Articles and Lectures
|I make interactive installations that focus on the intersection of science and the arts -- but my work is adamantly low -tech. These installations use no computers or video or motors and are entirely powered by visitors to the show. As visitors work together to animate the mechanisms they create a theatre for themselves and each other. By requiring participation, touch and manipulation I get the audience to engage their bodies as well as their minds. As they play, participants tap into the vast reservoir of knowledge stored in each of their own bodies and they become active partners in constructing an understanding. The way that pieces move and feel and sound as you rock them, pedal, crank, press against and listen applies the kinesthetic comprehension's of childhood to the tasks of philosophy.
The use of wood and ancient technologies to examine 21st century issues adds a disarming historical perspective to my enterprise. The pieces are funny, friendly and personal even as they tackle serious issues such as the nature of conscoiusness or the origins of life. The soft woods I use are ill suited to be machines and yet they do work. Hovering at the line between working and not gives the mechanisms that tenuous yet tenacious character which mirrors control issues in our daily lives. And their very unlikeliness allows each installation to comment on itself.
My work resembles three dimensional Medieval diagrams, mapping questions about our place in the universe. But these are maps of the incompleteness of our knowledge that call for participation and they are diagrams you may literally inhabit.
Bernie Lubell --7/01
|Reviews This is a review from Ars Electronica in 2007
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|Articles & Lectures
|Between Lightness and Gravity: Bernie Lubell's Media-Archaeological Art
|for the catalog of a 2007 show at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA
|Those who encounter Bernie Lubell's art for the first time, may take it as something playful, delightfully naive and light-hearted - as if the gallery had been turned into a playground for both grown-ups and children to have a moment of fun. Others may feel as if they had stepped into a magic circle with the power to transport them away from the dire realities of the everyday. These seemed common reactions among those who visited the Prix Ars Electronica exhibition 2007, where Lubell presented his Conservation of Intimacy, the winner of an Award of Distinction in the category of interactive art.
Lubell's installation was an odd bird among the works on display. It was completely free from pressures to "prove itself" as media art, cyber art, bio art, or whatever the exhibition purported to be about. It wasn't even electronic - its structures were wooden, and the users' interactions were transmitted by springs, pneumatic tubes, moving balls and a pencil. For the visitors, with their minds saturated by zeros and ones, this felt like a breath of fresh air. It was also a revelation: Lubell demonstrated that meaningful interactive and participatory experiences can be created without the computer, the "not-yet-universal machine" of our time.
One of the intriguing aspects of Lubell's works is their (deliberately) artisanal look. One immediately sees that they are products of a master carpenter, mechanist and bricoleur. One can only be amazed at their complexity and ingenuity that seems to testify of skills that belonged to another era, that of master craftsmen and apprentices, eclipsed by the creeping mechanization and automation and finally killed by the emergence of the 'immaterial' information economy. How Lubell was able to acquire such skills, and develop the persistence that has pushed him to build and test and build again his extraordinary creations for a quarter of a century, remains a mystery for most of us.
There would be no sense in trying to strip Lubell's works of their ludic qualities (for they are irresistible), but their playfulness certainly represents only one layer of their potential meanings. Merely concentrating on the physical actions - cranking, rowing, cycling - one is invited to perform, would mean missing much of what they have to offer, including the invisible discursive 'clouds' surrounding them. In this essay I will point out some of the ways in which Lubell's "interactive wood machines" (as the artist himself calls them) can be linked to clusters of artifacts, ideas and references, extending far beyond the self-centered realm of "art."
In essence, many of Lubell's works could be characterized as simulators. What is simulated can be one of many things: the ebbing and flowing of the ocean waves, a rain shower and thunderstorm, birdsong, the functions of the human body (breathing, heartbeat, blood circulation), and even death: in "ÉAnd the Synapse sweetly singing" the visitor, lying on his/her back, cranks oneself head first into a coffin to reflect on existential matter from the tomb-perspective. This voluntary 'staged suicide' can be alarming, but also strangely soothing - burying oneself alive amidst the hussle and bussle of the gallery creates a peaceful feeling of isolation and disconnectedness; who hadn't dreamt about leaving this world, if it isn't for good?
As this example shows, Lubell's artworks are not simulators in the usual sense. They don't resemble a professional flight simulator, a driving game or even other interactive artworks like Jeffrey Shaw's The Legible City (1989). Except perhaps in Synapse and the Aphasiogram, the user is not really "taking control," or navigating through a make-believe world. S/he only gives the mechanism the motive power needed to keep it running; when the user stops, the simulation stops. In a sense the visitor is turned into a human steam engine or electric generator, a Primum Mobile. This clearly differs from the 'leisure' enjoyed by the customary gallery visitor who 'does nothing,' just observing things from the outside.
Why does the human have to act as the prime mover, when this role could be relegated to technology? There are many answers, the most obvious being participation and communication: the user is not just connected with curious feedback mechanisms, but brought in touch with other humans, or even with oneself, as in Cheek to Cheek, where the gyrating motions of the person's butt, transmitted via pneumatic tubes, caress one's own cheeks (an 'intra-active' experience?). Even from inside the coffin, an archaic voice line connects the living dead to the world 'above the ground.' In Making a Point of Inflection, a latex 'curtain' (an elastic air cushion stretched to a frame) is at first pumped up, and then becomes an interface for two people to touch each other; the latex 'skin' in-between them both unites and separates. The participants' roles also derive from Lubell's passion for science and technology. His creations are deeply rooted in years-long media-archaeological explorations of scientific instruments and other pieces of machinery, including "talking machines," and drawing instruments like the pantograph, that are now obsolete and forgotten. Like his good friend, another eminent media-archaeologist-artist Paul deMarinis, Lubell scavenges the junkpiles of history, salvaging ideas to be resurrected. What he discovers is not just abstract discursive knowledge, but concrete ideas that can be realized, combined and adapted, giving them astonishing new lives.
Lubell's media-archaeological master is the French physiologist ƒtienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904), who is normally remembered, if remembered at all, for his chronophotographic experiments that anticipated the cinema. But as Lubell knows, these came at a late stage in his career, which was dedicated to the study of all kinds of physiological processes. To test and demonstrate his ideas, Marey created scores of instruments, from simulators, such as his hand-cranked model of the human heart, to wearable recording devices that produced graphic traces of bodies in motion, of humans running or pigeons flying in 'harnesses' connected by pneumatic tubes to an inscription device. Marey's passion was to uncover the secrets of life; predictably, the knowledge he produced was used to produce both "perfect workers" and "killing machines."
In Conservation of Intimacy, people are invited to sit on a suspended bench and rock their bodies. Although they are not physically harnessed, they resemble Marey's test subjects, in that their motions are recorded as a graph by a pencil scribbling on a roll of paper (which is moved by another visitor pedaling a wooden 'gym cycle'). One of Lubell's major works to date, The Etiology of Innocence, is in its essence an original recreation of Marey's artificial heart. Without making any efforts to achieve anthropomorphic verisimilitude, Lubell has built a room-sized machine, or rather a network of 'stations' that include a pulsating latex heart in a glass jar and a device that produces the sound of the heartbeat. Like Marey's artificial heart, everything is activated by a single hand-crank that makes the huge system of gears and cords (a mechanical circulatory system) run.
Marey was a positivist, and a mechanist in the tradition of La Mettrie (L'Homme Machine). God, soul or metaphysics had no place in his thinking. In the same way, we should probably see the humans operating Lubell's machines just as humans, rather than as metaphors for some supreme metaphysical being keeping the universe in motion. Still, considering Lubell's work merely as a modern-day reinterpretation of Marey would be a mistake. His creations, fragile-looking but sturdy, have a poetic and surreal side that is all their own. Conceptually, they are 'speaking machines.' No matter how wacky, rube goldbergian or tinguelian they may look, they are all fragments of an idiosyncratic discourse, enounced by the machine parts. Its main theme, repeated over and over again in ever new variations, is the wonder of life, of being alive.
One of the tokens expressing this theme is the recurring presence of the bellows. They 'breathe life' to Lubell's ingenious pneumatic systems; they even sound like somebody breathing. The air travelling in the tubes moves things, giving energy to the system, like blood. But the importance of life is also expressed by the telegraphic networks of wires and 'lovers' telephones' Lubell constructs. They transmit voices that are sometimes barely audible, nearly drowned out by the 'noise' of the system itself (which of course is intentional). However weakly, as if from a great distance, the human presence emerges, somehow reminiscent of the telegrams On Kawara used to send to the people he knew, always with the same words: "I am still alive."
Lubell's creations don't just 'speak' through their machine parts; they also contain words - in their titles, but also inscribed on the works themselves. Here we enter the linguistic substratum of Lubell's oeuvre. Lubell loves pseudo-scientific and quasi-medical titles that 'slip' into other registers of discourse and experience. The Etiology of Innocence expresses this slippage beautifully, combining the medical search for causes with the bliss of innocence (ignorance?). transactions in the Fields of Gravity sounds like the title of a scientific periodical, but one is, of course, challenged to compare it with the work itself and ponder on the meanings of the word gravity, which not only signifies the physical forces that determine the forms of life on earth, but also connotes "grave," the bodies 'drawn' below the ground, the antidote of the world of the living.
The words printed on the wooden structures themselves may at first look like simple operating instructions ("PUMP"). However, when one discovers words like "FAITH" one begins to see their more metaphoric dimensions that may in fact have something to do with the cryptic puns Duchamp liked to associate with his ready-mades (in titles, but often inscribed on the objects themselves). Of course, instructions and warnings are routinely attached on machines, tools and products of all kinds. This situates the words used by Lubell and Duchamp in a wider context. Language normally interferes with the machinic, determined to control its uses. In Lubell's and Duchamp's case, it goes the other way, liberating potential meanings of the objects contructed by the artists.
One of Lubell's most explicit "language games" is Aphasiogram, a table-mounted drawing instrument (inspired by the pantograph, a 17th century device used to copy drawings on a different scale). In Lubell's version the user operates an arm to circle words from a 'table' and draw connections between them. The motions of the arm are transmitted to a drawing arm that produces a nonsensical graph. The machine makes the linguistic expressions disintegrate, or perhaps it automatically translates them into some universal language (a little like Scott de Martinville's phonautograph was supposed to do for spoken words) that we are not able to decipher.
Aphasiogram clearly belongs to the tradition of the absurd language machines, imagined by authors like Jonathan Swift and Raymond Roussel. These, in turn, are part of the wider phenomenon of the bachelor machines, the non-productive and "de-rationalized" mechanisms, often with strong discursive overtones, built or imagined by artists and writers. Lubell's machines seem to fit neatly under this label, although their ways of dealing with issues like sexuality and power may be more allusive and gentle that those of the predecessors (that include devices like the torturing machine imagined by Franz Kafka in his stort story "In the Penal Colony").
When put into use, Lubell's devices may seem strangely animated, as if permeated by some Žlan vital. They may creek and hum and sigh, but (most of the time) collaborate with their users humbly, performing tasks that lead our thoughts away from the prosaic struggles with machines in our daily lives. They may not be functional in the sense of the vacuum cleaner or the electric toothbrush (not to say anything about the computer), but they certainly have their own functionality that makes perfectly sense in the 'zone' they delineate. Whether we call it a 'playground,' a 'magic circle,' or just the 'realm of art,' it is open for anyone ready to leave one's preconceptions and prejudices behind.
©Erkki Huhtamo 2007
Erkki Huhtamo is a media-archaeologist, writer and exhibition curator. He works as Professor of Media History and Theory at uCLA, Department of Design | Media Arts. He is just finishing a book on the history of the moving panorama (university of California Press), and working on another one on the archaeology of interactivity.
|Etiology of Innocence
as presented before the Psychoanalytic Circle on 4/2/00 -- revised 5/5/00
published in (a) the Journal of Culture and the unconscious, vol.1 #1 (2000)
by Bernie Lubell
|The problems explored in this paper were first essayed as an interactive art installation with the same title. "Etiology of Innocence"" - - the installation -- was recently on display at Yerba Buena Gardens, in San Francisco. It has been useful to me to clarify what I have been doing with my artwork in words. I have a great love for words and have used them extensively in my installations but talking of interactive artwork can only be partially successful. Here I am trying to use words to describe something beyond and before words. Nevertheless, I will begin (as I often do) with the words, specifically the words of my title.
Etiology is the study of causes. It's only common usage now seems to be by the medical profession -- as in the origins of a disease. The suggestion that Innocence is some sort of disease is intentional. Innocence is usually either shunned as unsophisticated or blindly embraced. it doesn't need to be this way. The possibilities for innocence are much more complex. Looking back from the end of the machine age, my "Etiology of Innocence" (the installation) reflects a nostalgia for a more innocent time when it seemed that simple mechanical models might explain everything--when the experts were generalists and the discovery of ultimate truths seemed to be just around the corner.
At the same time, I recognize that any quest for an ideal requires numerous little add-ons and fix-its to deliver a resemblance to the real. And all of these fix-its lead away form that very idealism and innocence that was the stance necessary to begin. ultimately, these add-ons and fixits become a sort of truth in themselves and are often considered to be the hallmark of sophistication. So simplicity is how you must start but...
There is a conundrum here -- a problem of causality summed up nicely in a Murphy's Law calendar which I recall as: "Wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgments." Everything is so interconnected and contradictory in principle that it can only be resolved by practice. It is the abstraction -- the desire for principles and simple answers-- which interferes and is at the same time absolutely essential. And how, as we learn more and are ever more sophisticated and suspicious, can we maintain our sense of wonder?
The origins of my installation is in the work of Etienne Jules Marey from the 1870's (see Braun, 1992). Marey is most famous for his chronophotography and his cameras, which were instrumental in the early development of motion pictures. His life's work was inventing various ways to record and understand motion because movement is life. Early in his career he helped create the field of medical imaging- - what he called the "Graphic Method". Marey believed that life processes could be analyzed and understood mechanically. And his great obsession was to see what couldn't be seen. That which was too small or too slow, too fast or too deep inside.
What I like about Marey's early medical apparatus is that while they reflect a naive faith in mechanical models for biology they also embody the evolutionary design necessary to get realistic results. They were designed by experience just as we ourselves are. Marey's work is not the result of a sophisticated recognition of the complexity of how things relate but an exuberant discovery of that complexity as it forced itself on the naive idealism of the original enterprise.
In 1994, on a visit to the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis, I was able to see actual examples of early medical apparatus including some instruments made by Marey. I was struck by how Marey applied his simple visualization technologies to explore everything from human speech to the human heart. About a year later, I was diagnosed with an a-symptomatic aortic aneurysm and for some reason it became imperative to make a heart simulation a la Marey.
Was I working my life into my art to regain control? I really don't know. The kind of clarity and control I seem to gravitate towards is more like the dark interconnections of Kafka and Beckett.
Although words are often how I begin my work and are frequently on wood labels and tags as a part of my installations, Words always seem incomplete. I have an Aphasiogram (1999) that automatically and pneumatically strips the verbal meanings away from a questionnaire-- replacing them with individual routes -- an image we couldn't see when the words were there. Another sort of meaning appears, one that is more aligned with the sense of touch. Everyone has their own "Personal Path" in this piece. A friend suggested that words don't work when there is no narrative. But even narrative places a limiting linear restriction on reality. Words seem to offer a magical control acting almost as an incantation of understanding and yet.... Syntax is seductive and like most seductions, you are finally left wanting. How does the old song go? "...Is it the way he talks? ....Oh No it's not the way and you're not to listen to all I say.... It's in his Kiss. That's where it is".
Besides, I have an ambivalence to magic. I keep an out of order sign handy in most installations as a talisman but there are no aneurysms in my installation and my work seems to be so much more about how little control we have and how to find some inspiration in the fact of this. There is a story about Neils Bohr, one of the creators of quantum mechanics. Apparently he kept a horseshoe above the door to his office. His colleagues would say "Neils, you are a scientist you don't really believe in this do you?" "No, of course not," he would reply, "but they say it works whether you believe in it or not."
There is no doubt that a forced recognition of my own mortality increased my need to make art. (This must be some sort of sublimated sociobiological necessity to procreate). In all of the debate about whether computers will ever be creative and how they could be made to be so, this by product of our evolutionary history, this recognition of our own mortality which provides the essential motivation for creativity is frequently overlooked. I was reading recently about roboticist Mark Tilden whose machines behave startlingly like real arthropods. These machines have no programming or "brain". They use what he calls a "Nervous Net" which is an analog system of motors and sensors. The one thing they do have preprogrammed is a purpose. And somehow the nervous net will find ways of completing that purpose. And that is all that they need to produce complex seemingly intelligent behavior. These are not self contained autonomous entities. They rely on their environment to become a part of the computation. I believe it was Jacques Monod who reasoned that the key element which separated living from non-living matter was that living things had a purpose.
My Etiology of Innocence (1999), like Marey's apparatus, is a simulation of the human heart. Cranking a series of cams pumps air by pounding and garroting organs on a board. The air runs from tubes connected to the simulated aorta and ventricle to other rooms where it gurgles and produces a lifelike breathing of a "lung" in a jar. At the same time the crank winds a long canvas belt which also continues into another chamber where it makes a heartbeat sound. Because you can't see what you are making happen while you are cranking, you need to take turns with someone else -- cranking and looking -- so it takes two people to get the full experience which seems just right for a heart piece.
All of the parts are quite fragile and made of wood. I tried to get it so that everything works but just barely -- sort of like the way my ideas get me through. I think our hold on life and sanity and understanding are tenuous but tenacious. And so much of what is both good and bad are not the result of perfect plans but are adjustments to things gone awry.
So I share Marey's belief in the mechanical metaphor. But not as an abstract Platonic ideal of life as perfect mechanisms. The metaphor is more like real machines in the world where things go wrong and are constantly being fixed. (But is it then still a metaphor?)
In fact this is the way that my work is designed. I usually start by immersing myself intellectually within some rather grand and impossible question that I want to answer and then pick some mechanism or movement I have noticed by rummaging through outdated treatises. I may begin building by duplicating some part of some machine but since I always start by using pine, which is totally inappropriate for machinery, interesting things happen almost at once. The pine doesn't seem to want to be a machine and an analogy to the conflict between reason and romance is automatically built into my process. So I wallow semi-consciously in the frustration of how to get my mechanism to function and trust that my machinations will be guided by the ideas I have been swimming in so recently. What I seem to be doing is semi-consciously bringing several different systems of understanding together at once in an effort to resolve an issue.
When I arrived at the Headlands Center for the Arts for a residency in 1993 I was given a 35 x 55 foot studio filled only with light and was told to do what I wanted. Because I was so tired, and there were no comfortable places to sit in the entire art center, I set up a couch about halfway down the space. I left the door open and lay down to read and sleep and talk with anyone who happened by. The hardworking staff whose offices adjoined my room were perturbed that they were raising money so that I could sleep and they would stand in the doorway and make comments about this. The problem was easily resolved by the addition of a carpeted viewing area with a latex covered spring replacing the traditional velvet chain. This was OK because it was Art. But really I wanted to rest. And despite appearances I was working. In the course of several weeks of sleep I came up with a complex interconnected flow chart. I found it impossible to do justice to my ideas on any one linear path and working from a small portion of it, I manifested The Niche of Desire.
The Niche of Desire (1993) is an Altar as a portal and as a puzzle... The appropriate rituals would allow you to pass through. "One may aspire to "heaven" with patience or cleverness-- by waiting or by cheating.""
In a dark passage there were viewing holes which allowed distorted glimpses of possibilities beyond the confines of this claustrophobic space. Proceeding further you would come to a door. But the door was locked. After a moment of panic you recall the clues at the entrance. Returning to the bench seen earlier you can sit to wait. Leaning back releases the door lock but only while you continue to remain on the bench. Patience as a solution seems to require a partner. But then there is "cheating". A credit card will jimmy the lock open and credit, as a route to heaven, is much like faith.
"Heaven" turns out to be a creaky, rickety and unstable bridge which stretches across the 60 foot room with a child's chair as the goal. A 60' span did not seem long enough so I forced the perspective of the bridge. And this gesture transformed the experience because the forced perspective of the bridge made it increasingly unstable as you got closer to the end. It is almost impossible to stay on the bridge when you are close to your goal. I chose a child's chair as my symbol for heaven because it is when a child wants a chair just like the adults that the state of grace is lost. It is that moment when we loose the innocence of childhood. And it is when we recognize the loss that the concept of heaven is born.
But this talk is the Etiology OF innocence not Etiology and Innocence. And the connections are frequently more important than the things connected. What I am referring to in this instance is that in our syntax everything has a cause -- even Innocence. But how, if everything has a cause, can there ever be a beginning? How can anything new ever happen? How is Creativity... even possible? Can you ever have been innocent?
I was worrying this very problem -- kind of like a dog worries a bone -- when I tried to determine the origins of life. In The 2nd Story; a Twice Failed Tale (1991)I thought to breathe life into a collection of sticks and bags with some hopelessly complex, wheezing wood and canvas bellows pumping air through 100 feet of leaky wood pipes. This search for the origins of life became more of a search for the origin of origins. And this piece was the occasion for one of my greatest discoveries. Because the gallery refused to remove a wall I got to separate cause and effect where all the actions took place on one side and their results on the other. We cannot see what we do or do what we are seeing. We can, however, hear a whistle and balls dropping on the other side of the wall to entice us.
The rolling bellows on the action side is the "1st Draft" of the 2nd Story... The handle says "Apply Desire Here" & operation forces air through the wood pipes blowing a whistle beyond the wall & momentarily inflating a gauge of "Aspiration". Aspiration is a fleeting thing. The "2nd Draft" also blows the whistle but, """if" there are balls ready "and" the bellows are depressed and released fully, "then" it causes a couple of balls to drop into an "Accumulator" --I like to think of memory as an accumulation of accidents.
In the corner is my "Record Station". The plaque inscription describes Ezekial breathing life into the dry bones:
" ...And as I prophesied
there was a noise, and behold
a shaking, and the bones came
together, bone to his bone.
And when I beheld, lo, the
sinews and the flesh came up
upon them, and the skin
covered them above:
But there was no
breath in them.
A little "Divine Inspiration" is required.
A continuous roll of paper on the table recorded my efforts to resolve the technical, aesthetic and conceptual problems of installation. In the cubbyholes to the right are 119 cards comprising my "Purloined Principles" --various ideas I've stolen that comment on the nature of origins and the paradoxes of thought. How Reality is Fundamentally Derivative, how we should Beware of Atavism as an Etiology for Innocence--which is an essay on our proclivity for simple explanations. There are cards about faith, change, betrayal, Chaos and Catastrophe, participation and observation ...and more, culminating in a realization (which I stole from Charles Olson) that "Life is preoccupation with itself". And a Willie Dixon song that "a good understanding can make everything all right " -- but I wondered how we can possibly understand understanding using understanding.
In the opening between the two spaces, is a "Choice Point" w/ valves that direct air to different activities and tools for maintenance. Beyond is a "Teleological Rack" of possibilities, "Means" & "Ends" of latex coated canvas tubes, there are tags & experimental devices which might be useful including "Out of Order" signs which can make any failure acceptable. On the other side of the wall -- the results side -- pipes lead to the sticks and bags. There is an "Accumulator" zig-zagging down the wall and finally the bags, sticks and whistle in the corner. When air is breathed into these bags, their futile, fitful motions against constraint are quite poignant. And the closest I came to actual life is in the way that a small latex covered canvas bag kind of whimpers as it dies. Only something truly alive could whimper.
Earlier in this century, when science and technology promised so much, it seemed that logic might encompass everything. But Kurt Godel showed in 1931 that such attempts at omniscience must fail. It is the liars paradox. To say that: "everything I say is a lie" leads you to a logical impasse. Because the system is closed it cannot refer to itself without being incomplete or inconsistent.
Which is incidentally another obstacle to machines being creative. They need to be able to work on several levels at the same time. In other words they need to learn how to tolerate ambiguity.
What was forced on me in the 2nd Story... installation and what I have used since was the discovery that cooperation can be an origin because it removes you from the system you were in and therefore allows you to be recursive--to reflect on yourself without violating Godel's theorem. One answer to the riddle of how anything new ever occurs is cooperation and the possibilities of people having to get together to complete an experience. And this as it turns out is an answer proposed to the riddle of life's origins by Lynn Marguiis.
The standard evolutionary view is to look for a single universal ancestor which would account for all the current diversity. A more contemporary view has multiple interconnected origins. There is a similarity here to my word charts. Everything is dependent on cooperation and cross fertilization and it always was. The past may not really be any simpler than the present. Some researchers have gone so far as to suggest that our present state is a selection from the greater diversity of former eras. But it is hard for me to imagine a beginning which is highly complex although I can certainly see complexity arising really fast. And this is what Chaos Theory promises -- ah another topic for another time.
Someone once quipped that if you want to sound profound you should always speak in paradoxes and I wonder why this should be profound. The problem with paradoxes as answers is that they seem too ironical. And the problem with irony and other forms of suspicion is that they have this smarmy coolness which ends all discussion. Irony is far too isolating - it closes up a system. If somehow we can come to understand the contradictions in a paradox as something complementary we may be able to forge something far deeper. I have this notion that conundrums and paradoxes, which I do love, can be resolved through touch. We will have to forego an extended excursion into this realm too. But let me point out that there are understandings that are participatory and physical that may explain the logical impasses I have been alluding to. It may be that all of the great Logical paradoxes and conundrums we pose as adults find their solutions as child's play correctly framed. A child's tactile comprehension's applied to the tasks of philosophy.
And this brings me to Zeno's paradox of motion. Zeno suggested that you can never really cross a room because for every distance you traverse you first have to cover 1/2 that distance and so on. There are an infinite number of half's here so it should take an infinite amount of time. We do get across the room every day. It seems that this infinite series converge on a limit. So the sum of the infinite series of distances is in fact finite. But how can we understand this.
Zeno's paradox was recently "solved" through an analysis of converging series and calculus inspired limits. Calculus has been immensely useful but is logically considered to be essentially a sleight of hand. Logic is independent of time but the Calculus and our paradox are not. It is how the series converges in time that resolves our dilemma. And Time is where we exist.
The notions of limits and time itself are really axioms within our bodies. They are a sort of understanding which is not like understanding an argument but more like appreciating a physical fact.
A friend once asked me what my first memory was. Interestingly I had no really early memories but an answer instantly jumped into my mind. "gravity" should be primary to my body, whether it was in my mind or not. Gravity as a limit must have been one of our first understandings as we somehow figured out how to stand and walk. An infant faces Zeno's paradox as they try to figure out how to crawl forward without collapsing. It is this sort of limits that our bodies intuitively appreciate.
It strikes me (an apt analogy to a particular kind of touch) that in moments of paradox (Piaget (1966) preferred to call it "disequilibrium") might not a regression to play and the tactile comprehension's of childhood become most useful? They are beyond the reach of our formal minds and so are most open to insightful occasions of accident and failure. And by trusting some resolutions to our bodies we may be able to understand understanding because we will leave the closed system where logic is our primary tool.
Our bodies seem to be particularly good a jumping about from system to system. Perhaps this is a byproduct of having a brain embedded in a body which is really another sort of brain. I heard an interview where Paul Auster once said something like: "We are all pretty sophisticated and we know that the universe is something we have created with our minds but -- our minds are in our bodies and our bodies are in the universe"
Being physical is the key here. My installations frequently require cooperation but they always need manipulation. You must touch them and feel how they work to fully appreciate the experience. It is a question of participation rather than witnessing. As Gabriel Josipovici (1996) points out-- sight is free and, in a sense, promiscuous. You can glance about a room at the objects and then instantly to the distant horizon and never make any commitment. To touch something you must get up, cross to it and grasp it.
For so many years of our early life we understand nothing without touch. Everything around us is first grasped and then goes into our mouths on itÕs way to our brain. This Tactile, concrete operational understanding of the world is replaced by Formal Operations but not fully supplanted. Within us all there is still a reservoir of this sort of knowledge.
And it is our bodies that make communication possible. Because we are embodied and our bodies give us common access to the world. We feel we understand each other because we share this embodiment. In my work I am trying to get people to have an understanding of things because you are a part of them rather than as observer looking in from outside. Of course all art contrives to draw you in. But I am being quite literal here. Making a setting in which you might become actors and create a theatre of your own imaginings. Dry Rain Peddling ('93) was a collaboration with Paul DeMarinis. Paul invented chaotic handrails for the staircase at the Intersection and in the course of playing with them we began to think of a rainstorm. "Upstairs is a mechanical analog of the handrails. People on bicycles feeding back through an overhead rope and interrupting clutches. The percussive possibilities of the handrails suggested rain tapping on the roof and brought to our minds the divergent unpredictability of memory.
Just as the order within chaos appears as trajectories in phase space, so the present installation traces overlapping journeys through time and association. This interactive analogy permits viewers to inhabit time and to construct surprise. Being the rain is not the same as experiencing it --- but both forms of participation are possible here." (DeMarinis & Lubell, 1993)
When you touch and are touched you become a part of the world. There is a sense that touch provides a particular mirror which allows us to be self aware and empathetic with others. And the pleasure in this may come from a testing of boundaries-- taking risks like kissing.
The final Installation I wish to discuss is a machine that allows you to test your own boundaries in unaccustomed ways.Cheek to Cheek ('99) is an installation which allows you to dance with yourself cheek to cheek. As your lower cheeks move about on a stool bladders there transmit air pressure to a smaller set of latex bladders that caress your face. The feeling is both pleasurable and disconcerting.
I have this faith that our bodies provide us with another system through which we might understand our own consciousness.
Auster, Paul remarks made during a television interview.
Braun, Marta Picturing Time 1992 Univ. of Chicago Press
DeMarinis, Paul & Lubell, Bernie Dry Rain Peddling 1993 excerpts from Intersection Gallery statement.
Josipiovici, Gabriel Touch 1996 Yale Univ. Press
Piaget, Jean The Psychology of Intelligence 1966 Littlefield, Adams & Co.
Bernie Lubell 5/00