Reconciling Binary Oppositions
1. Art Directly Expressing a Conflict Between Two Consiousnesses
Moral and Mystical Consciousness
Immanuel Kant gave antinomies relating to space and time in the Critique of Pure Reason. These antinomies are mutually contradictory propositions each of which can apparently be proved. There is a thesis and an antithesis, e.g. whether we should think that matter is made of indivisible atoms or as infinitely divisible. My work resembles this mapping of opposites but my binary oppositions are in terms of art forms and modes of perception. The conclusion of my work tries to synthesise these opposites. The work is a conceptual art project, called The Ism (‘www.theism.co.uk’), that I exhibited at 4 solo shows in London, 2000-2001 and am now developing into an ‘art religion’ experience. The oppositions are generalised as black and white for purposes of argument and are not meant as an absolute statement.
The split between the two ways of perceiving is between mystical non-dualism and moral dualism. The mystical links to a primal, eternal, experiential Energy. The moral links to the conceptual structure that gives Form to the Energy, via creativity. This split is also between Jungian Transcendence (going beyond dual conception to non-dual experience) and Freudian Sublimation (moving from one duality to a higher duality, eg. from the sexual to the spiritual). The sublime is where the identity of the dualistic viewer is threatened by the immensity of an external object. The transcendent is where the ego dissolves into a non-dualistic identification with the universal reality.
Primal Energy relates to nature and the form that shapes this energy relates to technology. Nature is often figuratively represented in art however the underlying principle of nature is as an abstract mystical, process that follows rational laws. Technology may seem very abstract, however the underlying principle is figurative as it concerns the human will and faith in the mastery of nature through technological means.
This split between Nature and Technology is also the split between the Dionysian and the Apollonian. Nature is Dionysian and is a timeless and cyclical, process. In this perspective human beings are intimately connected with nature as there is no subject or object distinction. Technology is Apollonian, progressive and orientated toward an end product or goal. In this perspective computers have been used to industrially manufacture objects external to the subject.
Both of these perspectives also relates to its opposite. An Apollonian view of nature is figurative and nature is represented as an external product with mind and matter seen as separate. Conversely a Dionysian use of technology and computers is in socially interactive art installations and world-wide communications. This use breaks down the subject-object distinction in a pantheistic way.
Abstract nature is closer to mystical non-dualism and abstract interactive art links to this. Figurative technology is built out of these abstract elements and is closer to the dualism of human, moral will and figurative art links to this.
These 2 perspectives cannot be reconciled so the human mind often accepts one of these opposites and rejects the other. Part of my art work is to contrast the use of computers in interactive abstract installations and their use in exclusive figurative computer manufactured sculpture. This is so that I can then link the two together as a way to link the mystical and moral consciousnesses.
The 2 perspectives can be related to the issue of body, space and technology.
The non-dualistic body relates to primal matter (abstract). Its space relates to the internally focussed mind and to pure consciousness and experience. Its technology relates to process and communication but it is characterised more by an immediate nature than mediated technology.
The dualistic body relates to matter given form (figurative). Its space relates to the externally focussed mind with its concepts that form experience. Its technology relates to product and mastery over an external, mediated nature.
Opposing Artistic Expressions
Through 1990 &1994 I had been keeping a sculpture diary of my journey to find spiritual meaning when I had a mystical experience. After meditating I entered a mystical, non-dual state of consciousness that was experiential, prior to concepts and was beyond meaning and meaninglessness. In contrast, my moral spirituality was conceptual and dualistic (i.e. there is a focus on opposites like good and evil, subject and object).
Prior to the mind’s application of dualistic concepts things are experienced as immediate and without any greater significance. Because there is no self-conscious differentiation everything is seen as being of the same basic, ordinary, nature and consciousness is universally and timelessly the same as everything. As soon as I became self-conscious (subject-object) in this state the experience dissolved away.
I became aware that mystical consciousness could not solve my moral problems, just dissolves the duality that is the basis of the problems. The two consciousnesses are distinct and irreconcilable philosophically but I felt that there had to be some common ground between them as I had experienced some continuity of identity and memory between the mind states.
Advanced mystics synthesise these opposites by experiencing duality whilst in a non-dualistic consciousness but this duality is never directly experienced. It is always seen as secondary, illusory and unreal. Mystics claim to have a link but they ignore how the mystical consciousness remains in a binary opposition to normal consciousness. The dualist can try to incorporate the mystical into their life by seeing it as a separate consciousness. This maintains the two experiences as separate and avoids the dual being subsumed under the non-dual as an illusion, however the two are never directly linked.
This question of whether illusion (duality) is included in enlightenment or whether it is separated has been a conundrum for Hindu and Buddhist scholars with different schools emphasising different conclusions. Of the question the Buddha said that it is one of a number of dualistic questions not worth asking as they are not conducive to the very practical issue of reaching a non-dualistic enlightenment experience. Whilst I was consciously struggling with these philosophical issues I unconsciously began to reconcile the two perspectives in art. Later I saw a pattern emerging and began to consciously develop this reconciliation. By joining together the art forms relating to each perspective a link was made between the two perspectives (in a single piece of art) that could not be made philosophically. Art is a way of reconciliation that is both experientially and conceptually apprehended.
After my mystical experience I found that I began to have another, non-sculptural, form of artistic expression relating to art therapy and abstract expressionism. This form of expression embodied primal energy and non-dual experience. The work involved the energy of the participants without their consciously imposing form on the work. I conducted an abstract expressionist experiment that involved wilful drawing, but without imposing any ideas of style, form or composition on the creative process. The hope was that eventually universal forms of design would arise naturally out of this chaotic energy and that these designs would be therapeutic.
4 artists made 10 drawings each on a computer drawing board. The drawing area was 130cm wide by 100cm high and was 100cm above the ground. Sensors on red, green and blue pens allowed for the plotting of the pens’ movements and the recording of the drawing. Drawings were recorded in real time and were played back at different speeds and digitally separated into their 3 colours. Each drawing was made after a period of meditation and was only viewed at the end of the experiment. Personality tests (Eysenck (1)) were used to see how psychology type related to the drawing styles. These works are intended to be viewed as animations that show a dynamic, evolving process.
A common pattern emerged. All the initial drawings had conflicting elements (eg arcs and scribbles) that began to be unconsciously synthesised as the experiment progressed. The 2 males filled the drawing area and the 2 females worked within constructed boundaries. All participants had similar psychological scores but the participant that had been self-conscious (and not immediate) when producing the work scored high on the check to see if questions were being answered self-consciously. No firm conclusions can be drawn from the experiment and it is just a prototype for a larger experiment. Possible implications, however, are that the mind looks for unity and order and that males are more exploratory and outgoing (dualistic) than females who are more protective (non-dualistic).
The ‘White’board was used as part of my artist-in-residency at Loughborough University with the C&CRS for COSTART, partly funded by the EPSRC Grant GR/M14517 Studies of Computer Support for Creative Work, Artists and Technologists in Collaboration. Work with the 3 other artists was AA2A supported by Arts Council Lottery funding.
Outside of this experiment my own expressionistic work eventually evolved through circular expressive scribbles into the ancient mystical symbols of the swastika and the rainbow. This symbol also unconsciously arose in my computer installation (see later). The swastika relates to the mystical theosophical movement that Jung and the Modernist artists Mondrian and Kandinsky were involved in. My mothers mother was Jewish and am aware of its Nazi connotations but the symbol is also a cross-cultural spiritual symbol.
Meanwhile in my sculpture diary I was unconsciously finding some resolution for the split in my consciousness by symbolically re-creating the conflict in sculptures (abstract, mystical metal and figurative, moral wood) and then bringing these opposing sculptural elements together.
The sculptures that I will focus on here are those manufactured by computers. These are from the technological and figurative part of my sculptural work.
These sculptural works stand separate from nature. They relate to humanity, to Form imposed upon matter, and to moral, dualistic, meaningful, conceptual structures.
These sculptures are about a historical progress to reach an end goal and a static product. They move from Greek and Zoroastrian imagery to images of Islam and to a Millennial art event at the Golden Gate in Jerusalem.
The Zoroastrian Icarus was made as £150,000 sponsorship from 15 UK companies. A 30 centimeter original stone sculpture (that I had hand carved in stone) was laser & probe scanned then manufactured at 2 metres high by Stereolithography (SLA), Layer Object Manufacture (LOM) and Computer Numerate Controlled (CNC) machining. It is now bronze cast and has been displayed at numerous international computer manufacturing shows - see ‘www.millennium-angel.co.uk’
The ancient and the futuristic are linked in this symbol of an individual’s trying to reach beyond himself to master nature by technology. References are made to the historical tradition of Monotheism and its influence from the hierarchical dualism of Zoroastrianism and also to the free thought of Greek philosophy. Artistic assumptions that technology relates to abstract process are questioned in the work as laser scanning had increased the ease of manufacturing figurative products.
This individual attempt at mastery over nature was sublimated into a communal co-operation in the circle of 7 figures called Islam. This was made from one computer file (AutoCAD drawing) that was then machined by LOM. The figure was then cast in resin 7 times, each colour of the rainbow. The dominant individual had become communally symbolised as a repeat copy from an immaterial Platonic Form. The spiritual meaning was now found in community and love, and not in the individual.
This sublimation to higher figurative expression was taken to its conclusion in art events that started to link the sculptural product to process. An example of this is a web-cast art event that I performed at the Golden Gate Jerusalem on Millennium Eve. This work showed the mistake in trying to represent a supreme being as the emphasis should be sublimated to moral action and forgiveness. It continued the historical narrative relation between the search for a messianic, dualistic, sculptural form and the transcendent non-duality of Eden.
The community of individuals under a moral goal is a sublimation to a Unity (within a self-other relationship) that is in contrast to the non-dual transcendental Unity of identification with the Universe. This contrasts the reality of individual Forms (Platonism) with the One Universal Form which is the mystical energy that all lower Forms emanate from (Neo-Platonism).
In the ‘Apollo/Dionysus’ series I synthesised my 2D and 3D work in Photoshop with my abstract swastika design in contrast to, and synthesised with, a 3D laser scan of a sculpture of the head of Apollo (that I had carved in stone). The work shows the figurative art arising from the abstract design. The selfish, individualistic ego (head of Apollo) separates from the infinite mystical background through self-consciousness. Apollo also represents Greek philosophy and conceptual dualism.
My abstract expressionist work became more interactive, design based and linked to the Neo-Platonic transcendental unity. The dance of the drawing pen was replaced with a physical movement within an interactive sensor system space. 8 sensors were located on each side of a 365cm x 365cm frame at 30cm high. The frame was in front of a back projected screen 245cm wide and 180cm high. The whole body of the participant was involved and the subject-object distinction was broken down as the participant became intimately connected to the work that they were experiencing. The primal colours and shapes involved also related to basic instincts so as to by-pass the conscious mind.
By moving around the space the participants generated small primary coloured squares in 4 directions, within the x, y axis. The whole shape was rotated in x, z and y, z axes by another participant whilst the main participant continued to generate squares in the 4 directions. Complex forms resulted in this purely aesthetic experience. The ‘dance’ process generated 3 dimensional forms but by-passed self-conscious ideas of form as the person moved around and experienced space in an intuitive and novel way. This work is not fully non-dualistic as it relates to the creation of an object and would be more mystical if the interactivity was purely environmental.
The Sensor System was used as part of my artist-in-residency at Loughborough University with the C&CRS for COSTART, partly funded by the EPSRC Grant GR/M14517 Studies of Computer Support for Creative Work, Artists and Technologists in Collaboration. Mike Quantrill programmed and wrote the software for the system.
The next installation was not just an expression of the non-dual but was a deliberate and self-conscious contrast between the non-dual and the dual. It was a model of the activity of the mind in relationship to spirituality and the art forms.
Participants moved around the sensor system to build a monochrome Freudian, phallic tree of morality. This reached up to a static point, accompanied with ascending notes of music (Becoming of Being). This model showed the Western mind’s search for an external, individual end Product by being active.
By being still, the group sank into a mystical sea and colourful Jungian Mandalas emerged to musical harmonies (Being of Becoming). This model showed the Eastern mind’s connection to the internal Universal Process by being still. Mandalas and Hindu swastikas arose unintentionally in the mystical part of this work (2).
The tree symbolised life, death and morality whilst the patterns symbolised mystical eternity. This aesthetic experience of the human condition meaningfully echoed the Fall from Eden. In Jewish mystical Qabbalism Eden is interpreted as non-duality (the abstract pattern) and the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil relates to self-consciousness and duality.
2 ideas of nature are shown in this work. An abstract nature that arises immediately from the unconscious energy is symbolised as purely aesthetic design. Here the person is intimately connected to nature. A figurative representation of nature that is external to the person comes from a self-conscious subject-object relationship.
The installation also illustrates how non-dualism is the more rational perspective as it is based on experience and experimentation through meditation. In contrast the figurative faith is more about human efforts and goals. It is about faith in technology to make changes in the external world as a means of progress towards an end state.
The transition point (sinking below the sea) symbolised the link between normal consciousness and mystical consciousness. The movement between the two linked internal reality to external reality and nature to technology.
The main art link was in a computer project that involved an interactive performance process and a definite sculptural product. Three performances were made at Castlerigg stone circle (Cumbria, England) on Christmas day 2000 (after the partial eclipse of the sun), Epiphany/Orthodox Christmas day (6th January) 2001 and on the morning after the eclipse of the moon (9th January) 2001.
I danced expressively whilst holding a video camera. This was both an aesthetic and a meaningful event. The locations of my movements inside the stone circle and the locations of the stones were used to design an AutoCAD sculpture.
The computer struts of the sculpture emanate from the location points of the stones. The virtual sculpture is to be put on top of a virtual video installation surrounded by heads placed in the same location as the original stones. The abstract stones with a figure in the centre are transformed into figurative heads with an abstract monolith in the centre. When approaching the centre of the virtual installation gigantic struts will emanate from the head locations so that you will be within a large version of the sculpture. This serves as a temple structure and will give a sense of the sublime when you look upwards. The installation can be aesthetically appreciated but also looks at the meaning of time and faith. This work joins together nature/technology, abstract/figurative, determinism/free will, experiential/conceptual.
The meaning of the work is to herald a new form of art that replaces the art object as the centre of attention with one where the art object is once again part of a ritual environment and the object of attention is the making of real, moral change in the world.
Ritual is seen as a way to link opposites. The temple housed decorative products and inside this space ritual was the process used to manifest a change. The gallery has replaced the temple and the ritual has become interactive art that makes a mystical or a moral change.
Ritual was the original common point between abstract nature and figurative technology but now humanity has advanced into both extremes. We can either return to the abstract mystical or advance into the figurative technology. Western technological society has adopted non-dualistic assumptions in its art perspective whilst the mystical Eastern society has adopted western technologies and perspectives.
Rather than seeking a single answer I recognise that, ultimately, these two perspectives are separate. Mystical aesthetics provides therapeutic experiences and moral meaning brings goodness in the world. The needs for figurative meaning and to relate back to the mystical can symbolically join in our attempts to relate them through art. The best link between these positions, however, is in their shared focus on love (the mystical in identification with the universe and the moral in a community of individuals).
In the future I would like to combine the use of virtual spaces with ritual or temple spaces. I would like to look at the crossover point between interactive, aesthetic performance and a resulting moral product. I am currently organising a group exhibition, called The Ism (www.the-ism.co.uk), on this theme. I am also looking at how ritual (in ritual spaces and at home) can unite both monumental (dual) and everyday concerns (non-dual), reconciling grand symbolic gestures with ordinary life.
I performed an art ritual at the green room, Manchester, 14/9/2001. The audience was asked to visualise a future hope/wish onto a large golden canvas. 7 members of the audience dressed in robes the colours of the rainbow and danced around the canvas. The participants took it in turns to paint abstract expressionistically onto the canvas whilst the stage light went their colour and the audience chanted the name of that colour to a progressive note on the scale of C. For the final note the word ‘Love’ was chanted and the spotlight went white and the canvas was sacrificed into parts, which were then handed out, like a Eucharist, in plain pizza boxes.
The emphasis was not on sculpture but on action in the world by using dance to provide the energy to make a product that is then sacrificed to help the world.
The idea was that the primal energy was channelled into a form/wish, with the hope that this would bring that wish about. This is a fundamental structure of religious ritual, magic and prayer.
I am currently developing a ritual environment to include an experience moving from the mystical to action in the moral/world and back again. The structure is simple really, spiritual rest and return to the source so that action in the world can be more effective. This will be tested at the Dukes Theatre, Lancaster on Sunday 10 February 2002 and then will be repeated in London in March.
The relation of all this to ‘Body, Space and Technology’ is that the dualistic form is a technological visualisation for changing the world. The non-dualistic, primal energy/matter/body is linked to in a collective, internal space and is channelled in order to manifest this energy as an external reality/body in external space.
2. Metaphysical and Artistic Creativity
Energy, Form, Primal Creativity and Creation From Nothing.
The Christian tradition gives a good example of a Dualistic view of the creation of the world and the Hindu tradition gives a good example of a Non-dualistic view of creation.
The Christian view puts ‘being’ in opposition to ‘nothingness’ and creation comes from out of this ‘nothingness’. The Hindu view has creation as the imposing of Form onto a pre-existent, Primal Energy/Matter and not a ‘Creation out of Nothing’.
The two views can be linked as follows:
Non-dualistic, Primal Energy is beyond conceptual categories so it is metaphorically alluded to by the concept of ‘nothingness’.
The dualistic Form of ‘Being’ rather than the Form of ‘Nothing’ is imposed onto the Primal Energy as the creative act is closer to the nature of ‘Being’. The primal creativity instantiates the Form of ‘Being’ and the state prior to this can be metaphorically characterised as a state of ‘nothingness’. Thus creation can be seen as a Hindu Forming of this Primal Energy and as a metaphorical Christian ‘Creation out of Nothing’. Monotheism sees this ‘Being’ as a self-created and self-conscious God. Many other contrasts remain, however, such as whether creation is a unique event or is cyclical.
This metaphysical creativity parallels artistic creativity as non-dual creation relates to non-original, natural designs and dual creation gives rise to something from nothing.
The world is a created product and although mystics may transcend conceptual dualisms they are still situated within their created bodies. The difference is that they no longer strive for dualistic meaning. They transcend a focus on goodness but are still good by just allowing their natural goodness to show through.
Similarly design follows basic laws and principles that arise when the mind is freed from a need to create meaning. Mystical consciousness dissolves internal duality but the artist still operates in an external duality to produce design. When there is no wilful striving for dualistic meaning the innate aesthetic forms and structures arise from within the non-dual person’s nature. Matter is given Form through the artist’s own inner nature (non-dualistic art). Non-duality is ultimately beyond objects and is pre-creation and pre-creativity but abstract design (and process based work) is the dualistic external expression of the non-dualistic internal consciousness.
Self-conscious creativity is a dualistic activity of the free-will that shapes energy/matter. The artist wilfully Forms the Matter (dualistic art) in a meaningful expression. The dualist tries to attain an artistic or a moral product over and beyond the natural state. Moral autonomy and self-consciousness allows an individual to try and reach beyond their created nature through a ‘freely’ given inspiration, forgiveness or community action. This freedom occurs over and above karmic law, social hierarchy and tradition. Forgiveness is the perfection of moral goodness as it ‘creates’ a goodness over and above what is required by moral law. This morality does not require a God but it is characterised by faith in its possibility (and faith in God or in Technology are further aspects of this perspective).
18 December 2001
Biographical details for Anthony Padgett
He has worked with the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, Israel Antiquities Authority, Palestinian Department of Archaeology, International Council of Monuments and Sites, Historic American Buildings Survey, Lancaster University Archaeological Unit.
He has had 4 solo exhibitions in London on the theme of The Ism and has shown at a number of venues around the UK. He co-ordinated 15 companies in the computer manufacture of a 2 metre high sculpture. He had a Computer Artist Residency with Loughborough University. He is a member of Fine Artist Sculpture and Technology – UK, and Cumbria Sculptors. He is currently taking an MA in Theorisation of Art and Performance at Wimbledon School of Art.
40 Mayfield Drive, Morecambe, Lancashire, LA4 6EP (07812) 799521
1. Eysenk, H.J. EPQ Test printed for Hodder and Stoughton Educational by ChigwelPress,11th impression (1985)
2. .Jung , C.J. Collected Works, Vol 9 part 1 The Archetypes of Collective Unconsciousness’ and ‘Vol 13 Alchemical Studies’
Sources are extremely diverse and my current MA will help me situate my ideas in contemporary art/performance. Sources range from philosophers (Parmenides, Plato, Porphry, Kant, Hegel) through studies of religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mysticism, Theosophy) to studies of art movements (particularly Cubism, Futurism, Vorticism, the Abstract work of Mondrian, Kandinsky and the Abstract Expressionism of De Kooning and Rothko).
My work is also based on my questioning the nature of my own mystical experience and although there are many books on non-dualistic experience few of them offer a good critique of the mystical. An excellent example of the division between the dual and non-dual can be seen in ‘Apologetics in the New Age: A Christian Critique of Pantheism’ David K. Clark and Norman L Geisler. Pub: Baker 1992 ISBN 0-8010-2544-3
Further information on my collaborations at Loughborough University can be seen in ‘Explorations in Art and Technology’, Linda Candy and Ernest Edmonds, Springer-Verlag:London specifically:
chapter 25 Anthony Padgett Digital Spirituality
chapter 26 Michael Quantrill Integrating Computers as Explorers in Art Practice
I would like to acknowledge the support of C&CRS (Creativity and Cognition Research Studios), Loughborough University: Departments of Computer Science and the School of Art and Design and the National Association for Fine Art Education in collaboration with the National Arts Association for the Access to Art Colleges Scheme (AA2A)
The Opposites Linked in The-Ism
Mystical Experience Moral Faith
Being of Becoming Becoming of Being
Art Abstract Figurative
Continuous Process End Product
Immediate Nature Representations of Nature
(Subject=Object) (Subject vs Object)
Holistic/ Universal Atomistic/ Particular
Interactive Installations Sculptural Product