Conscious and Unconscious Mark Making

I have found the discussions in the field workshops helpful for my own practice surrounding my current subject brief. A lot of my work at the moment is exploring the relationship between impulsive mark making and decisive mark making, something that I see, reflecting particularly on the mindfulness workshop, to almost be an investigation into the relationship between subconsciousness and consciousness.

Drawing these images, I try to consciously be aware whilst making the squares – mostly attempting to draw them with precision and measurement. However, with the more organic marks, I try to turn my mind to other things and unconsciously generate the marks – without trying to apply to much control or direction. I am aware of the difficulties of being completely unconscious of the mark making process, but for me the images offer some kind of reflection on that relationship between consciousness and subconsciousness.

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The Unseen

This was really fascinating workshop, and offered a very interesting angle on the understanding of consciousness. For me, it highlights the vulnerability of consciousness and perception to deception, that we are able to see and experience things that do not actually exist.

We discussed entopic imagery, imagery created from the body – for example, floaters. The work of Edvard Munch was given as an example – with some of his paintings depicting the blood clot that he had in one of his eyes.

We then discussed hypnagogic imagery, experienced when the brain produces its own stimuli. This can be easily triggered by depriving yourself of visual stimuli, for example if staring at an empty white space – the brain will begin to generate its own stimuli to counteract the lack of real stimuli.

Possible examples of historical hypnagogic imagery can be seen in Chamush Rock art in Santa Barbera, where it is possible that a lack of stimuli combined with the use of hallucinogenic substances meant that people living in caves were able to see and depict such vivid and distinct patterns.

We also looked at artists whose work responds to their own belief in their connection to different channels of spirituality or energy.
For example the work of Madge Gill, who draws as a way of communicating with a spirit that she believes she has been possessed by.

 

And the work of Guo Fengyi, who drawings are created in a trance like state, claiming that a spirit was draws through her.

During the second part of the workshop we were asked to respond visually to what we had been discussing, reflecting on something that we had heard during the lecture, or something we ourselves had experienced in our lives in relation to the discussed phenomena. I was surprised, as at the beginning of the lecture James asked us if we had ever hallucinated – my initial answer was no, but as we began to dig into what it mean to hallucinate, I began to realise that I actually had. It was this experience that I created my response to.

I was just waking up after having had a nap in the living room, when I went to sleep my Dad was in the chair opposite to me. As I began to wake up from my nap, I opened my eyes and glanced across the room and saw my Dad in the same place – a few seconds later, after waking up fully, I looked up and realised that he wasn’t actually there at all. I had definitely seen him sitting there, despite him not even being there.

 

 

Self Awareness and the Conscious Mind

In this lecture we discussed what it was to be self aware and how this relates to consciousness.

There is a particular step that children take in the development of self awareness, self awareness does not come from birth but tends to develop after 18 months. Before then, babies will not recognise themselves as themselves, but on seeing a reflection of themselves will look at it as though looking at a stranger.

As our awareness develops further, unlike all other animals, we begin to become aware of our own awareness. This poses the question – what is the self that is aware of itself?

For Descartes, his ability to doubt was proof that he could think, that his thinking was real and so he had a self. “I think, therefore I am”.

Antonio Damasio argues that there are 2 types of selves, a ‘core self’ and an ‘autobiographical’ self. Both of which are integrated to create one sense of self.

The theory of phenomenology asserts that consciousness is located within the thought that is active/or conscious at a given time.

Shaun Gallagher puts forward the theory of ’embodiment’, arguing that we should not be looking to locate the mind in a single a part of the brain, but rather our ‘selves’ is our embodiment, allowing us to interact with the world – through our bodies.

There are many theorist writing around the theory of the ‘self’ – ranging from those who believe that we do have an existing ‘self’, to those who believe that our understanding of self is purely illusionary.

Trying to understand the notion of ‘self’ poses the logical dilemma – can you really think about yourself, thinking about yourself? A camera can’t take a photograph of itself, and so do we really have the capacity to think about ourselves thinking about ourselves?

The questions about self awareness brought up during this lecture, were then taken into the context of art. We began to ask, can a piece of art be self aware?
During the 17th Century a change occurred in art, artists began to turn their attentions to art as a depiction and awareness of itself – rather than as a depiction of real/imaginary events.

This piece by Johannes Gumpp (1646), illustrates this self awareness. The painting opens up layers of dialogue between artist and audience. Gumpp uses his painting to show his awareness of the audiences awareness.

Another interesting piece was Cornelis Gijsbrecht’s ‘Reverse of a Framed Painting’. A painting of the back of the painting, a highly detailed and realistic depiction of the back of the canvas it is painting of creates a sense of the painting knowing about itself.

Cornelis Norbert Gijscrechts, Reverse of a Framed Canvas

In the painting ‘Still Life with Violin’ by Georges Braque, we again see painting that exists as a form of self reflection. The pin at the top of the painting creates a new level to how we view the whole painting, it exists as THE painting but also as a painting of a painting.

Conceptual artists saw that the main purpose of art ought to be this self reflection. Art should not depict anything other than itself. It should be its own definition. As seen in this piece by Joseph Kosuth, ‘Clear square glass leaning’