Curating information researched from in-library as well as on-line knowledge ecosystems, I locate a thesis through producing the visual essay, these artworks empowering an experiential knowledge solely realizable in the performance of this action. Between point of departure and resolution of idea, intent and script, the morphology of the visual essay directs framing and formation of a thesis. In this process, constraints in method and operating system, novel and correlate data within source, as well as incidental adjustment of and gesture with software promote discovery and test proof. Archiving a record of process in an exclusively textual artist inquiry, I: (1) posit my hypothesis; (2) define my terms; and (3) structure my methodology, including images and texts cited, medium and iconography engaged, and discursive route towards (4) the collection and analysis of data on the computer desktop. By means of a screenshot, I report my findings in an act of documentation, producing a visual essay with which viewers may converse.

Below are the artist inquiries for my visual essays. Please follow the link to each individual visual essay post for a list of works and images cited.

Spaces Beyond the Sign

Visual Essay Artist Inquiry, November 2014

In an imagocentric knowledge ecosystem, I diagram a sign serving to communicate an idea; displaying information in the form of a mark, gesture, symbol or image; and intimating a trace, presence or occurrence of something to reveal how the keyword search constructs the word as both sign and image. [The full artist inquiry essay for this new artwork is coming soon, and will include a list of the open sources cited!]


In a word

Visual Essay Artist Inquiry, October 2014

Crafting a multimodal visual essay (screenshots and textual narrative) in the iconography of word processing software on the computer desktop that is my canvas, I examine the extent to which trauma is encoded somatically, and consequently negotiated in the movements and postures of the body. As I testify in actu that communication may advance a resolution from trauma events, I assay the ways in which linguistic signs reflect this embodied process of address and recovery; the significance of a representational lexicon and how the application of a word can describe as well as direct this restoration; and how grammar and metaphor externally express and socially signal a trauma survivor’s internal evolution.


The Gendering Image

Visual Essay Artist Inquiry, October 2014

In a society networked by digital information, we transmit gendered roles, responsibilities and expectations through a system of signs. In what way does the aesthetic language of online media encode our cognition of and affect towards gender? To what extent does our biological inheritance influence the socio-cultural expression of gender-typed behaviors and their imaging? And how does visual literacy empower an active deployment and valuation of a gender’s morphology, activity, grouping and ritual? Crafting a multimodal visual essay (screenshots and textual inquiry) on the computer desktop that is my canvas, I employ biology as a point of departure rather than a reductive destination. Analyzing specific case studies from news media, advertising and art history to illuminate universals, within a monitor’s picture plane and PowerPoint iconography I probe the ways in which our body schema informs image composition, our homeostatic regulation qualifies image interpretation, and our organismic imperatives shape image function. As we exchange ‘link’ and ‘like’ in an imagocentric knowledge economy, and digital technologies perform as communal points of contact, I demonstrate how images document and reciprocally construct the gendered self, exhibiting the paths by which media rhetoracy may advance a critical understanding of such formative acts of communication. [continued with works cited in visual essay post]


Body in the Language: of Self, through Time and for Event

Visual Essay Artist Inquiry, July 2014

Valuating from an anthropocentric vantage, the philosophic discourse of the West has long classified mind as independent of body, locating our capacity to remember, imagine and reason as distinct from and authoritative over the organic activity of our physical selves. Yet, we as human agents project right and left as well as front and back within our perceptual picture plane. We stand erect, rise up and fall down as we navigate a gravitational space. And we guide, speed, and halt objects as they move along trajectories (Johnson, 137-38).

If cognition results from the evolutionary processes of variation and selection, and has developed in concert with the functions of survival, reproduction, grouping and resourcing, then must it not follow that rational operations emerge from these selfsame interactions with our environment (Dewey, 212-13)? If reason is shaped by our perceptions, movements and manipulation of objects, then how do sensorimotor stimuli inform a shared informational code of abstract concepts, symbolic expressions and linguistic artifacts? And to what extent do body idioms–the vectorial and configural patterns through which we perform identity (Goffman)–render the metaphors by which we communicate and categorize moral or immoral behaviors of the Self, impediments or progress towards our goals through Time, and the emotional states which frame life Event?

Crafting a multimodal visual essay (screenshots and textual inquiry) on the computer desktop that is my canvas, I employ empirical linguistics (see Gibbs) to probe the image schemas particular to the topological structure of our bodies that link perceptual and motoric events to signs and syntax (Lakoff and Johnson). Just as a photograph mirrors for us our experience of self, calls attention to how our bodily gestures publically exhibit our private selves, and reveals the extent to which a social viewpoint impresses upon our self-image (Marleau-Ponty, 96-155), I propose that certain diagnostic words demonstrate an embodied mind by which the construction of meaning is critically connected to the environment we inhabit. [continued with works cited in visual essay post]



Visual Essay Artist Inquiry, July 2014

As somatic experience with objects informs how we image mental activity, we often conceive of our cognition in terms of a familiar medium, tool or machine. Circa 360 BCE, Plato’s Socrates envisioned the mind as a wax block upon which, if of sufficient depth and good consistency, perceptions imprint clearly, and for which learning is elusive when hard or wet. Today, we might understand this ‘mental wax’ as neuro-plasticity, a process wherein synaptic pathways develop connection and neural networks change behavior in response to stimuli and information. At the turn of the 17th century, Shakespeare’s Hamlet committed observations “within the book and volume of [his] brain”. In this, Shakespeare referenced a contemporary educational practice in which students maintained a ‘commonplace book’. Amid these paper leaves, the young collected excerpts from literature and lecture, copied daily converse and maxim (sententiae), and classified topics of interest into nests (nidos)–chronicling a public (or ‘common’) cultural knowledge so as to mature their private individual character (Lees-Jeffries, 18-19). And in the after-math of World War II, mathematician Alan Turing’s ‘bombe’, an electromechanical predecessor to the modern computer contracted for cipher decryption, would become the 20th century model for our faculty of reason (Hodges, 160-241).

Informed by functionalist Anglo-American philosophy (Block), from the mid-twentieth century first-generation cognitive science has furthered a technical theory of mind in which mental activities reduce to mathematical processes which observe universal, logical and formal rules. Through the 1980’s, and with extant traces continuing in art and culture, writings both specialized and popular have adopted a Turing-style machine as symbolic referent representing the mind as a computer, reason as a symbolic code, memory as stored data, understanding as computation, and knowledge as database (Lakoff, 257).

Let us critically examine the credentials of this Mind-as-Computer metaphor: (1) In assessing the subject and object of this metaphor, do we find that brain function parallels computer hardware and mind its respective software? Or, as program and device are produced by our enterprise and at our hand, do the form and function of such technologies logically mirror and inevitably extend from that of their authorial artisan? (2) At what point does the composition ‘x is like y because x and y have z in common’ become restrictive in a discourse intent on illuminating the topography of the human mind, and how analogous is the ontology of human thought with the topology of a computer? (3) Emphasizing rational operations, and postulating a disembodied abstract thought (Dummett), has this metaphor defined an opposition between traits commonly associated with (though not necessarily characteristic of) the masculine (mind, reason, knowledge, fact) and feminine (body, emotion, imagination, meaning)? Given such an antithetical relationship, does this metaphor display a phallocentrism in Western culture (see Gatens, 38-52)?

Employing cognitive archaeology, I trace and respond to the historical precedent of the Mind-as-Computer metaphor through a practice-based research. Crafting a multimodal visual essay (screenshots and textual inquiry), I endeavor to locate the initial creative act–an event of inspiration–in the process of composing work on the computer desktop.

With its etymological origins in the 13th century Old French enspirer (“to prompt someone to do something”) and Latin inspirare (“to breath into”), let us first define inspiration as a state of animated mind or cognitive arousal that impels creative activity. As most have empirically observed and annotated with an ‘aha!’, inspiration is a dynamic change in one’s typical or habitual modes of neuronal activation. Occurring when concepts learned in one domain of experience are re-deployed into a novel domain (see Churchland, 19-33), a state of inspiration is largely an act of self-appropriation during which memories of the places we have been, things we have done, and people we have known acquire new meanings and become active again in a new way. Variable in form, such activity may exhibit as the cognitive process of sorting neurally coded signals from the sensory organs, a response to internal or external stimuli through bodily gesture and movement or social communication and interaction, or the shaping of an object, art or technology. As an act of creation–of producing or causing some ‘thing’ to exist, be it thought, behavior or innovation–here it is the taking of an action that is paramount, and that qualifies one as being in an inspired state.

Then, if we are to accept that the human mind has certain discrete characteristics that resemble those of a computer, where might we then visualize the imaginative and spontaneous, the creative and inspired amid processor, operating system and application? [continued with works cited in visual essay post]


The Filters We Live Through

Visual Essay Artist Inquiry, June 2014

In an era of networked individualism, a prolificacy of online images necessitates of us a visual literacy. In what way do the aesthetics of this environment encode our development of emotion? To what extent does cultural learning influence the social expression of these activity states? How does media education empower us to be agents more than vectors of cultural transmission? Probing the interaction between emotional processes (with which we perceive, engage, and regulate our experience of self) and photo-editing software (through which we frame, appraise, and communicate our imaging for self), I curate renditions of a kiss on the computer desktop that is my canvas. Crafting a multimodal visual inquiry (screenshots and textual witness), I employ cultural analysis informed by the paradigm of mind science to investigate this reciprocity between the internal character of emotion (its biological causality, environmental induction, and inwardly-directed aesthetic re-presentation) and the external exhibition of these activation states (bodily posture, social valuation, and poetic expression). As neuroimagery inspires a new art history, and artworks emigrate from cultural-heritage sites to hand-held screens, I demonstrate how digital art may advance a critical awareness of emotion in society by examining how we image the affections of our daily lives. [continued in visual essay post]



Visual Essay Artist Inquiry, November 2013

Citing the iconography of Adam and Eve, from Masaccio to Albrecht Dürer, Tamara de Lempicka to Grant Wood, I organize the computer desktop into a digital Eden in which an enhanced literacy of possible body-concepts metamorphose our associations with man and woman.

In the contrast of the high-resolution nude and the lower-resolution amateur naked self-portrait, I classify a body honed through constant labor, the assistance of means and conspecific, and frequently ameliorated by youth, pharmaceuticals, and/or technology, with the 2D iteration of ourselves, member of our community, or peer on a distant side of the globe. Synthesizing found images from the virtual biosphere, I investigate our yearning for the ideal human form, the impact of an internet-informed body-image on our perception of and attitude towards our own bodies, and the discrepancy between an automaton of our projections and the majority’s everyday sensual experience of self.

In WE, variable surrounding atmospheres and epidermal complexions endeavor to form a cohesive oneness and similar phenotypes and compatible vantage points approach alignment. By distinguishing between subject and object, first and second person pronouns in image label, I negotiate the dichotomy between the object perceived and agent perceiving. Harmonizing image from nude beach and naked bike ride, street performance and nocturnal event, rite of passage and coming of age, all posted and shared, I actively acknowledge both my degree of separation from and participation with such content by incorporating my own self-portrait and designating it with the pronoun ‘I’.

With WE, I probe the enduring human need to be seen and heard, acknowledged and not alone, as well as our transcription of these imperatives in the online ecosystem and reciprocal translation of such data into the settings and preferences for our own behavior. Does a disassociation from our own agency and exhibitionist pathology emerge with increased exposure to the ideal? How do we resolve the parameters of self in a prolificacy of virtual and imagined otherness? Might an escalation in time spent online evolve a concomitant preference for or weighted attachment towards the digital population? At what juncture do self-defining assertions become mirrored repetitions, the socially acceptable socially expected? Are the distinctions between such forms of sexual expression more a matter of why than of what? If the target consumer of nude and naked informs the abundance of a genus of image as well as its rendition, how do the search parameters for these images delineate or even shape a viewer’s consciousness? And is the application of first person an act not only of agency but one of courage?

Pursuing in visual form the literary tradition of such works as Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, through WE I survey how imagination qualifies desire, the peril of assembling world to mirror fantasy, the wounding of a reality that fails to live up to fiction, and the empowerment in a preponderance of choice. In interplay of thesis and antithesis, WE conjoins subject and object, first and second person, self and ideal, shared community and atomized individual, woman and man.

Essays copyright Devon Schiller 2014.

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