Saturday, January 23, 2010

Quantity or Quality?

Nathan Abels
Acrylic on Panel
24 × 48 inches
"The world we inhabit is not, in this sense, a determinate set of objective processes. It is our larger flesh, a densely intertwined and improvisational tissue of experience. It is a sensitive sphere suspended in the solar wind, a round field of sentience sustained by the relationships between the myriad lives and sensibilities that compose it. We come to know more of this sphere not by detaching ourselves from our felt experience, but by inhabiting our bodily experience all the more richly and wakefully, feeling our way into deeper contact with other experiencing bodies, and hence with the wild, intercorporeal life of the Earth itself.


In truth, it’s likely that our solitary sense of inwardness (our experience of an interior mindscape to which we alone have access), is born of the forgetting, or repressing, of a much more ancient interiority that was once our common birthright: the ancestral sense of the surrounding earthly cosmos as the voluminous inside of an immense Body, or Tent, or Temple.


Experiential qualities once felt to be proper to the surrounding terrain—feeling-tones, moods, the animating spirits-of-place known to reside in particular wetlands and forests—all lost their home with the dissolution of the enclosing, wombish character of the pre-Copernican cosmos. Such qualities now had no place in the surrounding world, itself newly conceived as a set of objects connected by purely external, mechanical relationships: a world of quantities. Unlike quantities, qualities are fluid, mercurial realities arising from the internal, felt relations between beings. Qualities—these ephemeral and fluid powers—require at least a provisional sense of enclosure to hold them. When they could no longer be contained by the visible world (no longer encompassed and held within the curved embrace of the spheres), these ambiguous, ever-shifting qualities quit the open exteriority of the physical surroundings, taking refuge within the new interiority of each person’s 'inner world.' Henceforth they would be construed as merely subjective phenomena."

- David Abram, "The Air Aware", Orion Magazine, September/October 2009
David Abram's essay "The Air Aware" eloquently expands on ideas that I attempt to present succinctly in my artist statement. Brevity is difficult, however, for those of us who are preoccupied with the exciting interchange of anthropology, ecology, ethology, phenomenology, and theology.

It's interesting, then, that the work of visual artists who explore this conceptual terrain is often quietly awesome. Interesting...and yet so natural.

Christopher Saunders
"Whitenoise Suite no.6"
Oil on linen
24 x 18 inches

Image credits: both painting reproductions, courtesy the artists

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