Sketchbook

I’ve decided to open up a separate section on my page for my sketchbook (digital drawings). Drawing is a form of brainstorming for me - especially in this form/style/language. It’s a vulnerability, a skeleton, a foundation of a future idea - or perhaps, quite often, a translation of thought that may just exist as is.

Words to ponder on: 

Mark-making, translation, tool.

Miles Johnston

Thoughts

  • Sensationalizes the psychosomatic 

  • Visualizations of mind-body interaction and neurogenesis  

  • Tranquil states - still life - freezes movement. 

  • Fluidity, morphology.

  • Tackles subjects such as melancholy, desire, fear and isolation. 

  • Soft aesthetics and choice of perspective generates an intimate proximity. 

  • Sympathy.

  • The visual language carries the subject as neither a protagonist nor antagonist. Rather, the subject seems to exist beyond the scope of narrative - a cognitive portrait perhaps?

  • Reconnecting to the sphere through prayer


The Spider

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Spiders are genetically programmed to generate a symmetric algorithm of web - a map they are born with. I adopted the term ‘spider’ around two years ago - my brother and I were both attempting to reconcile with a loss of a loved one, an internal conflict of morale, an existential crisis that left us both in an agoraphobic state; unable to trust the innenwelt, unable to trust the umwelt. My brother and I have had a long history of trauma, symptoms of emotional flashbacks seemed to take a toll on the ways in which we processed novel traumas, unable to disconnect the web of our present from that of our past. It’s like watching a jump scare scene from a horror film on repeat, panicking, trying to find the remote to shut off the screen - but you realize you’re tied to your chair, unable to leave or move until the film decides to end at its own accord. We talked about this process, the inability to ‘control’ - how it frustrated it us, if we could find a way around it. That part we weren’t able to control was eventually named ‘The Spider’. A part of our mind that breathes for us, knows what to do when we sleep, knows what dreams to engage us in, to spark our interest. Albeit, as separate as it may seem, The Spider is still part of us. A mixture of the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS), the Subconscious and unconscious. The Spider takes care of everything that is not in our immediate attention, even thoughts we shove aside as we try to just engage in the everyday. As much as we’d like to believe that the spider and its daily ‘tasks’ are inaccessible, they aren’t. There exists a consciousness beyond the conscious, most commonly referred to as the meta-conscious - a level of thought that can contemplate the state of being conscious. As practice, my brother and I attempted to engage with that state of meta-consciousness, observing The Spider and its decisions - eventually redirecting it in healthier ways. Meta-consciousness is like a lens, a camera - a wide focused view on the body, mind, environment, and space. To be meta-conscious is to become a flaneur on the streets of your mind, watching thoughts swoosh by - traffic can be exhausting sometimes. A form of astral projection happening within the innenwelt, a meta-projection (so many metas, I know). A flaneur on busy city streets gazes at shadow, symmetry, and composition, contemplating the connections, the histories and reasonings, fragments of a greater puzzle. A meta-projection is just that, except instead of a city, it’s you. I’d like to take a closer look at The Spider, from a meta-conscious level, contemplating its activity.

Evaluating elements (symbols-signs-significations-language) in a virtual portrait of The Spider - through a meta-consciousness lens. 

Body    Gender & Interpellation, Mind & Matter, Senses & Auras, Skin & Gravity.

Body

Gender & Interpellation, Mind & Matter, Senses & Auras, Skin & Gravity.


Space    Tangible & Intangible , Location & distortion, Innenwelt & Umwelt, Adaptations & Transitions.

Space

Tangible & Intangible , Location & distortion, Innenwelt & Umwelt, Adaptations & Transitions.


Sphere    Identity & reality, Perception & Difference, Views & Beliefs, Histories & Drives.

Sphere

Identity & reality, Perception & Difference, Views & Beliefs, Histories & Drives.


Environment    Socius & Culture, History & Paradigm, Public & Private, Family & Tradition.

Environment

Socius & Culture, History & Paradigm, Public & Private, Family & Tradition.





Gender & Interpellation

 In Judith Butler’s essay, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory”, Gender is described as an “’act’, broadly construed, which constructs the social fiction of its own psychological identity” (528); By using the performative elements of an actor in a theatre as a model of interpreting gender, Butler illustrates genderas what is ‘put on’ in the spectacle of one’s life, both, physically and psychologically. The body, consequently, becomes an actor playing the role, with a script “conditioned and circumscribed by historical convention” (521); depending on one’s sex, society asserts specific modes of ‘acting’, which have been passed down historically from generation to generation.

 Butler states that “the various acts of gender creates the idea of gender […] a construction that regularly conceals its genesis” (522); In this cycle of creation, genderexpresses notions of repetition and rehearsal, which seems to closely relate to Louis Althusser’s conception of ‘interpellation’. We are ‘interpellated’ into gender, “embodying certain cultural and historical possibilities” (521) that appear ubiquitous in our surrounding world; we mimic what we see, and somehow, we validate our gender roles through itRetrospectively, our bodies experience “a complicated process of appropriation” (521), an assimilation of ‘acts’ bestowed upon us, subconsciously, by the societies and cultures that we have been raised into. Sex and gender happen to be very dissimilar, “gender is the cultural significance that the sexed body assumes” (524); in this distinction, sex is closely related to the physiological and biological materiality of the body, whereas, gender can be understood through a psychological lens, an embodiment of social construct, an ‘interpellation’. “The gender reality is created through sustained social performances means that the very notions of an essential sex, a true or abiding masculinity or femininity, are also constituted as part of the strategy by which the performative aspect of gender is concealed” (528), writes Butler; sex and gender become closely related in an attempt to amalgamate the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ to their respective bodies, a “social policy of gender regulation and control” (528). 

“The association of natural sex with a discrete gender […] is an unnatural conjunction of cultural constructs in the service of reproductive interests” (524); it seems evident that gender has become most ‘necessary’ within the realm of kinship and consumerism. Gender is, therefore, a mode of production, a façade, a reproduction of exterior ideology, an unnatural garment of survival within society. 


Sources:

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, “A Critical and Cultural Reader. Eds. Anthony Easthope and Kate McGowan. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988. 50-57.

Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory”, in Theatre Journal, Volume 40 Issue 4, Dec. 1988. 519-53.

Animated Algorithms

I am currently experimenting with two types of equational functions.

  • Sin((u+t)*2.5*PI)*0.8

    • Z Radial - Applied to sphere

  • Sin((u+t)*2.0*PI)*0.2

    • Y Radial - Applied to plane

I’m curious as to how these functions would apply to less symmetrical/basic shapes, such as more intricate poly-formations. Would the asymmetrical shape be able to sustain a fluid animation? Would it break apart? What kind of interesting anomalies would generate?

Lebanon, from a few lenses.

“The great controversy in aesthetics hovers over the question whether art and the attitude appropriate to it are separated from other human interests and activities or intimately bound up with them. The empathy-theory appears to have been a reaction against sundering art from life, but a reaction which turned into affirmation and exaggeration of that divorce. This reversal was fated in the initial acceptance of pure abstract form as the essence of art and beauty, in the tradition of Kant. Committed to cold form, the antithesis of life, empathy was to show how form could become the focus of such a lively interest as the fervor of romantic genius. The theory was an attempt to explain how mere form could be expressive. The idea was that form is receptive to activity projected by a subject. But since form for empathy was not a physical, biological, or social object, only a ghostly shape, it could receive only an ectoplasmic emanation from an actual self. Abstract form needed to be animated if it was to be the center of the interest which art seems to have. But the economic man was a human being compared to the thin aesthetic man supposed by the theory of empathy to enter into form. He was deprived of social ties, unsexed, and left with vestiges of senses. This shadow of a self should be satisfied with insertion into empty forms and the excitement of finding sheer unity and variety there.

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But Lipps could not let him be content with exploration of geometrical arrangement, since he was invented to illustrate a coincidence of the human with the non-human. He could not remain a wraith. The aesthetic subject had to be lively enough to greet a semblance of humanity in the object. Empathy explained enjoyment of form as pleasure in human qualities, though found outside the shape of man. Man's own shape was said not to be beautiful as a shape, for its geometric regularity would be no more pleasing than if found in an ink spot. On the contrary, "his forms are beautiful because they are human, and bearers for us of human life." Symmetry in the body was beautiful for Lipps simply because of its significance for turning right and left and all the functioning of a human being. In this view the outer beauty of a man was a manifestation of the man within, who was for the observer both a double and modification of himself.” (Meter Ames 490)



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Tutorial (2)

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Jonathan Kearney - January 14th - 10:15am - Skype

Jonathan and I discussed how my scope and direction has narrowed down - A strong focus on ‘empathy’ as a concept. Reoccurring symbols, such as spheres and hands, appear to have become a language - a methodology in comprehending further discoveries about empathy. We further examined the role of family/culture and familiarity in my creative process, and future documentations i’d like to capture in Beirut over the summer - intergenerational, trilingual, history, home.  It seems as though most recent works have become a reflection of ‘empathy’, an attempt to grasp the concept as a whole as a still life (through 3D renderings). I see this process becoming part of a larger ‘circulatory’ narrative - displayed on screen. Various mediums, contexts, languages - all attempting to define/imagine/distribute empathy. 

We discussed the blog as a platform, a mirror - meant as a time capsule, to re-examine the evolution of my creative endeavours and processes. I struggled with the language, but Jonathan encouraged the fragmentation of language, as long as it could be accurately re-examined and comprehended in the future. 

My next steps are to document and upload the works I’ve generated over the break, examine the relationships between them, and carry forward with a more evolved visual language - even using different mediums such as film, paint, photography, glass/chrome?


Intent(s)

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Aims

  • To critically ponder on mythologies based in linguistic and cultural systems.

    • How does one choose to represent their own reality/identity?

    • To investigate the internal dynamics of Family and Familiarity.

    • To critically examine, through semiotics, philosophies built around faith(s). 

    • To get a better understanding of the collective self.  

  • To widen an understanding of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) through a series of interdisciplinary lenses, exploring concept(s) such as:

    • Empathy.

    • Trauma.

    • Reality.

    • Love.

  • To capture a string of thought during the creative process, further translating it as vividly as possible – using, Sound, Image, The Body and Texture as starting points.

  • To hypothesize digital software and hardware technologies as tools, much like a camera to a photographer, or a brush to a painter. 

  • To look deeper into the Virtual Portrait

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Lenses

  • Neuropsychology

    • The study of the relationship between behavior, emotion, and cognition on the one hand, and brain function on the other.

  • Phenomenology

    • The science of phenomena as distinct from that of the nature of being. An approach that concentrates on the study of consciousness and the objects of direct experience

  • Epistemology (Ontology) 

    • The theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.

  • Anatomy 

    • A study of the structure or internal workings of something.

Empathy in Spheres

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“There is not a single definition of empathy. The explanandum being heterogeneous, we cannot expect to discover a common mechanism explaining it. What is meant by empathy depends on the basic scientific/clinical/philosophical question. Within the neurosciences, empathy is shifting from a simple automatic bottom- up process to a more complex phenomenon in which different mechanisms (either bottom-up and top-down processing) are involved”. (Massimiliano 11)



Sources:

Aragona, Massimiliano. “The Many Faces of Empathy, between Phenomenology and Neuroscience.” Academia.edu - Share Research, 2013, www.academia.edu/5590572/The_many_faces_of_empathy_between_phenomenology_and_neuroscience.

Musicians & Chemists

I’ve been contemplating the presence of music in our lives - what does “music” even mean? I sat down with my band members, and we decided to have an open conversation about the way that we perceive music. For some reason, the conversation started off with how each of us came to understand the impact of music, and the ways in which it has informed the way we perceive it now. I was taught how to play the piano in a conservatory, my hands would get slapped every time i got a note wrong - I was taught to read notes like a robot, and if I ever glitched-out, I would get slightly punished for it. I decided to end my time learning there, it felt like the opposite of what music meant for me. During the Lebanese war in 2006 was when i first came to understand the impact of the piano. Bombs would fall from fighter planes almost algorithmically, the echos were bone-jolting. I sat on the piano one afternoon, and played to the sound of the harsh echos. As i played, I started to understand the algorithm of the bombings, the strategy of the combat, which calmed me down - I was able to discover how manufacturing sound helped me re-examine a situation and perceive it a little differently, a little lighter.  I also came to understand my voice during the war. I would sing as I played the piano, and adding that layer of sound seemed to strengthen my re-examining of the situation, it helped me come into terms with what was actually going on, it helped me discover an empathic connection to the chaotic outside. 

We discussed the impact of music, how it brings people closer together, builds a community. But we went even deeper, discovering that music can have the power to manufacture a shift of perception - to be able to step out of our mental space and rediscover another one, a new one - empathy? This got me thinking about Art, and how this concept is also apparent in the gallery space. But why is music something separate to this? Isn’t it the same? Why don’t we see music more often in the gallery space? 

A musician is like a chemist - manufacturing a track is like manufacturing a drug. The only difference is that one works with sound, the other works with substance. Is sound a substance? 

I’ve come to appreciate my identity as an audio-visual artist, the importance of visualization. Sound inspires image, image inspires sound - it’s the way my mind functions. It seems as though i’ve been steering away from combining the two - keeping them in a separate space so that they can be understood on different levels. But why should I do that? Why not allow myself the opportunity to expose that visualization - that all-encompassing combination of sound and image. 


‘Believe in existence spent
To separate us from them
To know that your blood runs thin
Is to live with the truth within’




Tutorial (1)

Jonathan Kearney - October 29th - 10:15am - Skype

Our discussion started off with a brief description of what I intended to discover throughout the MA; a few questions that I had proposed at the start of the course. ‘Empathy’ surfaced numerous times throughout the conversation, and how it might eventually be a term that i’ll become quite familiar with throughout the course. Jonathan noted a piece of mine in particular,  rouge, which was basically a way of exposing myself to a PTSD trigger (a specific shade of red) through archival family footage. He speculated around whether the art happened during the making of the piece or the outcome, or both - I thought deeply about this and still do. This got me thinking about one of my initial questions - “Can art be used as a tool to facilitate the reconciliation of trauma and the understanding of the self; can the making or witnessing of art play a role in healing wounds within ourselves or wounds within others?”. I let Jonathan know that i was going to be conducting a few interviews with artists who have experienced trauma; either as a result of mental illness, or an external situation, or both. I described this method as ‘data collection’, amongst other more ‘scientific’ research I will be collecting within fields such as neurobiology and cognitive behavioural psychology. I intended to use this qualitative and quantitative data as a way to further examine the mind and what is currently discovered - keeping up to date. As for the interviews, I intend to use them as inspiration - to tap into the perception of art from other minds. Jonathan posed a question - how will I begin to mediate between being an objective observer and a subjective artist? Is there a challenge in collecting such data, and how will it inform my practice or further it? The tutorial helped me think more critically about the approach I am taking and to be aware of the challenges I might eventually face (perhaps that’s where a lot of the art will happen).


Simulations

I’ve recently been experimenting with algorithmically relocating planes in meshes using Cinema 4D. I’ve also been working with generating particle turbulence and wind - manufacturing virtual physics. Doing so has expanded the ways in which i perceive objects on a daily basis. It seems as though a hyper-awareness of ‘parts’ provides the eyes with an ability to appreciate the very object itself - as a whole. Using 3D software is starting to widen my understanding of space and time; being able to replicate reality with so many functions is giving me the opportunity to look more closely at my environment - the little parts that eventually make up the whole. 

I’m curious as to how this technique could come into play with future works, or perhaps inform a way of thinking about material, space and time. I wonder what could come out of simulating subtle exaggerations of our physical reality- tweaking with gravity, hyperbolizing wind, adjusting properties of objects. 

‘Reality’ is a very abstract term. Is reality based on a shared understanding of space and thought? Is reality a personal journey that can only be understood and accepted by the passenger? Is reality the grey area in between? Contemplating the fluidity of ‘reality’ and its complete lack of consistency, perhaps could act as a starting point in reflecting on ‘empathy’. 

The Shell

Alessandro Keegan

gouache over walnut ink on paper

The shell, to Bachelard, is so much more than the exoskeleton of a mollusk; it is a home, skin, and an enclosed space where we hold the most precious energies of them all – ourselves. The shell is an analogy of the body, simultaneously, it is also an analogy of where we rest our bodies. Bachelard states that shells “are privileged forms that are more intelligible for the eye, even though more mysterious for the mind, than all the others we see indistinctly” (105); perhaps upon repeated exposure to our species on a daily basis, we find sanctuary and comfort in the image of a human, however, what lies beyond the human, within the shell, is always a mystery when facing a stranger. It seemed most prominent that Bachelard is referring to the soul, a portion of it “remain[ing] imprisoned […] not always tak[ing] a designated form” (108). Through imagination and meditation, he believes, a part of our soul is immersed into the world, for a brief second, until logic captures it back into our geometric shape; like a snail, we leave our shell to bask in immensity, but we always retreat back inside as a result of “fear” (110). In duality, nonetheless, the shell itself can also depict our homes, a shell, encasing a shell, incasing us. A home is something we carry, unlike a mollusk, on a metaphysical level – home is where we feel safe, where we settle, and that can change often enough for us to realize that it never generates out of materiality.

As cliché as it sounds, I had decided to read shells by the shore, assuming I would find inspiration in the aesthetics of the surrounding shells. Half-way through, I had decided to retreat home; I realized that my understanding of the text had been evolving from one of biocentricity to one of anthropocentricity, and the need to retract back into my shell was paramount. I sat on a cushion alongside shelves that displayed my mineral and rock collection; Bachelard spoke about ammonite, one of my favorite fossils, I used it as a bookmark.  Gazing through its peculiar shape was a gateway into understanding the dimension of the text, in its polychromatic form and symbolism of home, I was able to appreciate Bachelard’s homage to the body. I live in a newer apartment building, constructed in 2015, the walls have no stories, I am its first inhabitant – a blank slate to paint my own history into. A history I’ve carried along with me since I was younger; a shell. 

I was reminded of Alessandro Keegan’s piece Sanctuary (2017), to me, a vibrant illustration of emergence. “There is a sign of violence in all these figures in which an over-excited creature emerges from a lifeless shell” (Bachelard 111); this piece depicts just that. Foreign shapes and extraterritorial material dominate the composition, emerging from a seed-like vessel, a shell of some sort. What brings about aspects of violence is the background; muddy and assertive, convincing the audience that, behind its innocuous colors, there’s a danger to it. 


Anthropocentricity (Anthropocentrism):

“Regarding humankind as the central or most important element of existence, especially as opposed to God or animals” (Oxford Dictionaries). 

Biocentricity (Biocentrism):

“The view or belief that the rights and needs of humans are not more important than those of other living things” (Oxford Dictionaries).


Sources:

"Anthropocentrism." Oxford Dictionaries. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2017. 

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon, 1994. PDF.

"Biocentrism." Oxford Dictionaries. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2017. 

A Nightmare

A Nightmare (2018)

Acrylic & print on cotton & cellulose

11 x 14 Inches

I was standing in the midst of green hills (much like the iconic wallpaper of Windows XP). My closest friends and family surrounded me in a perfect circle - they seemed different, as if they were void of themselves. One by one they slapped me, the ground beneath me eventually began to crumble. I fell downwards into a dilapidated room - rusty metal, holes in walls, and two feet of blood that flooded the area. A man walks out of a doorway with a white towel, dragging it along the floor - soaking up the blood until it reached his palms. He didn’t notice me, for a while - when he did, he looked straight into my eyes and I woke up. 

Knowledge & Understanding

The definitions of ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ are problematic. According to my perspective, knowledge and understanding complement each other. In order to understand something, you must acquire a certain amount of information; claiming to know something implies that there is understanding. However, to understand something is very uncertain, it depends on the reliability of knowledge on which the understanding is based. For example, if we claim to know a language, we must understand that language. “Only seeing patterns can give us knowledge, only seeing particular examples can give us understanding”; this quote implies that knowledge and understanding are to some extent, interdependent. If knowledge is gained through patterns, which are shapes, figures, or elements, then understanding must be achieved by processing knowledge through reason, language, and intuition. For real understanding to take place examples themselves are not enough nor are the patterns on which the original knowledge is based. We should be acquainted with specific examples, but we also need to understand the concepts on which the knowledge is based. Through art, and math, it can be seen that patterns and examples are indeed important for knowledge and understanding, but only seeing general patterns and particular examples alone will not give real understanding, that comes with reason, intuition as well as sense perception. 

When we claim to know a person, is this knowledge dependent on the pattern of, for example, his or her face? Knowledge of a person requires more than this mere recognition, but the pattern is a starting point. Intuition has a role in moving from recognition to knowledge and eventually to understanding. The human face is made up of patterns of features, which even newborn babies can intuitively recognize. Studies have been carried out to determine the recognition by newborn babies of their mothers' faces. In a 2001 experiment carried out by I.W.R Bushnell, it was found that newborns rapidly “process sufficient information about their mother’s face ... to allow effective recognition memory.” (Bushnell 2001). This suggests that the ability to recognize patterns is innate, but does this mean the infant knows and understands that this person is his or her mother? In this case the baby does seem to have knowledge that that set of patterns belongs to a source of food, comfort and affection so to an extent knowledge has been gained through patterns. Understanding, also, has been gained though the baby experiencing examples of comforting behavior and food supplies. However, the baby can only know this person is his or her mother later through reason, experience and intuition. As human beings, we tend to identify with faces. It has been shown that individuals feel secure when they are in contact with other human faces. Faces consist of a specific pattern; the brow, the eyes, the nose in the middle, and the lips. However, we may know that the pattern is a face, but that alone does not give knowledge of the person; it may lead to recognition; we can know what our friend looks like through sense perception but real understanding of who our friend is, needs reason, intuition and experience. 

Art can be defined as the expression of human creativity. According to Picasso “Are we to paint what's on the face, what's inside the face, or what's behind it?”. Art is an area of knowledge, often associated with patterns of shapes, colors and motifs. Knowledge of art can be gained through recognizing patterns especially in work by artists who have used intuition in their oeuvres. In Picasso’s artwork for example, the artist uses the aesthetic techniques of cubism to distort images, and figures. For example, in the artwork The Weeping Woman, Picasso depicts a woman crying. When we look at the artwork, we are able to discern something of a pattern of a face, despite the fact that it does not conform to the usual pattern, we know there is a face there. The distortion does not render the face unrecognizable, its skewed proportions and ambiguous perspective makes it looks rather odd, but we do see the pattern, and therefore we are not disturbed by the image. In fact, it is the distortion of the accepted pattern that provides an insight, giving us a more profound understanding of the human face itself. Our knowledge and understanding of the face have been enriched by the deformation of the familiar pattern. 

Poetry is another manifestation of human creativity – patterns of words are put together to convey meaning. One approach to poetry is to identify the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in each line and to identify the meter – is it an iambic pentameter or perhaps tetrameter? Is it a trochee or a spondee? While such scansion can be a useful tool in order to know the poem, it is not enough for real understanding. An example is the poem, “The Canonization” by John Donne. The poem is written in the pattern of iambic pentameter and iambic tetrameter with a repeated pattern of rhymes, A B B A C C C A A. Working out this pattern is useful, in one way we can claim to know the poem. However, with reason and intuition we realize that the rhyme scheme echoes the beating of a heart or maybe the sound of funeral drums thus is understanding achieved and we know the true meaning of the poem. In fact, "The Canonization" is a complex analysis of the nature of human love – is love purely physical, is it Petrarchan, erotic, or metaphysical? Understanding of this does not come from the visual pattern of the syllables; real knowledge and understanding comes from reason, intuition and experience. 

Math is an area of knowledge to which patterns are intrinsic and yet knowledge of math requires more than simply looking at patterns and understanding requires more than working some examples. Fractals are an example of apparently simple patterns but understanding of the math behind the patterns takes much more. The mathematician Cantor, working during the 1800s on set theory, was so astounded by his discoveries that he wrote, “I see but I don’t believe it” (Cantor 12). Perhaps he perceived patterns in numbers but did not understand the significance of what he saw. He showed that the set of integers has an equal number of members as the set of even numbers, cubes, squares and roots. Further, he suggested that the number of points on a line segment equals to the number of points on an infinite line. In this, Cantor was exploring the concept of infinity – previously a taboo. Many condemned Cantor for challenging the previous convention of patterns of numbers. From Cantor’s ground-breaking work on transfinite sets, the Swedish mathematician Koch developed the idea of fractals – a pattern repeating itself to infinity. Ironically, this turns the prescribed title around; knowledge has given insight into patterns and the patterns help understanding of the nature of infinity. In his fascinating research, Ron Eglash explores the patterns of fractals in African culture. He demonstrates the relevance of fractals, patterns, in African architecture, design, and even in the layout of traditional villages. Palaces in Africa consciously have been built in the form of fractals, spirals or rectangles reflecting the social hierarchy. Here, in this situation, it appears that understanding the patterns leads to a better, more in-depth, knowledge and understanding of the society in which the patterns are found. How was it that these fractals were developed before the algorithms, the mathematics itself was discovered? In this case, the patterns appeared intuitively before the knowledge and understanding but the patterns did lead to that knowledge. According to Eglash, many of the African fractals are based on random number generators. Fractals are found in nature, in architecture, even in the replication of the AIDs virus. Fractals are even found in our vegetables. Brassica oleracea, or broccoli is made up in the form of fractals – repeating patterns of shapes. And yet, we can only know what broccoli really is by tasting it. If knowledge were limited to the simple patterns, then we would not understand anything. 

As humans in constant search for understanding and certainty we must be ready to see patterns, to look for examples, but we must also be aware that neither patterns nor examples alone are sufficient. In Art, real understanding can begin with identifying patterns and seeing examples, but reason and intuition arealso imperative; Picasso’s paintings and Donne’s poems reach beyond the patterns and lead us to a more intuitive understanding of what it is to be human. Similarly, in math, a subject frequently associated with patterns and examples, if our knowledge simply stays on the level of those patterns, we will not reach understanding. 

Natural Broccoli Fractal

Brassica oleracea

The Weeping Woman (1937)

60x49cm

Oil paint


Sources

Bushnell, I.W.R. Mother’s Face Recognition in Newborn Infants: Learning and Memory. Diss. University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK, 2001. N.p.: John Wiley & Sons, 2001. Print.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Cantor

http://www.ted.com/talks/ron_eglash_on_african_fractals.html

http://homepages.rpi.edu/~eglash/eglash.htm

The Emerald Lady

I proceeded from the back door, for a smoke at sundown, cutting through horizontal streets in a dimly lit neighbourhood – I was hoping to remain unseen, like a marauder in search for the grandeur. A cigarette in hand, Matchstick after matchstick, the breeze stole the spark; a stain of light persevered, the Emerald Lady had arrived, dancing through my eyes. She accompanied me towards the glows, the luminous currents of Kitsilano on a drizzling Friday evening. Dripping roads glistened as the auburn bulbs refracted outwards, she was swiftly in a discothèque, demanding a melody to complement her environment – an algorithmic bass echoed in the distance, we had to follow. We came across fellow travellers along the way, their silence worried us, she seemed to dislike the rectangular whites that tainted their corneas; they were too seamless for her, she liked to sway, disfigured. She spoke of her ancestry and the ways in which the flames came to be. I noticed a melancholy, a longing of some sort. Her vibrancy started to fade, I wasn’t ready to be left alone. The silent goodbye was promptly interrupted by a boom of a siren, an ambulance that flooded my senses – she had disappeared.

Stunned by the swapping lights and vibrating asphalt that slowly began to decline, I could only see blatant outlines in a blurry haze. Polygons of various sizes engulfed the space, embodying the souls of shelters and signals; I was intimidated by the linearity, as if I was surrounded by deities of faultlessness. Chrome and stone, glass and steel, this realm was heaving with rigidity, enunciating its power – its posture in the face of nature. My lenses recalibrated, I found myself in front of a residential gate, black metal bars past a plain sheet of glass. My body’s reflection had surfaced behind the bars, a prisoner of some sort; as an unshackled outsider, I felt the need to interrogate the body, its arrangement – the curves in the midst of all these impeccable lines. I recoiled towards a darker alleyway immensely decorated with steel and carbon thread, intertwined and overlapping with no symmetry; a day in the life of a drunken spider, I imagined. A scent of compost emerged, followed by the sound of rain softly disintegrating a cardboard box. I was witnessing a spectacle of degradation, the inevitable end to life, and the unsympathetic reality of temporality. The alleyways became a place of rupture, an escape from the neon fantasies on commercial streets and the paved suburbia.

The bone-jolting frequencies of the bass had finally surfaced in full-form, resonating from a nearby bar. I observed as waiters and waitresses systematically served tables, like an uninterrupted tango, reiterated immaculately. A strong gust flew past me, I was drawn into the crackling leaves on nearly bare trees, trapped in the concrete – I could feel them choking, gasping for air. I was reminded our conversation, she had articulated the trees with such finesse, “custodians of sacrifice”, as she puts it; they were loyal, they died for her time and time again, for they must scorch for her to breed – but here they are, shackled in the rain, striving. They guarded a meshed barrier that encased a community garden, rows and rows of numbered coffin-shaped planters, barren or empty. It is conceivable that such spaces exist as way of coping with the constant clatter, the buzzing sounds of wires and rides in the rapid pace of a day – the unavoidable struggle to survive in a world where material governs. I was unwanted in the garden, for all entrances were sealed with thick locks – brass ruled the area. I watched as cars and buses fled by, closely observing the ways in which light gambolled on the glass, transfiguring into an abstract elastic, before dissipating into a void. It felt as though I was witnessing an invisible world, an environment that could only be discovered through immobility. I caught a glimpse of a nearby window, a perpetual flow of white flashes drained through the venetian blinds, as though a thunderstorm had made its home in an uptown apartment – I was drawn into the inconsistency, but I was afraid of it too. Perhaps it was the persuaded tendency to be alert at the sight of a flash, like traffic lights and emergency vehicles, or the subconscious association with weaponry – I had decided to challenge those interpretations. An ambulance whooshed by once again, a sign to relocate, just as I did before. I traversed a street, downhill, towards the ocean; I was searching for stillness, a tranquility from the roaring city.

I had reached my destination, my scope of vision had expanded, I was exposed to a vastness – and so my mind had to follow. I gazed above, to mountaintops with bright lights attempting to pierce through the fog; it resembled a unique constellation, as if I were somehow floating in an abyss of stars. I tugged a cigarette from my pack, I was hoping that the darkness would be substantial enough for her to remerge – matchstick after matchstick, to my enchantment, the Emerald Lady had arrived once again. Her figure juxtaposed behind the city vista, a stark comparison of the manufactured and the organic, a clear picture of past and present. We spoke of light, its different forms, and its innate desire to guide and mentor; whatever its intention may be. The city was immersed with light, the moon was always a secondary source, darkened by the vitality of surrounding illuminations. I squinted and contemplated the city from afar –pulsing polychromatic strings flooded my eye, interlacing and forking. She had merged in with the others, a vibrant green amongst the rest, swimming in a reverie. And in a blink, she departed, to where the ghosts of light mingle in the darkness, awaiting a summoning from a fellow traveler.

Chaouki Chammoun

Chaouki Chammoun was born in Lebanon in 1942. After being self-taught through his early twenties, Chammoun studied lessons by correspondence from London. In 1968, Chammoun was admitted to the Lebanese University, and graduated in 1972 ranked amongst the top of his classes. He then gained his masters degree in Syracuse University, and then proceeded with his PhD in NYU. After falling in love with the innovation of New York, Chammoun began to work as an interior designer for large department stores [blooming dales]. After having experienced New York to the full, Chammoun decided to return to Lebanon and originate a new era of art. As a child, Chammoun always felt lucky because he considered himself one of the few “lucky people who were born in a pure green environment”. Although Chammoun was not present during most of the Lebanese Civil War, he was able to sense the destruction of his “green environment”.

In one of Chammoun’s war-related artworks, On A Spring Day Of 1975, the overpowering color is green. The green color is a representation of his perception of Lebanon and it’s beauty. Chammoun decides to display a large target, in white, in the center of the image in order to emphasize the prior magnificence of the country before war erupted. In the interview, Chammoun even says, “I knew that the land was a target”, almost suggesting that the war was based on the beauty of the land”. Across the painting, Chammoun uses a drip paint technique to create a splash of yellow, white, light blue, and red - These perhaps mimic the presence of flowers. Chammoun always decides to integrate the Lebanese people as a motif throughout his artworks. In my opinion, the people are the flowers.

Since Lebanon is a culturally diverse country, perhaps Chammoun is trying to bring about a sense of anti-sectarianism by merging the colors, and displaying them blurred together. Apart from the geometrical frame surrounding the “green environment”, there is a distortion found on the bottom left corner of the artwork, almost as if the image continues. The concept of framing limits the magnitude of the warfare, however by expanding it even further, Chammoun perhaps is suggesting that the war spread across the entire country. The white surrounding frame depicts reality, exposing the real life situation.

Another real life situation represented through another one Chammoun’s mixed media oeuvres is Cana I. In his artwork, he exhibits a wrinkled, and crushed glossy canvas that seems to be varnished. In front of this canvas is a wooden chair, and a barbed wire placed in the face of it. According to Chammoun, this artwork is based on the bombing of a local church in the suburb of Kaslik. As he described, “The church roof was annihilated”. The obvious emphasis of the mixed media is the canvas itself; this is achieved by the positioning of the lights. The canvas itself is an extracted representation of the bombed roof. Ironically, the roof gives off a sense of whimsicality. This in nature is deceptive, since the bomb left nothing but brittle debris and fire. The whimsical colors are quite misleading; the sudden flashes of red perhaps suggested the bloodshed, the red lighting that subsumes across the barbed wires also emphasizes this. The frequency of yellow found on the canvas perhaps exemplifies fire. The canvas itself is placed on a white backdrop that dangles from the ceiling. This juxtaposes reality and destruction, and highlights the brutality of the event. The concept of the chair is quite abstract, it’s structure, words inscribed, and surrounding elements confuse and challenge the spectator. On the back of the chair, the “UN” is repeated five times in white in order to emphasize its futile presence. The color white is also apparent, suggesting a disintegration, and by extension suggesting the ineffectiveness of the UN in the Civil War. In the central bottom of the ‘hollow’ chair is a crumbled tissue, along with a pair of black shoes. Perhaps this is a disintegrated person who has been destroyed by the bombardment, or perchance it is Lebanon itself.

0n a spring day 1975  Acrylic on canvas 1991  224x224 cm

0n a spring day 1975
Acrylic on canvas 1991

224x224 cm

Cana I  Mixed Media 1999

Cana I
Mixed Media 1999


An Interview with Chaouki Chammoun

I would first like to ask you about your background as an artist. Where did you train, and why did you decide to become an artist?

I didn’t choose to become an artist, I was self-taught through my early 20s, and I studied lessons by correspondence in London in the mid sixties. I did architectural drawing while I was looking for something called “drawing classes”. 68, I entered the Lebanese university, and I graduated from there in 72, being the first in my class, I was granted a fellowship to the US. I did my masters at Syracuse University and my PhD in NYU. This is basically my educational background. I worked in NY; I had a studio there. In addition to painting I was doing design – interior design for large department stores [blooming dales]. I realized I had to support my art. it took me a long time to get recognition and believe in my work. It took me years of study and hard work to get to where I am now. I had a major art show in Lebanon in 85, and since I was exhibiting almost every year. I exhibited in Beirut, NY, and other Arab countries. I have had over 31 1 man shows, and over 50 group shows worldwide. 

Could you tell us a bit more about your experience in Lebanon as a child, and how things have changed in your opinion?

Being born in 1942, which is one year before our independence, I remember singing in the streets of my village singing songs against Israel, even though contemporary times are similar. My father was in the army we had to move a lot. The fact that my father was a soldier, we would move to single-roomed houses, sometimes built out of clay. I always thought we had a good upbringing, all the clothes and food we needed, we were always looked at as studious and well-mannered kids. My father used to pay for my tuition most of the time. He was a ‘peasant’ he used to grow vegetables and fruits. Some of those used to go against my tuition against school. I always felt like I belonged to a well-mannered family, however I was actually from a peasant family. I am from a village called Sariine. I was one of the few lucky people who were born in a pure green environment. 

I noticed when I was researching your biography, that you were not present during most of the Lebanese civil war. Where were you? And did you actually visit Lebanon for prolonged periods of time during this period of uncertainty.

When I left Lebanon in 73 to Syracuse, it was to peruse my higher education. I stayed there till 75.after I got my masters; I came back to Lebanon for a short period of time. At the first stages of war. The first thing I did I visited the fine arts institute. I had my painting hanged there. Unfortunately, this building was the first to get burned. All I remember is a black rectangle on the wall. I joined NYU in 75. I stayed there for 2 years, and then came back for some research. I was shuttling between the east and the west without having a sense of fear, just disgust. When I see the buildings, it reminds me of how when we were kids playing with sand, and some mean bully would step on a sand castle. I stayed in NYU because I was studying. I came back in 82; I had to get back to the states in 85-86. I came back and front, working both ways, and my life went on this way.

While I was researching your artwork, especially that one hanging in Grandmother’s salon, I noticed you often use a dark palette. Any specific reason for this?

This painting was one of a series of painting I’ve done in Lebanon in 84-85. My wife was modeling for me at that time. My wife was everywhere. She would never pose for me, she would go on with her life and I would notice positions and I would sketch. I would always throw shapes around to create composition. Pastels were really something contemporary at that time. This technique was done using pencil, charcoal and pastel, I layered a lot using fixative to fix the color and create layers. The extensive layers cause a darker appearance.

I also noticed that many of your works feature people usually standing upright in rows, as if waiting for something. Could you please explain why you incorporated these?

These people stared sometimes in the early 90s when we started escaping the war and departing to the states. People would WAIT for boats, WAIT for planes. There were always lines; there was always a sense of waiting. it got me thinking about the percentage of time we spend on waiting, This waiting occupied 99% of our time. so the real question is “what are we waiting for?”, “what’s next?”. People are very familiar with waiting. They live in it. Nobody likes to wait for something bad to happen, they avoid it, and we always wait for something positive. The waiting as I see it, although sometimes it portrays negativity, we always hope for the positive. When I was in the US, I used to take the train a lot. I used to sit next to the window, and see the direction of the train. I always felt like the future is coming to me. However, if I look to the back, its almost like the future is passing me.

In your work the presiding moon I noticed you also had the pattern of people. Some in darkness, and some in the moonlight. Would you please explain why you chose to create this contrast?

When I went to the desert, I fell in love, when I held the sand in my hands, it sifted through my fingers. I went there and lied on my back. The sky was clear, dark blue, and I could see starts and moon. I felt like the moon was presiding in the desert. I brought the stars in an architectural form called ‘convening stars’.

Would you say that your experiences of living in a country with such a recent history of war, in fact some people would say we are still at war, has had an impact on the way you express yourself through your art?

I always though that I don’t want to deal with war, but when I look in my work, I find traces of pain. it wasn’t meant to give an art that is really involved in war, but sharpeners were hitting everywhere, even my painting and drawings, even physically. you cannot live in a country at times of war without being part of that experience. no matter how you reject it, no matter how you believe in it, no matter how you think it’s an endless lie taking our lives apart. But again, as the waiting lines are always hopeful waiting, we are always hopeful that tomorrow is a better day, in my paintings I have titles like “there will be peace tomorrow” or “since there will be peace tomorrow”. This title has been given to many of my artworks, and I still say till this moment, there will be peace tomorrow. Does it mean I have it today?

Which of your artworks do you think is more directly influenced by your war experience?

I have a painting which was done in NY after I saw myself in a self-imposed exile, escaping the war in 89, a painting “on a spring day of 1975”. It is green, representing the green Lebanon, targeted in the very center. I think this is war-related because I knew that the land was a target, killing Lebanon, as we know Lebanon was the target.

Do you think that art has a significant role to play in preserving the collective memory of war for the Lebanese? And is it important for Lebanon that this happens?

Despite the fact that art may relate to war issues, it is there to tell you that it’s with art that Lebanon can be saved, not with war.

Do you think that war has featured in the work of other artists?

Yes in many, Arif Rayis, Jean khalifeh, and porbably many others.