By Maria S. LaBarge, Cohort ’11
Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass (Fig. 1) is a 340-ton granite boulder that was installed above a descending concrete ramp at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2011. While Heizer designed the artwork in 1969, the work was not created until he found a massive boulder in an abandoned rock quarry in Riverside County, California some forty years later. The work combines a constructed ramp, a shelf upon which the boulder rests, and the boulder itself, a found object framed and exhibited as art. Viewers and critics responded to Heizer’s rock in a myriad of ways, some calling the work the “biggest embarrassment in L.A.”.[i] Others explored the significance of the work within the discourses of Modernism and the sublime, and Metamodernism (that which is nominally within and after Postmodernism). Most iconic to our present condition however is the fact that viewers also datafied their experience by taking pictures of the rock with their cell phone cameras.[ii]
Stephen Knudsen, art critic and editor of Pulse Magazine, spent a day in study of the installation and explained the work through an empirical judgment based on his embodied experience. After spending some time at the installation Knudsen wrote, “something extraordinary occurred at sunset. For starters, everyone present became believers. Unlike any other time of day - some even took to lying down in the trench. As I faced due west on that spring day, the sun dropped directly behind the rock to be perfectly eclipsed. The sun then reappeared as it dropped into the slot of the ramped space directly below the monolith. As we walked down the ramp in these final minutes of sunset, two relative motions intersected: the sun dropped and the rock rose.” (Knudsen, 2013.) As Knudsen discovered that day, an understanding of the significance of the Heizer’s artwork required a present and embodied experience. To understand the artwork consciously and in its totality one had to be present within a totality of consciousness, within a certain presence of mind and body in space and time. The rock appears to move as one descends the ramp and it also eclipses the sun. Phenomenally, the materiality of the work within its larger geographic and universal context is only grasped in the sensory space of the viewer.
Heizer’s Mass confronts our understanding of the experience of art and the found object. It suggests that art and found art objects reside within a notion of presence that includes the sensory field of the viewer. Our understanding of the real and found object is heightened by the real experience, which is an increasingly vital notion distinguished from that which lies inside the virtual world. In other words, is Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass merely a rock, or is it a reassertion of the tangible world and the laws of physics as embodied perceptions and conditions of real life that are increasingly overshadowed by the omnipresence of our digital world?
This paper explores the aesthetic experience of embodied and beside-bodied aesthetic experiences that are defined as those types of datafied experiences of art and object that require mind but not body and its sensory field. These modes of aesthetic experience are situated in a comparison of two modes of art: first, the art of the found object within a theory of the sensory field that formed the basis of the work of Alan Kaprow, Michael Heizer, and others; and secondly, contemporary experiences with the technological interface of cellphones, tablets, computer screens, televisions, and film projections where the aesthetic experience occurs within a fractured state of consciousness which separates rational from empirical thought.
This paper also explores my belief that when viewed through the two dimensional screen interfaces of digital devices we experience art in a drastically different modality, in that the mind is stimulated visually but separately from the body’s sensory totality, causing a fractured conscious state that separates information from rational thought within the totality of the body’s empirical senses. This rupture within the mind caused by the digital experience presents a new mode of consciousness separate from the sensory field. This paper concludes that our aesthetic and cognitive understanding of works like Levitated Mass has been impacted by this new and fractured mode of consciousness brought about by digital interfaces.
The Sensory Field
Like Michael Heizer, Allan Kaprow worked with found objects. Kaprow emerged as an important artist in the early 1960s. Teaching art history and studio art at Rutgers University, Kaprow emphasized the importance of the sensory field. Sights, sounds, textures, movement, and even scents were incorporated into his artworks. These artworks, which he called Happenings, were constructed as distinct art sensory experiences. Happenings were processes or ongoing events that made use of varied found objects and sounds within mixed media environments. These events encompassed the visual and aural fields and included objects and verse. These were experientially based works that incorporated found and everyday objects and emphasized the viewer’s participation and sensory experience.
But these works were not purely improvisational. Although the directions were generally quite simple, allowing individual participants some autonomy in executing the scripted directives, Happenings were carefully planned and precisely executed performance events based on clear ideas and designs within a structured beginning, middle, and end. For example, Household 1964, (Fig. 2) was staged in a “lonesome dump out in the country”. The work was executed from the following directions, based on objects found at the dump:
11 A.M. Men build wooden tower on a trash mound.
Poles topped with tarpaper clusters are stuck around it.
Women build nest of saplings and strings on another mound.
Around the nest on a clothesline they hang old shirts. (Kostelanetz, 5)
Vital to Kaprow’s work was the issue of what he defined as the visual and aural space in which art and music travels. He wrote,
Auditory space has no favored focus. It’s a sphere without fixed boundaries, space made by the thing itself, not space containing the thing. It is not pictorial space, boxed-in, but dynamic, always in flux, creating its own dimensions moment by moment. It has no fixed boundaries; it is indifferent to background. The eye focuses, pinpoints, abstracts, locating each object in physical space, against a background; the ear, however, favors sound from any direction. (Kostelanetz, 5)
All senses were very important to the overall event because sounds, sights and scents can fill space in ways that static art objects do not. Objects can enter the visual field when in sight, but sound and scent can surround the viewer and listener irrespective of his or her viewpoint.
Kaprow arrived at his theory of sensory aesthetics through his research on Piet Mondrian and Jackson Pollock (Fig. 3). Kaprow was overwhelmed by the way Pollock’s drip paintings (as they hung in the Martha Jackson gallery) created a total environment that shaped the viewer’s experience. He explained that it was not solely the size or scale of the canvases but also the fact that the continuity of the paintings seemed to “overflow the bounds of the canvas' framing edge”. (Kostelanetz, 84) The paint appeared to flow from off the paintings into the room. Kaprow wrote that the monumental canvases caused him to feel that “our size as spectators, in relation to the size of the picture …resulted in our being confronted, assaulted, [and] sucked in.” (Kostelanetz, 5) For Kaprow, this expansion of Pollock’s art was visual and spatial. Kaprow explained how the eye perceives paintings such as Pollock’s. The eye does not travel into the illusionary space of the artwork but rather the paint travels out of the picture plane and into the viewer’s field of vision and beyond into the space or room itself. Thus, according to Kaprow, Pollock was the creator of a new aesthetic of the environment. In his essay The Legacy of Jackson Pollock, Kaprow declared that Pollock initiated the expansion of art beyond the frame and into the place of sensory experience. (Kaprow, 58; Kaizen, 84)
This is also to say that Kaprow envisioned Pollock’s paintings within a medieval mode of perspectival vision. This notion creates a strange irony that adheres to Greenbergian ideas about the flatness of picture plane, while readmitting the sensation of illusion.[iii] This is better understood in a review of medieval perspective. In medieval perspective, the illusionist image tends to be rather flat and lacking in depth. It is as if the figures and objects are nestled right next to a flat plane behind them. Any illusion of perspective is derived from a sense of perspective that leaves the flat picture plane and advances to the spectators’ eyes. Pietro Lorenzetti’s beautiful Virgin Enthroned with Child and Four Angels (Fig. 4) illustrates medieval perspective in terms of both the flatness of the picture plane and the expansion of the artwork into the visual, aural, and spatial field. The Virgin and angels advance out from the plane behind them. Yet in the modeling of these figures, they advance forward toward the viewer. Projecting even more towards the viewer is the iridescent gold that reflects off the plane, cobalt and crimson hues travel out to meet the eyes; luminous whites surround and envelop the viewer. We do not travel into the painting – it arrives to our senses in our sensory field.
Like the emanating colors of Lorenzetti’s Virgin, Chinese artist Yang Maoyuan also emphasizes this sensual field in his work. His All Matters are Visible was installed at the Venice Biennale in 2011. It is a textured symphony in iron and metal, stone, cement, and unglazed porcelain that excites viewers’ senses. Light is absorbed and reflected in varied degrees by the different material surfaces. Light becomes fluid color and intangible texture stirring throughout the sensual space. Perfumes which are emitted into the air complete the pan-sensory experience. In the imagination we process and compare this sensory data with our memories of previous art and life experiences. The art object, whether in the hands of Lorenzetti, Yang, or Kaprow is the departure point of a display of colors, textures, light, and at times scents and sounds that spring into the sensory space. Color is not flat paint on canvas but a fluid, bounding manifestation of light.
This sensory aspect of works by Pollock, Yang, Heizer and other artists is that which Kaprow discovered and ritualized for he knew that the very materiality of art acts upon the senses through material, light, and color in the sensory space and viewers’ imagination. Material art is a pan-sensory dialogic experience that betrays Greenbergian irreducibility. The light and color of material art projects out into the temporal spatial sphere and this fact renders the idea of flatness a paradoxical illusion. In fact, the only way in which Greenberg’s theory of the irreducible material of art and the flatness of the picture plane can be reconciled is to consider it outside of this material paradox and within the digitized computer and device interfaces that reduce all material to code.
Perception and Sight
Art has an ontological presence all its own. It exists for its own sake – to be solely a work outside of any practical use. It is created to be viewed, or in the case of Kaprow’s Happenings and Heizer’s Levitated Mass, to be fully sensed and experienced. The very nature of the plastic arts is that they have material form that asserts the material world. Art exists ontologically as matter outside or beyond original thought. We might assert that before art is thought and that such thinking is a way of envisioning of an artwork based on the mind’s reflection and understanding of the sensually engaging material world. So the fact of art is that it suggests that artworks are born out perceptions of the material world. But once constructed, the artwork is to be perceived by the senses and returned to thought in the mind. Art has ontological presence, but it belongs to the paradox of mind and matter from which it is born and returns. But what sense are we to make of art or objects datafied and seen via the two dimensional screen interface of digital devices like cell phones, tablets, computer and television monitors, and film projections? These works have no material presence. They exist outside of matter. The distinction between the real object and the represented and datafied object in the interface is clearer within a view of sight itself.
We recall that sight is based on light reception. Light reflects off of objects in space and enters the eyes as energy that is transformed into neurological messages that the brain processes as sight. In this processing of light we see only a small fraction of the full spectrum of light waves, which run the gamut from gamma to ultraviolet, and infrared to broadcast bands. We see the shorter high frequency waves as blue tones and the long low frequency waves as reds, with other colors ranging in between these poles. Brightness relates to the amplitude or depth of these long and short waves.
Embodied sight then is based on light. Light moves through the cornea and pupil, and as it hits the lens, it becomes a focused ray that projects specific images onto receptor cells (called rods and cones) onto the retina at the very back of eye. Rods give us our gray scale, peripheral, and night vision, while cones focus fine detail and color. When stimulated, the rods and cones trigger chemical reactions that activate bipolar cells, which in turn affect the ganglion cells with long axion tails that form the optic nerve. Impulses from the optic nerve then travel to the thalamus and onto the brain’s visual cortex in the occipital lobe at the back of the brain. The visual cortex has specialized nerve cells called feature detectors that respond to things like shape, angles and movements. Different parts of the visual cortex are responsible for detecting different attributes like depth, color, motion and form. Other cells then take sensory data and weave this together in what is called parallel processing (processing multiple data at once - like form, motion, depth, and color). In sight we don’t receive whole images but rather we take in light, which through a myriad of different processes is transformed into neuro-impulses which are processed, considered, and stored in the brain.
What is key about sight within the digital interface is the fact that sight operates differently. When looking at the computer screen or a hand held device, our visual data is absorbed in the brain through different pathways. Studies indicate that the artificial blue light of the interface stimulates more than the photoreceptors in the eyes. For even in the sight of individuals with visual impairment, the blue light of the interface amplifies the activity of several non-visual responses of the brain influencing and affecting alertness and health. The artificial short high frequency blue light waves enter the eye and stimulate the retinal ganglion cells, bypassing the rods and cones. Rather than being processed solely in the visual cortex, blue light data hyper-stimulates and increases activity directly in the left hippocampus, left thalamus, and right amygdala, the middle frontal gyrus, and a bilateral area of the brainstem. (Vandewalle, et. al.) Aside from the effects of blue light on pineal melatonin suppression and increased surges in heart rate and core body temperature, artificial blue light in the interface lights up the brain along multiple paths. The experience of the virtual world before any data is absorbed is an immediate blue-light high.
The digital interface is the surface of any digital device. The interface is that smooth façade which projects the blue light while operating as a screen that conceals the computer or device hardware. It also serves as a projection field whereupon sets of commands are expressed within iconic and representational means. Instead of lengthy code written out on the screen, one can access his or her own files or the internet by clicking on an icon in which such code is embedded. Digital art or any icon or image is nothing more than a series of codes and commands that only appear as object or form when projected onto the interface. The artist Will Penny emphasizes the nature of digitized art as mere code in his work Google RYB, 2012 (Fig. 6). By downloading and combining the first 1,000 Google image results of the words red, yellow, and blue, Penny obtained an average color based on 1,000 jpegs per color. He then he combined an aggregate of these jpegs to create a single digitized color or RGB Pantone number. Within our perception we see Penny’s colors; red, yellow, and blue. But these colors are actually an aggregate code of 1,000s of codes. These codes are then projected as the colors and their shape within the interface field. As Jason Hoelscher wrote, digital “painting forces a redefinition of painting as an information space, a culturally coded zone of focus that suggests “paint” regardless of whether pigment or tangible surface is involved.”[iv] Digitized artwork is therefore a code, a cryptograph, an artificial structure of data forms and data conversions, a datafication projected onto the interface.[v]
Our experience of art within this digitized hyper-real interface exists, not within the sensory space, but within the internal mind, apart from material sight pathways and outside of space and time. Art in the digitized space is an other-visual experience deep within the virtual cryptograph, the virtual world of binary code. We might compare the experience of the art of material and the art of code to the experience of entrapment found in Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas 1656 (Fig. 7).[vi] As viewers we are inescapably drawn into the painting by the many gazes of various figures in the painting. Velazquez is at the easel, the Infanta Margarita and the queen’s maids of honor (Dona Maria-Agustin Sarmiento de Sotomayor and Dona Isabel de Velasco) are center, and the queen's palace marshal Jose Nieto Velazquez, stands in the doorway. Each figure gazes out at us, along with the King and Queen, who look at us through the mirror on the far wall. We look for ways to escape their gazes. We seek to exit the scene, but our access out of the painting is barred. Our only visual exit points are through the doorway in the back and the window (out of sight to the right), which illuminates the scene. The King and Queen block our backward exit, as the back wall is implied by their presence. Nieto Velazquez prevents our access to the lit hallway, and intuitively we see that this leads us not out of the painting but deeper into the painting. The window, invisible yet illuminated, holds our only viable form of escape. Yet the window is not visible to us, and its access is further blocked by the grotesquely misshapen female dwarf Mari-Bárbola and the male dwarf Nicolasico Pertusato.
We are drawn into the room by the psychological narrative between the figures as they react to our intrusion. We are drawn beyond this visible scene into the world of secrets beyond the open door. The painting both extends out into our sensory space while drawing us into its interiority. The painting projects its materiality, its glistening oil paint, jewel and earth tones, and variegated light, but does so within its own juxtaposition of a closed composition. We see a representation of the real by virtue of materials, canvas, paint, and true light. The very materiality that draws us into the painting projects out into the sensory space, allowing our eventual escape. Art and found objects are experienced within such processes as interest and being intrigued, embodied experience of material, thinking and feeling, mind and body within “dual immediacies of process”. (Massumi, 3.)
But just as in the digital interface, the open door at the back of Las Meninas draws us inward beyond the painting into where lie secrets, commands, messages, and codes. In the experience of the interface, no material projects outside the screen and grabs hold of perception. Perception and sight is arrested by the blue-light high. We experience such coding through the stream of blue light that bypasses sight pathways to light up alternate brain sites and systems. Whether viewing digital art (or datafied forms projected as real objects in the interface), the mind is hyper-stimulated without sight, materiality, or the need for the perceptual or sensory field in the material world. The experience of the interface bypasses sense and engages the mind within a fractured state of mind outside body.
Found art objects and digitized art reveal the conditions of our present life. We are living and experiencing sight on two dimensions; the real biological world of objects of light and sight, and the virtual world of artificial light projected through the interface as it bypasses biological sight pathways in the hyper-stimulated brain. Sight and perception are now estranged, ruptured, and fragmented. The scientific method that claims sight as verification yields to acknowledge that as the mind perceives the blue light of the interface, it may also perceive infrareds on the other end of the spectrum and even light not yet identified. Truth and perception are now beyond sight. The question is no longer between mind and body but between mind and its light source. Cartesian duality between mind and body is now overturned for a new paradigm of consciousness itself.[vii]
We have a most vital concern at hand today. We have seen that the visual experience of the material world differs from how visual information within the interface is perceived and processed. How are we then to understand and qualify digital aesthetics as experiences of the mind fractured from sensory perception in the sensual field? How can we account for the construction of interface memories as a type of fractured neo-conscious?
The work of Larry Squire, a neuroscientist and professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at the School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego researches how the brain functions in the production of memory, as well as how memory is an individualized construction that depends on many conditions, including material engagement with the world, emotion, and thought. An application of Squire’s research illustrates this dilemma of the construction of interface memories that we now find ourselves in. In his research, Squire has found that despite damage to the hippocampus and the effects on declarative recollection, there are various other forms of memory that are preserved in patients with memory loss. Declarative memory relates to the recall of facts and specific analytical types of knowledge. Non-declarative memory is the recall of skills, habits, orientations, and procedures. As Squire shows, one may lose the ability to recall a particular mathematical equation but remember how to ride a bike. Thus memory is not a single function of the hippocampus for there are also multiple types of long-term memory that consist of a number of different abilities supported by different brain systems. Most importantly however, memory is an function of mind and senses an “extension of consciousness embedding recollection and habituation”(Buffalo and Squire, 2012). Consciousness itself is a process of memory making and memory recall within ones engagement with the material world.
When we realize that declarative and non-declarative memories are constructed within, and by, various regions of the brain, and compare these regions to areas of the brain that are hyper-activated within the blue light environment, (such as the hippocampus and other areas for example) we see, or rather come to understand, that our engagement within the world of the interface is a hyper-stimulated memory making experience. The rapid streaming of data in the hyper-real is a monologist mnemonic experience that bypasses the dialogic processes that occur between the engagement of the art object, sense, memory, and perception. Or in other words, the high of the blue light experience produces a new consciousness that exists outside of, or in spite of, the sensory sphere and thought. Yet, the virtual interface produces hyper-real memories in the mind, causing a rupture between experience and thought. Anyone who has dreamt about the characters of a film or television show or an online experience understands intuitively that the production of memory occurs in and out of the real world, and includes the unreal and virtual data. This type of memory making illustrates the breach between the real and unreal caused by the digital experience. It presents to us this new mode of constructing memories outside of real events, time, and space. It is evidence of a consciousness entirely separate from the sensory field – even a fractured consciousness. This is not to say that digitized art is irrelevant within our technological age, but rather that the mind-body duality is now fractured into mind-code beyond bodily senses. Our ideas about aesthetics must now be revised to account for the unreal, the cryptographic, the mnemonic, and the hyper-speed of the new monologue of sensory bypassing pure data.
Theorists have feared the consequences of consciousness engaged in technologies. Ernst Jünger in his book On Pain was particularly concerned with the creation of a new consciousness brought about through the objectification of pain, the self, and the Other, and the issue of desensitization of the mind and heart to sympathy and empathy.
If one were to characterize with a single word that type of human being taking shape today, one might say that one of its most salient features lies in its possession of a “second” consciousness. This second and colder consciousness reveals itself in the ever-increasing ability to see oneself as an object. We are not only the first living creatures to work with artificial limbs; through the use of artificial sense organs, we also find ourselves in the process of erecting unusual realms with a high degree of accord between man and machine.(38)
Writing between the World Wars, Jünger delineated how the individual, and particularly the soldier, might become desensitized to the material social world through technologies and armaments that separate the individual from the sensual and natural world. Prior to the datafication of the world’s information, Jünger foresaw that technology had the power to desensitize individuals. The key issue is not that technology desensitizes but that the separation of the individual from the social material world creates a “second and colder consciousness”.
More recently Jean Baudrillard questioned the nature of truth and ontology in our contemporary world. The datafication of our world has, for Baudrillard, produced an artificial world, a world of simulacra that upsets the very nature of the real or true. He wrote,
The futility of everything that comes to us from the media is the inescapable consequence of the absolute inability of that particular stage to remain silent. Music, commercial breaks, news flashes, adverts, news broadcasts, movies, and presenters— there is no alternative but to fill the screen; otherwise there would be an irremediable void. (Conspiracy, 130)
Baudrillard believes that we are overly sensitized by images and objects that are removed from reality. This plethora of sights and sounds distract us from real experience and significance. “We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.” (Baudrillard, Simulacra, 70) If the commercial world creates a separation between tangible meanings, then the datafied world within the interface is one more world removed from the real. Like the shadows in Plato’s cave, the digitized world is a representation of a representation of the real world. But in the process of representations, connection to the real and significant is reduced.
Paul Virilio mirrors this concern with truth and the ontological real when he wrote that, “For the computer, the optically active electron image is merely a series of coded impulses whose configuration we cannot begin to imagine since, in this 'automation of perception', image feedback is no longer assured,” (72-73) In his book The Vision Machine, Virilio emphasized the fact that new media technologies operate at high speeds that surpass thought, reflection, and judgment. He feared that, “Blindness is thus very much at the heart of the coming “vision machine”. The production of sightless vision is itself merely the reproduction of an intense blindness that will become the latest and last form of industrialization: the industrialization of the non-gaze.”(71-72) Virilio’s concerns remind us of the way in which we engage in the datafied world of the interface. The blue light hyper-stimulates the mind, bypassing thought centers. The dual processing of thought-feeling, memory and recall are supplanted by a monologue brought about by image imprinting.
As we are now aware of the way in which the artificial blue light of the interface bypasses sight, it would seem that Jünger, Baudrillard and Virilio’s concerns were not unfounded. A new hybrid consciousness, existing subliminally outside the realm of conscious thought, is in the making. Perhaps the philosopher John Searle would agree. As Searle theorizes, consciousness itself is a totality within an inseparability of objectivity and subjectivity, matter and mind, perception and thought.[viii] But within this unification, the biologic body is primary as the locus for and development of consciousness. If Searle is correct in his understanding of consciousness as embodiment, ought we to be ever more concerned with the outcomes of subjective consciousness in its fractured hyper-real state?
Computer scientists today seek to perfect the mimicry of the interface to biological sight and perception through white light LEDs, mixing diodes, and ionic transducers. The problem at hand for us is the issue of decipherment, simulacrum, memory, and consciousness within constructed data that poses as a simulacrum of real light and color, as a biological and neurological evolution occurring through perception outside of the retinal field and the tangible object.
Such questions are currently being explored by a new breed of artists working as ‘art engineers’, creating objects at the threshold of object, consciousness, and technology. Art engineers transgress the boundaries between technology and body and question the relationships between sense and cognition. Matt Johnson has developed a liquid circuit medium that enables one to paint an electrical circuit onto one’s own body or other surfaces. Painted onto the palm of one’s hand, one can turn on light bulbs or activate electronic equipment. Golan Levin works with robotics, new software, and cognitive research, exploring human interaction within technological environs. Specializing in engaging video interaction works and works that inscribe human interactions into code, Levin also hosts symposia on writing code and art as a new frontier of the hybrid cryptographic object. Aparna Rao investigates how we use technology and how high-tech art objects mimic human reactions and physics. Her work engages a myriad of components, including electronics, code and software technology, creating objects that interact with humans. Jeff Han has designed a multi-touch computer screen interface that may change the way in which we interact with the computer, without a mouse, and directly with our hands. In Modernism the key characteristic of art was that it serves as social discourse. But now in the minds of these art engineers, art is a dialogue not between art object and viewer, but between technology and innovation that supersedes the dialogic of art and sense, memory and dialogue.
In life, we experience art as a dialogue between our unified embodied rational consciousness and our empirical physical senses. Immanuel Kant described this dialogue as a way of resolving the dichotomy between our ability to rationally assess and understand the world with our ability to know and feel when we have experienced something beautiful or sublime, which has been revealed to us through the totality of our senses. It is this empiricism to understanding that Kant attempted to systematically draft in his Critic of Pure Reason. It is also that which Richard Shusterman has developed into a method of somaesthetics, which he explained in his article Somaesthetics: A Disciplinary Proposal. He wrote,
The focus of somatic interest is not the body's physiological components but its aesthetic functioning, its potential for beauty. This aesthetic potential is at least twofold: as an object grasped by our external senses, the body (of another or even one's own) can provide beautiful sensory perceptions or (in Kant's famous terminology) “representations”. But there is also the beautiful experience of one's own body from within-the endorphin-enhanced glow of high-level cardiovascular functioning, the slow savoring awareness of improved, deeper breathing, the tingling thrill of feeling into new parts of one's spine. Somaesthetics seeks to systematically analyze the body as the location of the aesthetic experience and field for conscious thought. (299)
In method and theory, Shusterman analyzes the aesthetic sensory field which Kaprow and Heizer identified and enframed in their use of found objects that they magnified as art objects. Such increased interest in the body as sensory field evidences the fractured consciousness and digitized dilemma we are now faced with.
From Las Meninas to the interface, our field of vision has changed. Looking into the interface we see within our hyper-stimulated mind a combination of actual mechanics of sight, blue light, and simulacra. What is significant is not just the fact that what we are seeing is beyond real or is a representation of reality as binary codes, but also that we are experiencing the unreal in our mind in a fragmented experience that is beyond body and irrespective of the senses of the body. The implication is that the data we are experiencing in our mind becomes stored in the memory outside any sensual experience of it. Our memories are being made of visions of data that may or may not exist outside of such encoded representations. When Heidegger suggested that we shape our technologies, which then in turn shape us, he portended the inevitable alterations to being which we are now experiencing, which causes real and found objects such as Levitation Mass to be as foreign objects to our virtual consciousness. [ix]
Within our state of fractured consciousness, it behooves us to reassess a variety of artistic declarations: Kaprow’s declaration of the sensual sphere and the aesthetic body and his belief in the aesthetic body as the nexus between art and life, and Michael Heizer’s assertion that the found object is a site specific art experience. As an epistemic unveiling of significant truth of becoming is being covered by our evolving technology, it behooves us to reassert the senses and the aesthetic real. Like the viewers of Levitated Mass, we need to lie down underneath the massive rock above us, see the sunset, experience the sensory pleasure of memory-making in our physical mind and body, and recognize the boundaries that still exist between the transitory reality of the digital world and the tangible and palpable physical world that artists have been discovering and representing throughout history.
Fig. 1. Michael Heizer, Levitated Mass, 2011, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LA, CA; “Levitated Mass.” Levitated Mass. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.
Fig. 2. Allan Kaprow, Household, 1964; “Pervasive Happenings.” Pervasive Games Theory and Design. N.p., 11 Dec. 2009. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.
Fig. 3. Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles, Number 11, 1952, National Gallery of Art, Australia; “International Paintings and Sculpture | Blue Poles.” International Paintings and Sculpture | Blue Poles. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.
Fig. 4. Pietro Lorenzetti, Virgin Enthroned with Child and Four Angels, ca. 1340-1345, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD; “Virgin and Child with Saints and Angels.” Artwork of the Day RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.
Fig. 5. Yang Maoyuan, All Matters are Visible, 2011, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy; “CAFA ART INFO.” Yang Maoyuan’s All Matters Are Visible for the Venice Biennale, 2011. World Press, n.d. Web.
Fig. 6. Will Penny, Google RYB, 2012; Penny, Will, Personal Website, February, 21, 2014, http://www.willpennyart.com/GOOGLE-RYB.
Fig. 7. Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain; “Visit the Museum.” Museo Nacional Del Prado: On-line Gallery. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2015.
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[i] Knudsen, Stephen. “Levitated Mass.” Notes on Metamodernism. N.p., 18 Dec. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. <http://www.metamodernism.com/2013/12/18/levitated-mass/>.
[ii] The term “datafication” refers to the process of taking tangible information and turning it into pure online data. It is most generally associated with the process of taking a site specific business and embedding it within internet and data capture technologies. Used here, the term refers to the act of taking a real experience and object and capturing its likeness into binary code, turning it into pure data intended for future reference and recall.
[iii] The New York City based art critic Clement Greenberg articulated the idea that American Modernism was based on complete fidelity to the flatness of the canvas, rejecting all attempts at special illusion. Greenberg, in his article “Modernist Painting” 1960 wrote that the most essential element in Modern painting was the way in which the paint articulated the flatness of the canvas. Whereas Renaissance artists strove to create a sense of illusionistic space and perspective, for Greenberg, Modern artists were free to show the illusion of illusionary space itself. Greenberg believed that the flatness of the canvas without any pretense to illusionary space was the irreducible element that distinguished Modern art.
[iv] Hoelscher, Jason, Painting in the Distributed Field, Presentation, CAA, Chicago, IL. 2013.A special thanks to Jason Hoelscher for bringing much of this discussion on digitized art to my attention. As Hoelscher explained, Will Penny’s Google RYB: Google Red, Yellow, and Blue are derived from a digital composite of the top 1000 image results for the search words Red, Yellow, and Blue on Google. The images have been manually copied and composited in Adobe Photoshop. The resulting composites have been run through a color sampling software program to determine the average color present in the sampled 1000 images. The colors presented here are the average definitions of Red, Yellow, and Blue as determined by the Google search engine. The accompanying numbers are the RGB values that define each color. The purpose of this project is to analyze how search engines present information as a fluctuating indexical system. The answers to our questions are manipulated by the subjectivity of a search engine's algorithms, page rankings, web traffic and so on. See http://www.willpennyart.com/GOOGLE-RYB.
[v] There are several issues at stake here, one being the issue of monologist data as it streams at hyper-real speeds bypassing the dialogue processes of reading and engaging in art experiences. See Paul Virilio, Vision Machine.
[vi] “Las Meninas” is a Portuguese word used to name the Maids of Honour of the Royal children in the 17th century.
[vii] One might be reminded here of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s claims that the lived world is the site through which the body perceives and associates itself with others and its surroundings. Such a claim presently requires a new view that accounts for the lived experience in the interface and its relation to consciousness.
[viii] For more information on the scientific studies of memory and memory making see Searle , 60:1, 1993.
[ix] For further viewpoints on the notion of the evolving consciousness within technology, see Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays.