I’ve made pictures most of my life. For a long time I had no idea why. One summer I worked as a laborer helping to build a hydro dam. What struck me was the beauty of the scaffolding and form work used to construct huge passageways for the water going down to the turbines. For some reason I decided I’d spend my savings on a really nice camera so I could take pictures of things like that. That led me to spend everyday after school in the school darkroom developing the pictures I’d taken that day. That led me to having a darkroom in my bedroom with my bed under the developing table for about 10 years. I sorta got into it. But I got distracted from my original inspiration (the amazing construction forms) into the beauty of the world.
The thing about photography as an artform is that it mixes aesthetics with technology. It’s a process oriented art form. There are many stages in the creative process to apply an aesthetic judgement. I later explored other media quite extensively, first printmaking and then computer art, that are also process oriented art forms. At each stage my subject matter became further removed from the appearance of reality because I wanted to explore how reality works.
Parallel to this research I was reading a lot about physics. I had dropped out of a physics major after the second year to go and live in the country as a photographer. That background let me comprehend popular level explanations of all sorts of things given by leading scientists. What I learned was that the processes of reality were nothing like we’d expected. I’m making a very long story very short here but basically quarks and their properties are what determines what reality is at that level. Quarks come in various ‘flavors’ and ‘colors’ though nobody pretends to taste or see them. After all the flavors have names like ‘up’ and ‘down’ and ‘charm’ and ‘strange’, etc. I started to think that at that level what you have things with intrinsic properties. That is, those intrinsic properties are all we know about things like quarks. One night I was thinking about that in the studio and went - hmmm. Things with intrinsic properties. I wondered if there were visual things with intrinsic properties. I invented the shape I show to my left - I call it a spinner. I found it had a very interesting intrinsic property. If you put a bunch of them together it transforms the visual feeling you get from a flat sheet into something much more convoluted. You can try it yourself or check out my tiling essay at http://www.simulat.ca/simulat-old/Pages/Tiling_Essay/Tiling_essay.html (scroll down a ways till you see the spinner and click on it.
My first spinner print was made by carving a spinner on a potato and using that to stamp ink onto my litho stone to fill the space. A new aesthetic world opened for me - the possibilities of repeated forms in a space and this was an aesthetic world that opened up new ways to think about reality. I’ve explored that world quite a bit since.
My latest series of pictures has caused me to ponder determinism. Consider the picture I’ve just shown on my left. The red area forms a nice shape but was that shape determined by anything other than my hand as the artist?
Now consider this picture. What I’ve done here is start with a seed (at the center) and then try to pack as many heart shapes in as I could. I also was careful to maintain the radial symmetry of the growing pattern. Those are all ‘hand of the artist’ activities. But once started the hand of the artist is forced by the constraints. The artist has no control over the emerging pattern. The pattern is determined by the seed, the rules, and the shape of the heart, not by the artist. The shape I showed at first is a chunk taken from the larger pattern. The fact that the radial pattern has 5 instances of the same shape show that the shape is not random either. It too is completely determined.
Let me try to connect this to reality.
Well - first, reality seems to have a rule that is like the close packing rule for the hearts. That is, spacetime seems to have no gaps or tears in it. Everything is connected and if one thing changes everything else has to change. With my picture, the shape of the heart has a big role in determining what happens in the space. We might generalize shape into ‘set of intrinsic properties’. When you move your perspective from our macro world to the level of (say) strings all you see is an infinity of interacting vibrating things. No quarks or protons and certainly no bicycles. Perhaps we can see quarks as being like the little part of the whole I showed; even though it is determined by its circumstance it also has an aspect of being a thing of its own.
One point I’d like to raise here. I’m seeing determinism manifested in my picture but I don’t think that determinism depends on any sort of logic. This is a subtle point since in fact it is me rationally trying to create a close packing and I use logic to figure out how to do that. But the shape that emerges isn’t there for any logical reason. It’s just what happened in the circumstance.