Berlin trip – window photography

During our trip to Berlin in half term, we were offered 3 briefs. I chose to focus on the one titled ‘Through the window, outside in/inside out’. Here I was to explore the window as an intermediate space of communication between exterior and interior, as well as its materiality and reflective properties.

I felt drawn to this in particular as this dialogue between exterior and interior could be used as a metaphor for the interior and exterior self, something I am looking to explore further in my FMP. Here I have segmented some of the photos I feel most successful that I took during the trip, according to the theme I feel they best espouse: materiality & reflection, looking in/out & framing, concealment, distortion, openings, with some text discussing each in turn.

Materiality & Reflection

I was particularly interested in this reflective quality of windows. At once, we are seeing through and also back at ourselves/our reality. It creates a new reality, one that only exists at that particular perspective, a fiction. It is therefore fleeting and ephemeral. Something the camera can exploit and frustrate. In this too, in the process of capturing that reflection I was often capturing a reflection of myself, a self-portrait that was not the primary intention of the photograph. These were intriguingly anonymised though, as I held it up to my face to see through the viewfinder, my face is obscured almost completely by the camera itself.

The reflective quality of glass in windows was apparently a central interest for Walter Gropius in the design of the Bauhaus school in Dessau, where he made use of spiegelglas (mirror glass) to enhance reflectivity, which we visited on our trip.

I was also interested to discover at the Bauhaus museum the photographs of Marianne Brandt, who was a student and then faculty member leading the metal workshop at the school. Here she had a series of self-portraits using a spherical reflective surface, choosing to make her face visible, which reminded me of a similar sketched self-portrait by M.C. Escher. These distorted reflections are interesting, though I do wonder if she was more interested in the materiality of the metal than the exploration of self here.

Looking in /out – framing

In review of the photos I had taken that could fit under this theme, I found that I did not like the aesthetic of many of them. I found the framed view wanting. Here the selected group lend a certain eery sensibility. I think from the mode of surveillance/observation that this takes. All of them seem to be off kilter for me as a viewer, and there is something particularly sinister with the harsh highlighting in the first picture, of the man at leisure. It reminds me of Hopper somewhat.

Concealment

When we toured the Boros Collection during our trip, we were introduced to the work of Peter Piller, who works from an archive of collected photographs from print and digital media, and in this case from the collection of a home photography retailer operating before Google Maps (who took aerial photos of in residential areas to sell to the residents). One of the series from this collection that we saw comprised 9 photos with houses where the window blinds were shut.

Sleeping Houses (with closed blinds), Peter Piller 2000-4

I found it interesting how he effectively analysed and catalogued these collections, identifying patterns in behaviour and in the stereotyped language of media imagery. Another series showed people washing their cars in front of their homes. I was interested to explore this for myself, and so took photos of windows that were obscured from external view in some way. Particularly interesting for me was the sense that these sleeping buildings were left derelict, or were more susceptible to graffiti. But too that the means of concealment/shuttering often provided intriguing colour. I especially like the colour scheme of the final photograph, with the sub-bleached pale mint green colour on the blinds, marrying with the mottled pastel pink effect of the distressed white-washed brick walls.

Distortion

I like these photos for giving a sense of dislocation. The exterior is not visible, reduced only to a blurred white light, and there is little detail in the interior to provide context here either. It subverts the purpose of the window for seeing in or out, and makes it more of an abstract form in itself – we see the window itself. The surrounding light (or absence of it) is in contrast to that which illuminates the window – we see the window as having a primary function of illuminating the interior, bringing the light in. But in each case this purpose is also somewhat undermined by dirt, or blinds, or colouration of the panes. I am most pleased by the depth and shade occurring in the first photograph here, the most abstracted, with the simplicity of just one pane of glass.

This dislocation was also explored by an artist I saw at the Kindl gallery in Berlin, who made a site-specific in the Kesselhaus there. She covered the 3 windowless walls with true-to-life floor to ceiling prints of the windows that are seen on the fourth wall of the Kesselhaus. When we observe these prints, we are simultaneously seeing the exterior, but not the exterior we would see were those windows in fact real.

Panorama, Bettina Pousttchi (2019)

Openings

I was also interested in windows where the distinction between interior and exterior was less clear – when the window is open or broken. A broken window implies some sort of violent act (whether human or not), in the act of breaking the glass itself, but also violating that boundary of exterior/interior. But whether cracked or open, it would still for us be defined as a window all the same.

Unit 2: Future of the Mind – research

In approaching this grid work, I knew I ought to investigate minimalist works such as by Agnes Martin.

Untitled (1965) Agnes Martin

I listened to an episode of the Bow Down Women in Art podcast discussing her life and works. It was interesting to understand the influence of Zen Buddhism in her work, which emphasises the need for mindfulness and meditation, and a sense of oneness. Though her works are perhaps a little too minimalist for my tastes, this set me down an interesting path of research, when looking for her work in a compendium of women artists in modern art. I came across the works of Eva Hesse here for the first time. I was interested here in her use of repetition to reveal naturally-occurring difference and iteration. This implies a sense of change and time for me, and the use of organic forms and materials was also interesting here. Her works for me seem tactile and invite a human spectator.

Repetition Nineteen III (1968) Eva Hesse

In looking further at her work, I discovered an intriguing article about Performativity in the work of female Japanese artists 1950-60s and 1990s by Yuko Hasegawa. Here I was introduced more deeply to the works of Yayoi Kusama, and to the instructional works of Fluxus artists Yoko Ono and Mieko Shiomi (who are also influenced by Zen), which I think are all relevant to the line of inquiry I have pursued in this project.

While I had previously been aware of the reflective/mirror infinity rooms of Kusama, I had not previously understood the context of her fascination with infinity and the dots which also pervade her work. The infinity nets series is a direct catharsis of visual hallucinations that Kusama experiences, which she has been afflicted by since childhood. Here polka dots cover her visual world like net curtains. By engaging with repetitive pattern and action she is able to gain balance in what might otherwise be an overloading experience.

No. F (1959) Yayoi Kusama
Infinity Nets (1951) Yayoi Kusama

These infinite repetitions and patterns seem highly relevant to my grid cell pattern work, and it could be interesting for me to explore building up layered work in the way Kusama has done with the thick textural paint in her No. F. It’s fascinating to me that she would be experiencing visual hallucinations which sound so similar to these visual navigation patterns I have been imagining, and I could hypothesise that she is actually just seeing this secret/hidden way in which our visual field navigates the world!

She also has explored visual infinities of self, and sense of the alter ego, in terms of the interaction of either herself or the audience within mirrored spaces. The duplication but also obliteration of the body by making it become one with the environment itself -> achieving invisibility. This reminds me of the phenomenon whereby repeating a word endlessly removes its meaning and makes it sound just as a series of noises. I think this could have implications for my future self-portrait work (which I have not yet had chance to write about on my blog!)

Instructional works interest me, for meaning that the outcomes of the work are unpredictable and unprecedented, something not controlled by the artist. Yoko Ono’s work is intriguing for specifying the destruction of a canvas or painting by burning with a cigarette, with the smoke produced being a part of the work. In displaying the work she would have the instructions and then the outcomes themselves, which I think is very intriguing.

The Smoke Painting instruction, Yoko Ono

Instructions were also used to good effect by Shiomi. I am particularly interested in her Spatial Poems work, where she sent letters to 100 people over the course of 10 years, coordinating a network of simultaneous events to take place across the world.

Events from the Spatial Poems (Word Event) 1965-75, Mieko Shiomi

It could be interesting for me to develop a set of instructions for others to recreate the grid and perform an interaction with it in any space. This could allow for all sorts of iterations to be created and explored beyond my own control which would be interesting.

Unit 2 – Future of the Mind – Grid cell context/research

My research into AI and artificial minds took me into the latest developments of DeepMind, the research arm of Google. I was intrigued to learn in this article that the increasing sophistication of AI is in turn advancing our understanding of the human brain – specifically here in relation to how we navigate space. It particularly fascinated me this notion of there being cells specialised to certain sensations (a bit like the individual conscious agents that Hoffman mentioned in the interview I posted – the specialised cells all contributing to one seamless conscious experience of space) – one type acting as a ‘you are here’, one for the direction of your head, and another forming a grid for relative position/spacing.

This regular pattern of grid cells was especially intriguing for me – here it referenced a hexagon, though it could also be considered a tesselated pattern of triangles. It has previously been proven in rat brains, and only in the past few years have we seen early proofs it could too be present in humans.

I love this notion of a secret/hidden mental map that is created to help us navigate the world, that is underlying our visual interpretation of the world. I wondered too if there could be a future in which we could ‘hack’ this secret mental mapping system, to make familiar spaces that we are new to, or allow you to immediately understand the best route through a maze, for instance. Use of this regularised grid could help you to better predict or adjust to new situations, which of course the Future is the ultimate one.

This strikes me as similar to the dots used in motion capture technology – to help digital imaging ‘navigate’ an actor’s body/face in order to best map it to a 3D computer generated image.

That this should be in a hexagonal grid was also very intriguing for me. Instinctively, I imagine organic forms and shapes to be irregular, curved, amorphous, but hexagons are geometric, regular, straight edged. That said it is a form we do see in nature, for instance in honeycomb structure, or the basalt columns visible in places such as a the Giants Causeway. It is described as being the most ‘efficient’ shape, and hence why the cooling rock forms in this way. It is also described as the strongest shape – hence it’s use in the structure of the strongest known material, graphene.

Giants Causeway basalt columns

It was thus especially eery to come across this display in the Whitworth, just a day after reading of grid cells.

I was interested too to see what these grid cells might look like in reality. Unfortunately it does not seem there are specific electron microscope images of these in existence, so I instead looked to images of generic neurons.

These images, magnifying the molecular to amazing detail, show an intriguing textural quality, and complex intricacy of connection
I experimented recreating this texture using gummed tape and tissue paper, along with ink and paint. I could not quite achieve the level of intricacy I might have liked but it was an intriguing effect. I particularly liked using the gummed tape to make the 2D surface more structural
With another, less magnified image (the original here on the right), I found hexagonal areas within it and cut or drew over to indicate these, before overlaying it with a regularised pattern on tracing paper. I particularly like the effect this produced, the juxtaposition of the geometric and irregular, organic and structured.

Unit 2: Future of the Mind – AI

For our latest brief, we are to explore the Future of one of the following: the Mind, Body, Work, Play, Home or Travel. I have chosen to pursue the Future of the Mind, since this has close relations to the Philosophy of Mind I studied during my degree, and the consumer behaviour I have researched in my career. One avenue I wanted to explore here related to the notion that a future mind might be the artificial intelligence (AI) that are becoming ever more sophisticated in the modern day.

Predictive text is probably the most common AI interaction we have – and it gets more and more sophisticated as technology progresses. Starting with ‘autocorrecting’ typing on numeric keypads using word disambiguation, the latest messaging keyboard function also predicts likely words, emojis or actions you may want to make based on the context of your and your messaging partner(s) recent messages, e.g. it will set up a shortcut to add a diary entry if a time/date is suggested for a meet up, or give a cake emoji suggestion if you are wishing someone a happy birthday. In fact, the system now does not even require that you first enter any words yourself. Relying on a body of knowledge that is based on the context of all user interactions, as well as your own, it can predict to a certain extent likely sentences and phrases that might come up.

XKCD webcomic https://xkcd.com/1427/ – the predictive text model has not yet learned the context of these movie references… yet.

Since the increasing sophistication of AI is a trend often touted as leading us to fully sentient/self-aware AI in the future (who might then be considered persons/minds in their own right), I was interested to explore generative art, making use of the models to create works that might reveal the state of these proto-minds.

First I experimented by continually pressing the left hand suggested text until I had a complete text (below) and then sent this to my boyfriend. I especially like how the model has fallen into a loop on the phrase ‘and I hope you have a good day’. That phrase is a cursory sort of nicety that serves more as a signal that a conversation is coming to a close than indication of a genuine feeling – i.e. i hope you have a good day since I don’t anticipate us interacting again for the remainder of it. The fact that that sign-off gets repeated undermines that function, so stripping it of even this meaning. The model is also failing to give us a full sentence, the breaking of syntactic convention makes this seem more like a meditative poem or song lyric, and the repetition of that phrase reinforces that. It’s interesting too that the arrangement of the repeated words appears to create diagonals across the block of text (wanna, day, you, have, good, day), almost like the creation of a pattern.

And I hope you have a good day – the first predictive text generated using my phone

It’s interesting too thinking about what the ‘I’ in this poem might signify – is it me? Is the model adopting my voice? Or does the ‘I’ refer instead to the predictive model itself?

Later in the day, my boyfriend and I experimented with sending such predictive messages back and forth between our phones, to see how this context might affect the conversation between the predictive models. The text in the green bubbles has originated from my phone, and the white from his.

It’s intriguing that here again, now from my boyfriend’s predictive model, we see a repeated phrase ‘and then I will have to go to pick up the kids tomorrow’. We do not have any kids, so this context must come from this phrase being observed from other messaging users – it’s interesting though that it first appeared in my text ‘let us get the kids’ and that my boyfriend’s one then repeated this. Generally the conversation between the models seemed to mostly orientate around arranging a meeting time and planning for tomorrow. It’s interesting too that they both made some slight use of emoji, though could not be signifying emotion in themselves.

Intriguingly, many of these messages are related to future events/future planning.

Unit 2: Fine Art – Dérive (pt 4)

On my first walk, I encountered fencing that separated two college car parks in the centre of town, which when layered with the gate of one of these car parks, produced an interesting grid form.

I wanted to explore this structure and so produced several studies, exploring the negative space and outlining of this form. I think the cut paper is particularly effective here with field-ground effect.

I decided it would be most interesting to focus the eye by enlarging one section of this image/simplifying the structure. I chose the mid-right section of the upper grid as this held an interesting combination of the two layers, and a symmetry in the gaps of one to give a uniform kind of pattern.

Section traced in outline using pen and tracing paper

Having done this I was also interested to outline my leaf sketch also – I was concerned that my work was taking me further away from the nature that had interested me so much in the second walk and wanted to see how I could continue with this theme also.

Overlaying the two traced outlines revealed a surprising similarity

I was truly surprised to find that the two forms showed a great similarity when I overlay the tracing paper. Striking especially in the primary diagonal and the bisecting verticals in the top right of the image. This, like the composition repeat that I observed in my photography, suggest that my mind is unconsciously replicating patterns and drawing me to these without my knowledge. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it!!

The Tree A c.1913 Piet Mondrian

Mondrian, in his first forays into abstraction, was seeking to simplify the form of a tree into geometric line. This is a fascinating project that he undertook, where he gradually became more and more abstracted, and one that is now used in machine-learning. He later went into pure abstraction, without recourse to objects in the world.

I’m interested to understand whether the fence-work itself has in any way been inspired by the proportioning/structures witnessed in natural forms – or is it purely coincidental that this should be observed now? Unfortunately St Peters college does not have information on the gate for it’s fellows car park online (!). But from my desk research, it seems that this is not a style of gate that is currently widely available (it would be a bespoke piece) so it is likely these gates are somewhat historic, though the modern design makes me think it is likely 20th century. The rust evident indicates iron or an iron alloy, though whether this is cast, wrought or rod I am unable to really say. Similar styles of design describe the pattern as either chevron or diagonal box section, and claim it to be an especially sturdy design owing to the diagonal supports, with no mention of the aesthetic itself. As such I think it may be more coincidental that it resembles the natural leaf form, though it is hard to conclude!

Below I experimented with masking tape, to gain a clean line for my grid system. I originally intended to cut away the edge so that the ends would not be visible, but in removing the tape, I found it tore away some of the edging of the lines, and that the ends of the tape produced an interesting tear, which juxtaposed with the uniformity of the lines and the strong black squares. I like the stark contrast of the monochrome here making the grid jump out. I am interested in exploring other masking approaches.

Acrylic on paper.

I decided to experiment with the form in the way I had done previously with crayon/wax resist (i.e. sectioning a piece of paper and completing several instances at once). I explored different marks and organic forms here, though I found the bottom right the most satisfying (where I quickly made expressive marks to form the grid). I continued this expressive form in various colour palettes using soft pastels, experimenting with the layering of the grid systems in different colours.