The Studio of Eric Valosin

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sometimes Things Don't Work Until They Stop Working

I've been tweaking and refining a submission for the 6x6x2014 anonymous small works show, and have hit nothing but roadblocks and failures. My first post explains a bit of what I set out to do, creating a QR code image from a Meister Eckhart quote that takes the viewer to random pages of text relating to the quote. My next post talked about all the problems I encountered when, after nearing completion, it first failed to be visible and then failed to function. I was close to scrapping it, but if I could figure out a solution, it may become the beginning of another leg of my Meditations series, and be integral to another future project I have in mind. So I decided to press on and keep tinkering.

I was reluctant to undermine the conceptualism of the original drawing method. The graphite transfer acts as a mediator between my hand and the work (mirroring the mediator of the screen between the viewer and the work), harkens back to the manual reproduction of medieval scribes (who might have originally transcribed those very words), and also alethically conceals the finished product from me as I reveal it. But for the sake of the experiment, I had to try to isolate what went wrong. So I began trying to thin and refine the letters using charcoal. I didn't want to use a direct, additive procedure, which felt like cheating, but it at least shared the carbon base of the carbon paper used to transfer the image.

This, as it turns out, did absolutely nothing to help the scannability of the object!
...Which is actually good news, because it meant that the additive process that I thought might cheapen the transfer method was indeed unnecessary. 

My next (and perhaps last) idea was simply to shade in the white letters a touch to help the black/white contrast of the pixels. I used the charcoal again, but this time just lightly dusting the letters. And sure enough, Eureka! It's finally a functioning QR code!

The more I thought about it, the more I actually became quite satisfied with the solution, in light of the project's already alethic proclivities. The negative space actually only becomes functional when, by a counterintuitively additive process, it is brought into closer alignment with the positive, in a way actually negating the negative space. The image is readable only when it becomes less readable. That seems to me to be the only proper usage of a positive mark making tactic, anyway. Ao, bringing the piece more closely into a state of negation is the only way for it to become functional (furthermore, the destinations, if you try it, tend to be confoundingly apophatic in terms of shedding any light on the subject matter of the quote, which, is itself about unknowing!)

These, of course, are all subtleties and technicalities buried in the process of the piece's creation that will not necessarily be intelligible to the viewer. I recognize that, but it feels very important to me that the piece has a certain integrity in the way it is made, that it holds together conceptually from beginning to end regardless of it's perceptibility. It's a "They probably won't ask, but at least if they do I have a good, solid, honest answer" sort of thing.

And so, after teetering on the brink of becoming trash, the piece is revived with a small, additional layer of conceptuality. As is the case with a lot of work, it is often only when it is at the brink of falling apart does it really begin to hold together in interesting ways. This is just a mild example of that.

So that's two pieces down for this show. Maybe a third is to come... It depends on how much time and willingness I find to nurse another disaster back to health.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Alethic Problems

The ancient Greek potters used to use a blind method of drawing that only revealed the marks upon firing the pot. It was part of their alethic worldview, that the product, in being revealed by its making is also concealed even to the maker. This project I've been working on for the 6x6x2014 show has proven to be much the same way. first, having drawn a QR code with a Meister Eckhart quote imbedded in it, I endeavored to graphite transfer this image using carbon paper onto the 6x6 board.

primed masonite board, with carbon paper and drawn code
 Of course, for fear of shifting the image, you can't look at the board underneath until you're ready to peel up the whole thing. I wouldn't know if the transfer worked until it was finished.

It didn't.

Alethic fail #1.

I managed to peel up just enough of the corner to see that the image was too faint where I had traced it with pencil. So I took to the studio once again and retraced the whole image using ballpoint pen and a considerable amount of pressure.

During the next big alethic reveal, I found the image to be satisfactory!

peeling up the transfer layer to reveal the carbon copy underneath

...And then I tried scanning it. If all went according to plan, the image should take you to a random page excerpted from books that relate to the quote.

Alethic fail #2.


So now I'm left scratching my head, trying to figure out what portion of the image is causing it not to be readable by the QR code app. It's either the white letters inside the black causing too little of a distinction between the pixels, or its the slightly fainter squares here and there. The original drawing works, so something got lost in translation. The bigger question though, is how to fix it once I isolate the problem, without compromising the conceptual integrity of the mark-making. I wanted the graphite transfer both for its alethic blindness and its level of mediation between the hand and the final product (almost like the screen that mediates between viewer and object when scanning). I wanted it to be a sort of anachronistic nod to the medieval scribes who might have copied the quotes the very first times, duplicating the image in a very tangible, manual way. How to retain that and still fix the contrast issue...That one I'm not sure about yet...

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Contemplating Being

I've been trying to engage lately in new contemplative practices. In particular, I wanted to try to synthesize a method of contemplation that would hold up in both contemporary philosophical and traditional mystical contexts, which led me once again to the intersection of God and Being.

This explanation requires a quick romp through Heraclitus, Heidegger, and Eckhart. Aletheia - the Greek notion of truth that Heidegger favors - according to Heraclitus is like a flash of lightning (Lichtung in Heidegger's German evaluation). This illumination reveals itself by making known things in their "thingness," yet conceals itself by redirecting our focus away from the truth of Being (the flash), towards the quiddity of a being (that which is illuminated by the flash). We see not the lightning itself, but the trees, rocks, etc that the brief flash illuminates. John D. Caputo, in Heidegger and Aquinas puts it this way,
"The mistake of mortals, against which Heraclitus warns, is to turn from the clearing as such and in the clearing, to turn away from presence in favor of what is present... 
The Greeks experienced logos [the organization of the gathering into presence that aletheia reveals] but never thought it, and that includes Heraclitus. They allowed Being to come into language as the difference between Being and beings, but they did not name that difference as the essence of language."
Essentially, the common mistake is to miss the forest for the trees, to see what is illuminated rather than the illumination itself and mistake that for true Being. Heidegger calls this the "oblivion" that we must overcome by thinking Being.

For a while I tried very hard to "think Being," to turn my eyes to the lightning itself and overcome the oblivion. I tried very much to see things not as things, but as the result of a revelatory act of Being, and fixate on that Being itself. But I soon realized I was way off base - at best misguided in my methods.

I was trying too hard, becoming too attached to the object in hopes that it might transfigure before my eyes into something strange. But any diligent mystic could quickly catch my error, citing Eckhart's insistence on Detachment.

Detachment is the "letting-be" described by Heideggerian gelassenheit. Again I defer to Caputo:
"In gelassenheit we put ourselves at the disposal of the matter and no longer attempt to reign over it with our concepts. In our surrendering to it, it alone holds sway; the matter is not seized about, but let-be and hence preserved in its inexhaustibility... lethe [forgetfulness/concealment - in this case the preservation of the unknowing of the object that goes hand in hand with the a-lethic revelation] is lost therefore the moment that thinking detaches itself from the thing and assumes the posture of an onlooker, of the judge and jury of the 'object.'"
A quick note on the dialectic of lethe/aletheia: It is important that the two go hand in hand, knowing and unknowing - the object must be both found and lost, revealed and concealed. If one were to only gain knowledge (terminating lethe) then the contemplative act would cease because our knowledge of the object would cease to be subservient to the object's Being, causing us to lose sight of Being and fall back into Oblivion. And if one were to revel in lethe (never reaching aletheia), one would never see the being in its Being, remaining in Oblivion.

This exercise becomes a mystical one when the "object" of our gaze becomes not a tree or a rock, but God him/her/itself. The overcoming of Heideggerian Oblivion is actually the retention of the Oblivion. We come into the knowledge of Being only to lose our knowledge of the being, which is in itself an instance of Being (and God may or may not even be Being itself, depending on who you ask). Our gaze is cast upon God, to see Being in the Lichtung and consequentially know less about it than when we started. We must let God be, clearing ourselves in an act of faithful gelassenheit. This gives the object, God, free reign to Be above and beyond our expectations and understanding. Perhaps we may even catch a glimpse of it.

May we suspend our propensities for judgement and control, that we might encounter divine Being and unknow it all the more.

Artist Statement Workshop, 2/15

My Next Course Offering at The Collective Art Tank: Next Saturday!

[Click the image to register!]

Friday, February 7, 2014


I've had several buns in the oven lately, one of which is a pretty interesting opportunity at the Rochester Center for Contemporary Art called 6x6x2014. All submissions are 6" x 6" works that will be hung anonymously and sold for $20. Only upon purchase will the artist be revealed. They have a history of doing this each year and deliberately attracting a range of artists, from school children to blue chippers (they have a list of the most notable people who have participated).

This type of art market institutional critique is gaining traction - I first heard of it being used in a drawing show in Europe a few years back, and many other galleries have tried their hand at the anonymous egalitarian thing since.

Here are some shots of my buns (not those! the ones from the metaphor above! geez), still being baked:

A 6x6 gray card erasure drawing

Prepping a board

Making a version of the QR code Eckhart quote used for the back cover of my monograph
Just about ready to graphite transfer onto the board...