Using Art as the Medium to Study Living Presence
“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind.”
-first line of the Dhammapada
Raw medium, unformed potential, eternal substance – an infinite field with uniform intensity throughout but without pattern. This is the ground out of which all meaning emerges and then dissolves back into. This is the understanding that the noise field is based on and this is the root of my practice.
The NETTT is an fundamental form drawn from the field of computer graphics. 3-D models are typically made by a process called tesselation or triangulation where the boundaries of a three dimensional object are translated into the computer by breaking the surfaces up into a continuous field of triangles. These are called ‘triangle meshes’. In my work I use this form as a noise field . It extends infinitely in all directions and can be interpreted and used in unlimited ways. Like noise (white noise, pink noise, brown noise, etc..), it is endlessly variable but with uniform intensity throughout – like a waterfall.
the encoding of meaning in gesture
As an author constructs a field, their consciousness is encoded in the configuration. This occurs because there is no exact place where the lines are supposed to be; the triangles are not exactly defined in their dimensions. Forming a NETTT involves the distribution of points in a way which I simply summarize as ‘a roughly even scattering’. So long as they are of a relatively uniform distance apart, the exact measurements are irrelevant. The formula for creating this field is so simple and the room for variation is so narrow that the expression of taste or personal preference – the exercise of deliberate, conscious control – composing, becomes trivial. This is the limiting of variables applied to experimental scientific investigation. It is an approach that makes forming a random field easy (‘hand-made randomness’), and it is a strategy for bypassing the act of artistic composition by limiting it to such an extent as to render it irrelevant. This is of course inspired by the legacy of Cage. What I am attempting to do in my work is to make the gestures of generating artwork (applying paint to canvas, playing notes on a keyboard) so mundane that the composing mind becomes subordinate to the less deliberate aspects of our psyches thereby forming a direct channel between the forms in the artwork being created and the inner, less visible realms, realms embodied by both the author and the broader environment and context within which the author is positioned. What it is that accounts for the lines’ variation then is attributable to any number of factors: the unconscious, the subconscious, mood, character, habit, personality, environment – all the less visible elements of living presence now unimpeded and undistorted by intention. It is in this way that the NETTT serves as a recorder of experience and a document of psyche – a kind of direct channelling. Everything that the person drawing a NETTT is feeling and experiencing is directly encoded in the forms generated. This process is designed to make this information as legible as possible by reducing the influence of deliberate composition. In essence, getting out of our own way so that our inner voice has a chance to speak, be received, and understood.
It is of critical importance that the forms created are done so by hand (as opposed to algorithmically – although there is another point to be made) as this project is, after all, motivated by the intention to study consciousness – how living presence is encoded in gesture. There is an unlimited amount of information that is contained in each an every gesture that a living creature makes – it is all an expression of consciousness and it is the purpose of my project to reveal, record, communicate, and transform this information.
an exercise in manifestation
When I formally began this investigation around 2010 (this has been the focus of my work to varying degrees and by employing varying means ever since I have been making art), my approach was well summarized by the two paragraphs below:
just opening a window and looking
This is what I call an architecture of consciousness and it is intended to operate in the subtle realms as a form of spiritual/psychological technology. I like to think of it as a scaffolding within which one may subsume their consciousness as they move from physical to purely non-corporeal existence – other dimensions.
In addition to the process of construction being a way of encoding consciousness into the NETTT, the act of interpreting it – ascribing to it an identity, purpose, and meaning that additionally applies encoding to the field. It is there as an empty field to be programmed by any being or force that apprehends it. It is in this way that one may ‘program’ the NETTT. I like to think of it as a spiritual computer. This sense is certainly inspired by and corresponds with many directions in the non-linear sciences: neural nets, self-organizing maps, dynamical systems. I am just beginning to research these concepts in detail now and they offer promising avenues of discovery and development. For example, the idea of ‘programming’ the NETTT corresponds directly with the training of a neural net.
This is how I began, with all of the forms and dynamics existing as suggestions, existing in the virtual realms, the imagination. But as reflected in the opening quote, continued application of intention – directing the mind towards an activity and an ambition, over time – manifests that intention in forms that become increasingly concrete and tangible. Eight years, and many art shows later, I am now using the NETTT as a graph data structure in the software that I have written that drives the installation that I have been presenting at venues such as Electric Eclectics, Warbler’s Roost, and Nuit Blanche North. So overall, the project that began as an abstract and imaginary exercise in manifestation has become a vivid example of it. To elaborate: in the early stages I set up the NETTT overhead at events using yarn and illuminating it with black light. For example, for the first Nuit Blanche North show I was in (also the first Nuit Blanche North Show to have been presented), I created a NETTT on an interior wall of a building using tape and white paper and illuminated it with black light, alluding to the illusory nature of all physical reality. The facade of reality, the substance of all things, was starting to decay because of some glitch somewhere (a Virus) and the underlying structure, the triangle mesh, as if all of the world was a 3-D computer rendering and all surface material is simply texture mapping, was starting to show. Yes I have seen the Matrix.
For NBN 2014, I suspended a NETTT over top of the area that participants would be interacting. It consisted of yarn illuminated by black lights. Here is was performing its actions of recording the actions below, transmitting that living presence, and receiving messages in return, a psychic communication device/antenna. An even larger example can be found in the NVHT series (NVHT, NVHT2, NVHT3). These projects were working primarily in the imaginary realm. The physical constructions of paper taped to the wall or string illuminated by black lights were merely pointers to something that was existing primarily as a vision.
In 2019, the project has matured into software within which I load source material pertaining to a particular theme or subject matter. For example in knot and tree, sounds, an audio composition, and visual material relating to the theme of trees was used. This material is what participants respond to as projected visuals and audio through my sound system using touch sensors (Arduino) to control them. The sensor activity is then recorded as a table of data and it is this data that is represented, translated, and transformed through operations (such as the knot and tree forms) that I apply.
So these operations, previously exclusive to the imaginary realm are slowly, with every passing year, migrating into physical reality. With my current research into a multitude of programming and mathematical materials – including and especially graphs, graphs as networks, and non-linear processes, and the increase of my experience and competence in programming (I have recently moved from using Processing to straight Java, and am starting to learn VisualLisp so that I can use it with AutoCAD), I will be moving into domains that will employ these tools and allow me to define the activity much more precisely in terms of numbers, formulas, and of course, lets not forget, artworks.
receiving, storing, transforming, transmitting
There are a lot of possibilities using this strategy and I am just starting to scratch the surface, particularly with the mathematical/computational material. I see what I am doing as a kind of mathematics and would like it to evolve further into that domain, so that constructing artwork becomes a kind of mathematical language – which it is already, but I seek to make this much more explicit so that art becomes the manipulation of numbers and formulas and the constructing of algorithms. I am not seeking more elaborate ways to arrange notes according to complex mathematical formulas in order to simply construct another composition. What I am doing is embedding the creative process within the apparatus that I describe so that the process may be observed, recorded, transformed, and used to communicate. A psychic antenna. My ambitions are still consistent with how this project began: I am seeking to use art as the medium to to explore the mysteries of psyche, the creative process, consciousness, living presence, the visionary realms – a window into hidden worlds and emergence is the key.
generating noise fields from non-linear processes to produce emergent phenomena
It is with emergent phenomenon that the promise for communication and linkage between this world and others lie.
From Wikipedia – ’emergence’:
“An emergent property of a system…is one that is not a property of any component of that system, but is still a feature of the system as a whole. Nicolai Hartmann, one of the first modern philosophers to write on emergence, termed this categorial novum (new category).”
So I am constructing fields of self-organizing activity that people can interact with. What is crucial, is that their interactions will steer the activity. It will not be like the ‘game of life’ where you hit run and the system unfolds on its own. Because, as mentioned earlier, I need the action of gesture in order to produce a living presence that can be recorded.*
The recorded activity of participants, this data representing their and our consciousness – this is what determines the crucial articulations of the work, not random number generators or any other algorithmic processes. Although algorithms are employed and will be increasingly; to generate and manipulate the material that is seen, heard and interacted with in order to produce an environment ripe for emergent behaviour, and as modes of analysis (amongst many other possibilities both known and unknown), there will be no meaningful results if there is no actual interaction between people and the system.
power dynamics as a non-linear distributed network
The NETTT is a distributed network – a non-linear field of decentralized loci of power. This is a model I suggest as an alternative to the heirarchical, centralized power structures of domination, control, subjugation, conquest, plunder that is quite clearly, and with what seems to be an exponentially increasing speed and scope, the source of so much suffering on this planet. Vandana Shiva – founder of the Navdanya Foundation has been working to implement these kinds of locally sustainable, self-organized networks which nurture and enrich life in a way that the “Monsantos of the world” clearly do not. It seems abundantly clear that the earth population is going through an enormous change – we are forced to by many factors – especially environmental. As the outmoded ways of habitation obsolescence becomes increasingly obvious, those who have been benefiting most from it are compelled to make increasingly desperate attempts to maintain their power, indulging in a final flourish of plunder as obsolescent modes expire.
Frequently, as voices rise up to challenge the competitive form of social organization, one of the arguments used (usually as a tactic rather than a sincere search for resolution) to discredit them is a request for alternatives. This is a weak, and suspect argument for many reasons: as mentioned before, it is usually inspired by a motivation to defeat a challenging voice (competition) rather than search for a solution to a problem that affects everyone (though unequally). It is also not the burden of the one criticizing to have to formulate an alternative. One is perfectly free to criticize and leave it at that. It is an essential function of a healthy population – whistleblowers, canaries in the mineshaft, those who reveal dysfunctions and pathologies. We work together, while some reveal problems, others can formulate solutions. Of course it is certainly possible for one to do both, but having a working alternative in no way renders criticism invalid – often it is the best that many can do as it requires all the energy and resources available to individuals to extract themselves from “a system of presupposed indoctrination” in order to awaken others to what is going on. At least they are able to do that! Anything more is great but not required for objections to be taken seriously. I assert that the burden of formulating a workable solution is mostly on the shoulders of those who hold the power – they have much more resources (usually swindled or unjustly and forcibly extracted from vulnerable populations) and they are the ones who are perpetuating the dysfunctions in the first place. This dynamic reminds me of the classic power tactic of blaming the victim.
So what I am offering with this structure is a solution.
how to have a number one hit the easy way
Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty of the KLF explain in their book, “The Manual”:
“So why don’t all songs sound the same? Why are some artists great, write dozens of classics that move you to tears, say it like it’s never been said before, make you laugh, dance, blow your mind, fall in love, take to the streets and riot? Well, it’s because although the chords, notes, harmonies, beats and words have all been used before, their own soul shines through; their personality demands attention. This doesn’t just come via the great vocalist or virtuoso instrumentalist. The Techno sound of Detroit, the most totally linear programmed music ever, lacking any human musicianship in its execution reeks of sweat, sex and desire. The creators of that music just press a few buttons and out comes – a million years of pain and lust.
We await the day with relish that somebody dares to make a dance record that consists of nothing more than an electronically programmed bass drum beat that continues playing the fours monotonously for eight minutes. Then, when somebody else brings one out using exactly the same bass drum sound and at the same beats per minute (B.P.M.), we will all be able to tell which is the best, which inspires the dance floor to fill the fastest, which has the most sex and the most soul. There is no doubt, one will be better than the other. What we are basically saying is, if you have anything in you, anything unique, what others might term as originality, it will come through whatever the component parts used in your future Number One are made up from.”
This relates to where I began, operating exclusively in the imaginary realms and this calls into question the assumption that I make above that there must be some physical gesture that is recorded, such as the drawing of a line, playing of a note, or pressing of a sensor. If the above is true, and I believe it is, then…..