I’ve been working on another edition of my “Event Horizon” piece. The concept behind the sculpture has to do with the theorized existence of a gravitational border around a black hole beyond which nothing can escape. I wondered what it might look like to see something torn apart but not completely consumed by the black hole; what might the remnants look like as they were spun off into space? I thought it might be stylized into something like this:
“Event Horizon” sculpture in Stainless Steel – with powder coated veneers.
Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this video, showing a Red Giant star being ripped apart by a massive black hole at the center of a nearby galaxy:
I was shocked at how deeply the news of Steve Jobs’ death affected me. There I was, standing in the back yard, looking up at a blue October sky blurred by tears. I had to look inward a bit, try to figure out just why this man I’d never met – whom I had no personal relationship with, and new nothing of beyond what his publicist and the tech punditry presented to me – had such a profound hold of my heart. Wandering around the internet, I found loads of people whose connection with him started with their first positive experience of computing on an Apple ][ or an early Macintosh. Many others cited the new freedom their iPod brought to their enjoyment and experience of music. But for me, I realized that Steve Jobs had nurtured a radical and transformative seed that had already germinated in my mind in 1988 when I bought my first Mac. That seed was the idea that beauty MATTERED – that the esthetic quality of anything and everything was the differentiating factor between a good experience and a bad one. His dedication to infusing mundane gadgets and heretofore boring and drab computing with style, grace, and capital-B Beauty was instrumental in forging my understanding of art and my desire to make it. I am an artist today at least in part because Steve Jobs made me feel it was something worth doing.
“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and somthing else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”
I’ve been spinning in place a bit. On a whim, I tried dipping into Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies for a little inpiration, and the message was “Retrace your steps.” I wandered back through the timeline of my experiences as an artist, and arrived at the time when I had first fallen in love with the computer as a creative tool. I was using my Apple Macintosh LC, and had installed a program called “Canvas” that had an unbelievable set of both vector and pixel tools. I remember the clean, infinitely-tweakable lines (command-Z, how I love thee!) that I could use to make drawings. I wish I’d managed to save some of that stuff so we could have a good laugh.
Anyway, like any proper geek, I have a dual-boot system with Vista and Ubuntu. Part of my inertia has been related to frustration with the constant pull of new and newly-upgraded software, especially the heaps of cash involved. Thus the appeal of Ubuntu – and of Inkscape thereon. Inkscape is, IMO, the best Open Source software available. I own a license of Adobe Illustrator, and DREAD opening that bloated behemoth – Inkscape doesn’t have the depth of tools, but that’s the point. It is a streamlined Illustrator driven by the needs of the user rather than the need of a corporation to sell licenses and upgrades. Another contrast comes from my involvement in 3d modeling – it just starts to feel like the means are so involved that the ends often seem off in the foggy distance. Vector drawing brings the immediacy of making marks on paper to the computer, while still allowing amazing control over the process.
Here’s what I did in Inkscape:
(Image link broken and I can’t locate a copy. Oops.)
This picture, of Antony Gormley’s “Waste Man” burning – filling the air with the noxious smoke of tons of discarded wood – set me thinking. Uh oh.
I understand that part of the point of this piece was to call attention to the massive amounts of waste we in the developed world produce, and to highlight the ephemeral essence of all the “stuff” we strive so hard to acquire. Gormley is one of my favorite sculptors – but this kind of condescending spectacle has definitely lowered his esteem in my eyes. Why exacerbate the very problems you are hoping to solve?
This brings up a point that bugs me no end regarding my own choice of method and material: how to reconcile the obvious environmental crisis-in-progress and my part in it with my (and our culture’s) need to create and express. Is Gormley’s monstrous cloud of smoke any worse in the end than the unseen multiple such clouds emanating from the iron mine, the steel mill, the tractor-trailer delivering the raw material for MY sculptures? Finding a point of equilibrium that allows one to be in the world without accelerating it’s destruction is probably the most profound and important question we all must ask ourselves as we venture into a new millennium.
This idea – or at least the seed of it – has been floating around inside my mind’s eye for quite a while. I finally have the tools to make it a reality, which I find pretty damn exciting. It is meant as a symbolic treatment of Richard Dawkins’ “meme” concept:
“A meme (pronounced /miːm/) consists of any unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that gets transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another. Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, practices, habits, songs, dances and moods and terms such as race, culture, and ethnicity. Memes propagate themselves and can move through a “culture” in a manner similar to the behavior of a virus. As a unit of cultural evolution, a meme in some ways resembles a gene.” (From the Wikipedia article.)
It’s that “propagate” bit that this piece plays on in the form of a concentric ripple – an idea moving from mind to mind like a wave, spreading out from it’s origin and altering the energy state of other ideas within the culture. It also employs the imagery of a matrix or lattice to illustrate the memeplex being made up of individual, discrete consciousnesses experiencing a collective and individual transformation through the propagation. I think of this process when I analyze the slow but steady progress our species is making from one cultural paradigm to the next, as ideas like liberty, responsibility, and reason spread virally and replace those of dominance, exploitation, and superstition. As more minds begin to cohere, constructive interference amplifies these waves – and everything gets just a little bit better.
I finally had the motivation to get professional photos of some of my recent small pieces. Happily, I happen to know a guy who is both a brilliant photographer and interested in my work – enough to want to work a trade. As I was importing the fruits of his labors into my computer, I realized that each and every image was beautiful. Thanks, Jafe.
I’m currently reading “Mind Wide Open” by Steven Johnson (his most known work is “Everything Bad is Good for You”). It’s subtitled “Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life”. In it he cites the work of researcher Joseph LeDoux, who has found that the experience of danger actually follows two distinct pathways in the brain – one conscious and rational, the other unconscious and intuitive. The second pathway, dubbed the “Low Road”, ends at the amygdala, which basically specializes in emotional response. This bifurcation is why you will find yourself suddenly frozen in place when you glimpse a very snake-like branch on the trail, before your cortex is able to analyze the much more high-resolution signal it receives and conclude that it’s not a threat. It’s very much a matter of bandwidth – the amygdala gets a very low-res version very quickly, while the cortex signal is slower but richer in content. Other studies show that our ability to apprehend the emotional states of others is handled much better by this brain sub-system as well – your immediate, intuitive reaction to someone’s facial expression is much more accurate than the one settled on through your cortical deliberations. First thought, best thought.
This made me wonder if a person’s predilection toward more sketchy, painterly artworks isn’t somehow tied to this neurological phenomenon – we tend to think of it as a “gut reaction”, but could it be that this is a function of the way our brains work? It’s interesting to note that as we grow more knowledgeable about art, we tend to value works that embody a more spontaneous, less fussy visual style. Is this because we learn to trust our amygdala and depend less on our cerebral cortex – and it’s greater complexity? To me, the whole purpose of art is to convey something universal about an individual, internal emotional state – what better part of the brain to utilize than the one that specializes in emotion?
“In my sculptures I transform powerful images into sculptures that interweave personal narrative, with social issues. Made from newspaper and tape, which I refer to as “social materials,” everybody can equally access these materials; I cover each sculpture in expressive and abstract graphite markings. The contrast between the methodical binding of materials and the abruptness of the mark making suggests physicality as sensual and destructive. The intimacy of the figures’ interaction is agitated by the presence of the viewer. I am interested in how the viewer relates to the sculptures as either participant or voyeur. With this juxtaposition, I seek to reveal the corporeal and mental boundaries of desire.”
It’s a rare and wonderful experience for me to find an artist’s work that is utterly new to me and utterly spectacular. Ned Kahn’s work makes me wonder why I bother – it’s just that damn good. Mmmm, humble pie. My favorite.
EDIT 2017-12-27 Deleted the broken flickr link and added a working one to Google images.
Sometimes I feel really limited by the constraints of reality on my creativity. Trying to always figure out how to make something out of real-world materials can be a serious buzzkill. Inside my computer, though, I’m free to experiment and do things that would be impossible eldewhere. I use the amazing ZBrush to sculpt digitally what I can’t make with my welder. Very fun.