EDGE ARTISTS AS ‘STRANGE ATTRACTORS’
A Source of Negentropy in Society
By Iona Miller, 3-2004
Before the beginning of great brilliance, there must be chaos. ~ I Ching
Although science and art are social phenomena, an innovation in either field occurs only when a single mind perceives in disorder a deep new unity. ~ J. Bronowski
The level of entropy is the degree of disorder in a given system.
This is the reverse of the degree of information that is present.
Hence negentropy is the build-up of information, increase of meaning.
Artists are the chaotic attractors of the social field. While conventional artists may enjoy great favor, the ‘strange attractors,’ including leading edge and extreme artists have a special role as catalysts in contemporary life. Artists have always drawn others beyond the limits of their ordinary awareness, confronting them with another reality, initiating them into a world of profound meaning without conventional boundaries.
The beginning of the history of modern man traces back to primordial art, such as that found in the Paleolithic caves of Lascaux. From the beginning, art spoke of magic, of the supernatural, of imagination - the fantastic and disturbing. Always strong in content and aesthetic sophistication, it grew, hand in glove, with the emergence of technological skills.
The emergence of art was and continues to be an unparalleled innovation, confronting our psyches with a giant leap in human evolution whose transformative influence continues opening and exploring brave new worlds to this day. Art has been a driving force and living thread woven into the fabric of society since modern man emerged.
Originally, artists were shamans, healers, and magicians. Their art revealed the compelling dreamscape of primal man, his beliefs about himself, this world, life and death, and hope for an afterlife. We might poetically call them the first negentropic humans, Homo Negentrop. Some might argue ironically that artists are a ‘species’ of their own. Unarguably, they created order and meaning from the chaos of existential life.
Throughout history the insightful vision of artists expressing in symbolic form the ‘as-yet-unknown’ (Jung) has been at the cutting edge of social change. It preceded rational and intellectual social ordering. Artists intuitively extract the gold of their unique vision from creative chaos and manifest it for others to see. Their mediums vary from graphic and print modes, to performance art, ritual, body art, film, and even more arcane forms.
Chaos theory has its ‘strange attractors’ that never settle down into any normal rhythm. The strange attractor dances to the innovative beat of a different drummer. Artists, particularly edge artists, function much like these chaotic attractors whose boundaries are deterministic yet unpredictable. They draw from beyond the personality, from transpersonal resources, and the wellspring of the collective human unconscious.
One doesn’t have a Muse; one serves one’s Muse. She comes and goes. In a sense, the artist is ‘ridden’ by the creative daemon that possesses him or her. That daemon, according to Socrates is one’s genius, a compelling force urging us to create.
Passion (drive) and pathos are reflected in the fact that if this daemon isn’t served, the artist can even become physically ill. Images, ideas and inspirations cry out to become manifested. Order or form yearns to be born from chaos; and those very acts of creation breed destruction of old systems.
The artistic life is a chaotic arc of inspiration upon inspiration, following the Muse. Artists walk what for others is ‘the road not taken’ (chaos theory’s bifurcation or forking), sometimes going ‘where angels fear to tread.’ Their charismatic influence pulls others into their orbits, and the small effect of one personality potentially spreads its influence over the world (butterfly effect), sometimes over history. The history of art is one of the richest threads of our cultural heritage.
Artists wriggle among many possibilities before settling into a project. We might take poetic license calling artists ‘beautiful attractors’ (Wildman, 2004). The notion of a beautiful attractor draws on the dynamics of synergy. The power distribution of the artistic community is aimed at mutual aid and learning, much like the healing community. Sometimes artists even engage in deliberate public psychotherapy, impacting their immediate communities.
Artists magnetically draw the attention of others to their creations, to their vision, into the imagination, into the collective future. We might think of them as the ‘indicator species’ of the social ecology, the evolving cultural landscape. Orbiting far from the norm, they provide a negentropic counter-balance - an evolutionary burst, social innovation -- to conservative forms and institutions, which tend to ossify leading to stasis and decay.
Often catalytic artists are the heralds for diversity, for future society, ‘poly-‘ or ‘pantopia.’ They can be consciously aware of this function, such as when extreme artist, Genesis P-Orridge (influential innovator in body art, performance art, rave and Goth culture, and magick) calls himself a “cultural engineer.” He is considered the ‘godfather’ of megastar Marilyn Manson.
The infectious influence of radical artists such as these, though seemingly small gets pumped up to societal proportions through an effect analogous to, if not literally, what is known as ‘the butterfly effect’ in chaos theory. The flapping of a butterfly’s wings can influence global weather through minute perturbations that get pumped up in proportion.
The same pervasive influence which can be claimed for music is true of the avant garde and transgressive film genres, as well. These cult films, including the perennial favorite ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ have transformed the dreamscape of the entertainment industry over the years. What was once outrageous becomes almost banal.
A small-scale pattern takes on global proportions. Viable attractors function as building blocks for higher level structures, including social structures. They organize weaker interactions ‘enslaving’ subordinate structures. In this way the catalytic artist functions as what Jung called a ‘mana’ personality, having similar charismatic qualities to shamans.
Mana is personal power, also known as chi, prana, animal magnetism, or kundalini. Mana initiates the transformative process in individuals and society. Many artists have magnetic personalities. Exhibiting sensitivity to a certain kind of universal guidance, their influence emanates from their sphere of potentiality through synchronicity and serendipity, stimulating catharsis or breakthrough in others.
The effect is moreso when a movement or school of artistic expression is involved (complex feedback loops) as the reality morphing effect increases exponentially. Artists reflect and influence one another. Arguably, artists demonstrate where society may be heading. They haunt the psychic and perceptual frontiers, drawing the future into the now. How many cultural revolutions have begun in artists’ communities?
Art changes the way people perceive reality, how they see life and their place in it. These negentropic innovations become embedded in social structure. Realizations, insight, empathy are implicit. They show us windows of prescient emotions and impulses, their unframed works rending the veil of the human unconscious.
The Artistic Field of Influence
‘We expect artists as well as scientists to be forward-looking, to fly in the face of what is established, and to create not what is acceptable but what will become acceptable . . . a theory is the creation of unity in what is diverse by the discovery of unexpected likenesses. In all of them innovation is pictured as an act of imagination, a seeing of what others do not see . . . “creative observation.” (Bronowski, 1958).
Artists, along with the other innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs, constitute only 1% of the population. We can imagine them at the top of a pyramid of influence, which trickles down to the most solidified or familial and industrial levels of society (see Appendix; Wildman, Table 1). This is clearly less true for the representational artist whose work is without symbolic value, and rather than progressive or transgressive is merely decorative or aesthetic.
Today, science and art aren’t as polarized in their aims as we might think. They are perennial venues for the emergence of discovery, invention, and creation. The argument is that although science and art are social phenomena, an innovation in either field occurs only when a single mind perceives in disorder a deep new unity. Like art, science is an attempt to control our surroundings by entering into them and understanding them from the inside.
“Scientists search for a ‘real’ and hidden, internal visibility (invisible to the naked eye) which will confirm the limits of identity. . .This is an act of limitation which inverts its own criteria by relying on a ‘depth’ model of identity, which is invisible, but gives visibility through microscopic magnification. Yet this search for an invisible core of identity remains open to a visible transgression via artists who are constantly exposing these new certainties as constructs.” (Sargeant, 1999).
The objective and subjective mode are not divorced from one another, anymore than the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Science adapted the artist’s sense that the detail of nature is significant. Like yin and yang, they rely on one another in a dynamic meld that lies beyond the dialectic in the tension of opposites.
Thus, the metaphors of science have gained increasing relevance in the artworld. Art and science begin as imaginative speculation that guesses at a unity or gestalt. Metaphors reflect universal or holistic references and processes, connecting concepts across disciplines.
Gregory Bateson calls metaphor Nature’s language. There is aesthetic pleasure in finding likenesses between things once thought unalike. It gives a sense of richness and understanding. The creative mind looks for unexpected likenesses, through engagement of the whole person.
We can draw from the organic metaphors of quantum physics, field theory, and chaos theory to illuminate the state of the arts. Physics describes the interrelationship of chaos and order as field relationships, while chaos theory describes nature’s own methods of creation and self-assembly. Entropy is the tendency for any closed part of the universe to expand at the expense of order. It is a measure of randomness and disorder -- chaos.
Negentropy is the generative force of the universe. Negentropy (emergent order from chaos) is a nonlinear higher order system, a dynamically creative ordering information. Thinking, science, and art are therefore negentropic.
Negentropy, like art, is ‘in-form-ative.’ It is related to mutual information exchange. Information is embodied in the fractal nature of imagery and symbols, which compress the informational content of the whole. Creativity is an emergent phenomenon patterned by strange attractors, which govern the complexity of information in dynamic flow.
Negentropy is implicated in the successful development of science, economics, technology, infoscience, and art. Negentropy is the degree of order, or function of a state. It relates to the organization of societies, including subcultures such as the artworld, determining the quantity and quality of creative work
That which was formerly unmanifest comes into being. Negentropy governs the spontaneous transmission and direction of flow of information among systems. The qualities of that information are timeless. It is synergistic in that what was formerly unconnected becomes so, creating something wholly optimal and new - futuristic. In the 1920s, Hungarian scientist, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi coined the term syntropy for ‘negative entropy.’
In cybernetics, a meaningful interpretation of negentropy is a measurement of the complexity of a physical structure in which quantities of energy are invested, e.g., buildings, works, technical devices, and organisms which become more complex by feeding not on energy but on negentropy. Art facilitates negentropy by expanding our general field of experience. Negentropy facilitates artistic realization by creating something from nothing.
The creative act is one of uniting the unmanifest with the manifest world in a meaningful, often symbolic, way. Such conception is relevant to consciousness, organization, structure, faith, subconsciousness, emotion, even spirituality. Above all, creativity means trusting the process. Investigation of the negentropic criterion helps us move toward a truly transdisciplinary doctrine for the artistic field of influence.
The two worlds of science and art have married in the digital revolution. Art has from the beginning required a certain amount of technical expertise, the ability to create and use technology in its execution. Only the means and their complexity have changed, evolving over the years, culminating now in a revolution based on ‘ars electronica’ - the electronic arts.
Psychotronics: the Electronic Revolution
Rather than merely the atavistic/entropic art of the unconscious, the cutting edge artist also reveals a glimpse of the future, in both mediums and content, such as the hypermedia of the electronic revolution: hypertext, net art, digital ‘faux-tos’, digital films, multimedia, interactive media and other electronic and visual narrative forms, including those still to be defined since they haven’t emerged.
The electronic artist still explores the relation of awareness, sensitivity, and expression. All are linked to the telos of manifestation, either in artwork or in society. The future pulls them forward perhaps more strongly than most. In this way, creativity is linked to the evolutionary dynamics of self-organization. We have discovered a new way of being - a hyperrealism. In some instances the body itself becomes indistinguishable from art.
Today’s digital artist, no matter what his or her electronic media, spends a good portion of time in the ‘chip body’ (coined by media guru, Bob Dobbs) - a virtual field -- as opposed to the physical body. This chip body is a vortex of quantum bits of information swirling chaotically in the hyperspaces of digital media, including the worldwide web. It has made a virtual reality of what was once called the astral body, an alternate vehicle for conscious exploration of alternate states and realms.
Similar to the whirling polarized energies of yin and yang, all probabilities and potentials are contained within this vortex or imaginal field body. The nature of this Tao can be seen as a void or a plenum, either a ground state from which all images emerge, or a ripe fullness from which they are plucked out of the aether. Each quantum is a conscious entity aware of all others. This creative source is inexhaustible.
The void of the vortex sets up a resonance carrying the potential for manifesting the force and form of consciousness. Today’s artist must willingly enter this Abyss as it smiles back at him. Images condense as memories, or knots of energy, in the physical or perceptual world.
At certain wavelengths, this imagery resonates back up the vortex or condensing field. Before condensation, perception is multifaceted because all potential is observed. After condensation, the strength of the wave or memory resonates as a single image or flow of imagery.
In quantum physics, wave packets collapses under observation to create manifest reality. They represent the sum of the polarity charges, we can call yin and yang. Collapse is a change in the substance of consciousness, or a change in the state of the vortex created by the introduction of resonance.
If Von Neumann is correct that consciousness plays a part in state vector collapse, then consciousness/reality is a closed loop control system, each feeding the other. Our mind is a reality filter within our brain's reality processor.
In the artistic process, collapse is consistent with focus; focus is consistent with selection; selection is consistent with the resonance or stimulus. The stimulus is consistent with the physical reality and reality is consistent with collapse. In quantum chaos, this collapse is a cascade leading to an entirely new organization - to emergent creativity.
The whole process is a flow or condensation of potential of consciousness. The gauge is the perspective of consciousness or imagination. We are free to choose our perspective, and with electronic media have a way of manifesting a mind-boggling variety of variations at lightning speeds.
The essence of our time-bound experience is receptivity to experience, to flow within the vortex. When we experience our timeless nature - our unbound self -- there is no flow, only resonance. We have the freedom to choose our point of focus or resonance. We can be stimulated by probability or chance, by the chaotic creative process underlying all reality itself.
We cannot predict what will come of it, what will emerge from entering that creative vortex, nor should we even try. All we can do is let go and open ourselves to the morphing power of the transcendent imagination, to bring our awareness into resonance with it. As we transcend the vortex we narrow our freedom to select our perceptual view of the physical world.
Art and the Unconscious
Art and psychotherapy are two ways of understanding the human experience, of demonstrating what we resonate with, and where we are going next, personally and culturally. Art lets our unconscious decipher the narrative contained within, while psychotherapy lets the unconscious create the non-linear narrative.
Art reflects our own emotional issues and provides a glimpse into our unconscious. The films, poems and plays that we find most gripping or poignant tell us something about our own unconscious world and help us reach a greater degree of self-understanding. In creating our own poetry or performing in theater, we are revealing part of ourselves to others that is important for us to share. Our reasons for creating art and our personal reactions to art tell us about who we are and what is most important to us. The decision to create is revealing in itself, but what we decide to create can be equally informative. Writing poetry and performing on stage are very different forms of expression that reflect the personality of the artist, (Pflanz, 2003).
Echoing the shamanic roots of healing and artistic inspiration, these new artforms help us sift through human emotions and confront life's problems. Through art, artists seek to inspire, to create beauty and to grapple with difficult issues through various mediums. In both instances, the challenges facing the human condition are central.
By examining the works we find most moving, we can better understand ourselves. Equally important, the discussion of art, film and literature can provide an invaluable glimpse into the unconscious world. Art helps us understand the organizational landscape:
The relationship between art, aesthetic experience and the unconscious has long fuelled both the creative endeavors of artists, and the analytical and critical musings of theorists and connoisseurs. From the demonic images of ancient painting, to the modernist predilection for the surreal in image and performance, art has provided a means by which humanity has been able to explore and represent that which is usually hidden from us, yet which plays such a central role in who and what we are. Fantastical and often deeply disturbing imagery, sounds and structures have all provided an alternative and often critical means of understanding the world and the relationship we hold to it, while our culture is littered with artistic artifacts that appear to play out the primary psychodynamic processes which underpin the emergence of human subjectivity, (Carr and Hancock, 2004).
Today’s leading edge artist is a technoshaman, using new media to transform the face of art and society. Digital art, in particular, is for the technically gifted, or at least proficient. Of course there are many other very challenging technical processes for creating art besides digital media, as well.
Just as musicians have had to adapt to increasingly complex gear, so have artists in these mediums, whose use may be direct or indirect. Even though some protocols have become more complex, others such as digital film and nonlinear editing have become somewhat easier and more available overall.
In order for today’s electronic artist to be successful in the real world, he or she must not only master the medium to the extent such is possible in a rapidly evolving modality, but also master ‘the media’ -- factors of human perception, subjectivity, and culture. The average viewer of a work of art only gives it 30 seconds of attention, if that, before moving on.
To convey one’s unique vision, means not only producing art, but like a political spin doctor also producing and orchestrating the perception of what that art means in the cultural landscape. Thus, the artist must have a strong entrepreneurial quality, a flair for promotion, and the ability to contextualize the work that is emerging. One must be able to work with and mold the minds of others, to get inside their heads, comprehending what moves them subjectively and how that process works.
The artist defines the social space in which the work will be seen, giving it a historical context by defining its roots and boldly declaring a new point of view. This is far different from simple mastery of the media, as a graphic designer or factory-style animator. Most anyone can learn by rote, by repetition. But the results while pleasing are “safe” or uniformly mediocre, considered “hack” work.
The true medium of the leading edge artist as ‘strange attractor’ is, therefore, the culture itself. Marshall McLuhan said ‘the medium is the massage,’ and ‘massaging’ the mass media is part of today’s artistic repertoire. In the post Postmodern world, sponsors are the new art patrons.
We know from the lessons of politics and media that most people come to embrace that which they are conditioned to accept. Mass media doesn’t document or report reality; it creates it, or a version of it with specific cultural or economic ends in mind.
Tastes for certain processes, products, and media are imposed, cultivated, and acquired. Their relevance must be explicitly defined. In this context, edge or extreme art isn’t high or low-brow, but ‘hyper-brow.’ In this process, one must move the audience from the known to the Unknown, since it is the nature of human beings to be both nostalgic and novelty-seeking.
The context is the entire history of art -- a thrust that carries us forward into the future on an ever-renewing wave of creative spirit. Learning to surf the gravity waves emanating from the zeitgeist of one’s era is as important as how to apply the traditional rules of artistic production to one’s medium.
Shameless self-promotion and a transcendence of the barriers separating the artist from the art are key notions in this process. Many a gifted artist has sunk into oblivion for lack of the former.
Even in the fine arts world, ‘form follows function.’ And the function of the contributing artist is ‘pathfinding,’ not just creating another pretty or more shocking picture, nor contributing to the glut of recycled commercial imagery that plagues our senses. Creating tangibles from the depths, which truly move us, which speak to us collectively, is another gift altogether. It is work that ‘says something’.
Born at the cutting edge, the creative edge of chaos, this type of emergent art and artist has the capacity to carry the artistic dialogue into the future. It’s one thing to have vision that resonates, and quite another to articulate it and get it out into the world.
Bronowski, J. (1958). ‘The Creative Process.’ Scientific American, Sept. 1958. Volume 199; No. 3.
Carr, Andrian and Hancock, Philip (2004). ‘The Art and Aesthetics of the Unconscious.’ The Second Art of Management and Organisation Conference, Paris, France. Sept. 710, 2004. http://www.essex.ac.uk/AFM/emc/art_and_aesthetics_of_the_uncons_stream.htm
Pflanz, Steven (2003). ‘The art of the unconscious.’ Psychiatric Times, June 2003, Vol. XX, Issue 6.
Sargeant, Jack (1999). Deathtripping: the Cinema of Transgression. San Francisco: Creation Books.
Wildman, Paul (2004). Socio-Economic Guidance from an Infinite Universe, in Human Science Technology. 2004: Prosperity Press, Brisbane. p. 35. Prepared for the second Northern Rivers Science-Art Festival and Conference 1-2-04 Science-Art Research Centre (SARC) Uki Northern NSW. Reuniting Art and Science. Murwillumbah Civic Centre. http://www.science-art.com.au/centre.htm.
What's New with My Subject?
Wall Text for CYBEROTICA ART SHOW,
Wynwood, Miami, Art Basel Dec. 4-7, 2003
The erotic world, freed from the stigmas of guilt and repression is a powerful path to self-discovery. Our erotic sexual lives are not to be discounted or discounted as nothing more than sensory stimulation, ego gratification and pursuit of orgasm. It can be the road to erotic connections, psychosexual liberation, to fantasy and excitement, to living our dreams, to erotic transcendence. It may even help us heal our mind/body split.
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Forbidden Fruits and Technoshamanism
Iona Miller and Bob Judd
Technoshamanism is the process of altering consciousness through technology. It implies using the artistic, psychosexual, healing and mind altering techniques of ancient shamanism combined with modern technologies for altering consciousness, culture, and the holistic mindbody.
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Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument. The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is” man" in a higher sense -- he is 'collective man' -- one who carries and shapes the unconscious, psychic life of mankind.”
-C. G. Jung
Beyond the Forbidden
Are there things we should not know? There are many responses to the impulse toward experience. We pass through the essential stage of experience on the way to wisdom. But it remains a stage, not an end in itself.
Religion generally answers yes to the question, while philosophy answers no. Sex, death, and religion are the three taboos to question. They are also the most interesting subjective experiences to examine.
Freud contrasted sex and death as Eros and Thanatos. Are there things we shouldn’t know about the erotic impulse? Are there things we shouldn’t know about the relationship of death and religion? Sex and death are givens of our existence, and so is the spiritual instinct. Experiential awareness of these domains is gnosis, direct knowing.
If no one is allowed to venture into the forbidden we cannot know what it is like. No one is allowed to talk about, or represent it. It becomes a dirty secret, surrounded by fear and shame.
Adopting this forbidden spirit, we even begin to hide this side of our nature -- our fantasies and dreams -- from ourselves. The next step is to condemn, ridicule, even fear ourselves. Then we exile ourselves from ourselves, recreating the so-called result of Original Sin, kicking ourselves out of the garden of earthly delights.
With this mindset, passion is twisted and turned toward anything around us that threatens to expose this hidden reality of who we are, what we want, how we dream, and what we desire. Is this self-denial not the true perversion of the human spirit?
Where is the freedom in sexual dictatorship, in rigid political and religious morality? There are many forms of masochism, and wherever there is a masochist there is likely to be a sadist or persecutor. We play this game with ourselves, splitting ourselves into judge and victim, repressing the exploration of our own erotic limits. How dare we even think these things?
Life becomes split in two, into false polarities and we are forced to choose sides: good/evil; proper/improper; rational/emotional; light/dark; order/chaos; madonna/whore; heterosexual/homosexual; self/other; mind/body; sane/sick. We embrace a false self when we learn to blindly accept one or the other. To become whole we need to consciously carry the tension of the opposites.
All sexual things become polarized as we are taught to choose the approved pole over the other, once and for all. If we do, we are praised, accepted, admired; if we don’t we are condemned, ridiculed, exiled to the underworld, the erotic frontier. Shame and fear can torture as surely as any pain inflicted on the body.
It is important we hear directly from these frontiers, no matter how we react to erotic perspectives different from our own. Our minds have been programmed with toxic shame and moral strictures that seek to preserve parental, spousal, and religious power. When sexual stories are depicted accurately, we can separate the reality of erotic exploration from the confines of our cultural conditioning that reinforces our fear of the unknown.
Knowledge of these frontiers, and our personal “edge,” helps us make informed choices about our erotic lives. Since the sexual revolution, the parameters of acceptable erotic behavior have steadily expanded, multiplying our erotic options.
Yesterday’s fringe activity is today’s simple recreation, a matter of entertainment, fashion and fun, rather than perversity. There is an on-going revolution in sex-role mores. Who is to say what is a politically-incorrect dream?
The controversial sexual world becomes one where we work out our issues of power, trust, vulnerability, shame, and the nature of sensation. These issues are important pathways to personal growth and increased self-awareness. There is a thrill in moving toward our fear, toward and beyond our boundaries, shattering our cherished notions. It allows us to see and be seen in much more than a voyeuristic way.
Erotic power and trust are always the issues, whether in romantic relationships, marriage, the fetish and bondage scene, or even S&M. Love is not the only “tie that binds,” and some prefer to act out that metaphorical relationship quite literally. Perhaps they are merely “dreaming out loud” what some of us cannot even allow ourselves to consider. In that sense, they carry or embody our cultural “shadow” side, our unlived potential.
Sex (and erotic art) is always political not only because of gender issues, but also more fundamentally because of power. Political correctness aside, polarized dynamics require one another to play out. Thus, the dominator becomes essentially the slave of the submissive who is needed for the other to feel and express the urge to power. One validates the other.
Thus, not all working relationships are based on equality, but on finding a suitable match psychologically. Whether sexual preferences are “right” or “wrong” is not necessarily for others to say. Who grants or withholds the permission for such exploration and multiplication of erotic delights? Erotic play can be “edgy” without being emotionally toxic.
The erotic world, freed from the stigmas of guilt and repression is a powerful path to self-discovery. Our erotic sexual lives are not to be discounted or discounted as nothing more than sensory stimulation, ego gratification and pursuit of orgasm. It can be the road to erotic connections, psychosexual liberation, to fantasy and excitement, to living our dreams, to erotic transcendence. It may even help us heal our mind/body split.
Ties to the Past
This confrontation, moving toward the fear and pain wherever it occurs, brings us close to the core of our transformative process ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬“ the essentially sacred dimension of life. The root of the word religion is “religio” which means to yoke or to bind back. Do we need to point out that this can also be another form of “bondage”?
Before philosophy and the dogma and dictates of religion, before forbidden knowledge and forbidden fruit, there was shamanism. Shamanism is the primordial spirituality of humankind. Evidence of our spiritual evolution is at least 50,000 years old.
Shamanic beliefs and practices are implied by the earliest ritual burials and later the birth of art as a means of contact with or reflection of the spirit world. Art is philosophy expressed in symbols and imagery. For the sensation function, art serves the same purpose that science does for thinking. Other analogies for art include philosophy and psychology for the intuitive function, and the emotions of human society for feelings.
Traditional shamanism is still practiced throughout the world, particularly in third-world countries, which might more properly be referred to as first-world countries. Shamanism has enjoyed a resurgence, explicit and implicit in postmodern culture. Its idiosyncratic nature is well suited to the zeitgeist of our age, which has deconstructed and rejected all metanarratives.
The drive to directly experience the inner realm of being is universal and reflected in the myriad ways the majority of human cultures find to incubate alternative phases of consciousness. In the shamanic worldview, art is not separate from transformative magic.
Technoshamanism is the interactive integration of futuristic technology with ancient pathways of the past. As an artform, it implies access to full-immersion experiences, virtual realities that have consequences in the real world.
This gnostic experience for the new millennium explores the final frontier: the untapped powers of the human mind. It means dancing through the doors of perception into the hyper-spatial realities of the unfettered collective imagination.
The world of the shaman is the world of the spirits, psi powers, psychic phenomena, initiation, altered states, dreams, death, rebirth, and healing. It is the irrational realm of body, faith, trust, and belief.
Shamanism reveals the uncanny world of superstition, disruption, dissolution, intuition, mysticism, transcendence, psychedelia, cosmic consciousness. It shows the polarities of Dionysian and Apollonian spirit: sex and madness vs. conventionality, intellect, morality, and dogma.
Technoshamanism is also the world of what we can call extrasensory science. We can bridge the archaic and modern with cutting edge science and art, which dares to trespass into the forbidden realms. We can play the human sensorium with modulated electromagnetic energy.
We can move shamanically through our blocks by heading directly into the fear and pain, which are the doorways to our transformation and head chaotically toward the creative Source. This is the shamanic journey. It is a restructuring process that dissolves old, outworn forms, and fosters spontaneously emergent new images and manifestations.
Technoshamanism is a voyage into the holographic matrix of experience, reflecting both our tribal heritage and global citizenship. In mythology Prometheus, staling fire from the gods, represents the archetypal technological man.
Arguably, two defining characteristics of the modern age, icons of our times, are the omnipresence of the Promethean spirit and the pervasiveness of sexuality and its imagery, soft and hardcore pornography.
But even more important and fundamental is the power of imagination and passion, pathos. We can each tap the spirit of Prometheus and Promethea, grasping our share of the fire of the gods, taking a bite of the forbidden fruit.
Neuro-tica as Fetish
Our modern culture is bombarded with an overload of hypersexualized imagery, both idealized and bluntly realistic. It transports us out of the mundane into the surreal. It is clearly noticeable, even raised to cult status in such subcultures as multimedia, haute couture, gaming, cyberculture, the gay community, the fetish world, and bondage scene. Sexuality spans the spectrum of highbrow and lowbrow artistic expression. We have accessorized our quest for erotic gratification.
Sex has become even more of what it always was ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬“ a hot commodity. Harnessed, the erotic image becomes a potent penetrator of the neural nets of the observer, subtly affecting and rearranging biochemical makeup. This is the compulsive arousing power and penetrating eroticism of the fetish, it’s symbolic value, its fecundity or fertilizing power.
Cutting-edge art is fetishistic in that it connotes an object regarded as having magical power, eliciting unquestioning reverence, respect and devotion, even a psychosexual response or fixation. It exerts a push-pull attraction, fearsomely fascinating yet simultaneously repulsive to the conventional sensibility. Still, it has the tremendous ability to lure us.
The erotic drive challenges us boldly to go where we ourselves have never gone before, into unexplored territory. And how we yearn to be seized, to lose that emotional control, surrendering to erotic catharsis: the sense of awesomeness, ravishment, rapture. It keeps us intoxicated, coming back for more.
This fetishistic power is clearly visible in the various denominations of the virtually religious cult of the art world. Sex sells, but does it sell art? Not necessarily, even though provocative art invokes this archetypal power even more strongly than representational or “safe” art.
However, “safe art” is a bit like “safe sex” it isn’t very “wet.” It hangs over the couch hardly worthy of mentioning. It may be easier to live with in the living room, like an old partner. Still, it lacks the seductive power, fantasy, risk, juice, tension, fire, renewal, and mystery of a new lover.
Curiously, often the less explicitly sexual an image is, the more erotic it becomes through the power of suggestion. What is important is its power to mobilize imagination, to intimate unfathomable depths, the Unknown and perhaps unknowable. Yet, often things are not what they seem. Image does not always match reality, nor should we confuse the artist and the art.
In modern parlance, we might think of playing the hot-wiring of the human neural system as “neuro-tica,” (a hybrid of neural erotica, manipulating the pleasure centers). Neuro-tica, the ambient sexual background, combines both elements of transformative spirit and the libidinous power of the erotic, our instinctual drives. Ideally, it collapses those polarities in a powerful subjective experience. Sensory overload leads to paradoxical transcendental release.
Freud informed us that all human energy is sexual energy, and Jung expanded that notion redefining it as psychosexual energy, since the mind is the most potent of all sexual organs. In the east it has been called the life force (chi, prana) or serpent power, Kundalini, spanning the spectrum of expression from sexual to illuminative.
Jung observed that every creative person could be considered a "duality or a synthesis of contradictory attitudes," a unique human with a personal life, but also the carrier of an impersonal creative process. The artist's creative achievement cannot be accounted for by an examination of his personal psychology.
Joseph Campbell states, “The creative mythology of the modern artists arises when the individual has an experience of his own -- of order, or horror, or beauty -- that he tries to communicate by creating a private mythology. So it is the creative individual who must give us a totally new type of nontheological revelation, who must be the new spiritual guide.”
There is always the puer complex [eternal child] at work motivating the artist, as well as an element of narcissism. The artist has a love relationship with the image of himself, which is projected onto the performance, canvas, print or screen.
Both imaginal art and archetypal thought enliven the world of fantasy and imagination, by turning vision inward. They are a release from the literalization of object-orientation. They take the psychic energy, which normally flows outward, and turn it in.
In order for the values of, let's say the archetypes of anima or animus, to be incorporated into the personality of the artist, he or she must assimilate the psychological significance of their own work, in a self-fertilizing movement.
Dynamic feedback from the creation influences the creator and informs the process. Otherwise, the creative urge may be just another way of projecting one's inner reality into the outer world. This integration does not always happen spontaneously to the artist. If this were so, every great artist or poet would be a self-realized individual. History has shown different.
Discipline is not the only distinction between the true artist and the dabbler or dilettante. To subject oneself to hard work and the evaluation of one's fellow man is no small accomplishment. The development of artistic insight rather than an externalization of one's specific neurosis is another. One must combine the innate curiosity and vitality of youth with the maturity and dedication of experience.
Joseph Campbell sees creative artistic work as a "response to the need to escape from danger and chaos and find some new security." This inner quest repeats the main theme of the hero monomyth. “Further development of consciousness leads the artist to acute perception. He no longer simply reflects the collective values, he is now free to criticize them.”
Campbell states, "...the world of the artist or the intellectual must be fierce, accurate in its judgment of the fault in a person or society. But along side this judgment there must be affirmation and compassion. What is important is to keep the dissonance between judgment and compassion."
Under the influence of shamanic spirit, we may attain direct transpersonal experience that vivifies multiple realities. Shamanism means mastery of the sensorium, the symbolic world. The World Soul becomes embodied Eros, illuminative, and informs our existence, giving life to spirit. Cyberspace is buzzing with ELF machine Logos: the 60-cycle Om.
Artist as Shamanic Personality
To the extent that the shamanic personality (like any artist) has great power, he or she penetrates deeply into the basic roots of the structuralizing process, and brings that symbolic information back. In the realm of “metaphorms” our brain images reality and the universe in its own structural terms. This surreal vision attempts to portray the working of the subconscious mind.
The future is being created in the imagination of the now. Herein lies the tremendous power of both art and invention. All the symbolic iconography of the ages is perpetually recycled and morphed at warp speed, and the vanguard senses that breakthrough is near.
In Creation Myths, Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz says, “ ...these four factors -- originality, consistency, intensity, and subtlety, [show] the differences between someone who has creative fantasies and someone who is only spinning neurotic nonsense...the continuity of devotion an individual is capable of giving his fantasy is very important and shows the difference between someone who is gifted with creative fantasy and somebody sucked into sterile unconscious material.”
Shamanic personalities work at the creative edge of chaos where it is often difficult to distinguish spiritual emergence from spiritual emergency, bloom from doom, breakdown from breakthrough. Technoshamanism is connecting contemporary society with the mythic roots of humanity, warming it with electric fire.
The world's great performers and virtuosos of art, (the great painters, instrumentalists, vocalists, dancers, sculptors, photographers, writers, athletes, etc.), all need the skills which come only from excited concentration on an activity for long periods. No other type can mobilize what virtuosity takes: untold hours of continuous action. In a sense they do not work, for work implies production, completion, and accomplishment.
They largely have no desire for closure, completion, finishing but are process-oriented. What ensues from action is mere product, mere outcome, mere result, and is incidental. The true artist’s "work" is essentially play, but with the dedication usually reserved for one’s beloved. The bliss of the process lies in the subjective flow state experienced during creation.
A more fundamental level of our existence is tangibly revealed; connection to Source erupts spontaneously. Shamanism is beyond time; it's a primal spirit. Anything that is created is linked into that spirit. Technology is the interface between what exists now and what is coming into existence.
We are all capable of transcendent awareness, of becoming shamans. The shaman is a shaman because he has been empowered by treading the road others wish to follow. The shaman is a symbol to others of their projection of a degree of personal insight, power, heart, and growth.
We can all make the journey between two worlds, exploring the “ancient-future” created in the here and now. Its legacy is always one of hope, understanding, and empowerment. Above all it means direct experiential connection to creative Source.
The shamanic principle is ubiquitous in art, religion, healing, and transpersonal activities simply because its activity is essential to neurocognitive and physiological development. The inner shaman is a percept that penetrates to our neurocognitive intentionalities: exploration of self and multiple worlds, transformation, and social flow.
Shamanism has enjoyed a resurgence in the West in a variety of forms including multimedia, raves, yoga, fen shui, martial arts, Tibetan Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Amazonian shamanism, fire-walking, trance dance, hypnosis, Sufism, Voodoo, and more. They connect us, calm our nerves, or inspire the soul, even heal the spirit.
An archetypal example of a highly developed technology is the Asklepian Dream Temples of ancient Greece. The afflicted went for cures through healing dream incubation when conventional medical treatments had failed. The cures came not from the priests or any interpretations, or even drama, but from immersive experience -- direct contact with the divine in the dream, an epiphany with the healing image.
The shaman lives at the threshold of the unconscious. A main characteristic of the liminal shamanic personality is living with a foot in each world, the conventional and supernatural.
All these technologies, the hallmarks of modern culture, involve ritualistic forms for altering states of consciousness, with and without psychotropic drug plants. Art, of course, has been at the forefront all along, illustrating, creating and transforming worldviews.
Like traditional magick and ritual, these technologies rely heavily on accessing multisensory cues, emotions, dreams and imagination. They range from process to product, temporary rites of passage to stabilized lifestyles. They actively change us. This is the engine that engineers culture, it’s imaginative driving force.
Art and music have played a big role in emergence of this technoshamanic spirit, especially explicitly shamanic artists, such as performance artist and musician Genesis P-Orridge, of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, and Thee Majesty. His outlandish role in magick, (Temple Ov Psychic Youth), psychedelics, sexual freedom, and organizing raves led to his being the first person exiled from his homeland England in 250 years.
There are many more examples, too numerous to mention. Electromagnetic means of altering consciousness have superceded chemical means. What matters is the quantum and electromagnetic modulation of the brain chemistry and neuronal circuits. We now have a fairly accurate map of what modulations control what subjective experiences.
Part of the artist's gift is his relative lack of adaptation to the values of "average" society. The artist is aloof from daily life, in a world of his or her own. Or, if they are close to the streets, they have a radically different perspective on things that produces unique vision.
Rodin, Picasso, and Dali are all examples of psychological "rugged individualism." An artisan has a trade; an artist lives an alternative lifestyle. It is impossible to analyze why this impulse occurs to one individual and not another.
The electronic occulture is dancing through the doors of perception into a hyperspatial reality. It is a pilgrimage into the mind out of time, the body out of space, and the universal spirit that beckons beyond.
This story is told through images -- ceremony and ritual, music and dance, sight and sound, science and religion. Written with living light, it fosters a reunion with the sacred, the Divine, the Other. Its church is in the temples -- the left and right temporal lobes. Its bell is the ringing radiance of the A-ha! moment. It is fueled by energized enthusiasm. Its altar is the Temple of Living Light, millions upon millions of screens, including our inner “screens.” We may be witnessing the creation of new species: Homo Mutans and Homo Lumen.
It hardly matters whether these technologies emerge from disciplines such as shamanism (inner journeys), hypnotherapy (neuralfeedback, frequency-following response), psychology (process work), psychiatry (neuropsychology), neurology (TMS; Persinger's 'Relaxit'; Murphy's 'Shakti', shock-ti; Dr. Gilula’s Alpha-Stim), mysticism (Tantra; meditation; trance dance), or anthropology (biogenetic structuralism).
The ends are often the same whether the aim is explicitly artistic, mystical, spiritual, psychosexual, or psychotherapeutic. The brain, or rather mindbody, is actively and intentionally driven toward the experiential creative edge and changed by the process.
Art communicates and transforms the destructive, isolating and individualizing effects of genetic difference. It channels them into a culturally informative mode. It brings the “outsider” in. The conventional is thus confronted and transformed in a non-threatening manner. Yet, the art itself may still be perceived as “unsafe,” pushing the observer to the edge, to psychological boundaries, as in the case of cyberotica or fetish art.
The apprehension of beauty leaves a physical “footprint” in the brain. Some people, such as artistic geniuses, are more receptive to aspects of imagery, forms, and color than others. This extra sensibility is called neuroaesthetics.
Their works reveal previously unforeseen neural pathways, elusive links to subjective states.
Brain scientists like Vilayanur Ramachandran have conducted brain monitoring studies and identified eight essential rules for the perception of art. He claims his rules, including “less is more”, can predict which art movements will succeed, as they have broad-based neurological appeal.
Each brain center for form, motion, and color responds dramatically to strong, clear representations. Connecting things in seemingly unrelated ways, metaphorical linkage, is fundamental to artistic expression. Art allows the externalization of inner, subjective life in tangible images -- “meta-phorms.”
Ramachandran’s law of peak shift discloses that it’s not about representing or duplicating reality, but about hyperbole, exaggeration, and idealization. They create neural shortcuts, hypernormal stimuli that excite the relevant neurons, and liberate us from the tyranny of our particular viewpoint.
Logic can overpower blunt neuronal stimulation acting as a filter to pigeonhole, discount or judge art. However, at the neuronal level the brain still responds positively. The message still reaches the pleasure center.
Not all technologies necessarily involve hardware, wet ware or ars electronica, though in the future technoshamanism will undoubtedly evolve to include a variety of cybernetic enhancements. A range of related research (Charles Tart's altered states; John Lilly's sensory deprivation tanks; Mantak Chia's 'Darkroom' technique), consciousness studies (Chalmers; Hameroff) and the administration of psychedelics in laboratory situations (Rick Strassman; Robert Goutarel) can be included.
Postmodern visionaries and process oriented experiential psychotherapies also fall under this rubric. Among the notables are Marshall McLuhan (Media; "The medium is the massage"), Buckminster Fuller (whole systems; Spaceship Earth; Synergetics), Stanislov Grof (LSD therapy; Holotropic Breathwork), techno-shaman Terrence McKenna (Alien Dreamtime), stand-up philosopher and psychonaut Timothy Leary (Chaos & Cyber Culture).
Scientific proponents include Jungian analyst Arnold Mindell (process-oriented psychotherapy), shaman/therapist Graywolf Swinney (Consciousness Restructuring Process), Ericksonian hypnotherapist Ernest Rossi (Ideodynamic Healing), neurologist Antonio Damasio (Proto-Self Model), and a variety of essentially hypnotic alternative therapies like NLP, Psychosynthesis, and RET (Rapid Eye Treatment, formerly EMDR).
Digital Art and Multimedia Magic
Multimedia, and digital art in particular has led to a technological revolution in both our creative and perceptual experience. At the top of the list are digital pioneers such as Nam June Paik and “Digital Dali” Laurence Gartel. Not many artists have the unique opportunity of introducing a new medium as well as their vision and message.
They, and the pantheon of their successors, taught us to see the inner and outer worlds in new ways and expanded not only the perception of what art is, but also what it could become. The result, after a long uphill battle, is that digital fine arts has been accepted as a medium co-equal with the classical modes.
All technologies begin to alter consciousness with a variety of traditional shamanic techniques, and then proceed through an experiential journey, again in the shamanic tradition. The commonality among the artistic processes, therapies, and electronic multimedia is facilitation and exploitation of natural process in the stream of consciousness, the 'waking dream,' or REM (rapid eye movement) state.
Perhaps in the digital world, where an orgy of variations on a theme are rendered with the click of the mouse, perhaps the greatest talent is knowing when to quit, to stop manipulating the image, to not overwork, it, to let it speak for itself. Gartel considers his works detailed narratives. His FETISH SERIES was an exploration that pursued “an internal and external truth.”
"What should be photographed? This question is the foundation for the entire process. What merits taking a picture? I juxtapose imagery as objects, shapes, graffiti, abstractional forms in two dimensions. The careful balance configures these objects allowing the viewer-voyeur to delight in the collaged works, similar to a listener of music who embraces a symphony. One might hear and discover unheard melodies and sounds, as hidden pictures, and imagery acting as enrichments to the investigative eye. Perhaps there might be a seductive image lying unobtrusively, beckoning to be noticed. What does it mean to the overall semblance? What spirit does it breath? Color, shape and form of any object(s) add symbolic meaning. Why wear a red shoe with sparkles rather than one of deep purple? Does one wish to express oneself as hot and excited, or subdued and contained? Why something larger and powerful rather than diminutive and unassuming? These are several techniques and insights that contribute to a "GARTEL." While abstract in nature, its structure is very real as its construction is based itself on the solid foundation of an original photograph." (Gartel: Fetish, 2001)
Perhaps nothing comes closer to emulating the waking dream than filmmaking. Gartel recently explored this medium for himself with his fetish documentary. Rather than just another consumable voyeuristic peek into this taboo world, his view is one for the ages, a valuable window into the soul of that world, a compassionate yet historical portrait. When the scene has evolved or died out, the art will remain.
Both cinematography and electronic animation help to mirror the inner life of the filmmaker. Nothing so clearly captures the living essence of the psyche as the aptly named ANIMAtion.
The anima is not only the “inner feminine” of men and his soul guide, but also the embodiment of the World Soul, that restless panoply of imagery and pervasive mystification that is evident in the anthropological insights about animism. A spirit animates every object. The world and cosmos is alive, not merely dead matter. The secret of the Universe is that “It’s Alive.”
Video-wizard, animator Bob Judd has used psychosexual dreamlike imagery in his award-winning film work (Down, Bovine Vendetta and Jesse Helms is Cleaning Up America) and his Flash MX projects. He combines highly manipulated still composites with languid dissolves that reveal layer after layer of meaning and hypnotic ambient texture with mind-bending provocative reveals. Buried beneath the interactive presentational image are an array of “gotchas” that dive into the psyche of the observer causing visceral reactions.
This is true cyberotica, not in the pedestrian sense of internet sex, cheesy skin flicks, or even canned virtual reality fantasies. This is art, in the classical sense that truly moves us from where we are toward where the artist wants to take us. It captivates, enchants, even seduces. It triggers the sensual self. We journey as close as we may come to peering inside the head of another and sharing their dream life in an intimate form of co-consciousness.
The transformative processes, including art, pull us into states of rapport, confrontation, and identification. Even beyond that, it can take us out of ourselves into an expanded awareness. Instead of mundane sorcery like “I Dream of Jeannie” it exalts us and hurls us toward our own potential, more like “I Dream of Genius.” Great art speaks to our own inner Daemon, in the Platonic sense of the word. It changes not only our brain chemistry, but can modify our hardwiring.
Waking dreams can be induced through techniques which function to drive the state, such as ritual, performance and interactive art, hypnosis, intense breathing, drumming, dancing, chanting, imagery, meditation, etc. In neurological terms, they facilitate neural plasticity and exercise or reprogram neural circuits.
Thus, our society is transformed by dynamic art, by beauty, by quantum leaps one synapse at a time. We’ve been kicked out of the garden of forbidden fruits with a basket of goodies. Meanwhile, Prometheus has stolen the electronic fire of the divine. Today what was once forbidden has become virtually mandatory. We now consciously carry the burden of that forbidden knowledge without knowing where our journey will take us.