The Geranium Project (R&D) – Philosophy
A couple of weeks ago I was challenged to come up with a ‘philosophy’ for my work, an accounting of, or for, its place in the art world. Establishing this philosophy will make it easier for me to develop the work and easier for the work to be marketed (for want of a better word). I also understand that I need to try to place myself in the canon in order to help direct the work to the right curators, competitions and galleries. So this is an attempt to find my location.
Space in the imaginary of the Geranium Project
Making virtual reality artworks is presented as a new frontier where there are no maps and the viewer is faced with charting their own course, exploring in a way that suits them and exercising agency in the encounter. The difficulty with VR as a medium is precisely that it seeks to be ‘like being there’ and ‘there’ must be somewhere, real or imaginary. It is regarded as a manifestation of Plato’s Cave and we are reminded of hisi instruction to return to the shadows to educate our fellow men on the reality that they cannot see. The clarion call of this new technology is immersion and agency towards gesamtkunstwerkii, but it might equally be thought to be “a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.”iii As with any new tool there is a degree of evangelism inherent in its dissemination.
On a simple level Virtual Reality offers an opportunity to address the movement between transcendence and immanenceiv as consciousness moves between representations. In ‘the geranium project’ the photographic stands for the real (transcendent) object(s) and the drawn elements for the represented (immanent) objects. The environment presents as a field for the fulfilment of perception. The ‘player’ moves through the spaces, looking, listening, considering the changes encountered as they progress. As perceptions challenge the notion of existence the project is an exploration of the act of looking.
The act of “looking” is the foundation of any art work and is the immediate interface with the audience, and this is not in any way a radical viewpoint. The entirety of training in art is about looking in a way that breaks through the filters of perception that are accrued through living. VR offers an opportunity to present a work in a format that reduces the need to suspend disbelief as it tricks the brain into an assumption of presence. It must be noticed that this trick pales with repetition and is both less and more effective with people who play computer games. Any work using this expression has to be sure of the meaning of the perceived presence, in geranium that presence is centred on space.
Discussing the Chauvet Cave paintingsv John Berger remarks that
‘The thrust of an animal’s neck or the set of its mouth or the energy of its haunches were observed and recreated with a nervousness and control comparable to what we find in the works of a Fra Lippo Lippi, a Velázquez, or a Brancusi. Apparently art did not begin clumsily.[…] There was a grace from the start.’ vi
he argues that the difference between then and now is space, rather than finesse, the space, he states, ‘in which their images exist as images and were imaginedvii This connection between the space of the imagination and the physical space in which it is expressed is central to the thesis of the ‘geranium project’. Geranium’s space is composed of versions of a real space, a private space recreated in different conditions, and versions of that space reimagined as drawings and paintings by the artist. The ‘player ‘viii moves through the gardens from a cave like space within the artist’s studio, progressing from reality to reality through the imaginary a number of times during their immersion.
When entering a new space we are faced with a number of responses, curiosity, intrigue, anxiety, or perhaps even irritation. We spend our attention on the environment according to our preconceptions and our intentions within it, so that we may, if we have an appointment, search for signs and follow them trying to exclude distraction, or if we are there without purpose, or only to look, we linger over details allowing ourselves to be drawn into reveries. If this space is a museum we might aim for a studio or a particular collection or gallery, even a specific work, we might search for order, a chronology or stylistic guide to help us navigate, or we may just wander, a glimpse of colour or light catches our eye and we move towards it, spellbound. When the space is the artwork these same intentions direct us as entering a virtual space is essentially the same as entering a building.
The installation itself is experienced in both the physical and virtual worlds, it is a confined space, around two and a half metres at its widest and of a similar height, with illumination provided by a video projected onto a cloth at its end. The journey through the video is replicated in VR as the introduction to the garden spaces. The space has a soundtrack of birdsong that gradually gets louder with the interjection of thunder at some points as the audience passes. Additionally there is a representation of the birds from within the VR that can be viewed as Augmented Reality objects using an android app. The passage through the installation in its physical manifestation is replicated in the VR world as the player passes through (into) the video and enters the virtual garden.
Sartre suggested that imaginary objects are a “melange of past impressions and recent knowledge”ix and the virtual space in geranium explores this idea. The space is represented in a way that is clearly not intended to be ‘physical’ reality but is instead an ‘imagined’ reality requiring the same distance and suspension that we experience when we view a photograph. It is not the ‘thing’, but we accept a perception of it as the ‘thing’ without deep consideration (most of the time). Joseph Kosuth’s ‘One and Three Chairs ‘x is a more explicit expression of this kind of thinking. If we accept geranium as, on one level, a manifestation of conceptual space there are still questions of agency and intention within the space. Intention needs to be questioned from the viewpoints of the “player” and the viewpoint of the artist. Geranium presents itself as an exploration of the transcendent act of drawing, challenging the binary contrast with the immanent and the interpretation of the imaginary through the presentation of analogons as described by Sartrexi. The artist asks the player to view a translation, in the mind of the artist, of a photographic view of the garden into a garden rendered in a three dimensional representation of the garden as a drawing. The photographic garden is presented in three ways, playing with scale, weather conditions and intensity of observation, sparsely populated with birds that, upon closer inspection, are discarded drawings. Each of these spaces leads into a rendered garden presenting an interpretation of those differences. All of the spaces, photographic and drawn, are accompanied by a soundtrack of ambient garden noises with slight differences for each. The intention of the player is, hopefully, to explore. The idea of having any agency in relation to an artwork is difficult. On the one hand a work requires the application of imagination as well as the simple choice to engage or not. The structure of the work should coerce the operation of this agency in the audience.xii Against this the audience as ‘player’ in a VR work has to choose beyond this intial engagement and must exercise this agency within a tighter structure to fully realise the experience. In geranium’s gardens the audience choose their speed, and their direction as well as what they see. There are spots where they can stop to listen and there are places where they might find a secret.
Geranium explores the way engagement with all aspects of a space can be imagined and recreated as an immersive artwork.
i Gill, N.S. “The Allegory of the Cave From the Republic of Plato.” ThoughtCo, Jan. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/the-allegory-of-the-cave-120330.
ivWhere an experienced, represented, and remembered object (e.g., a tree) is inside consciousness (immanent), whereas the real object itself is outside the mind (transcendent).
v Chauvet Cave (also known as Chauvet-Pont d’Arc) is currently the oldest known rock art site in the world, apparently dating to the Aurignacian period in France, about 30,000 to 32,000 years ago. Hirst, K. Kris. “Chauvet Cave.” ThoughtCo, Jan. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/chauvet-cave-france-170488.
vi Berger, J. 2015. The Chauvet Cave Painters (c 30,000 years BC). In: Overton, T ed. PORTRAITS John Berger on Artists. London: Verso, pp 1-6
vii Ibid p2
viiiThe term ‘player’ is used deliberately in the context of Virtual Reality, more active than ‘viewer’ whilst still, in effect, a witness.
ix Sartre, Jean-Paul,The Imaginary: A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination Translated by Jonathan Webber, (London and New York: Routledge, 2004)
xii In the social sciences there is a standing debate over the primacy of structure or agency in shaping human behaviour. Structure is the recurrent patterned arrangements which influence or limit the choices and opportunities available. Agencyis the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. The structure versus agency debate may be understood as an issue of socialization against autonomy in determining whether an individual acts as a free agent or in a manner dictated by social structure. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agency_%28sociology%29