Mar 2011


March 2nd 

READING MATERIAL: Maurice Merleau-Ponty Eye and Mind  (1964) (download)

In “Eye and Mind,” Maurice Merleau-Ponty examines how art, specifically painting, displays the act of viewing the world with openness and immersion that is more truly representative of the continuum of existence. The essay opposes scientific thinking that, according to Merleau-Ponty, views all things in the world with an objectifying appraisal and fails to see the lived world as the site through which the body perceives and associates itself with others and its surroundings. Because it is through the body that consciousness extends itself and is affected, perception becomes the means through which consciousness establishes itself as an integral part of the world. This perception is not a channel that simply filters in information from a separate environment, but rather it is a kind of interconnectedness that allows for a simultaneity in which one both perceives the world through observation and interaction, and experiences the world revealing itself through its very essence.

The essay explores how a painter must offer her body (through her eyes and hands) into and through the world in order to manifest it most truly in art. Merleau-Ponty describes this vision as a movement that both extends the body through the act of looking and opens the body to the world through this extension. The body sees and is seen. It is within this merging between the perceiver and observer that distinctions break down between the subject and the object, the real and the imagined, and enclosure/encapsulation and space. The painter, with her endowment of a clairvoyant-like vision, unveils the object, while at the same time the object makes itself known to her. The invisible is made manifest through the painter’s enactment of her vision and the object’s revelation of itself to the painter.

“Eye and Mind” moves beyond the Cartesian notion that the act of painting is simply a way of manifesting thought or empirical observation, and it rejects the conception that space is an entity separate from, outside of, and indeterminable by perception. In fact, Merleau-Ponty examines space as that which directs the viewer and painter back to themselves. The body is both born out of space and functions as the core around which all space expands. He argues, “I do not see [space] according to its exterior envelope; I live in it from the inside; I am immersed in it. After all, the world is all around me, not in front of me . . . ” (178). The question becomes not how to understand space, but rather how to make oneself open enough to perceive it. Space and content merge in their coming-into-being through the visible. And while the painter seeks to express this fusion through a concentration on depth, line, form, and color, she must uncover a “secret of preexistence,” an “internal animation,” or a “radiation of the visible” that exists as a kind of Ur-force in what she sees, what exposes itself to her (182). Line, for instance, does not exist as a clearly defined boarder that distinguishes objects from each other. Rather, it is suggested by space and content in their genesis into the visible. There is no actual distinction between the body and its environment, but rather an extension and expression of Being which permeates the painter’s vision.

(Leila Wilson, University of Chicago)


March 9th 

READING MATERIAL: Mikel Dufrenne Eye and Mind (download)

The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, Philosophy and Painting, edited by Galen A. Johnson & Michael B. Smith (Northwestern University Press 1993) p. 256-261


March 16th 

READING MATERIAL: Maurice Merleau-Ponty Cezannes Doubt (1945) (download)

FILM SCREENING: Presented by Catherine Harty

Swamp a film by Nancy Holt & Robert Smithson, (6 minutes) color, 1969

This film is concerned with issues related to site/sight as well as process.

Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson made a collaborative film titled Swamp in 1969. Holt has said of Swamp that ……”it deals with limitations of perception through the camera eye as Bob and I struggled through a muddy New Jersey swamp. Verbal direction cannot easily be followed as the reeds crash against the camera lens blocking vision and forming continuously shifting patterns, confusion ensues.” And Smithson said of the film…”it’s about deliberate obstructions or calculated aimlessness”. (1) This was attained by having Holt walk through the swamp while simultaneously filming, only seeing where she was walking by looking through the lens of her Bolex camera as Smithson gave her verbal instructions which he recorded as he spoke them.

(1) Robert Smithson, “The Earth, Subject to Cataclysms, is a Cruel Master, interview with Gregoire Muller, The Writings of Robert Smithson, p. 179 (first appeared in Arts Magazine, 1971)

Ryan Trecartin P.ouplar (section ish), 2009 HD Video, 43:51

Ryan Trecartin was born in 1981 in Webster, Texas. His video narratives unfold like futuristic fever dreams. Collaborating with an ensemble cast of family and friends, he merges sophisticated digital manipulations with footage from the Internet and pop culture, animations, and wildly stylized sets and performances.

More Ryan Trecartin info and videos on UbuWeb


March 23rd 

READING MATERIAL: Maurice Merleau-Ponty Phenomenology of Perception 

PART III Being-for-itself and Being-in-the-World: Freedom p. 504-517 _____________________________________________________________________________________________

March 30th 

READING MATERIAL: Maurice Merleau-Ponty Phenomenology of Perception 

PART III Being-for-itself and Being-in-the-World: Freedom p. 504-517

Quite Rage – The Stanford Prison Study 1971 (50 minutes)

The Stanford prison experiment was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment was conducted at Stanford University  from August 14 to August 20 of 1971 by a team of researchers led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo. It was funded by the US Office of Naval Research and was of interest to both the US Navy and Marine Corps as an investigation into the causes of conflict between military guards and prisoners.

Twenty-four male students out of 75 were selected to take on randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards in a mock prison situated in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. The participants adapted to their roles well beyond Zimbardo’s expectations, as the guards enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately subjected some of the prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, at the request of the guards, readily harassed other prisoners who attempted to prevent it. The experiment even affected Zimbardo himself, who, in his role as the superintendent, permitted the abuse to continue. Two of the prisoners quit the experiment early and the entire experiment was abruptly stopped after only six days. Certain portions of the experiment were filmed and excerpts of footage are publicly available. (wikipedia)

Artur Żmijewski Repetition 2005 (40 minutes) Watch Excerpt

In Repetition Żmijewski revisits the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, a two-week investigation to respond to the following question: ”What happens when you put good people in an evil place?”  Żmijewski recreated the experiment despite the fact that contemporary science would regard it too dangerous–and effective–to carry out again. Repetition is more than just a mechanical representation of the 1971 undertaking. The artist removes the experiment from its scientific context and the conditions of the time and places it in today’s world, to transform it into a “universal manifestation of weakness and moral failure.” Besides the 7 inmates and 9 guards (all of them unemployed people), participants included psychologists responsible of stopping everything if it turned dangerous, a former prison inmate, and a sociologist involved in prison system reforms. The experiment collapsed after only few days as the participants collectively decided to leave the prison.

 The Lives of Others: Artur Zmijewski’s “Repetition”, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and the Ethics of Surveillance  Anthony Downey (Sotheby’s Institute, London) in Outi Remes and Pam Skelton (eds.), Conspiracy Dwellings: Surveillance in Contemporary Art. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010, p 67-81 (download)


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