Saturday, October 22, 2016

{M}anifesto: introduction to {M}

a project for making art based on ideas about the mind

{M} is a way of making art based on ideas about the mind and the world. What we experience as the world is a construction by our minds based on limited and distorted inputs from our senses and the limitations of our brains. Nearly all of this construction is done by unconscious parts of our minds, which communicate with our conscious minds using feelings, images and words. The intention of {M} is for its audience to directly experience some of the workings of their minds, partly guided by these ideas.

These works can be uncomfortable, but also can bring wonder, delight, widening of the conscious mind and self-discovery.

The ideas behind {M} are not original, coming from philosophy, cognitive science, other artists, and spirituality.

Works in {M} are intended to be universal, accessible to anyone without special training, previous experience or even being part of a particular culture. For this reason, works that deal with politics, gender, sexism, racism, and other higher level, socially-based themes are not part of {M}. These kinds of work are certainly valuable, but they should be put in their own categories so the definition of {M doesn’t become too dilute.

I did this work for myself, to help me to focus my work, make it easier to explain & stimulate new ideas.  Perhaps there are others who would find this interesting and maybe even helpful so I have published it.

{M} is defined by three fundamental documents:
  • the Enigmas of {M} are fundamental ideas that outline the philosophical, spiritual and psychological ideas from which {M} is derived.
  • the Dogmas of {M} are definitions that determine which works of art can be included in it.
  • the Pragmas of {M} are practical suggestions for making works in {M}.

Other documents of {M} include commentaries on these three fundamental documents, lists of works in {M}, commentaries on these works, and various technical notes.

{M}anifesto :: Enigmas of {M}


fundamental ideas that form the foundation of {M}

1. Each person’s experience of the external world is based on imperfect and incomplete sensory inputs which distort the information they provide to the mind.

2. The mind responds to sensory inputs, filling in missing parts, correcting distortions, adding some features  and subtracting other features. It constructs the external world, conditioned by social and individual constraints.

3. The systems in the mind which construct and interpret the external world do so almost entirely unconsciously.

4. Deciding on and initiating actions are also largely unconscious

5. There is an interface at the periphery of consciousness through which the unconscious communicates using feelings, images and language.

6. We can never experience what is unconscious, but we can become more sensitive to the 
periphery between consciousness and the unconscious.

7. The external world exists but its true nature is unknowable. We do not experience the external world but instead our constructed world, based on the imperfect senses, and the limitations and structures of our minds.

introduction to {M}
enigmas of {M}
dogmas of {M}
pragmas of {M}
examples of {M}-like works
examples of works in {M}
commentary on the enigmas of [M]
commentary on the dogmas of {M}
commentary on the pragmas of {M}

{M}anifesto :: Dogmas of [M]


rules that define  {M}

1. A work in {M} must provide a direct experience of some actions of one’s mind to the viewer, (rather than an expression of emotion or an idea).

2. {M} is a way of making art defined more or less by these enigmas, dogmas and pragmas.

3. The “art” of {M} is considered in the broadest sense of what art is and is not restricted to any particular media.

4. Works in {M} provoke viewers to ask questions about their own minds and look for answers in their own direct experience.

5.  Works in {M} must increase viewers’ awareness of one or more of the following:

    -sensory perception
    -the periphery between consciousness and the unconscious
    -internal imagery
    -internal monologue
    -image of the body (construction of the body)
    -and other aspects of the mind’s construction of the external world that are implied by the enigmas of {M}.

  1. Even if a work is intended  to be part of {M}, it cannot be included in {M} if it does not conform to these dogmas.
  2. The only works currently in {M} are a some of what I have made. There are works by other artists which I have identified as {M}-like, but they are not part of {M}. 

{M}anifesto :: Pragmas of {M}


practical suggestions for making works in {M}

The artist developing works in {M} should:

1. Look for ideas by paying close attention to their own direct experiences, being alert for
        -an alteration of perception of one or more of the senses
          -transformations or distortions in the experience of space, time, causality, etc.
          -feeling unsettled or imbalanced or disoriented
          -becoming aware of something that you have perhaps always perceived, felt or done that until now has always been ignored, in the background
          -thwarted expectations and surprises
          -strong emotions such shock, fear, repulsion, or ecstasy
          -double-takes and backtracking
          -anomalies, contradictions and paradoxes
          -feelings of unreality
          -the uncanny
          -a sense of something being magical
          -expanded consciousness or feeling high

2. Explore research, documents, and practices from

          -psychology/cognitive science/neuroscience
          -the works & writings of other artists
          -different forms of mysticism


3.  Study {M}-like works 
    -not to imitate

    -to learn what direct experience of the actions of the mind might be

    -to see what points the viewer towards direct experience and what acts as a distraction

    -actual works if possible:  photographs, or video/audio recordings are second best and verbal descriptions  a poor third

4. Avoid including unnecessary content.

5. If content is really necessary, it should be self-referential to some extent.

6. Keep the work simple and avoid distractions.

7. Keep the work accessible to everyone; there should not be any requirements for previous experience of other works of art or knowledge of history or of theory. The only prerequisite for a viewer is to have a human body with functioning senses and a more or less sound mind.

8. Don’t tell viewers what to expect, but do give some hints about what to pay attention to.

9. Media and genres in which works in  {M} can be made:

texts written & spoken 
sound art 
static visual art: painting/drawing/prints
kinetic visual art
spiritual or philosophical systems
liturgies and rituals 
martial arts

{M]anifesto :: Examples of {M}-like works

Examples of {M}-like works

These are works by other artists that seem to me to fulfill the main requirements of {M}. They help the viewer to directly see the workings of their mind. Some inspired me when I was younger. Others have helped me to clarify my thoughts on what {M} might be. They are not included in {M} because I haven’t asked any of their creators for consent to have them included. I haven’t decided if I would want to expand {M} beyond my own work.

John CageEmpty Words, 4’33”, et. al.

Empty Words and 4’33” are two of Cage’s seminal works dealing with silence (the exclusive content of 4’33”)  and the gradual loss of meaning and continuity in spoken text, sound, movement and visual forms. 4’33”, originally for piano, has three movements, in which the performer makes no sounds. The listener can become aware of the ambient sounds outside as well as sounds experienced inside the mind. Empty Words, which I performed with David P. Miller, Tom Plsek and Meredith Davis (now Morton) at Mobius in 1993, was an eight hour performance, broken into four 2 hour “movements” with half hour intermissions, ending at dawn. Based on Cage’s texts, read by Miller.

Steve Reich It’s gonna rain

Composer Steve reich made this piece with tapes loops on two tape decks. The voice of a street preacher repeats endlessly on both loops, which start out together but gradually get out of phase. Sometimes it sounds like a voice, then slowly metamorphises into abstract sound then back to voice, doing this several times. This changed my awareness of the sounds of voices and showed me some aspects of my brain interpreting sound. 

Yvonne Rainierunidentified dance piece

Seen at School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston around 1970. I remember walking into the large room where Rainier's performance was scheduled, and I walked past a woman apparently doing warmups. I came pretty close to her, and suddenly realized that she was performing and that I had failed to recognize this and had intruded into her performance space. I also realized that these movements, which appeared informal and rather ordinary to me, were, in fact, part of Yvonne Rainier's language of dance. 

Marcel DuchampÉtants donnés: :1° la chute d'eau / 2° le gaz d’éclairage, et. al. 

This installation, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was Duchamp’s last major work. The viewer sees an old wooden door, closed but with a peephole. Peeping, the viewer sees a  female nude holding a lamp, a pastoral landscape behind her.

Seeing this, I felt a very strong awareness of being a voyeur, which led me to realize that most of my experiences of looking at art are also voyeuristic. If the idea of voyeurism seems too strong or too specific, then another way to say it is that I became very aware of myself looking at the work, and felt myself to be part of the work.

Richard Serra, The Matter of Time, Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

This is a large permanent installation of walk-through sculptures in the Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao.
These steel sculptures are free-standing and their curves, derived from ellipses and other geometries, often loom over the viewer as she walks through them. The passages narrow and widen, more or less light gets in, as the space continually changes. One can experiences feelings of threat, comfort, claustrophobia, intimacy, and others not so easily put into words. The works are not so much objects as situations for directly feeling the changing nature of the enclosed spaces.

Olafur EliassonRoom for One Colour 1997, seen at MOMA, NY, 2008

I saw this at a big exhibition of Eliasson’s work. It was a largeish, empty gallery, lit by a set of special yellow lamps. These produced a yellow of precisely one wavelength with no other tints of yellow or any other color mixed in. My experience was of a scene drained of any color, having only values of black, warm gray and yellow, a strange flattening of space, and a feeling of my body somehow being “different”. Words fail me.

Andoni Luis AdurizEdible Stones, 2006, Restaurante Mugaritz, Errenteria, Spain
   Potatoes covered with kaolin, a kind of gray clay, and appearing to be stones are a kind of “culinary tromp l’oeil” in this iconic dish at the Basque restaurant Mugaritz. Not knowing what one is eating, because of the disguise, it is possible to taste anew, as for the first time.

writings of William S. Burroughs

    Novels such as Soft Machine, Nova Express and Ticket that Exploded use techniques like cutup and fold-in that fragment the syntax of sentences,   either by randomly changing the order of the words, or by merging two different texts. As the reader struggles to make some sort of meaning from these distorted texts, it is possible for them to be aware of their mind’s attempting various constructions of what is meant.

from The Soft Machine
Border city … noon ticker tape … word falling … the board flakes of electricals … break through in grey room … photo falling … down into present time and there investigate purpose … distant city is Red Mesa … fight erupt like sand on iron … sacrifice partisans and rioters of all nations … gambling fight … attack at arbitrary intervals … sacrifice partisans of all nations … open fire on priest shriek for humans 

writings of Gertrude Stein

     Many of Stein’s works appear superficially normal in terms of words and syntax. But they don’t make sense, in any conventional way. They often don not seem to be really about anything. They call into question ideas of meaning and narrative and grant us an opportunity to see our own minds struggling to find the story.

from How to Write
Grammar. In enterprise without with whether revise prevision post when they bake. Grammar is not furtive. Round and about but they are cloudless. Grammar have useful blushes which are flushes. Have honey suckle which is of various colors, have rose daisies have orchids called Monsieur which is a name fame rename from interested them for her. How can grammar be nevertheless. What is grammar. Grammar is indwelling without a premonition of accomplishment but there is succor.

paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Four Seasons in One Head, c. 1590. National Gallery, Washington, D.C.

 Arcimboldo, 1526-1593, was court painter to the Emperor Rudolf II. He is well-known for his portraits in which the faces are made from fruits, flowers, other plants, natural materials in general. The painting above combines the elements of his several series of four paintings of the seasons into one amalgamation. His works belong in {M} because they demonstrate the innate compulsion of the visual system to see a face wherever a few facial elements are suggested, and because of the experience of moving from the perception of the face to the perception of the unconnected elements that make it up. Some of his paintings show heads made of fruit, dead leaves and logs, smoke and fire, or flowers; one sees at the same time a face and the natural objects.
black paintings of Ad Reinhardt
Reinhardt was an American abstract painter, 1923-1967. The black paintings are geometric abstractions that appear to be solid black. If one gazes at them long enough, one can just barely make out colored rectangles arranged in a grid, the colors being so close to black that they are nearly indetectable.  I remember seeing some in MOMA in the 60’s, and then again in June 2017 in an exhibition on Abstract Expressionism at the Bilbao Guggenheim, which reminded me of how deeply these paintings have affected me fifty years ago and still do today. 

100 ways to consider time  Marilyn Arsem, November 9, 2015-February 19, 2016, Museum of fine Arts Boston
    performance work of extreme duration: six hours each day over one hundred days.

paintings of Rene Magritte

Le blanc seing 1965 National Gallery of Art, Washington

I just saw this oil painting by Magritte at the recent retrospective at Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. I could feel my visual cortex flipping figure and ground. In fact there are two planes of figure-- the horse/woman and the trees-- with the out of focus foliage as background. A brilliantly realized pointer towards visual perception.

introduction to {M}
enigmas of {M}
dogmas of {M}
pragmas of {M}
examples of {M}-like works
examples of works in {M}
commentary on the enigmas of [M]
commentary on the dogmas of {M}
commentary on the pragmas of {M}

{Manifesto} :: Examples of works in {M}

Examples of works in {M} 

These are all my works, as {M} refers only that part of my output that fulfills the conditions of {M}

      My text-sound pieces are meant to be heard as they are read aloud. Each of these texts has a slow transition to or from understandable to non-understandable section. Most often this is accomplished by changing an understandable text little by little on the phonemic level. In each text there are transition zones where meaning either appears or disappears (because even a somewhat distorted text can be understood up to a point, in the same way that someone speaking with a foreign accent or with poor enunciation can usually be understood). These transitions, to and from meaning , can show the listener something about the usually unconscious processes of listening. Also, the non-understandable parts highlight the fact that speech is made out of a complex and varied stream of sounds. 
These web pages have the texts, sound recordings and some commentary:
In that case, what is the question?

I am preparing presentations of the following works:

ANTKAVE, Empty Words, Variations VI score strategy, Blind Spots

{M}anifesto :: Commentary on the enigmas of {M}

Commentary on the enigmas of {M}

{M} is pronounced “em” like the letter. The curly braces come from set theory. The idea is that {M} is the collection of all the works of art that help viewers directly experience the workings of their MINDS. The result is a simple logo that is easy to make on any keyboard.
The enigmas are the fundamental ideas of {M}. The word “enigma” was chosen because it resembles “dogma” and “pragma” which are words used for the rules and recommended practices of {M}.

The enigmas are not new. They can be found in religion, mysticism, philosophy and psychology. The idea that the world is constructed by the mind is almost universal among scientists who study perception and cognition. Note that I have written “mind” and not “brain”. Although I firmly believe that the mind has the brain as its substrate and emerges from the activity of neurons, I don’t see why {M} has to be based on this belief. It makes no difference if the idea of mind in {M} is based on the brain or is viewed as somehow existing independently of the brain.
An enigma is a kind of mystery. The enigmas of {M} deal with the relationships between the mind, our constructions in our minds of the world, and a somewhat mysterious external world. Much of what occurs in all this is hidden from our conscious, hence is enigmatic. 
  • imperfect and incomplete sensory inputs.
  • filling in missing parts, correcting distortions and adding things.
The following illustrations come from visual perception, but you can be sure that the other senses have their own lack of completion, distortions, and fabrications.
The retina of the eye has a blind spot, where the optic nerve connects. In the left eye, it is a little to the left of the center of vision. You don’t see it because the brain fills it in with a kind of wallpaper that looks like whatever is near the blind spot. The center of vision, called the fovea, shows very fine details. Away from the fovea, the retina has fewer sensors and the resolution of the image in the retina becomes more and more degraded. At the periphery of vision, only the overall shapes of things are visible. Yet the brain takes this mostly sketchy information and creates a highly detailed picture of external reality.
Optical illusions...
There is a wonderful psychological experiment in which subjects are asked to watch a video of a group of people passing basketballs to each other. There are really two groups, one in white shorts, the other on black. The subjects are asked to count the number of times a white shirt passes a ball to another white shirt. This requires so much focus that the majority of subjects fail to notice the person in a gorilla suit who saunters into the scene, beats their chest with their fists and saunters out. 
When dreaming, the visual cortex in the brain is very active, creating detailed visual images, without any sensory input. 
  1. The systems in the mind which construct and interpret the external world do so almost entirely unconsciously.
No one is sure what consciousness is for, but it does seem to have limits on how many things it can pay attention to. All that the mind does in constructing the world is done by a huge number of parallel processes, vastly more than consciousness could be aware of. Most processes in the mind have to be unconscious.
  1. Deciding on and initiating actions are also largely unconscious
Scanning the brain of a person deciding to initiate some kind of action show an “action potential” occurring about half a second before the person is conscious of initiating the action. It seems the decision to act has been made unconsciously and then becomes conscious. 
Sometimes one is aware of an impulse to act arising from who knows where which one then vetoes because it is obviously foolish, hurtful or unethical. This lends weight to the idea that consciousness is a kind of clearinghouse for all sorts of unconscious processes. Sometimes one is aware of two conflicting impulses to act (very often two or more possible words to say) and then has to consciously choose one.
  1. interface … through which the unconscious communicates
 When speaking, one puts thought into words by selecting the words and organizing them into a structure based on parts of speech and relationships, that is to say—syntax. One is not conscious of this process, that seems to be done by many different parts of the mind simultaneously, in parallel. The utterance is delivered somehow from the unconscious to consciousness, and the interface is what connects the first to the second.
When one has a gut reaction to something, say, a feeling of discomfort about a person, this is the unconscious communicating something to consciousness. There is constant communication at the periphery of consciousness, which brings unconscious things into consciousness, but the actual feelings, images, words are usually more or less ignored. They stay in the periphery, unless an effort is made to pay attention to them. 
  1. The true nature of the external world is unknowable.
Often people who promote the idea that the mind constructs the world also claim that there is no external reality. I prefer to say that we can only know our internal construction of external reality, but that there is an external reality on which our construction is based. We can’t  know what  it is really like. We construct our realities out of separate things and events but external reality is not made of things and events. These are categories our minds make. External reality has no categories and we cannot imagine what it really is.
Metaphysical solipsism is the philosophical position that only one’s mind exists. There is no external reality nor other minds. Apart from the fact that my gut reaction is to disbelieve this, I also find it hard to believe because when I dream, my mind is cut off from the external world, or, more accurately, from sensory inputs from the external world, and my mind generates a chaotic dream world. One might think the “real world” is chaotic, but relatively speaking the dream world is much more so. If metaphysical solipsism were true then there would be no difference between the real world and the dream world. Both are without anchors, just made up by the mind. So why is the dream world chaotic and the real world relatively orderly? I really must believe there is an (unknowable) external reality that, through sensory inputs to my brain, acts as an anchor.
  1. The self is a construction and its true nature is also unknowable.
It’s like trying to see one’s eye without the aid of a mirror or camera.