Modal Environs - Art as Expanding Microcosm
How Images Inhabit Aesthetic Ecosystems: A Dinosaur in a Contemporary Art Sale
Art of the Meme: Coping with the Religion of a Commercial Paradigm
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 media and communication that have developed
around them. At a fundamental level, our assessment of the
progress of art since then has been historically linear, with
the status of art left 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
ubiquitous influence of media —and the accelerated rate of
information transpiring through it— has had a great impact on
what this value means and how it is assessed. At this moment
when artistic culture has become both 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, yet
appear as aesthetic modalities synthesizing various criteria in
their individual arenas of engagement. It is through this
understanding of a modal, pluralistic approach within the
context of the late information age that the insufficiency of
the linear model begins to become clear, and the role of art as
a more expansive practice reveals potential to become
invigorated by its aesthetic, perceptual, emotional, and
An understanding of such “modal” culture found at present can be gained 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. In other words, as our capacity to manage more complex modes of information and the sharing of experiences increases through relational ways of thinking, we become more engendered towards the communication of complex “worlds”. These “worlds” are what we referred to with the term Modal Environs.
The Modal Environs acts through communicating a 'perceptographic' visage or corporeal image based on expressions of content and the creation of context through an expanded, aesthetic, and spatial field of sensibility. Mood, timbre, and tone (in addition to physical materials themselves) become elements to delineate an environment in the Modal Environs— a sphere of sensation that extends beyond the limits of the work’s physicality. As the linear mode of perception becomes less reliable, and as life experienced through platforms of information becomes more pluralistic, the Modal Environs acts a means of producing an image of greater lasting potential; an image formed in the language of visual reality and physical space, whereas appealing to qualities of the imagination. It is an image varying from the static appearance of everyday reality, however, by maintaining an experiential operation manifesting as the tactile performance of a perceptual construct, designed as becoming veiled over what might be 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.
Fredric Jameson once wrote about how the rapid transposition of present events through information media produced a certain type of amnesia or forgetfulness. There is enough suggested by our increasing experience of this phenomenon through digital media that our recollection, and immersion, of what we experience has decreased. The premise of the Modal Environs, however, works in opposition to this. Rather than to remain affected by the phenomenology of transpiring information, the Modal Environs works to bind immaterial things together through their aesthetic gravity, creating a sensible aesthetic ecosystem of interrelated things. Within this aesthetic "event-horizon", thus cleared of the phenomenology described by Jameson, we are exposed to an experience of things distilled in an ambience of lingering sensations carried within the memory of our personal experiences. Roland Barthes, in writing about photography referred to this as the punctum, which in Latin carries the meaning of a wound, or a mark left by a pointed instrument. The punctum is the realm of the personal, the place where the inner-world collides with outer world. This outer world, conversely, is the studium— the objective, social sphere where images and objects interact and mingle. Through these two aesthetic modes, a reflexive means of creating something more tangible might occur with greater potential of merging the personal (subjective) with the public (objective) sphere.
While our experience of perception in relation to visual art continues to evolve through our increased capacity of relational thinking, this experience of aesthetic modalities allows our lexical capacity for their expression to become more multi-dimensional. As explained by the 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
The creation of new “worlds” in relation to visual art, in other words, has less to do with inventing “new forms” than it does with changing our understanding of how we see things. By accepting different modes of expression and different models for doing things, the dimensions of art are expanded. By laying down a foundation which accounts for plural contingencies, we perceive a expanding microcosm accounting for art’s intrinsic, humanistic, and expressive value that connects to a larger collective sphere.
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.