Before art - Kinetics - Impossible Figures


We hope the title Antes del Arte (Before Art) will somehow clarify the exhibition approach.

The aim is neither to exhibit “artistic” works, self-proposed as linguistically resolved, nor refute none of the trends in activities ‘multivocally’ called “art”.

Then, what does "being before" mean? The fact that some artists and an art critic decide to do away with what has already been produced in order to tackle primary problems may give rise to confusion and distortion. More particularly, a shallow interpretation could easily put down such an attempt to neo-constructive or neo-geometric trends that tend to present, with little rigour, their asystematic aesthetic intuitionism with adjectives and expressions like “experimental”, “new aesthetic trend", etc. For instance, we believe this has have been the case with two important exhibitions: “Objetivo 67” (Directorate General of Fine Arts, Madrid) and “Mente 1” (René Metras gallery and Architects Association of Barcelona). Something must be made clear: the field chosen now is previous to "art" formulations.

What is our purpose?

Basically, we want to draw attention to the very well-known and dramatic gap between the current situation of sciences and the basic information used by different “art” means and trends. The controversy between “art” currents is not of immediate interest to us: basically, our goal is to give examples of updated fundamental information. But, if this implies reconsidering critically the means used by “art”, then we are not to be blamed. The blame will be on those who –by controlling the tools of visual communication- ignore the perspectives opened up by the spectacular progress of modern science. Please note we are not referring to "science” as an abstract notion but as an arsenal of new data and methodologies essential to any aspect of human communication, one of its sectors being focused on the so-called "artistic" communicating modes. In the second half of the 20th century, it is incredible, worrying, and devastating that the quantitatively predominant art and criticism continue feeding on intuition, irrationality, and anachronism. As far as communication is concerned, it is blatantly logical for sheer intuition and approximation in an effective use of the means to only begin where rational and scientific knowledge finish, where demonstration and experimentation come to an end. This is quite obvious. The same goes for the reciprocal impreparation of those with a scientific-technical background. Are our examples too basic, are they erroneous, out of focus, and underdeveloped? Of course they are. But someone had to have a conscious try. The issue is relevant, for the only point of contact today between "both cultures" (in their dual meaning, artistic-literary / scientific-technical, minorities / masses) is in dangerously technocratic hands at the service of consumption civilisation, as is the case with advertising arts, industrial design, etc. It is not the artists or the scientists who establish the link between arts and sciences today on the basis on updated standards but the experts at the service of 'mass processes' and terribly poor values. Science justifies its own values by delving into the finding of reality, including in it the fields of vision, perception, communication, structures, and behaviours of nature. What about “art”? How can art communicate effectively and in an up-to-date way by ignoring what we now know about the foundations and processes of its communicative task?

We need to explain the origin of this first exhibition. For some time now, we -some artists and myself (the critic writing this)- have met up in Valencia, in study sessions. With an open mind, we have been absolutely respectful of personal vocations, as the idea, once again, is not to come up with "artistic solutions" but to learn, trying to relate fundamental data previous to art. Only a minimum portion of the researchable field is shown. Next to quantitative scarcity is the evident qualitative limitation of processes that have just been started, of examples whose technically rudimentary and conceptually embryonic nature we willingly acknowledge. The inadequacy of our training and the demand for genuine mental re-conditioning are -and will be- the main obstacles, we believe.

Consequently, don’t expect any “discoveries”: there are only “translations” or “exemplifications” of known things. Maybe, in some cases, not even the minimum rigour required has been reached. But all beginnings must have faults and mistakes. Precisely, the exhibition is not intended to show results but to enhance mistakes, so that we can be told how to correct them and be given the information to be considered from now on.

To put it simply, we face one way with three junctions.

The way is neither pre-conceptual nor doctrinarian but methodological. The goal is to offer examples to illustrate some useful basic behaviours and so understand the real foundations of a communication operated by visual arts or a communication composed of visual factors such as painting, sculpture, architecture, and industrial design. Basically, the method consists in presenting some elementary phenomena -or reproducing them to make them more accessible- with variations in some cases.

Communication or complex level (relationships between signs, meanings, and languages) is a later step (as happens with noises and sounds, which –together with the ability to hear- can produce subsequently musical signs, meanings, and language). At this level, like in any other eligible level, the cooperation of the audience and the observation of their reactions and inter-individual similarities –the objective basis of human society- are essential. But, when underlining the methodological course, excluding doctrinarian preconcepts –antiscientist by definition- we strongly reject the "anti-ideological" ideologism of those technocrats who run away from 'contaminations' that they pejoratively call "humanism“ and "progressivism". Methodology is here understood as a way of operating in which science and art may coincide and find identical support to work at the service of man and progress, at the service of humanised communicating means (objects, "works", atmospheres...) in line with the real psycho-physical operation of our senses and our mind. No need to say that architects and urban planners (possibly more urgently than painters, designers, and sculptors) need to rationally know such starting points.

In the way mentioned earlier, the first junction of examples refer to the operation of vision as per formal, chromatic, or combined variants.

Let’s take, for instance, McKay’s well-known radial figure based on the ‘disturbance' produced by some redundant forms in the visual system. This ‘disturbance’ occurs 1) when we tend to “see” the complete figure “looking” at one of its parts only, as seeing it all is annoying because of the adaptation effort; 2) by staring at the static figure –if the size is right- a virtual back or forth motion is perceived, like a beat; 3) if, after staring at the figure, one looks at a white surface, a post-effect of points moving can be seen. On the other hand, the post-image of a series of adequately arranged curvy lines is comparable to the iridescence of moiré. The experience we offer consists of a rotational superimposition of a surface with McKay's radial figure and another one with curvilinear variants. The effects are no longer unpleasant; multiple images are offered including as “effects” some which were static and isolated "post-effects".

Another example. Depth and relief effects can be reversed by displacing the light source. The same can be achieved by rotating and displacing the object and holding it still in front of the light. The demonstration is identical in both cases but the second one is shown because its production is more feasible.

The second group refers to the behaviour of perception.

Especially illustrative are the so-called “impossible figures” (L.S. and R. Penrose), with new examples. The impossible figure appears when trying to obtain a three-dimensional figure using two-dimensional data. The resulting figure cannot exist. We need to "analyse" it in order to realize that we have been tricked. But our behaviour is not arbitrary. If the human mind tends to resolve ambiguous situations by configuring and finding meanings for the received stimuli, it seems reasonable to assume that the immediate perception “can” prefer deception over reality when receiving confusing stimuli (though correctly configured in appearance). Critical and interpretative mechanisms are triggered to correctly "assess" the information given by certain erroneous data accepted as correct at a first glimpse; under some conditions, the “mechanics of error” is not merely passive but active, as apparently proved. According to Gestalt psychology, in a conflict between several possible forms, the structuring of regular, simple or symmetric “privileged forms” prevails. If we are offered a chaotic allocation of dots, we will perceive –as single configurations- the dots that can be segregated, which will allow us to resolve an undetermined visual situation. The segregation will be towards “privileged forms” in such a way that –as argued by Wertheimer– “the form assumed is always the one that can be realized best under the dominant conditions”.

The third group includes some examples of a structural nature. In these cases, the word “structure” is used in a partly figurative sense.

Here, symmetrically configured constructions are “structures”. The aim is to offer the audience the possibility of consciously assessing, under favourable conditions, their own perceptions and reactions, as the objects are sometimes conceived as pure relationships between forms and balances, parts and totality. The old debate on the effects of symmetry or laterality, found at the onset of all “aesthetic” evaluations of the visual form, is reduced to its primary formulation.

On the other hand, though void of a demonstrative nature, we must consider –as potential arguments for the rational explanation of aesthetic phenomenology– the possible analogue or differential relationships between “descriptive” configurations (mathematical or chemical formulas, charts of certain processes, etc.) and “natural” (mineralogical, crystallographic) structures, including those of living organisms and, of course, our own human configuration.

The exhibition is presented best with ultraviolet lighting. This system has not been chosen for the purpose of surprise or spectacular effects but on the assumption that the perception of some examples is more concentrated and intense in an infrequent atmosphere, with colour-light stimuli that integrate visitors, as their clothing and accessories will react differently –like the exhibits- depending on their light absorption or rejection.