Monday, October 29, 2012

painting update

Here are some new layers to the paintings. Statement: "I am studying SEM photographs of biofilm and bacteria, 19th century landscape paintings, and various myths about our origin. I am trying to remix micro, intermediate, and macro/mythic realms into one imaginary space, since all three are always present in our lives, and imagining them deepens our connection to each other, and to ouselves. Attempting this perspective helps me acknowledge the many ways I am embedded in larger patterns and systems, as well as bring into mind the multifarious beings that interpenetrate and are supported by my life.

 I am Noface

Friday, October 26, 2012


"The value of these kind of zero dialogue documentary films (of which 1982's Koyaanisqatsi was the forerunner) is that they alter consciousness and put the viewer in a kind of dreamy contemplative state."

I just saw Samsara, the sister film to Baraka, and have to call it a masterpiece. Not only did it include scenes from Fushimi-Inari Shrine, one of my favorite places pictured above as my cover photo, but it also dove right into the meat industry, tranny dancing contests, and Tibetan sand mandalas. There was also an amazing butoh-esque performance by Oliver de Sagazan. spoiler alert.

here is an extended preview and interview with the director. scenes from Japan start at about 5:40. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Memory and Proust's Madeleine

It is so hard for me to get rid of things that remind me of people and places. I have all these letters and postcards...and socks.

I'm reading about how memory is closely tied to “material mnemonics” (Hodder 2011: 155, 2012: 17). Proust’s madeleine, from his novel In Search of Lost Time, is a popular example of the way material things evoke lost time and synesthesia/cross-sensory perception. When Proust sees the madeleine, nothing happens, but when he tastes the moist cake a whole complex of lost memories spring into his consciousness; suddenly he remembers Sunday mornings in Combray, and eating madeleines with his aunt (Hodder 2012: 137). Not the sight, but the taste of the cake brought him back. This crossing of perceptions is what, according to William Irwin Thompson, causes a delay-space in perception where the ego or self-sense arises (1998: 39). Thompson also points out that the madeleine, named after the Magdalene, is a symbol of the feminine, whether because of its labial shape, or because of its interior pink color. This is appropriate because the shell-shaped cake took Proust back not only to a female figure, but to the foundations of consciousness. Origin of the World by Courbet. Within this experience Proust also saw what neuroscience would only recently discover: that memories evoked by olfactory cues are the most sentimental and carnal because smell and taste are the only senses that connect directly to the hippocampus, the center of the brain’s long-term memory(Lehrer: 80). Smell and taste trigger "an archeological excavation of consciousness," to recover this primary connection to the feminine and ultimately, to origin. Thompson even argues smell and taste are archaic senses that can take us back to the mysteries of hominization, to "the shift from estrus to menses in the new pheromonal environment that surround the birth of the human species itself--the evolutionary reorchestration of the sensorium in the shift from olfaction in the leaf-darkened forest of the primates to sight in the open and sun-drenched savanna of the hominids (1998: 43)." The other senses (sight, touch, hearing) are much less efficient in conjuring up our past (Lehrer: 80).  Hodder takes this idea into the excavated site of Catalhoyuk, where 9000 year old balls of clay were found with children's teeth marks in them. He insists that the taste of the clay, like the madeleine, must have linked a neolithic person to a particular site of memories (2011: 156).  It makes sense also that during "The Age of Clay," when we depended on clay for everything, we would begin telling stories of how humans came from clay. Now most every major religious tradition has a version of humans coming from dirt. In a sense, they got it right! We all have a materiel, mineral body. Genisis 2:7 also eludes to anna-panna or breathing meditation: bring attention to your nostrils and find your origin.

I can still remember trying to pack up my Japanese apartment two years ago and being attached to so many things, mostly gifts I had acquired over the course of five years inside one of the most generous cultures on earth. There was so much, and I had to throw things away. Collecting and surrounding myself with objects meant collecting and surrounding myself with life-experiences, because I could reflect on them, “introject” them. The theory of Introjection, or the ability for the things to magically pierce through the psychic envelope and contribute to subjectivity and the feeling of “being-in-the-world”, attracts a serious look at the material things we keep around (Wernier and the WWI daggers). While packing up, I found a box I had completely forgotten about, filled with important stuff during a house cleaning two or three years earlier. I could have, in theory, thrown the box away and have had no memory of the things. But I opened it and found memories in the box.

I had been a practicing Buddhist for ten years. Giving up things was a part of my religion. And I could see Maude sitting next to Harold (1971), receiving the tiny gift from him, throwing it into the sea, and then preemptively answering, “So I’ll always know where it is!” But I just could not give up those memories/identity markers/things, and paid the hundred dollars to ship the box home. It sits in the basement, in the dark, that portable Christmas, that portable Japan. 


The more I paint the landscape, and the more I read about materiality and the phenomenology of the landscape (Tilley, 1994, 2004), the more I know I'm a topophile. Are you in the landscape, or is the landscape in you? I am deeply interested in the landscape’s role in shaping identity and perception. I'm from landlocked Kansas, but I lived in the coastal city of Niihama, Japan, for five years, and saw first hand how the ocean and mountains affected the music, dance, and spirituality of the people. The reciprocity, the circular manner in which a sense of self emerges through the deepening relation with the landscape, is acknowledged in Buddhism as the “dependent co-arising of self and other.” Landscape painters leave concrete records of the multi-layered relationship we share with the landscape, making it possible to chart cultural and historical themes that reflect societal attitudes at precise moments in time (Dainis Dauksta, 2011). 

The most universal narrative (maybe the only "real" archetypal narrative), according to Tilley, is the ‘above/below’ duality. Sky and Earth. It isn't just indoctrinated by phallocentrism and abstracting mind. It is phenomenological, rooted in our lived experience, and colors the way we experience our bodies.  

For example, Aristotle comments that "above” is where fire, and what is light, move. Likewise “below” is where heavy metals  and earth things move" (Physics  Book 4). This fundamental distinction between the lightness of the sky associated with spirit powers and the heaviness of the land, the domain of humans, is one made over and over again in world religions and countless ethnographies (Tilley). 

This is the source of medieval and Renaissance views on the concordia mundi, whereby the head and the sky as well as the genitals and the sublunar region correspond to each other (Casey 1993: 80). Metaphorically speaking, subjectivity is in the upper body whereas the lower body is buried in the objective world (Yuasa: 174). And this corresponds to a distinction between the noble orifices of the head compared with the genitals, excrement and defilement (Douglas 1970). Places such as sacred mountains associated with light and air that lie up and above always tend to be privileged culturally and emotionally while places situated down below tend to be associated with darkness and death. Up and down become terms to which are attached essential moral purpose and the values of superior and inferior. Mondrian abstracted the universal themes of the world into the horizontal, the vertical, the primary colors, black and white. What these all mean and signify is culturally variable (for Mondrian, the horizontal is the feminine, and the vertical is the masculine), but the structure “above/below” appears universal.

“So we can suggest that experiencing the world in terms of dualisms is not so much a product of the invariant operation of a human mind, as Lévi-Strauss claims, but is instead grounded in our bodies.” (Tilley)

Monday, October 22, 2012


“Men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is alive.” Karl Marx (quoted from Burgin, 1996)

Now it is widely accepted that subject and object, mind and matter, human and thing co-constitute each other (Hodder 2001: 155).  “Persons make things and things make persons,” writes archaeologist Christopher Tilley (2004: 217). “Consciousness does not occur in our brains, but is dynamically distributed, boundary crossing, offloaded, and environmentally situated within materiality” (Noe 2008: 68). The seemingly irretrievable wedge between the material world and the human mind, placed there by Enlightened, Cartesian thinking, is finally being dissolved (Olsen 2010: 64).[1] There is no purely ‘subjective’ understandings of place, landscape, or material thing, because both experience and interpretation derive from and relate to the objectivity of the material presence of things we perceive (Tilley 2004: 219). This insight has inspired, within the humanities, a renewed interest in the material world and materiality’s role in the construction of subjective experience. It has also provided a common language through which many different human endeavors can now communicate (Hodder 2011: 173).
            Can we study materiality with regards to something so seemingly immaterial as masculinity? Whether it is a type of consciousness, an performance, a trend/habit of human activity, or an imaginary concept, there must be material (bodies, adornments, clothing, occupations, images, role models) upon which masculinity is based. Anthropologist Jean-Pierre Warnier (2001: 6) asks, “Are not all our actions, without any exception whatsoever, propped up by or inscribed in a given materiality?” A review of the literature on materiality (Hodder, Ingold, Donald, Warnier, Tilley, Abram, Noe, Olson) delivers three major insights that may help our investigation into the material component of masculinity: one, a person’s perceptual field extends beyond the body and into incorporated things; two, the material world has agency over human actions; and three, identity and its memories profoundly depend on material things.  

[1] Postmodern literary critic Katherine Hayles investigates the social and cultural processes that led to the conceptualization of information as separate from the material that instantiates it. See: How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics,(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999.)

How incorporated tools act as perceptual extensions is described best by the Blind Man’s Cane analogy. Warnier (2001) looks to Paul Shilder’s essay The Image of the Body (1935), where he wrote that the blind person’s cane is integrated into his consciousness field to such an extent that his perception is not projected from his hand, but from the tip of the cane.  ‘The body’ can thus extend to include lots of objects, rendering its boundaries flexible (Warnier 2001: 7). For this reason, Malafouris (2008) says material things should be seen as continuous and active parts of the human cognitive architecture. People ‘think’ through material culture, and therefore, materiality is what Malafouris, along with DeMarrais (2004) and Menary et all (2010) call “the extended mind.” I like to think of social media as extensions of our perception, and we can "poke" people with it. Now there is a Facebook Jacket  that squeezes you whenever someone likes you online.

Expanding on the pioneering work of Marcel Mauss (1936), Warnier also shows that the ‘techniques’ of the body (such as walking, eating, sitting, and dancing…what Ingold (2000) calls our “skills”) are almost always locally determined, and therefor variable from society to society.
            Things move people, and also keep people around. Archaeologist Christopher Tilley examines in Body and Image (2008) how rock art moves people’s bodies into viewing positions. Likewise, the paintings on the gallery wall, according to Merleau-Ponty, move us into to the best possible place from which to view them (1962: 302). Bricks trapped Neolithic people into long-term relationships with walls (Hodder 2011: 161). Bells, according to Richard Raff (2003) rang the size of towns in early America and determined how far away from the bell people could move. The domestication of wheat domesticated humans into continually harvesting, pounding, and roasting it (Hodder 2011: 162). Technology used humans to progress itself (Kelly 2010).

 “In this futuristic ontology, we are already beginning to glimpse and evolutionary Entelechy—a symbiotic consciousness of human, elemental, psychic and celestial intelligences. In the smuggled esotericism of children’s literature, comic books and science fiction, an archetypal group of four becoming one is being foreshadowed. For example, we see this grouping expressed in Fantastic Four and The Wizard of Oz.” William Irwin Thompson. Bolts from the Blue.

Material forms act as key “sensuous metaphors of identity” (Tilley 217). Even cultural myths and cosmologies depend on them (von Dechend, 1998).[1] Focusing on ancient stones in landscapes, Tilley uncovers how our prehistoric social identities were created, sustained, reproduced and transformed through the agency of stones (namely by their ability to demarcate place). Things can also communicate subjective states across time. For example, the hundreds of thousands of personalized, handmade daggers carried by French and English soldiers in WWI tell us something about the subjective state of the soldiers that the soldiers themselves cannot, and will not, communicate (Warnier 2011: 398). The dagger was not just a hunk of metal, but an ensouled consort integrated (and ‘introjected’) into the consciousness field, and “motions and emotions,” of the fighter.  “Weapons and various items of equipment…were embodied and became one and the same with the subject....” (363). Forensic evidence shows that the daggers were never used, but the fact that the soldiers desired them opens the door to an element of their subjective experience.  “The dagger suggests that, in addition to being the passive victims of mass industrial killing, the fighters were also willingly prepared to mete out extreme violence on the battlefield.” (398).”
            This newly understood psychic dependence on things is also seen in memory’s dependence on “external storage systems” such as writings, artifacts, places, foods, and computers. According to Merlin Donald (1991), technologies and media, which he calls ‘exograms,’ have constituted part of human cognitive architecture since the upper Paleolithic. With the use of these material things, thoughts and memories “become more durable and more easily transmissible and reformattable across media and contexts and are plugged in to vastly larger databases of inherited knowledge (Donald, 1991: 314-9, see also Hodder 2012: 35). Warnier points out that this is because material objects have the advantage of being fairly permanent. “They help the psyche in its work of establishing duration, memory and a sense of continuity (Warnier 2001: 17).” This is one reason ancient stones in the landscape were so important in establishing ‘place’ (Tilley 2004). Michel Serres says our relationships would have been “airy as clouds were there only contracts between subjects. In fact, the objects…stabilize our relationships” (1995: 87, quoted in Olsen: 9, and Hodder 2011: 159). This has also been emphasized by M. Kwint et all (1999) in Material Memories, which examines the way objects 'speak' to us through the memories that we associate with them.

[1] See Hamlet’s Mill: and essay investigating the origins of human knowledge and its transmission through myth, by Giogio De Santillana and Hertha von Dechend (1998), David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc. New Hampshire. They’re argument is that there is an astrological demention to myths. 

May all beings be Free and in Love.

Blog Archive