Stillness in Movement – exhibition: Antuireann Arts Centre – 2004
March 21 2011
A multi-media installation – An Tuireann Art Centre, Oct. to mid-Nov. 2004 With subsidy from the Scottish Arts Council, Hi-Arts, An Tuireann Arts Center
This article was written in 2004 before the work illustrated here was produced
The creation of this multi-media installation will cover research and practice in contemporary music, visual art and Eastern philosophy.
This installation will create a unique opportunity to consolidate many years of practice as a composer and painter by researching and developing a method for realising inspiration that is capable of expressing similar ideas in both music and painting. This method will develop from research into the philosophical principles within the practices of Buddhism and how these can translate into a personal approach to my own work. My research will bring together the art forms of painting and composition, which will interact with philosophy and cross-cultural influences from the East and West. It is my hope that new creative freedoms will emerge from this research, enabling me to relinquish many of the controls and expectations that I have brought to my work within the general ethos and history of Western art culture. This exploration of how Buddhist principles can enrich my work will hopefully bring with it a new quality, dynamism and energy, enabling me to explore my inspiration in increasingly new, personal and original ways.
Over recent months I have developed an interest in the philosophy and practices of Buddhism and am keen to research how this philosophy can develop my practice as an artist and composer by unifying the techniques and intentions of my work.
There are two main areas that interest me in Buddhism – impermanence, and the influence of the ego on creative actions. Impermanence deals with the ever-changing nature of all things; the action of the ego deals with the exercise of control and manipulation of matter and events. I feel that these two aspects of philosophy offer new creative opportunities and disciplines that would greatly develop my work.
It is not my intention to write religious music or create icons in visual art, nor do I wish to make superficial observations of Buddhism as a religion. Instead, I wish to research how the notions of impermanence and lessening egoic action can enrich my own creative language and development, in a very personal way.
I wish to devise a music generating process where a number of elements – pitches, dynamics, rhythmic patterns, durations, etc., will combine and recombine in continually differing ways. The rates of change and factors governing permutations will be organised by a set of numbers that will be generated randomly. The result of this will be to create a sound structure that, like chaos theory, is made up of small units of similar things that combine to create larger units of similar things. A further analogy is to see the structure as an organism: the membrane of the organism acts as the parameter of possibility – the pitches, rhythms, durations etc. – the inside of the organism is where all these elements are permutated through the action of the random numbers. Like sculpture, music that results from these processes can be viewed from many different perspectives.
This kind of compositional technique can fulfill the idea of impermanence as it creates an ever-changing field of possibilities with nothing being repeated but all aspects within the field being related. It also reduces the influence of the ego and various levels of control over events as the decisions of what happens to the musical material from moment to moment is taken out of the composer’s hands; the use of random numbers and probability takes care of that. What the composer has done is to initiate a series of probabilities within the limitations of the elements themselves. The result of this method is that setting limited musical elements, random numbers and probabilities in motion, in time, can create large sections of music, or even complete works.
To date, my music has been very Western in that it has been highly goal orientated. By incorporating the philosophy of impermanence and ego into my work in this particular way, I am opening up my work to a more non-goal orientated direction and seeking to relinquish control over many compositional aspects.
I want to avoid writing music that describes anything in particular or attempts to convey particular emotions; these factors will be inherent in the sounds that are produced – as the sounds transform they will encompass different colours, energies and intensities. Any levels of control that I do exercise will concern large-scale structural issues and of course, the initial planning in setting up the generating processes. If the results of these actions are not to my liking, I will discard them and generate a different set of possibilities to process the sounds.
I want the music I write to be like a found object, complete in itself, and relatively uninfluenced by my actions.
I am sure that the approach I have outlined here can be taken to extremes of non-control; indeed, composers such as John Cage took similar ideas to their own conclusion. I am aware that the incorporation of Eastern philosophy into Western art is not a new one, but in the context of my own work the impact will be revolutionary and my response unique and personal.
I intend to compose a piece of acoustic music that has a duration of 60 minutes to act as a soundscape to accompany the visual art exhibition. I intend to write one large work made up of three, self-contained modules. Each of these modules will reflect similar musical ideas, structures and processes, but from differing perspectives. The compositions will be for an ensemble of eight players – soprano, flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, violoncello and piano. The music will reflect, as best as possible, the processes, intention and concerns of the visual art, and will be recorded and played during the exhibition, on a continuous sound-loop. The sound element will compliment and enhance the visual elements, completing a multimedia installation.
I also wish to transfer these techniques to my visual artwork.
I will produce a series of nine oil paintings, which will reflect, in form, colour and texture, the compositional issues set out within the music component of this installation.
Concentrating on the exploration of simple and restricted themes, material will be drawn from the nature in which objects break down and erode – particularly the process of rusting – reflecting my interest in impermanence – the ever-changing nature of all things. Paintings will reflect this same subject matter, but again, the material will be viewed from differing perspectives, offering insights into the very nature, construction and transient quality of the material itself.
I will employ methods of painting that ensure the activities of chance and random effects. I will set the events in these painting onto a 2D or illusory 3D context (created through glazes and tonal densities), so as to explore the relationship between time, event (subject material), and space. In music, all elements are set in time and against a background of silence or non-event. With these paintings, the negative background body provides the space or non-event that the painted events are viewed against – this negative space or illusory 3D space can be used in a similar way to time and silence in music, bringing a temporal element to the visual work.
The paintings will be abstract forms, again, not attempting to portray anything in particular, but through their own colours, textures and intensities covering a range of interpretational possibilities.
Another strand of significance is to explore aspects of movement within stillness. The notion of writing music that moves forwards whilst going round in circles, constantly re-permutating itself, never repeating, but all the time sounding familiar, can be directly translated into paintings that explore similar issues. Within these paintings I hope to achieve differing senses of motion, movement and energy, all through stillness – stillness, because the elements in a painting are fixed and static, but they can imply great movement, energy-direction and flow.
By restricting material, colour and textural components, using layering, glazing, scraping and revealing techniques, I can create surfaces that explore erosion and deterioration.
I would go as far as to say that within these paintings I am not aiming to paint, or represent, anything at all – subject wise. However, as the material unfolds and develops and the restricted textural, structural and colour elements come into focus, each work evolves with its own sense of energy, movement and ambience.
As the surface of these paintings develops into a complex web of activity, texture, colour and form, it becomes difficult to assimilate the content in a single viewing. Indeed, each time one looks into work that is created in this way, new layers of significance are revealed enabling the work to evolve in the mind of the viewer. This continual assimilation of visual information fits neatly into my views on impermanence – the viewer’s relation to and understanding of the work is in a continual state of development. This statement is, of course, true of all visual art. However, as there are no objects contained within the composition of these paintings that relate directly (as in objective representation) to the natural world, there is a particular need for the mind to build abstract connections and responses to the painted surface, just to make some form of sense of what is perceived. This state of continued assimilation means that nothing in the painting ever appears quite the same from one viewing to another, as the relationships between all the elements are always seen differently in relation to each other. I feel that this perceptual state of flux is close to the concept of impermanence.
As an artist, I am also excited that the content of such work continues to be revealed to me to – like a found object, complete in itself to be appreciated and viewed. The work I am now making, fully using the methods described above, often produces great surprises for me. I am enjoying these unknown qualities. One advantage is that I can look upon the work as being somewhat separate from me – as if someone else had produced it – not because of any sense of having been possessed during its creation, but because the methods used to generate the images was not completely subject to my direct choices and will – rather, the randomly produced actions that I employed at the outset are bearing fruit as they are revealed through subsequent procedures of exposure.
As I do not aim to pre-empt how a finished painting will look, and the techniques of making I use, are to a certain extent randomised and incidental, at least in the initial stages of making, I can minimise the amount of choices I have to make and therefore limit the use of the ego. Of course, I do make choices and the ego (what I like and I don’t like) is always part of these choices. However, because I chose to begin a painting by creating possibilities that are put down both spontaneously and with as great a degree of random energy as I can muster, I feel as if my voyage from initial brush marks to finished work is one of discovery – discovering the potential of the material and limited elements that I decided upon at the outset of the creative process, and discovery as I assimilate, focus upon and develop the material and surfaces within the painting itself.
The finished painting is only one of a multitude of possible outcomes – given similar starting points and ingredients, I feel it is fair to say that a subsequent painting would take a completely different course in its development. I find this constant discovery of paintings, and indeed, my own work, to be very stimulating – often I will ‘find’ things in paintings that will be far richer, more imaginative and varied than I could have conceived by projecting my imagination in a forced way onto a blank painting surface. Each painting I make is a surprise to me, as I have no way of predicting exactly how the work will turn out. This creative freedom is a direct result of exchanging aspects of creative responsibility and choice in certain procedures for (controlled) random actions and processes of revealing different layers of activity. In achieving this freedom, I feel that I have, in part, negated the actions of the ego and encouraged the processes of impermanence to influence the outcome of my work.
I believe that the descriptions of how I make oil paintings bear many similarities to how I conceive and make music composition and believe that, in as far as it is possible to translate inspiration and creative ideas from one media to another, the shared philosophy of these processes does bring elements of the creative act in each of these disciplines into a meaningful relationship with one and other, where the connections between the work runs far deeper than superficial observations about mood, colour and texture.