Monday, June 1, 2015

Dissertation Presentation - Disruption of Desire

Oh My God! I just did my dissertation presentation and I am so relieved! For those who don't know, I'm in an MA program for Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths (lolz) and one of the things we have to do/get assessed (aka graded) on is a 20 minute presentation on our research project/dissertation which we will hand in September. 

I have been in tunnel vision preparing for this, practicing it and overcoming my gigantic public speaking fears. Anyways. It's over! It's done! I'm not sure how good it was but I'm so happy to have it done with and it had positive response so yay! 

Anyways, with that in mind all I wanna do is jump up and down and drink a pint or four with some mates so instead of a post I'll share with you my little thing. 

It will change. I already want to focus my research more on simulation and the body but yeah, this was where my brain was at a few weeks ago. 

It's a crazy thing to extend oneself in a way that is small and measurable. To force oneself out of comfort zones, to articulate and potentially defend one's ideas is challenging and character building. I recommend everyone to go out on a limb once in a while. You may surprise yourselves and maybe even a few others. 

Till next week, hope all your smarties brains get bigger and that you do something you didn't think you could do. 


P.S. It's long, 20 mins of talking is a lot of talking especially if I'm the talker. Also, it reads a bit funny because it was basically my cue cards so please excuse the lexical idiosyncrasies. 

Disruption of Desire

For my dissertation topic I would like to focus on the disruption of desire in the postmodern state, how mimetics impacts this and how this can be understood and evaluated through science, specifically neurology and the study of mirror neurons. I want to link these concepts and investigate how this is explored within contemporary art.

The goal of this is to incorporate new advances in science with theory and to see how this can evolve the way mimetics is discussed. My theoretical focus is desire and my three core thinkers to date are Alexandre Kojeve, Rene Girard and Jacques Lacan. Through the linking of these separate areas, I would like to explore how mimetics and desire impacts and effects subjectivity.

I believe that the biology of mimetic behavior is one that will further expand the theories of desire and I would like to use this to ground and evaluate the social conditioning of our contemporary state. I will do this by examining how mimetics and desire function in our construction of self and how that is disrupted and destabilized by external forces.

I will present the work of artists, Jordan Wolfson, Ian Cheng and Pierre Huyghe to focus this research within contemporary art and use their work to example how it reflects disruptions of desire and how they can be seen as imaginings, explorations and synthesizers for the concepts presented in the evaluation of mimetics, desire, and science.

I will show brief examples of their work at the end of this presentation but to begin I would like to present the structuring cores of my research. This will include a brief on the science of mimetics and theories about desire. I will then go into explaining how mimetics and desire are conditioned in the post modern state and why I feel it pertinent for there to be a greater dialogue between these various areas.

The first section I am presenting is an overview of the science of mimetics.

In 1996 there was a groundbreaking discovery made by the team of neoroscientists lead by Rizzolatti where mirror neurons and their functioning was discovered, to quote:

Mirror neurons are a class of neurons, initially found in the premotor cortex of macaque monkeys, that are activated both when a monkey performs a specific goal-oriented action and when it simply observes another monkey (or human) performing the same action. Premotor activation can be considered the neural basis of an intention to perform a motor act…

The discovery of mirror neurons should be seen as a new key in understanding perception, behavior and subjectivity as humans also posses them and it not only effects motor responses but other areas of the brain which control emotions such as empathy, pain, and fear.

What exactly do mirror neurons do? Mirror neurons are fired in the brain when an action occurs, such as grasping a cup, but they are also duplicity fired when this action is being represented, such as watching another person grasp a cup or seeing a video of someone doing this.

It has been evidenced in research that mirror neurons not only underpin action understanding, but they are also involved in the intentions of these actions.

With this it can be hypothesized that human beings are innately wired to identify with each other and that this process of identification can be cognitively explained through mirror neurons.

In addition, Garrels also speaks of the essential role of the mimetic connection in contributing to a wide-scale cerebral re-organizination of the brain, which allows for a co-evolution of complex social abilities in relationship to brain development.

This idea of the brain’s wiring being linked to mimetics is fascinating when thinking about how one’s subjectivity is formed. This is an especially daunting idea when related to research done by Metzloff and Moore in 1977, which showed that infants learn via imitation immediately from birth - as early as 42 seconds old.

This innate instinct to imitate is extremely impactful on how we develop both cognitively and socially as one of our primary means of communicating is through expression and the understanding of these through imitation. When we witness a facial expression and comprehend it as an emotional state, we don’t do this through inference. Rather it is understood through the meaning of other’s emotion. This is termed as a form of “simulation” and an embodiment producing an ‘as-if’ experience by a shared body state. It is the shared body state that enables direct understanding.

Further in this vain, developmental psychology has shown that the mind begins as a shared mind. In this way mirroring mechanisms and embodied simulation are key components of what makes our mind this shared mind.

Quoting Leander, “Mimicry increases people's pro-social orientations in broad and generalized ways engendering a fundamental shift in the way people see themselves in relation to others. People who are mimicked become more agreeable and responsive to others' wants, and they also become more attuned to their mimicker's viewpoints on social issues. This suggests that mimicked individuals also become more accommodating to others' expectancies for behavior—including any stereotyped expectancies that they assume others to possess.”

This impacts many socializing factors including stereotypes of gender and race, which is often perpetuated by unconscious repetitions of mimetic behavior.

Socializing through mimetic behavior is in psychology called affiliation, which is the desire to be accepted by one’s social group even if behaviors negatively impact oneself and others. Remember this term affiliation as it will be a recurrent concept related to understanding desire.

Again to quote Leander, “individuals who are pursuing affiliation often use stereotypes about themselves to regulate their social behavior. Mimicry functions as a kind of “social glue” that brings and keeps people together.” This can be beneficial in many ways but I believe that this can lead to a destabilization of the self and it is done through this desiring impulse.

Now onto the next section which is on the theories of desire and how they link to mimetics.

There are many thinkers that focus on mimetic theory but at this stage in my research the three core theorists I have begun to focus on are Alexandre Kojeve, Rene Girard and Jacques Lacan. All three have distinct yet linked perspectives on mimetics and desire and I will present some of their ideas to give a foundational base on my current research areas and how this can be linked to the science of the brain and how it impacts subjectivity.

Let us being with Alexandre Kojéve who can be viewed as an anticipator of the notion of mimetic desire. In his Introduction to the Reading of Hegel from 1947, he introduced the notion of the ‘desiring I’ as being a void that is filled by positive content from the negation and destroying of the desired non-Self and its assimilation.

He emphasized the difference between the desire of animals and humans with the main difference being that human desire is mediated by the desire of others.

According to Kojéve, the desire that defines the human condition is the desire directed towards another desire and it is only through this type of interaction that self-consciousness can be achieved.

To further understand Kojeve I will introduce the thinking of Rene Girard who is an inheritor of Kojeve’s notions of desire. Girard speaks directly of mimetic desire, and stresses that from this comes aggression and violence which characterizes our species.

In relationship to my area of interest though, Girard’s concept of appropriative desire has the most resonance and can be linked to affiliation.

For Girad appropriative desire is the compulsive tendency of humans to imitate others’ desires, so that what is really desired is what others desire. This links directly back to Kojeve. For both, the intrinsic value of the objects of our desire is not as important as the object itself.

I would also like to emphasize that Girard is very clear in drawing a distinction between desire and appetite. While appetite is the outcome of instinctual drives, desire not only requires an object, but also another individual, a mediator.

Kojeve and Girard’s notions of desire relate to the affiliative tendencies produced by mimetic behavior and can be seen as a conditioning structure that these desires manifest and become targeted.

To desire another’s desire and to be the target of others’ desire, means to gain social recognition. This is substantial in thinking about how mimetics functions and what is creating this process.

Lastly I will touch on some of Lacan’s thoughts on desire and suggest that there might be a greater need for expansion within established theoretical discourse in light of scientific research.

Lacan’s notion of desire was expounded in his first two Seminars, 1953 through 1955. In these he gives a detailed discussion of the species-specific preconditions that allow humans to speak and establish symbolic pacts among individuals.

Lacan states that human desire is the repetitive pursuit of the fulfillment of desire and that it is ultimately a “desire for nothing”, the desire of the other’s desire as an irreducible lack.

He also speaks about the human subject and how they are a discordant by the fragmentation of their ego, and consequently “cannot desire without itself dissolving” and undergoing alienation. Psychoanalysis thus regards the human subject as a “being in becoming.” This is an interesting concept and one that elucidates the mimetic structuring of desire, but there are also other ideas of Lacan, which I have issue with, and that is his thinking on language and the creation of the desiring subject.

In Seminar I, Lacan emphasizes that, “at first there is language, already formed” and that a child is thus “passive” before the “universe of symbols.”

This concept of language is central for Lacan in his discussions about desire and mimesis and this has been perpetuated in theoretical discourse to this day. I propose that this trajectory should be paused to incorporate its relationship to the biology of mimetic behavior and my previous statements on how mimetics is something that happens preverbally and at infancy. This evidences that the creation of the subject operates through psychosocial development where communication with another is non-symbolic.

These three philosophers are currently my focuses as they speak directly about desire and how that informs subjectivity and in my research I want to incorporate the lineages of their concepts with the science of mimetics and investigate how that can be integrated and or realigned. I have also focused on these particular thinkers as their concepts connote how the situation of postmodernity influences desire and what that might mean in the formation of the self.

To speak further about postmodernity, I will now discuss how this impacts mimetics and desire and what that might mean.

A good place to start talking about the relationship of postmodernism, mimetics and how it is a socializing behavior is the idea of the ‘chameleon effect’ which in psychology is described as the unconscious mimicry of postures, expressions, and behaviors of others.  These unconscious mimetic behaviors share a pro-social character, because their occurrence tends to increase during social interactions, which has affiliative purposes, and let’s think back to my earlier mention of this concept.

Furthering this thought, scientists stress that emotional states are not an intrinsic psychological property of a subject but the relational property of an individual within a given social context. This means emotions constitute a system of social communication with its main purpose being social coordination.

Saying this, one can see the implications of the socialization factor and how the desire to affiliate and to have social cohesion can lead to homogenization. This to me is a very evocative idea in trying to understand how the postmodern condition is perpetuated and what is the result of this in society.

In the formation of the self both Kojeve and Girard speak of this need to be another and express that the self is coextensive with the structure of mimetic desire and that the self is a relational and dynamic phenomenon rather than an essential, objectively real, or autonomous source of intentions. This connection of subjectivity to desire and to the mediator is one that I believe is a being disrupted and molded by the conditions of postmodernity.
Thus this consolidation of social habits frames the subject deeply into a constructed mimetic and desiring loop.

Every time we relate to other people, we automatically inhabit a we-centric space, within which we exploit a series of certainties and expectations of others. This is an immediate construction as mimetic behavior is one that is biologically embedded at the beginning of life.

Additionally, central to all human social cultures is the notion of social identification. All levels of social interaction that require social cognition intersects or overlaps with mutual recognition and with this notion of social identification.

Social identification is the membership-fee all individuals pay in order to guarantee the sense of belonging to a larger community. Social identification is adaptive, because it grants the capacity to better predict the consequences of behaviors of members within a given social group.

Girard denotes the adverse influence of mimesis and desire and its impacts on our interactions with others. For the Girardian subject at some level they recognize that their own desires are not original and that their being is not produced from themselves. But this subject still believes that others have real desires and possess self awareness and worth. As a result of this, the subject consequently operates from a sense inadequacy, shame, and self-loathing while it regards the other with envy.

This fundamental delusion regarding desire and subjectivity results in a self-defeating, unreflective mimesis, which is one that I believe, is perpetuated in the postmodern structure, which thrives off this delusion.

It is from this that I say the phrase “disruption of desire” and it is the postmodern condition which is the background in which this conflict of the self and desire manifest. The biological and unconscious mechanisms for mimetic behavior and the desire that is produced from this is one that should be seen as a source of perpetuation but also may be a means to examine this imposed state.

I will now present examples of works by Jordon Wolfson, Ian Cheng, and Pierre Huyghe to discuss how their work gives insight on mimetics, desire and also the postmodern subject.

The first artist I will present is Jordon Wolfson and his piece Female figure from 2014. (Female figure) is an animatronic sculpture that cost over half a million dollars to construct, possesses forty-eight motors, motion-detection tracking eyes and has an uncanny real-lifeness that is as fascinating as it is jarring.

Here is a video clip of this work

What interests me about this work is the queasy embodiment of the female figure and the representation of what femaleness is. The implicit recreation of objectified desires and desiring subject is one that I think has very rich application for investigating and detangling the interpretation of desire and how the replication and mimicked tropes, in this case gender, is manifested.

With this work and with the others I will present, the disruption of the desire takes place through the act of simulation. Simulation Theory focuses on trying to understand what another is thinking and feeling and it is by embodiment and empathy this can be actualized.

Next is the artist Ian Cheng and here I will show a brief clip of his work Entropy Wrangler from 2013.

Cheng’s work is about dematerialization and replication and he evokes and challenges this. For this work and many of his others, he creates coding that commands the 3D generated images to interact with each other. It is a language that is being scripted but it is also giving function as well as instruction. This results in the coded commands sometimes cannibalizing themselves while at other times they create divergences. This aliveness or deterioration through language is fascinating when thinking about its role in the formation of subjectivity. What also draws me to his work is how Cheng speaks directly about the concept of simulation.

Quoting from his newly released monograph for his show at Kunsthalle Dusseldorf:

"What is a simulation? It is a private game we devise when the aliveness of a situation is too complex to really know. It is drafting reality through an ocean of forking behaviors to find an optimal end. What is a live simulation? It is playing this game in public and not letting it end when the game gets good. Darwin said the greatest live simulation is nature herself, who incessantly tries and fails aloud, never stopping at perfection. But nature is often too fast, too slow, too big, too small, for us. We desire a live simulation at scale with human spacetime, but unending in its variety and blind to our barometers of quality. A live simulation that we can feel, but does not give a fig for us." 

I find this very compelling and want to further investigate how his perception of this may link to desire and mimetics.

My last artist example is Pierre Huyghe and his video, Untitled, Human Mask from 2014. Here are a few still images as I couldn’t source a video clip.

This piece, as you can see has a monkey wearing the mask of a girl and it has been trained to be a waitress at a restaurant. Although this is based on an actual true to life situation, the way in which Huyghe presents it compounds the eeriness of it all. This tone is set by the film’s opening footage which is of the deserted Fukushima sites. This is followed by scenes of the monkey being alone in an empty, dark restaurant. There is a dystopian feeling to it all and this relationship of animal, human, embodiment and control are all triggers when thinking about mimetics and desire. It is also an interesting piece in which to evaluate the relationships of human/animal discourse within science and philosophy in connection to imitation and desire.

I have chosen these three artists to show the breadth of practice that contemporary artists are creating that are inciting questions, concerns and interpretations of desire and mimetics. It is through the bizarreness and uneasiness of these works in which the postmodern is revealed and has the potential to be disrupted. Through these artists I would like to research various branches of mimetics and desire which focuses on the body, cybernetics and anthropormorphism and try to connect the threads of their shared relationships to mimetics and desire and to also learn more about the science behind those fields.

To conclude I would like to quickly overview what I have discussed

I began by presenting an overview of the science of mimetics and specifically mirror neurons to open up a new way of possibly thinking about the creation of subjectivity and to show how science can be and should be incorporated in theoretical discourses of mimesis and desire. Mirror neurons are I think especially important in discussing art as they illuminate the neural underpinnings about physical reactions to aesthetic experiences and they are key to understanding intentionality. The concept of affiliation which dominates behavior and interactions with others is central to understanding mimcry and is also a linked concept for desire.

It is desire and the structuring of desire that I think is pertinent in discussing how one understands themselves. I exampled three thinkers Kojeve, Girard and Lacan to give a sense of the mode in which I am thinking about desire and how this is apart of the postmodern condition. The relationship to desire and mimesis within postmodernism and how that is reflected in contemporary art is one that I think can help elucidate the various areas of thinking in order to increase dialogue between these various fields.

At this stage in my research I am excited and challenged to see how I can incorporate the science of the mind, mimetics and desire in order to advance these areas within the discourse of contemporary art theory. 


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