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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

MFA, June 30-4 July

Working on Quilt; Understanding Fractal Patterns; Process artists Susanna Bauer and Simon Morris; Reflecting on summative feedback.

1. Quilt backing and Fractal Patterns

Now the backing material for the quilt has been dyed black, I can begin work on the back piece for the Japanese quilt and am determined to use a portion of the non-periodic patterns from my artmaking practice last semester. This feels appropriate because the front is an offering of other artists' work, while the back is an offering of mine.

Pattern making is embedded in all cultures and the portion of non-periodic pattern I've chosen to use is asymmetric - an important aspect of Japanese aesthetic. This asymmetry, and the non-repeating nature of the pattern, does mean the design is confusing and difficult to register for the human mind which is something I felt in last semester's work. It is neither 'appealing' nor 'soothing' but holds the viewer in a state of tension as the mind unconsciously works to identify the pattern and its meaning.

The biological process for pattern identification was discussed in the article I read last week, Embodiment of intersubjective time. Humans are designed to instantaneously identify groups of fractal patterns, and then organise these groups into nests. This is how Laroche, Berardi and Brangier explain it (I have copied it to use in my exegesis) -

"Coordinating to the environment happens simultaneously and interactively at multiple timescales. For example, we synchronize in a more stable fashion to pulses that are embedded into larger patterns. Grouping pulses into larger patterns emerges spontaneously: participants do it during the performance of a mere pulse without any intention or awareness to do so and perceive larger patterns that have no counterpart in objective information when they listen to isomorph, isochronous pulses. Musicians’ expressive fluctuations reflect the organization of larger patterns as well and enhance listeners’ coordination at these larger timescales . Synchronization to a pulse is also stabilized by the presence of subdivisions forming simple patterns and destabilized when the fine-grained timing of these subdivisions is altered. More generally, the way one coordinates to a particular timescale of a stimulus reflects the temporal organization of that stimulus at other timescales. We thus embody the stimulus’ temporality at these timescales as well, and this constrains the dynamics that operate at the targeted scale.

We do not just embody plurifrequential rhythms though, but also the complex structure of their fluctuations. For instance, when participants synchronize to the tempo of a piece of music whose fluctuations are fractal, they produce taps whose variability quantifiably match that fractal structure. Conversely, participants’ taps do not exhibit a fractal structure at all in presence of a metronomic version of the same performance . Participants’ taps also match the complexity of pulses of metronomes that fluctuate fractally or chaotically. Such a tight coupling is not the result of a mere “imitation” of the fluctuations by means of local adjustments. Rather, the multifractal structure of taps indicates that the pattern of coordination is more complex and emerges out of the interactions between processes operating at multiple timescales. Coupling with the environment thus seems to modulate the whole multiscale complexity of internal dynamics, even when the stimulation’s frequency is restricted to a narrow frequency band (e.g., a fluctuating pulse). As a result, multiscale patterns of coordination with the environment emerge as wholes. In this regard, proposed models that account for perceptual and motor coordination to expressive fluctuations as well as to multiscale patterns. Endogenous dynamics are modeled by coupled autonomous oscillators whose respective intrinsic frequencies span multiple timescales. Their non-linear interactions enable the emergence of coordinated patterns of internal activity that span multiple timescales as well. The rhythmic signal acts as a sensory perturbation for ongoing internal activity. Coordination to that signal is thus modeled by the subsequent entrainment of internal oscillators to the periodicities of the signal. However, because oscillators are coupled with each other, the signal does not merely perturbate them individually, or frequency band by frequency band. Rather, the stimulus modulates the complex organization of endogenous dynamics as a whole, a general model whose essence captures the aforementioned empirical observations and fits our theoretical construction well.

On the one hand, multiscale patterns of coordination are constituted by an autonomous perspective: they emerge from the background of its ongoing endogenous dynamics (such that different patterns might emerge in the context of different ongoing internal dynamics, even when environmental circumstances are identical). On the other hand, patterns of coordination are constituted in relational dynamics: they are a product of the interactions with the world. Indeed, when sensory perturbations affect an agent’s internal dynamics, it modifies how these dynamics can later be modulated and what patterns can emerge out of it. This way, as in lived experience, inner and outer temporal dynamics co-constitute each other irreducibly. Endogenous and relational dynamics are thus intertwined such that patterns of coordination are both autonomous and relational. Because they are constrained by the dynamical traces of what is going on endogenously and thereby by the traces of agent∼ world relational dynamics, patterns of coordination are retentional. Internal dynamics thus embody the regularities of the environment in its own fluctuating activity. Because sensory perturbations are experienced in the light of this ongoing activity, this dynamical backgound provides with implicit anticipations, or protentions. For instance, when internal dynamics are modulated and stabilized by a certain pattern of perturbations that is repeated, a sudden difference in the stimulus introduces a difference in the agent∼world’s relation: it unfulfills the protention embodied in the agent’s ongoing internal dynamics. Dynamical embodiment of external temporalities thus allows for a strong, multiscale coordination with the environment. Dynamical models that blend internal and relational dynamics therefore provide with a framework for both perceptual and motor coordination to the world. In this regard, the relations between participants’ patterns of activity and patterns of stimulation were investigated [e.g., the relation between patterns of response times and the temporal patterning of successive stimuli or the relative phase between participants’ taps and the metronome they follow]. In these cases, the dynamics of these relations exhibit fractal fluctuations as well, in a way that strongly depends on the temporality of the context of the task . This further points out that soft-assembled, metastable patterns of coordination emerge at the level of the whole agent∼world coupling.

Overall, interactions between processes operating at multiple timescales form an endogenous background of metastable dynamics. It is from this background that temporal coordination of activity and experiences can emerge. It is therefore the background of our autonomous perspective: it orients the dynamics of our embodiment (i.e., both experiences and behaviors). Because it is modulated by the dynamics of its relations with the world, this “dynamical landscape” embodies the environment. Relational dynamics thus shape the dynamical landscape of our “sensorimotor habitat”. The coordinated inhabitance of the world we enact is therefore autonomous∼relational. Embodiment is thus a dynamical phenomenon, and it is the temporality of the behaviors and the experiences it gives rise to that can be shared in human interactions (i.e., it is in the course of these dynamics that we can be together)."

2. Process Methodology Artists Susanna Bauer and Simon Morris

Given the strong emphasis on process in my artmaking, I'm interested to see how other NZ artists use it as a methodology in their artmaking practice. Here I've looked at Susan Bauer and Simon Morris.


I have just started reading Susanna Bauer's pdf on Fictional Archaeology which discusses "material traces of the past as repositories of temporality" [yum, seems to describe what I am looking at in my recent exercises exploring impressions]. At first reading it seems to contain alot of the ideas of temporal embodiment discussed in Laroche, Berardi and Brangier's article.

From the outset, Susanna clarifies the importance of the fictional imagined state for her exegesis. While she is interested in "traces of human engagement with the material world" her art practice inhabits a space removed from the actuality of objects or sites. This fictional space she describes as "heavily mediated", "shifting experiences of materiality" and exploring space and temporality beyond "linear chronological narratives" (intro). [Is this the space of the lived mind ?]

Describing her artmaking practice as following processes, Susanna writes about how this methodology leads to transformational processuality (a "processual interweaving unfolding of the creative space"), and how embodiment through direct engagement with both material and process leads to "material thinking". [It is not clear to me what she means by 'material thinking' yet, but hopefully it is described more fully in her exegesis.]

It is interesting how different Bauer's Fictional Archaeology work is compared to her other art; Fictional Archaeology is less tangible and harder to grasp given the ethereal nature of material traces of the past as repositories of temporality. Bauer is known for her miniature sculptures of delicate lace crocheted leaves, which seem simple in contrast and it is easier to see "the interface between artist and nature" (Scott Rothstein, Hand/Eye magazine).

List of interesting words found in Bauer's work and meanings gleaned from google (I am amazed at Bauer's proficiency with the English language!):

  • transformational processuality

  • material thinking

  • material traces

  • quotidian: of or occurring every day; daily

  • non-coincidence: opposite of coincidence? coincidence = two things happening at the same time by chance, in a surprising way (non coincidence described in Bauer's work as 'a being outside of time, in order to recognise the contemporary moment through a distance from it')

  • temporal displacement: being out of time; element from one time period is continuously misplaced into different time periods; in some cases perceived simultaneity does not correspond to physical contemporaneousness, and that sequences of very brief stimuli may be perceived as simultaneity or as reversed successions (Wilhelm Wundt)

  • affordance: the quality or property of an object that defines its possible uses or makes clear how it can or should be used

  • temporal relationality: embodiment of intersubjective time: relational dynamics as attractors in the temporal coordination of interpersonal behaviours and experiences

  • narrative connectivity: to tell stories in order to find a shape, a form, in the turmoil of human experience (Umberto Eco)

  • nonlinear temporality:



Exhibition at Jhana Millers Art Gallery, 11 June – 3 July 2021

Simon Morris, Daily Painting #21, 2011. Acrylic on linen, 360 x 360mm. Jhana Millers

wow. simplicity. the simplest of action and the clarity of process. always the purity of colour and its tonal value explored. he could paint anything, yet chooses to examine the elements and conventions of fine art.

When I was questioning my narrative and method of artmaking, experiencing Simon's art bolstered me. I love the way Simon talks about his art practice; its concise ("an exercise of engaging with the liquidity of paint, colour, edge, and control") just like his practice of "layering, dilution and colour mixing". I also appreciate his systematic approach to artmaking as I've a tendency to become mathematical in breaking down my actions too - "The 2014 Water Colour Paintings used a systematic process to dilute paint (with the help of mathematician Ed Abraham) that explored change through variables involving both time and application." (Simon Morris, 2021)

When two colours become one (2021), Simon Morris

This is what Simon says about When two colours become one (2021):

"This new wall painting extends my ongoing interest in painting techniques, acting as a starting point to again consider conceptual processes, colour mixing, and the time needed to occupy the space of the Jhana Millers Gallery. When two colours become one (2021) was first developed through a series of smaller-scale paintings I made on a residency at the Headlands Centre for the Arts in 2017. A one-hour bike ride from San Francisco, Headlands is in Marin County just over the Golden Gate Bridge on the West Coast. My studio was a large rectangle with most of its windows along the Northern side, along with a Western one which faces the Californian sun as it sets over the Pacific Ocean. For 10 weeks, I spent a large part of the time by myself, released from the usual demands of work and daily life back here in Aotearoa. I am truly very grateful that I had that opportunity to develop new work, to read, walk and meet people. When two colours become one emerged out of this fresh and expanded experience of time, while filtering new surroundings. In the work this translates into constantly shifting time structures and the direct engagement with colour as it transforms from one hue to another: a simple idea that opens toward a new form over time."

I like the way Simon breaks the method of making this artwork into simple, refined elements-

  • "Action: The moment of painting is an act of focus. Each stroke an action, similar but different. With body length strokes, I apply paint directly to the wall, one action after another following the repeated form, sustained, steady, accumulating to fill the space. Both repetition and acceptance of variation occurs.

  • Space: The Modern architecture of the gallery now meets the space of the painting. They come together as a connected experience, informing each other with shifting light and shifting position.

  • Time: The time of the painting meets the time of the world. Direct sensations of colour and space can be independent experiences, but interrupted by other things.

  • Colour: With one brush, two colours become one. Colour shifts from one stroke to the another.

  • Temporality: Change is constant, everything impermanent. The wall painting will be painted over in time, and possibly remade in another space."

Simon Morris, 2021

3. Summative Feedback

Summative feedback from my mentor's:

  1. Speculative/ innovative/experimental practice: Very steady production of work complemented by a growing sense of critical reflection informing each work, which could stand to be sharpened further. Strong intuitive sensibilities that seem very reliant on symbolism and broad concepts such as order/ chaos and nature/culture. Process-centred works deserve further inquiry to explore things such as gaming, chance, code, pattern and maybe even the work of the time/labour.

  2. Materials/ processes and practice: Materiality plays a large role in your creative works. Suggest that further research could be taken in that direction to locate and position yourself amongst the materiality literature and discourse and to point that understanding towards the work of others more vigorously.

  3. Critically evaluate historical and contextual work and ideas relevant to their field: Your spoken thoughts reveal that you have a solid knowledge of artists and art works; this knowledge does not track as much in your blogs or your comments on other student work. There is little evidence of your own ability to critique your own work in-depth, and in the process, draw in reflections/ analysis on the work of others.

  4. Demonstrate an understanding of a range of critical, philosophical and practical tools needed to activate and articulate their research practice: This and the next criteria are perhaps the areas that beg for the most attention in semester 2. Your blog/workbook holds hints of a growing sense of criticality yet resides primarily in descriptive mode.

  5. Articulate a considered position in relation to the debates relevant to contemporary creative practice: There are key markers in your practice and workbook: nature/ natural, process, pattern, geometries, wearing and fragile materials. Suggest that you use a portion of semester 2 to focus your attention on perhaps one process and material and work towards attaining depth rather than breadth. Your announcement that you will move to work with clay is a curious and unexpected choice. If that remains your intention, then suggest that you try to structure your concepts and make in deliberate ways that can reveal new understanding-- not exactly a scientific experiment, but a serious play with repetition and pattern.

  6. Interact effectively with others and respond confidently to flexible conditions and multiple viewpoints in relevant professional contexts: Your regular comments in critiques and discussions are noted and appreciated. Your workbook reveals that you hold more opinions that you let on. Encourage you to articulate these to the group so that the cohort can grow stamina and trust to debate works and issues vigorously. It is very evident that you devote a good time and effort to your studies; the investment and commitment is noticeable. You are a well-regarded member of the class and offer positivity to every discussion.

Self reflection: By the end of the first semester, I felt I had produced original creative work that was "well realised and highly innovative". Shannon raised concerns that the final work held elements of misappropriation of theme and technique but I felt my work was appropriate because it was formed by following the process of my own creative practice i.e. the diagonal stitches formed patterns by the mere process of determined rules given the axis of the grids and the direction of the first thread.

The transformative processual nature of my art practice realised the words in the MFA Handbook that "in 'the doing' and 'the making' that new knowledge comes to bear". The simple act of stitching diagonal running stitches in predefined grids led me to an exploration of nonperiodic unstable patterns, which in turn led to a discussion of the unstable patterns in nature, atmosphere and climate change. My approach to allow the agency of process and material to inform my art making is for me, "a mode of research inquiry that questions, critiques, reveals and speculates upon issues, topics, places and events".

Using tissue paper is an opportunity to engage in a new material and offers a new direction beyond my previous materials of natural, discarded objects. Comments from students and staff about the inappropriateness of using natural materials sourced from my local environment because of tangata whenua has asked me to reconsider not just my use of the materials but also myself as a pakeha within a Maori worldview. This is a profound departure for me and one I will focus on next semester as it means I will "become more self-aware about creative processes and what they yield" (MFA Handbook 2021).

Realising the second part of the description of the course in the MFA Handbook 2021 was less successful for me. This section emphasises the production of original creative work that is "research-driven" and "critically engaged" (MFA Handbook 2021). Most of my research was based on observations and inquiry into the natural world and making art, and was not academically sourced. I appreciate this does not meet the expectation "that students will build critical, reflective and contextualising skills relative to one's own work as well as others" (MFA Handbook, 2021). I will need to draw more on academic research and integrate it into my practice. I imagine this will be an iterative process to gradually narrow my focus of inquiry.

Despite beginning the semester by creating art that responded to two contemporary NZ artists, the comments from the summative feedback indicate I need to do more "to understand the significance of one's creative work relative to other artists and designers as well as to New Zealand and beyond" (MFA Handbook, 2021).


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