MODAL ENVIRONS - ART AS EXPANDING MICROCOSM


    Since the rise of modernism and the ensuing information age, the role of art has undergone many shifts and adapted to many societal changes in conjunction with the technological advancements of communication and media which have developed around it. At a fundamental level, our assessment of the progress of art since this time has been historically linear, with the status of art largely contingent upon the subjects of culture, economy and media to support its value. Within the digital age however, it can perhaps be easily accepted that the pervasive influence of media --and the acceleration of information transpiring through it-- seems to have had a great impact on what this value means and how it is interpreted. In this present era, wherein artistic culture has become overtly pluralistic and transient, the model of linearity which has in the past justified art has become undermined by changing perceptions of making and viewing which have yet to be fully understood --and they are uniquely modal in their assessment and synthesis of multiple criteria. It is through this understanding of a modal approach within context of this late information age that the insufficiency of the linear begins to become clear, and the role of art as a more expansive practice becomes rediscovered and reinvigorated with its aesthetic, emotional, perceptual and humanistic depth.

    My understanding of the development of “modal” culture in our present era stems from this essential premise: that our increased familiarity with data, images, products, processes, methods, genres and movements has generated a more “multi-polar” perspective based upon the reconciliation of numerous contingencies. Or, in other words, as our capacity to manage more complex modes of information and experience increases through relational ways of thinking, we become more engendered towards the communication of complex “worlds”. These “worlds” are what I have come to refer to as the Modal Environs.

    The Modal Environs acts as a means of communicating a “perceptographic” visage or a “corporeal image”, based on expressions of content and the creation of context through an expanded, aesthetic and spatial sensibility. Moods, or tone, in the Modal Environs (in addition to physical materials themselves) become elements to create an environment; an environment of sensation which extends beyond the limits of the work’s physicality. As the linear mode of perception becomes increasingly fallible, and as life experienced through platforms of information becomes more fleeting, the Modal Environs acts a means of producing an image of greater lasting potential --as an image born within the language of visible reality and physical space, yet appealing to qualities of the imagination. It is an image varying from the static appearance of everyday reality however, in that it maintains an experiential operation manifesting as the tactile performance of a perceptual construct, designed as becoming veiled over what we consider as conventional reality. It is an image that is meant to somewhat replicate, yet subvert, components of the commonplace into an atmospheric, albeit more changeless, semblance of reality.

    The time would seem crucial in addressing the evolving concerns of art and creativity --particularly in relation to unfolding perceptions through media-- at a moment when art comes under widespread pressure from both political and commercial ends. As creativity and artistic ability is vocally appreciated in our society, our education programs strike it from their curriculums. As visual art is conveyed as one of the pillars of our advanced culture, we are left chasing after the allure of its monetary value alone, while ignoring its inherent value.

    My understanding of art in response to these issues is that --in addition to its formal or superficial readings-- we can understand and relate to art in a more variant and in-depth manner. In addition to descriptions of visual styles or artistic preferences, we can seek an art which is more encompassing of our human capabilities, sensibilities, imagination and potential. We may no longer be able to lay claim to a new avant-garde or to sweeping historic art movements in this pluralistic environment, but we can adapt and advance our understanding of what art is and how it functions in relation to how we perceive and experience it. All of this exists in stark contrast to the mechanized and data-based sensibilities which seem to have constructed the basis of our contemporary lives today in the digital world. Yet instead of succumbing to its negative effects, I believe we can utilize these means to create a stronger perception of artistic value and integrity.

    As our experience in the information age becomes increasingly transient, and as the things in our immediate spheres of awareness appear to become more illusory and interchangeable, there is a nebulous state generated within this experience which creates a static “space” of sorts. Fredric Jameson referred to this effect as a type of “amnesia” more than 30 years ago speaking in terms of analog media:

    "One is tempted to say that the very function of the news media is to relegate historical experiences as rapidly as possible into the past. The informational function of the media would thus be to help us forget, to serve as the very agents and mechanisms for our historical amnesia." 1

    The implication for us in the present is that, since our experience with information/data/images through media has increased exponentially, our increased state of “forgetfulness” has likely produced an even more highly ambiguous view of our structural basis of reality; since, without a basis of history, one has not really a foundation from which to build upon. However, it is within this territory created by the digital age wherein we are also exposed to such lingering traces of feelings, sensations, memories or ambiences that are carried over residually through representations and reiterations of aesthetic modes transferred forward through media. It is through these aesthetic modes of feeling, memory or thoughts that the reflexive need to create a more “real” variant to the former experience of reality has the potential to occur: to create something which has more personal meaning, to create something which feels more tangible and more real than the temporal offering of the fleeting present.

    Additionally, our understanding of the role of perception in relation to visual art continues to involve our increased capacity for relational thinking, for empathetic sharing of experience and for expressions of aesthetic modalities. Working past our former limitation of linear thinking, our lexical capacity for aesthetic expression thus becomes more expansive and multi-dimensional. As described in an analogy by philosopher Jordi Claramonte:

    "With the reintroduction of modal thinking we aim to explore an ontology and a reasoning of a different order, as if we were passing from a flat, two-dimensional world to a four-dimensional one, from plane geometry to a historically deployed topology." 2

    In other words, with respect to visual art, the creation of new “worlds” for us to imagine and inhabit has less to do with inventing “new forms” than it does with upgrading the way we see things. By understanding other modes of actuality and other ways of doing things, we can increase and expand our awareness of the dimensions of art and its potential modes of expression. By developing a perceptual basis that accounts for the reconciliation of numerous contingencies, we can gain access to a perceivable microcosm which accounts for a deeper understanding of art’s intrinsic and expressive value. 1 Fredric Jameson, The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998, published 1999.
    2 Jordi Claramonte, An introduction to Modal Aesthetics, written 2016.