Saturday, September 20, 2008

image, word & materialization

So what do image, word and materialization have to do with a jug of moonshine, an old hillbilly's hat and a campfire?

Stick with me here...

The old competition between image & text may be a bogus binary that limits our fuller perception and more powerful use of language in all its forms. Try submitting a cv, resume or grant application in "Jokerman" font and you'll get a immediate sense of the powerful visual subtleties of typography.

The visually aesthetic aspects of text are often overlooked, but they are immensely important. In fact, the font Helvetica was recently the subject of a documentary that charts its design influences, deployment and ubiquity in our Web-linked global culture.

The alphabet is primarily visual, a series of simple but specifically shaped images that we group and combine in nearly infinite ways, a finely articulated complex visual code, but still essentially visual, essentially an image. And images are powerful, whether they take the form of a minutely articulated code or the broader compass of shape color and spatial composition.
Undoubtedly, humans were drawing before we were writing. The Cave of Lascaux as well as even older discoveries at the Cave of Chauvet demonstrate that we've been playing with visual communication for at least 30,000 years.

OK, so here's where we connect to the sculpted hillbilly items om the image above.

To foreground the complexity of contemporary communications, first review the layers of the image: you are looking, through a computer, at a digital photograph of three objects made of polymer clay baked in a conventional oven for 15 minutes at 275 degrees. (and in regards to the layers of image, I won't even mention the code that is behind the images on the screen!) That this astonishing complexity grew out of our first scratchings on walls and clay tablets has to be one of the most overlooked truths of human history.

While the cave wall is a galaxy away from digital palettes like Second Life, there is a clear connection between the creativity evoked and the ancient power of the plastic and imagic word to manifest material existence. Take Pappy Enoch for example.

If you've followed this blog or In a Strange Land, you've read of the backwoods antics of avatar Pappy Enoch who now has a small clan of fans and fellow hillbillies. By now, the attentive reader may have noticed the similarity between the hand-crafted hat pictured above, and the digitally crafted hat that Pappy is wearing in his close-up shot in the post below.

Certainly this is not great 'art' (and it need not be) but perhaps it's a small example of the ever-growing chain of creative inspiration that runs all the way back to those caves - and to which we all have a right to contribute. Unlike Blake's
"mind forg'd manacles" this chain of playful creation is one that frees the mind from self & socially imposed limits and allows us to experiment and imagine other possibilities. The practical wisdom of this approach is becoming increasingly clear as recent brain studies have demonstrated.

In my tiny link in that chain, I saw the digital creative possibilities of Second Life when it led Joe Essid to create the avatar Pappy, whose unique charm and gentlemanly hillbilly sentiment have earned him a small following in SL as you can see in Pappy's 'blob'. Though I've found it difficult to spend much time in SL, I've been inspired by Pappy, and now the "Pappyverse" expands into material polymer clay 'reality' in some kind of post-post-modern digital-plastic version of the Golem, but hopefully less of a 'shapeless mass' and with a better attitude.

The wisdom of Pappy, is hybrid, exploring the new, maintaining and revising the old, always shifting with changing challenges, experimenting with new configurations, materials, media and ideas.

Stay tuned for a follow-up discussion of the technologies of fire, moonshine, jug and hat....