‘As Human as Knowledge’: Visualizing Phenomenology (Verónica Arís Zlatar)

Original post at :  http://arisdrawingproject.blogspot.be/2018/05/as-human-as-knowledge.html

All Images Copyright: Verónica Arís Zlatar


Arís’ pastels belonging to the project ‘As human as knowledge’ depict the experience of thinking of young women who reflect on their inner temporality. To a woman who had study Philosophy in Chile, Argentina and Belgium, experiencing the slim chance of an authentic thinking within the scholarly field, the return to paying attention to the simplest gesture of reflection on her own must have been impossible in that environment to the point of making her move forward visual art. “Philosophy requires freedom”, she says, “Unfortunately, nowadays Academia cannot offer that. Visual art instead does it, even though it is an alternative scenario for thinking.”

One of her pastels is untitled ‘The simultaneity of phases’. It portrays a simple woman who thinks about some formalizations of the inner temporality of consciousness. The scene seems to talk about a woman that hears elapsing noises around her, by a kind of awareness that helps her to let them go each time they fade down sinking into the past. However, she seems to stay attentive to the beauty of the present though. “Whatever makes us live this kind of temporality” she might think “requires different intentional acts running simultaneously. But what kind of simultaneity is this one, before any time and any temporal object, even before me who reflects on it?”
Through visual art Arís attempts to return to the freedom of thinking; this playful scenario of thoughts in which multiple hypotheses may appear as well as disappear depending on their appurtenance. “We can stay repeating what has been said a hundred years ago, or we can put the problem on the table and see what we want to do with it”, affirms the artist. This way, the paper becomes that table and the act of painting the lively commitment to the question. “The great thing of drawing and painting is that you have to spend a lot of time in addressing one tiny issue in order to give them the material dimension of an image. For instance, I have to find the face that really expresses what I am looking for, I have to try again and again the precise composition to get the one that can be accurate enough in expressing what I want to say and I have to keep an eye on this precise unity of meaning that the different elements will unveil throughout all the production progress. There is no chance to rush from one thought to another as it may happen when we are just conceptualizing. And this extremely slow speed of thinking, which requires an understanding in many levels –not only conceptual–, helps in bringing you to the authentic dimension of the question, i.e., the experience.”
This slow progress of understanding is also displayed by observing the resulting image. At first glance, ‘The simultaneity of phases’ seems to be a very nice portrait of the woman with a pleasant distribution of pastel’s colors and design; but later the unfinished drawing of her body and clothes makes the character dissolve into her insights as if only her flesh would remain true among all the adumbrations of the mind. The tension between her lived body and the nature of thoughts frames the scenario in which the internal time of consciousness takes place. Arís states “somehow I am the character but at the same time I am beyond her.”

How did you make them?
I painted with pastels on Canson paper. Basically, I worked on the flesh that can be seen in the area in which the skin of the character is visible.

Why did you choose to work only on the skin with that detail?
This is a nice question. The topic is about the internal time of consciousness and how we can get to think about it. As you can imagine, this is a very abstract thought that finds its opposite in the warm skin of the character. The time of consciousness is only within an embodied character, which feels and suffers the consequences of the elapsing experience. Time is in her flesh.

This is the first time you show a work in colors. Before you were working with charcoal, right? Which is your approach to colors?
As you can see, I have no much experience with colors, to be honest. However, my train of thought when I paint is to get deeper into the flesh. It is not about coloring nicely, but rather getting the feeling of the skin, its temperature, its texture, its subtlety. I think on a landscape within the skin, in which an unexpected color comes to play poetically. I marvel regarding how much an almost imperceptible change of a pigment can say about the sense of the volume of the body and its bodily conditions. I think that this is what I love of painting. 

Is it on purpose that you left the raw paper in sight?
Yes, it is. The act of thinking in science and philosophy has this quality of being a sketch on a blackboard, let’s say. Somehow, I am transporting the fine work of traditional painting to a class of science, in which all is a sketch on a surface. As sketches on a surface, they get their relevance as a lively thought that may be erased. Indeed, that is the risk of working with chalk.

I suppose that nothing is done at random. Have the pastels something to do with this contrast?
Yes, absolutely. On a blackboard, you write with white chalk. This way, if I want to present again the experience of thinking within science or philosophy, I have to revive somehow the scene with its key elements.

Let’s talk about the topic you have chosen: The internal time of consciousness. What is it?
Well, it is one of the precious topics of the contemporary philosophy so-called Phenomenology. In few words, we may say that it is the set of functions of consciousness that makes possible our elapsing experience. In other words, I experience the sequence of life thanks to the possibility of connecting the different moments that are given, and I experience this sequence through a leading meaning. The question is ‘how can this be possible?’

Is it right to say that you are illustrating the ideas of that philosophy?
Yes and no… I mean, I do not present the traditional point of view that Phenomenology has regarding the topic. Instead, I present what I think about it. More precisely, I am insinuating that I have my own approach to that subject matter.

Which is the difference between the traditional phenomenological point of view and yours?
Well, that is long to be answered here. Briefly, I can say that the difference relies on my playful disposition to thinking on the way we may re-formalize Husserl’s model of time. I mean, I totally agree with him at the level of the descriptions, but when he comes to make the graphics and the formal interpretation of it, it seems to me that he returns to a modern paradigm of time, closer to Brentano than to his own contemporary descriptions. That is why I preferred to create my own model in 3D and write down another kind of formalizations from it. Anyway, what I have written on these paintings are only the first lines of this playful attempt to re-formalize the model. The model in 3D and the work behind itare not here. Maybe one day I will share them.

Perhaps for those who do not know the work of Husserl, it will be hard to get into the real meaning of your work. How do you think it can be understood anyway?
Well, that is true. But I suppose that this happens anytime you see an interpretation of a scientific theory; you see some signs there that you don´t know what they mean, but anyway you enjoy the image aesthetically. In this case, the image works aesthetically, but also psychologically; one of its functions is to improve the woman archetype by re-connecting it to knowledge.

What would you say to someone that wants to know more about the specific meaning of your paintings?
I would say that the image talks by itself. The main character of the image is thinking because it is important for her. It is not a professional matter, but rather a matter of being human. She thinks because she is human. She thinks because she cares about all her human dimensions. Besides, she is consciousness so she is able to reflect on her own. The intimacy of philosophical thinking is at play when we carry out our will to know.

What does it mean the letters written there? The ‘R’, ‘I’, and ‘P’ are in all of them.
Well, ‘R’ means retention, ‘I’ means impression, and ‘P’ means protention. They are the three functional phases of the internal time of consciousness that Husserl described as phases continua pertaining to the absolute flow of consciousness, but I don´t want to put them in that way. In my words, they are functional modes of consciousness that constitute – or make possible – the elapsing lived experience.

What are you proposing with them?
Well, each image addresses a particular issue that nowadays we may attempt to formalize. For instance, in ‘the simultaneity of phases’, I propose to think about those functions at play within the phases – retention, impression, and protention – that help in connecting them. Let us say, if consciousness runs through these three functional modes, the question is how we can understand them in their togetherness and not as independent phases continua. I think that studying them independently is insufficient. We are misleading the issue that the lived experience is a unity, congruently embraced and “covered” by intentionality, so also at the level of time. If you study them as independent phases, you are in fact atomizing the lived experience, fragmenting it somehow, and this is not accord to how the things appear to the phenomenological reflection.

Commonly the formalization can be seen as something less philosophical. What do you think about it?
Well, maybe it can be true in some contexts. I would not generalize to answer you. However, in the case I present here, in which she (the character) observes the experience in regard to the way in which it appears to her, the task of formalization can bring her an objective scenario for thinking in the first person but avoiding subjectivism, so to speak, avoiding the tempting reduction of the phenomenon to her particular and biographical context. When one formalizes any function of consciousness, one pays attention to the abstract functions without which no consciousness is possible, i.e., functions that are valid for you, for me and for anybody else. This way, the relevant point here is not restricted to the formal result only; it covers also the indication of the kind of awareness we need to display in order to make an intentional analysis.

Do you think that your formalizations on time are accurate?
Well, I hope so. Anyway, I didn´t show any deep insight yet. As you can see they are a lovely attempt to translate into a formal language the questions that the characters have. Therefore, the images are insinuations of those questions that at this point it appears to me to be legitimate enough.

What kind of relation you may observe between your attempt to formalize time and science?
This is a huge question. Personally, I see many relations. Today, science is closer to the question about consciousness than ever before. You can find examples everywhere. You have all the research on the artificial intelligence in terms of technology, all the experiments in neuroscience to give ground to psychiatry and psychology, and you even have this tendency to connect meditation with medicine through mindfulness. Further, you have the statements in Physics about the studies on the change of the behavior of an electron while it is observed. And the list of examples continues. Therefore, I believe that a very serious attempt to understand consciousness – as Phenomenology does – really can trace a stronger ground to science.

Which is the relation between those formulations and the characters presented in the paintings?
The different characters represent the action of thinking about those questions. For instance, the woman of ‘The simultaneity of phases’ presents a moment in which she starts to explore herself through her living present. She breathes closing her eyes so that she may recover her awareness of the present, that is to say, her here and now. It is this awareness the key disposition to enter into the true scenario of the phenomenological reflection about time. Then she might observe her lived experience in the first person approach –as a true phenomenologist would do– in order to get into the thought on the intentional constitution of the lived experience in formal terms.

Why the main characters of your paintings are only women?
This is basically because visual arts have a historical debt with the female gender. It is imposed through Centuries to appear as a beautiful object, most of the time nude, without any manifestation of our will, desire or thinking. That is why I wanted to address the archetype of the woman within Science and Philosophy. How is to be a woman committed to Science and Philosophy? How does she look like? As you can see these questions are almost impossible to answer by looking back to Art History. Actually, before starting to paint, I spent a lot of time searching images of Art History to have them as a reference. And I found just girls reading letters as if they were only allowed to read for romantic issues. That was kind of shocking, I must say. The women that had a kind of education were portrayed reading romantic letters only, projecting an empty or undetermined glance within a domestic situation. The ambiguity of the representation of their glance and body constantly depicts the limited sphere in which women have been historically allowed to participate in the world. Nowadays, it is a need to remark the importance of women in Science and Philosophy, how relevant their contributions have been –even though they have been silent– and how interesting answers are about to come with their work. The project ‘As human as knowledge’ is aimed to bring light to the possible semblance of those interesting women and the pertaining scientific environment of a society that has developed a real inclusion of them. Science is not about gender, but rather it is about theLogos that we –as humans– are able to grasp by observing the world and nature, the sameLogos which afterward we use to build the world in which we – men and women – want to live.

General information of the project ‘As human as knowledge’

Material description of the artworks:
Dry painting
Pastels on Canson paper
First images size: 60x90cm.

Classification of the artwork
Contemporary realism, Magic realism

Classification of the topic:
Philosophy, Phenomenology, Time of consciousness, Alchemy, Science


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