Cheng-Chu Weng is a PhD candidate at Winchester School of Art, undertaking studio-based research concerned with shadows, the body and space. In this post she recounts her undertaking of an outdoor participatory drawing event, Drawing Together, which was part of 10 Days 2015 CHALK, Winchester’s biennial, interdisciplinary, arts festival.
Drawing Together was devised as aparticipatory outdoor drawing event. Co-orangised by Cheng-Chu Weng and Sunil Manghani, the event was held on Saturday 17 October 2015, 11am – 1pm at the Discovery Centre, in Winchester. The event was part of the wider programming for 10 Days, Winchester’s biennial, interdisciplinary, arts festival. The event was advertised as follows:
Through the medium of chalk and shadows Drawing Together brings people together in a shared act of drawing. Visitors to the Discovery Centre are invited to draw together as a means to draw ourselves together if only fleetingly, just as our shadows are mere fleeting images of ourselves. This act of drawing upon the ground of the city in which we live and work is intended to mark a temporary reflection of ourselves as individuals and as a community.
The theme of the biennale was ‘chalk’. Thus, Drawing Together sought to make explicit use of chalk as its medium, along with shadows. The drawing of shadows, which are fleeting, ephemeral phenomena also relate to the ethereal mists of Winchester, borne of its chalk geology.
As an artist living in Winchester city, my aim was to engage with local people, beyond my studio at the School. My fine art practice begins in painting, but has now developed through installation works. I explore phenomenological readings of vision as embodied space: How people look, feel, and experience not just things, but emotions and memories. The phenomenon of the shadow is central to my practice, as it evokes questions about how we define the boundaries of our bodies and identities. What, for example, do we claim to be inside and outside of an outline? In Drawing Together, my aim was to invite, demonstrate and direct people to mark out their shadows with chalk. This act of drawing upon the ‘ground’ of the city itself in which we live was intended to mark a temporary reflection of ourselves as individuals and as a community. (The plan was hold the event on the paved area immediately in front of the Centre’s entrance, but the weather was in fact quite poor, particularly the light levels on the day, which hampered the aim to draw shadows from natural light. We managed a short period outside, but in the main we had to move inside the Discovery Centre and work with artificial lighting).
The process of engaging with local people through using chalks, lights and shadows prompted the action of tracing shadows. The following rubric was provided:
Use chalk provided to trace the outline of the shadows of people around you as they form on the paved area outside of the Discovery Centre. Feel free to trace as many shadows as you like and do not worry about lines overlapping.
Provide your name and address to the event organizers if you wish to receive a postcard of the finished work.
Please feel free to post your own photos and videos of the drawing as it develops. Use hashtag #chalkshadowsfor Twitter and Instagram and/or post comments to the Facebook
Projects and artworks with a social dimension at their core have become increasingly common. However, any social artwork reveals not just collaborative efforts, but also what it means to be individual within a group. Drawing Together similarly played with the boundary between individual and collective. However, as a convenor of the project, what was particularly revealing was how the process of persuading visitors to draw shadow and make marks is not an easy job. It requires a good deal of skill in communication. This was a challenge for me. I am used to producing works individually, working in the studio environment which is tailored to making. In this environment there is a form of internal dialogue. It is a matter of experiencing objects as a form of non-verbal communication. Thus, aside from the event happening on the day, the underlying challenge to running a social community-orientated project – even one that on the surface seems very simple – is the lengthy process of organising and communicating with collaborators and the festival organisers. As a maker, I realise this is equally a part of making the ‘work’. However, it is really the participants on the day who bring the work into being. Once people have been invited to act, the situation changes; everyone can become an artist, as befits Joseph Beuys’ concept of Social sculpture. In this case, it was interesting to note, when comparing the two drawing surfaces, the pavement (outside of the Discovery Centre) and the boards (inside of the Discovery Centre), people found it much easier to be persuaded to draw on the pavement. There is a practical reason perhaps, since they do not need to take off shoes and need not worry about making a mess. To mark a person’s shadow on the pavement is more straightforward, and may even draw upon the participant’s memories of playing on the pavement, such as marking out hopscotch in a school playground etc.
The use of social media was suggested to participants, to allow the project to engage not just materially but also virtually. Images circulated on the day, and the final collaborative ‘drawing’ from the day was photographed and printed in a limited set of postcards (and sent out to all those who participated). However, the relationship between the participants, object (chalk) and surface or support (the ground, drawing boards) was the real ‘event’ of the project. Here we might think of Martin Heidegger’s concept of intentionality, the idea of the object within the subject intention, as Joel Smith explains: ‘Equipment is ready-to-hand, and this means that it is ready to use, handy, or available. The readiness-to-hand of equipment is its manipulability in our dealings with it’ (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
Drawing Together, in the end, was about the experience of the body – and indeed bodies – in using chalk as a means to trace our shadows. Ultimately this is an impossible task, but one we feel is nonetheless ‘ready to hand’. It was heartening to see people spent time to engage with the project. I am grateful to my collaborator, Sunil Manghani, and the Biennale organisers, Sophie and Jane, for helping to make Drawing Together happen. A big thanks also to Elham, Sarvenaz, Ruby and James for helping out on the day.
Yigit Soncul is a PhD Candidate at Winchester School of Art, working on a research project under the title of Contagious and Immunogenic Images of the Network. Working with Prof. Jussi Parikka, he has helped establish a research lab, Design and Media Ecologies, which brings together staff and students from across the school. In this post, he reports on the inaugural symposium of the lab, which he co-covenened.
The Image of the Network was a one day symposium, held at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton (WSA) on June 16, 2015. The event, which was generously funded by postgraduate research funds of the school, also marked the initiation of the new conceptual/creative lab of WSA,Design and Media Ecologies—a platform that engages with media theory and design. In this event we aimed to explore the intersections of aesthetics, politics and technology. Five presentations of the day ventured into an area upon which visual and network cultures overlap, whilst maintaining an overtly political/critical perspective. Although the event was open to public and those affiliated with the university on any level, WSA PhD students were assigned a collection of readings pertaining to the topics prior to date—hence, rendering the event, for them, an intensive workshop mapping aforementioned domains of enquiry. These texts included primary literature from French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and German art historian Hans Belting, along with titles from the speakers; Olga Goriunova, Tony D. Sampson and Jussi Parikka.
After the welcoming remarks by myself and Jussi Parikka , the day started with Dr. Tony D. Sampson’s presentation, “Waking the Somnambulist: The Capture of Affect, Attention and Memory (and Why We Need New Weapons to Stop it).” Sampson works as Reader in Digital Culture and Communications at University of East London and is one of the scholars responsible for a recently vitalised interest in the oeuvre of late 19th, early 20th century sociologist Gabriel Tarde. His book, Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (2012), offers a refreshing take on Tardean contagion theory in relation to the contemporary technological-aesthetic condition. His focus on the day was the figure of the somnambulist(sleepwalker), which was utilised to elucidate the mode in which the contemporary subject navigates networked environments. Sampson was particularly careful in avoiding an approach that is based on a nature-culture divide, throughout his discussion on how networks mobilise life.
The second presentation of the day was delivered by Dr. Olga Goriunova, Senior Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London, with the title “Digital Subjects: On Persons and Singularity in Calculative Infrastructures.” Goriunova has published extensively in areas such as digital art and software studies, visual culture and aesthetics, and computational culture. She is the author of Art Platforms and Cultural Production on the Internet (2012) and editor of Fun and Software: Exploring Pain, Pleasure and Paradox in Computing (2014) among other academic literature. Goriunova’s approach during the talk was characterised by a refusal of online/offline binary. Instead she tackled the entanglement of these by employing a continuous model of subjectivity in the digital age. Goriunova does not search for digital subjectivities through venturing into what can be called as surveillance cultures. Rather, she explores the space between embodied beings and the data produced through their being in the world, to locate such digital subjectivities.
Following the presentations by guest speakers in the morning, the afternoon session continued with shorter talks by scholars from WSA. Dr. Jussi Parikka, who is Professor in Technological Culture and Aesthetics delivered a paper entitled “Smart Cities, Networks and the Industrial Residual.” Parikka has completed his media ecology trilogy in 2015 with the book A Geology of Media. His paper also employed a media ecological approach to the concept of “smart city” which emphasised the materiality of networked condition. Parikka explored the image of the city through the concept of network, alongside underlining contemporary cities as censored assemblages.
After Parikka, I presented a short paper, based on my PhD project, “Contagious and Immunogenic Images of the Network.” In parallel with the project, the paper discussed the prevalence of the image of the mask in present screen cultures through contagion theory and problematised the immunising qualities of its embodiments by organic and inorganic media alike. Dr. Jane Birkin, a PhD candidate at the time of the event, delivered the last talk of the day: “Keeping Time: Archive as Secure Back-up for the Networked Image.” Archival and distributed nature of the current temporal, textual and visual regimes were aptly woven by Birkin in her discussion of the networked image. The day ended with an hour long discussion session with all five speakers and the audience, chaired by Prof. Ryan Bishop from WSA.
Hazel Atashroo’s doctoral research project is the product of an AHRC supported Collaborative Doctoral Award between Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton and Tate, entitled ‘Connected Communities in Art and Design since the 1980s’. This is part of a four-PhD research project, and follows on from Oliver Peterson Gilbert’s study of connected communities in art and design since the 1960s. In the first year of her project, Hazel assisted on the exhibition ‘Keywords: Art, Culture and Society in 1980s Britain’ (2014) at Tate Liverpool, and conducted an in-depth visitor survey and report. The subject of her thesis was tangentially prompted by aspects of the Keywords exhibition’s video selection, in addition to a curiosity about the development since the 1980s of the rhetoric of ‘community’ as it appears in discourses of governance and in public museums. These interests led her to discover the radical and controversial community-targeted cultural policies enacted by the Labour Greater London Council (GLC) during its final term in office. The following article offers an overview of her research to date.
‘We will use expenditure on the Arts not to provide the icing on the cake, but as a part of the political ingredient of that cake… I want to see the arts integrated into socialist policy.’ Tony Banks, (Chair of the GLC Arts and Recreation Committee) (Sunday Times, 17th May 1981).
In April 1981, Ken Livingstone’s Labour left group, a post-1968 generation of young politicians, gained control of the Greater London Council (GLC), placing reform firmly on the agenda. The GLC was London’s metropolitan county council, the upper-tier of local government for the Greater London area. Occupying an oppositional stance towards the policies of Thatcher’s New Right in central government, the Labour GLC was able to initiate a number of radical reforms in its brief term in office, prior to the abolition of metropolitan county councils by the Conservatives in April 1986.
In the cultural field, the GLC’s experimental reform of cultural sponsorship objectives and new ‘cultural industries’ strategy particularly targeted the independent and voluntary sectors, also aiming to address the needs of frequently overlooked, socially diverse, multi-cultural inhabitants of the inner London boroughs. The experiments represent an early, rare instance of a UK local government body taking a serious interest in the political potential of cultural policy, in which distinct approaches were pursued across different departments, with varying levels of success.
Tony Banks’ GLC Arts and Recreation Committee were able to embrace a far broader, and more politicised definition of culture in comparison to the Arts Council, and over five years, it supported a wide range of cultural forms, beyond the major London theatre and ballet companies. These included community arts centres specifically for black and minority ethnic groups or for gay and lesbian Londoners, popular music projects for young people, women’s video workshops, a festival of world cinema, art exhibitions and cultural projects by Black artists, independent theatre groups, local history and literature workshops, community bookshops, a programme of public festivals in parks, and even sports facilities.
Cultural sponsorship frequently tied into GLC public campaign issues, particularly those against unemployment, ‘race’, sex and gender discrimination, the controversial redevelopment of what came to be known as London’s Docklands, and matters of civil defence – often contradicting central government policy.
One of the GLC’s many responsibilities included planning for the consequences of a nuclear attack on London, in co-operation with central government. The exposure of classified civil defence plans revealed the truth about the devastating effects of a nuclear attack, thereby rendering the advice of the government’s infamous 1980 public information booklet, Protect and Survive, a wholly inadequate response to the threat.
Livingstone’s Labour GLC chose not to co-operate with the Conservative government’s plans to abandon Londoners in the event of a nuclear attack, and instead transferred funds for war preparations to a GLC campaign for unilateral nuclear disarmament, thereby aligning the GLC with the CND and women’s peace camp at Greenham Common. Declaring 1983 ‘GLC Peace Year’, Livingstone announced that London was to become a ‘Nuclear-Free zone’.
Artist Peter Kennard won the ‘pitch’ against advertising agencies to promote GLC Peace Year with a series of arresting photo-montages, placed on public billboards around London. Similar posters were sent out in packs, free of charge to hundreds of community groups and activists, who applied from all over the country.
As well as employing cultural producers directly to promote campaigns, the GLC more frequently left it to organised community groups to pursue their own activism through public cultural projects. Consulting with local tenants action groups, community artist team Loraine Leeson and Peter Dunn facilitated the Docklands Community Poster Project, which sought to amplify the objections of local people to the moneyed might of the encroaching London Docklands Development Corporation in Tower Hamlets. One outcome of the project was a series of photo-murals, communicating the situation to local residents. In another, The People’s Armada To Parliament, a barge hung with banners was sailed past the houses of parliament during ‘GLC Thames Day’ festivities on the South Bank. The project successfully brought the local campaign to national press attention.
I intend for my thesis to provide a critical account of aspects of the community-targeted cultural policies of the Greater London Council (GLC), between 1981-86. It will consider the GLC’s efforts to sponsor politically engaged cultural production by, and for, newly recognised constituencies in London. While written accounts detailing these cultural policies exist, I aim to explore how grants and cultural policies actually played out in London’s cultural field. What did GLC sponsorship mean, for groups of cultural producers who might not have otherwise been funded under the auspices of traditional state sponsorship?
My thesis will focus on case studies of GLC grant-aided public media projects, and what are sometimes referred to as ‘community media’ ‘access workshops’, groups of cultural producers working with video, photography and print media, whose efforts were often directed towards providing communities and local activists with communications media training and resources. The GLC supported more than thirty organisations working in independent film and video production and distribution, in addition to more than ten established community photography workshops, photographic agencies, poster projects and print workshops.
I will use the GLC’s policies, and its records of recipients of GLC support as framework to discuss ‘community media’ activism in London in the 1980s, and more generally, the role of politics in culture and cultural policy.
The Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group held a seminar on 18 May 2015 led by Cheng-Chu Weng, with the title ‘Surface, Screen, Space’. The seminar focused on an article by Bernice Donszelmann, ‘Touch screen‘ (Journal of Contemporary Painting, Vol 1, No. 1 2015). In examining how Donszelmann addresses the relationship between screen and body, Cheng-Chu sought to reflect on her practice-based research relating to the sense of loss and love in relation to notions of surface, screen and space, which, in turn, relates to fundamental painting actions of mark and gesture. This article provides notes drawn from the seminar and commentaries from the participants, Yvonne Jones,Yonat Nitzan-Green, Bevis Fenner, Jane Bennett, Noriko Suzuki-Bosco.
Cheng-Chu Weng: The process of research is an isolating activity, which makes me feel that the chance to lead a session, and engage with Phenomenology as a group is really valuable. As a painter, I am interested in presenting the sense of missing through figurative work. For the seminar I offered an account of using Skype to speak with loved ones and also the memory of an earthquake from my early childhood which provided an image of my parents’ shadow as they looked over me and my siblings. This was seen through the sliding panel which connected to the home I was sleeping in. These stories or ‘scenes’ are key starting points for my practice. Engagement with psychological and physical experiences raise questions over what is near and far, the boundaries are of and between forms, or what is inside and outside of an outline (as a demarcation of meaning).
At the beginning of the session, I drew attention to David Reed’s article ‘Jackson Pollock and PieroDellaFrancesca Ride Lonesome’ (2015), which Donszelmann’s article, ‘Touch Screen’ (2015), can be read as a response to. A sense of taking it all in is raised, which I relate to my interest for what lies inside and outside of a line. Both Pollock and Budd Boetticher tried to fill over the space in the limit frames, as Reed explains:
All the scenes take place outdoors surrounded by swirling dust and distant mountains. There is a visual balance between the human figures and the landscape. Neither dominates. This is like the balanced figure/ ground relationship in Jackson Pollock’s overall space and it has the same effect. Watching this movie one is constantly visually alert, scanning the whole landscape and trying to take it all in. When one sees a detail one is always aware how it fits into the whole. (Reed, 2015: 43)
This sense of trying to ‘take it all in’ and being aware of how it all ‘fits into’ presents the limitation of two directional visual experiences, something that not only appears in painting but also cinema and through computer screens. The problematic of space, surface and screen is particular arose in Donszelmann’s article, and I commented on this in my preparatory text for the seminar. The human body ‘inhabits’ space, or as Heidegger’s term would put it, people ‘dwell’, we do certain activities in the certain spaces. The sense of being through the engagement of space is specific to my practice.
The function of Skyping is able to provide a ‘face to face’ conversation, yet the feeling between or literally ‘of’ the participants does not exist. The appearance of my family when I Skype with me is re-configured as image, they are pixel and data. The idea of the re-configured image is similar to Donszelmann’s reference to “multiple modes of being in the flesh and in time” (2015:63). Social websites create multiple-self in hyper-reality, and as a consequence I suggest ‘we’ are under the shadow of the computer screen, yet the pixels of the screen create shadows without shadow. The shadow is the key term in my own practice. Shadow itself contains umbra and penumbra. In painting, shadow and perceptive create illusory space, which might fit into Plato’s theory of illusion, yet what I argue is painting is able to create the real space. A space contains sensation and the painter’s body, especially the large scale of painting is able to include both of painter and viewers body in the painting. In this sense we can think of Donszelmann’s reference to Merleau-Ponty’s phrase, the “ubiquity of body” (2015: 61), to describe the gesture painting and the phenomenon of embodiment in the computer. I believe people are partially embodied in the computer. And the experience of embodiment in the computer or visiting cyber space is to rid of the physical activity and creates a ubiquity of body. I compared this point of view with Agnes Martin paintings. What I tried to emphasize was that painting is able to present or engage the real body, either psychologically or physically, as Cooke, Kell and Schröder cited Linville, “illusions of textures that change as viewing distance change” (2011:201).
On the other hand, I believe our modern visual appetites have been increased by the moving images, which makes me doubt question how people prepare themselves in front of a piece of work. What is the relationship between the artist, the work and the viewer? How does the phenomena or the environmental effect the process of ‘feeling’? How to open our five senses to absorb the phenomena? In addition, I referred to the phenomenon Walter Benjamin labels ‘aura’, which cannot be found in the re-presentation, copy, and digital data. Following above issues, how to attract the viewers’ eyes are not only appear in painting but also the other form of artwork. This problem seems to extend from the philosophical issue, what is being? To address this issue, I have changed the form of my practice from painting to installation. Each practice not only evokes the question of being but also the question: What is inside and outside of the outline? This question may relate to the issue of the relationship between two- dimensional and three-dimensional, yet what concerns me is further than that, which includes psychological issues and visual experience. I believe the relationship between practice and phenomenology is able to interrupt. The idea that Phenemonology “can be practiced” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 1945: Vill), gives a positive view for me as a practice- based PhD student. This phrase acts like a glue between my practice and the written thesis. Moreover, Donszelmann’s article provides a phenomenological reading of the painting ‘surface’, but also addresses the relationship between body, flesh and computer. I am particularly interested in the method of addressing Merleau-Ponty’ theory, especially the idea of an eye without a body, which presents the emergence of the physical body, as well as magnify the issue of screen, as Donszelmann puts it:
[…], the human body is presented as in danger of atrophying via the medium of the screen and its ubiquity. These presentations are suggestive of a form of visuality detached from its corporeal grounding: an eye without a body, realized either technologically or in fantasy (the voyeur). This is a radicalization of a possibility that suggests itself already in many analyses of the nature of vision itself as the sense with the greatest predilection to being conceived in terms of an independence of subject and object4 and allowing scope for a too easy conflation of eye and mind. (2015:59)
The above sets out some of the themes and issues explored during the seminar, which might be encapsulated with four keywords repeated in our discussion: aura, sensation, intentionality and ubiquity of body. As one ambiguous response to these concepts is for me a technique of ‘blurring’. Blurring for me is both a sensation and the presence-loss of aura, so creating distance, and perhaps critical distance. A sense of distance is increasingly a part of my practice, and through installation a dynamic of ‘movement’ is allowed which potentially decreases the distance between viewer and works. In some cases the viewer completes the work, particularly my piece, Shoji, made up of small elements of tissue paper arranged in a grid, reminiscent of a shoji sliding panel. As the viewer walks past this work the delicate airflow of the passerby results in the small sheets of paper lifting, as if recording their movement, like a sine wave. This creates a ‘partnership’ between the artist, material and the viewer. Although ‘viewing’ the work typically comes only afterwards as you look back over your shoulder to see the paper just return to their original static position. This creates a delayed sense of the ubiquity of the body, to quote Melville:
[followingLevi-Strasuss and Merleau-Ponty] the opening of the world, the birth of the work, is at once the founding and foundering of a subject that finds itself only as a certain folding of the world on itself. This is the core of the “anti humanism” associated with this body of thought, as also of its theses on “the death of the author.” In this form, it is bound to a notion of work that presumably will have consequence at the level of such things as composition-the terms through which a work holds itself together and makes itself visible. (2001:7)
Following Melville’s view, in the Roland Barthes account of ‘the death of the author’, the author is not really dead, the author just shares the part of creation to the viewers. On the other hand, it evokes the research question: What is inside and outside of the creative attempt to mark out something, to make meaning? Is the viewer the creator or the artist is the creator? Commenting on Shoji, Noriko suggested ‘the paper movement is like the effect of perfume!’ This is a poetic description of the practice. The tissue paper make the invisible dynamics visible, which creates a lingering sensation of something that has just passed, just as we might notice all too briefly perfume of a person who has then left us behind.
Yonat Nitzan-Green: How to open our five senses to absorb the phenomena of painting? Cheng-Chu’s question is located within the wider discussion of how to think about painting in the age of screens (both computer and cinematic screens, in her text ‘Surface, Screen, Space’ May 2015). In her experience of Skype there is an ambivalence, as she writes: ‘I am able to see and hear my family through the computer screen, but they are not able to give me the feeling of them.’ This ‘split’ of the senses leads to a feeling of loss. In her paintings Cheng-Chu re-creates the sense of failure to transform the image from the computer’s screen to the plywood in her painting, which echoes the failure in communicating real feeling through the mediation of a screen. On the one hand, the screen’s surface disappears when an image appears, in the cases of photography, cinema or computer. Painting, on the other hand, is unique, as it offers both an optical illusion and a material surface. Bernice Donszelmann writes: ‘… the question of surface, if we begin with painting … is inseparable from the question of the human body … A surface was once … accessible to touch.’ (Donszelmann, ‘Touch Screen’, p. 55).
In the experience of screens the sense of touch becomes redundant. (Even in a ‘touch-screen’ this sense is reduced to the functional level.) Conventionally, as viewers we are not allowed to stroke a painting. However, in the close proximity between the viewer’s body and the painting the eye can stroke its material surface in a haptic way. Laura U. Marks writes: ‘Haptic looking tends to move over the surface of its object rather than plunge into illusionistic depth, not to distinguish form so much as to discern texture. It is more inclined to move than to focus, more inclined to graze than to gaze …’. The haptic image is associated with a ‘sharpness that provoked the sense of touch’ (Rosa Lee, ‘Threads’ in Rosemary Betterton (Ed.), Unframed, 2004, p. 124). Today’s technology can produce a high quality screen-image where details which are not visible to the eye are clearly visible on the screen. Yet, despite the sharpness of the image’s texture our sense of touch is numb. Laurie Carlos describes performance as ‘an experimental laboratory’ where ‘… artists from different disciplines interconnected’ and ‘… certain ideas in a painting or sculpture … often originated in some sort of performed action.’ (Laurie Carlos ‘Introduction’ in RoseLee Goldberg Performance, 2004, p. 9). Cheng-Chu shifted her practice from painting to installation, thus opened a performative, action-space. As such, the installation allows a de-construction of painting.
One question arising in this discussion is how to understand ‘material’ in relation to and the context of the sense of touch, installation and painting? Eugene Minkowski’s phenomenology suggests that ‘the essence of life is not a “feeling of being, of existence,” but a feeling of participation…’. Minkowski theorised the ‘retentir’ as ‘a new property of the universe: reverberation’. Gaston Bachelard writes about the poetic image and by extension, the artwork, the following: ‘… the poetic image has an entity and a dynamism of its own … it is in the opposite of causality, that is, in reverberation … that … we can find the real measure of the being of a poetic image.’ (Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 1994, p. xvi). In this understanding people, screens and painting, as well as the distance between them may be perceived as a changeable flow of reverberations. This action-space, as oppose to the illusion-space, expands to include virtual and actual spaces, bodies and things interact and participate in different ways.
Bevis Fenner: Cheng-Chu began by discussing some of the issues involved in translating her studio practice into theory or in negotiating the two. She described her reason for coming to phenomenology as a way to mediate practice and theory as it is a philosophical technique ‘between’ both. There seems to be a parallel between this process of mediation and the artist’s mediation of lived experience and memory through, or rather in spite of, representation. Cheng-Chu began her doctoral studio practice by painting from photographic images of her family taken from Skype. She describes how painting became a better way of representing memory than photography: “You can’t remember like a photograph. We remember in a fog”. However, this “fog” does not mystify like the silent lamentation of the analogue photograph. Instead of narratives of loss and the impossibility of retrieval, memory presents us with a pregnant absence into which fragments of Being loom. The screen of a Skype conversation is a literal barrier to this coming of Being. Yet its illusion tells us otherwise. Unlike the digital photograph, where there seems to be an acceptance of image as transient representation (Murray, 2008) – an object of exchange rather than and one of contemplation – the screen and digital interface of online communications such as Skype pose more illusive problems for the image. We seem to have a greater sense of ‘the real’ in the moving screen image and yet we are still dealing with flat representations. For Benjamin, the moving image camera allows us to penetrate the heart of reality to such an extent that we identify with the camera and not with the person presented to us on the screen. He uses the difference between two types of healer – the surgeon and the magician – as an analogy to describe the difference between our experience of ‘aura’ in painting and that of the moving image.
The surgeon represents the polar opposite of the magician. The magician heals a sick person by the laying on of hands; the surgeon cuts into the patient’s body. The magician maintains the natural distance between the patient and himself; though he reduces it very slightly by the laying on of hands, he greatly increases it by virtue of his authority. The surgeon does exactly the reverse; he greatly diminishes the distance between himself and the patient by penetrating into the patient’s body, and increases it but little by the caution with which his hand moves among the organs. In short, in contrast to the magician – who is still hidden in the medical practitioner – the surgeon at the decisive moment abstains from facing the patient man to man; rather, it is through the operation that he penetrates into him (Benjamin, 1968: 233).
Through our own proprioceptive understandings of the body and its projection in space via the relationship between embodiment and mimesis, we are able to understand the space behind the screen as real and embodied by the those we communicate with. Likewise, this understanding of embodiment through projection or what Merleau-Ponty (1964) terms ‘a ubiquity of the body’, we are able to perceptually embody virtual spaces. We look at our friends and relatives who may be on the other side of the world and we can survey the spaces around them and follow the movement of their bodies through perception of own. Through the screen we can peruse the books in the background and perhaps see the objects that surrounded us as children. And yet this understanding of virtual space as real space doesn’t hold up. We cannot touch anything in front of us and the images we see are those of the past; they are – as Cheng-Chu suggested in the seminar – “ghosts”, not only because our understandings of those spaces come via memory but also, in a literal sense, the time delay means that the moments no longer exist. Such illusion is problematic as it presents us with a false window onto reality. The screen becomes a kind of trompe l’oeil through, which we think we can penetrate, perspectival, illusionary space. As Cheng-Chu also highlighted there is not only a mis-recognition of embodied reality in screen relations but also other forms of ontological inauthenticity online representations. We are fully aware of the process of mediation and use it to produce new representations of the self which can include manufactured authenticity and the hyperreal body. Indeed Baudrillard’s notion of a constructed or simulated ‘aura’, with no link to an original, holds true in the ‘selfie’ and other mimetic self-objectifying representational practices. In his blog All The Noose That Is Knot: Art, Culture, Para-Theory, Stanley Wrzyszczynski gives an interesting perspective on technological mediation of the ‘aura’ through digital representations. He suggests that, in hindsight, Baudrillard brings and entirely new perspective to Benjamin’s notion of technological reproduction of the ‘aura’ as a kind of aestheticisation or primitivisation of the enlightenment ideal of (re)producing or transferring meaning through society as ethical knowledge. He argues in the light of this that Benjamin’s mechanically reproduced aura relates to a very different understanding of the word ‘medium’ from its role in communications:
The word medium, for Benjamin, probably did not have the same connotations it does for us. After McLuhan, the word medium has a much more sterile, generic connotation (like a telephone wire, radio wave, or digital code- capable of carrying any signal, i.e. signifier). With Benjamin, it is tied to the understanding of aura, that is, a medium embodies or transfers the aura. I also came at all this AFTER reading a lot of Baudrillard who established an understanding of the possibility of a culture “grounded” on signifiers with no signified (the emphasis on potlatch, where the original, and the power of the original, is wasted on purpose in order to display “real” power). With Benjamin, there is still recognition of the “power of the original” which somehow is transformed with the technological copy… So for Benjamin, there was the intuition that technological society was, in a sense, becoming primitive, but not in the Enlightenment sense (where it is the opposite of intellectual “enlightenment,” i.e. ignorance), rather in the sense of how the power of the original is transferred or found in the copy, the technological reproduction, as a form of knowing (Wrzyszczynski, 2009).
This suggests that there is an aesthetic knowledge, which is more powerful and pervasive than that guided by the calculation of and adherence to moral absolutes. Indeed Benjamin’s consideration is an ethical one because he foresees the dangers of the technological transfer of ‘aura’ in ‘establishing controllable and transferrable skills under certain social conditions. This results in a new selection, a selection before the equipment from which the star and the dictator emerge victorious’ (Benjamin, 1968: 247).
In Heideggerian terms, the screen image, which carries the reproduced ‘aura’, unlike painting, cannot be experienced directly in ways that enable us to witness truth as unconcealment of Being. Likewise, the transmitted image, in which even the photographic surface is absent, fails to produce a truth of negation – an impenetrability or concealment – which produces a clearing for the unconcealment Being (Heidegger, 1978). Instead, ‘the relationship between what exists as surface and as projection no longer constitutes a drama in relation to which the body has a material place, even as negated’ (Donszelmann, 2015: 57). For Cheng-Chu, the retrieval of the body from screen relations is ontological rather than political but it is easy to see how both are intertwined. By retrieving the body from the screen we are separating ontological body from spectacular body; pulling the real from the illusionary. In imagination we are able to go, as Yvonne suggested, “through the looking glass” into the world beyond, where memory and imagination are more truthful than the already mediated forms we take to be real. In my response to Cheng-Chu’s session I have chosen to focus on very specific concerns, however, for me the key theme that emerged from the session was one of the artist as mediator, whether that is through the body and the brush – as in painting – or via the struggle to draw out truth of Being from the materials – in contemporary art practice, often the mediating technologies themselves – we have set out before us.
Jane Bennett: One of the strands that came out of Cheng-Chu’s presentation was the distinction between viewing painting / the computer screen / the cinema screen. The experience of cinema is usually a passive role for the viewer who has to enter into the temporal and illusory space contained by the film. The ‘surface’ is irrelevant in this case, but not the context. The computer screen places the viewer in an apparently active role, with choice to view or not to view but the virtual image has no substance in material or sensory terms for the viewer. When we view a painting in real time and space we are exposed to the materials it is made from, we can see the way in which those materials have been applied and take pleasure from that, and we sense the physical space it takes up in front of us. But we have had to learn to sense these things, and learn how to read the illusion of space in paintings – how to encode them. As well as the dual properties Cheng-Chu identified in its surface/space, painting has affect beyond the frame (see Jacques Derrida’s discussion of the ‘parergon’ of painting: The Truth in Painting (trans. 1987).
In spite of all these concepts around it, the distinguishing property of a painting is that we could actually reach out and touch it, should we be so permitted. This is what is missing from the Skype conversations Cheng-Chu has with her family. You can’t give someone a hug in a Skype conversation (not yet!). And yet you have the illusion of being in their presence. This is a different experience of the screen to viewing film or text. Perhaps we can use Svetlana Alpers’ distinction between Renaissance perspectival painting and C17thNorthern European painting to think about these different experiences of the screen – the former style being comprised of narrative and interpretation, a contained scene that clearly positions the viewer as separate, whereas the latter is a partial view that represents the seen world and invites the viewer to enter that imaginary space.(S Alpers, The Art of Describing, 1983) With video we are positioned outside, with Skype we are part of the experience. And yet, as someone pointed out, it is still not like really being in the same space. It is still a framed space that becomes all the more evident when you feel the need to make continuous eye contact (which is never quite eye-to-eye).
According to Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, video offers painting ‘another surface to which to refer…one which is brighter than any that preceded it, unimaginably thin – describable only as an exterior when viewed as an object, a surface without depth – and continuous by definition. Everything that painting is not: an uninterrupted surface born of pure reason. What (provided one is not Heidegger) could be more seductive?’ (Cabbages, raspberries, and video’s thin brightness, Painting in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (ed D Moos) A&D 1996) Which perhaps sheds light on why it is so difficult to make paintings today.
Noriko Suzuki-Bosco: Cheng-Chu’s session raised many interesting questions around the concept of ‘space’ that surrounds the art work (painting), the artist and the viewer. Cheng-Chu summarises Jason Gaiger (2008:27) and notes the ‘qualities’ of painting is the painter’s view, which is the consequence of the creativity. To experience the inside of the painter’s world, not only require eyes but also the body. Cheng-Chu asks, how do people prepare themselves in front of a piece of work? What is the relationship between the artist, the work and the viewer?
As a painter, the triangular relationship of the artist, the art work and the viewer is of vital importance and I have always felt it necessary to produce work which offered ‘space’ for the viewer to access allowing for personal interpretation to be brought into the work to create further meaning. I wanted my paintings to create a shared environment where the relationship between the artist and the viewer was reciprocal.
Fundamentally, paintings offer the viewers a ‘visual’ experience. I have been questioning for a while whether simply offering the viewers this form of experience was good enough. It relates to Cheng-Chu’s question around the bodily phenomena of the surface of the painting and the digital screen. How does one bring the body into the experience? As a way to incorporate a more phenomenological approach, I have been increasingly engaged in creating works that invite, and depend on, the viewer’s direct physical involvement in the process of the making. The interactive orientation also implies an art experience that extends over time and this durational aspect is something I have found it hard to achieve by simply presenting a painting to the viewer.
Since the rise of conceptualism, the visual status of the work of art has not only been challenged but also the way in which the viewer relates to the work has been brought into question. Conceptual artist Susan Hiller has commented in her interview with Yve-Alain Bois, ‘I’ve increasingly allowed space for the participation of the viewers in the creation of meaning’. (Susan Hiller, Tate Publishing, 2011, p.31) The direct involvement of the viewer brings the art work into a social and discursive realm of shared experience, dialogue and physical movement.
Artist Stephen Willats also notes, ‘a pre-requisite for an art work that manifests a counter-consciousness is that the separation which existed between the artist and the audience is closed, that they become mutually engaged, to the point where the audience become the rationale in both the making and reception of the work.’
Grant Kester has argued that in order to engage in ‘dialogical aesthetics’ we need to understand a work of art as a process of communicative exchange rather than a physical object. (Grant Kester, Conversation Pieces, University of California Pres, 2004). Although I value the reciprocal relationship between the artist and the viewer in a collaborative environment and believe that empathetic connection with others can, perhaps more so, be encouraged by working together, the ephemeral nature of the project where the focus is purely on the process is something that I have a slight problem with. As a painter (and a maker), the visual experience is as important as the bodily experience and for this, I am reluctant to let go of the end physical object. To create a situation where the artist and audience are mutually engaged, as Stephen Willats has pointed out, but to have a physical outcome that still offers lasting space for people to connect with is a challenge that I am still working on.
Yvonne Jones: The session led by Cheng-Chu stimulated much discussion and a width of questions. For me the step-by-step ‘straight speak’ explanation of her practice process was refreshing and gave access to her research. The work was opened up for me at that point, offering both a haptic and theoretically experience, arising from this ‘key’ offered by Cheng-Chu. In turn this widened questions with regards to Art Research and what it is?
It seems the perspectives shift along a spectrum of definitions. The approach of SAR through their online journal of artistic research (JAR) is one of ‘exposition’. Here the work itself gives access and understanding to the underlying research, this form of research is encompassed by some academic universities, not by others. Most familiar (to me) is the requirement that the work be twinned with written words that both underpin the visual and unpick the visuals in order to prove rig our within the research and to establish through examination that the artist researcher has in fact generated new knowledge. This being the criteria for having a PhD bestowed.
The question was asked in the session, what is the difference between artists and art researchers? My response is that while maybe some artists can be accidental researchers, art researchers begin with a question and pursue it through art practice. Are art researchers artists, or merely using a visual means to illustrate a theoretical base? When a piece of art ‘touched’ the viewer it is the reverberation of the poetic image (Bachelard), that of itself moves within the viewer. Such a work may reveal to the viewer a new experience, or reawakening an inner knowledge, a sense of Being, in communion with the work and the artist who drew out the poetic moment. While others may the orise on the work, this creator and the viewer may not be so inclined, accepting instead the humanness embedded in the work. Such a work may well develop in the process of art research, and contradicting the above, there will in this case be a relating theoretical structure. Within Art Research the methodology is primarily visual art practice, Art Researchers are indeed artists first and foremost, it is the visual work that creates and develops the thinking-developing-questions, ideas, and theoretical positions, through curiosity; in my experience the work does however stand in its own right as an artwork. It will have formal visual structure, even when the rules are broken, it relates to the viewer through visual structures of form, shape, colour, line, direction, tensions, texture, scale and site. In research it is not enough for work and viewer to hold a silent experience, it has to be rooted within a theoretical framework. The methodology of this having developed out of science’s quantitative methodology, into a structure of qualitative methodology, which fits where it touches! This qualitative methodology requires to be expressed through the most common form of social engagement, that of the symbols that create words. Words can be formed either by the sounds that make up speech, or as here, in an academic environment, drawn (written) as the shapes of an alphabet.
So much was generated by the session, that there is only time and space to select an area, here, that of Art Research itself and to suggest that an Art Researcher does need to offer a key, whether a word or a thesis, to accessing the research, even when the work itself holds an experience for the viewer, it cannot be left as the work alone to meet the criteria of research. An artist offers the work of itself, a stand alone, as an experience.
Cooke, L., Kelly, K. and Schröder, B. (eds.) (2011) Agnes Martin, New York: Dia Art Foundation.
Donszelmann, B. (2015) ‘Touch screen’ in Journal of Contemporary Painting Volume 1 Number 1, pp.55-64.
Melville, S. (2001) Counting As Painting in Armstrong, P., Lisbon, L., Meliville, S. (ed.) As painting Division and Displacement, Camridge: MIT Press, PP.1-26.
Reed,D. (2015)‘Jackson Pollock and PieroDellaFrancesca Ride Lonesome’ in Journal of Contemporary Painting Volume 1 Number 1, pp.41-53.
Richard Acquaye’s PhD research explores Sarat Maharaj’s concept of “Know-how and No-How: stopgap notes on “method” in visual art as knowledge production” as a barometer to examine the idiosyncrasies of practice in indigenous West African fabric production and their diverse culturally embedded significance. His work seeks to develop and advance the possibilities for commercial application of indigenous West African textiles in middle to high end interior textiles globally. Richard presented the follwowing paper at The First Global Creative Industries Conference that was hosted by the Global Creative Industries Programme of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Hong Kong from 17th to 18th April 2015. The conference was themed ‘From Culture to Business and Vice Versa’. Conference participants addressed a breadth of issues in the study of the creative industries from various viewpoints including anthropology, business studies, communication, creative arts, culture, economics, education, environment, film, media and sociology. The conference also espoused the interaction and integration between academia and industry on the prospect and sustainability of the creative industries. In addition to the panel and individual paper presentations, a roundtable workshops and other creative forms of communication platform where created to engage scholars and practitioners in a series of dialogues. A major highlight is a cross-disciplinary scholarly collaboration and discussions.
Cultural Ownership and Appropriation Sourcing Fabric Design Ideas from ‘Indigenous’ West Africa
Artist from many cultures are constantly engaging in cultural appropriation. Picasso famously appropriated motifs which originated in the work of African carvers. Painters who are members of mainstream Australian culture have employed styles developed by the aboriginal cultures of Australasia. The jazz and blue styles developed in the context of African-American culture have been appropriated by non-members from Bix Beiderbecke to Eric Clapton. (J. Young, 2010)
The paper interrogates complexities of appropriation, cultural and indigenous ownership and their implication for the production and commercialisation of indigenous West African fabrics. It draws on the ‘Maori Tattoo’, ‘Volkswagen-Tuareg SUV’ and ‘Northwest Coast Native American Potlatch’ appropriation controversies and makes a case for a system that will allow the use of cultural works as reference for textile designs without necessarily provoking protests and disapproval. These controversies may not be directly linked to textile production; however, their implication cast a shadow on certain patterns in West Africa. And hence, some equivalents were drawn between the situations in textile fabric production in the region and that of the above controversies. This study further suggested a process modelled on the principles of the ‘Creative Commons’ that will allow for greater access to the knowledge and culture for informed access and acceptable usage of West African indigenous textile design references. It hypothesises that sharing that knowledge and creativity with the world will engender new design ideas and by extension provide mutual benefit for both ‘cultural owners’ and users.
Cultural and Indigenous ownership and appropriation disputes have such an amorphous dimension in West Africa. Of course, this is not isolated as there are contestable issues of such nature in even developed countries such as Canada, Australia and USA. The situation in West Africa is part of a regional African phenomenon as captured by Jennings (2011) “the history of fashion in Africa is one of constant exchange and appropriation, a complex though ill-documented journey with different influences coming into play across time and place.” It is instructive to posit then that the subject of ownership could be very debatable. Cultures develop around foreign commodities and seep so deeply into the social fabric such that origins of those commodities are forgotten entirely. Invariably, cultural practice appropriates alien or exotic, peripheral or obsolete elements of discourse into its changing idioms and this very perception further crystallised the complexities of appropriation. (Buchloh 2009; Sanders 2006).
Textile designs have been the most animated form of visual expression in West Africa and have inspired many of the philosophies that underpin prestige and status in the region. The fabrics represent one of the many creative manifestations of cultural identity that have shaped communities occupying its diverse landscape. Cultural, religious and ritual meanings are conveyed by colour preferences, materials, embellishments and design. These textile design traditions provide a rich source of ideas for contemporary designers due to their form, colour and appeal. (Picton & Mack1989; Gumpert 2008; Ross 1998)
Creative Common Model
Copyright laws, intellectual property laws, patents and other legal regimes that protect works of creative persons have not been very practical in West Africa. Discourse in the area is also very limited so Boateng (2009) makes a compelling argument regarding the unsuitability of intellectual property law in West Africa, based on principles of individual authorship, for regulating “traditional” artistic practices that combine collective and individual authorship. She proposed “the Commons” as an alternative model for future research. I am expanding on Boateng’s proposition by recommending that, a model similar to that of the Creative Common1 could be used to make available West African cultural elements that could be used to advance culture. The elements could be placed under one of the following areas: Attribution, Share Alike, Non-Commercial and No Derivative Works. ‘Attribution’ is an instant where people are allowed to copy, distribute, display and or perform indigenous works and derivative works based upon them but in the right context and they give credit to the owners. ‘Share Alike’ is where others are allowed to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs owners work. ‘Non-Commercial’ by implication is that others can be allowed to copy, distribute, display and perform cultural works and derivative works based upon it but for non-commercial purposes only. ‘No Derivative Works’ will allow others to copy, distribute, display and perform only verbatim copies of the work, not derivative works based upon it. In all the above instances, where any of the pieces are used for commercial gains, appropriate royalties must be paid and this must be agreed upon before commencement of the project in question. All these could be achieved through a development of support systems that will steward legal and technical infrastructure that minimise the litigations of appropriation and foster sharing, creativity and innovation.
One-way designers could convey a deeper appreciation for ‘indigenous people’ is by offering adequate historical or cultural context of their designs when they reference aspects of the respective culture. To some extent, there is a difference between using a design that is ‘ethnic’ or ‘indigenous’ and able to be used by anyone in the society as opposed to a design that has been developed by an individual and the rights to that design are passed down through the family. To mitigate such ambiguities, I am proposing that indigenous design sources are congregated into three schemes. First, there are ‘design sources’ that are traditional and could be used by everybody. Second, there are ‘design sources’ that are traditional and sacred and could not be copied, reproduced or used in any commercial design endeavour. And third, there are some ‘design sources’ that must be utilised in the right context and with permission. I surmise that, these are critical singularities that could be interrogated further and distilled through the creative common model.
Indigenous textiles production in West Africa should be seen as an industry rather than the wanton mystification that has lost its significance in the modern day. Of course, this should be done with judicious modification of copyright/intellectual property laws, development of workable policies that will protect cultural privacy and make cultural elements profitable moral resources for the common good of the region.
Boateng B. (2011). First Peoples: New Directions Indigenous: Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here: Adinkra and Kente Cloth and Intellectual Property in Ghana. USA: University of Minnesota Press.
Buchloh, B. (2009). Parody and Appropriation in Francis Picabia, Pop and Sigmar Polke. In: Evans, D. Appropriation. London: Whitechapel Gallery Ltd.
Gumpert, L. (2008). The Poetics of Cloth: African Textiles/Recent Art. New York University, USA: Grey Art Gallery.
Jennings, H. (2011). New African Fashion. London: Prestel Publishing Limited.
Picton, J. & Mack, J. (1989). African Textiles. London: British Museum Press.
Ross, D. H. (1998). Wrapped in Pride – Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Culture and History.
Sanders, J. (2006). Adaptation and Appropriation. London; New York: Routledge.
Young, J. (2010). Cultural Appropriation and the Art. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
At the 20 April meeting of the Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group, Jane Bennett led the group through a brief look at the background and history of phenomenology, when it came in and out of ‘fashion’, and the events or social trends that prompted its resurgence. Referring to a video lecture by dancer/philosopher Susan Kozel for a Practice Based Research course, the group then performed a phenomenological enquiry. This article provides notes drawn from the seminar and commentaries from the participants: Jane Bennett, Bevis Fenner, Yvonne Jones, Yonat Nitzan-Green, Noriko Suzuki-Bosco and Cheng-Chu Weng.
Key texts referred to:
Peter Halley, ‘Nature and Culture’ in Art in Theory 1900-1990, V111b The Critique of Originality, Ed. C Harrison and P Wood, (Blackwell, Oxford, 1992), pp.1071-1074
Jane Bennett: Rather appropriately, before the meeting began, we were all admiring a twisted metal object laying on the table in front of us. Bearing in mind where we were and before any explanation had been provided, most of us assumed it was a sculpture and took pleasure in its texture and complex shape. It transpired it had been found, just as it was, on the beach by Bev. It was a wonderful example of how context can influence reading, and the distinction of the physical experience – of being in the presence of an object – that precedes words.
We opened the discussion with an brief time-line of phenomenology, from its initial stages in the early twentieth century writings of Husserl as reaction against the Structuralists and romanticism, its resurgence in the 1940s after WWII through Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty leading to Existentialism, its application in the 1970s by Amedeo Giorgi to psychological qualitative research methods and by Max van Manen, amongst others, to education. The essay by Peter Halley ascribes the dehumanising effect of WWII, a time when all social codes were overturned, as the impetus for a philosophy that dealt with the experience of the moment and self-determinism. He describes it as an expression of anxiety not only about how we relate to other human beings but, in the later emergence in Abstract Expressionism, the fate of humanity in the atomic age. In the 1970s when phenomenology falls from fashion, Halley points out, the forefront of art is led by a generation that had no experience of WWII and which is fixated on rules (in language) and the opportunity to simulate. It would seem the very concept of nature had become obsolete. With the current potential prospect of the Posthuman body, subject of the last session led by Yvonne, it seems timely that we are focussing on phenomenology and its investment in lived experience.
Reflecting on our current sense of digital overload, is there such a thing as digital authenticity and how do we personalise knowledge and understanding. Whilst we turn something into the personal in order to understand it, how would that then operate in relationship to the Posthuman? One way of understanding is through direct contact with the objects/materials/people themselves. Examples included through the touch of making, by direct contact with people and in direct experience of a place through walking. Similarly, the accessibility of academic text can be cloaked in jargon and Michael Rosen complains that even poetry is now quantified for its observed mechanism in academic circles. Whilst it may be easier to use jargon or subject-specific codes when we are writing about complex ideas, the use of clear language to explore complex ideas is a skill to strive for.
Writing in 2008, with a background in dance and philosophy, Susan Kozel stated that her interest in phenomenology was as a reaction to 1980s cyber punk and the trend of ‘leaving the body behind’. It also provided a counterpoint to the notion that dancers are not expected to ‘talk back’ – performance was simply an aesthetic experience. As Kozel observes, ‘Fashions in thought and design reflect anxieties as well as pleasures.’ (Closer, Susan Kozel, MIT, 2008) Whilst phenomenology appeared lacking in rigor in the 1990s and was criticised as a male, subject-centred approach to transcendent meaning, it actually provided a means of addressing lived experience prior to the object/subject divide, and a reflective process that is open to pre-reflective experience. In a time when funding was increasingly difficult to obtain and arts based research was entering higher education establishments, it became necessary to demonstrate the value of creative arts research practice as a knowledge-producing process and hence to adopt or adapt existing scientific research methodologies. ‘A re-versioning of the studio process and its significant moments through the exegesis or research paper is a means of locating the work within the field of practice and theory. It is also part of the replication process that establishes the creative arts as a stable research discipline able to withstand peer and wider assessment and hence be validated alongside research in other fields.’ (Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts, E Barrett, B Bolt, 2009)
Kozel employs the methodology of phenomenology as a way to anchor practice in research, to overcome ‘unhelpful divides’ of theory/practice, mind/body and solitary/shared experience. Instead of trying to tie them together, it can allow them to be viewed in terms of motion and materiality, enfolded and entwined. In her video, A Phenomenology in 5 Acts, she describes the process of a phenomenological enquiry step by step. She advocates using phenomenology as a way to reflect on the process of performance and also as a means to create content. It is a methodology that returns to the lived experience, that respects informed ideas/thoughts/images and enables us to re-envisage the relationship between theory and practice as one of enfoldment/entwinement. She urges us to think of the body as a resonance chamber that allows us to sense the more subtle dynamic exchanges, for example in a public reflection – inside, outside, between people. Gaston Bachelard also talks of resonance as being a means to the ‘different planes of our life in the world’ and to the past through the poetic image. “In the resonance we hear the poem, in the reverberations we speak it, it is our own.” (The Poetics of Space, 1958)
Bearing in mind the four lifeworld ‘existentials’ identified by Max van Manen as categories that may help as guides for reflection in the research process – lived space (spatiality), lived body (corporeality), lived time (temporality), and lived human relation (relationality or communality) – the group embarked on following Kozel’s instructions for a Phenomenological Inquiry. The process appeared very similar to a guided visualisation, to mindfulness or a meditation. It allowed time for reflection, for making notes of the experience of reflection and for reviewing/discussing those responses. In a process that was perhaps somewhat challenging to some of us, it was gratifying that there was sufficient trust within the group for all present to take part and to share the outcomes. It was interesting to see how differently people approached both the reflection and the note-taking, and there were a number of observations that indicated the communality and connectedness of the group.
There were a few questions I wished to discuss following the process – how this approach might be valuable to our individual practices and possibly the group, how it can enhance our understanding of phenomenology, and how we can use it to integrate practice with theory, actions with writing? It was suggested that, as we are all engaged in art practice research, we already all use this process of reflection in making art-work. Perhaps we need a better understanding of the process, perhaps they are not the ‘right’ questions or perhaps, after allowing some time and space after the experience in order to reflect upon it, the answers may filter through. The following words from Max van Manen suggest there are no definitive answers when we are dealing with the lived experience:
It is also helpful to be reminded that phenomenological inquiry-writing is based on the idea that no text is ever perfect, no interpretation is ever complete, no explication of meaning is ever final, no insight is beyond challenge. It behooves us to remain as attentive as possible to the ways that all of us experience the world and to the infinite variety of possible human experiences and possible explications of those experiences. (Max van Manen, (2011), http://www.phenomenologyonline.com/inquiry/writing/)
Yonat Nitzan-Green: Reading Jane’s texts (including Susan Kozel’s video clip) has led me to read more about phenomenology (David Woodruff Smith, 2013), as well as return to Gaston Bachelard’s writing in order to widen my understanding of his particular approach to phenomenology.
In term of history, Woodruff Smith tells us that ‘phenomenology has been practiced, with or without the name, for many centuries… Still, the discipline of phenomenology … came to full flower in Husserl.’ (Woodruff Smith 2013).
Phenomenology as a branch in philosophy thrived at the first part of the 20th century and I think it will be useful to consider Gaston Bachelard’s thought in that historical context. I am curious about Bachelard’s choice to turn from philosophy of science to philosophy of imagination and wonder if this choice was affected by his experience of WWII.
Bachelard tells us: ‘… whereas philosophical reflection applied to scientific thinking elaborated over a long period of time requires any new idea to become integrated in a body of tested ideas, even though this body of ideas be subjected to profound change by the new idea … the philosophy of poetry must acknowledge that the poetic act has no past … in which its preparation and appearance could be followed.’ (GB, The Poetics of Space: xv). This makes me think about death. A person died, my neighbour, last Monday to be precise. He turned from ‘something’ to nothing. No present; no future; no past because it has passed already. Nothing. The poetic image is the opposite: no past, only present and future. Can I even comprehend such a thing? If an image has no past what kind of time zone does it inhabit? What kind of relationship is being formed between a person who has past, present and future and a poetic image? Does Bachelard’s choice to turn to the imagination hint, perhaps subconsciously, to a desire to eliminate the memory of the catastrophic past where millions of people lost their lives?
Bachelard asks: ‘how can an image, at times very unusual, appear to be a concentration of the entire psyche? How – with no preparation-can this singular, short-lived event constituted by the appearance of an unusual poetic image, react on other minds and in other hearts, despite all the barriers of common sense, all the disciplined schools of thought, content in their immobility?’ (GB: xviii-xix). How is this subjective ‘product’ able to communicate to another subjectivity? It depends on how we understand the concept of subjectivity. This question can be understood if we see subjectivity only as the difference between one person and another. Yet, Bachelard suggests that subjectivity may also be understood as the thing that is both, the difference and the element that connects all humans, which is the imagination. Bachelard proposes to by-pass this logical paradox by implementing Minkowski’s phenomenology of reverberation. It is not through a cause and effect that the poetic image can be explored, but through tuning to its reverberations as one encounters it.
Back to our session – Jane wrote: ‘although we have been using phenomenology as the core for our discussions over the past months, this has been on a theoretical basis and we have not actually taken our meetings into the ‘lived experience’, so to speak – into ‘something that happens’ in real time.’ It was exciting to follow Susan Kozel’s instructions and do a kind of group meditation; this may lead to other group actions. However, I argue that we have been practicing phenomenology through our use of conversation as a collaborative research method which I intend to talk about in the June session.
Bevis Fenner: Jane began her session with an exploration of the historical context in which phenomenology came into prominence in the 1940s and subsequently fell from fashion. Phenomenology can be seen as emerging out of a need to reconcile the rift between culture and nature that appeared with the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution and ultimately culminated in the mass devastation of the Second World War. In post-industrial society, changes in fashions of thought have led to phenomenological methods being seen as essentialist and a product of an individualistic desire to return to a more authentic subjective experience, which does not exist within structuralist or post-structuralist thought. Consequently, the study of structures, codes and signs became more relevant than the pursuit of a more direct reflection on human experience. Jane stated that in the light of recent shifts in favour of phenomenology, she wanted to clarify phenomenological method, and subsequent methodologies of reflection and application. So drawing upon the practice-based methods of Susan Kozel, we set about considering how, as a group, we might turn theory into praxis.
We had been given a YouTube video to watch before the seminar in which Kozel explained how to use her phenomenological practice methods. These seemed very different from the more theoretical and discussion-based way we had gone about exploring ideas in previous sessions and very similar to mindfulness practice. We discussed how we had tried to personalise this video or tried to make sense of how we might go about using these methods by drawing on previous experiences. Following on from Noriko’s suggestion – inspired by Tim Ingold – that knowledge occurs through creativity or via the act of making, someone in the group suggested that the only way of knowing how such methods could be used was by trying them. Yonat responded by suggesting that we all try to understanding difference through that which we know. For her the drive towards appropriation stems from an ontological need. In Heidegger’s terms appropriation enables dwelling. Therefore, the natural response from other members of the group upon seeing the twisted metal object that I had placed on the table before the start of the session was to assume it was art. We make sense of objects through context and the context in which the object had been placed was an art school! I suggested that this idea was closely linked with the notion of ontological authenticity and perhaps, by a further leap of the imagination, a way to humanise the post-human. Prompted by Cheng-Chu’s description of making sense of one urban shopping mall by comparing it with another from her home country, we discussed Augé’s Non Places and the importance of transient spaces in allowing for shared meanings, which enable many to make sense of the vast flows of information around us as we go about our day-to-day business. Indeed, it is perhaps in our ability to appropriate and dwell through our senses, that we are able to transform impersonal, standardised and supposedly alienating environments into make-shift homes. This pursuit of ontological authenticity is a highly individualistic perspective, yet it is counter to the technologies, which have been said to change the nature of what it means to be human. Foucault’s understanding of technology as hidden means of asserting class-dominance within everyday social life or Debord’s assertion that there are no direct experiences, only capitalist spectacle, reflect Moravec’s concerns about the post-human. The assertion of power structures through technologies of surveillance and cultural representations undoubtedly shapes experience at a social level. Yet in phenomenological terms, it may be possible to gain agency in resisting the effects of images and objects, bypassing wider sign systems or re-routing surface images towards the intimate and personal. As Dovey (2001), suggests, it is possible to represent a simulation and that authenticity can be found in our relations to even the most inauthentic images, objects and places. To a child, a waterfall in a shopping mall is as magical as the real thing!
And so we set about the process of using Kozel’s methods, rather than theorising as we as a group habitually tend have a tendency to do we focused on the pre-discursive. In meditation we opened ourselves out to four elements of phenomenological practice, which Kozel refers to as the four ‘existentials’ – lived space (spatiality), lived body (corporeality), lived time (temporality), and lived human relation (relationality or communality). We were asked to focus predominantly on one of these. I chose ‘relationality’. My notes on the experience are as follows:
Warmth filling the space – an expanding cloud
The sound of machines – air conditioning, ventilation, lighting, other technologies – the breath and pulse of the building
Voices in next door space – transient, the passing of time, the march towards the summer, the empting out of the building, the light outside evokes memories of those spaces – echoes from my youth (my art foundation course was at WSA)
Daylight, eternal blue sky – a constant, the beckoning from other moments under the same sky (conversations never heard, activities never seen)
Group in space a home within a home – a shell within a shell. Deeper still the resonances inside my own shell
Resonances coming from others in group – feelings, vibrations, shapes:
Person 1: Unease, oscillation – between two planes (flat shadows)
Person 2: The breath of the group, eyes watching, guarding, gathering
Person 3: The heartbeat, warm, radiant, sonar, solar
Person 4: Air, cool breeze, soft and gentle, nurturing
Person 5: Strong, solid like a bronze sculpture, warm metal in the sunshine
Back to my shell, back to my subjectivity – how might I use these understandings? How might we share our experiences inter-subjectively, as a group, to generate what Kozel (2008) terms, ‘artistic content’?
Cheng-Chu Weng: Thanks Jane leads a reach seminar, there are include heavy theories, such as Heidegger’s phenomenology, Foucault’s Structuralism, and Sartre’s Existentialism. The information bombards me, yet it is helpful. To identify and broad my shortage of academic knowledge. Before attending the seminar, to skim the text, the context, this is illogical for me, especially the instruction of researching phenomenological enquiry, but this is giving food for thought! Does research of phenomenology have instruction? What value we could earn from the instruction?
From the varied materials to help us consider ‘Phenomenology’ seriously, In the Susan Kozel: Phenomenology video offers the sense of the phenomenology’s body, and puritanical method of phenomenology research. There are two parts, which Kozel mentions are similar with Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s concepts. Both of them believe phenomenology is practicable. Second, Kozel’s concept of the ‘body as a resonance chamber’ (Bennett, 2015) alike as Merleau-Ponty’s idea of the body as “[…]. The body is the vehicle of being in the world, and having a body is, for a living creature, to be intervolved in a definite environment, to identify oneself with certain projects and be continually committed to them.” (Merleau-Ponty 1945, Phenomenology of Perception: 94) The requirement of understanding the body is through the relationship between ‘I’ and ‘other’. The relationship between ‘I’ and ‘others’ is contrasted with Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept. They do not deny others; they are interested in the phenomena between ‘I’ and ‘others’.
Furthermore, the phenomena provide the sense of being. To do the activity of Kozel’s ACT3 is the practice/ experience of the phenomena. It is interesting to experience rather than criticizing the theories. Although activity may similarly as meditation or art therapy, the practice of fundamental feeling, do condense our relationship.
Yvonne Jones: The session saw us reconsidering the history of Phenomenology, and partaking in a ‘Phenomenological Enquiry’ as prescribed by Suzan Kozel and led by Jane. The session was stimulating and a little disturbing.
Interest in and focus on notions of Phenomenology ebbs and flows, seemingly surfacing in periods of human anxiety, be it following direct experience and angst of war or as a response or reaction at times when there is a technology uprising. Our group interest in Imagination and Phenomenology has been organic in its development. We have widely different areas of expertise, never the less each of us have reported an enriching and expanding experience through dialogue, finding surprising commonalities previously unsuspected. We each have an innate sense of expecting and desiring, even seeking situations of direct experience, as a fundamental element to our individual practices.
Given comments by Stephen Hawking (Innovation and the Future), it is timely that the members of PIRG have come together and are developing conversations cross-referencing theorists in such an organic manner and forging a pathway of discourse around direct experiences and contact with objects/materials/people, to quote Jane. Through academic prowess we have built a tower of Babel, PIRG by intentionally setting out to create a safe-enough, non-competitive, supportive environment has opened doors to finding ways to new knowledge. By this I mean by leaving behind the cloak of jargon, members are free to state ‘I don’t understand what you are saying’ and to have the authentic foundational meaning of a theory or perspective spoken of in as many different ways as it takes. The group are all artists, all researchers; the Babel tower is being dismantled through conversation, through Phenomenology and Imagination. The academic speak, which is sometimes needed due to complexity, serves so often as a barrier to inter disciplinary and cross discipline research. I do hope that conviviality and trust demonstrated in PIRG can offer a model for the furtherance of new, shared knowledge and understanding.
It came as no real surprise to see that all group members subscribed to the view that we already use the model of Kozel, give or take a wriggle, in our practices. Art Practice Researches have to be shown as being rigorous, and have to withstand testing by peers. Historically artist research has been difficult to validate, given the hierarchy of the spoken and written word, denying the fundamental language of the visual. I experience my work as existing as field of Visual Philosophy, a term decried by numeric alphabet idealists. The balance is achievable. In the Extended-Body: Interview with Stelarc (1995) he states ‘The interest was really coupling the expression of an idea with the direct experience of it.’ What is noticeable is the extreme situation he is in, in order to experience the coupling of idea and direct experience. It brings to mind Moracec and his belief that there will be very few original (direct) experiences in the future, our data for an experience will come from a huge computer, somewhere out There, a sort of memory bank of data. Is Stelarc’s work indicative in part of the need for more extreme situations in order to have new and direct experiences?
For whatever reason, Bachelard shifted his emphasis into a grey area, from the ‘certainty’ and ‘clarity’ of science into the ‘swampy area’, behaving like a ‘Reflection-in-Action‘ Practitioner. Schon writes ‘reflection by the practitioner gives access to encompassing the uncertainty embedded in the swampy lowlands’ (The Reflective Practitioner 1983 Schon). Bachelard was excavating those swampy lowlands, seeing and returning to the anchor of the body. Without scaling the depths of human existence and experience, without awareness of the wonders of the evolved corporeal body, technology is cold and I suggest, as Hawkings states, can become dangerous to humanity.
The Phenomenology Enquiry was indeed a lived experience. In order to partake, my approach was to close my eyes, it did not occur to me to keep them open or circulate the space. Others did stay opened eyed, but on this occasion no one circulated. It was with interest that I realized a simple sound, reawakened parts of my history giving rise to connected emotions of the time. That the presence of the group was accepted and experienced as comfortable, so much so that relaxing I sensed them, the room the place, a sadness that the outside was behind a barrier…
It is quite appropriate and of its time to be reflecting on this age we are in, coming together under the heading of Phenomenology and Imagination and opening areas for examination that link with developments in art practice, theory, social sciences and technology.
This session led by Jane has questioned and reinforced for me the value and potential of PIRG.
Noriko Suzuki-Bosco: I find Phenomenology fascinating for its potential to connect and bridge other areas of philosophical thinking together with the realities of everyday lived experience. It seems to present a ‘real’ way of thinking about the human situatedness in the world.
Phenomenological enquiry, according to Max Van Manen, ‘explicate meanings that in some sense are implicit in our actions’. Van Manen points out that we, as human beings, know things through our bodies, through our relations with others and through interaction with the things of our world.
(Van Manen 1997 Researching Lived Experience: xiv)
Definition of phenomenological research (according to Van Manen):
Phenomenological research is the study of lived experience
Phenomenological research is the explication of phenomena as they present themselves to consciousness
Phenomenological research is the study of essences
Phenomenological research is the description of experiential meanings we live as we live them
Phenomenological research is the human scientific study of phenomena
Phenomenological is the attentive practice of thoughtfulness
Phenomenological research is a search for what it means to be human
Phenomenological research is a poetising activity.
(Van Manen: 8-13)
Although phenomenological research provides rich grounds to investigate our being in the world, there are questions raised to the lack of ‘methods’ or procedural system in conducting the human scientific study of phenomena. Phenomenological enquiry asks people to be reflective, insightful, sensitive to language and constantly open to experience. This tendency to ward off any predetermined set of fixed procedures is one of the reasons why some think that phenomenology can be a bit ‘wishy-washy’, a bit mystical and overly poetic.
However, it does not mean that phenomenological enquiry happens in a haphazard way. Heidegger has talked about phenomenological reflection as following certain paths, ‘woodpaths’ towards a ‘clearing’, where something could be shown, revealed, or clarified in its essential nature.
Here is another list that Van Manen has created outlining the possible ‘paths’, a direction or a way, of navigating through a phenomenological enquiry:
Turn to a phenomenon which seriously interests us and commits us to the world
Investigate experience as we live it rather than as we conceptualise it
Reflect on the essential themes which characterize the phenomenon
Describe the phenomenon through the art of writing and rewriting
Maintain a strong and oriented pedagogical relation to the phenomenon
Balance the research context by considering parts and whole.
(Van Manen: 30-31)
I am only scratching the surface here to try and understand what phenomenological enquiry can offer. I have no doubts that phenomenology can offer rich grounds to investigate how we experience the lifeworld, tapping into the body of knowledge, insights and history of the past thinkers, combined with the knowledge of one’s own lived experience. It also offers ways of connecting and sharing with others, as Jane’s experiential experiment during the PIRG session proved.
JB: finally, this says it all – The Muppets explain Phenomenology:
The Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group held a seminar on 24 March 2015 led by Yvonne Jones, with the title ‘Facing the Posthuman’. Developing thoughts from the previous sessions this session asked ‘How do ‘dwelling’ and ‘authenticity’ relate to the twenty first century and notions of the posthuman?’ This article provides notes drawn from the seminar and commentaries from the participants, Yonat Nitzan-Green, Bevis Fenner, Jane Bennett, Noriko Suzuki-Bosco and Cheng-Chu Weng.
Outline paper to stimulate conversation and exploration
Yvonne Jones: Having circulated the texts and looking to focus on Conversation as Methodology the session opened with a short introduction explaining my journey and how I have reached my current position in terms of the posthuman. The distinction between a literal posthuman envisaged by Moravec and the subject posthuman proposed by Katherine Hayles was made. Picking up on Patti’s session and Bevis’s session I wanted to open the questions of how dwelling and authenticity have meaning in our time when we are faced with the possibility of the coming into existence of literal posthumans. Many challenging questions and thoughts were voiced.
Theorists refernced were Foucault, Tim Ingold, Lacan, Heidegger and Bachelard amongst others. Their ideas were compared and contrasted with group members bringing their specialist knowledge. Bevis pointed out how we are often too busy to notice our senses and also how they have been hijacked by consumerism and society at large and used for ends other than direct sensation of our body and environment. Yonat raised the question, exactly what is the connection today between the senses and humanity? And that technology is changing us into something else even now. She put dialogue as an important element of being human, the breaking down of barriers and isolation. Noriko spoke of knowledge through experience (of making, and doing). Dwelling was tracked backwards to consider the womb as the ‘first shelter’ and the body as the ‘first shelter’.
The authentic self was considered in terms of existential authenticity considering Heidegger’s idea of the present already being the past. This led to discussion of consciousness and my interest in the recent development of the notion that consciousness may yet prove to be another externally existing energy that is of itself, as magnetism is (David Chalmers). Without debate, without deconstructing of both the theoretical and material realities and possibilities of our human pathway, it is possible we could slip into a literal posthuman future where human qualities are not of value, where ( to use the four characteristics used by Hayle) information takes precedence over instantiation, where the upstart consciousness is dismantled, where the body (the first prothesis0 is side lined for a machine and where humans are seamlessly joined to intelligent machines. Whether that is the headless body to an intelligent machine or a bodiless head to an intelligent machine is anyone’s guess.
The session opened up a sense of hope, optimism and movement that was a new insight (for me), based on sense that there is a ground swell being presented in society from the younger generation, one of promoting human attributes; the knowledge through making, through doing, spoken of by Noriko, the authenticity searched for though airb&b spoken of by Bevis. This move may be a natural backlash to the pervading indirect relating between people and to gaining information (through technology).
The discussion in the session repeatedly came back to the body and its value, the positive value of humanness. The group is functioning in a way that crosses boundaries, and opens new insights, bringing differing knowledge bases together. It is rewarding and enriching.
Noriko Suzuki-Bosco: I don’t know much about the debates around the idea of post-human and the thought of something beyond being human alarms me. I think I am not ready to let go of being human – both in mind and in body.
In the first chapter of his book, Making (2012), Tim Ingold describes how frustrated he felt in his early fieldwork days when his more experienced companions only told him to ‘know for yourself!’. He recalls how he initially thought they were simply being unhelpful or unwilling to share what they knew perfectly well. He realizes though that quite to the contrary, they wanted him to understand that the only way one can really know things – that is, from the very inside of ones being – is through a process of self-discovery. ‘To know things you have to grow into them, and let them grow in you, so that they become a part of who you are.’ (Ingold 2012, p.1)
Ingold terms the process of acquiring knowledge through practical and observational engagements ‘an art of inquiry’. In the art of inquiry, the conduct of thought goes along with, and continually answers to, the various materials with which you work. The process is very different from the experiments in natural science where you work from a hypothesis or conflicting ideas. In the art of inquiry, you try things and see what happens. Ingold points out that ‘the art of inquiry moves forward in real time, along with the lives of those who are touched by it, and with the world to which both it and they belong.’(Ingold 2012, p.7). We learn more and more about the world as we proceed and learn how to better correspond with it.
To be able to correspond and to have empathetic insights (for others) are abilities that I understand to be humane. They are not something that can be acquired over night nor can they be ‘taught’ using a textbook. In order to empathise with others, one has to be able to use their imagination and approximation, alter the self, if need be, and use it as the basis for communication and understanding across various differences. I think these qualities are vital for people to co-exist in this world.
If the world is heading toward a post-human world regardless, I just hope that the fundamental ability to be humane, the imagination and the approximation, the empathetic insights that allow us to connect with others, still exist.
Yonat Nitzan-Green: The following notes have been taken from a preparation text where I focused on the concept of existential authenticity as it is discussed in Carol J. Steiner and Yvette Reisinger ‘Understanding Existential Authenticity’; Yvonne’s presentation text; and the session.
Steiner and Reisinger looked at the concept of authenticity in the context of tourism; and in relation to Heidegger’s ‘existential authenticity’. They believe that the tourist industry provides opportunities to study and produce understandings for authenticity as a true ‘self’ (in distinction from authenticity as a real event or object). Heidegger developed the idea that there is no permanent ‘self’. The Dasein ‘is neither a lived body nor a subject … but a discrete and unique existential (human) being … exists as the essential manifestation of each individual involved with its world.’ Dwelling, according to Heidegger is ‘the intimate relationship between each Dasein and its world which mutually determines, limits and obligates each and both.’ (Both quotations are from Carol J. Steiner and Yvette Reisinger ‘Understanding Existential Authenticity’).
Yvonne asks ‘what … is an authentic dwelling place (house, home, original shell)?’ and ‘what is a self, authentic body in the twenty-first century?’ She considers the body as the first dwelling place, building on Bachelard’s thought. However, while Bachelard considers the house as the ‘non-I that protects the I’ (Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 1994, p.5). Yvonne suggests ‘the corporeal body as the first house, the dwelling place, “the original shell”’. The artist and psychoanalyst Bracha Ettinger (The Matrixial Borderspace, 2006) theorized the womb as a primal space. This may be helpful to Yvonne’s research.
Yvonne describes Moravec’s vision for ‘a huge central computer from where we will … obtain all our information and experiences.’ Moravec’s concept of the ‘literal posthuman’, as I understand it, is not metaphorical but actual possibility where machine – robot will replace the human being. One idea that Moravec explores is that there is no future for the senses. Yvonne could not imagine life without senses. This led to look at and discuss the question how the senses connect to humanity. Yvonne talked about her works and research, explaining how her personal medical experience has led to her interest in the posthuman.
She found herself being positioned as a medical object, however, by initiating dialogue with the medical staff through speech and documentation she shifted her position and became a medical subject, thus empowering her authenticity in this authentic moment (‘experience’). The process of authenticity continued in the making of the art work where the artist keeps develop her understanding (what’s been done to her body/self). This unique understanding designates her as an authentic subject.
Cheng-Chu Weng: From Yvonne’s practices could see the sense of be-in-the-world. She putted the experiences of surgery in a ‘poetic’ way. The doctor is not a doctor anymore; the patient is not a patient anymore. What is the boundary between the seesaw?
I am impressed that Yvonne expose herself in front of the viewer. It not only presents the situations of her body/fresh, but also questioning what the relationship between the knowledge of medical and humankind. The curiosity of the inside of the human fresh presented in the painting could be seen started from the late 15th Century art, for instance, Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564)’s De humani corporis Fabrica (c.1543). Although in nowadays, the structure of the human body has been researched, the relationship between the body and spirit still is a paradox. The news (Surgeon Plans First Human Head Transplant, reported by SKY NEWS) does bring out the idea of individual fresh. This evokes the relationship between a human body and technology. I believe modern are embody with technology, especially the net work. Dr Hubert Dreyfus is an exporter of critic cyberspace in Merleau-Ponty’s theory (see Youtube video below). From my understanding of his evoke is the body/ brain as a network, fresh is embody with a computer. On the other hand, the news present the physical body rejected the artificial organ.
I am agreeing with Yvonne’s view that making practice is the process of finding yourself. Yvonne presents the method of ‘seeing’ inside and outside of her body. This may stronger than the target of feminist artists archived around 1970s, they overthrow the male gaze. For Yvonne, what are existing and humankind is important than the gender issue, as Pendergrast, M. quoted Balthazar Gracian in Mirror-A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection (Pendergrast, 2003: 131):
He who cannot see himself might as well not exist.
Although Gracian’s idea is providing the idea of death equal not able to seeing owns reflection, it may worth to twist the verb of the see. See, could be the phenomenon of sugary experience in Yvonne’s research. The phenomenon of this seminar also could get the sense of existing, this created by the relationship of sharing and trusting.
Jane Bennett: The fear that our human bodies will be replaced by machines goes back as far as the automata of the 1st century AD with the Greek myth of Talos and the automata built by Hero(n) of Alexandria. (Somewhat ironic in the light of this discussion – Heron took mathematics towards the practical experiment rather than the deductive and abstract.)
In “A Cyborg Manifesto”, written in the 1980s, Donna Haraway examined the way in which distinctions between the natural organism and the machine were becoming ambiguous. Using the concept of the cyborg, she weighs the arguments for and against the move towards cybernetic organisms and the politics behind their creation.
“By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it give us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformation. In the traditions of ‘western’ science and politics – the tradition of racist, male-dominant capitalism; the tradition of progress; the tradition of the appropriation of nature as resource for the productions of culture; the organism and machine has been a border war. The stakes in the border war have been the territories of production, reproduction, and imagination. This chapter is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction.” (Donna J. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women – The Reinvention of Nature, Free Association Books, 1991, p150.)
She elaborates on the boundaries between human and animal, between human/animal (organism) and machine, and between physical and non-physical, proposing how the cyborg world could be either one of extreme control or one that celebrates partial identities. Whilst this was abstract imagining based on current science, we seem to be closer now to the possibilities she imagined and I wonder if this tempers our feelings about these possibilities. The focus of our discussions has been on the bodily experience of this scientific intervention and how it actually feels (physically and emotionally) to the subject, which gives a totally different perspective to Haraway’s story.
Yesterday, I was reminded how contingent our human bodies are when my family was plunged into a set of circumstances that highlighted its frailty in a different number of ways: the elderly body that is no longer able to support itself, a diseased body that is destroying itself from within and a broken body that brings to a halt all normal activity. When our bodies are subject to an overwhelming barrage of ‘senses’ – pain, mechanical failure – would we view the idea of a cybernetic body somewhat differently? The day previously, I saw the stunning paintings of Marlene Dumas and Richard Diebenkorn. These two painters are embedded in totally oppositional subject matters – the human and the abstract – but what their work had in common in their application of paint was the compelling evidence of human touch.
Bevis Fenner: Yvonne led a really interesting seminar, which expanded upon the explorations of dwelling and existential authenticity in the previous two sessions. The seminar centred around both the notion of the post-human (Moravec, 1997) and a news story about a surgeon planning to carry out the first human head transplant. In the case of the latter, the possiblity of such a thing encourages us to consider the relationship between the body and its senses and the cognition of subjective experience by the mind. Yet, where does the spirit fit into to these Cartesian relations? Yvonne asked us to consider several interesting questions relating to the news story:
Is it head transplant or body transplant?
Is the result an authentic person, self, body?
Does the new body dwell in the head, or the new head dwell in the body?
All of these questions prompt us to how notions of an authentic self relate to lived sensory experience or how we live through our bodies. Yet our sensory experience is once removed by the time we know it in a subjective sense. However, whatever the time delay in, for example, processing light and colour into subjective experience, as Noriko suggests, knowing is a ‘lived in’ process of doing, sensing, making; we cannot understand our bodies until we have used them. In Hedeggerian terms, an embodied authenticity of being or Dasein, comes from knowing the body not as present-at-hand – a theoretical object of the subject in which any body is an interchangeable tool for the head – but as ready to hand or that which is already known. Noriko points us in the direction of Tim Ingold who suggests that ‘[t]o know things you have to grow into them, and let them grow in you, so that they become a part of who you are’ (Ingold, 2012: 1). And it is this idea of the authentic self coming from ‘lived-in’ relations to the corporeal world that brings us back to the concept of dwelling (Heidegger, 1962; Pons, 2003). Indeed, one of the most powerful aspects of Yvonne’s work was her conscious mediation of the subject / object relationship as disseminated by the medical profession. As Foucault the body and its ailments become clinical objects of medical subjects. The relationship between medical subjects and objects become habitual and so the human is betrayed to the disease:
Doctor and patient are caught up in an ever-greater proximity, bound together, the doctor by an ever-more attentive, more insistent, more penetrating gaze, the patient by all the silent, irreplaceable qualities that, in him, betray—that is, reveal and conceal—the clearly ordered forms of the disease (Foucault, 1963)
Yet, for Yvonne, the process of engaging the physician in a dialogue enabled a mediation of the clinical process in which medical subject and object cease to be as a reflexive awareness breaks the habitual bond of this symbiosis. The surgeon becomes aware of the human inside the body and the experience of being-in-the-world is shared by both parties. In reclaiming their senses from the habitual zone of the operating theatre, both doctor and patient allow their bodies to shelter Being. In a literal sense this process re-humanises the post-human body or the body in which all sensory experience is redundant. I would like to suggest that this mediation, this reflexive process of negating ontological authenticity, whilst appearing individualistic – in not letting the ‘my self’ – is in fact a crucial part of being human through sharing what it means to be human; empathising and allowing others to empathise. Noriko has the last word:
In order to empathise with others, one has to be able to use their imagination and approximation, alter the self, if need be, and use it as the basis for communication and understanding across various differences. I think these qualities are vital for people to co-exist in this world (Suzuki-Bosco, 2015).
The Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group held a seminar on 19 January 2015, led by Bevis Fenner, with the title ‘Living under the tourist gaze: AirBnB, dwelling and the reflexive negotiation of environmental meaning under the conditions of late capitalism’. The session expanded the previous session’s exploration of what constitutes ‘dwelling’ and ‘home’, led by Patti Gaal-Holmes, to take on notions of ‘existential authenticity’ and performativity in ‘dwelling’. This article provides notes and commentaries drawn from the seminar by the participants, Patti Gaal-Holmes, Noriko Suzuki-Bosco, Yvonne Jones, Yonat Nitzan-Green, Jane Bennett, Cheng-Chu Weng, Simiao Wang.
Texts for Seminar:
Ning Wang – Rethinking Authenticity in Tourism Experience (pp. 359-366)
Dean MacCannell – Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings (pp. 591-598)
Tim Edensor – Performing Tourism, Staging Tourism (pp. 71-79)
Following on from Patti’s seminar on dwelling and making yourself ‘at home in the world,’ Bevis opened up a discussion about the extent to which we can open out to external influences in order to disrupt ‘habitual ways of being’ without loosing our sense of ‘home’ in ourselves. Vilém Flusser’s provocative suggestion that we need to move away from the encased individualism of houses and build for a collective future, is extremely inspiring. Yet to what extent is it possible to share our private spaces of dwelling – opening our houses and minds to others? Moreover, what are the challenges for cultures in which ‘bricks and mortar’ notions of dwelling and Cartesian relations to the world have become habits for dwelling? For Heidegger, dwelling ‘remains for man’s everyday experience that which is from the outset “habitual” – we inhabit it’ (Heidegger, 1978: 247).
The seminar was based around a draft chapter for Bevis’ thesis document, which explores the idea of ontological authenticity or that which Wang (1999) terms ‘existential authenticity’ in tourism performance. Specifically, he used auto-ethnographic perspectives and observations as a former AirBnB host to explore some of the ways in which tourist performance and ‘staged’ social relations might impact upon ontological authenticity in everyday life.
Bevis Fenner: It turned out to be a very exciting and engaging seminar in which we debated both the nature of authenticity in tourism and everyday life, and the distinctions between host / guest, tourist / non-tourist, which perhaps led us to question both the status of the art object and the need to assert the intention of the artwork in order to govern its reception. One of the key issues that came up was the notion of performance both as a way of directing the self and as a means representation for others – what does playing the tour guide ‘do’ from an ontological perspective? This also brought into play the issue of authenticity in performance and how as tourists we seek ‘the real’ in other peoples, places and things. Yet, as Patti pointed out, this highlights the fragile nature of ontological authenticity, as the ‘authentic’ settings of host communities force us to question whether we are tourists or travellers, friends with hosts or simply their customers. Indeed, as both Cheng-Chu and Yonat pointed out when I said that I wanted to “get under the skin of tourism”, tourists are often thought of as shallow, depthless with nothing under the skin – they are caricatures like Duane Hanson’s sculptures!
As the conversation unfolded, we began to realise the complexities of authenticity in tourism. Ontological or ‘existential tourism’ was discussed in relation to the post-human. Yvonne got us to consider whether or not she authenticity was based on experience rather than the veracity of objects by stating that she had ‘fake’ lenses in her eyes. After reflecting on the way that technology distorts or changes notions of authenticity, Simiao pointed out that just as one might visit a ‘fake’ place like a theme park but experience it in an authentic human way, so too is it Yvonne’s ability make use of or appropriate the lenses in multi-sensory experience that makes her relationship with them ontologically authentic. Yet, as Yvonne noted, even seemingly authentic objects can be inauthentic. She argued that there is something inauthentic about Venice, in that it is left in a crumbling state, very few people actually live there, and there is a sense in which the peeling paintwork and opulently acetic candlelit settings would not exist in the ‘outside world’! We touched upon the notion of ‘staged authenticity’ as the maintenance of aura, which brings to mind, on the one hand Baudrillard’s simulacra, and on the other Benjamin’s notion of the ‘aura’ of the art object. However, what became apparent was that performance and ritual were a necessary to social relations and that tourism often offers strict boundaries for this – ‘habitual ways of being’ a tourist which offer ontological security (Edensor, 2001). We also discussed role the objects that we bring away with us as ‘pieces of home’ and Jane suggested that these were perhaps a kind of reproduced private space – our backstage whilst on tour!
The discussion then moved on to debate the notion of the public and private self in relation to the home and how it differs from culture to culture. Noriko pointed out that the performative roles were a strong part of Japanese culture and there is a respecting of these boundaries in which no-one visiting someone’s home or a public inn would expect to look behind the scenes. Likewise, Simiao explained the ritualised socio-spatial boundaries of traditional Chinese home and how these reflected social and religious hierarchy and reverence within the family structure. This brought about a fruitful fork in our conversation in which, we firstly discussed ideas of the self and the home in relation to both individualism and collectivism, and secondly the role of performative ritual and ceremony in cultural representations – a Benjamin inspired notion linking the ‘host space’ of tourism with the art gallery, and the rituals of representation lost in an age of mechanical reproduction. Indeed, as Cheng-Chu suggests ‘[w]here is the sense of focusing? Do people’s action embodied with a space?’.
We then considered the effects of de-traditionalisation both in the East and the West as bringing about the rise of individualism and its compounding of Cartesian divisions between inside and outside, self and world. The rise of counter culture in the 1960s seems to have perpetuated notions of self against society, in which one’s own future more important than that of one’s family. Indeed, Yvonne, gave a personal anecdote in which she described moving as far away from her parents’ home and the responsibility of family. She talked about refusing to return home when she was 21 and engaged to be married, despite being offered a car! She explained that they were disappointment as they considered she belonged to them, should be guided by them and do as she was told. Interestingly, in the ethics of individualism the home seems to become on the one hand, a refuge from ideologically contaminating ‘outside’, and on the other, a publicly-private space – a shop front for the self – through which is an express of identity to others. Here, the home becomes a contestable space of representational negotiation and hybridity, in which self and ‘home’, are perhaps, interchangeable. Interestingly, I began the seminar with a quote from Richard Sennett about the rise of the protestant ethic in the West and its affect on spatial structures. He argues that the protestant ethic, is at the heart of individualism, which is, in turn, the foundation of capitalism. For Sennett, ‘[o]bsessive inner struggle may imply a deep hostility toward the needs of other people, a resentment of their very presence. Other’s interfere; to get in control of oneself, nothing “out there” can count’ (Sennett, 1990: 45).
At this point the nature of my own practice was brought into question, which as Yonat pointed out becomes a form of performance in which the status of the artwork is negated but the aura is retained and reused in negotiation of representation both for and by others. In different settings my paintings are ‘read’ in different ways by different people, and the contexts take into account this multi-accentuality. These discussions allowed us to question the enlightenment notion of tourism as a negative form of behaviour in which we demand to see or have, that which we desire in our minds to the exclusion of the objective world, as it is as opposed to how we think it ought to be. Instead, we considered both art and tourism as exploring a gentle politics of Being – as both an openness to the world and a letting things be.
Cheng-Chu Weng: It is a lovely seminar again; I wish, I am able to hold a seminar as this in the future. The question of what is the authenticity did open up the glory discussion. I am impressed in the way your practice set up to adjust the issue, for instance the elements of practice: painting, AirBnB and tourists.
I remember in the seminar the question Yonat asked about, how do you put your position with your painting? This is the question I want to ask as well. I assumed your answer will be evoked the issue of gallery or Benjamin, W.’s aura. The answer from you seems much more complex; due to it intervene the specific viewers. I do feel the relationship between you and your painting is cold. As a painter, I do feel painting is part of me, presenting works as I am naked in front of people. For you the paintings are empty? Painting is working in specific environment? At the page 13, you said “[…] the white walls and spotlights of the hall space…. However, this is not a gallery we can dwell in.” I do agree the form of painting is hard to demonstrate in different environments, especially the light. Whilst paintings take out from the studios the light do change the aura. Furthermore, I do agree the idea of painting should not be understood or view by the specific people and place, which is the reservation for Dadaism and Pop art. On the other hand, I do find moderns’ visions have been disturbed by the technology seriously. Where is the sense of focusing? Do people’s action embodied with a space? As you argue that the idea of performing. However, I think ‘formal’ galleries do pervade the phenomenon of concentrating, and ceremony. A few months before, I visit Richard Serra’s exhibition at Gagosian Gallery. The securities look like come from movie “Men in Black”, they seems had been chosen, model size with black suits. Viewers seem to also respond to the phenomenon the artist created. Both of they are performing.
While reading the text, I do find the position of the host as a the shadow/ illusion maker in Plato’s cave story. Tourists are searching for the exotic experience, yet actually they are in the shadow of the cave. In the end of the seminar, I think from the group desecration did answer my doubt that why do not present the issue as Duane Hanson’s tourists serious? Although the narrative of the tourists’ feedback/ commit of the AirBnB or painting are general ideas for me, the responds from they are providing the holes of the research. This holes create the link between practice and theory.
Thanks, Bevis and the phenomenology & Imagination Reading Group. I do not only find learning the theories from yours, but also find enjoy of sharing the ideas. The idea of sharing is the treasury. From Noriko, Patti, to Bevis seminars are provides different text from phenomenology, yet gives the same sense of being-in-the-world. I like to conclude the idea by quote Merleau-Ponty’s theory:
[…]; we have found underneath the objective and detached knowledge of the body that outher knowledge which we have of it in virtue of its always being with us and of the fact that we are our body. In the same way we shall need to reawaken our experience of the world as it appears to us in so far as we are in the world through our body, and in so far as we perceive the world with our body. But by thus remaking contact with the body and with the world, we shall also rediscover ourself, since, perceiving as we do with our body, the body is a natural self and, as it were, the subject of perception(1945:239).
Following the discussion of family, identity and the being-in-the world do reminds me John’s seminar The Big Night: Into the Ultacity, the idea of escape. Could we imagine the society as the movie The Road? Moreover refer to the idea of family, peak up the memory of the lovely film from German filmmaker Doris Dorrie’s Cherry Blossoms. It is interesting that in the end link to Patti’s. As well as the lovely collection book in WSA library John Bently’s The Old House.
Yvonne Jones: Ontological authenticity, using the notion of authentic within existential philosophy and a definition of ontology, we are speaking of being, becoming, an existence and reality that is genuine, made in the traditional or original way, not a copy.
Within the session my attention was attracted to the over riding concept of AirBnB as a means to achieving authentic experiences of place and people.
Moravec claims that our future is one of very little original experience, and that the senses have no future (1997). While this sounds extreme (to me) the sources of our daily experiences have already altered at a fast rate with the developments in technology. We ‘see’ events across mediated information, witnessing from a distance, via film, TV, the internet and social media to name a few. How often do we see the world (once removed) through glass, be it the window of our house or the windows of the vehicles in which we travel? From Patti’s session, Flusser (Building Houses) writes of walls and the holes of windows and doors where the window becomes an instrument, allowing that ‘one could peer outside without getting wet’; he is describing a distancing of direct experience. He refers us to a Greek term theoria meaning, knowledge without danger or direct experience. Moravec’s belief moves along the spectrum of indirect experience to where there will be a time, he claims, when the vast majority of our knowledge will be sourced from one gigantic computer out in the universe, revealing to us all we would wish to know, with very few moments of original (authentic?) direct experience. He used this model to include ‘all the wonders of the world’, being made known to us. This notion is an evolution and extension of Flusser’s model of holes in walls that allow us to avoid direct experience, to a model where we cease to experience anything directly or through the senses; no direct experiences, but seemingly ‘avoiding danger (and direct experience)’. Where would we be dwelling at that point, how authentic a human would we be, would we all be tourists of the inauthentic?
In his work, Bevis is exploring ontological authenticity. The session was stimulating. That people are today seeking out the backstage in order to have authentic experiences of authentic people and places, is itself exciting. It holds the potential of instigating a discussion and debate that offers a choice for our future, rather than now and future living beings becoming subsumed into a literal posthuman existence without challenging it. While the notion (of literal posthuman existence) appears at first sight to be extreme, there is an evolving path, that, without discourse could lead to such a goal.
Authentic also means made in a way that faithfully resembles an original. Moravec believes a bio material machine can be created in the future, one that ‘me’ can be transferred into, out from ‘my’ old or injured born-corporeal body, leaving the original behind and discarded. Would this faithful resemblance be authentic, would it be characterised by the existential understanding of authentic with the capacity of being, becoming, would this faithful resemblance have an existence and reality that is genuine? It would not have been made in the traditional or original way, via sexual reproduction, but it would be the same genetic construct as the “me’ who was transferred. This is after all only extending idea of incorporating an artificial limb or a natural lens being destroyed and replaced by an artificial lens. In the scenario of such a literal posthuman would, as Simiao says, the ability of ‘me’ to appropriate the bio-material machine make it ontologically authentic?
That ontological authenticity is being sought out, suggests there is already an awareness of our reductive capacity for genuine experience. The emptiness expressed in Bevis’s practice, his paintings, offers an experience for the viewer that questions our experience of existence.
Thank you Bevis for your session and all who participated. The sharing of information and the open talk within this supportive group (PIRG) is productive, a place of real learning and advancement of thought. The group is innovative in its methodology it stimulates and encourages authentic thoughts, responses and comments.
Yonat Nitzan-Green: Bevis wrote: ‘I would like to open a discussion on the extent to which we open out to external influences in order to disrupt “habitual ways of being” without loosing our sense of “home” in ourselves.’
I was interested to see how a discussion will be opened up within the academic environment (Winchester School of Art), bearing in mind HIRG/PIRG moment of transition; not only in term of location (moving from Southampton University café to the PGR seminar room) but also in term of method and methodology. I was aware that Bevis’ opening statement reflects, un-intentionally perhaps, this moment of transition. At the beginning of the session I mentioned very briefly the method of conversation which was used at all previous meetings and the method of presentation which is used in academic seminars. I suggested that a synthesis between the two methods may be a base for PIRG methodology. In line with the topic of this seminar, Bevis’ presentation hosted the method of conversation perfectly, thus, I, and I believe, the others, felt at home.
I go back to the question: what is it to feel ‘at home’?
Bevis writes: ‘For Heidegger, dwelling “remains for man’s everyday experience that which is from the outset ‘habitual’ – we inhabit it” (Heidegger, 1978:247)’.
I looked at the etymological meaning of the word ‘habitual’ in Hebrew and found that it shares the same root as ‘leg’ הרגל, רגל . This is close to the Aborigines’ nomadic way of dwelling (Michael Jackson’s At Home in the World, introduced by Patti Gaal-Holmes). There is an ancient word in Judaism – ‘holidays’ – רגלים which also shares the same root as ‘leg’. It refers to the tradition of walking from all parts of the country to the temple in Jerusalem on special, sacred days. Thus, the word ‘habitual’ maintains a dialectical meaning: the everyday habit, on the one hand, and a special occasion, on the other hand. It also preserves a connection with the body; it is through and with the body that we dwell. I mentioned the kibbutz childhood system of children groups moving house every two years; another daily routine (not mentioned at our meeting) was walking from the ‘children’s house’ to the ‘parents room’ to visit one’s parents every evening for about 3 hours; then walking back to sleep at the ‘children’s house’. No wonder I feel empathy and find in me some sense of familiarity with the Aborigines way of life.
Bevis introduced two concepts ‘auto-ethnography’ and ‘existential authenticity’. I think it is a good idea to put here something about each of these concepts.
‘Autoethnography is a form of self-reflection and writing that explores the researcher’s personal experience and connects this autobiographical story to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings. It differs from ethnography —a qualitative research method in which a researcher uses participant observation and interviews in order to gain a deeper understanding of a group’s culture— in that autoethnography focuses on the writer’s subjective experience rather than, or in interaction with, the beliefs and practices of others. As a form of self-reflective writing, autoethnography is widely used in performance studies, as a method in living educational research and English.’ (From Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autoethnography)
‘Heidegger uses the term “authenticity” to indicate that someone is being themselves existentially (1996:247-277). This is deeper than being oneself behaviorally or psychologically. To be oneself existentially means to exist according to one’s nature or essence, which transcends day-to-day behavior or activities or thinking about self. Because existential authenticity is experience-oriented, the existential self is transient, not enduring, and not conforming to a type. It changes from moment to moment. As a result, a person is not authentic or inauthentic all the time. There is no authentic self.’ (Carol J. Steiner and Yvette Reisinger, ‘Understanding Existential Authenticity’, p. 303).
This made me wonder about the kind of authenticity that emerged in people who lived communally during their early, formative years of personal development.
Another point that interests me is Bevis’ choice of positioning his paintings within this presentation. I have noticed that the images seem to be like any other standard tourists accommodation; the paintings appear in all but one of them, always at an angle and surrounded by other domestic objects, which emphasize their objectness.
In his analysis, Bevis’ intention is made clearer. He termed ‘everyday tourism’ as ‘a work in progress’. In that context, the paintings (his paintings) are in a space/role of mediation. He writes: ‘… the aura of the artwork is never destroyed by mediation but is always in negotiation with context, through which hybrid meanings are produced’. I sense that for Bevis AirBnB was not only a financial necessity, but a performative act in a performative space where questions about existential authenticity could be explored.
To further understand representation in relation to mediation Bevis writes:
‘In discussion of web aesthetics as a reframing of the mediated nature of representational practices, Manghani suggests that re-mediation or the framing-of-framing is an aesthetic of hypermediacy, “which represents our… desire to foreground the act of mediation” (Manghani, 2013: 163)’.
Now, placing mediation at the foreground, Bevis’ paintings ‘are not simply commodities but actors within a commoditized performance space. They play emotional role …prospective visitors … through… suspension of disbelief, envisage ways in which the space could become a temporary home’ (Bevis’ text). Heidegger writes: ‘dwelling itself is always a staying with things’ (Heidegger, 1978b:247). Bevis suggests that ‘perhaps in their ambiguity and obtuseness the paintings allow such dwelling?’
Although not in Bevis’ text, I am reminded of Bachelard’s meditation of home and reverie. Bachelard writes:
‘… the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind. The binding principle in this integration is the daydream. Past, present and future give the house different dynamisms, which often interfere, at times opposing, at others, stimulating one another. In the life of a man, the house thrusts aside contingencies, its councils of continuity are unceasing. Without it, man would be a dispersed being.’ (Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, pp. 6-7).
Reinforcing Bevis’ suggestion, I would add that the paintings accommodate the tourist’s gaze; housing their daydreaming.
Noriko Suzuki-Bosco: I have been looking into the area of Human Geography recently to try and understand ‘where’ and ‘what’ a place is.
In the book ‘The Lure of the Local’, art critic and writer Lucy Lippard gives definition of ‘local places’ as an ‘existing hybridity’ and that ‘each time we enter a new place, we become one of the ingredients of the existing hybridity’. She suggests that ‘by entering the hybrid, we change it; and in each situation we play a different role’. (Lippard 1997, p.6)
Lippard notes, ‘Place is latitudinal ad longitudinal within the map of a person’s life. It is temporal and spatial, personal and political. A layered location replete with human histories and memories, place has width as well as depth. It is about connections, what surrounds it, what formed it, what happened there, what will happen there.’ (Lippard 1997, p.7)
I thought about the definition Lippard gives of a place in relation to the host –guest situation of a BnB. If a home is opened up to accommodate others, does that allow for more of this ‘hybridity’ to enter into the so-called personal space? How does this affect one’s relationship with their home?
Your question, ‘ ‘How much can we disrupt our habitual ways of being without losing our sense of home?’ and the two further points raised during the discussion, ‘what are we losing (by opening up our homes to guests)’ and ‘what are we protecting’ seemed ever more prevalent when contemplating this potential shift of home from a personal, sacred place to something more open, hybrid and fluid. From this understanding, is it correct to say that a home opened up to others are never complete, finished or bounded but are always becoming – in process? Maybe a fixed notion of a ‘home’ only exists in our nostalgic, rose tinted ideal?
Furthermore, Lippard suggest that the ‘pull of a place’ continues to operate in all of us as the ‘geographical component of the psychological need to belong somewhere, one antidote to a prevailing alienation’ (Lippard 1997, p.7). Is this why people seek ‘home from home’ experiences when choosing a ‘cosy’ BnB, the desire to be in a home?
I have been pondering over the last question we ended your session with, ‘When you break your “rootedness”, what do you replace it with to call a “home”? ‘
I wonder what this ‘home’ is.
Jane Bennett: It was interesting to note your guests’ comments about being amongst “real” art; perhaps part of what they seek in their search for the back-region is gained from the reflected aura of the art object. The performative function of your paintings in this situation brought to mind Jacques Derrida’s ideas about framing (The Truth in Painting, 1987): the tourist’s performance is in a framed setting, a part of which are your paintings. But the effect of the paintings themselves extends beyond their own frame and their work is additional to their function as an object in a number of ways. Firstly, in the authentic aura of a hand-made object with direct connection to a person that reinforces the back-region illusion; they allow the guest to project themselves into this new world they desire to experience. Secondly, as you state, in their critique of the whole tourist experience in the emptiness of their subject matter and the way in which you have painted them. Just as the frame of the painting sets it aside from the outside world, so the frame (or stage) of tourist experience separates it from our everyday lives.
A further thought about the objects we carry around on our travels – perhaps these become the lifeline to our authentic selves, or ‘home’, which may be necessary lest we become too deeply embedded in our daydream as tourist and forget where reality lies.
Patti Gaal-Holmes: This was such a rich session with a lot to think about and some unexpected connections I found myself making. Since the January session I have stayed in airBnB again (this time in the UK – Taunton) and my experience there made me acutely aware of this ‘act’ of being and entering into the intimacy of someone’s home. Bevis had already raised the ideas for his presentation so it was good to be more aware of the ‘role-playing’ involved. I have previously stayed in AirBnB in Copenhagen (twice) and somehow feel that for traveling abroad it is a better option than a hotel/B&B. Perhaps this is also because the cultural negotiations are also eased by being hosted by a local person who can give tips and ideas about places to visit off the ‘tourist’ radar; and one gains entry into the culture more ‘authentically’ perhaps? Or perhaps a myth?
The idea of cultural difference and how we negotiate this is of immense interest to me and your citations from Lippard, Noriko, are very interesting: in how ‘we become one of the ingredients of the existing hybridity’. She suggests that ‘by entering the hybrid, we change it; and in each situation we play a different role’. (Lippard 1997, p.6). Perhaps by staying in an ‘authentic’ home (AirBnB) we take on the hybridity in cultural difference more readily than when staying in ‘homogenized’ hotels which could be anywhere?
I was also interested in how Bevis discussed his artworks and their role in providing the ‘right’ décor with reference to tourist brochures and which guests felt was so important as being authentic ‘real’ art. Cheng Chu’s point about the ‘cold’ relationship to the work was interesting but perhaps this is also due to the content as these are not angst-ridden expressive works which would be more difficult perhaps for ‘exposing’ oneself; which one already does as a AirBnB host by opening up the personal space of the home.
Our discussion about the cultural differences in traditional Eastern collectively orientated families as opposed to Western individualism was interesting and it was invaluable to hear Cheng-Chu and Simiao’s contributions too. Perhaps as tourists we want somehow to also gain some understanding of how other cultural systems work as we can only really very tentatively step into them: unless we live elsewhere (as opposed to a brief trip/holiday).
The Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group held a seminar on 19 January 2015, led by Patti Gaal-Holmes, with the title ‘Excavations in Film, Fragments Lost in the Ether and Being At ‘Home’ in the World’. This article provides notes drawn from the seminar and commentaries from the participants, Noriko Suzuki-Bosco, Yvonne Jones, Yonat Nitzan-Green, Jane Bennett, Cheng-Chu Weng, Bevis Fenner, Xiaoyang Xi.
2 page extract from Michael Jackson’s At Home in the World (2000)
Short essay ‘Building Houses’ by Vilém Flusser
Patti Gaal-Holmes, ‘(Re)calling ‘Home’: An Artist’s Negotiation and (Re)negotiation between Memory, Geography, History and Language’ in Crossings: Journal of Migration and Culture, Intellect, 2012, Vol 3 Issue 2, pp. 210-212.
Patti Gaal-Holmes: The idea with this seminar was not to offer a didactic explanation for the set texts but rather to lay out some materials for conversations to evolve….which they indeed did with valuable contributions from all: many thanks! Three essays provided fuel for discussions and a context for concluding with an illustrated talk about my work-in-progress film project, Liliesleaf Farm: Mayibuye; provoking further discussions.
After a brief introduction we looked more closely at Heidegger’s ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’ essay with a number of valuable digressions, thoughts and counter-thoughts [my brief notes for ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’ attached]. My preoccupations with the notion of ‘home’ have centered on attempting to ascertain what ‘home’ means from a cross-cultural/geographical and multi-lingual perspective (I am half-German, half-Hungarian, born in South Africa, a Belgian national and reside in the UK). Are familiarities/affiliations with being ‘at home in the world’ related to land and landscape, as Michael Jackson’s research with the Walpiri Aboriginal tribe in his book At Home in the World reveals? Or is ‘home’ very much fixed in a Western construct of ‘bricks and mortar’ as the site/building as Heidegger discusses in ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’. For both (J and H) the notion of kin/kinship and belonging seemed to be central. At one point some interesting discussions on Heidegger’s religious position (Catholic) were brought to the table – and the evident biblical influences in this text – and further onto the church as a ‘house of God’ therefore requiring such large proportions, with steeple to sky (the divinities mentioned in H’s essay). On my way home after the seminar I had the ‘good fortune’ of just missing my train and having to wait an hour … so took a walk to Winchester Cathedral with these thoughts in mind: about scale and man and God and a building for thinking and being in … not the ‘cosy’ protectiveness of a human space for dwelling in … a different kind of thinking … collective communion/communication? But cold and vast too…I was much more observant of the huge doors and windows and the sky of the ceiling.
The issue of ‘walls’ came up too: with inside and outside walls offering protection from enemies without and enclosure within; although in Flusser’s ‘Building Houses’ essay he says that our modern homes are full of perforations – like Swiss cheese – with the outside world continually penetrating through the wires and conduits of technology. So discussions moved on to the necessary ‘space’ of silence required to just ‘be’, particularly for the distillation of ideas/noise into (art/written) works. Flusser writes of the need for habit/the habitual to make sense of the noise of experience. Discussion followed on to the invaluable connection which technology brings but equally (I think) sometimes a disconnected ‘unreal’ connection; and also these continued conduits making it difficult to escape from the ‘noise’ of the outside world. Bevis discussed his project where he has invited strangers into his home, opening up some thoughts on privacy, space, etc.
Discussions on the material differences of what home meant from Western perspectives (Heidegger/Flusser) to Jackson’s understanding of home from an Aboriginal perspective [as an experiential anthropologist acquired through living with the Walpiri tribe in Australia] in communion with land and markers in the landscape (rocks, trees, rivers, etc). Heidegger writes of the bridge (the structure not as dwelling place) which provides connecting markers in the landscape, making me think of Western necessity to forge these marks more ‘concretely’, whereas these are already exist as imagined by the Walpiri as connecting markers.
We moved on to my work-in-progress film/photography project, Liliesleaf Farm Mayibuye, with the rich contributions from the seminar providing further contextual basis for discussion. And in mind for this project I thought of John R. Stilgoe’s question in his Introduction to Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space (1958), framing this project: ‘how accurately must one hear in order to hear the geometry of echoes in an old, peculiarly experienced house?’ Liliesleaf, the farm of the title, has particular historical significance, as it was the headquarters of the military wing of the African National Congress (South Africa) in the early 1960s (and is now a key museum forming part of heritage history of the ‘liberation struggle’). A police raid on the farm took place in 1963, with the notorious Rivonia Trial (1964) resulting in the lifetime imprisonment of anti-apartheid activists like Nelson Mandela. Ideas for the project originated with the discovery of 8mm film footage and photographs of my immigrant family at Liliesleaf as this was our home in the late 1960s.
I showed a few slides related to this project and a 3 minute dual-screen film in which I had refilmed the 8mm ‘home-movie’ footage onto 16mm through a laborious – but very valuable ‘slow’ process for thinking – on an Optical printer. The film was hand-processed, digitised and edited. Experimentation with the materiality and content of film and photography lies at the heart of the Liliesleaf Farm: Mayibuye project. The idea is to bring intersecting histories to the fore, opening up a space for reflection on the house, Liliesleaf Farm, as a palimpsest layered by the spectres of history. The film reflects on the lived experiences intersecting in a given space and time and explores, as friend and cultural historian/critic, Saër Maty Bâ, succinctly put it: ‘it seems to me that the ‘Liliesleaf Farm’ project is also a crucial undertaking in the sense that it does not so much explore why we are part of histories but, instead, how we have come to enter those histories and how that mode of entry might enrich the surface and depth of what it means to be human’. I have yet to explore all these possibilities within the project.
The film is intended as a montage of interconnected image and sound, opening up spaces for poetic engagement rather than being a didactic, linear narrative attempting to present a plot. In this way it also poses questions about ‘home’ as a (contested) site where events unfold, where individuals unfold these events and where these individuals, allegedly free of affiliations to nationhood, inadvertently find themselves caught within the residue of turbulent historical moments.
I much appreciated the feedback received on the film, as questions on the use of soundtrack (the film is currently silent), issues of narcissism in working with autobiographical material and the ‘problem of nostalgia’ are foremost in mind with this project.
Chen-Chu Weng: It is surprising that the idea of home able to extend to values of issues. The term of skin, “I live in my house as I live inside my skin” from Jackson, remind me a film call “The Skin I Live In”. This does not refer to Jackson’s words, I think Jackson’s term of skin may able to explain as the experiences of space. How the body experience the space. I remember whilst I was a little girl, I love to play hide- and- seek at my parents’ house. My body seems already familiar and memories the space, and then a few years before we moved to the new house, the star is much bigger than the old house. I feel odd while I climbed the stairs.
The other interesting term for me is original term of ‘home’ comes from the form of munition, which is quite violent, in Chinese word of home is a house live with pigs. Due to pig is part of property in Chinese ancient culture.
I think the text of Building Dwelling Thinking is able to connect writing Merleau-Ponty’s chapter “Space” in “Phenomenology of Perception”, for instance Heidegger said “The axiomatic proposition and founding representation is cogito sum, I think, I am, ich denke, ich bin. Bin, like the English be, stems from the Indo-Germanic bheu, as does the Latin fui (I have been) and the Greek phuō (I come to light, grow, engender), But these words also give rise to the German word bauen, to build” (PP344-345).
In the similar way Merleau-Ponty said:
The true cogito is not the intimate communing of though with the thought of that thought: they meet only on passing through the world. The consciousness of the world is not based on self-consciousness: they are strictly contemporary. There is a world for me because I am not unaware of myself; and I am not concealed from myself because I have a world. This pre-reflective cogito(1945:345)
I do feel reading the essay and the references is able to help me understand Merleau-Ponty’s theory. Thanks you, Patti!! And thank you, all the members in HIGR, Bevis and Xia I had a good day.
By the way, in the earlier the seminar, I mention the inside and outside of outline, the book name On Not Being Able to Paint by Marion Milner. Although this may refer to subject of painting more than the other subject, it may worth to extend to the topics we discourse, like refuge and out of the refuge, home and homeless, language and outside of language.
Noriko Suzuki-Bosco: I find it interesting thinking about the role of memory in connection to one’s understanding of a place. I used to think that the sense of place was stronger if it only exists in memory. ‘Nostalgia’ plays a big part in it too. You can long for something more if you can’t or don’t have it any longer.
I have been questioning in my own mind about the definition of ‘home’ and sense of belonging, more so since coming back to Winchester. Where does geographical ‘place’ and brick and mortar ‘house/home’ sit in relation to how I try to make sense of who and where I am now? Where is the role of memory as I try to define my connection with Winchester?
Social anthropologist Tim Ingold makes an interesting differentiation between ‘interaction’ and ‘correspondence’, which somehow resonated with me. According to Ingold, ‘interaction’ is ‘detemporalising, cutting across the path of movement and becoming’. Where as correspondence is where ‘lines wrap around one another’ or simply ‘joining along’. To correspond to the world, as Ingold notes, ‘is not to describe it, or to represent it, but to answer to it…it is to mix the movement of one’s own sentinent awareness with the flows and currents of animate life’.
I reflect on your film shown during the presentation and wonder whether it was this element of ‘correspondence’ you had with you father through the making of the film, looking through the view finder as your father did, seeing thought his eyes, together with the tactile experience of the slow, hand-process of putting together the film that enabled you to connect with your past, the memories and histories of the place and the house in a far more poignant way than merely remembering or shifting through memory. This, I feel, resulted in a film that was powerful and beautiful without the dangers of ‘nostalgia’ coating personal memory with sugar dust. It was beautiful and I look forward to seeing the finished product.
Jane Bennett: Thank you very much for introducing us to Heidegger and shedding some light on a dense piece of writing. To introduce the Jackson piece as a counter-view was inspirational; it really highlighted how embedded in western thinking the other definition of “home” is, with its focus on buildings and fixed boundaries/walls. I think we merely touched on what “home” actually meant to each of us, but sufficient to indicate that, with the varied life experiences in even our small group, a wide range of differing meaning – perhaps more to discuss here?
Thank you too for sharing with us your work-in-progress – it is such an interesting subject. The two films bounced off each other, raising questions about how and if such different lived scenarios leave their trace upon the bricks and mortar of the building, or hang in the air within, so to speak. (We questioned whether the confusion about black/white skin that arose from the use of negative film was intentional?) However, what I found most moving was that you were looking where your father looked when you edited the family film. This must have been such a moving experience for you, to have this tangible and material link to your father. To be in the place that he was visually – to look where he looked. And this lead me to wonder whether this sense of material connection could be extended to the building itself, that has now gone on to have a different life and remains and endures, despite our transitory human histories. It is the building that the is site of these experiences.
Perhaps the latter part of the Heidegger document that we didn’t reach that refers to “location” and “space” leads to some answers.
Yonat Nitzan-Green: I would like to create a link between Patti’s presentation and Gaston Bachelard’s thoughts about home and material imagination. What follow are some notes. This text needs to be further developed.
Patti writes: ‘The meaning of ‘home’ is considered in relation to space/place and time as the fragmentary transmutations occurring periodically enable a sense of momentary personal cohesion.’
Transmutation – transformation; scientific word describing a real change in material.
I ask: what the meaning of ‘fragmentary transmutations’?
Gaston Bachelard makes a distinction between ‘formal imagination’ and ‘material imagination’. Both are present in nature and in human consciousness. In nature, formal imagination manifests in a form of beauty in flowers for example. In our mind, formal imagination, according to Bachelard, likes ‘novelty, picturesqueness, variety and unexpectedness’ (Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, p. xiii.). On the other hand, the material imagination ‘aims at producing that which, in being, is both primitive and eternal. … the material imagination is attracted by the elements of permanency present in things’ (ibid).
The itinerant (traveler)/migrant’s position is between places as she/he moves from place to place. S/he is mobile and in direct contrast with elements of permanency.
I wonder what nourishes the itinerant’s imagination. Is it the formal imagination as one encounters new things in one’s daily experience or is being between places and fragmented actually stimulates a thirst to be in touch with elements of permanence fundamental to the material imagination (hence Patti’s interest in both the nomadic perception and the ‘brick and mortar’ perception)?
How does being between places stimulate the imagination and memory?
S/he negotiates her/his sense of ‘self’ through memory/reminiscence between geographical place/s: the geographical place ‘where home is located’ now, and other place/s (significant place/s) that she/he remembers from his/her past.
How does this negotiation as an artist take place? Considering body memory, re-enactment – as Patti, while filming, found herself looking from the same point as her father did – and material imagination.
In thinking about memory and the imagination the following may be helpful.
Bachelard writes: ‘Memories of the outside world will never have the same tonality as those of home and, by recalling these memories, we add to our store of dreams’. (GB, The Poetics of Space, p. 6). Bachelard writes about ‘a community of memory and image’, a ‘solidarity of memory and imagination’. (There, pp. 5-6).
Patti opens up two different perceptions of home and dwelling. First, is the anthropologist Michael Jackson research of nomadic Aboriginal Australian. According to this perception, home is the land, including markings such as a large stone, a tree or a well, that signify places with enhanced importance. Home has no connection to a building. Second, is a western perception of home, discussed profoundly by Martin Heidegger in his essay (as above). In this perception, home and dwelling are connected with building and thinking.
I would like to suggest Bachelard’s meditation of home (mostly in his book, The Poetics of Space, but in other writings too) as a ‘bridge’ between the two perceptions mentioned above, as it includes building, thinking and day-dreaming. It may also be interesting to read about the Australian aborigines and their relationship with dreaming.
It is not the place to elaborate. However, I would like to briefly discuss a few points to do with language.
Heidegger dedicates a large section in his essay to language and meaning, where he expose old connections in language between building, dwelling, neighbor, preserving, nurturing and soil. It led me to look at my own language – Hebrew – and find similar and other connections as follow.
The words ‘schuna’ (neighborhood), ‘shikun’ (building), and ‘shachen’ (neighbor) שכונה, שיכון, שכן share the same root as ‘to dwell’. These words have a connection with a word from the Jewish world: ‘schina’ שכינה which is another word for God, or the Divine Presence and also share the same root as ‘to dwell’. It conveys the idea that God is here, amongst people and things, rather than a distant God in the blue palace of sky.
The Hebrew words ‘building’, ‘to build’, ‘builder’ and ‘built’ are close to the words ‘stone’ and ‘understanding’.
ו’אבן’. ‘בנה’, ‘לבנות’, ‘בניין’, ‘בנאי’ ‘הבנה’
The words ‘son’ and ‘daughter’ also close to the word ‘to build’ and ‘home’.
‘בית’ – ‘בת’ ‘בנה’ – ‘בן’
In examining home and dwelling, we find a material connection: building, constructing and stone; and a cultural connection: to understand.
Heidegger opened a door to look at language which stimulated my imagination and thought. But it is Bachelard who suggests that dwelling is connected with building and daydreaming: ‘the sheltered being gives perceptible limits to his shelter. He experiences the house in its reality and in its virtuality, by means of thought and dreams.’ (GB, The Poetics of Space, p. 5).
Patti proposes to revisit a specific building in a specific place which has a specific history, both personal and political, in order to excavate ‘in film, fragments lost in the ether and being at ‘home’ in the world’. On the one hand there is a sense of loss, as the idea of excavating ‘fragments lost in the ether’ suggests. On the other hand, there is a sense of hope in the possibility of ‘being at ‘home’ in the world’.
I am curious about Patti’s thoughts, as a film maker, regarding materiality.
Is film-making a way to daydream?
Is reading, writing and making a film a way of ‘being at ‘home’ in the world’?
Patti asks ‘where the residues of memory might remain?’ and ‘what might reside within the bricks and mortar of this house…?’ She wonders about the accuracy of hearing the past. In Bachelard’s words, ‘the geometry of echoes in an old, peculiarly experienced house’. ‘Bachelard writes of hearing by imagination…’ (John R. Stilgoe’s introduction in Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, p. ix). [My emphasis].
Patti writes: ‘As a very young child I lived in the house of the title, learning to crawl and walk… Reflecting back and without any recollections of living there…’.
I wonder about the actions of crawling and learning to walk chosen by her. What about eating, playing and learning to talk? I also wonder about ‘body memory’.
How are film, film making and body (the artist’ body) relate? If the question is asked about a residue of memory within the ‘bricks and mortar’, would Bachelard’s term, material imagination, be applicable? How is material being translated in the medium of film? How does material imagination sustain Patti’s imagery?
Bevis Fenner: The seminar opened up some very interesting ideas about the relationship between making and dwelling. On the one hand, the idea that we have to build in order to dwell and on the other, the possibility that dwelling and sense of place has more to do with memory and social relations. For me, the two things are not mutually exclusive as our interactions with both objects and landscape seem to provide us with a kind of ontological authenticity – an embodied and experiential connectedness with the world via the path of narrative and memory. Human Geographer David Crouch argues that it is only through ‘embodiment’ that we can begin to enact the ‘primal social practices of shared space, that [can] be imbued with mythologies and images of ownership’ (Crouch, 1998: 168). In other words, in embodying spaces we generate our own mythologies through visual and experiential memories of place; and this, in turn, produces representational spaces as we revisit spaces and rejuvenate them with our own narratives.
The interesting thing about Patti’s film piece is that it allows for an emergent connectedness by enabling the conjunction a kind of personal-universal consciousness with historical narrative; it creates a feeling of being there and draws a presence out of narratives of absence. Yet, it does this without embodiment, which suggests we might be connecting through the imagination and a kind of embodied vision – through Patti’s father’s eyes. But where is the ‘bricks and mortar’ materiality in this mode of dwelling? There seems to me some attempt to keep the indexical materiality of the image in the use of Super 8 footage – connecting directly to the moment the footage was recorded – but does this alone account for the object’s capacity to activate our mind-traveling? John Berger suggests that the camera substitutes the ontological function of memory, which is to preserve ‘an event from being covered and therefore hidden by the events that come after it’ (Berger, 2013: 51). He also makes an interesting distinction between what he terms ‘public’ and ‘private’ photography. He argues that the public photograph has a generic quality, which objectifies people’s lives, describing how a ‘public photograph’ shouts ‘look’, at a moment which has been ripped from context and from its temporal connectedness with the lives of those involved. In contrast, he also seems to imply that the ‘private photograph’ is a kind of material base for the preservation of the moment (of dwelling, of Being) – drawing a line of ‘continuity which is parallel to the continuity from which the photograph was originally taken (Berger, 2013: 52)’. In other words, he’s suggesting that the private photograph has a kind of meta life – inscribing or mapping a line from what Husserl terms ‘primal-impressional’ consciousness to our mode of preservation or ‘protection’. This mode is material in the case of the photograph or of landscape, however Berger seems to imply that the materiality is simply an aide d’mémoire. Yet, as Patti pointed out, her work is not merely autobiographical or nostalgic. If her work is personal, then this manifests as a personal connected to the historical – it is not her memories that are being preserved by the work but the interconnectedness of her memory with place, and as a means, not of preserving but of drawing out and protecting the essence of dwelling, which for Heidegger is the basic character of Being’ (Heidegger, 1978b: 254). All this seems quite confusing. A paradox appears as: how can we have dwelling without materiality, memory without indexicality, being without Being? It would seem, however, that all these elements are present in Patti’s piece but not in a causal or linear kind of way. There seems to be a simultaneity in which being emerges as an inchoate substance; as a residue of synchronic traces, from both the material and from non-linear historical and dramatic human narrative. In other words, the work characterises an altogether more complex and subtle art of memory. Berger expands:
There is never a single approach to something remembered. The remembered is not like a terminus at the end of a line. Numerous approaches or stimuli converge upon it and lead to it. Words, comparisons, signs need to create a context for a printed photograph in a comparable way; that is to say, they must mark and leave open diverse approaches. A radial system has to be constructed around the photograph so that it may be seen in terms which are simultaneously personal, political, economic, dramatic, everyday and historic (Berger, 2013: 55).
Xiao-yang Li: I believe it was during a discussion over the ‘dwelling in human space’ I mentioned ‘experiencing of one’s own silence’. This comes from something I’ve been reading – Agamben’s new book, in which he talked about the ancient Eleusinian rite that’s often associated with the idea of the ‘unspeakable’. According to thus one could gain ‘supreme philosophical wisdom’ by fully experiencing the power of God and one is not allowed to put this mythical vision into words – that is the silence itself. I think it is a ‘silence’ in a very metaphorical sense, it doesn’t mean ‘without sound’. It perhaps indicate that experiences come as higher than words, the instinctual(or the contemplation) comes higher than the didactic…. and so this is the mystery itself…
In terms of the idea of ‘home’ – in a cross-regional multi-lingual aspect/generation – I personally believe it is the place where one finds one’s own mind at peace, where one finds ease and contentment in everything one does.
I once met a Neapolitan who is so proud of Napoli and would remember every lofty old tree in the centre of every town square – in a way similar to how we’d remember an old friend affectionately. So the cutting down of one of these oldest trees would hurt him so much that he’d call it less of a home now…The trees are not mere ‘trees’ anymore for him, they must have served a metaphorical/psychological function for defining a ‘home’ for him, so is every other little element associated to the place, every persona every bit of history – Caravaggio might have rested under the tree and Giordano Bruno might have drunk the water from the square before his shadowy wandering…a collective ideaology will be necessary, in part I believe this is why Athens thrived, because in comparison to our contemporary cities (even the smallest ones) Athens those day was small with a even smaller population – but these people shared a strong ideaology perhaps similar to what the Neapolitan had felt about his city – but on a much smaller concentrated scale and with a very active political life, upon all this greatest thinkers and statesmen emerged…
Najla Binhalail’s doctoral research examines the practicalities and politics of the museum display of Saudi clothing, with particular consideration of the Unification of the Kingdom Hall in the National Museum in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In this article she considers the relationship between Islamic and Arab heritage and forces of ‘global’ creativity.
Islamic and Arab heritage is considered to be a great treasure. Most of its motifs are inspired by the rich nature of the surrounding environment and geography. Flowers, birds, and geometric designs feature in most of the motifs, embroidery, furniture and fashion of the Arab nations.
As a Muslim from an Arab nation, and also as someone whose field is textile and clothing history, I am always curious about the link between our cultural heritage and our identity. Hence, I have a fear of losing what is beautiful in our heritage if we continue to ignore or give less attention to the inspirational roots and provenance of our designs and motifs.
In my opinion, global cultural literacy, and the subsequent sustainability of our Islamic and Arabic heritage in particular, do not always receive the required attention from a number of Arab designers who fail to recognize the inspirational roots of our heritage; while others limit their research and knowledge of our Islamic and Arabic civilization throughout the ages. As a result, there is a danger that some Arab consumers will tend to ignore their own domestic textiles and fashion products, and instead support European styles – styles that are often more attractively presented and advanced in their marketing methods.
Zuhal Yorgancıoğlu has worked as a fashion designer for 67 years, creating clothing for Turkish women inspired by Anatolian and Ottoman culture. She argues that ‘There have been successful fashion designers in Turkey in recent years but I can’t call them Turkish designers. They imitate Europeans; I can’t see that they have a Turkish style’ (Hurriyetdailynews.com, 2012). Herein lies the problematic: both designers and consumers are not only demonstrating a limitation in their understanding of global cultural literacy, but also more specifically they are appearing to fail in their appreciation of Islamic and Arabic culture. As Polistina points out:
[cultural literacy is] a fundamental skill required by learners in their development of sustainability literacy. The role of educator itself demands a high level of cultural literacy to ensure that education provides chances for critical reflection on culture from multiple perspectives, rather than being confined to limited imperialist views of other cultures. Reflection on our own culture and other cultural systems can help reveal the complex social, environmental and economic relationships that need to be changed to make a successful shift towards sustainability. (Polistina, n.d., p.5)
Based on the evidence I have seen, the textile and fashion industry appears to be an essential component of most developed countries. However, many Arab designers in the textile and fashion world, whose avowed objective is to reach a global audience, are operating only within the borders of the Arab region. They are not, in my view, meeting their objective; they are not moving beyond those borders into the wider world, either in terms of the manufacturing or marketing of their designs and products. As far I am aware, there is no major Arabic fashion house, on a level with such names as Coco Chanel and Christian Dior, that functions beyond the confines of the Islamic and Arabic world. My interest in European textiles and fashion is twofold: first, I admire their ideas and creativity; second, observations that I make will improve the skills I need for my research and work, as a faculty member of the Designs and Arts College, in the Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University in Saudi Arabia.
The 2015 showcase of the Dolce and Gabbana Accessories Collection drew my attention to the crucial issue concerning the inspirational roots of a people’s heritage, and how a people’s identity becomes visible and revealed through the fabric, clothing and accessories that people wear and use. This collection includes a textile design for handbags, which appears to me to be inspired by one of the most famous upholstery fabrics used by Saudi people in their traditional furniture.
The name of the fabric is ‘abo taer’, meaning ‘father of the bird’. The fabric includes the shape of birds and usually comes from Morocco, a Middle Eastern country, rich in Islamic and Arabic heritage.
‘abo taer’ fabric, one of the most famous upholstery fabrics used by Saudi people in their traditional furniture, the fabric usually comes from Morocco.
This example leads me to make two assumptions: first, it is possible, although in my view unlikely, that the textile design used for these handbags does not have its roots in ‘abo taer’. However, it is more probable that this ‘new’ design was inspired by ‘abo taer’- it has the same popular colours of maroon and beige, and possesses a design showing birds and flowers. Second, if the Dolce and Gabbana fabric for these handbags was actually inspired by ‘abo taer’, and this I would personally appreciate and welcome, then it is surely evidence of a limitation by the Islamic and Arabic fashion industry in their understanding of ‘global cultural literacy’. An increased awareness and global understanding would, in my view, enable the Islamic and Arabic industry to communicate internationally more effectively the message of their cultural roots and heritage. If the industry is enabled to move beyond its own borders, then researchers and designers from other cultures will more readily recognize the provenance and importance of the Arabic source. This collection of Dolce and Gabbana could be an effective way of marketing their product, thus making it more attractive for a wide range of consumers, including a large segment of the Arab population.
From my understanding of the British educational system, it is paramount to recognize the inspirational roots for any design in the creative arts. According to Eckert (1997, p.1) sources of inspiration ‘play a powerful role at the beginning of the design process, in research and strategic collection planning. They also play an essential role in the communication of design ideas, both among designers, and between designers and managers and buyers.’
‘Where does the fashion designer get ideas and inspiration for new styles? The answer is everywhere and everything. Anything visual and tactile, in fact sensual, can be a source of inspiration for a garment.’ (Fatma Mete, 2006,pp.282-283).
This collection raises for me a number of questions: Is there an alarm bell ringing in the ears of Arab designers? Are these designers being challenged to recognize that the Islamic and Arabic heritage is ‘rich, astonishing and fabulous’? Are they taking into account that the inspiration for their creativity is linked to and an essential part of their heritage and identity as Arabs? And if this inherent Arabic heritage keeps dancing to the tune on a global scale orchestrated by western designers, then is it in danger in time of losing its identity of origin? Or could this be the beginning of a path towards global creativity and recognition? And does this mean that the echo of our rich Islamic and Arabic heritage will be heard globally in the international forums and connections of domestic and foreign consumption?
‘Any thing visual can be a source of inspiration. Sources of inspiration are employed throughout the design process. Initially other garments allow the designers to develop a feel for the coming fashion and provide a source for design features which can be adapted into the designers own garments’. (Claudia Eckert, 1997, p.12)
From my point of view, current domestic textiles and fashions in the local market of some Islamic and Arabic countries do not compare favourably with the versatility and accuracy of European textiles and fashions. I hope that this issue receives attention from Muslim and Arab specialists in the field of textile and fashion design, and that a careful attempt is made by them to create eastern fashion lines – lines inspired by a superb heritage, in contemporary, accurate, brilliant, and attractive styles that speak eloquently of their Islamic and Arabic origin. This is a key issue that needs to be addressed in our postmodern world. It is important not only for the cultural education of Arabs, but also for the education of designers and customers globally. Indeed, it could be a way, perhaps the most crucial way, of creating a new generation and style in the universal world of textile and fashion design.
Eckert, C. (1997). Design inspiration and design performance. 78th World Conference of the Textile Institute, pp.1, 12. Available at: http://00b7d52c186c2769bb000000-3.pdf [Accessed 21 Oct. 2014].