Even when the external reality is the object, paintings and drawings on 2D surfaces, as well as video work, offer the impression of a ‘window’ onto an inner reality. Art works as they appear on canvas, paper or monitors, are in themselves liminal objects that are neither useful products that help us live our daily lives, nor actual windows into the inner world of meaning. Instead, art in its many forms acts as a bridge between observer and observed. This encounter coincides with the meeting of the external and the internal realm. Ultimately, the art work also provides a connecting point between the artist and an audience. Perhaps it seems self evident but in a deeper sense this demonstrates a crucial facet of our reality. It’s the eye of the Other that allows the self to identify as a self.
As the purpose of art is to evoke the human perception of reality in non-factual terms, it is mainly suggestive. Art works offer impressions of reality that are filtered through an artist’s subjective perception of their external and internal reality. The involvement of their actual ‘self’ is a strangely ambiguous affair that can never really be straightforward, and is often lost in translation. Although the artistic outcome is governed by an artist’s ability to convey their thoughts and feelings with flair, there is a general consensus that a less controlled and conscious approach will engender a more truthful impression of the inner self. Depending on their level of skill and ability to give themselves to the process, who the artist thinks they are in the moment of creative conception is thus variable and more or less successfully conveyed onto the canvas or sheet of paper. But getting lost in creative flow means that the experience can only be analysed in hindsight, and that’s when the sense of self is returned.
We all tend to gravitate towards an expression of the human form as the vehicle of emotion, and identify with the natural world as an expression of our connection to it. As viewers, we tend to anchor our perception of random shapes and forms by lending them the characteristics of people, animals and landscapes.
An attempt to break away from the representation of the external world in favour of a more abstract approach lies at the heart of modern art, of course. The dissolution of comfortingly familiar shapes and forms challenges our habitual view of reality and helps us embrace change and transformation in its multitude of forms. Conservative ideologies that resist change have nothing against the fundamental forces of nature - we can try all we want, but we cannot prevent ourselves from being an integral part of the tumult of these forces . Art is a mirror of the acceptance of the underlying intelligence of life. Not only does it say a lot about the way an artists handles reality and how their idea of self is informed by their external circumstances. Perhaps more than anything, it also exemplifies the way humans collectively try to reconcile with the relentlessly chaotic processes everyone has to put up with in order to become the best they can possibly be.
The process of making art challenges an individual’s idea of self, their sense of personal boundaries and the way in which their self occupies an aspect of reality. In short, the way an artist fills up the limited, flat area of a piece of paper offers clues about their inner reality, and the forms they choose to project onto it, are indicative of their idea of self. Yet in my experience it is a very imprecise measure of who a person really is. Although art bears the mark of an individual, to me it seems that rather than calling it a mirror of an inner self, it’s more appropriate to call it the reflection of an investigative and restructuring process of the mind.
As an experiment, I wanted to break away from two things that had preoccupied me in the past: the appropriation of copy right free material from the archives of the collective mind, and the habitual use of figures to express subjective feeling. The image of humans inhabiting an imaginary space on a flat piece of paper was troubling me. The emergence of figures during the process seemed to compel me to think about the temporary conditions of my life circumstances, and I wanted to get away from the narrowness of this view. Whether or not the images looked like me, they would invariably express my ideas about the human condition from my current perspective. This representational way of working held me captive to a conventional story line about a self that one could project as an image, and manipulate through paints and crayons in order to express a variety of psychological conditions that seemed to belong to it. I was troubled that for as long as I incorporated the figures of humans into the work, I could not get away from the expression of a limited idealised self and its narrow-minded subjective point of view. It was all very well to communicate this particular appreciation of reality and share it with others who were able to relate to it. But I wanted to liberate myself from my current self-centred narrative at least a little bit and see if I could distance myself from the stories about the human condition and the emotions that we all share.
Seeing that my life circumstances confined me to working on a 2D surface, I had to accept the limitations of the neatly circumscribed arena or ‘flat theatrical stage’ of a sheet of paper. I decided to do away with the human figure and express a less ego-centric approach to reality. The work would still be a testimony of my individuality. But maybe my efforts to dissolve form would stipulate an illusion of distance. like a softened version of objectivity without the association to cold, clinical fact. The result became a meditation on the way in which both a subjective and objective view point could co-exist as a less tightly wound expression of who I currently think I am.
It was quite interesting, that the pain and exhaustion caused by my physical disability was preventing me from making strong marks with pens and crayons. As soon as I started to get nit picky about the quality of my lines, my hand started to cramp. I was working on big sheets of Indian Khadi paper (70x50 cm) that I’d inherited from my deceased husband. Tte fair size of the paper and my attempts to loosen up my work process forced me to move around a lot and bend over in ways that challenged my physical stamina. In the end, I could only do what I could do. But I did find a painterly way of working that overruled rationality and put me in greater touch with my feeling self. In addition, I played with chance in order to create a greater sense of the organic uncontrolled movement of life itself.
The emerging work became an image of process. More specifically, it mirrored my understanding of the space between the visible external and invisible internal reality, and thus continued my previous explorations of liminality. The name ‘Hypnagogia’ is derived from sleep research, and it denotes the stage between wakefulness and sleep. During this stage, the perception of physical reality breaks down. Rational thoughts turn into irrational ones. After a period of dreamless sleep, consciousness undertakes hallucinatory journeys marked by a lack of all the physical constraints that come with life in the waking world. My work plays with the idea that you cannot appropriately describe on a physical piece of paper how the physical turns into the non-physical. You can only do your best to suggest it. On the other hand, the nature of ambiguity is best expressed in ambiguous terms, and it is something other than a logical analysis. (You might ask whether the brain is doing the hallucinating. This is not the place for an in-depth discussion about the nature of consciousness and whether or not the experience can be reduced to neurological activities in the brain. Suffice to say that I am not personally in the least bit interested in the brain though it obviously has its place as a coordinator of perception.)
When an individual falls asleep, the conscious self-agency breaks down in favour of a narrative they cannot control, and unless the dreamer is lucid, it’s seen from the point of view of a self that does not comprehend itself as a self. Like the skilful artist has to surrender to mind wandering and the expression of spontaneous creative gestures, the individual has to surrender to the process of falling asleep and allowing their unconscious to do its job.
When the propensity for a surrender of the conscious sense of self is hampered, the creative aspect of one’s being is also challenged. One could say with the Chinese that the waters are muddy and do not clear up as efficiently as they would during periods of good health. My artistic work is the paradoxical outcome of a great struggle with this particular aspect of reality. I felt that by removing references to the human form and conjuring up as non-generic a world of form as I could possibly muster, I could at least suggest something about this state of consciousness through art. I allowed myself a modicum of physical involvement in the mark making process and discovered moments of meditational flow that allowed me to loosen up the tight control of my conscious mind. I could bypass some of my concerns about who I was trying to be. But I also decided that I needed to balance all this with a hint of rationality. I anchored the chaos in recognisable shapes that point to metaphysical descriptions of the nature of reality. It means that a rational world view about past, present and future has also found its place in the work. It is nevertheless never fully spelled out and is entirely open to subjective interpretation. For instance, if people see commonalities with Extinction Rebellion, it was not something I was aware of a the time but am not opposed to seeing as part of the interpretation.
My ‘pointer’ towards an ambiguous aspect of reality is still as gross and tentative a representation as the ambiguity it’s trying to express. By not framing the work, I wanted to put the idea of a ‘window’ in question. I’ve tried to point to the individuality and tangibility of each of the sheets of paper I’ve been working on, as well the ambiguity of the boundaries of the work and its environment. Hopefully the work offers a small ‘opening’ into the realm of the inner self as it could appear when the individual nods off, the sense of self dissolves, and consciousness goes about its job of restructuring the matrix of the body and the world within. But it’s also part and parcel of the context it appears within.
See all the three pieces in ‘Artwork’; ‘Abstract work 2018.