Welcome to the new ‘Nutshells’ section. This is part of an ongoing project in collaboration with King’s College, London to engage with artists on a more informal level and explore contact points between contemporary academic philosophy and current art making practices. Each Nutshell begins with a brief introductory summary that contextualizes the artist’s work and is followed by an edited transcript of the dialogue.
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Ted Hunt & the Philosophy of Time.
Our first Nutshell features Ted Hunt, an independent speculative/discursive/critical designer living and working in London and currently a resident of Somerset House Studios. A successfully graphic designer, Ted has recently turned his attention to an exploration of time, how we conceive of it, and how we mark it, visually.
The Philosophy of Time
We tend to view our lives as a single stream narrative with milestones marking out the significant events or change points. This practice begins in early childhood, waking to alarm clocks, bell chimes for mealtimes, dashing to between timetabled lessons and examination schedules. The occurrence and duration of named events dominate the way we syncopate our activities and shapes the way we conduct ourselves privately. But, why should our sense of time be dominated by the march of the hours, minutes and seconds? Can we experience it differently?
This initial questioning can be developed along various routes. Why is our experience of past events different to our imaginings of future ones? Is the past any more ‘real’ than the future? Does time depend on space or movement? Would time continue if the universe ‘froze’? Are we ‘in time’ when immersed in a novel, lost in thought or contentedly engaged in the present?
Sometimes, articulating these questions can be as tricky as attempting to answer them. So coming to understand the various perspectives on time is a project that needs a guide. Ted Hunt, a Graphic Artist and creative problem articulator, is one such guide. Unlike the orthodox philosopher, his medium is visual rather than textural.
Ted joins a rich heritage of thinkers who have grappled with the difficulties of conceptualizing time. His latest project, About Time, investigates the following: how does the way we view time govern or influence how we occupy time? In answering this, Ted questions our assumptions that time is objective, measurable or even linear. What would happen if our concept of time shifted? Would we be happier, more productive? Could we encourage a more cross generational view of time? Should we pay closer attention to our bodily (circadian) time? Is time external to us?
As part of the project, he has developed a series of alternative clock faces, which work on circadian, emotional and even sensuous experiences of time. Ted’s aim is to move the humble watch beyond being a device that tells us what time it is, to one that helps us think about what time is.
Transcript excerpts from Interview
- VB: Vanessa Brassey (Philosophy, King’s College, London)
- TD: Ted Hunt (Creative Articulator, Time Lord).
VB: Hi Ted, thanks for coming along today. We arranged to meet at 2pm and we both arrived here ‘on time’. Is that because time is something that exists, like chairs or tables, and we just plot events against it?
TH: Hello, pleasure to be here. That’s really the issue I’m teasing out. We’ve come to think, following Isaac Newton, that time is something absolute in reality, regardless of human perception. So yes, as if it’s a linear, progressive part of the fabric of reality.
VB: And you are questioning this view of time?
TH: I think there is a profound difference between our lived experience of time and what we might call the scientific or theoretical idea of it. It seems like fertile territory for creative exploration.
© Ted Hunt
VB: So how did you begin the project?
TH: I was taking a Masters at the RCA with Anthony Dunne called Speculate Everything. The purpose of the course was to leverage our skills as designers or problems solvers, to pose problematic questions and get people thinking. We were working on ways to create ideas, set problems out, not solve or design things. A chance conversation with Anthony Dunne one lunchtime in the canteen, during my first year really stuck with me. We had a conversation about perspectives – you know the kind of perspective drawings used by architects. Anthony was talking about multiple perspective drawings, those that do not lead to a single vanishing point. It struck me that just as we illustrate space from many perspectives, so we can conceptualize time from multiple perspectives. It was really a very informal chat. No academic grounding. Just big ideas. That’s probably why I liked it. You see artists like Hockney are well into this now – it’s like a spiritual investigation of space – the polaroid was just the starting point. Anyway, a year or so later I was reading a novel about different notions of time that reminded me of the chat with Anthony and put ideas in my head, unresolved and interesting ideas.
VB: At this point what was your primary interest?
TH: The multiple perspectives we take on it [time] and how you might communicate that with a wider audience. So, really, can we investigate time philosophically without relying on the tyrannical text and academic methods of quotation and citation. Can we just be shown the big ideas, the possibilities and then think our way into it? I thought by turning the ideas into a visual narrative, into graphics, we might find something new or new things might emerge from the process. I got started with these simple and I thought intuitive illustrations. But I came across some limitations – mainly to do with how immediately the central idea was getting recognized. It forced me to put the project on hold for a couple of years. But I later revisited it. The bigger insight at that stage that allowed me to continue was moving from diagrammatic illustration to the clock face – the round format being the classical way we ‘check’ time. I think it’s impacted on the way we experience time. So I decided to use that as a springboard format. It seemed like it would be more universally relatable. The illustrations had been too heavily loaded with psychology and philosophy. The clock face was self-explanatory.
© Ted Hunt
VB: So, how did you end up working with Prof. Matthew Soteriou?
TH : I had a very productive season when I was moored up near Harlow [Ted lives on a canal boat]. But I felt the project would benefit from academic input. I googled academics at King’s College, London and found Matt. [Prof. Soteriou is a world expert in the philosophy of perception and temporal phenomenology, among other debates in the philosophy of mind]. We met up over coffee and shared ideas and at that point, I started to appreciate a new angle for the project. A theoretical basis for the visualizations I was constructing.
VB: How did working with Matt influence your process?
TH: One of the things I noticed early on was that Matt was able to convey complex ideas without being partisan to any particular view. So it was an incredible opportunity to explore and think about the issue without feeling there was any particular favoured solution. Since this project is about posing the question, or articulating the problem so that others can think about time more freely, this kind of carefully told backstory has been invaluable. It’s been like having a series of 1-1 seminars. We found a point at which both our interests profoundly intersected. This was the issue of perspective and value – what do we lose access to by objectifying time. We agreed that the different mediums could usefully shed light on each other’s research. How do we investigate the mystery of time, where can we stand to get a view of it? We’ve run workshops with philosophers and artists and the results have been illuminating.
© Ted Hunt
VB: In what way?
TH: Well most recently a philosopher at King’s, Alice, came to a visualization workshop. Afterwards, she sent me a well-considered email pointing out how time has been co-opted in colonization. That was a refreshing take – the idea that labour organization was subjugated using a completely alien (to that society) sense of time.
© Ted Hunt
VB: What’s next for the project?
TH: Haha, good question, and ironically, the project will conclude after 6 months since there are some hardwired time constraints. The goal however is to arrive at a ‘call to thought’ [a play on the marketing slogan ‘call to action’]. We’ll present the final visualization and the public should be able to understand the questions they pose. And hopefully respond to those by reflecting on their own sense of time. That would be the realization of one of the main tenants of the Dunne project – to create questions, not things. I suppose, if one guy with a laptop can question time, taking on the mighty Isaac Newton, that’d be a pretty amazing result.
Amis, Martin. Times Arrow. A reverse chronology narrative and a classic novel.
Callender, Craig, and Ralph Edney. Introducing Time, Totem Books, USA, 2001. A cartoon-style book covering a broad range of topics within the philosophy of time in a more elementary way. Each page is two-thirds graphics and one-third text.
Damasio, Antonio R. “Remembering When,” Scientific American: Special Edition: A Matter of Time, vol. 287, no. 3, 2002; reprinted in Katzenstein, 2006, pp.34-44. Damasio, an engaging writer and neuroscientist, provides an interesting insight into the way our brain organises our experiences into the (familiar) temporal order and the radical implications this has for philosophical issue of free will.
Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Tenth Anniversary Edition, Bantam Books, 1996. Hawking presents some introductory chapters on space and time, black holes, the origin and fate of the universe, the arrow of time, and time travel.
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Nicola Durvasula and The Art of Expression
Our second Nutshell features Nicola Durvasula. Nicola was born in Jersey, Channel Islands, and studied Fine Art at the Ecole des Beaux Arts du Havre, France, and Kent Institute of Art and Design. During the 1980’s, she lived and worked as an artist in Paris, then moved to Hyderabad, India, where she lived for ten years, and was lecturer in Fine Arts at Sarojini Naidu School, University of Hyderabad. Her work, over the past thirty years, has made multiple references to South Asian culture, including Miniature Painting and Indian temple sculpture as well as Eastern philosophy, elements she has juxtaposed within a Western aesthetic tradition. Durvasula has held solo shows at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai; Thomas Erben Gallery, New York; Rachmaninoffs, London; and Nature Morte, New Delhi among other galleries. She has participated in numerous group exhibitions, among them ‘The Museum of Rhythm’, Muzeum Sztuki Lodz, Poland; ‘Thinking Tantra’, Drawing Room; London, Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Kochi, Kerala; ‘The Sahmat Collective: Art and Activism in India since 1989′ at the Smart Museum, Chicago (2013); and ‘Watercolour’ at Tate Britain, London (2011).
Nicola Durvasula lives and works in Walmer, U.K.
The Philosophy of Expression in Art
Whose music is more stirring, Nina Simone or Justin Bieber? We might disagree on which one is more stirring, but we are likely to agree that music is stirring. In fact, music is considered by many to be the most effective artistic medium for expressing and eliciting emotions. Yet, philosophers remain puzzled as to how to explain this. One answer, a popular one, is that music is expressive because it shares a ‘contour’ with our emotions and so we experience it as resembling our emotions. According to Peter Kivy (1990), music has special properties which we are correct to hear as being sad or happy in virtue of our proclivity to anthropomorphize them. An alternative account from Stephen Davies (1994) suggests instead that we entertain an experienced resemblance between musical sounds and emotional expressions – such as squealing, sighing or walking in a depressed slow gait. Recently, a more biological account has been put forward by Mitchell Green (2008) who identifies links between our senses and the feel of our emotions. He argues that some visual experiences can map directly to the physiological profile of our emotions – for example, the sensation (or quale) that we get from yellow things is sufficiently like ‘what it is like’ to feel’ cheerfulness’ to be experienced as resembling it. This explains why, for most people, the look of yellow seems to resemble some sounds more than others and psychologists have conducted studies which reveal a tendency to match yellow to piccolo sounds (rather than say to the sound of a dog’s bark). For this reason, Green argues that despite our senses being associated with one sensory character (visual, auditory, haptic, gastronomic and so on) the different senses may have in common or share their qualitative character, which in turn explains why auditory words of art can stimulate multi-sensory responses.
An art-form that speaks to this philosophical hypothesis is the graphic notation. This is a representation of music using visual symbols (pictures) instead of musical notations. Earle Brown and John Cage used them for their experimental musical works and more recently many of Nicola Durvasula’s drawings have been performed . Her fine line graphic notations are influenced by the experimental composer Cornelius Cardew and her mentor John Tilbury.
We caught up with Nicola to share some ideas.
- VB: Vanessa Brassey (Philosophy, King’s College, London)
- ND: Nicola Durvasula (Artist)
Transcript excerpts from Interview
VB: Hello Nicola, thank you for meeting us on this extremely hot day in Central London to talk about your Graphic Notations.
ND: Thank you for inviting me. I’m looking forward to talking about them, mainly because I have never really thought about these works philosophically. The experience of making them is quite spontaneous and once they are done, I ‘hand them over’ – much as I was encouraged to do by my musical mentor John Tilbury. So I’m intrigued as to how this might go.
Untitled ‘Interlude’, 2015 Watercolour, pencil on paper © Nicola Durvasula
VB: Well, in that case, a good place to start might be to talk a bit about how you started making these.
ND: I think they were a progression and response to my own artistic development. Although I’m known as a visual artist [Durvasula is represented and sells internationally, has exhibited at the Tate Britain, and is a highly valued teacher at the Royal Drawing School] I also studied music from an early age. Funnily enough I was good at sight-reading, but increasingly felt constrained and governed by a Western musical system with its multitude of notes. It was John who suggested I look into the idea of graphic notations – to build a creative connection between art and sound and liberate my musical practice.
VB: So, how do you make them? Do you paint something with a sound in mind?
ND: The process of making can vary, the ones that were exhibited in the Drawing Room were quick, they all ‘appeared’ within the space of an hour. There’s an energy in the lines and that energy came out quite unprompted. My interest in the concept of line is central to my visual practice and is connected to the idea of creating form. Overthinking or laboring the process can just interrupt the moment, and inhibit the quality of a line. Quieting all the thoughts down is a big part of getting into the right zone for drawing. I guess that much of my method is influenced by the many years I spent living in India and the kinds of concepts that permeate that culture. In many ways, it is at odds with the traditional Western style of careful, imitative, perspective bound drawing which attempts to capture on paper something that describes the outer forms of objects. Traditional Indian drawing and sculpture in contrast, is more concerned with conveying inner forms or shapes that link to what we might call our consciousness (I use that term non philosophically)…a ‘truth of feeling’, a capturing of the non material essence of a thing…without necessarily having to look at it or ‘check’ it against some object sitting in front of you.
‘Brockley Variation IX’ watercolour, gouache, pencil on paper 2014 – ‘Thinking Tantra’, Drawing Room, London 2016/17 © Nicola Durvasula
VB: How does this interest in the line influence the graphic notation drawings?
ND: I’ve always been deeply interested in the nature of line. For instance, what went on in the head and/or heart of the very first man (or woman) –the Caveperson – when they created a line which had the ability to ‘stir’ another? I think this is fundamental to what drawing is, or can be. The way in which I draw is visceral, immediate and there is a certain sensuality in the curvilinear qualities of the lines. I’m quite intrigued by the idea that these could actually be connected to our sense of movement or other sensory capacities. That seems to make sense on one level. On another, it’s not as if I consciously hear sounds when I’m drawing.
Untitled (क्षण), Watercolour, pencil on paper, 2015 © Nicola Durvasula
VB: We talked earlier about some of the philosophical explanations offered for why lines/colours or shapes might be stirring. That it’s a kind of hardwired common or garden synaesthesia, connecting our senses. Does that kind of idea resonate with you?
ND: Yes, although I’m not synaesthete (as far as I know) I do intuitively feel that one or more senses can merge and emerge as one. Also I’m fully aware that emotions can colour our view of the world and shape our thoughts. The Russian composer Scriabin, at the end of his life, was working on a seven-day-long, multi-sensory spectacle to be performed at the foot of the Himalayas. I like that idea.
VB: Do you respond to some internal sound when you draw the notations?
ND: Perhaps on a subtle level it’s there, feeding into my work or vice versa. Yet, on the surface the process is seemingly silent. It’s always interesting to see how a performer subsequently responds to the work and each time it seems just right, without being too predictable. I don’t think for instance, ‘this mark will sound like that’ as that could bring in the idea of outcome and with that, an audience, which could ultimately corrupt the creative flow.
VB: Why is that?
ND: I’m not sure, maybe it’s to do with feeling intruded upon. When I left art school, my sketchbooks generated a great deal of interest, I guess they were quite unusual. I read widely and would be working on ideas from life, art history and my imagination continuously. Anyway, one day I was invited to exhibit them, which meant removing each page and framing it. Unfortunately this act almost put an end to the intimacy I once felt between myself and the page. I became conscious of end result/audience and it all felt too contrived.
VB: Do you think recent trends to ‘show it warts and all’ in the media are encouraging a lack of privacy?
ND: Yes, maybe. About 10 years ago I produced a work, inspired by Malevich, called ‘No Search’. It was a framed square of black glass – like a phone/laptop screen switched off. I felt that all this searching was missing the point.
‘No search’, glass, steel frame, 2012 © Nicola Durvasula
VB: That’s intriguing. Do you often play with words and image like that?
ND: Not so often these days, but I used to. In the late 1990’s, I was working on a series of fine lined drawings when one of my eyelashes fell, by chance, on the empty sheet of paper. I copied the lash with a tiny stroke and added the title ‘death of an eyelash’ I was interested in the idea of a single, small line becoming an object in itself, in this case an eyelash. I was reminded that a drawing is just one or a series of strokes, for example like the kind of strokes Rembrandt immortalised in his etchings. The graphic notations have helped me to use line in a completely abstract way in which perhaps the sound becomes the immaterial object…perhaps this takes me to a another level.
‘Death of an eyelash’ watercolour, pencil on paper 1999 © Nicola Durvasula
VB: Could you say how the sculpture/ceramic notation relates to the graphic notation?
ND: Well, it’s still a notation with similar shapes and lines except here the notation can be read and interpreted from a three dimensional form rather than from a flat surface. The performer can physically move around a sculpture or a bowl and have multiple view points therefore allowing a less static way to shape space with sound. I am reminded of a book which inspired me decades ago, in its examination of dimensions; Edwin Abbotts 19thc novel ‘Flatland’
Untitled (मौन) 2018, Glazed stoneware © Nicola Durvasula
VB: What about when you perform one of your own notations. What’s that like?
ND: Well, oddly, I never have.
VB: Oh, now I’m surprised. You’re a musician. Are you not intrigued to see what your interpretation would be?
ND: Yes, definitely. Now you mention it. Maybe I’ll do the first performance with you guys at King’s.
VB: We’d love that! Let’s sort it out.
ADAJIAN, T. 2006. Visual music: Synaesthesia in art and music since 1900 edited by brougher, Kerry, Olivia mattis, Jeremy Strick, Ari Wiseman and Judith zilczer. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 64, 488–489.
GREEN, M. 2008. Empathy, Expression and What Artworks Have to teach, in Art and ethical criticism ed Hagberg, G. pp.95-122, Oxford, Blackwell.
IONE, A. 2004. Klee and Kandinsky polyphonic painting, chromatic chords and synaesthesia. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 11, 148-158.
MATRAVERS, D. 1998. Art and emotion, Oxford, Clarendon Press. Excellent overview of the philosphical terrain and the only plausible defence of the so-called Arousal Theory.