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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

04/26/2006 - Word Sort Experiments

Very early in the process before I ever dreamed I was on the trail of the Muse herself, I began experimenting with automatic writing in an effort to generate written content to put into the paintings.

As records of dance, they were already transcribing content. I wanted a direct connection. Language. That meant words, or at very least, sounds that would become words.

At this time, my model was my subject. It was not myself, or the work, or the dialogue between myself, my model, and a third party. Nor was it the long diatribes I later would record, direct from the Muse herself.

Each of these 'characters', (I was one), my model, and the 'Muse', assumed a recognizable voice, as on a Greek stage.

My experiments took many forms. Written, drawn, painted, and spoken. Here I'll detail an automatic writing experiment I conceived and carried out very early as a way to try to uncover written content without having to compose lines myself.

The theory was simple. Give Mythos a chance to 'steal a bone', from Logos.

Imagine consciousness like a pack of wild dogs. They function as a group, think as a group, and contribute as a group.

They each have roles to play.

The lead male and female, are the leaders. The correct term is 'Alpha male' and 'Alpha female' but I refuse to go further with this mythology. It is out of date and short-sighted. A is the first letter, yes., it is where written consciousness beings, but as I will show, it is not consciousness!

The leaders keep everyone else in line, yet alone, they would starve.

Rank and file pack members have their own hierarchy. The so called "Gamma" male or female, are the lowest ranking. Again, I don't subscribe. Yes they are ranked, and that ranking is only sociologically important for understanding pack dynamics.

Consciousness is a flame that is fed by unconsciousness. Our fire is stoked by a part of us that does not shine brightly.

The lead dogs have the job of drawing strength in the most effective way, from the pack. Like politicians, they judge pack direction, pack sentiment. They get their ideas from the pack. And they co-ordinate the contributions made from all the rank and file, hopefully, to make sure everyone remains fed.

However, as in all places where power accrues, so does does ego. So does brittleness. Ego breaks, and so does consciousness.

The only thing that doesn't break is a kind of consciousness that is everywhere, diffused throughout.

This is the objective of Tantric consciousness by the way. But that's another topic.

When ego, or Logos, or leadership, becomes confident, that base from which it drew its strength to begin with begins to steal from it. Logos is constantly undermined by Mythos.

So, . . following the pack analogy, when the so called gamma dogs think they can get away with not sharing with the alpha male, they will.

If the rank and file as a group represent mythos, dark, non-conscious, but possessing a massive base,  ideas - Logos does not generate ideas, only processes them - more calculation, as a group much more intelligent, but lacking focus, then how does one advertise to Mythos that one is creating an opportunity to express itself?

Provide that opportunity, quite simply, by telling them, through the lead dog. Post an announcement! Design an experiment clearly handicapped in favor of the gamma dogs! Say it is! Here's your opportunity!

One would think that the leader would sense an ensuing revolt, and put an end to the process.

No, not at all. Leaders are famous for doing what undermines leadership, because leadership, i.e. consciousness knows, that it has to face a daily test. And how better to face a test than to administrate a game of sorts, where the outcome is not crucial!

So like the executive who calls a holiday for company group therapy, our conscious mind may be set in charge of administrating an experiment where the massive calculating abilities of the unconscious pack may excel.

At the offsite conferences we learn of genius in our ranks!

I designed such an experiment. Here it is and it will be apparent that only the subconscious can do it.

It was done by sorting words.

Without getting technical about rules devised for sorting, here's a close equivalent that may be easily visualized:

Have a person walk up and down a staircase. It is ideal to use a real staircase. He or she starts starts each pass holding a number of words, magnetic fridge words, newspaper words, words written on index cards, it really doesn't matter. For beginners at this process I advise selecting two, (not one) articles from the web, reproducing them larger, then cutting out the words with a pair of scissors.  Eliminate topical words that are too time and space specific. Eliminate extra articles of speech if they seem too numerous. Making the selection of what words to include is a bias that must be tolerated into such a short time-based experiment.

Ask the subject to visualize the staircase as a series of steps, moving from one extreme, through shades of grey, to another. Also ask them to visualize a question, (have him or her keep this private), such as 'which word reminds me more of my father', or, which word is more 'ridiculous'.

It is important to have this question which every word is submitted to, when making the sort. In a way we're interviewing the pack of dogs. We're sizing them up, and ranking them.

Having a 'task' - that's the job for the Alpha Male, the king of the pack. Logos, our executive, has a job to do! He's thrilled. He's in power! He gets to pick the teams!

But to answer it, he has to put feelers out into the pack. Which of the two words, 'disk' or 'pencil' reminds me most of my father? Well, in my case, 'pencil' does. My Dad was an artist. The leader answers with a quick bark to his nearby female. But a distinction between 'tape' and 'keys' is harder. Both were important in my Dad's life. Instinctively he begins to consult Mythos. He looks around the room, at his pack, for signs of how to answer the question.

No matter which words are placed on the steps, they are arrayed according to relative strength when faced with the private question.

If the staircase has sixteen steps, draw 16 words. Sixteen huskies applying for a position in the pack. Sort and relativize them along the stairs. Do this approximately 5 or 7 times.

Lead dog is real busy.

[At this moment the subject of this essay, me, realizes that this topic of essay is resembling a personal myth! This works way too well!]

The subject, is asked to walk the stair in passes, distributing, on average, one word per step. Words previously laid down, are turned over, so that the history of work remains hidden. This is the whole crux of the matter! Also make absolutely sure your subject knows this is how it will be done, before starting out.

Conscious mind can't remember which words end up on which step. Unconscious mind, the whole pack of dogs, can. The whole mind is brilliant at math, at poetry, at rhyme, at chess.

Consciousness is only a tiny flame illuminating one part of a very complex forest.

Invariably the leader will be a little perplexed by the results. It's not his day. But hey, it's just a touchy-feely off-site conference! So he declares lunch, and generously shares more bones.

This is where the gamma dogs conspire to do an end-run on their alpha leader. They spot an opportunity. Mythos salivates at the prospect of being able to openly express itself, without censorship from Logos!

You start the test. Each word that comes up faces initial categorization from the question, the moment with the Oracle, and then, based on the interpretation, is are asked to array, and prioritize, grouping words together, perhaps two on one step, none on another, without looking at words from previous passes up or down the staircase.

After repeating the process 5 or 7 times., each stair has on it an average of five or seven words which then may be 'ordered' to form the line, of a poem.

Now comes the 'interpretive' part. The Alpha Male has noticed that the Gamma Dogs have been playing with his bones. He gets interested, and tries to influence the outcome.

But here the lead dog is needed. We need grammar. The words emerge, but are unlinked by rule of language.

As part of 'interpretation', there needs to be one grammar. The lead dog's good at grammar, so let him at it!

Nouns may 'flip' to become verbs.
Singular may become plural, and vice-versa.
Articles can 're-generate' themselves, like fingernails.
Suddenly there's language. The pack has spoken.

I conducted the experiment with four gals. AP, MS , R____ and Rainbow, then I wrote a computer program to 'jostle' the words, (replacing the pack leader) so that the word order on each 'step' could be made into a random event, changed by pushing a button. I jostled them, like a gold-miner, panning for gold, late into the evening hours on my Houston Street computer.

Here's a portion of the first poem I wrote with Rainbow using this method:

Yes, know your studio,
come to capture some smoke.
Though they deal death,
Be here.
Weld scale metal
doing looms from mess,
pad to mad.
Was an empty glass so dead?
How mean with junk,
Take our old cigarettes in break.

The work produced poetry!

In a blast I understood the mechanism of the mind, and how devices may be dreamed up at any time, to distract our too-focused executive. It was possible to allow the pack to dream at night.

Ah . . the rub . . .

a tidbit not offered by a playful hand
what's not edible, is left in sand.

My gals didn't like it. I didn't like it. It had a lousy taste.

It was mechanical. It took their input, but ground it up with the process. Yes it brought forth subject, but it was DOA. It lacked leavening. It was bread that wouldn't rise.

The picture I got was my picture, since I had created the process in the first place. I was flour and water and sugar, but no yeast. It  felt like I had taken my subjects, and put them in cages.

She didn't like having her words in cages! I was gaining Muse consciousness.

To me these feel like machine poems - there was no grace in the making. No one else was there, least of all my subject, once she had broken the words down into piles she felt done for the day. My gals were bored to tears. It resembled an industrial grade psychological test. Once I had satisfied my curiosity and saw that 'content' was all over the place, I realized it was time to move on.

I nearly deleted all of the work, only now am sorting through.

After all why should it be difficult to write poetry? Why should a massive effort be engineered to help the process?

Yes I had learned one way to distract Logos. But ritual does the same thing!

Now my task was to subtly use this knowledge amidst a larger drama, that didn't focus on me so much.

What did I learn?

If a situation is designed for Mythos to rush in and populate with projection and 'content', then it will. 

If an opening is offered, and held there consistently, equidistant from the grasp of the one being so tortured, the creature tires and turns away from it.

Poetry is the reason that poetry is written. We all need it. This wasn't it.

This experiment scared me silly, so I stopped.

04/27/2005 - Why I messed up the words

Thirty or so sessions into the project, I realized it was looking more and more like an unconscious ritual. I wasn't sure whether I was happy about this. Though confident I had discovered a way to unlock psychological content, I wondered 'to what end?' My models could dance their own concerns, or anyone's for that matter, psychological content was there. I wasn't sure what this meant, or if there were rules apart from being respectful, in conducting this work.Strive for symmetry, or not? Now that I had invited the world into the work, by using multiple models, did this mean that all were equal? What of the aesthetic demands of art? Should I be painting images of men? How important was Eros in achieving a result?

I became very unsure of what my role was. Was I an artist, a psychologist, or an apprentice shaman? Was I supposed to be healing, painting, or analyzing? Or all three? I struggled not to let the my ego inflate itself over my small successes so far. From the outside, the whole activity seemed to have a wild erotic component, which got kept sane via the ritualistic habit of work as performance. 

The process was breaking down taboos about how strangers relate. The task of behaving as a gentleman was easy. What was difficult was not comprehending my own objectives and reasons for continuing the work.

Did this project have an objective? Or was I just doing the process? It came to a collision between 'doing' and 'result'. I was doing, but was unsure if I was seeking results.  I hadn't yet read Stahl or other ritualists on the subject, and hadn't broken the work into its result-oriented vs. ritualistic components. If the work was based in art, then as an artist, I should be seeing signs that the works were improving, getting better.  That whole notion of value judgements about process gave me the creeps. How could better mean anything at all in the context of a ritual performance carried out between two people who didn't know each other at all except in this context?

Whatever it was it exposed some kind of truth of the way people behave with each other. Evidentiary. It was impossible to feel precious, I only wanted to share it.

My models were being hired not for what their bodies brought me in curves, or volumes, or lines, to draw, and reproduce, but as vessels of psychic content. I longed to see what was in their psyche, and what their minds were channelling, as I painted. I also wanted to help them see this content. As such any artistic activity on my part was just a vehicle, a channel for recording. Later I might invent another way of catching such stuff, and abandon the brush altogether.

As a shamanic activity, it seemed grotesquely uneven. I was the one paying my models as models. If it were purely shamanic they would be paying me. Yes, there was some discussion first between us on what to expect. I was not being compensated to help them understand or see what their life's dance was, or could be. I reasoned that if that ever started to happen, or if I began selling works to my subjects, that I could logically conclude there was some healing or self-understanding being offered by the work.

I reflected on my father, who was at times, a portrait painter. He sat his subjects for long hours in his studio, and whenever I went in as a youngster to visit, I realized I was witnessing a dialogue. A conversation. An exchange. He was painting, but they were also talking, asking questions, exchanging, learning. Was all portrait painting in some way healing?

Were the Celtic and Ancient writers of Odes, healing their subjects or strengthening them, by dedicating lines of verse to their existence?

All portraiture, written, drawn, or painted, I decided, must have a shamanic component, simply by virtue of being interpretive.

What of Eros? Yes Eros was there. But Eros was not seeking a result.

If I had seen my questions during this period in light of this duality, result vs. ritual, I would have realized I was taking the work powerfully in the direction of ritual. It was lovely when the work brought me close to a beautiful human being. I felt blessed. It was like watching a sunset, when one had never expected too be watching one. I realized however, that 'expectation' would be the nemesis of the work progressing. It would kill it. But where was I supposed to be making my developments? As a painter-artist, or as a healer using art in a new way? Was this just a performance, a drama, that I was enacting. If so how should I be learning from it?

At times I had to just let this inner dialogue drop.

I was on a journey. . . and I had to admit, yes, I had chosen the scenic route!

This became a crucial turning point as I fumbled with my desire to introduce words into the work. I had a friend, a well known painter in New York, who paints various notes and words into his large abstract paintings. They all felt so 'composed'. Is Ego always there? I wanted to torch the word out of existence, and still do. I particularly didn't want to write my own compositions into these paintings.  Maybe others, not these. The lines from my gals held content, as dances alone. I could look at a piece moments after completion and get a feeling of character, of psychic direction. It felt true. I didn't have to invent. I just went through the process. How might I find a poetic equivalent to tracing the Cosmic Dance, but with words?

How could I bring sounds into the project which could be interpreted as words?

Most of the project to date was monochromatic. Should I introduce color? If so, how to do it without imposing color choice? Perhaps I was looking for a contrivance so that I might be freed of the task of composing and instead would simply be required to record. I never dreamed that guidelines for doing the work would eventually be defined by poetry, or that poetry would step out of the maze of lines and silhouettes as a fully formed voice, and that it would very soon, be speaking to me directly.

The work at this time had the feeling of a psychic pregnancy. A sort of gestational waiting period. I was tracing, and tracing, but I had no idea where it was taking me. I felt adrift in a river, in a rudderless raft. . . flowing through bliss, yes . .  but to what end?

Would photography have been allowed at Delphi? I doubt it. Recording equipment?

These are difficult questions to answer. Media has a way of intruding into ritual, partly because ritual is predictable, and media records ritual activities easily. You don't see TV crews stationed at the tops of volcanos waiting for an eruption, because it cannot, in any sound way, be predicted. But the Queen celebrating mass on Christmas can be. So media and ritual have a long affinity.

Yet any study of ritual quickly establishes that new practices have to be arrived at in a ritual manner. This can take a very long time. So while Brahmin priests drive cars, smoke, and watch TVs, the holy places  in most temples contain no cigarettes, no cars, or no electronics of any kind.

Unconscious behavior, needs to be characterized, or attributed, in order to be understood. We need to speak of 'it', 'its needs', or of 'Her' or 'Him'. Carl Jung named them the Other, the Anima, the Animus. The Archetypes, and the Collective Unconscious. The Greeks named them Hermes, Artemis, Zeus, Dionysus. They each had separate areas of work, that affected our lives. How to get along with wind and weather. . . Indra's your man if you from India. Starting a journey?  Ganesh. Those that have sworn off the Gods, have truly 'worn' the Gods, for to swear off them is to swear by them. They cannot be ignored.

It still goes on. All of us deify. Physicists, skeptics, criminals, all of us, to some degree. Once recognized as a being, we are able to cultivate or modify that energy. We need it to understand and exert control in areas where Logos cannot reach.

A year later would I read Stahl's seminal work, and take note of his observations regarding fire in Brahmanic ritual. The wood has to be the right wood. The ghee the right ghee. The fire altar is painstakingly constructed. Yet when the priest wants to step outside for a cigarette, he does so, and uses an ordinary match to light it.

The words, or poems, if they were to be called poems, were never intended to become 'my' compositions, or belong to my models. At that time, my thought was to harness the collective unconscious, working through both of us, to achieve some kind of statement through a form of automatic writing, that could be put into the work. But my emphasis was all wrong. I wanted to hear something, but I had created a method of manufacture, rather than participation, that was inconsistent with my intent. Also, if the ritual had been successful in disarming Logos, and made us more receptive to other forces, then why was I using a mechanical method of binary sorting to come up with the sounds? Couldn't I trust my models more than that?

My notes from the day's work:

"R___ and I did the word sorting, and after pleading to do it she got quite tired . . . [it] has a bizarre soporific effect on a lot of the women. It makes them drowsy, and very bored. Touching the same words over and over again traffics certain nerves with mildly unpleasant energy. This means that it is taking them close to difficult content but in a way that numbs the nervous responses. "

R____'s impatience showed me I wasn't using her talents. She had applied for the job as a Muse. She sensed what I was onto, and wanted to be a part. She was a player, on my stage. I had directed a show, and then at the crucial moment I was not calling upon her talent.

Yet something told me that snapping a photo in the middle of the work was not pukka. It brought consciousness back into our process at a time when consciousness was not needed. I dumped the cardboard she had photographed back into the bucket.

Something was building. Another entity was involved. By messing up what we had done, I had paused to question the quality of our approach.

R_____ departed. Depressed, I snapped some shots of the remaining cardboards in disarray, saving as best I could, the results from this bungled effort. Would she forgive me?

I lay down and fell into a deep sleep. An hour or so later I was awakened by voices of women outside in the courtyard.

They were talking about me. Several women.

But when I went down to look for them, no one was there.

08/15/2005 - LA meets Brooklyn

A_____ came back to model for me after a long absence.

I gave her careful directions to the new studio, how to get to Brooklyn, and where to get off the train.

In it I notice groupings.

A_____ has become social!

She lives in Los Angeles.

Works for an animation company.


05/14/2005 - No Ink!

My drawings of A_____ always work out best when she comes over at the spur of the moment.

She has an awful time remembering appointments, but she is one of the most pleasant of all my models to draw. She is so relaxed while she poses. When she moves it seems to be hardly at all. This amazing grace always comes from her sequence of movements.

This evening she was crazy about me not getting ink on her. She was going out.

I did my best to keep her pure, and a lot of the poses were ones where she crossed her arms or kept her fingers together so I wouldn't get her hands covered in medium.

04/10/2005 - A Dancer

First session with AE.

A__ takes simple poses and moves her legs and arms like a Hindu dancer. She is easily the most elegant and centered of the models I've worked with, especially in the way that she moves.

Grace appears as a form of laziness. No wasted words or motions. Athletes when not competing, move slowly. Grace won't expend effort unnecessarily. Movements lead to another place that's stable.

A_ has a simple almost primitive center. Drawing her is like running after a lion. There's a lot of held energy in her shoulders, like S___.

She wants to be told she's beautiful, she wants to be relaxed by a man. I see that. These sessions are a way for her to drop everything, clothes, food, past, future.

She drifts into a different space, the present.

I paint.

04/12/2005 - The Car

First Session with R___ K___.

We talked a lot about myths. RK threw ideas back at me, adding her thoughts about the evolution of this project.

"Our first drawing seems crazy, and without a center."

Graphically it is not well organized. That does mean we're not centered, but that do we need practice.

"It takes time to learn a dance!"

We looked at this drawing and saw very clear images:

"A dog's head. A creature facing left with two horns.

"The head of a child.

"An old car sitting on the head of a man, who looks like a frog.

"Deep within, there is a princess caught in a thicket of alders."

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