Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Knowledge and a Barrel of Monkeys

I have happily come to the conclusion that I am the most unsuccessful blogger in the bloggisphere and this opens a great door to freedom from scrutiny. You can look over my shoulder if you like and watch me while I am thinking but your continued non input is a companionable way for us to sit.

A journey began for me several weeks ago with a master course in Art Practice and Research with Ruth Hadlow. It came at a time when I was flailing with this incessant drive to be more visible and commercial which was like a loud  flapping noise stopping me from thinking. As soon as a pirouetting child absorbed in a fantasy of ballerinas and princesses feels the adult gaze, she also becomes her own audience and she constantly watches out of the corner of her eye for approval and adulation and loses the rhythm that prompted her dance.

Ruth’s course was a wonderful antidote for that but at the same time is difficult to describe. It was if anything, like being cloistered in a contemplative order for a week with five other earnest and gifted artists. Personal attributes and biographies were irrelevant to the tasks at hand. We talked of cabbages and kings, as my father used to say, when we sat long hours talking around the subject of his impending death without ever touching on it. Understanding was found in the sopped up tears and and pearls of wisdom  that could be retrieved from the tangled threads we wove around that tender wound. 

Knowledge is an obstacle to Knowledge.(Thich Nhat Hahn, Buddha Mind Buddha Body)

There were enlightening readings which were not about their content but more about their style. There were oddments from pockets along with skilfully made artifacts and emotionally charged talismans all rubbed up against each other which were available for us to meditate on and practice some of the thinking skills Ruth presented us with. Disparate objects hooked our attention and drew threads of passion and accumulated experiences from our brains as we fashioned our own interpretations of what it was we were dealing with.

Synchronicity and  serendipity seemed to magically influence our responses but in reality the objects that hooked our attention were simply touchstones for lived experiences that had resonated in our lives and were our driving forces.
 Our analysis involved unwrapping information embedded in art forms and objects and then using those techniques as a lense through which to approach an artistic task. 
Barnacles and hibiscus caught my eye
Sometimes language traps an idea like a bug in amber and prevents it from growing but it can also liberate ideas especially if it is circumspect and dances around the edges like children poking at a dead bird . Language can be direct and descriptive, it can list physical attributes, it can allude to romantic notions or emotional ideas elicited from an object, it can talk in circles around a subject without ever putting a finger on it. Language can approach an object and wander off into nostalgic musings and then attention can be drawn again to the object with new questions in the mind. Language tends to be a linear description, except if you are speaking in sign language, which can be a multidimensional expression of emotion and action attached simultaneously to information.

I could for instance tell you the boring fact that every morning (almost) I walk around the oval a minimum of 3 times to begin my day. I walk in an anticlockwise direction and expect to see certain individuals also taking their morning constitutional and it gives me a sense of solidarity with all those who are walking. Michael Moore the documentary maker started a movement about walking in solidarity with others who are walking. His simple act motivated thousands of people simultaneously around the globe. I used to feel a certain solidarity with women who were up feeding babies at 4am.
I could also represent my walk with a list

Flock of corellas lifting off,
 newly mown turf,
 long shafts of sunlight,
 silhouette of park bench,
  ant holes,
    lorikeet chatter,
     hot air balloons,
   empty drink bottle on the war memorial,
  drifts of  spent gum blossom,
     increasing numbers of coloured eucalypt leaves,
            old man peeing behind the cricket shed,
    golfers exuding early morning smugness,
  magpie keeping one metre distance with sideways glances,
 pinging kneecap,
      new hole dug on walking path by bored child,
 fallen sticks,
           streaking flash of an exuberant dog…etc

I could represent it mathematically
440metres x 3 = 1520 metres or 3 laps x 5mins= 15mins = time for 2 more laps or 2 laps x5 minutes + 1x slow lap because of THAT couple… don’t they know how slow they are. 78 breaths =I gm of fat processed and deleted.

with a reference;
The Superior vena-cava collects de-oxygenated blood to the heart aided by heart suction. This vein carries blood from left to right. Centrifugal force due to anticlockwise running helps this suction. If we run clockwise, the centrifugal force impedes suction. That is why, in olden days, health officers ensured that all carnival merry-go-rounds were run only in the anti-clockwise direction. As the heart is on the left side, for humans and animals, running anticlockwise makes the centrifugal force in the body to act from left to right. Whereas it is from right to left for clockwise running. Racing tracks, animal shows in circuses, bullock-drawn pelt on wheels, all mostly have only left turns. Stairways in temple towers have only left turns for going up. Clockwise running tires people. http://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-1416,00.html

or with an image

the walk - Jo Quirk

I could of course share the work fragments from the course but it may not lead you any closer to understanding what it was. I was introduced to the art of Agnes Martin which corresponded to my own  drawing exploration and illustrated pulse and breath.

I was once again charmed by Ursula Le Guin’s writing and can now go back and explore where her femininst ideas resonate with me. Everything I see has taken on a new light 

A spoon has been poked into my head and the fragments have been stirred around. Just like the game Barrel of Monkeys, you can’t pull out things that weren’t there before but monkeys that come up may be in a different order.
 When you view art and it confuses you, revolts you, intrigues you or fails to engage you, instead of making a quality judgement about it, sit with it a while and think what did the artist have in the barrel to draw on. Describing what you see and what you feel using categorical lists, similes, poetry or other manners of communication may throw open revelations to you about why you have had a particular response. Your barrel of monkeys and the artist’s barrel of monkeys could have something in common after all.


Grandmama Sarah said...

I find in your musings a kindred spirit. Today's is an affirmation that I am not alone. And, virtually, I was with you all for a bit, pondering thoughts outside this busy routine we call life.

As I read your post to my husband, who sees me off to teach Art to 7th graders every morning, I had to pause, regroup, and recall with him our experiences similar to yours.

Thank you from La Porte, Texas, for a contemplative way to start this rambunctious day.

jo quirk said...

Thank you for your kind thoughts Grandmama Sarah. I never know if there are readers or I am just quietly chatting to ghosts in my head. I'm glad there is a kindred soul out there. How wonderful to be teaching art. Most kids love art so it is a rewarding task but also restores confidence and humanity to children for whom that is their preferred mode of thinking. Enjoy your day.

purpleshoes_art said...

I love the way you describe your walks in flashes of images of objects and occurences, distance etc. Great humour and wonder.

jo quirk said...

Thanks purpleshoes_art I think that is how art happens. We see and respond to moments and begin a little internal dialogue of naming experiences and describing sensations. These words take on their own life and give us a framework for experiencing something else in a meaningful way. Thanks for reading.