event of a flying house in the language of mysticism (which is an arena where dream, symbol and double meaning play), what we have in the house is an image of stability.  It perfectly serves this role in its very shape, the square, which is an ancient representation of the classical element of earth, so the simple house and the earth have long been rooted together.

Benoit Paillé, Landscape

But the imposition of a structure on the wilds of the land is easily spotted from a great distance, and for this reason its straight lines are the introduction of a certain human element into the natural state of the earth.  The linear creativity is expansive, giving rise to borders, states, and structures.  Even the sky is divided into airspace and orbit, and this could be seen as a superimposition, like the house, that man places on nature.

Mary Iverson, Linear Empires

The aspect of the flying house then is a curious recombination of this relationship of human and earth – a rearrangement of the scene without the abolishing of any element.  Ultimately, this is a representation of human consciousness, and in that respect may be understood, and employed, in many ways.  What else is human consciousness than to receive, interpret, order and arrange the outside world, then bring it into an intercourse with the inner mental world?

Remedios Varo, The Flutist

I believe that because the flying house as a symbol of the conscious identity represents a subject that is at its very best rather obscure in daily life (the workings of the mind are for this reason largely the domain of artists), there is a clear enough reason why it broaches on the mystical.  For this reason, an encounter between the self and the reality-bending way in which consciousness reacts with the world leads to a clear suspension of natural laws.  That this depicts one’s internal process would seem to defy the cornerstone of self-awareness, that one accurately understands reality.  One sees a tree, and one recalls in memory the same tree, so there is no reason to question, or even consider, the way in which the memory arises from the fact.  But in dreams we are able to witness the miraculous, the magical, and the suspension of real logic is routine.  And we find in the symbolic presence of antigravity an indication of partial awareness of this fact.  It is generally understood that dreams of flying are indications of lucidity.  Lucidity is a state of clarity within dream, essentiality, a place in between what we could call ‘dream reality’ and the in-between reality of consciousness itself, the awareness of the dreamer.

Tereza Vickova, Photograph

Returning to the Rene Magritte’s painting, it would seem very evident that its stable and insightful character reveals the apparition of solidity in the workings of conscious perception.  The painting combines two subjective devices he came to employ in his mature work – petrifaction and antigravity.  The former relates nicely to the earthen symbolism of the house, the transformation of perception into hardened idea, and it is the primal, unshaped stone that is most often found floating.  The titles of these paintings point clearly to an association with the concreteness of mental formations, as with Invisible World, Origins of Language, and Clear Ideas.  Perhaps in The Familiar World the boulder’s symbolic role is made most plain, and in a painting that evokes the universe modeling art of alchemy, the boulder is declared to be familiar, indeed ordinal, and is placed at the top.  This strongly suggests that for Magritte, the floating earth was symbolic of the solidness that consciousness assigns our own mental formations, and the emptiness of our individual identity in such a formation.

Rene Magritte, The Familiar World

The Castle in the Pyrenees adds another element to the mix.  The stone, symbolizing earthen foundation, is placed over the ocean, a strong symbol for the abyss of the unconscious, and elements that essentially are not solid.  The house then becomes something of the personal – it is a dwelling, a structure, and was somehow built on this most inaccessible, unnatural foundation.  So the house can be viewed, though it is a static structure, as resembling human dynamis – our energy and action.  The story behind the title suggests this layer.  In the ancient myth behind the naming of the Pyrenees, the great mountain range that divides France from the peninsula of Spain, we have the story of a woman named Pyrene, which means Fire, who was wronged by a drunken Hercules.  She managed to knife him in his sleep and escape.  When he awoke, he believed that she had taken her own life, but could not find her body.  In his grief he piled up the mountain range as a great tomb for her.

So we have a reference to a remote, inaccessible tomb for a fire that is not to be found residing there.  In this way, the house symbolizes the memory of the fire, and the entire depiction of the painting is something of a memorial to the inaccessibility inherent in the structures of human identity, built as it were as on monolithic solidity that defies reality and holds itself above oblivion.  Was this intentional, or accidental?  The title suggests the artist was very aware of his depiction.  But an artist could just as easily have arrived here in a more abstracted and accidental manner, by the arrangement of symbols in relation to themselves:

Ryan Browning, Birth of an Island, 2008

Sky Mirror

Understanding then that the flying house is a curious way of depicting the internal symbol of a fantasy of solidity and action in human consciousness, we can see that its aspect – a fixed thing floating in free space – is an anagram of the way we might ordinarily view reality.  It would be more accurate to say that consciousness reflects reality in its thoughts through a personalized semblance of reality – to mention a flowering tree, we picture a flowering tree, and we do not picture it upside down!  But the flying house is in a sense upside down, which is why we can recognize it to be dream logic.  It is a rearrangement, where the rules of reality are changed in order to describe the reality of something that might not ordinarily be acknowledged, or is not easily presented.

Ekkehard Altenberger, Mirror House

It can take a flying house to picture what conscious identity is, because describing what it does is little more than explaining photography.  And the photograph is an excellent example of relating how the mechanism is a sort of inversion of both the subject and the result.  The lens of a camera, much like the human eye, operates on the principle of the camera obscura, where light information is collected through a small aperture which reproduces the image while turning it upside down.  In a camera, this is corrected by a second lens, with human vision this is corrected organically by the brain.  We do this unconsciously, correcting reality to some semblance of its appearance, mixed with our understanding of it.

Do-Ho Suh, Reflection

Curious then that in dream logic the stable and structural may be suspended in mid air.  In a sense, this would make of the sky something like a second tier of land.  But this new land is no place beyond – it remains essentially tied to the earth itself, it relates a logical continuation of the land.  If this were not the case, and it were some celestial beyond, some kind of heaven, we would see the flying house depicted far more often than it is.  No, the house is a continuation of our identity within reality, and is in no way supernal or ethereal.  It points to a real, personal experience, and this explains its presence in the work of artists who are prying into their inner workings, rather than being a transcendental trope.

Tommy Hilding, The Bridge, 2007

With this increased understanding of the symbol as one of reflection, and seeing that the reflection is of our identification with reality, we can proceed to consider the implications. Given the scope of human individual identity, we can expect that in the employment of a reflection of this state, we will be presented with characteristics of the viewers themselves.

Rafa Zubiria

We know from oneirology that our dreaming attends to a vast array of cognitive purposes.  Some of the strongest roles are in the formation and review of memory, problem solving, and the resolution of social mapping.  The context for understanding this symbol then becomes the dreamer’s own purpose for having the dream.

We also know that symbols within dreams can be duplicitous – one moment being a background replica of something in waking, the next moment being an animated element of the individual’s own unconsciousness, wearing the symbol like a cloak.  For this reason we must look at the overt and invert of each purpose.

Peter Shelton, Pagoda Window Skull, 1993

Ultimately, the reflective nature of the floating house, with its mirroring function, not only relates our own active consciousness as it processes reality, but also demonstrates in a curiously breathtaking, logical way, that by placing its symbol above the natural order, that it is in fact reflecting that which takes place below – both here on earth, and down in the depths of our unconscious lives.

Francois Mazabraud, Les Dessous de Table (Under The Table)

Giants

Given the powerful role of social mapping – the relationship between the self and others – it follows that a symbol regarding the way this identity is handled would be affected by the social conditions of the dreamer or artist.  A person who lives under a state of social oppression may well find something ominous in the monolithic image of a stable structure that is high above and inaccessible.

Max Gomez Canle, Invasion, 2007

Or it may follow that the individual socially experiences a state of tranquility, perhaps having no qualms with the structural presence overhead.  The symbol remains no less remote, its occupation no more distant, but in such a fanciful depiction might be well described as a castle in the sky.  Such an image, I would think, would be fairly rare, better used to describe clouds.  It would take considerable personal integrity to reconcile a vision of this remote, unreachable seat of conscious power that felt cheerful and perfectly in place.

Takanori Aiaba

One very old story comes to mind when we speak of a mirror land in the sky, that would be familiar to children of English descent and many more beyond.  In what are considered oldest of that culture’s folklore, the Jack stories tell of a hero who as often as not accidentally gets himself into trouble, and bravely gets himself out.  The most famous of the Jack tales involves a beanstalk, and a giant.

Because it is an old story, there are many versions, but here is the synopsis.  Jack’s only cow stopped giving milk, so he is sent to town to sell it.  On the way he meets an old man, who offers to trade a few magic beans for it.  His mother, furious at the trade, tosses them out the window.  In the morning, Jack discovers the beans have formed a stout vine that he climbs high into the sky, where he find himself in another land, and a castle.  He discovers that a giant lives in the castle, who senses his presence, and thunders, “Fee fie fo fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.  Be he live or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”  With the help of the giant’s wife (who is not a giant), who wants Jack to help her murder the giant in his sleep, Jack discovers he has a goose that can lay golden eggs, and decides he is going to steal it.  She plays a magic harp that soothes the giant to sleep. The murder fails, and he flees for his life with the goose.  The giant tries to follow him, but the vine breaks under his weight and he falls to his death.  Once back on earth, the goose turns out to only be able to lay ordinary eggs.

Jay Fleck

Like most tales of such antiquity, its roots contain shamanic elements, in this case probably Celtic.  Shamanic traditions are inevitably composed of deep psychological elements, dream symbols, and social fabric.  The dried up cow indicates earthly troubles, and the appetite of the giant suggest a powerful, oppressive force also lives up in the house in the sky.  By way of magic, the courageous Jack ascends to that place in order to have a look at its occupants.  He discovers a treasure there, one that produces gold, but taking it requires killing the monster that rules the house.  It proves too difficult a task directly, but through the journey itself Jack defeats the giant when it severs the link between the flying house and reality and falls on its own.  And with the help of his Anima, his inner feminine counterpart is set free of its subjection to the Giant.  The treasure of the goose’s gold eggs turns out to be ordinary in reality, and could only be produced in a dangerous mirror land above that is approachable through the dream-logic of magic.  Little in real life has changed, except that Jack has slain the giant, and so his only troubles are here on earth.

Anselm Kiefer

The ominous giant above certainly stands for the powerful role the flying house plays as a symbol of consciousness.  And under the conditions of oppression, the individual may find it difficult not to regard such a place, in its remoteness, to be a representation of the individual’s powerlessness.  Even at it is clearly drawn from the internal stuff of our own psyche, shaped into the very image of stability in our reality, it is out of reach yet overbearing.  It is curious that one of the most destructive forces unleashed by humans upon themselves, the atomic bomb, was delivered in a ‘Flying Fortress’, and the oppressive symbolism of it would be noted by many thinkers as forming a distinctly oppressive giant in collective consciousness.

Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, Dirty Bomb, 2008

Another way of projecting oppression onto the symbol, rather than the outright destructive nature of its occupant, would be to reverse the meaning of its antigravity, becoming a representation of instability.  It would follow in this case that the weight of the structure would dramatically increase.  Monolithic cities in grim landscapes can be found as a subject of artists in the Soviet days, characterized by the massive, sterile structures, and at times these are found floating in mid-air, all reflections on a grand scale of the oppressive lack of vitality perched up there in the chambers of conscious identity.  Even recently, in a popular Japanese cartoon Howl’s Moving Castle, the tale includes a struggle to maintain the necessary magic to keep a tremendous, scarcely occupied structure aloft –wonder and fear combine in the mysterious maintenance of stability in identity.

Bzzz88, Flying City

Yang Yongliang

Foundations

Deep symbols will appear as they are personally perceived: as an object of mystery, whether the viewer finds it ambiguous, hopeful or despairing.  This is the role of symbols of this kind, as we internally project into them the meanings we summoned them for in the first place.  The symbol of the flying house, particularly in its contemporary art contexts, seems to introduce another layer to the mix – decay.  The exposure of the underside foundations, crumbling, falling bits, and fire have made their way into the symbol’s use.

Laurent Chehere, Flying House, 2012

Mark McCoy, Hallow, 2008

This could be interpreted in a number of ways.  If we are to understand the flying house as a symbol for the individual identity in the context of social mapping, we can see a sense of instability, and the flying house is a ready reflection to the sense of rootlessness and lack of belonging.  The uncertainty of the structure, viewed in this way, is a reflection of the uncertainty of the individual.  The isolation of this places the individual in the setting of insulation symbolized by the house, but also sets them adrift, without foundation.  This more despairing reading of Magritte’s painting makes the castle not an illusory house for a dynamic element of consciousness, but instead the individual has become trapped, inaccessible, and actually occupies the empty tomb.  This reading of consciousness places reality in question, and traps the individual’s identity within the dynamic of consciousness alone.  Instead of reflecting reality, this reading interprets consciousness as equal to reality.  The resulting existential isolation, and the erasure of identity, is a significant theme in contemporary, post-modern art.

Jeremy Geddes, Cosmonaut, 2010

Thomas Doyle

Alternately, and perfectly in step with the reflective, inverse capabilities of deep symbols, the opposite may be true to similar effect.  In a music video What else is there? for Royksopp, Martin de Thurah presents a dark landscape of slowly drifting structures shedding debris to accompany the message of a floating singer who is shedding droplets of a similarly dreamlike white fluid.  The message of the song suggests that in the presence of everything, of a total reality, there is nothing left but the isolation of the individual, and the desire for contact with another individual as the only remaining need.

In either case, reality has become something foreign to the conscious needs of the individual, and the individual finds the emptiness of their internal flying house to be a literal, direct translation of reality.  Distinguished again from the Magritte symbolism, this art does not reveal that our identities are largely empty reflections of self-structured reality.  Instead, it finds that our consciousness is as concrete as reality, and any other dynamic in the human experience than that between individuals is essentially what is empty – reality, and its reflection, are both empty.

Martin de Thurah, Video Still

Royksopp, What else is there?, Video

Another way despair may be projected onto the symbol of the flying house can be found in the dream function of memory.  One subject of modernity that has been widely addressed can be found in the effects media have on our memories and the identity that relies on them.  The archival role media plays that changes our relationship to the depth and accessibility of information.  The speed and global reach of media and their effect on our ability to recall information, use complex language, and distinguish culture.  The way in which modernization profoundly diminishes the distinctiveness of traditional cultures, and the way urbanization replaces the natural face of the land with human growth.  All these can be viewed under the umbrella of memory, and many people find the effects devastating.

Richard Baxter, Memory Drift

The impact of this projection onto the symbolic structure of the flying house would seem plainly to be that of blowing apart the integrity of it.  Still, as it belongs in unconscious fashion to our identity within reality, the structure becomes a flying exploding house.

Ben Grasso

Given the suitability of the flying house for all manner of projections, and in contemporary voices an absorbent sponge for the grievance of the individual, I think it would be significant to point out here that in the many images I have collected for this essay, one peculiar rule stands out – nearly all the artists are male.  Could it be possible that the flying house metaphor in some way is a reflection of what we could call the masculine polarity of the human psyche?  I could read in this that the flying house is a masculine projection, and shows a deep awareness of the patriarchal divorce between structure and, to use the classical understanding, the feminine psychic symbol of the earth itself.  Indeed more often than not, the flying house is defined by its detached relationship from earth and sea below.

Dream Castles

As I mentioned before, the conscious symbol is an object of mystery , whether the viewer finds it ambiguous, hopeful or despairing.  As with a great deal of art, the ambiguous plays a strong role, it could be said that it truly speaks for itself.  The viewer may be uncomprehending yet moved, and the artist may very well be operating under the same principle.  So I will leave the dumbstruck silent, and conclude this exploration by mentioning the remaining projection – that of the hopeful.  Should we find ourselves considering our conscious identity in this symbolic way, it may be that we also view this identity in a beneficial light.  The biology of the mind demonstrates that the symbols and their appearance are transformed by the kind of attention they are given.

UP

A flying house has recently entered modern consciousness in the form of a Disney animated film called Up, which it could be easily said most modern children have now seen.  In it an old man, bogged down by life decides to elevate his house and travel using balloons.  The film proved so popular National Geographic set about making the flight a reality, and literally floated a house on a cluster of colorful balloons.  In this curious way the flying house of the inner mind became reality.

Disney, See the World

The idea of taking the house with you refers back to the previous mention of Giants, and the oppressive nature of mental formation reflected in the ominous above.  Here we find this projection of oppression reversed, where actual reality has become oppressive, and the inner reflection of reality, the flying house, becomes the refuge.  Here one may occupy the house where a preferable reality is reflected – mobility, travel, independence – and escape.  When the inner reflection of reality is a structure of hope, aspiration and imagination, it becomes preferable when worldly reality is viewed as oppressive.  This is not the first story Disney has spun that defied the laws of physics to escape earthly difficulties, in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the inventiveness and downright bohemian values of the characters transform a derelict car into a means of adventure and justice.

Kali Ciesemier

And Up is not the first tale of a house being used to take the integrity of the individual, combined with their own ingenuity, to escape oppressive conditions.  In The Wizard of Oz, the first step towards a new life in a flying house begins a journey of troublemaking for oppressors.  And there is influential The Flying House by Winsor McCay, from the Great Depression era, in which a married couple escape the burdens of high interest loans by flying away, in the process knocking about a number of elements of the industrial society that has delivered both their predicament and their means of escape.

Winsor McCay, The Flying House, 1921

In conclusion the flying house is a perfect example of a deep conscious symbol.  Its role in art clearly demonstrates the function of such a symbol, how it influences us, and how we employ it.  It shows that ultimately the symbol is a construction of mind, and it is dependant on the condition of that mind.  An objective view might see it as a perfect component for describing the mysteries of human consciousness, and the way we order and relate to reality and our own inner life.  A subjective view might find in the flying house a way of describing the curious juxtaposition of the inner and outer lives, or of the invisible and seen.  And the symbol may become a medium onto which we project our dispositions and outlooks, seeing in them our own struggles, transforming them into symbols of our own isolation, or of our hopes and aspirations, however it is that we may be inclined…

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Appendix

Happy Red Fish | Lonely Houses | 2012

Robert and Shana Parke Harrison

Jim Kazanjian

Peter Garfield | Mobile Homes

Rachel Robinson | This house is not a home

Alex Prager

Douglas Schneider