A SCULPTURE TURNING INTO A CONVERSATION
(Part one: description)
Things can sometimes turn into other things, this much we know. Friendship can turn into love, and vice versa; situations often transform into completely different situations; books are turned into films; and in many cases solid material can turn into liquid, and sometimes into gas, etc.
The phenomenon of transformation is of course an exciting spectacle and its regular and casual occurrence – which perhaps only on very rare occasions does still startle us – certainly brings into question the fact that some things are not that flexible: a considerable number of things don’t seem to be able to transform or even be transformed into anything else.
However, as Ralph Waldo Emerson writes in his essay Poetry and Imagination:
“But whilst the man is startled by this closer inspection of the laws of matter, his attention is called to the independent action of the mind; its strange suggestions and laws; a certain tyranny which springs up in his own thoughts, which have an order, method and beliefs of their own, very different from the order which this common sense uses.”
“First the fact; second its impression, or what I think of it.”
“The senses imprison us, and we help them with metres as limitary,—with a pair of scales and a foot-rule and a clock. How long it took to find out what a day was, or what this sun, that makes days! It cost thousands of years only to make the motion of the earth suspected. Slowly, by comparing thousands of observations, there dawned on some mind a theory of the sun,—and we found the astronomical fact. But the astronomy is in the mind: the senses affirm that the earth stands still and the sun moves. The senses collect the surface facts of matter. The intellect acts on these brute reports, and obtains from them results which are the essence or intellectual form of the experiences. It compares, distributes, generalizes and uplifts them into its own sphere. It knows that these transfigured results are not the brute experiences […] Many transfigurations have befallen them. […] and now the beholding and co-energizing mind sees the same refining and ascent to the third, the seventh or the tenth power of the daily accidents which the senses report, and which make the raw material of knowledge. It was sensation; when memory came, it was experience; when mind acted, it was knowledge; when mind acted on it as knowledge, it was thought.”
So, as he points towards the idea that between what we perceive at this moment and what is reality now and what we will perceive in the future and what will be reality then might be a significant difference, he closes the apparent gap between thinking and discovering.
I always felt a strong connection to alchemy, initially because of the persistent efforts that alchemists have made to effect fundamental changes in matter. But my interest changed when I began to realize that alchemy also, and maybe even principally, concerns a transformation of the alchemist’s self. This was slightly disappointing, because to me the transformation of external matter, and even better, autonomous objects, seemed much more difficult to accomplish and much more indisputable from an outside perspective than the internal transformation of the alchemist. So, my focus of interest shifted and came to lie in the matter and the event, instead of in the effort.
The reasoning of the alchemists is that the transmutation of one metal to another can be effected through a re-arrangement of their basic qualities. When I started to look at matter and tried to understand objects and their existence, I felt that they were both rather hermetic. Although, through pure intuition, I could get a vague sense of their nature, I couldn’t see a way to enter into these things and, if only by intuitive perception, isolate their features and qualities. I needed to find a way to break the object open.
As things can be seen more easily in motion than when still, I argued that perhaps the best way to obtain information on the qualities and nature of external objects and materials would be to look at them during a state of transformation. This caused a kind of deadlock: I was unable to rearrange qualities without being able to define them, and I was unable to achieve this without having seen them move. So I had to find a method to set up a situation in which the variables would simultaneously be determined by a double strategy of comparison and relation.
Taking the logic of the transformation and the specifics of the two entities (with for now undefined qualities) as variables, the event of the transformation would need to be constructed through thinking along a line (or several lines) of logic. As two points are set (the sculpture and the conversation as general ideas), the thinking would take its form guided by the pragmatics of the situation.
Thinking as pragmatic action means that thoughts become acts in the service of an objective. This objective (in this case the construction of the transformation) is generated by the act of thinking itself. The starting-point is always the information that is available at a certain moment or place, and this is again dependent on what is needed or possible concerning the goal. So it is really a matter of efficiency.
By following this strategy, a point will emerge at which the required information and the available information cross each other, forming a rare constellation of small necessities, all intertwined and co-dependent, that could be described as function-particles. This moment forms a developing situation that makes it possible to bring some of the more obscure features of the entities that participate in the transformation to the surface.
As I have generally been thinking a lot about abstract sculptures, and have become convinced of the significance of certain aspects of their existential specificity, I saw the speculative undertaking of setting up such a transformation as a chance to extend my understanding of these objects, and at the same time gain more knowledge about existential matters in general.
A line of description runs through the text. It starts with the description of an artificial centralized existence, namely a sculpture that is not even real, but that is described in order for it to be turned into a conversation.
So the text starts with the description of an abstract sculpture. The sculpture is described and slowly dissolves into a conversation. The description is set up with the immanent transformation in mind, with the need to incorporate the possibility of this transformation within the sculpture and to create the circumstances in order for it to change from the form of the sculpture to the content of the conversation.
The description is broken up into pieces. The descriptive components are built up individually, in relation to one another, and sometimes overlap (although the appearances differ in their description). Shapes are perceived and constructed at the same time, providing a structure of images that potentially forms a unity. The perception fragments are obtained through the visualization of possible perceptions and compiled to activate the physical properties of the object’s shape. As imagined fractional views of the object that deliberately direct attention towards something that lies beyond the formal surface of the sculpture, they form propositional images that point to the potential of the sculpture.
In the situation that comprises the transformation of the sculpture into a conversation several directions are set out that maintain different fluctuating relations.
There’s a double objective in the description: two entities need to be connected by the transformation, and the description and existence of the two entities is defined by the specifics of the connection and transformation between them. So, the perception fragments have a twofold identity: they produce the configuration that forms the sculpture, and they propel the forthcoming transformation in time. Either they make this transformation possible, or the imagined act of perception follows a path that implies certain conditions in which it is feasible for an abstract sculpture to turn into a conversation. It is an intentional perception that, over its course, holds its own disintegration.
Description implies a perceiver, so consequently there’s another doubling with regard to the spectator. A (imagined) spectator is assumed in the construction of the event and there’s an anticipated reception of the proposed event by a/another (real) spectator who will accept the proposition as a possibility. These two types of spectators instigate and support the event.
Here the description comes from the first perceiver who forms a configuration of the qualities and characteristics of a spectator: a flexible configuration, as the spectator/perceiver will adapt to the necessity of the situation and his particular objectives at different times and places during the event. The second spectator is addressed directly by the narrator, who is the supporting witness. They are different but eventually collide in the image, where both take on an active and a passive role.
This multiple doubling adds another level of different pragmatic propositions that are co-dependent. Because the construction of the event is established by the arrangement of these propositions, it is about figuring out which work together.
The sculpture is transforming into a conversation and the reality of this event cannot depend on anything else other than the fact that it is constructed through the logic of the description.
The spectator (= a configuration of spectator qualities) builds up the imagined perception fragments. Of course, in this, the possibilities and the potential of both the route and the result will, to a large extent, be based on source material of imagery and perceptual structures that are stored in the memory. But in order to bring elements from memory together to form an image that can be read, it is necessary to place a site of construction – a form of quasi-picture – between the source material and the imagined perceived image. Here the different propositional elements of which the image will be generated are related to each other. This quasi-picture is constructed on the basis of the information in internal representations and the external stimuli that directs the perceiver’s intention. It is an abstract structure situated midway between the logical-propositional structures and the final sensible mental image.
When the quasi-picture is established it is still susceptible to mental movements and positions that give view to the structure. Personal and/or pre-meditated motives manipulate its surface appearance, which is then processed by the instigator’s consciousness as an image. And it is from this perspective and interpretation of the quasi-picture that the description components are derived.
During the fragmented description of the sculpture its unity of existence is established, as well as its compositional character and its sense of form in three dimensions. At the same time separate aspects, formal fragments and parts of, or points in, the structure are described.
When we perceive form, we act on it in various ways:
- We handle actual (concrete, physical) form
- We experience phenomenological, perceptual, tangible form
- We imagine form as abstract entities
- We interpret form, which leads to the affective form and the perception of the idea
These different manners of dealing with form also occur when an image is constructed through imagined perception, but here as constructive rather than as anticipative acts.
Since the quality of the sculpture as an object cannot be thought of other than in a space, the spatial structure will function as a primal support for the interpretative description In order to construct a comprehensive organization of the field of vision, notions like (relative) size, distance, angle and curve need to be assessed.
In this formal description of the sculpture the first openings are made into the content that will constitute the conversation. The reading of the quasi-image that leads to the description begins with the choices are made concerning proposed formal qualities. A formal image is constructed and perceived and its interpretation is based on information stored in memory. At the moment in which the form or formal constitution collides with the sensation of an experience, or an abstract form of an experience – emotion, (mental) movements, a situation, etc. – the interpretation of the formal qualities of the sculpture become the intermediary between form and content. But even when there’s a view on the substance, there needs to be a transfer channel and a force that provides the energy to make the transition. This channel is opened up by the utilization of the structures of imagination that connect sense perception with concepts of understanding, such as interpretation, association etc. It is in this sense that the spectator activates a subjective view that is part of the imagined vision, manipulating it by purposeful observation into a description that provides hooks on to which the logical thought-process of the transformation into the conversation can be attached.
Conversations can be conducted on a number of different levels: using natural language, for general discussion, object languages for discussing subject matter, and meta-languages for talking about language. These different modes of conversation all have their own formal qualities, which are usually present in the experience of a conversation. Because the subject can alter considerably over the course of the conversation, the act of talking is often at first instance more obvious than the content of the speech. While the topic will be in continual change a sense of the development of the conversation will nevertheless persist. Although the topics covered by the conversation can seem arbitrary, they exist in entailment structures, which are like maps of subjects, showing the connections whereby any topic can be derived from other topics.
The descriptions of the sculpture lead into the conversation on different levels. At some points the connection is made to the structure of the conversation, at other points the description’s specifics are transferred or translated into the configuration of content that constitutes the conversation at a certain time and place.
As the conversation is built up from a combination of many different manners of constructing speech, discourse and thought – ranging from working out complex and pre-meditated arguments, to completely intuitive associations of ideas – the connections within the conversation exist in many different dimensions. As the pictures that are given by the description fragments are a combination of perception and experience, interpretation and association, pre-logical structures and pragmatic argumentation, the points of connection that can be made with the conversation are many.
And with the establishment of the connections, the paths from the sculpture to the conversation are set out and can be concretized by the descriptions of the navigation along the way.
The routes taken from the fragmented description of the sculpture generate a fragmented conversation; both are rendered whole by assumption.
Because the conversation’s practitioners are left out of the description, at the moment the conversation is considered a whole there is no situation enveloping the construction of externalized ideas. Certain words detach themselves from their origins and start to cluster in small groups, creating obscure constellations of unfitting information and broken connections. But these words will quickly re-orientate in their new situation and re-assemble a context around themselves. When the words have thus become pro-active in the further development of the conversation, their initial utterers are free and begin to reflect on the specific qualities of conversations in general. They slowly move towards abstract descriptions of formal possibilities and implications of potential constructions etc.