Posts Tagged ‘Whitehead’s Process Philosophy’
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Art and/as Process – Biodiversity residencies (part4)

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Pachijal River

It was a Friday. Most weekends the volunteers at Un poco del Chocó took the opportunity to hit the road exploring Ecuador. To me, the weekends were hikes, watercolours, stair climbing, swimming in the river, and experimentations with cooking bananas. Mainly though they were a wonderful opportunity to train my eyes to see the forest as a living system. So basically they were like every day here with the added bonus of having the place to myself. This weekend even the co-founders Nicole and Wilo left intrusting me with the biological reserve in order to get some much deserved rest a few hours’ drive west in Canoa.

    I started by sweeping the volunteer house. It’s a ritual from my days at the Kensington market’s Extempore Studio, some years back. I found it to be a great way to reset the mind for something new, a practical meditation (and/or chore) practiced across cultures and worldviews. By the time I swept the house I had a plan in mind as to how I was going to proceed with the resto of my day. I started by feeding the chickens which proved eventful. After herding three hens back into the coop I faced off with the rooster having to go inside to fix the whole under the fence.  His attacks were strong, determined and frequent. Reasoning quickly failed and only foot shoves sufficed to give me enough reprieve to patch the hole.  Luckily, I managed to avoid getting pecked thanks to my baggy pants and came out of the coop with a new found respect for the rooster.  The fish and dogs were fed without incident.

    While chasing the other hens I made sure not to trample any plants in the nursery or herb garden. Wilo is growing a wide variety of edible plants like cacao, coffee, tomatoes, bananas, etc., he even has a rare lemon grass tree. Some of the fruit trees are planted in the forest, especially in light gaps where they can still get enough light to grow. It’s a challenging project to grow food in the jungle without slashing and burning the plants and trees to make room and open up sun gaps.

    With the custodian duties wrapped up I walked down for a much welcomed swim in the Pachijal River. Being the rainy season, its current was strong, murky and I loved it. The swimming patch is stretch of water, roughly the size of a tennis court, between a rocky rapid bending left from the upper part of the valley and funneling into a deadly canyon only a few meters down. It was risky and exhilarating to ‘swim’ in the current strong enough to easily keep me still. The stillness within the current of Pachijal; the massive amount of matter rushing past; its soothing effect and brute force; its winding, fluid path through a fragile yet resilient environment; it’s metaphorical richness. I took every opportunity to spend time in the current of Pachijal.

    The river helped me to understand Alfred North Whitehead’s idea of reality as lines of force where “no element is independent, affecting and affected by another in a continuing flow.” I came across it in my research for Fluidity (2015) and absorbed it into my developing philosophy and art style. In the classical view a line is a series of independent points, static and separated by some measure of space. Whitehead defines a line as a series of ellipses, one overlapping the next, each connected to the next in a stream – it is reality defined by its shaping. My Fluidity works are abstract representations of this dynamic view, looking at the world and events as a continuations of far reaching processes.

   Reality through the lens of Alfred North Whitehead’s Process Philosophy is a river of mass and energy shifting form one state to the next, where beginning and end is subject to perspective. It’s a way of looking at existence where now is a veneer on a structure that reaches into infinity, the surface tension on an ocean wave.  Like a river, the jungle’s mass and energy is in a constant flux with things growing, falling, decomposing and fuelling other growth. In another way I thought of the roads as rivers to which the trails flow into, penetrating areas which were otherwise difficult if not impossible to reach reshaping them into farmlands, cities, reserves, etc., and eventually back into swamps, forests and jungles.  I was excited to be making these connections, taking a wider and deeper look at Chocó region and finding a cohesive way of channeling all my varied experiences and connecting them. I was already painting different aspects of the environment and all it would take is a certain perspective -a wide enough vista – to singe the connections.

Art and/as Process – Time

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Have you looked at time compressed into a stone, a million years in your hand? Would not our life seem but a blink of an eye to a mountain?

The passage of time can be looked upon in a wide range of ways. For the figures In Fluidity: Actual Entities & Occasions of Experience (FAEOE) time is caught at a moment in-between breaths. It is a fascinating moment one which I spent a long time mediating on after reading Osho’s ‘The Book of Secrets’ years ago. The book is a collection of meditational practices from around the world and “The space between breaths” is one of the simplest meditations that can be practiced everywhere; well not underwater. What I noticed about the moment between breaths is that it doesn’t really exist, not in a definite stop/start view. As we breathe in we begin to breathe out, and as we breathe out we begin to breathe in. It’s a beautiful, non-friction, fluid process whose contemplation changed things as mundane as a daily TTC commute for me…

     In FAEOE the figures can be thought of as entering and exiting a moment. All we have to work with is a ghostly outline hinted by the various colour shapes as they move in all directions on the sheet of paper. The shapes in themselves are an abstraction of the forces and elements, physical and ephemeral, with which we interact. The work is attempting to illustrate that we, like everything else, are in a constant and dynamic process of change, of becoming.

     This image of a fluid transition from one moment to the next, a continues becoming, started to form when I was reading about the philosophical construct of Actual Entities & Occasions of Experience as defined by Alfred North Whitehead. According to him, as far as I understand, is that each moment presents a new arrangement of matter. This occasion of experience constitutes the ‘reality’ of an actual entity, or a physical construct (rock, person, star…etc). This means that at each moment, that which makes up our physical reality is in a unique, one of a kind arrangement never to be repeated again. It’s not that something ‘is’ or things, people, etc. ‘are’ but rather that everything is always ‘becoming’.

     This is why I am drawn to the metaphor of a river which permanents all aspects of this body of work. It’s a visible moving force of perpetually changing content, yet it still has a place in space, a place that is paradoxically static in our minds. In other words, when thinking along these lines any moment presents an opportunity for discovery and change, where the concept of ‘I am’, ‘this is’ and ‘you are’ is no longer static.

Featured music in the above videos (from top) Too Many ZOOZ, Misfits, The Chemical Brothers

Art and/as Process – editing images

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Image gathering and manipulation is a part of my practice. I started collecting images from comics, illustrations and fashion magazine as reference material in my learning of how to draw. As my interests expended past representation of people and characters the images I would collect related to ideas I felt passionate about. As an example of my early efforts the drawing below depicts multiple figures. Some have strings attached to them while others have their strings cut. The figures with cut stings were sourced form skateboarding magazines, the figures with string attached came from fashion and entertainment magazines. At the time I felt that skateboarding culture represented a type of freedom to express oneself as opposed to mainstream culture which represents conformity and control.

      When I started to use Photoshop I stopped collecting physical images and began sourcing images from the web. What I use to do in my sketch books in terms of thumbnails and layouts I now do digitally. For this body of work, 2014/15 Fluid, I wanted to create vibrant and dynamic images that would hint at a narrative. As a subject I chose “kids playing” because I associate childhood with an intense and visible time of growth and activity which lends itself to the feeling of movement I wish to achieve with my works. What I found were cliché stock images of kids playing which did not hold much interest for me. By modifying my search with an addition of a specific country for each of the drawings (ex. kids playing in Syria) the result proved a lot more interesting. I now had at my disposal a much wider array of images from which to create compositions allowing for a broader reading of character reminiscent of my thesis work “The Grown Up Child” which blurred the line between adult and child.

       Because I am interpreting Alfred North Whitehead’s ideas of Actual Entity and Occasion of experience the figures are only hinted upon as outlines. Their identity and action is ultimately left up to the viewer’s interpretation complementary to Whitehead’s theory that all matter is in a constant state of motion in a universe that is continually changing. So as we can never step in the same river twice that same idea is applied to our interaction with any given object or person and more to the point with each of the Fluid pieces.Subjects contained in each of the watercolours are waiting to be flushed out by individual interpretation unique to each of us.

Featured music: Editing Images 1-2, DJ Medicine Man; Composition 2, Tea Party; Composition 4, Robyn (feat. Röyksopp)

Art and/as Process – A walk by a creek

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When I look at the river, or the Etobicoke creek in this case, there is no doubt that it is in a process of constant change. An entity defined by its flow of content and by its constant redefinition of the space which it occupies. It is there in front of me, yet the ‘it’ is constantly different. Now take out the word river and replace with anything else present in the universe. It is harder to grasp that everything that exists, exists as a flow, a transference of energy and matter. This is what I am attempting to grasp and visualize in my Fluid bodies of work.

     Reality as a flow is an idea interestingly captured in Alfred North Whiteheads “Process Philosophy” (PP) which inspired my 2014/15 Fluid works. Whitehead did not believe that the “material world as composed of atoms each occupying a position in absolute space at an absolute time” (Borchert 2006, 747) but as lines of force where no element is independent, affecting and affected by another in a continuing flow. So when we look at something real like a mountain, a person or a galaxy cluster through the lens of (PP) this would qualify as an Actual Entity which is an Occasion of experience. Considering that all matter is comprised of fluctuating elements, at any given moment that which we perceive is in a unique assemblage which has never occurred before and ever will again.

     With this in-mind the work I am currently preparing for my solo show at J.D. Carrier Art Gallery combines figurative work with abstraction. The figures on the surface are hinted by a variety of fluid shapes floating through space. Their action, nationality, age, their very presence is up for interpretation allowing for the viewer’s occasion of experience with the work. Each figure is like the river, defined by its edges with its content changing with each person’s experience of the work.

     The work will be installed independent of walls on custom built stands allowing for fluid arrangements of fifteen foot lengths of each of the watercolors in a 2500+ square foot space.


Both videos feature music from Mogwai in the background.


Borchert, Donald M. 2006. Whitehead, Alfred North. Vol. 9, in Encyclopedia of Philosophy, by Donald M Borchert, edited by Donald M Borchert, 746-753. Thompson, Gale.