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 developed around them. 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 ubiquitous influence of media —and the accelerated rate of information transpiring through it— seems to have had a great impact on what this value means and how it is interpreted. In this moment, where 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 which appear as aesthetic modalities that address and synthesize various criteria in their individual arenas of engagement. It is through this understanding of a modal, pluralistic approach within the 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 has the potential to become rediscovered and reinvigorated by its aesthetic, emotional, perceptual and humanistic depth.

    An understanding of such “modal” culture found at present can be gain 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 experience increases through relational ways of thinking, we become more engendered towards the communication of complex “worlds”. These “worlds” are what are referred to with the term Modal Environs.

    The Modal Environs acts through 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 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, however appealing to qualities of the imagination. 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. 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.[1]  There is enough suggested by our experience with the increase of this phenomenon that the potential for this has increased. The idea of a Modal Environs, however, works on the opposite end of this premise. Rather than being engaged with the phenomenology of transpiring information, it works to hold or bind things together through their aesthetic gravity, creating a sensible aesthetic ecosystem of various interrelated things.  Within this aesthetic "event-space", cleared of the phenomenology told by Jameson, we are exposed to an experience of familiar things that are instead fraught with lingering feelings, sensations and ambiences carried by over by our memories and our personal experiences. Roland Barthes, in writing about photography, would refer to this as the punctum, which in Latin carries the meaning of a wound, a mark left by a pointed instrument.  The punctum the realm of the personal, which leads up to the infra-personal, the place where the inner-world collides with outer world. This outer world is the studium: the objective, social sphere where images and objects interact and mingle. Through these aesthetic modes, a reflexive means of creating something more “real” can occur: through the greater potential of merging the personal with the public sphere; something more tangible and and speaking more archetypal than offerings of the fleeting present.

    While our understanding of perception in relation to visual art continues to evolve through our increased capacity for relational thinking, empathetic sharing of experience and expressions of aesthetic modalities, working past limitation of linear thinking allows out lexical capacity for aesthetic expression to becomes more expansive and multi-dimensional. As philosopher Jordi Claramonte states:

    "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 actuality and ways of doing things, we can expand the dimensions of art and its modes of expression. By developing a perceptual basis that accounts for plural contingencies, we can gain access to a perceivable microcosm that accounts for a deeper understanding of art’s intrinsic, humanistic, 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.