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Category Archives: musings

Carmgdbie Utiisvnrey did a study taht porevd that as lnog as the fisrt and lsat ltetres of a wrod are trehe, you can slamcrbe the mdilde of a word in any fahison and the wrod will still rdea as the oaringil wrod.

What I find interesting about this is the idea of perception and how our minds automatically form narratives, or make sense of the nonsensical. It’s impossible for us to accept something in the abstract, we are always trying to fit ourselves into the situation, mentally, in order to understand what our senses are perceiving. In regards to the Cambridge study, we are applying known truths (i.e. definable, recognizable words) to nonsense. In regards to art, it allows the obscure and abstract to become more accessible.

In INLAND EMPIRE, the director David Lynch toys with the idea of traditional narrative. He wrote the movie script on a day-by-day basis, handing the actors a freshly written page in the morning and filming the movie without knowing what the plot would be, framing ideas within scenes and trusting that everything would fit together in the end. The result is an intimidatingly long movie that is so convoluted that it is difficult to sit though. During my viewing, a quarter of the theater got up and left during the middle. However, as confused as you may be, once you relax and trust in David Lynch, the movie reads on the same level as a poem. Each scene tantalizing in it’s own right, single lines that force contemplation long after they have been uttered. INLAND EMPIRE is the most mentally agile film I have ever seen. It forces active audience participation because of it’s lack of cohesive narrative, both during the film and after. You, as an audience member, struggle throughout the movie to form a narrative, and each scene forces you to reevaluate the narrative you had settled upon during the previous scene. The plot is constantly shifting because you are struggling to find a plot. You need a story, and the lack of a specific story, or at least a traditional arc, only creates a more tantalizing puzzle.

I admire this ability of people to piece together a narrative, whether, as in the Cambridge study, from known absolutes, or as in INLAND EMPIRE, simply as a way to process and comprehend unrecognizable stimuli. Paul Broks, author of Into the Silent Land posits that what we think of ourselves, what we define as our being, is a story. We imagine ourselves as something, re-form our memories to reflect this, and act accordingly. Life is nothing but a story.

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Australian aboriginals have a concept which is dubbed ‘dream-time’. Boiled down to it’s essential and most telling elements, Dream-time refers to a time period beyond human memory when the Australian’s ancestors wandered the earth in the guise of both humans and animals, forming it into it’s current terrain.

Additionally there is dreaming–as it sounds, night images–descriptions of which indicate a certain type of belief structure. (ex.: Rabbit dreaming could be akin to Christianity while Turtle Dreaming could be similar to Judaism.) Dreaming is beyond regular time, basically beyond any conception of time that we and they (the tribes) are physically familiar with. (Sort of like Heaven–for believers it just is, even if it can’t really be explained logically or with any specific physicality). They describe dreaming as ‘all-at-once’, because they believe the experience is the past, present, and future co-existing. A person exists eternally in dreaming.

Amazingly, copyright then comes into play.

Each of the tribes have their own stories. To begin with, these stories are only supposed to be told within the tribe, and are the express property of the tribe. They are passed on from generation to generation and are understood as intellectual property. If they are used–whether in a retelling or in a painting–without permission, it is considered stolen property. Certain stories within the tribes are also protected. Some tales are to be told only at certain times, or only to certain people. For example,let’s presume there is a coming-of-age story that is told during a boy’s initiation into manhood. If he is told this story before it is the appropriate time, or if a girl is told this story, it is considered a serious breach of law and the orator could be punished with death.

The Australian Aboriginals are merely a mirror of our own culture. American copyrights were originally set up to protect the creator’s creation, not to restrict the idea or to insist that the discussion and concept remain tied to the specific, original piece. The problem is, inspiration comes from other artists, so artists are constantly utilizing other’s ideas. (The ideas themselves originating long before anyone alive). In the United States, with art, copyright is automatic. You don’t have to register it, registration simply ties a paper trail to it. (In case of legal battles down the road.) You can specify that something is copyrighted under creative commons, which has numerous facets, but essentially tells people that the piece is in the public domain. (Free for inspiring and using parts of to make other, unique pieces.) The concept of protecting ideas seems obviously counter-productive to a thriving culture, but what is interesting is how shaky the sturdy foundation of this particular sect of laws has become. With the advent of the internet, it is becoming nearly impossible to protect ideas and non-solid works (i.e. music and digital photos).

While, admittedly, the majority of the downloads and sharing is simply done to snag a tune or get a photo for that powerpoint presentation, there is a good amount of creative appropriation happening. Music cut up and re-formed with a new twist and new vision, images altered or spliced to illustrate a new concept, or sentences lifted and placed into another’s story. The internet is suddenly making it really easy to get what you need to make what you want. And you can do it with complete anonymity. Given, if you want to do the gallery thing you better make sure that you are within the frameworks of the law (or at least the idea/image is convoluted enough for nobody to notice), but if you are posting on some blog under a pseudonym, by all means use Mickey and Minney Mouse as porn-stars in your animated film commenting on sexuality and materialism in modern-day America. You can. Nobody can catch you. And that is what is infuriating authorities. They literally can’t do anything. This is looking to be the first digital revolt–a movement spurned on because, more or less, people want free music.

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I heard Barrett Whatten speak a few months ago, a presentation he called “Against Ekphrasis.” I have been trying to come to terms with this idea since then. Ekphrasis has many extended connotations and nuances of meaning, but its base definition denotes poetry or poetic writing that provokes highly visual imagery. “Against ekphrasis” is a stance that claims the concreteness of words on their own terms: the word “red,” for example, referring not to the color, but to the word. When you extend this idea to media other than words, it leads to an examination of the meaning inherent in the medium itself, stripping away all metaphor and symbolism. (And from here it is a small step to musing about the idea itself as a concrete entity, independent of any referrent – but I digress.)

Yet I pause and wonder if this is altogether possible. Can we ever perceive the medium as sole content independent of its cultural role? Is it possible, for example, to view a photograph, not as a cultural object but as a collection of captured light?

Being an intermedia artist, I am particularly interested in the conceptual boundaries between things. In an installation when you place objects in the same room, they become related. By being in the same perceptual space, there exists between the objects an intermedium, itself a third meaning. Likewise, images seen together cause us to create meanings in their relationships. Words placed in the same perceptual space as these images multiply this effect. Working against ekphrasis, questioning assumed references, stripping away and examining the layers of acquired cultural meaning, is an important deconstructive step in the conceptual processes of creating artwork – it pops you into a new point of view. What really interests me, however, is the step beyond this deconstructive process, when the pieces are reconstructed to create something else.

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