Home

Speechless @ Body Worlds

December 27, 2006


Pentel Portrait of Plastinated Foetus

As I stood there frozen in one spot, sketchbook in one hand, wearing my blue museum temporary pass for artists, only my hand and eyes moving rapidly back and forth across the page to the miniature hands, feet, eyelashes before me, I felt like time stopped. I could hear words around me and feel the presence of others but I was intensely focussed.

It was not what I had expected. I heard voices speak of someone they knew who was born prematurely. They guessed at the number of weeks so they could make comparisons. There might have been thirty people, maybe as many as sixty people who passed by during the 90 minutes I spent in that small room with those six glass cases. I heard in their comments what I was thinking and feeling as I drew. Not a single one made an inappropriate comment, not a single joke or smart remark. There was no fear, disgust or disrespect.

I have felt this in front of moving works of art by Rubens, Rembrandt, Jordaens, Escher, Akpaliapik. I have never experienced this in a museum like this before. Where is this situated in terms of museology? or in terms of the Exhibition of Cultures? Science and art have come together here to create a new knowledge system.

There are moments that artists experience while drawing from life, even still life. A detail reveals itself as if it was not there a moment ago. It’s just the way the eye automatically eliminates ‘noise’, the confusion of details that prevent us from seeing the whatness of things. But when you take 30 minutes, an hour, three hours to draw one thing, those hidden details become unforgettable. Suddenly I could see — with complete clarity — fingernails, the balls of the toes, wrinkles like a faint pencil mark creating baby frowns . . . I could imagine the shape of the womb.

I asked myself if the mother or child grieved to see us before this portrayal. No, it was more like a skillfully carved sculpture than an irreverent glance. It was after all created by the hand of God, before it was prepared for this place by scientists, technicians, artists and inventors. I actually silently prayed to see if there was any disrespect in the process of creating or exhibiting these forms. I wanted to feel the presence of a lost soul if there was any. The only souls I felt were living and like me, they were in awe.

Science World, Vancouver, British Columbia where I visited the exhibit and the Institute of Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany where inventor/artist Gunther Von Hagens has his headquarters, require that all artists wear a special pass while drawing in the exhibition space and that they send a copy to them within two weeks of the museum visit. This is the first of four drawings that I will be uploading to fulfill that requirement. The original sketches were done in a sketchbook c. 10″ x 6.5″ using a 0.5mm Pentel P205 pencil. I completed four drawings in c. 2 – 2 1/2 hours.

For more information on Body Worlds 1, 2 and/or 3 and the inventor/artist Gunther Von Hagens (b. 1945) see below:

Von Hagens, Gunther. Body Worlds http://www.bodyworlds.com/en/pages/home.asp

Body Worlds 3 http://www.scienceworld.bc.ca/whats_on/Body-Worlds/overview.htm

Speechless

December 11, 2006


tag cloud

home| about | key concepts | theorists | timelines | Opinion pieces | Web 2.0

Somewhere on the Pacific a small lifeboat shared by two unwilling and unlikely passengers rolled with the waves. Pi knew he could do more than just survive once he realized that Richard was dependent on him. Pi could fish. A Bengal Tiger, king of his own ecosystem, would die at sea without the help of the seventeen-year-old. The book really ended there; it didn’t matter after that what was truth or fiction. Pi’s understanding of power in everyday life was his new reality.

Speechless refers to both the writer and reader. At one level it’s about a writers’ block being blogged. At another level is refers to deafening silence that occurs when one speaks with too much feeling or mentions an uncomfortable idea in a nice place, a unpleasant reminder in polite company, a divergent idea in a space of group think, another perspective than the Renaissance perspective. But it also refers to robust conversations among political philosophers who understand the power of language and everyday life. Socrates, Plato, Derrida called for renewals in philosophy. They examined what we do with words, the role of memory. Speechless alludes to Derrida’s urgent appeal for a renewed democracy, for a revitalized philosophy from a cosmopolitical point of view.

The human eye can distinguish 16 values of grey but that’s not including the subtle differences in the colours of grey. We just don’t have the time to see the variations.

I began speechless on October 16, 2006. Two months later I have learned what a permalink is and how to make one. It’s the equivalent to the old web page’s index.html. Now I have to learn where to use it.

https://oceanflynn.wordpress.com/index.php/2006/12/11/speechless

The cloud of tags below has grown organically since I first began using WordPress as my main blog host on October 16, 2006. I am building my customized clouds of folksonomies by working on and learning from a number of Web 2.0 feeds. This includes a Flickr account for photo blogging which attracts alot of viewers. I have only a couple of dozen images but one image alone uploaded on October 22, 2006 was viewed 1,179 times over a period of 64 days! I reworked this image again and posted it on speechless under “Wave Algorithms.”

Featured folksonomy:

Benign colonialism is a term that refers to an alleged form of colonialism in which benefits outweighed risks for indigenous population whose lands, resources, rights and freedoms were preempted by a colonizing nation-state. The historical source for the concept of benign colonialism resides with John Stuart Mills who was chief examiner of the British East India Company dealing with British interests in India in the 1820s and 1830s. Mills most well-known essays (1844) on benign colonialism are found in Essays on some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy. Mills’ view contrasted with Burkean orientalists. Mills promoted the training of a corps of bureaucrats indigenous to India who could adopt the modern liberal perspective and values of 19th century Britain. Mills predicted this group’s eventual governance of India would be based on British values and perspectives. Those who adopt benign colonialism as a truth claim argue that education, health, housing and employment possibilities improved conditions for indigenous peoples as settlers, merchants and administrators also brought new industries, liberal markets, developed natural resources and introduced improved governance. The first wave of benign colonialism lasted from c. 1790s-1960s. The second wave included new colonial policies such as exemplified in Hong Kong (Liu 2003)), where unfettered expansion of the market created a new form of benign colonialism. Political interference and military interference (Doyle 2006) in independent nation-states, such as Iraq (Campo 2004 ), is also discussed under the rubric of benign colonialism in which a foreign power preempts national governance to protect a higher concept of freedom. The term is also used in the 21st century to refer to American, French and Chinese market activities in countries on the African continent with massive quantities of underdeveloped nonrenewable envied resources. Literature that challenges the assumptions of benign colonialism claiming colonialist project as it actually unfolded placed First Nations, Inuit and Métis at higher risks of vulnerabilities to catastrophes, to social exclusion and human rights abuses, have not been as widely publicized.

For more see Flynn-Burhoe (2007).

There is a widespread Canadian mythology that First Nations, Inuit and Métis are among those who benefited from settler colonies prempting, improving, managing and governing aboriginal lands, resources and educating, training, developing, serving, monitoring and governing its peoples. Those who adopt benign colonialism as a truth claim argue that education, health, housing and employment possibilities improved conditions for the indigenous peoples since the arrival of settlers. Literature that challenges the assumptions of benign colonialism claiming colonialist project as it actually unfolded placed First Nations, Inuit and Métis at higher risks of vulnerabilities to catastrophes, to social exclusion and human rights abuses, have not been as widely publicized. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) addressed these claims but the term benign colonialism is still a convenient truth for many. Celebratory and one-sided social histories of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the RCMP, and various government leaders such as John A. MacDonald or civil servants such as Indian Agents, northern adventurers, when viewed through the lens of settlers while ignoring the perspective of First Nations, Inuit and Métis contribute to on-going dissemination of distorted histories. Museums, maps and census contribute to these distorted histories by grave omissions.

Related citations:

“Today, Mill’s most controversial case would be benign colonialism. His principles of nonintervention only hold among “civilized” nations. “Uncivilized” peoples, among whom Mill dumps most of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, are not fit for the principle of nonintervention. Like Oude (in India), they suffer four debilitating infirmities – despotism, anarchy, amoral presentism and familism — that make them incapable of self-determination. The people are imposed upon by a “despot… so oppressive and extortionate as to devastate the country.” Despotism long endured has produced “such a state of nerveless imbecility that everyone subject to their will, who had not the means of defending himself by his own armed followers, was the prey of anybody who had a band of ruffians in his pay.” The people as a result deteriorate into amoral relations in which the present overwhelms the future and no contracts can be relied upon. Moral duties extend no further than the family; national or civic identity is altogether absent. In these circumstances, Mill claims, benign colonialism is best for the population . Normal relations cannot be maintained in such an anarchic and lawless environment. It is important to note that Mill advocates neither exploitation nor racialist domination. He applies the same reasoning to once primitive northern Europeans who benefited from the imperial rule imposed by civilized Romans. The duties of paternal care, moreover, are real, precluding oppression and exploitation and requiring care and education designed to one day fit the colonized people for independent national existence. Nonetheless, the argument also rests on (wildly distorted) readings of the history and culture of Africa and Asia and Latin America. Anarchy and despotic oppression did afflict many of the peoples in these regions, but ancient cultures embodying deep senses of social obligation made nonsense of presentism and familism. Shorn of its cultural “Orientalism,” Mill’s argument for trusteeship addresses one serious gap in our strategies of humanitarian assistance: the devastations that cannot be readily redressed by a quick intervention designed to liberate an oppressed people from the clutches of foreign oppression or a domestic despot. But how does one prevent benign trusteeship from becoming malign imperialism, particularly when one recalls the flowery words and humanitarian intentions that accompanied the conquerors of Africa? How far is it from the Anti-Slavery Campaign and the Aborigine Rights Protection Society to King Leopold’s Congo and Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”?

Here Doyle is referring to John S. Mill cited in “A Few Words on Nonintervention.” . 1973. In Essays on Politics and Culture, edited by Gertrude Himmelfarb, 368-84. Gloucester, Peter Smith.

See also WordPress featured blogs Benign colonialism.

Related tags: Tom Kent Royal Commission on Newspapers, Hackett and Zhao, economic efficiency, Power and everyday life, ethical topography of self and the Other, teaching learning and research, wealth disparities will intensify, C.D. Howe, Cannibals with Forks.Selected annotated webliography

Campo, Juan E.  2004. “Benign Colonialism? The Iraq War: Hidden Agendas and Babylonian Intrigue.” Interventionism. 26:1. Spring.

Doyle, Michael W.  2006. “Sovereignty and Humanitarian Military Intervention.” Hoover Institute.

Falk, Richard. Human Rights Horizons: the Pursuit of Justice in a Globalizing World. New York & London: Routledge.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. Benign colonialism. >> Speechless. Uploaded January 14th, 2007

Liu, Henry C. K. “China: a Case of Self-Delusion: Part 1: From colonialism to confusionLiu 2003.” Asia Times. May 14, 2003.

Kurtz,Stanley. 2003.”Lessons from the British in India.” Democratic Imperialism: A Blueprint. Policy Review.Mill, John Stuart. 1844. Essays on some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy.
Of these Essays, which were written in 1829 and 1830,

Current debates on colonization and human rights (Falk 2000) raise questions about the notion of benign colonialism. The dominant language, culture and values of colonizers imposed on colonised peoples is often narrated as salutary. Dominant social and cultural institutions contributed to faciliating the entry of indigenous peoples trapped in unsustainable subsistence economies. Previously colonised peoples claim that the colonization process resulted in a parallel process of the colonization of the minds of indigenous peoples. The process of decolonization of memory (Ricoeur 1980), history and the spirit is crucial for the social inclusion (OECD) of indigenous peoples and nations within nations, such as Canada.

 


This is a work in process vaguely entitled Synaptic Gasp. The synaptic cleft in the human brain reminds me of the gap between the hand of God and Adam in Michaelangelo’s visualization of Creation.

Neurons must be triggered by a stimulus to produce nerve impulses, which are waves of electrical charge moving along the nerve fibres. When the neuron receives a stimulus, the electrical charge on the inside of the cell membrane changes from negative to positive. A nerve impulse travels down the fibre to a synaptic knob at its end, triggering the release of chemicals (neurotransmitters) that cross the gap between the neuron and the target cell, stimulating a response in the target (Baggaley 2001:104).

My mind is stuck on the image of the gap. That’s the leap of faith between that which we can know and that which is beyond our capacity to know. In the human brain this synaptic gap is so microscopic no one has ever seen it. But there are amazing images that are somewhat like science fiction as artists attempt to compile scientific data into visualizations of what it might look like. I am not attempting to be a science illustrator. But I think somehow this image will be like a cartography of a way of thinking that resonates more with complex hyperlinkages than with the human brain. I have been working on this Adobe Photoshop Image which seems to keep getting larger and larger.

This is the Synaptic Gasplarger version of Synaptic Gasp,
originally uploaded by ocean.flynn.

I used the starry night wallpaper for the background. I did a pencil drawing of the the neural architecture learning as I was drawing. And I keep making sketches of close-ups so now I am trying to imagine terminal nerve fibres entwined in neurofilament, proteins at the interface of the downstream end of neuron’s dendritic spine and an excitary synapse.

The brain is a supersystem of systems. Each system is composed of an elaborate interconnection of small but macroscopic cortical regions and subcortical nuclei, which are made of microscopic local circuits, which are made of neurons, all of which are connected by synapses (Damasio 1994:30).

Damasio’s elegant text reads like poetry. He describes the neural underpinnings of reason and challenges Cartesian dualisms of mind/body, emotions/reason. Feelings and logical thinking are not like oil and water.

The “body [. . .] represented in the brain [constitutes] an indispensable frame of reference for the neural process that we experience as the mind (Damasio 1994:xvi).”

Our bodies are the ground reference for the construction we make of the world. Our embodied selves construct the ever-present sense of subjectivity, our experience. The body becomes is the instrument through which we construct our most refined thoughts and actions (Damasio 1994:xvi).

Churchland takes this reasoning to imply that we, our subjective selves — our very consciousness — are merely chemical reactions, synapses firing across synaptic gaps for purely physical reasons that science alone (not religion) will one day explain and interpret for us.

The ontology of things ─ objects, substance, stuff are all one thing ─ raises questions about the world’s origin or original principle (arche) and its nature (physis). The Conflicting-Worlds model holds that science and religion are mutually exclusive ways of knowing. Science is one ontological perspective, a way of studying what exists and ways of being of different kinds of things. Religion provides another ontological perspective or another way of adding something to the study of what exists. Those who adopt the Same-Worlds-Model, argue that science and religion are different epistemologies not different ontologies. Probably most of those who believe in the Same-Worlds-Model believe in a Higher Power, a God, Divine Architect in some form, who created man with the capacity and responsibility to explore logic, pure mathematics and physics. I can believe what I want but I like to read from both sides of the Möbius Strip.

Flashback: A uniformed unsmiling, fully armed police officer pulled me over. What had I done? What was I, my young, idealistic, apolitical and therefore politically naïve self ─ doing there in a Third World country under an unstable, potentially dangerous, communist, military dictatorship? The officer leaned into the open window on the passenger side of our old Renault 4. There was a long silent pause as he decided what to do with this flushed creature whose hands were clenched on the steering wheel like a ship’s railing in a storm. He reached in and picked up the book on the front car seat and calmly asked me a question in a voice that could have been saying, “Did you know you failed to stop back there?” But that’s not what he asked. Instead, I can still hear his words even decades later. He asked me, “Do you pray?” Is this a threat? No, he was fingering the book entitled Livres de prière indicating that he too prayed and would appreciate having the book. As I drove away trembling I looked in the rear view mirror as he opened the book, then pocketed it.

After I returned to my Western home and graduate studies, I could not forget this incident which repeated itself in many forms. In spite of the pervasive even dogmatic message that the logical next step in human consciousness resided in the 20th century’s western form of atheism, humanism and materialism most people  many still living in fragmented nation states that were former colonies ─ still believe that humans are spiritual beings and that some form of prayer unites us all even if it is a silent “Help!”

For more on the body/mind duality debate see Dawkins, Pinker, Fodor, Searle. According to Richard Dawkins (1976 SG, 2006 GD) these scientific and religious ways of knowing are conflicting and mutually exclusive.

Heraclites described the ontological ultimate stuff a process, a ceaseless flux like fire, not a substance retaining its identity through time.

These sources include:

Baggaley, Ann, Ed. (2001), “Anatomy of the Human Body,” Human Body, Dorling Kindersley Publishing: NY, p. 104.
Damasio, Antonio R., 1994, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Grosset/Putnam: New York.
Damasio, Hanna, (1994) “Gage’s skull, illustrations” in Damasio, Antonio R., 1994, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Grosset/Putnam: New York. p. 31-2.
Johnson, Graham, (2005), “The Synapse Revealed,” 23 September 2005, Science Magazine and the National Science Foundation. The first place winner of the Science and Engineering Visualization Challengewas Graham Johnson from Medical Media, Boulder, Colorado. His image is described on Science Magazine’s web page:

Deep inside the brain, a neuron prepares to transmit a signal to its target. To capture that fleeting moment, Graham Johnson based this elegant drawing on ultra-thin micrographs of sequential brain slices. After scanning a sketch into 3D modeling software, he colored the image and added texture and glowing lighting reminiscent of a scanning electron micrograph.


Bateke Mask (1998-9) Acrylic on Arches paper (30


Bateke Mask (1998-9) Acrylic on Arches paper (30″ x 22.5″)
ocean.flynn

We left the P. R. Congo in 1989 taking very little with us. We had purchased the masks from a Congolese who came to our home, sang songs for us in Kicongo and even posed for two portraits, one for me and one for him. At that time he was concerned because this generation of youth in his village no longer wanted to learn how to make these masks. I learned later in preparing for a Picasso exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada that Picasso had a mask similar to this one collected in the early 1900s..

The warm, dark wood of the interior of the A-frame cottage on the lake contrasted with the cold, blue-white snow and December sky. Coming back to Canadian winters was just part of the unexpected reverse cultural shock experienced by those returning to their countries of origin after extended time away. By 1999 when I painted this we were all living our Canadian lives enjoying winter again with ice skating on frozen lakes like Lac Gauvreau, La Peche, Quebec.

Selected webliography and bibliography

Robert, Anne-Cécile. 2006. “Du cauchemar à l’espoir? Rêve d’une ‘seconde indépendance’ sur le continent africain.” Le monde diplomatique.November 2006.