Istanbul art fair      Rhythm Section
 
Michael Wright         

 
Thoughts on ‘Utopia'
(in relation to Beautiful formula and the Rhythm section)

 
The concept of Utopia… as the ideal and happy state of a society which fulfils all its member’s desires and aspirations cannot be looked at through the lens of history but with a profound scepticism, if not a deep sense of sadness and irony.
 
Every historical attempt at Utopia has inevitably generated some form of imposition, subjugation, exclusion, slavery or annihilation of other people/s who are not included in the dominant group’s agreed Utopian vision.
 
From an economic perspective, irrespective of the political regime, to a greater or lesser degree, one person or group’s security, wealth and contentment is dependent to lesser or greater degree on the control, if not enslavement, of another group.
 
Collectively human beings are emotionally and intellectually addicted to a binary view; to a moral stance of valuing one individual, tribe, group, race, more than another. By virtue of our persistent sense of hierarchy and loyalty to our individual group, we value one individual or group as being more deserving or worthy than another, either on the basis of ability, gender, sexuality, age, class, wealth, race, religious or political belief etc.
 
The binary equation:   If what I am is good, logically that which is not like us, that which is ‘other’ must inherently be bad or lesser.    
 
Every idealised constructed model of societal and political structure, whether, tribal, feudal, monarchist, capitalist, consumer, socialist, communist, theocracy, oligarchy, libertarian or anarchist suffers one blindingly obvious and inevitable flaw…..that given the diversity of human personality, maturity and cultural taste, (and from even a cursory observation of family relations, which point to universal human condition) it can clearly be observed that one individual or one group’s idea of Utopia/heaven will be another individual or groups definition of purgatory or hell!
 
A simple observation of differing temperaments, personalities and tastes points to the inevitable tendency of individuals to sub divide and align into sub groups of shared interests that inevitably fall into competition and conflict with other contrasting groups, generating entropy to dystopia, to a state of conflict and war.  
 
The most prevalent pattern is that those with power, whether taken or given by consensus, impose the structure which privileges their group’s idea of Utopia. This may provide a minority or even a majority temporarily with a state of being close to Utopia but never inclusively for all of society.
 
At a simplistic level there are two prevalent societal organisational models:
 
one is an agreement to live by a common belief, a dominant ideology, to work towards maintaining that dominance; converting, excluding or punishing those who don’t conform
or
alternatively to agree to tolerate difference and to preserve the rights of those who are different. This requires a tolerance for complexity and an ability to empathetically relate across dividing interests.
 
History has taught us that the most we can aspire to is to achieve a balance between personal liberty and social responsibility, that society is not a fixed but a fluid entity which is in a constant state of tension between social mobility, individual freedom and constraining laws which protect the common good. Good governance is responsive and flexible to the shifting and evolving needs and effectively maintains the equilibrium between individual freedom and collective responsibility. 
 
Utopia in relation to Identity:
 
Our individual concept of Utopia is at core an issue of individual and cultural value system/s,  and depends deeply on the maturity and definition of the ‘self and collective identity’.
 
The undeveloped immature ‘small self-identity’ sees itself as the centre, wanting the world to revolve around it’s needs and inevitable leads to conflict with similar undeveloped individuals competing; only cooperating in the short term to a mutual gain. This ‘small self’ is essentially egotistical, self-interested, insular, culturally immature, undeveloped and defensive. This relationship is also enacted collectively in relation to other groups and nations.
 
The more culturally informed and mature ‘larger self’ does not see itself as the centre but as part of a relational complexity, rationally and empathetically navigating this complexity, seeking to comprehend, relate and connect.  Rather than simply competing, this more developed sense of individual and collective self seeks connection, dialogue and relationship. This requires a responsive ability to adapt to new evolving situations and relationships without regressing into defensive self interest.
 
Utopia in relation to globalisation:
 
We are living in an age of globalisation, where commodities, commerce, cultural products/ideas are exchanged and move freely through the global economy in an increasingly complex flow. This flow effectively transgresses and does not operate within or recognise older models of national boundary. The evident prevailing commercial and cultural interconnectedness, interdependency is now at odds with a more retrogressive mental idea of wishing to return to a simpler model of a contained system of national identity and clear physical boundary, to a regressive protectionism.  The issues of migration of people is a driving the unresolved agenda in European politics and articulates the tension between an empathetic sense of responsibility on a global level at odds with an increasing  desire to regress to a protectionist, unified local racial and national identity.
 
The relation between Art and Utopia:
 
The arts performatively enact our philosophical relation to ideals, to our aspiration for a Utopian vision. Our taste in the arts reflect our values, our emotional and intellectual understanding and relation to life. 
 
A more conservative view of art takes pleasure in the highly orchestrated stylistically predictable, which does not threaten change or challenge an audience to alter its viewpoint. It offers reassurance of a prevailing stability and order in the repetition of the familiar while providing novelty of experience, but instinctively resists change at any deeper level.
 
In contrast more relevant contemporary art forms ask the viewer to reconsider and change aesthetic and social habits, effectively challenging the viewer to engage in a new experience and realign their view to another perspective on the familiar. In this sense the dynamic function of art is to facilitate a shift in understanding or perspective which allows the viewer to assimilate whatever is evolving in the flow of political and aesthetic development. It effectively aids society to assimilate change.
 
In this sense Art = transformation. 
 
Utopia in relation to manifestos:
 
Previous Utopian models in art have been formed out of small groups of collectives, collaborating round a manifesto, working towards a Utopian idea of the idealised and perfect art form. The inherent dilemma of the ‘manifesto’ is that it initially generates a momentum and developmental forward movement but inexorably becomes an encumbrance on its members and fades into irrelevance as technologies, communication systems, aesthetic and social needs evolve.
 
From a contemporary arts perspective, the advancement of contemporary practice can be defined as an exploration and expanding tolerance, in effect a celebration of relational complexity. Never before have the arts incorporated such an eclectic, pluralistic polyphony of visions and ways of being, made up of inter-related multiple view-points, philosophies and perspectives.
 
Contemporary practice is in a continuous dynamic process of assimilating the unfolding relational complexity and it is the very enactment of this process which makes art most valuable to a society. In this sense the ‘relational’ nature of art work is the very enactment of the necessary tolerance and skills to navigate the relational complexity of art and life itself.
 
I would posit that this tolerance for subtleties and nuance of relational complexity and ability to relate and cooperate with the ‘other’ in this relational complexity is as near as we are capable of reaching a possible state of cultural utopia.
 
The evolutionary challenge in the arts can be illustrated through the difference between a classical performance operating to a fixed score with predictable outcome and the more flexible and unpredictable score exemplified in Jazz. In Jazz the Utopian ideal of free autonomous individuals working in a responsive state of collaboration is expressed through the agreement and connection between the performers to improvise but sustain a relational unity. This performative relation is the expression of a societal Utopian ideal of free individuals collaborating in an evolving flow of inter-related complexity.
 
The relationship between Utopia and the ‘Beautiful formula’
The beautiful formula is what artists effectively seek to achieve in the development of their practice; a process, methodology or system which not only produces aesthetic beauty but at a deeper level can articulate the complexity and counterbalance of forces in a state of free flow and dynamic equilibrium.
 
The unique attribute of ‘the Beautiful formula’ is that it has devised a formula which provides a score which propels the participants into an intense level of performative collaboration, resulting in works which both have an intense sense of coherent inter-related structure but equally a sense of unpredictable and innovative outcome.
 
The relationship between Utopia and the ‘Rhythm section
 
It is in the orchestration of difference, in the interrelated tensions and rhythmic patterns that music connects and stimulates intellectual and aesthetic pleasure. Similarly the same principle applies to visual rhythm, and is embodied in the aspirations of the Rhythm section collaborations: through the willing collaboration and exchange between different individual rhythmic structures (held within the diverse creative practices of the Rhythm section collective)  there is similarly an enactment of the Utopian ideal of individual creativity working within a relational complexity of exchange and connection.
 
It can be summarised by the mathematical principle of 1+1=3……the exchange and relation between 2 sets of rhythms produces a third energy and form which is the product of the exchange between these two differing rhythmic structures.
 
Michael Wright      July 2017
 
notes:
Utopia:  The word comes from Greekοὐ ("not") and τόπος ("place") and means "no-place", and strictly describes any non-existent society 'described in considerable detail'. However, in standard usage, the word's meaning has narrowed and now usually describes a non-existent society that is intended to be viewed as considerably better than contemporary society.[6] Eutopia, derived from Greek εὖ("good" or "well") and τόπος ("place"), means "good place", and is strictly speaking the correct term to describe a positive utopia. In Englisheutopia and utopia are homophonous, which may have given rise to the change in meaning.[6][7]
 
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Rhythm Section exhibition, Schafhof European House of art, Freising, Munich,  Bavaria  . Germany   Feb 2017 
Lecture :

The role of scanning and Kinesthetic modes of perception in relation to rhythm in the visual arts.
 
Our digital age is culturally dominated by the power of the visual image. Through the medium of photography and the cinematic there is a constant flow of imagery generated for personal, commercial or political purposes. In this global flood of imagery it is the ‘iconic image’ which has the power to stand out from the flow and to hold our attention. An iconic image has the power to embody a value system, an aspiration or belief, or to signify the portent of an event. The Icon is also a focus for the devotional.

The iconic image, originally the preserve of the church, is associated with the divine and the spiritual state of devotion. It has equally been used and abused by those in power to validate or reinforce their status through the associative power of imagery, giving them a devotional ‘god like’ status. The psychological power of the iconic image has migrated to the political world, and in our secular society it has inexorably become central to the success of the commercial world of advertising and entertainment.
 
With the recent ascendency of social media, Facebook Instagram and Tinder, it is telling that one of the most popular forms of personal communication has become the ‘Selfie’ which is an expression of a self-consciously narcissistic desire to create an idealized icon out of one’s own image. 
 
The cult of appearance and arguably the cultural supremacy of appearance over content has privileged the camera lens with an almost mystical sense of import in the capacity of the camera to impart iconic significance to an insignificant subject. (Warhol’s prediction of 15 minutes of fame) The power of the lens is so persuasive that culturally it is accepted as the ultimate image of the ‘real’ even to the point where people will say that an experience is like a film…. Simulacrum….. that the measure of reality, by inversion, is the degree to which it corresponds to the cultural filter of film. Film has become our common visual culturally agreed norm of depiction of ‘reality’.
 
In one positive sense the universal accessibility and ease of production through digital technologies has led to a democratization of photographic and video practice, in that globally, every individual with a smart phone, has the means to generate their own iconography and visual narratives. There is also an almost universally understood language of visual signing which has been assimilated by consumer culture and is possibly the most extensive manifestation of the globalization of technology and shared cultural language.
 
When we think of the process of seeing we think in terms of optics, of the lens of the eye passively receiving an image of the world. The camera mechanically replicates the eye and in correspondence is capable of visually replicating what the eye sees. However this limited understanding and assumption of a direct equation between the camera and the eye has given rise to the most common naïve conceit ….that the camera replicates human vision. But this is so only in the most limited understanding of the correspondence between optical vision and the camera. On reflection it is obvious that the photographic lens ultimately fails to register or correspond to the full complexity of relation between the eye and the processing of human vision. Human vision operates in a radically other manner to the mechanical process of fixing an image either chemically or digitally. 
 
Our human vision is inexorably linked to our binocular spatial vision, the mobility of the eye and our body movement through space and time. If you consciously monitor your own or watch another person’s eye movement you will see that the eye is constantly scanning a scene with an unexpected rapidity and multiplicity of movement. Eye motion is replicated to a limited degree by the motion of the camera in time based film, directing our gaze or simulating movement through an event. The camera in this sense more accurately replicates the projection of our consuming gaze rather than replicating the way we actually scan and visually perceive the world.
 
The eye has a very limited scope of focus, if you focus on your finger, the space before and aft and to the sides will acutely fall out of focus. If you focus on a fixed point in the room you will be aware that by far the greater part of your field of vision is deeply out of focus and unreadable. It is the movement of the eye that gives us the illusion of everything being simultaneously in focus. The photograph, in which all the scene is in focus, is a reality which we do not experience. The reduced depth of field in an image more closely corresponds both to the optical spatial and emotional relation we have to reading a subject.

Effectively the value of the photograph is that prior to any creative mediation or editing in post production the camera simply replicates the optical appearance, no more no less. It is a kind of cast of the subject and like the death mask it holds the fascination of having been in contact with the subject and in being a faithful replica. It’s emotional charge is that we are subjected to a trope, akin to visiting Madame Tussaud’s wax works, the verisimilitude of the image generates the frisson of mis-taken reality, it is the illusion of semblance. But it is fundamentally dead, lacking the animation which we associate with a vital living presence.
 
On both a conceptual and emotional level photography gives a heightened sense of the distance between the ‘then’ of the imprint of the image and the ‘now’ of viewing. Paradoxically the presence of the image induces an acute sense of the absence of the subject, inducing either a feeling of nostalgia or pain in the sense of the loss of the subject. Viewing the image asserts the untouchable and irretrievable nature of the absent subject. The photograph generates an acute sense of appearance but equally the sense of the impossibility of trying to communicate through an impenetrable distance of time and space. Photography also amplifies an uncomfortable sense of being a consuming voyeur and in this sense all photography tends to the state of pornography. The dead mechanical imprint of the image amplifies the difference between a mechanized replication of appearance and the subtle complexity of mind and body memory articulated by the performative action of making a drawing or a painting.

However, while the photographic image, on one level is a dead mechanical cast, there is a vital human connection via the empathetic projection of our human imagination which connects us via the image’s verisimilitude to the subject, and a subsequent connection is also generated in reading the empathetic projection of the photographer. The miracle of photography is that while it is a detached mechanical process it is also, in common with all other visual art forms, capable of carrying’ intention’. The mechanical image will carry the indexical narrative of the subject and also carry the meta-narrative of the artist/photographer’s vision expressed by the ‘intentions’ made visible in the composition of the photograph or other intervention in the process. This perceived ‘intentionality’ subsequently reveals not just the relation to the specific subject but the artist’s wider view of the world.  In this sense every art form is subject to the ‘intentionality’ of the maker and it is the enactment of this ‘intentionality’ which constitutes the ‘real’ cultural content of the art work. It is this ‘intentionality’ which redeems and humanizes the otherwise mechanical detachment of the photograph. 
 
The photographic and cinematic forms of communication are essentially variations of forms of realism. It is my concern here to look at other kinesthetic modes of visual expression and in particular the relationship between the ‘concrete’ nature of art; materiality, body, touch, rhythm and the poetic impulse within the construction of ‘embodied’ art works rather than image based realism.
 
To come back to the title of this essay, the term kinesthetic, essentially refers to the relationship between movement and the senses. The etymology of the word being kinetic (of movement) and aesthetic (of the senses). The kinesthetic sense detects bodily position, weight, or movement of the muscles, tendons, and joints. Kinesthetic intelligence is using the body to create (or do) something…to make art.  
             
Psychologically, our reading of space is generated by two distinctly different modes of perception which are articulated by Anton Ehrenzweig in his publication ‘The hidden order of Art’.  One mode is ‘scanning’ in which we have an awareness of the whole field of vision, noticing changes of edges or movements in the field. When we are moving through a space we rely on this unconscious or semi-conscious scanning process. It is essentially a survival mechanism but it also has profound aesthetic significance as ‘scanning’ allows us to sense the complex visual relationships in our field of vision, sensing both the harmonies, contrast and the connecting rhythms within the field of vision. In the process of forming a composition the artist will actively alternate between scanning and analytical modes of vision, squinting to reduce the detail so as to sense the relation of the parts and then focusing a high level of attention on a detail. The viewer also uses both modes of vision, assimilating the aesthetic arrangement of the composition, sensing the relation of the whole, while enjoying the diversity in the detail of the image.
 
The second mode is conscious analytical directed looking where we direct our gaze to a small point of focus which in reality is like passing a small lens of high focus and consciousness over a subject or through a space. In this sense the protracted time based activity of drawing and painting from observation much more accurately corresponds to, and is subsequently a more accurate record of how we actively direct our gaze through both a spatial terrain and through time.
 
There is a third way of looking which is ‘syncretistic’. (which means the capacity to bring together and synthesise different modes of seeing and visualizing). Given our common beginnings as children there is an essential and universal childhood tendency towards a ‘syncretistic’ shorthand for visually describing experience through the activity of drawing. Our visual skill in childhood is to articulate the essentials through a holistic perception of experience. This combines different forms of visual communication including ‘schematic’ representation to tell a story, a kind of simplified mapping of the space, exaggerating form according to a conceptual or emotional sense of what is most important or significant in the subject, compounded by an essential delight in the physical material nature of the medium. Early and non-western cultures adopt and use these non-realistic ‘syncretistic’ modes of description, as from a visual communication point of view they more effectively communicate the psychological understanding rather than the optical appearance of reality. It is these ‘syncretistic’ qualities of non-western cultures and children’s art which prompted Picasso to exclaim that while he could draw like Raphael by the time he was fourteen he was preoccupied for the rest of his career with rediscovering the creative (syncretistic) vision of a child.
 
When we remember an event our memory edits to the essentials. Memory is a form of distillation, it also reconfigures.  The drawing process expresses this exchange between the conceptual filter of memory and the editing of the imagination. At its most vital, drawing records this exchange between the optically perceived, the internalized conceptual and emotional sense of reality. In this sense drawing is an accurate articulation of perception as it is ‘bodily’ and ‘culturally’ rather than ‘mechanically’ processed. 
 
From a phenomenological perspective, human vision and the assimilation of visual information is subject to the complexity of exchange between vision and the other senses. In developmental terms, it is understood that in our fetal state the separation of the senses is minimal, that at an early neurological stage there is a synesthetic connection between the senses. In later development some of this synesthetic sense remains. Even outside of the extremes of having a synesthetic correspondence between the senses there remains for all of us an acutely connected exchange between the senses. We navigate the world through a seamless flow between the senses, moving between auditory, visual and tactile stimuli. In this sense perception resides in the exchange ‘between’ the senses. We often under-estimate the degree to which the senses work in relation to our perception of space. We tend to think of the perception of space being predominantly linked to our visual perception, however our perception of space is as much auditory as it is visual. We can acutely sense the scale of a space through the way sound travels and reverberates in a building. We hear and feel the scale of a cathedral just as we can sense the confines of a small room through the way sound reverberates through a space. If you shut off the sense of sound the spatial sense of the world collapses. 
 
There is also the profound relation between the senses through the linkage of imaginative association…. the image of something abject or repugnant will generate a visceral body response. The sight of something can make us feel physically sick. We are creatures driven by our imagination and on a cultural level the experience of the world is overwhelmingly coloured by association. From poetry to the economy the primary drive is the mechanism of association.
 
From our earliest scribbles as infants we are hard wired to using shape by association. Most children, instinctively manage shape and composition to articulate and express their understanding and relation to the world. The development of drawing skills are part of a common developmental arch but there is also the distinctive articulation of an individual psyche. The very being of the child is articulated through their physical, performative and imaginative manipulation of material.
 
I would argue that the visual language is a more fluent and comprehensive form of expression for most children under seven years of age and that they can articulate far more complex relations visually than they can verbally. A key attribute of children’s drawing is the way they kinesthetically re-enact events. The marks they make are more often a performative record of their re-enactment of an event. They will draw not so much what the subject looks like but will effectively enact the dramatic motion of the subject.
 
In the plastic arts by the very nature of the medium there is a multi-dimensional capacity for articulating the correspondence between the senses. If we consider the potential of drawing and painting, the power of these media resides in the capacity for articulating the relation between the visual, sensory and conceptual modes of being. The full correspondence between the senses and our interior imaging is assimilated both through conscious and unconscious performative action in relation to a surface or plastic form. In this sense the making of an art work is a performative event.
 
Anton Ehrenzweig in ‘The Hidden Order of Art’ explains the necessary capacity of both the maker and the viewer to relax the hold of the ‘analytical mode’ of seeing and shifting into the ‘scanning mode’ which allows for an experiencing of the ‘simultaneity’, of the full interaction of all the elements of a composition. To experience the aesthetic pleasure of either listening to or viewing a composition requires the audience/spectator to relax into a scanning mode to experience the ‘simultaneity’ of the complexity of relations in the art work.
 
Ehrenzweig proposes that as part of the creative process there is a necessary requirement and ability on the part of the artist to tolerate a temporary fragmentation, through a process of ‘de-‘differentiation’ in which the normative patterns of rationally differentiating forms is suspended,  effectively allowing the whole field to be perceived and sensed as a simultaneous flux of visual relations. The artist effectively engages in a projection of their imaginative faculties into the field, suspending normative analytical cognitive readings. In this process of ‘de-differentiation’ there is a necessary tolerance for fragmentation and flux, for potential creative distortions and realignments which in turn allow for a creative and imaginative processing and reforming, culminating in an integration and re-introjection.
 
The picture plane is simultaneously a surface, a palimpsest, which records performative gestures and the overlaying of actions through time. The picture plane is also perceived as depth space, akin to a stage in which we project and read spatial activity. These visual traces can be read as the residue of a mental and physical performance like the traces of a dance. The picture plane doubles as a spatial field of light and colour while simultaneously being a tension of pigmented shapes across a flat surface. All this visual complexity is then subject to the imaginative projection and personal associations of both the artist and the viewer.
 
The significance of ‘touch: We talk about being touched by a subject, the touch of reason, being touched by madness, or light touching a surface. Touching forms both a physical and psychological connection. In art we are conscious of the touch of the hand in a musical performance, in the way the artist manipulates materials through the touch of a mark or a note of colour. Touch performatively expresses and forms a record of an emotional and conceptual response. Objects that have been touched carry the residue of connection. Given the choice between a photographic image and an actual object taken from the event most of us would choose the object as carrying more residual significance. These objects function as ‘relics’. The object/relic affords us some physical, visceral and emotional connection to the event, effectively bridging and connecting us rather than amplifying the separating distance of space and time. We are able to touch the event. This, I would argue is the primary difference between the plastic arts and the photographic image, the plastic arts transcend the replication of appearance and give experience form, becoming a performative embodiment of the mental and visceral relation to subject.
 
Like the relic, the plastic art work is a bridge/connection to the mind of the maker and the experience they were responding to. The physical work holds the traces of the mind at work and allows an intimate contact with thought process which is effectively ‘embodied’ in the art work. The ‘embodied’ art work affords the viewer an intimacy and visceral connection. The plastic art work is experienced as the residue of a performative event imbedded in the plastic fabric of the medium. The art work caries both the degree of heightened consciousness, and conversely the limitations of consciousness of the artist. It effectively, not only records, but becomes the visceral embodiment of a mental, physical and emotional state of being.
 
In this sense a kind of alchemy is at work, ‘inert’ matter is invested not just with symbolic signification through signing but is invested through touch and performative manipulation with a palpable physical and emotional energy.
 
In this respect the plastic arts have a great deal more in common with the literary language of poetry than with photography. In the act of writing one is using words to connect both the body and mind to the subject through the emphasis on using words which evoke and provoke mind and body sensation. The process of constructing a poem has a commonality with the physical process of constructing a plastic art work out of marks, form and colour in response to an experience. It is not copying but ‘translating’ experience into an ‘equivalent’ ‘poetic’ language. The poetic relies on essential principles; on the power of language to ‘evoke’ both concept and sensation, on the principle of association, and on the orchestration of the parts to a particular rhythmic structure.
 
Poetry has a musicality in its meter and rhythm which connects to the body rhythms, the pulse, the rhythm of breathing, walking etc. The sounds, whether heard or iterated in the mind, generate a pitch and tonality to the poem. There is equally a correspondence between the process of mark making and the rhythms and pulses of the body. In this sense also there is some truth in the proposition that all art forms aspire to the condition of music. Music as an art form, is the most direct route to affecting our state of being and consciousness. Music literally penetrates and inhabits our body and mind, breaking through the meniscus of our being, the liminal sense of body boundary. T.S.Eliot proposed that before unpicking the complex conceptual and intellectual referencing at work in reading his poetry you would first feel the meaning through the intonation and meter of the poem, asserting the power of the musicality of the poem.
 
Active viewing: While the visual sensation of an art work will impact optically and by correspondence emotionally, to appreciate a visual work of art the viewer has to actively project their imagination into the space of the art work. The work is effectively brought to life by the active imaginative engagement and reading of the viewer.  In reading marks the viewer not only reads signing but similarly to the musical performance reads the weight, rhythm and tension and counter balance of the mark making, re-living both the mental and physical performance of the creation of the art work. In this sense drawing transcends optical simulation and symbolism, becoming a visual embodiment.
 
The reading of an art work provokes not just the mental but also the ‘body memory’ of experience and the corresponding connection between the senses.
 
The issue is that we do not solely read with the conceptual and culturally trained mind’s eye. This is the restricted remit of graphic design. We also read at a much more primitive and visceral level via body memory.  In the plastic arts it is possible to articulate the sensory touch as well as the appearance. And more, the complexity of the weight, movement and psychological state of the subject. The act of forming a plastic work of art both requires and generates in the viewer a charged correspondence between the senses, effectively a kinesthetic experience.
 
A simple analogy: when we look at a cactus our body remembers the sensation and pain of having touched a spikey form. We mentally wince as we effectively re-live the sensation of a spike penetrating our skin. This is not a conceptual act of will but an involuntary mind/body response to prior experience.
 
Rhythm: Rhythm is an expression of the most natural optimistic state of being. Rhythm is a manifestation of dynamic organized energy in a state of movement/progression from one state to another. It is the most natural expression of the human condition at home in its most vital dynamic state of being. Rhythms are manifest in speech, in poetry, in music, in dance, in all the visual arts. There are deep unconscious forces which generate rhythmic forms and structures which emanate from the very nature of our being and our relation to rhythms in our physical environment. Our sense of rhythm has as much to do with our limbs, the symmetry and axis of our body, the proportions of our anatomy. Our breathing, our body axis and proportion generate particular rhythmic structures which are creatively explored through dance but equally define the possibilities and limitations of the movements we make in the construction of visual arts.
 
Rhythm is the fluent coordination of forces in a forward momentum of evolving form, the expression of will in harmony with movement. This sense of rhythm is the product of connection. It is an expression of responsiveness, of an attentive ability to perceive and respond to the pattern of energy and forces at work in a situation. Constructing a rhythmic structure is the ability to orchestrate forces both as a continuum and counterpoint. With each additional element in a composition forming a call and generating a required response, a continuum of forces requiring counter-balance. In concrete art it is a matter of counterbalancing visual forces. The physical forces of nature similarly tend towards equilibrium, both in relation to gravity and ergonomics forming a dynamic rather than a static equilibrium.
 
Rhythm operates on an intellectual and an aesthetic level: Regular rhythm is monotonous, a single regular sound is an irritation, an irregular pattern of sounds becomes a more complex exchange between regular rhythm and irregular arrhythmic chance, this is aesthetically and intellectually pleasing in the combination/composition of the predictable and the unpredictable, between regular and irregular, between rational expectation and surprise. Too much regularity is oppressive, eliminating chance and change, it is too predictable and the mind loses interest, disengaging due to boredom. By extreme contrast total flux is chaotic, lacking inherent structure. In response to flux the mind searches and imposes structure through the imaginative tendency to find or create patterns out of the complexity of flux. The human condition seeks both structure/stability and simultaneously fluidity/transformation.  Rhythm is the vehicle of these counterpoint desires.
 
Repetition and the relation between chance and order: Repetition by its very nature creates rhythm. A simple example is to create a random pattern. As soon as it is replicated and overlaid or juxtaposed you have created a repeating rhythm.  The repetition sets in motion the intellectual engagement with visual structure and the recognition of pattern, as the mind recognizes the relationship between same and different structures. Rhythm engages the analytical mind seeking pattern and structure in the flow of stimuli. This intellectual skill is a vital intelligence, a vital tool of survival which is endlessly rehearsed and re-enacted through gaming and creative play.

There is within rhythm a certain predictable readable structure but within a creative rhythm there is always variation and permutation. Creative rhythm in this sense is the vehicle and celebration of the human minds capacity for improvisation. Improvisation allows change and development which is again a vital necessity. The aesthetic pleasure is in the appreciation of variation and permutation within the evolution of a composition. Aesthetic pleasure is dependent on elements being continuous, a certain continuum is required to appreciate the nuances of variation and development. Rhythm requires variation within repetition, thematic continuum of a structure evolving through permutations of possibilities.
 
There is a vital difference between mechanical regular and dynamic aesthetic rhythm. Rhythm in this sense is the expression of both intellect and body, of coordinated collaborative and synergistic will. This is expressed most vividly through the rhythmic difference between the mechanical beat of marching and the variation and improvisation of dance. Marching implies a collective cause and the subjugation of the individual to the collective purpose. The individual, in abnegating their autonomy, becomes a component part of a larger force and reciprocates through the agrandizement of their individual anonymity by being an agent of this greater force. The individual then becomes intoxicated/empowered as the vehicle of a collective power.
 
In contrast creative rhythm implies a willing, responsive, cooperation/agreement in a state of open exchange rather than imposed mechanical repetition. It is an agreement of consensual play, a conversation which will lead to unexpected creative outcomes. Rhythm generates a sense of immanence, of transformation and progression from one living dynamic state to another and in this distinctive manner rhythm is a preeminent expression of what is most vital in the visual arts. 
 
Michael Wright January 2017
 


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Michael Wright       http://breadmatters.org/BM/
 
Presentation - BreadMatters II, Lisboa, Portugal

Thoughts on Bread     -    Performance and Ritual

Our condition is characterised by the contradictory and oppositional forces which constitute our being, by the tension of unrequited desire. We physically stand by virtue of muscular tension; equally, this state of tension applies to our internal state. We inhabit a space of contradictions which are the source of violence, but equally the source of creativity that seeks to construct a coherent state of being.
Simone Weil states: 'we are of God and other than God…', contradiction is our condition, 'What we desire we consume'.
isboa
Bread, and more particularly The Eucharist, is entangled in this relationship. The Eucharist is the most disturbing and profoundly extreme expression of relationship and faith. It is folly, the extremity of sacrifice, the abhorrence of cannibalism and irrational contradiction of civilised thought. It is also union beyond symbol, inexplicable intolerable intensity of love. Such is the import accorded to bread in the transformed state of The Eucharist.
Ritual transformation of material links the making process in art with the religious conviction of faith. These are the thoughts that underpin my own limited undertakings in relation to making art in response to the theme of Bread Matters.

It is a given, in the interpretation of the arts, that the drives that determine the outward appearance of the work we produce are frequently unclear and more often unbeknown at the time of engagement. The meaning of work emerges more pertinently through a reading of the process imbedded in the fabric of the work rather than through the specifics of the symbolism or narrative contained in the imagery.
The ritual of making is revelatory in that what emerges through the process, that is the performative act of making, are manifestations of material which is not consciously contrived or preconceived. The unconscious has its own energy, driven by internal necessity. It is the enactment of the necessary that determines the performative presence in the making process. Aesthetic or language concerns, while appearing to preoccupy the conscious mind as primary content, are but the vehicle for this deeper necessity of enactment.
Rosemary Gordon in her publication 'Dying and creating' explored the creative process from a Jungian perspective and posited a theory that the creative drive has its roots in the need to act out and seek reconciliation between the bi-polar desires of the 'death wish' and the will to autonomy. The death wish is defined as the desire to seek union, submergence and connection and in effect to escape the consciousness of isolation. The other polar desire being to establish 'individuation' by means of establishing self-knowledge, independent expression, and autonomy of self determined action. Put succinctly, the means to establishing individuation is in acknowledging and consequently owning the shadow aspects of personality which are submerged but which are projected out and read as attributes of life, attributes which we seek to disassociate ourselves from or worse to persecute. The inability to establish individuation results in a pattern of neurosis.
Intrinsic to our condition is contradictory desire. In relation to Gordon's reading of the creative drive tension is the essential internal drive that progresses us from one state to another and progresses the evolution of work.
isboa
The most persistent relationship we collectively hold to the nature of our unconscious being are unfortunately rooted in negative readings; that our dominant drives are those of the id, egotistical and instinctual desires and fears which are of necessity repressed by our better social self. This undeveloped reading generates an image of the unconscious as predominantly harbouring destructive energies resting below a public persona. This conception in consequence generates repressive fear of unconscious material whose energies are perceived to threaten potential chaos. We collectively live in fear of our own shadow self and project that fear onto the difference of others, supposing that if they are not controlled, they will become a threat. So too must societies different to our own be controlled for fear of the damage they will do to us. We live in fear of the collapse of the social being and at worst collective collapse which threatens our existence with havoc and violence on an apocalyptical scale. This projection is but the transference and displacement of what we contain but do not wish either to acknowledge or own, we collectively conspire to maintain an immature cycle of projection and persecution.
Our earliest attempts to organise our perceptions of the world into a conceptual structure results in the formation of a binary pattern of opposites. There is 'I' and 'not I', thing and a 'not' thing, inside and outside, good and bad things, good and bad people, good and bad cultures. This simplistic model of thought supports and reinforces the internal desire for displacement, projection and persecution. Predominantly this is enacted in popular cultural production that belies a more complex commercial and political agenda of manipulation. We are fed and fuelled by the media industry with a consumer fantasy of the hero myth. The one dimensional hero figure that slays his shadow by projecting his righteous anger onto the external evil. This is the enactment of the binary principle which governs unquestioning desire for a simplistic unified moral coherence, the coherence of feeling righteous. This is above all the roots and energy of neo conservative born again Christian America and its mirror opposite Islamic fundamentalism, both of which pervert the intent of their sacred texts by their righteous persecution of that which is other, that which does not conform to their self righteous vision and will.
The other aspect of this mythic projection, which is harnessed and nurtured by consumer culture, is that of fulfilment of unfettered desire, unhindered will to power and cathartic revenge fantasies. Our ever present collective obsession with violence and death are enacted relentlessly through the media industry whose production offers satiation of desires and fears without responsibility, within the neutral arena of virtual reality. We now witness the unjust blurring of the boundary between reality and fantasy as political interests, in the interest of manipulation, enact these desires on the world stage. The news has become a continuum of these consumer interests and presents conflict as a continuum of entertainment. In this system we acknowledge our desires vicariously as empowered consumers while being reduced to disempowered spectators of belligerent projection and fantasy.
This consumer parody of unconscious drive represents a subversion of the internal drive to enact and transform the self and constitutes a negative of the progress we are required to undertake if we are to mature as either individual or society.
isboa
In an interpretation of a reading of Winnacott… 'We live by the power of our imagination which allows us to extend beyond the space of our immediate needs. The roots of our relationship to art production can be argued as being identified with our earliest experiences of fantasy. The primary fantasy is in the mind of the infant being which intuits the mother as an extension of the infant self. As desire for contact or feeding prompts the infant to cry for the mother the mother appears. The infant has the delusion of control. The mother gradually breaks this delusion by not responding to every demand and replaces herself with a substitute object, characteristically a soft toy that the infant becomes attached to. This object is the substitute/surrogate providing security and more pertinently becomes the subject of transference of desire. It is also the absence of the mother'.
Objects of transference become our earliest object of fantasy through which we enact our desires and loss. We project onto this object and enact our needs both of desire and anger.
Within the art making process, 'the making of' rather than the 'viewing of', leads to an engagement with the unpredictable complexity of our being. We are led on a journey by our own psyche without knowing where it will lead. Anger, sexual desire, cathartic enactment and release play their part in the early stages of this journey. This work constitutes an acknowledgement and a form of empowerment as these energies are harnessed and understood. But what, and where to, then? If we do not get arrested at some stage by intellectual arrogance, fear of loss, loss of youth, power or identity we are inexorably led into a more complex and less obvious relationship of enactment. We are led into an enactment of space/time consciousness and apparent loss of self. When desire is apparently exhausted we are led to confront the greater fear which is the unspeakable void, into the desert of our being where we must inevitably let go of the formative knowledge and influences which condition our sense of self and identity. We are forced inevitably to let go of the will to mythologize our own being and to contemplate beyond the security of the familiar obsessive pattern of desire and projection.
isboa
In this sense, the ritual of the mass takes us through a confrontation with our shadow self in preparation for union both with Christ and community. The core of the mass is sacrifice. Sacrifice has distasteful, primitive and barbaric connotations, yet it is reality. Sacrifice is endlessly enacted in the hero myth of our culture. Sacrifice of liberty is imposed economically wholesale across regions of the globe so as to maintain the wealth and security of our consumer life style. It is obvious that sacrifice in some form is necessary to the human condition even when it is masked by the veneer of apparent liberal, sophisticated democratic consumerism. It is one of the myths of the liberal democratic stance that it is possible to inhabit a reasonable and neutral position. This is a delusion born of disengagement. The increasing levels of anger in consumer society are directly related to the frustration of the naïve fantasy of fulfilment without responsibility, of a consumer life free of sacrifice.
In Christianity modern man is confronted with the nauseating, barbaric image of unspeakable penal death and then challenged with the offer to embrace and carry his own cross. This runs counter to all human instinct. However if this request is understood in its true intent it is no more nor less than to acknowledge and embrace the metaphorical cross of ones own and collective shadow self.
There is bound in our relationship to The Eucharist the problem of our relationship to our own body. Ours is a culture that is simultaneously obsessed with consuming and yet inhabits a cerebrally disconnected state of relationship to mortality and consequence of action. This is a direct result of the subversion of our imaginative life and in consequence we have developed collective neurosis.
By experiencing sensations and emotions we feel alive and satiated, there is a logic which then equates greater sensation with a greater experience of life. So we are bound to continuous pursuit of sensation and equate it with emotional fulfilment. I feel therefore I am! We make a god of our emotions and become addicted to sensation. This is our contemporary neurosis which art as a consumer product is under constant duress to produce, ever greater and novel sensations but which endlessly follow the same dead end cycle as they are bound to the unreflective engines of desire. The grip of consumer culture, the power of its persecution is rooted in the fear that not to have, not to be continuously fed, and satiated by sensation is to experience death. This is like the infant's relation to the mother seeking to maintain the delusion of control, of having our needs and desires instantly satiated at our will. And the violence the enormous need for enactment of violent fantasy, this stems from and is directed towards anything which thwarts our needs and desires for sensation. Consumerism leads to violence because it cannot tolerate being impeded by moral concerns. How then does one square liberal ideals with consumer goals, they are inherently contradictory. Consumerism requires challenging. This is why the right wing has greater clarity it does not seek to impede or question, it sees the logic where as the liberal ideal of tempering consumerism seems limp and incoherent.
Yet ironically, it is only when we cease to consume and cease the pursuit of sensation, that we fully reside in our consciousness. When we still the desire, we can inhabit our most profound aspect, that of being nature conscious, of inhabiting our consciousness. In this way the performative fulfils a vital function as does the effort of prayer, in confronting the unquestioning desire, confronting by using the tools of beauty, absurdity, incongruity and mystery, the stuff that cannot be consumed but which forces us back onto our consciousness… Consumer art always gives easy passage to escape consciousness into mechanical illusion.
It is in detaching from this manic consumption that the performative in art and prayer have a correspondence of similar purpose.
isboa
Bread is the staple of the body in the form of complex carbohydrates that release energy as fuel for the body. There is in this an equation to The Eucharist… 'unless you eat my body you will not have life in you…'. This is the rub of The Eucharist to be understood as as either a residual of a primitive barbaric practice of sacrifice and as such an intellectually intolerable proposition, or alternatively the palpable manifestation of mystery, of union and love for man, manna from heaven in the form of food for the soul… Christ as the fire of the soul…
This internal necessity of projection and transformation of our being requires enactment and this enactment cannot take place on a level of fantasy or wish fulfilment, it requires ritual and performance, to be externalised and enacted. It is for this reason that we are compelled to pray, to make love, make war or make art. This necessity is also enacted in the mass in that what is essentially psychic and interior change in the form of prayer has to be enacted externally culminating in the process of transubstantiation within the mass. Bread into Body. In this spiritual undertaking we are paradoxically intellectually and emotionally forced to acknowledge the corporeal mortal state of our being as the vehicle of our relationship to God as He too, in the aspect of Christ, becomes present in the material state of bread, consumed and made internal to our being. It is through this physical performative enactment that the reality of relationship is transcendent of symbol and sign and impacts on our being at a depth below intellect and language.
© Michael Wright, August 2003



VERONIKA WENGER / PINKLINE / ISTANBUL

Veronika Wenger, Pinkline, 2018, Art Fair Tüyap, Istanbul
Photo © Rhythm Section
 
ON VIEWING VERONIKA WENGER’S DRAWING
TUYAP ART FAIR NOV 2018
A SINGULAR LINE
 
In any art fair there is the acute sense of voices, visions and egos clambering for attention. It is a noise filled market. You see the best and worst of what it is to be a human being, from the cynical, superficial, the deluded to the inspired moments of revelation of some essential truth.
It is one of the primary and elemental powers of the art making process that it reveals the intention, the very desire of the artist in all its hubris or humility perception or delusion, the process reveals our certainty and our fallibility. The degree to which an artist uses or doesn’t use their art to search for a truth. It so clearly reveals the stage of human development which the artist has attained.
What is art but the bye product of intention, the residue of a performative enactment of consciousness and desire, enacted on the surface or within a space. Art is an embodiment of that which is invisible and internal. Whatever we think beauty is, it is not a technique or a style rather it is the bye product of process, the residue of the very workings of a being, left as a trace to read and to experience.
The construction of a significant artwork requires a sensitivity to and truth to material but while this is true the real power in an art work resides rather in the way the material embodies the consciousness of the artist. An artist in pursuit of a truth produces beauty as a bye product of this search. In this sense the artist is a kind of alchemist, they invest banal matter with their consciousness, transform base pigment into the gold of consciousness.

Veronika Wenger, Pinkline, 2018, Art Fair Tüyap, Istanbul
Photo © Rhythm Section
 
In the alchemist tradition salt on mercury produces gold.
This is a philosophical rather than a chemical process, Salt =experience/pain. Mercury = the quixotic and capricious human spirit, and gold = wisdom.
Veronika Wenger’s art work bespeaks a form of alchemy. Her installation is shocking in its minimalism, absurdly minimal for at first viewing it appears to consist of nothing more than a single vertical luminous cerise line on a blank white wall. This is next to nothing. What are we to make of this? Is it a casual act of graffiti? Is it yet one more clever conceptual ruse for the intellectual elite art market; an act of defiance or indifference to the viewer? Is this so subjective as to be impenetrable, are we left seeking the art work for something that is not there?
The cerise line appears as a single voice in an empty space. It commands attention from a distance. It hovers as a single being, a single vibrating note. It has presence and draws you closer. Then you realise that this single line is accompanied by the ghost trace of a parallel sister line which has been inscribed in the wall but which has been defaced and scraped away, asserted and then deleted. This causes the wall surface to collapse into space, the wall surface becomes ambiguous and uncertain as the line does not sit on the surface but floats in front or hovers in the space.
A list of potential symbolic readings can be contextually projected onto Wenger’s work: The Pink
Cerise in the French court of the Sun King was originally associated with masculinity. In 20th C culture associated with the feminine, and latterly in a post modernist context with the subtle definitions of transgender. The vertical line is like a synthetic blood fissure in the wall, a vagina, perhaps a feminist political statement? On a formalist level it is an acknowledgement of the elemental language of drawing. At a more archetypal level the vertical line is totemic, the most universal symbol of life, the standing vertical line which is at right angles to the passive resting horizontal line which is associated with sleep and death. On the religious level it is the movement between ground and sky between the mortal and immortal. It is both the expression of and defiance of gravity. The vertical cerise line can be contextualised and read symbolically in many directions but this would be to miss the point. This work is not straining to symbolism, rather it is a performative act.

Veronika Wenger, Pinkline, 2018, Art Fair Tüyap, Istanbul
Photo © Rhythm Section
 
The line is as much and as little as needed to fulfil an existential act of necessity, for that is what the work is an existential and ontological act. As mad as the claim might seem to rational analysis, this single line is an act of bravery. The attempt to create a palpable presence as a performative act of will. The line is as little as one can performatively generate yet this line is required to hold and bespeak the full complexity and struggles of consciousness and being of the artist. This is trully a kind of madness…. shocking. Surely the complexity of being needs to manifest itself in the complexity of a major elaborate composition, something of epic scale, but this is a cinematic or baroque solution.
Wenger chooses a counterpoint way, which is to distil down to the essential and performative. In the manner of a zen brush mark, to gather and hold the complexity of consciousness within one intense moment of focus and performative gesture. Her intense Line is the product of something as intense as Yves Klein’s performative gesture of leaping in flight from a first floor window or Marina Abramovich’s relation to audience, it is about the moment, the risk of the moment.
The quality of our experience is undeniably subjective and deeply coloured by associative readings and feelings. Our human experience resists reduction. Experience is not logical, neutral or so readily reducible, rather the opposite. Experience is exponential, elaborated and coloured by subjective emotional feelings; transformed into equally subjective narrative by the vividness of our human imagination and further filtered and compressed to distil the essential experience to a subjectively memorable form. Our conscious experience sits upon a complex accretion of memory and unconscious material which forms both our sense of self identity and the basis of our relationship to experience. Wenger seeks to ‘hold’ this in one intensive performative act of drawing.
Our deepest nature is in the poemagogic realm of our unconscious being and imagination, which absorbs and transforms experience at an unconscious level. In this respect the function of the poetic and of the arts in general is to reveal our own unconscious nature to our conscious social self, to reconcile and integrate the power of the unconscious. There is in Wenger’s work the sense that she is seeking to hold this complexity within the drawing process and in this singular work of the cerise line to test this to the limit with the most intense and at the same time most minimal drawing form.
Michael Wright Nov 2018