July 2010 Dialogue with Bejamin Phelan
Over the past few weeks I have been fortunate enough to engage in a dialogue with contemporary mixed media artist Bejamin Phelan, below is the resulting text from our discussions.
NV - Here is a text concerning a new notion I’m exploring called Phenomenopoly, it’s the experience of having multiple perspectives.
Phenomenology is essentially a portmanteau of Phenomena, which is a derivative of the Greek term phainómenon meaning "that which appears" ( to appear pre-supposes perspective ) and logos ( to study ). Phenomenopoly replaces the logos with poly ( from the Ancient Greek πολύς polus, meaning "many, much”).
I feel your work explodes phenomenopoly within technologies roles.
I hope you don't mind answering a few questions about your work and the subjects it explores.
BP - I would be happy to answer any questions, just enjoyed you breakdown of "California Gurls"! I haven't very well articulated my thoughts yet on phenomenology but here is some paraphrasing from my sketchbook. Looking forward to talking with you.
"I first think of phenomenon as vectors of influence exerted on a single point in space, like the illustrations of a special relativity bowling ball on a rubber grid, they combine and solidify in to an entity that exists so long as I look at it. Its this image of the implicit physics necessary to experience any object that shapes the development of technology and the self in its image. The first models of the unconscious, as overlapping spheres of influence, were accessible only after the mechanisms of magnetic fields were described. Looking and looking, under the influence of and object/entertainment, what information do I desire to see again and again; the pleasure of stimulating some corresponding internal symbol; the sensory titillation of presence and body awareness, or some larger pattern solidified by the act of observation."
NV - I found 'California Gurls' to have some curious connections, I don't often blog about pop stars though!
That's a wonderful analogy for the infinitely reflexive nature of phenomena, an almost voracious regression into an uber-strict Cartesian empiricalism ( if you know Descartes )..... The later part of that text really brings to mind your ball point pen pieces RGB 1 and RGB 2 from 2008. These pieces almost embody how many technologies operate within our lives, the effect, our capability to translate into the 'phenomena', into the illusion hinges solely on previous experience. It's only due to our experience of drawings, from birth onwards, can we 'see' or comprehend a consciously three dimensional subject within the paper and ink. This is perhaps true for language, to learn and understand codes ( linguistic or aesthetic ) enables the viewer/reader to immerse themselves within the code, within the illusion - however escapist this may sound it is not. Succumbing to a code, trapping consciousness with a set structure is not an emancipation. I feel this blinkering is not a new facet of life, it has always occurred, but due to the increasingly ubiquitous nature of technologies its almost omnipresent.
There's a wonderful monotype by William Blake titled "Newton". It shows Newton sat on a rock, gazing at a diagram he's drawing with a compass. Newton is so deep in concentration he is oblivious to the beautiful world around him. I often feel this image has more resonance 2010 than in 1795.
P.S. - Part of your statement of intent really reminded me of how language has evolved as a result of new modes of communications - like txt messages. - Ill expand on this later - I'm writing about it already but would like t finish the text I have so far.....
BP - The RGB drawings came out of automatic drawing experiments I started several years ago with a personal computer sculpting device that was unique in that it simulated the touch and viscosity of clay in virtual space, a spin-off from a company that developed virtual cadavers. The primary tool to build matter in its modeling void CG was a ball of volume that could be felt, dragged around and deposited together to make form. This to me was a primal human experience, making mud balls, made possible by a level of technology that surpassed the sensory threshold to the point of encapsulating all actions within its logic. Any object made within this space now has more value than those outside it by the nature of its coordinate codes, the universal formats defining the interchange and representation of virtual objects. The Janus face of advancing technology is that processes are based on unconscious desires played out in a marketplace of satisfaction, the end result is a topology blob that contains hermetic infinite knowledge of itself and nothing else. “In here we can do anything we want”, if that is possible then you cease to exist. I do think that you are right that construction of codes is not a recent activity at all; language is the first control system, the first viral symbol. I don’t want to spend time trying to remove all the agents that replicate inside me, there are more bacteria in the body than human cells by a power of ten. I am more interested in surrendering to the pleasure of control, having the functionality of my visual cortex hijacked by the pulsing lights on the face of a casino slot machine.
NV - Ben, that's fascinating. The parallel between the 'starting point' for the modeling program and a starting point of human creativity is poignant. The conclusion that the CG clay ball has more value due to the intrinsic codes ( both actually, technologically and metaphysically i.e. in the consciousness ) is interesting, however, as I feel your work highlights or at least questions, the additional value is strictly within a code, within a paradigm. Surely any additional value ( however intrinsic to the 'objects' phenomenological 'existence' ) is negated due the idea of it being trapped within the suspension of an illusion provided by codes?
One could argue that a tree ( for example ) is under the same predicament. In that it's existence, within ourselves, depends upon an understanding, a comprehension of previous data, a code. You don't know a tree is, in fact, a tree the first time you see one, however after experience and a code being built for comprehension a object on the horizon can, upon first glance be a tree if it aligns with the viewers code gained from previous experience.
However, this symmetry between the clay modeling program and the tree example is not perfect, there are striking similarities but one facet is different.
If a man lost his sight he would, somehow, either through smell or taste, be able to generate a new set of codes unique to his situation, and could continue to build his knowledge from experience ( sensory experience of everything but sight ). With the new technologies that flexibility is not available for each and every user singularly, in fact in essence many new technologies are just new generations of the previous code with a higher level of complexity - but the mechanisms of comprehension, the interface between user and content is, by comparison, static and rigid.
Your notion of surrendering to a strict technologically determined code is perhaps an interesting example, or rather an exaggerated study of something that is slowly happening to mankind. There is now 'scientific proof', or rather pretty conclusive studies, that children born into the Internet age develop slightly different cognition patterns than their parents.
Have you ever read Cyberpunk fiction like William Gibson, the idea of the Internet addict, the hacker relinquishing control to the matrix is an incredibly prophetic metaphor.....
BP - I have read a lot of cyber punk. Williams Gibson's novels and short stories were my favorite in high school. He has one short story in which a photo journalist on assignment to document old gas stations in the dessert, starts to hallucinate the atomic age "world of tomorrow", with flying cars and zeppelins moored to the top of mile high skyscrapers. The idea of "tuning in" to an aesthetic frequency and extrapolating the social perspective embedded in the old gas stations is kind of like the reading of a code system we were pointing out. I think of some part of the work I am doing as this kind of reverse artifact process, seeing and extrapolating the code of beliefs in mass produced objects into concentrated forms. I love looking at new technologies and the way they are designed, what is being preached by their packaging and what does it reveal about the actual people making them. I really like the websites where you can order these generic plastic boxes to fit your prototype technology into, the minimalist modular systems are like the aesthetics of aspiration to me. The positivity that surrounds new visual production technology is prettying fascinating, the plastics age - the computer graphics revolution. There was a flourishing of fiberglass forms and CG animations produced respectively by an enthusiasm for "limitless" possibility, but the limits are still exactly defined by the constraints of the technology.
When I think about the mind looking at the tree, I am definitely approaching it from the camp of evolutionary psychology. I am reminded of all the mammal, primate and extinct human ancestors that contributed to my ability to recognize what is on the horizon. Every successful interaction with a tree they had, which allowed them to continue surviving, shaped the structure I now am using to look at the tree. Which leads me to question, is my satisfaction looking at early computer generated fractal symmetries a vestigial evolutionary perception mechanism developed in response to pressures of navigating branch growth in trees? I guess I'm attracted again to the idea of a universal shared code, the 'universal' being the containment aspiration of the code, but in this case our shared physical perception mechanism is the technology. By building commercial systems that more perfectly emulate our senses and perceptual devices, like clay sculpting programs and 3D movies, we are granting the developers of those technologies deeper and deeper penetration into the mind at the mechanical level, leaving a hole open to slip anything in below cognition. The MSG flavoring additive was chemically developed to mimic the taste receptors of Umami, the taste sensation of savoriness that is biologically linked to the presence of protein in your mouth. Now it is used by the processed foods industries to simulate intense satisfaction. Recent developments in artificial flavoring have produced anti-taste suppressant chemicals capable of selectively blocking bitter or sweet. The neural plasticity of the mind that allows the bind man to regain perception can be locked down by the control of its underlying mechanisms through simulation.
ps: Have you read the classic cyber punk novel Snow Crash by Neil Stevenson? His character eventually learns that fundamentalist Christians have re- discovered the first Sumerian language, which when spoken, as if in tongues, people everywhere understand and cannot disobey. The undiluted linguistic control technology that we now use the derivative form of.
NV - It’s interesting that you mention the notion of the "reverse artifact process, seeing and extrapolating the code of beliefs in mass produced objects into concentrated forms." This almost sums up some of the impressions your work puts upon the viewer, perhaps that's not worded as well as it could be. Your work really explores and fleshes out the aesthetic codes around scientific languages and technological developments whilst also exaggerating a codes strict structure of rigidity and inflexible nature with regards to a viewers autonomy - you either buy into the code, jettisoning a certain degree of autonomy in order to enjoy the endless arrangements of rules within the code or you don't and the experience, the illusion is never gained. I feel your work tip toes around this threshold and really exploits the nth degrees of both options.
It's intriguing that you mention the MSG flavouring. In many ways this example is typical trend of the modern worlds crutch on technology. The importance of the contained freedoms, the coded possibilities available by plugging in is so great that to not do so would render life experience less dynamic or engaging than those who do plug in.