06 September 2016

{M}anifesto: introduction to {M}

a system for making art based on ideas about the mind

I have copied this {M}anifesto to a new blog: {M} em-art-project. This will show the most recent version of this {M}anifesto. If you wish to comment, please follow the link to the blog. The texts below are gradually becoming obsolete, and will probably be removed before long.

A little over a year ago I became more conscious that I wasn’t going to live forever and I wondered how I should use these last few years as an artist. I had too many projects going and wasn’t finishing many of them. At the same time, because my work is in so many different media and genres, with many themes and basic ideas, I have always found it challenging to describe what I do when someone asks me “What kind of art do you make?” (Typical answer: "I do performances, or make art with computers, or write texts to be read out loud…" ) It became clear that I needed more focus so I looked at the current projects, as well as older works that I had done, to try to find a set that had something in common and that I felt passionate about. 
I saw that many of my text-sound performances, as well as my collaborations with fellow Mobius artists in various John Cage works and also some other performance pieces I have done, had a special effect on the viewer or listener or performer: they created conditions in which one could see something of the workings of one’s mind and the interface between consciousness and the unconscious. This has now become my focus, and I was able to discard projects that didn’t follow this program.
I began to identify the ideas that were the basis of this—mostly from psychology and neuroscience, philosophy, and spiritual systems, mainly Buddhism and other mystical traditions, and decided on some definitions, which outline a way to make art. For a long while I struggled to come up with a name for this way, and finally settled on {M}, which imitates the notation used in set theory in mathematics. It is pronounced “em”. The letter ‘M’ is just a letter, perhaps symbolizing “mind”. 
I did this work for myself, to help me make more and better art. In the massively populated world of the internet, there must be a few people who would find this interesting and maybe even helpful so I am going to share it.

{M} is a system for making of works in various media that helps viewers to experience directly the workings of their minds. 

{M} is based on three fundamental documents:
  • the Enigmas of {M} are fundamental ideas that outline the philosophical and psychological ideas from which {M} is derived.
  • the Dogmas of {M} are definitions that determine which works of art can be included in it.
  • the Pragmas of {M} are practical suggestions to artists who wish to make works in {M}.

Other documents of {M} include commentaries on these three fundamental documents, lists of works in {M}, commentaries on these works, and various technical notes.

{M}anifesto: enigmas of {M}


fundamental ideas that form the foundation of {M}

1. All we know about the external world is based on imperfect and incomplete sensory inputs which distort the information they provide to the mind.

2. The mind responds to sensory inputs, filling in missing parts, correcting distortions, adding some features  and subtracting other features. It constructs the external world, conditioned by social and individual constraints.

3. The systems in the mind which construct and interpret the external world do so almost entirely unconsciously.

4. Deciding on and initiating actions are also largely unconscious

5. There is an interface at the periphery of consciousness through which the unconscious communicates using feelings, images and language.

6. We can never experience what is unconscious, but we can become more sensitive to the 
periphery between consciousness and the unconscious.

7. The external world exists but its true nature is unknowable. We do not experience the external world but instead our constructed world, based the imperfect senses, and the limitations and structures of our minds. 

{M}anifesto: dogmas of {M}


rules that define  {M}

1. A work in {M} must potentially provide a direct experience of the actions of one’s mind to the viewer, rather than an expression of emotion or an idea.

2. {M} is a way of making art defined more or less by these enigmas, dogmas and pragmas.

3. The “art” of {M} is considered in the broadest sense of what art is and is not restricted to any particular media.

4. Works in {M} provoke viewers to ask questions about their own minds and look for answers in their own direct experience.
5.  Works in {M} must increase viewers’ awareness of one or more of the following:

    -sensory perception
    -the periphery between consciousness and the unconscious
    -internal imagery
    -internal monologue
    -image of the body (construction of the body)
    -and other aspects of the mind’s construction of the external world that are implied by the enigmas of {M}.

  1. Even if a work is intended  to be part of {M}, it cannot be included in {M} if it does not conform to these dogmas.
  2. The only works formally in {M} are a subset of my output. This does not exclude the possibility of including others’ works, which must be with the artist’s consent.

{M}anifesto: pragmas of {M}


practical suggestions for making works in {M}

The artist developing works in {M} should:

1. Look for ideas by paying close attention to their own direct experiences, being alert for
        -an alteration of perception of one or more of the senses
          -transformations or distortions in the experience of space, time, causality, etc.
          -feeling unsettled or imbalanced or disoriented
          -thwarted expectations and surprises
          -strong emotions such shock, fear, repulsion, or ecstasy
          -double-takes and backtracking
          -anomalies, contradictions and paradoxes
          -feelings of unreality
          -the uncanny
          -a sense of something being magical
          -expanded consciousness or feeling high

2. Explore research, documents, and practices from
          -cognitive science
          -different forms of mysticism

3.  Study {M}-like works 
    -not to imitate

    -to learn what direct experience of the actions of the mind might be

    -to see what points the viewer towards direct experience and what acts as a distraction

    -actual works if possible: video or audio recordings are second best and verbal descriptions  a poor third

4. Avoid including unnecessary content.

5. If content is really necessary, it should be self-reflexive.

6. Keep the work simple and avoid distractions.

7. Keep the work accessible to everyone with no requirements of previous experience of other works of art or knowledge of history or of theory. The only prerequisite for a viewer is to have a human body with functioning senses and a more or less sound mind.

8. Don’t tell viewers what to expect, but do give some hints about what to pay attention to.

9. Media and genres in which works in  {M} can be made:

written texts
spoken texts 
sound art 
static visual art: painting/drawing/prints
kinetic visual art
spiritual or philosophical systems
liturgies and rituals 
martial arts 

This does not rule out other forms of cultural expression that do not appear on this list but might funcrion like a work in {M} 

{M}anifesto: Examples of {M}-like works

Examples of {M}-like works

These are works by other artists that seem to me to fulfill the main requirements of {M}. They help the viewer to directly see the workings of their mind. Some inspired me when I was younger. Others have helped me to clarify my thoughts on what {M} might be. They are not included in {M} because the creators of these works have not consented to have them included. Images will be added later.

John Cage, Empty Words, 4’33”, et. al.
Empty Words and 4’33” are two of Cage’s seminal works dealing with silence (the exclusive content of 4’33”)  and the gradual loss of meaning and continuity in spoken text, sound, movement and visual forms. 4’33”, originally for piano, has three movements, in which the performer makes no sounds. The listener can become aware of the ambient sounds outside as well as sounds experienced inside the mind. Empty Words, which I performed with David P. Miller, Tom Plsek and Meredith Davis (now Morton) at Mobius in 1990, was an eight hour performance, broken into four 2 hour “movements” with half hour intermissions, ending at dawn. Based on Cage’s texts, read by Miller, 
Steve Reich,  It’s gonna rain
Composer Steve reich made this piece with tapes loops on two tape decks. The voice of a street preacher repeats endlessly on both loops, which start out together but gradually get out of phase. Sometimes it sounds like a voice, then slowly metamorphises into abstract sound then back to voice, doing this several times. This changed my awareness of the sounds of voices and showed me some aspects of my brain interpreting sound. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vugqRAX7xQE 
Yvonne Rainier, unidentified dance piece
    seen at School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in the 1970’s

Marcel Duchamp, Étants donnés: :1° la chute d'eau / 2° le gaz d’éclairage, et. al. 
    This installation, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was Duchamp’s last major work. The viewer sees an old wooden door, closed but with a peephole. Peeping, the viewer sees a  female nude holding a lamp, a pastoral landscape behind her.
Seeing this, I felt a very strong awareness of being a voyeur, which led me to realize that most of my experiences of looking at art are also voyeuristic. If the idea of voyeurism seems too strong or too specific, then another way to say it is that I became very aware of myself looking at the work, and felt myself to be part of the work.

Richard Serra, The Matter of Time, Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
This is large permanent installation of walk-through sculptures in the Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao.
These steel sculptures are free-standing and their curves, derived from ellipses and other geometries, often loom over the viewer as she walks through them. The passages narrow and widen, more or less light gets in, as the space continually changes. One can experiences feelings of threat, comfort, claustrophobia, intimacy, and others not so easily put into words. The works are not so much objects as situations for directly feeling the changing nature of the enclosed spaces.

Olafur Eliasson, Room for One Colour 1997, seen at MOMA, NY, 2008
    I saw this at a big exhibition of Eliasson’s work. It was a largeish, empty gallery, lit by a set of special yellow lamps. These produced a yellow of precisely one wavelength with no other tints of yellow or any other color mixed in. My experience was of a scene drained of any color, having only values of black, warm gray and yellow, a strange flattening of space, and a feeling of my body somehow being “different”. Words fail me.
Andoni Luis Aduriz, Edible Stones, 2006, Restaurante Mugaritz, Errenteria, Spain
   Potatoes covered with a kind of gray clay are a kind of “culinary tromp l’oeil” in this iconic dish at the famous Basque restaurant Mugaritz. Not knowing what one is eating, because of the disguise, it is possible to taste anew, as for the first time.

writings of William S. Burroughs
    Novels such as Soft Machine, Nova Express and Ticket that Exploded use techniques like cutup and fold-in that fragment the syntax of sentences,   either by randomly changing the order of the words, or by merging two different texts. As the reader struggles to make some sort of meaning from these distorted texts, it is possible for them to be aware of their mind’s attempting various constructions of what is meant.
writings of Gertrude Stein
     Many of Stein’s works appear superficially normal in terms of words and syntax. But they don’t make sense, in any conventional way. They seem not to be really about anything. They call into question ideas of meaning and narrative and grant us an opportunity to see our own minds struggling to find the story.
paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo
   Arcimboldo, 1526-1593, was court painter to the Emperor Rudolf II. He is well-known for his portraits in which the faces are made from fruits, flowers, other plants, natural materials in general. The painting below combines the elements of his several series of four paintings of the seasons into one amalgamation. His works belong in {M} because they demonstrate the innate compulsion of the visual system to see a face wherever a few facial elements are suggested, and because of the experience of moving from the perception of the face to the perception of the unconnected elements that make it up. Some of his paintings show heads made of fruit, dead leaves and logs, smoke and fire, or flowers; one sees at the same time a face and the natural objects.
Four Seasons in One Head, c. 1590. National Gallery, Washington, D.C.
100 ways to consider time  Marilyn Arsem, November 9, 2015-February 19, 2016, Museum of fine Arts Boston
    performance work of extreme duration: six hours each day over one hundred days.

L'homme invisible Salvador Dali 

{M}anifesto: Examples of works in {M}

Examples of works in {M} 

These are all my works, as {M} refers only that part of my output that fulfills the conditions of {M}

      My text-sound pieces are meant to be heard as they are read aloud. Each of these texts has a slow transition to or from understandable to non-understandable section. Most often this is accomplished by changing an understandable text little by little on the phonemic level. In each text there are transition zones where meaning either appears or disappears (because even a somewhat distorted text can be understood up to a point, in the same way that someone speaking with a foreign accent or with poor enunciation can usually be understood). These transitions, to and from meaning , can show the listener something about the usually unconscious processes of listening. Also, the non-understandable parts highlight the fact that speech is made out of a complex and varied stream of sounds. 
These web pages have the texts, sound recordings and some commentary:
In that case, what is the question? http://meotod.com/page.php?n=25

ANTKAVE, Empty Words, Variations VI score strategy

Blind Spots


{M}anifesto: commentary on the enigmas of {M}


Commentary on the enigmas of {M}
{M} is pronounced “em” like the letter. The curly braces come from set theory. The idea is that {M} is the collection of all the works of art that help viewers directly experience the workings of their MINDS. The result is a simple logo that is easy to make on any keyboard.
The enigmas are the fundamental ideas of {M}. The word “enigma” was chosen because it resembles “dogma” and “pragma” which are words used for the rules and recommended practices of {M}.
The enigmas are not new. They can be found in religion, mysticism, philosophy and psychology. The idea that the world is constructed by the mind is almost universal among scientists who study perception and cognition. Note that I have written “mind” and not “brain”. Although I firmly believe that the mind has the brain as its substrate and emerges from the activity of neurons, I don’t see why {M} has to be based on this belief. It makes no difference if the idea of mind in {M} is based on the brain or is viewed as somehow existing independently of the brain.
An enigma is a kind of mystery. The enigmas of {M} deal with the relationships between the mind, our constructions in our minds of the world, and a somewhat mysterious external world. Much of what occurs in all this is hidden from our conscious, hence is enigmatic. 
  • imperfect and incomplete sensory inputs.
  • filling in missing parts, correcting distortions and adding things.
The following illustrations come from visual perception, but you can be sure that the other senses have their own lack of completion, distortions, and fabrications.
The retina of the eye has a blind spot, where the optic nerve connects. In the left eye, it is a little to the left of the center of vision. You don’t see it because the brain fills it in with a kind of wallpaper that looks like whatever is near the blind spot. The center of vision, called the fovea, shows very fine details. Away from the fovea, the retina has fewer sensors and the resolution of the image in the retina becomes more and more degraded. At the periphery of vision, only the overall shapes of things are visible. Yet the brain takes this mostly sketchy information and creates a highly detailed picture of external reality.
Optical illusions...
There is a wonderful psychological experiment in which subjects are asked to watch a video of a group of people passing basketballs to each other. There are really two groups, one in white shorts, the other on black. The subjects are asked to count the number of times a white shirt passes a ball to another white shirt. This requires so much focus that the majority of subjects fail to notice the person in a gorilla suit who saunters into the scene, beats their chest with their fists and saunters out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo 
When dreaming, the visual cortex in the brain is very active, creating detailed visual images, without any sensory input. 
  1. The systems in the mind which construct and interpret the external world do so almost entirely unconsciously.
No one is sure what consciousness is for, but it does seem to have limits on how many things it can pay attention to. All that the mind does in constructing the world is done by a huge number of parallel processes, vastly more than consciousness could be aware of. Most processes in the mind have to be unconscious.
  1. Deciding on and initiating actions are also largely unconscious
Scanning the brain of a person deciding to initiate some kind of action show an “action potential” occurring about half a second before the person is conscious of initiating the action. It seems the decision to act has been made unconsciously and then becomes conscious. 
Sometimes one is aware of an impulse to act arising from who knows where which one then vetoes because it is obviously foolish, hurtful or unethical. This lends weight to the idea that consciousness is a kind of clearinghouse for all sorts of unconscious processes. Sometimes one is aware of two conflicting impulses to act (very often two or more possible words to say) and then has to consciously choose one.
  1. interface … through which the unconscious communicates
 When speaking, one puts thought into words by selecting the words and organizing them into a structure based on parts of speech and relationships, that is to say—syntax. One is not conscious of this process, that seems to be done by many different parts of the mind simultaneously, in parallel. The utterance is delivered somehow from the unconscious to consciousness, and the interface is what connects the first to the second.
When one has a gut reaction to something, say, a feeling of discomfort about a person, this is the unconscious communicating something to consciousness. There is constant communication at the periphery of consciousness, which brings unconscious things into consciousness, but the actual feelings, images, words are usually more or less ignored. They stay in the periphery, unless an effort is made to pay attention to them. 
  1. The true nature of the external world is unknowable.
Often people who promote the idea that the mind constructs the world also claim that there is no external reality. I prefer to say that we can only know our internal construction of external reality, but that there is an external reality on which our construction is based. We can’t  know what  it is really like. We construct our realities out of separate things and events but external reality is not made of things and events. These are categories our minds make. External reality has no categories and we cannot imagine what it really is.
Metaphysical solipsism is the philosophical position that only one’s mind exists. There is no external reality nor other minds. Apart from the fact that my gut reaction is to disbelieve this, I also find it hard to believe because when I dream, my mind is cut off from the external world, or, more accurately, from sensory inputs from the external world, and my mind generates a chaotic dream world. One might think the “real world” is chaotic, but relatively speaking the dream world is much more so. If metaphysical solipsism were true then there would be no difference between the real world and the dream world. Both are without anchors, just made up by the mind. So why is the dream world chaotic and the real world relatively orderly? I really must believe there is an (unknowable) external reality that, through sensory inputs to my brain, acts as an anchor.
  1. The self is a construction and its true nature is also unknowable.
It’s like trying to see one’s eye without the aid of a mirror or camera.

Self is consciousness plus higher-level unconscious systems, all in some sort of organization, ideally a harmonious organization