Festival in Helsinki

As soon as I land, Helsinki appears to me as a dream-memory juxtaposition of my own wonderment and imagination. Wandering the block, I find artifacts of my childhood and places I have cherished throughout my life: a swinging picnic table, a sandbox, a swing, a little library, a used bookstore, the scent of burning wood, pine trees, and the colors of leaves changing. It feels quite like I am walking through various dreamscapes that I have conjured over the years and various mash-ups of different places I remember.


What I remember most about my childhood are the things that I wondered about, and the atmosphere in Helsinki was like a song to tuned to the melody of those strong wonderments. One of my most vivid early memories is creating a little perceptual play for by looking at the sun reflecting off various surfaces and allowing the persisting afterimage to dance upon my visual perception in patterns that would dazzle and amuse me. I wonder why there is not more art playing with this superposition of afterimage and visual perception, especially as they interplay in vividness through the blink exchanging between a glowing shadowy overlay, to blink: neon flashing negative, and so on until the afterimage gradually fades away. The ongoing undulating chromatic transformations would float as an overlay onto a visual scene. If I had the skills, I would make this into an immersive cinematic experience. Maybe people would pay attention to lights and reflections in a new way, and become mesmerized once again like we allowed ourselves to be so easily as wondrous children.


At the festival, there was a boat-chariot that moved by the power of a few pedaling men in the front, and in the back there was a metal prism-like chamber that had been built as a camera obscura. The obscura had two aperture holes to simulate stereoscopy, so the viewer could wear 3D glasses and see the live camera obscura upside-down projection in layered 3-D. A man attached to the boat by a rope would row up and down the stream, and the viewer inside the camera obscura chamber could see him rowing like a paper cut-out atop the trees and the houses. Real life was transformed into a magical orchestration playing on perception through visual illusion. There was also a full bicycle-pulled carriage that would have the same effect, riding down the street path.


And I think that if there is any kind of magic in the world, then it has to be in our experience already and artists just amplify it to bring it to our full attention so that we become dazzled by what was already there all along, through its slightly permeated re-presentation. So when we sit in a carriage, for instance, and watch the world spin before us upside down in a camera obscura, we think, “Oh, my! How lovely and beautiful it all is, decorating the ceiling of our carriage!” And we come out into the world again with new eyes. We pay attention in a new way, if only for a brief moment. That’s the power of art.

“And those moments may be transient, but I think it’s what we live for.” – Kim Krizan, Waking Life

For me as an artist, my main goal isimg_20160923_111936 to get people to see one another anew, and my goal is to do this by opening a window to the world as experienced by or for someone. There is so little discourse on the world as experienced, and yet we know that when we look at a high-resolution digital image, for instance, that it does not look quite like the world as experienced. It is hyper-real in a way that albeit entrancing seems to be lying to us. Perhaps I am biased, but it seems to me that the most beloved images seem to be the ones that carry a greater experiential veridicality. How can we capture the world as experienced? How can we simulate this, and share it with others?


Oliver Sack’s case studies in Man Who Mistook His Wife were the first stories that opened my eyes to the world as experienced by or for someone in ways that fundamentally differed from my own experience. When I read those stories, I began to understand what it would be like to experience the world if one aspect of my mode of being where up-regulated or down-regulated in a certain way.

When I first watched Makropol’s film Skammekrogen (The Doghouse), I was the character of the little boy and then of the father. When I road the train home that day, I remember looking at people on the train differently, with a new awareness, like I had just glimpsed into a part of their minded experience. However, this did not feel like a violation of privacy, but instead like I was able to offer an acknowledgment or acceptance that they had not known was possible. It was like my soul was whispering, “Hey, hey you over there. I see you. It’s okay. Don’t be afraid. You’re accepted.” And when we met eyes, something new got exchanged.

I was at the festival working with BeAnotherLab’s Body Swap installation. This allows two people to see a live video streamed from one another’s head-mounted cameras into virtual reality head-mounted display, thus giving the illusion of swapping bodies. Through synchronous movements, two people experience a body sharing illusion whereby one’s normal sense of agency gets disrupted and two people lose sense of whether they are initiating or following a movement. When I think about what it means to be a minded being, it seems to me that the agentive self-location of the first-personal axis and embodiment is a real starting point. Yes, there is something ongoing and transparent in the inner labyrinth of the mind, but to be minded is also to be embodied in this first-personal way, looking out onto the world. What I love about first-person perspective sharing or swapping in virtual reality is that it allows access to someone else’s minded being in this way. When we see out from another person’s embodied view and hear their ongoing stream of consciousness (verbalized) and see them create something in an expressive way, this is a subjective alignment that is wholly new. This is a new way to be with another minded being.

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