Unit 2: Futures – Instructions for navigating the unknown further research

I am keen to work further on the instructions I created, to help navigating the unknown. In my assessment yesterday, one of my tutors mentioned that it could be interesting too if people are able to take just one instruction in isolation and whether they might interpret this differently without the context of the others, or if this instruction in isolation might be interesting.

This had me recall the work of Brecht, where he had a box or card system of instructions that you could take from. This reminds me of board games, such as Cranium or Pictionary, where the player is given instructions and often other players have to guess what was on the card. It also reminds me of notices placed on notice boards, where there are tear off contact details at the bottom, or of ticket machines at deli counters etc, where the piece of paper you have taken affects the result for the next person (by removing the previous number in the case of tickets, or reducing the number of people who can take the contact details from the notice). Or even fortune cookies, whereby a ‘personal’ script is found inside each one. It could be interesting to explore these different modes of presentation for my work.

Water Yam (1963), George Brecht

In looking up the above image, I came across an excerpt from a book mentioning this work, called Critical Play: Radical Game Design by Mary Flanagan, see below:

This chapter in particular made mention of an artist I have found very interesting to read about – Gabriel Orozco. There is a fascinating interview with the artist found here. That he combines two interests of mine – a playfulness and also philosophy, is fascinating! Games turn up as a theme here, not only in his process, and he confounds the rules of some conventional games such as ping pong, billiards, football and chess by transforming them in some way. He speaks very well about his thinking behind these transformational acts, and I have included some quotes below that I found particularly interesting.

That is the space that I’m interested in, the in-between space. Even in photographs, I think what is interesting is in between the photographer and the space, which is the same as the in-between of the photograph and the spectator. To activate that space—to activate means to fill it with meaning and connections, so that we can think about it. We can connect with it and make it happen as a space and time in between things.

I think every game is a universe, in a way, or every game is an expression of how the universe works for different cultures… Every game has a connection to how we conceive nature and landscape, how we order and we structure reality.

Probably they are more like philosophical games. I believe that philosophy has to be a practice: practical philosophy. It’s like the way the Greeks used to solve philosophical and mathematical problems—by walking. Not sitting. It’s easier to solve problems moving—when you walk and you talk—probably because you have better irrigation in the brain or just because you are breathing better. Because you are moving, you have better chances to solve complex problems. And also I think, in a way, it’s an action thing. So, I think philosophy is an action; it should be. And to play the games are part of it.

I concentrate on reality in terms of what is happening to me, and I try to revolutionize that and try to rethink it and transform it. I try to transform reality with its own rules, with the things I found there. 

I am interested to learn more about him and have reserved some resources from the library to look into!

Another work I have come across in my initial research is his photo series called Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe (1995). Here he drove around Berlin on a Schwalbe motorbike, and photographed it next to a second whenever he came across another one. The final work in the series of 40 includes a third bike, as he had sent invitations to all the Schwalbe owners in Berlin to meet him for a get-together (and only 2 turned up). I love this level of unpredictability in his series (providing an instruction that may or may not be followed by other persons), but also too this repetition and persistence. The photography itself had a kind of rule to it, without other persons, closely framed, bikes in close proximity, etc. making it a game in itself. It’s interesting that games should require rules to be set, almost paradoxical in a way.

Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe 1995 Gabriel Orozco born 1962 Presented by George and Angie Loudon 1999 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07506

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 Cells Interaction

I was keen to explore how the grid cell pattern, once ‘unveiled’ within the world, might disrupt people’s movement. I was also eager to understand the nature of future as unknown, and something we can only imperfectly plan for.

In order to capture this, I decided to ‘disrupt’ space that is usually transitory in nature, and might see a more predictable mode of transport across it. I laid out a grid of post-it notes on the floor of a corridor in the Art school, choosing intentionally one that is a little unusual, for having uneven floor, a partitioning rail, and small staircase, as well as obstacles such as a fire extinguisher.

Participants were first asked to plan their route across the grid on an exercise sheet I provided. I intentionally did not provide a scale or inform them of the side of the grid they would enter first, or reveal the location of the grid within real space. Once they had drawn this, I brought them to the end of the corridor where they would approach the space and let them do so unassisted.

Example of instructions and planned grid interaction
Video of participants engaging with the grid space

Following their interaction, I asked them to record the route they had taken in interacting with the grid.

Here we can see the participant varied their route quite a bit on interacting with the space itself.

It was interesting to see the participants engaging with the grid space, several of them adopted a less-natural gait in order to more precisely recite the route they had planned, and we saw their arms being used for balance and to help navigate obstacles. It could be interesting to reenact these movements once decontextualised by the grid/this particular space. Several participants walked on tiptoe in order to avoid stepping on the post-it notes.

An unexpected observation was the change in participants’ mental states throughout the exercise. There was a certain nervousness and confusion when first being instructed on the task, and uncertainty in the chosen route. Some expressed some frustration on discovering the grid was unlike the space as they had imagined. There was a general sense of focus and concentration during the task, followed by a sense of achievement and enjoyment on completion of it. If I were to repeat this I think I would seek to find a way to record this change in mental state more fully, as this anxious anticipation could be a natural state of future thinking.

It would be interesting to do a similar exercise using a much larger space, and/or to repeat the exercise with participants who have more expertise in gesture and movement, e.g. dancers. I enjoyed when there were two participants engaging at once, and having multiple agents seeking to complete their routes at the same time could be interesting in itself.

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: 3D – Data Visualisation (pt 4)

I was interested in exploring the reflective qualities of metal sheeting as analogous to that of screens, in visualising my screentime data. I was shown offcuts of aluminium sheets that I could use to experiment with. Following the performative clay work I had done, I was eager to incorporate this again, and decided that manually hammering it over an anvil would be a satisfying process to try out. In this way I could again demonstrate the human-screen interaction and also something of the strong impact this has on our lives (for better or ill). This turned out to be really fun!!

I hit it 39 times, to reflect the number of hours of screentime over the 7 day period. The marks of the hammer I used here reminded me of those I had created in my previous exercise using pastels. I like how the surface of the sheet has also distorted somewhat from the force of the blows, warping it and the way the light reflects off it.

I wanted to experiment with a round headed hammer, to see if I could produce marks that were similar to a thumbprint, so repeated this. The effect reminds me of bullet holes/impacts in shooting targets, and gives an added sense of violence.

I chose to then fold the sheet twice, to give an approximate size and shape to a phone, and repeated this exercise.

I like the way that the concave shape (a byproduct of my process) draws the eye, as though a captivating screen itself. I used two hammer types here to produce a variety of marks and depths. I was interested in exploring the folds as marks in themselves, and of pure distortion of the screen, so focused on this only for my next sheet. Placing the sheet so that it overlapped the edge of the anvil, I brought the hammer down at an angle to bend it over the edge. I repeated this action in somewhat random orientations, to produce an irregular form. Much like the hitting, I did not want to create an ordered effect, but instead imply the violence/impact to our humanity of such interaction with technology (messy and unstructured), as well as the distorted view it offers us.

I repeated this with a larger sheet, so that I could produce finer distortions. The result resembled crumpled paper and I enjoyed that this suggested the sheet was more malleable than it was in reality, and that there had been a more manual process at play.

I enjoy the way the light reflects on these, producing dark and light regions and suggestion of texture (dappling, rippling, scrunching). The effect alters as you changed your position as an observer, which was also interesting, and if close up you do get a fragmented, blurred reflection. This reminded me of some interactive reflective works I have seen recently.

Below, a Yayoi Kusama work that I had interacted with at Tate Liverpool, whose appearance altered according to the external circumstances it was placed in, and the position adopted by the observer.

The Passing Winter, Yayoi Kusama 2005 – close-up photograph peering into one of the holes opening onto the mirrored interior (with reflective exterior)

And here, an installation from Tate Modern (in an exhibition focusing on participatory art ‘Performer and participant’). The use of the blue tape is intended to integrate the mirrors with the space in which they situate, erasing the difference between real and reflected space – so that our experience is not only of the work itself but the entire environment.

Edward Krasinski (first installed in this way in 2001)

These other works have not distorted the reflective surfaces themselves, but used the quantity and distribution of them in space to add variation, and the colour/light of other parts of the environment to add further depth. Both also use suspension of these to disrupt our expectations. I would like to think further about how my own distortion works might employ these techniques too for added impact. E.g. perhaps by projecting a digital screen interface demo onto them, suspended in a dark box?