Research Into Heidegger Moments: a critical reflection
This paper is a critical reflection on a project to investigate what I call Heidegger Moments (HMs). HMs are intense creative experiences that occur in my practice on a regular basis.
The project was conducted using Martin Heidgger’s ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ (Heidegger, et al., 2002) as a basis for a philosophical investigation of HMs, coupled with art based research using my practices' ‘Deliberative Painting’ methodology (See Appendix A: Deliberative Painting as a tool for Research). I am primarily a painter, but also use photography, printing and drawing.
The main questions addressed in this paper are: how can HMs be described (Chapter 2) and then understood through philosophical investigation (Chapter 3) and art based research (Chapter 4). I also briefly consider some technical issues relating to the project (Chapter 5) before summarising the conclusions (Chapter 6).
2. Heidegger Moments (HMs)
This chapter provides an introduction to HMs. HMs are points of intense creative experience that seem to occur as a by-product of my practice. Their title refers to the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who has informed my understanding of them, as discussed in the next chapter.
The ‘Welsh Trees’ experience can be used to illustrate HMs:
● Welsh Trees: on a trip to North Wales, I unexpectedly spent three days and nights in an ancient woodland. The nature of the trees and surrounding landscape was novel to me (despite growing up in the countryside, I had not seen trees of this form before) and it created a very immersive experience.
Unexpectedly, an intense moment of revelation occurred – the trees communicated (not in words) ‘I am complete and whole in myself, but only because the other trees are complete and whole in themselves’. This experience continues to reverberate with meaning and things to be discovered.
Other HMs have been triggered by seeing a leaf on the ground, painting a piece of wood and switching off a light. I document 5 of these experiences in a separate paper (Appendix B: Heidegger Moments: Intense Creative Experience), and they may be characterised as:
● unexpected: in each case the experience seemed to ‘come out of the blue’
● fleeting: the experience lasted for less than a second and yet contains all it needs to
● overwhelming: the experience took over my whole being, I was completely absorbed in the moment
● non-verbal: these experiences were felt, communication intuitive and non-verbal. I have to try and translate them into words which invariably distorts the actual event.
The overriding feature of HMs is their otherness – they seem to come from outside of my consciousness. How, then, are we to understand these events? My background as a professional businessman demonstrates that I am not prone to flights of fancy, and yet allows me to stand back and consider them analytically from multiple angles.
In this chapter we have seen that, although HMs are ‘other worldly’, they can be defined as real events that are suitable for investigation, as demonstrated in the next 2 chapters.
3. Understanding Heidegger Moments
In this chapter, we use philosophy to gain some understanding of what HMs are. Philosophy is ‘concerned with fundamental questions about the nature of reality, knowledge, and ethics’ (https://www.iep.utm.edu/phil-sci/). The German philosopher Martin Heidegger is closely associated with HMs, as it was during a deep dive into his work that HMs first emerged. His philosophy is notoriously complex and difficult to understand, but it does help us to open up the essential elements of HMs. I use an analysis of his work ‘On the Origin of the Work of Art’ (Heidegger, et al., 2002) to do this.
One of Heidegger’s main concerns is the essence, or truth, of things. He believes science doesn’t get to the ‘thingness of things’(Heidegger, et al., 2002 p. 16), it ‘is not an original happening of truth,’(Heidegger, et al., 2002 p. 37), rather science ‘turns every merely calculational intrusion into an act of destruction’ (Heidegger, et al., 2002 p. 25). We can ‘conceive of truth as unconcelament’(Heidegger, et al., 2002 p. 29), and in this context HMs as revealed knowledge.
Revelation is a problematic concept, however. As Adorno notes in his critique of Enlightenment thinking, science is a ‘wholly conceived mathematical world…(that) cannot even raise the problem’ of things (such as HMs), and would regard them as ‘meaningless prattle’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, 1997 p. 25). If we are to view HMs as revelation we need to address the scepticism of modern thinking.
Hans Gumbrecht is a literary theorist who has taken Heidegger’s thinking and placed it in a cultural context that allows us to see beyond the scientific approach. In what he calls ‘Presence’ cultures, knowledge, such as HMs, ‘emerges from revelation and unconcealment without requiring interpretation’(Gumbrecht, 2004 p. 80). This is in contrast to our ‘Meaning’ culture where knowledge is only obtained through scientific enquiry. Presence cultures existed in ancient Greece and Medieval Europe and still exist in indigenous communities today. Gumbrecht recognises the same problem as Adorno, that gaining knowledge through revelation is ‘almost unthinkable, if not downright suspect, within the framework of a meaning culture’(Gumbrecht, 2004). However, ‘Presence’ is a part of the human understanding of the world, and Heidegger is insistent that revelation, or unconcealment, is an essential part of getting to the essence of things.
So, we can understand HMs through a revelatory standpoint. I believe we need to embed this thinking more firmly in Heidgger’s philosophy, and I do this through the following quote:
In the midst of beings as a whole an open place comes to presence. There is a clearing…only this clearing grants us human beings access to those beings we are not....(however)….clearing is not a fixed stage with a permanently raised curtain (Heidegger, et al., 2002 p. 30)
This identifies key elements of HMs: they appear when conditions provide a clearing for them, they provide us access to things beyond our awareness and they are temporary events. We can further validate these ideas as Heidgger provides a very specific ‘clearing’ for the appearance of truth, i.e. art; ‘art is truth setting itself to work’(Heidegger, et al., 2002 p. 16). We examine this in the next chapter.
4 Art Based Research
In this chapter we take another approach to investigating HMs, art based research. This was done using what I call Deliberative Painting, a research method that emerged from my art practice (see Appendix A: Deliberative Paintingas a tool for Research). I am aware that ‘art as research’ is a hot topic at the moment, raising ‘anxieties and uncertainties surrounding the idea that art can be or create research’ (Cazeaux, 2017 p. 1). I believe that this project demonstrates that art can be used for research and create new knowledge, as described below.
The basic premise of Deliberative Painting is that we can use a simple creative process to access the deep oceanic depths of the subconscious, as described by Ehrenzweig in his book, The Hidden Order of Art (Ehrenzweig, 1967). In these ‘oceanic depths’ we hold all the ideas and experiences of life which can emerge in new and insightful combinations through the process of making art. I feel that this emergence is the ‘something other’ Heidegger refers to in his statement ‘In the artwork something other is brought into conjunction with the thing that is made’(Heidegger, et al., 2002 p. 3). Deliberative Painting is designed to systematically mine these oceanic depths as a form of research to generate new knowledge about a subject.
Deliberative painting has three basic tenets:
● the process is simple, consisting of drawing, printmaking and photography as a precursor to painting (see opposite)
● iterating between these (i.e. producing multiples of each) will winnow out those essential elements – motifs, objects etc - that allow us to access the essence of an object or idea
● painting is such a psychologically rich and complex process that, like alchemy, it is ‘an encounter not veiled by science’ (Elkins, 2000 p. 7), it can help reveal the essence of things in its own right.
We can validate Deliberative Painting as a research tool by examining its application to the Welsh Trees HM.
The production of the drawing Ffestiniog Forest (Figure 2) was an intense process that drew on both my direct experience of the Forest but also my childhood memories of country life; it was this that informed the multiple forms and textures in the drawing. This process was, I believe, an example of bringing forward from the oceanic depths described by Ehrenzweig. It also is a reference to more recent thinking on the creative process, such as Nelson’s description of embodied knowledge as part of his Dynamic model for Practice as Research (Nelson, 2006 pp. 105–116).
The next stage was to further iterate the work until I produced the 2 paintings, Son and Three Trees Touching (Figures 3 and 4). We can see that the Deliberative process has winnowed the complex Ffestiniog Forest drawing into a few essential elements. What is most significant, however, is that this process generated new HM experiences:
● when painting Son a dialogue popped up in my head which seemed to come from the tree itself. The tree has a strong, almost defiant, presence that challenged me by asking: ‘are you painting what you see as a tree, are you expressing your idea of a tree or are you painting the tree as it would perceive/paint itself’. This was a sobering and serious experience. I would not have thought of such fundamental questions - how would a tree paint itself; how can one hold such a concept. The nature of this dialogue is much in line with the original Welsh Tree HM, the trees expressing agency in a truly insightful way
● in painting Three Trees Touching, I had a transcendental experience. Deeply absorbed in painting the complex branch structure, I became aware of a sense of connection between the act of painting and events in another place; a sense that a conversation in this other place was influenced by each brushstroke, and equally that what was happening there was shaping detail in my painting. What to do with such events? There is a lot written on transcendence outside of the religious (see Reclaiming Wonder, Chapter 9 (Lloyd, 2018)) but always driven from human consciousness; here, again, I see HMs as driven from outside the human, but the sense of transcendence in this case is readily understood. What to do with such events? Having experienced HMs before I now have the confidence to treat them seriously, and not dismiss them as flights of fancy. My previous encounters have taught me to gently hold on to these experiences (and not dismiss them).
Figure 2: Channell, T., (2022) Ffestiniog Forest (Ink on paper 841 x 594 mm)
Figure 3: Channell, T., (2023) Son Figure 4: Channell, T., (2023) (Oil on Board 841 x 594 mm) Three Trees Touching (Oil on Board 841 x 594 mm)
A second drawing, Presence (Figure 5), illustrates that the Deliberative process produces work that embodies the HM experience. The viewers’ gaze is caught by the suffocating vines that surround the trunk of the tree, but the eye is then guided up through the branches towards the sky where the tree seems to fade towards the heavens in some sort of mysterious embrace. Looking downwards again, the viewer sees that the vines have been cut just above the ground. This narrative was not consciously realised when drawing, and yet captures both the sublime and more mundane aspects of the HM experience. Sublime, in this context, refers to the earlier Romantics ideas as expressed by Hegel and before Kantian awe. As Genevieve Lloyd puts it ‘the totality of things…forms one unified structure. Within that unity, the more advanced forms of self-consciousness – typically expressed in philosophy and art – are nothing less than the highest development of the powers of Nature’ (Reclaiming Wonder 75).
This chapter looks at a few administrative issues relating to this project. My practice is fairly self-contained. I am not aware of any ethical issues raised by my work; the initial work was conducted on public property and in safe spaces. Health and Safety rules were followed, for example in the construction of the boards used for painting. The only IP issue was to ensure that I retained copyright of the images captured in digital form by a third party. ICT was used appropriately during research, writing and submission of the work.
In this chapter I bring together the main conclusions from this project. HMs are real events that can be described, as seen in Chapter 2, and then made available for investigation. Firstly, in Chapter 3 we took the work of Martin Heidgger to illustrate that HMs may be considered revelatory moments that allow truth to appear. Chapter 4 then used art as a research tool to demonstrate HMs in action, both in the work they help shape and in the action of making work; and through this created new knowledge that supports Heidegger’s ideas and our understanding of HMs.
Figure 5: Channell, T., Presence 2023 (Pencil on Paper, 595 x 841 mm)
Appendix A: Deliberative Painting as a Tool for Research
Appendix B: Heidegger Moments - Intense Creative Experiences
APPENDIX A: Deliberative Painting as a tool for Research
Deliberative Painting is a name I give to my approach to painting. I do not claim that my approach is unique, but I arrange its component parts in a way to facilitate the aims of my practice – research and exploration rather than direct representation. Deliberative Painting is based on a particular understanding of the creative process whereby an artist works to reveal the meaning of things through accessing inner, deeply buried, concepts, ideas, images, thoughts etc; which are, in turn, released as a response to the things the artist perceives. The hope is that the interaction between the hidden meaning of a thing and the subconscious feeds into the artwork. Deliberative Painting is designed to allow space in which the process of revealing is allowed to happen, a space where exploration and research into truth can be at least glimpsed at. Truth is the revealing something new within the Thing or within the artist (or both).
The components of the approach are:
· The ‘Thing’ that inspires the work
· The basic processes:
o Drawing and photography
o Painting and printing
· The creative overlay
· Gravitational shift to a new work.
The Thing is that which initiates the whole creative journey. I use the term Thing rather than subject or object as I have yet to settle on what the Thing encompasses. For our purpose here, it can be considered a physical object, which is implied by the fact that we can draw and photograph it.
The Thing can be a moment of inspiration triggered by a physical object (a leaf, a tree) or can be revealed as a by-product of a routine activity (the drawing of a piece of cloth as illustrated later). These moments are often associated with transcendent creative experiences.
Whilst we can consider the Thing to be a physical object, I believe that for the development of my approach we need to recognise that:
· Our view of the Thing, and what we take away from it, is as much our own thoughts and feelings as any sense of the concrete Thing itself
· The Thing is itself may be seen as a token of something else, a placeholder for a bigger or different idea.
Ultimately, inspiration may come from a non-physical Thing – a feeling or an event, (such as the work of Howard Hodgkins). The way in which Deliberative Painting can address these cases will require more research. It is important that we recognise that the Thing is not just a physical object but can be seen in a variety of ways – and that revealing the hidden aspects of which may be the aim of the research.
The Basic Processes
At its most basic, Deliberative Painting is the application of standard creative elements, painting, drawing, printmaking and photography, in a sequence that explores the thing in an iterative manner.
Typically, photography and drawing are done initially. This allows for an introduction to the Thing, providing and initial understanding of its nature, structure and component parts. This is a foundation on which the subsequent activities can take place, allowing for the introduction of variations in the representation of the Thing, and which allow for the creative insights to emerge.
Each of these techniques feed off each other in an iterative cycle.
The Creative Overlay
The Basic Processes provide a structure for Deliberative Painting, and it is the creative approach applied to this structure that releases the necessary insight into the ‘Thing’. We are, therefore, not looking at a figurative representation, but at addressing the issues raised earlier in our discussion of the Thing – the combination of our brought experience and the hidden nature of the Thing.
The structure of the Deliberative approach, coupled with the processes outlined below can be seen to sit above the ‘oceanic depths’ described by Ehrenzweig. As random and disparate elements rise to the surface, possibly in a subconscious response to the Thing, then they are fed into the cycles of the Deliberative approach.
The major driver of this approach is the variations that occur during each iteration of drawing, photography, printing and painting.
Photography provides 2 ready sources of variation to the artist. In itself, a photograph represents a particular version of the Thing – it emphasises certain features over others that may not be apparent to the viewer. Secondly, taking photographs brings different features to the fore as the angle of the shot varies. The artist can study the photographs and consciously or otherwise note features of interest that can then be fed into future iterations. The photographs, alongside sketches taken in situ, are a primary source for the ongoing investigation.
Drawing provides a means of getting ‘inside’ the Thing – better understanding its structure and
meaning. Drawing is an essential pre-cursor to painting and is a significant source of the variations mentioned above. Even the most accurate artist, if given freedom, will vary the representation of the Thing (again, consciously and unconsciously). Bringing certain aspects to the fore and neglecting others, making some elements larger or smaller and so forth.
Like photography, printing provides an alternative view of what is being studied. It has a tendency to highlight certain aspects due to the characteristics of the medium (typically emphasising line and grading of light and shadow).
Painting can be done directly from the Thing, and is best utilised in capturing the insights provided by the other media. In itself, it can be a tool to introduce new themes. Rapid painting with Gouache and watercolour provides and immediacy to the process and again will bring certain aspects to the fore.
There is no predetermined sequence to the approaches used, but photography and drawing provides the most direct access to the thing, and can be used to feed subsequent painting and printing.
Through each iteration, variations are introduced and the subsequently image evolves through one or more paths. The belief is that these changes are not random, but reflect the introduction of sub-conscious biases that bring certain elements to the fore, these representing ideas and motifs that have a particular significance to the artist. It is noticeable that, for many artists, the same motif will appear in many guises throughout the body of their work.
This revealing of ideas and motifs will become self propelling, as the artist responds to the stimulus that they provide, thereby helping to clarify and resolve the image.
Added Feature – Textured Surfaces
Deliberative Painting was developed to provide a middle way between figurative and abstract painting. In its purist form, marks would be made and be responded to with a deliberate act that was not representational (and, being deliberative, not an autonomous approach).
As part of the experimentation at this time the same approach was adopted for the laying of gesso – creating a textured surface with a pasting brush, often supplemented by small patches of hardened gel and paste. This was done with no intention of a pre-defined outcome or a view to what the overlying, painted image would be. This meant that there were 2 parallel processes at work – the underlying textured surface and the painted surface, with no deliberate connection but clearly influencing the final outcome.
The use of textured surfaces in this manner was continued as more representational, or at least organic forms were painted.
Case Study – Cloth
This case study demonstrates some of the key features of Deliberative Painting. The creative journey began as an idle drawing exercise to pass the time – drawing a piece of cloth that happened to be lying around. The incidental nature of the start of this work is typical of the Deliberative approach – unplanned and casual.
The first sequence of making shows 4 stages in a sequence of 10’s of drawings, photographs and paintings. The sequence ends with a drawing on tracing paper; it was not until several weeks later that I realised that the image was that of a death mask of my father, who had died a little while before. The image is a direct reference to my visit to him in hospital the day before he unexpectedly died. The Deliberative process had enabled elements to emerge unconsciously in the representation of the cloth to resemble a death mask. This is a characteristic of Deliberative Painting – the creation of images without forethought and often not understood until long after the image is made. The understanding of an image may take months, and only be revealed piece by piece, and may be multi-layered. The Death Mask image has many meanings at many levels as may be expected from the complex relationship between father and son.
In this second, more extended series we can see the emergence of ideas and motifs, some of which are developed and are present in the final piece.
This final work is titled Self Portrait as through the Deliberative approach the cloth has allowed thoughts, ideas and emotions held within the sub-conscious to be retrieved and expressed through the open structure provided by the cloth. This approach is sufficiently flexible that it could accommodate the late addition of the central opening through the object (a concept derived from vistas in Renaissance paintings).
 This understanding is based on the work of Anton Ehrenzweig – The Hidden Order of Art
 See paper on ‘Heidegger Moments’ by the Author which describes these transcendent events
 See ‘The Inner Life of the Art Object’ by the Author for the variety of ways the Thing can be viewed
APPENDIX B - Heidegger Moments – Intense Creative Experiences
This paper examines a phenomenon that started as a by-product of a creative journey, and yet seems to demand investigation in its own right. ‘Heidegger moments’ refers to points of intense creative events that are at the edge of (or beyond?) usual artistic experience. Such experiences are not unique, and may be occur within the creative space and elsewhere. Documenting these particular events is the first step in setting them within a wider context of others’ experience and writing on this subject. The emphasis here is, therefore to document rather than explain; to be clear about what happened rather than interpret what happened. The experience of five Heidegger moments is described below, followed by some initial attempts at classifying their characteristics.
The first experiences of Heidegger moments occurred during a ‘deep dive’ creative study of nineteenth century Yup’ik (Inuit) culture and Heidegger’s philosophy (hence, Heidegger moments). Yup’ik life is intimately bound up with the natural world they live in, leading to a belief system that binds all living and inanimate ‘beings’ into tight relationships. In studying contemporary and subsequent writing and art from this period in great depth it is possible to get an appreciation of this different world view (compared to a western perspective). This, coupled with the study of Heidegger’s ideas of ‘being in the world’ provides a degree of sensitivity to viewing our daily world differently and opening up the possibility of novel insights:
Leaf moment: whist making work related to my Yu’pik studies I walked into my studio, on the floor was a leaf that had blown in through the door - the sight of this leaf opened up a deep and absolute sense of relationships; the shape of the leaf reflected some of the forms of Yu’pik dance masks which, in turn, were ‘connected’ to a whole world of animate and inanimate beings through their forms and associations. Once initiated by the leaf form, the whole world seemed to be revealed by one relationship linking to others, each multiplying out; relationships established through associations that ignored classification or hierarchy but through some form of commonality. It is difficult and awkward express this experience in words, and yet it could be completely understood in the millisecond that this event took to complete
Bent-wood: whilst making a painting of a Yu’pik mask, I was trying to capture the image of a bent thin woody stem of wood. I was used to bending such stems as a child, and recognised where the wood had kinked- the gentle force of bending had led to the thin bark sharply bending inwards like a fold in paper. At this moment of recognition, there was a physical sense of the moment and place that the wood was bent in reality (Bearing Straights, Alaska).
These two experiences came unannounced and were very intense. They both made sense in a way given the context of the work I was doing at the time. Other Heidegger moments have different contexts. One experience is very general and understood by many painters:
Coalescence of everything: this experience has occurred three times in the last 5 years of painting: a certain brushstroke seems to differentiate itself from the others and be perfect in itself – it feels like it draws the whole universe into a single moment event, a ‘coalescence of everything’. Again, lasting a millisecond (but time in this context is irrelevant, everything that needs to be experienced is experienced). Looking at that brushstroke afterwards it recedes into the other brushstrokes. I even paint over it without hesitation as the work demands.
In the way that the Yup’ik-related Heidegger moments can be seen in the context of events, the following event connects disparate experiences into one:
VIP evening: after several months of hard work we had our artists’ collective up and running and held a VIP launch party. We had an exhibition of our work in our collectives’ space, a unit in what had once been a glove factory – something that was discussed during the evening. The great and the good were there – local dignitaries, artists, university lecturers etc. All went very well, and there was a real sense of well being: creativity at home within a local community. I was the last to leave the space, and before closing the door I was switching the light off and said, involuntarily, ‘thank you’ to the empty room. At that moment, the room made its presence felt through the contribution it had made to our collective and to the evening, and it brought with it a sense of its relationship to those that had gone before in its different roles. We had all come together in a moment of connectivity and recognition.
The final example is slightly different from the previous events in that it happened within a wholly natural environment:
Welsh Trees: on a trip to North Wales I unexpectedly spent three days and nights in an ancient woodland. The form of the trees and surrounding landscape was novel to me (in spite of growing up in the countryside, I had not seen trees of this form before) and it created a very immersive experience. Again, unexpectedly, an intense moment of revelation occurred – the trees communicated (not in words but I have to express it that way) ‘I am complete and whole in myself, but only because the other trees are complete and whole in themselves’. As with the other experiences, a millisecond and that was that. But this occurrence, more than the others, continues to reverberate with meaning and things to be discovered.
These are the experiences and events that make up the knowledge of Heidegger moments – forming the basis for making and future philosophical research. Appendix A provides copies of notes made shortly after experiencing these moments.
It is apparent that these events share certain characteristics. In this preliminary account of Heidegger moments, I provide an initial view of these:
unexpected: in each case the experience seemed to ‘come out of the blue’
fleeting: the experience lasted for less than a second and yet contains all it needs to
space: space was more important than time, the experiences seemed to cross space and ignore time
overwhelming: the experience took over my whole being, I was completely absorbed in the moment
non-verbal: these experiences were felt, communication intuitive and non-verbal. I have to try and translate them into words which invariably distorts the actual event.
Perhaps the over-riding feature of these experiences is their ‘otherness’. Each event was transformative , it replaced day to day view of the world with a new view, a new way of being in the world. As suggested previously, these experiences seemed to present an alternative way of seeing, and being in, the world.
APPENDIX A – 3 HEIDEGGER MOMENTS
Heidegger 1 – leaf moment
Contemporaneous entry in sketchbook – Delamore studio
Walked into Delamore studio to paint Mask no 2. Stepped through door and noticed a leaf on the floor – has seen it before but this time a mask image flashed into my mind. The leaf was dried and faded white/green/blue but not ‘shattered’ as dried leaves tend to be.
Mask Yup’ik plate 20, - similarity to some degree in form, in my head was more exaggerated.
Point being – masks reflect organic forms – no(?) exposure to significant western physical forms – eg square brick houses, telegraph poles, cars, TV etc.: my mind memory was triggered by an organic relationship between leaf and wooden mask – masks came from a primarily organic world – even manufactured things come from primarily living things – wood, skin - therefore their work is grounded in the organic
- we can still recognise relate to
Heidegger 2 – ‘coalescence of everything’
Contemporaneous entry in sketchbook – Delamore studio
In the process of painting - flashes of truth occur – this is right, proper as it is – then the go – not held but momentary (Heidegger et al?)
Cannot in this specific case, on this specific day, say which brushstroke it was – for it was a particular mark, that brought forth that sub-second flash – coalescence of everything. looking at the painting immediately after – nothing, it had returned to its normal state. From normality (albeit ‘in the zone’) to joy and ecstasy and back – with no real residue but a knowledge of it. Can’t be predicted or manufactured or prepared for (other than (be in the zone), in this case to paint); the moment cannot be held or contained; and nothing left but the experience of it.
Has happened 2 or 3 times before? One of the first times, painting at home, in the zone, painted a stroke that was just right, beautiful, illuminating – disconnected in this sense from the rest of the painting – much more significant, a separate experience; however, I was ‘in the zone’ and while my ‘other self’ experienced, my ‘in the zone self’ painted over the brushstroke as it wasn’t, to me, consistent with what I was trying to achieve – a moment gone, a sense of disbelief and frustration.
Delamore – ‘framing’ the mask in black – briefly aware of the physicality of the mask – the woodness, the fact can one bent the frame to this shape – me carefully estimating the bend of the wood – would it be thicker there, how would that kink in the bend look – looking at the bending of the wood in the same way as the original maker – dealing with the same iterations.
NB wood: looks like it is the stem or very thin branch – they do not bend evenly and will kink; and not even in width. Having played and worked with this material since a child, v familiar experience – the ridges that can run along the wood, the way it can kink or take on almost have corners when bent.
This feeling was, again short lived, but gentle and real – like sitting alongside the maker – him bending the wood, me painting the wood.
A feeling of being at one with the work, immersed in it lost in it
It’s funny – you look at the wood and think – that doesn’t look right, it wouldn’t do that, as if you’re working the wood; you look at the paint and it looks nice – strip of wood, changes in tone and colour look attractive and pleasing, but it doesn’t look ‘right’, so rework it.
Heidegger 3 – VIP event
Post event writing
End of the evening (15/9/16)
It had taken a few months of hard work to arrange our VIP launch party, for our artist’s collective. Meeting after meeting, organising, inviting, ordering, collecting, curating, clearing, installing. Talking, thinking, feeling, tempers fraying, talking up, talking down.
It was a successful evening. The deputy mayor came, enough people came of the right sort, a nice buzz the whole evening. We had made a splash, got our name on the map, and guests drifted away. We tidied up and, as I went to switch the lights out, I turned to face the room that hosted our event, and said an involuntary “thank you” to the space that faced me.
It suddenly felt a profound moment, something inside of me recognised. The space emanated a cool, bright, satisfied energy that reflected mine. The space was presencing its role in our collective success. We had negotiated with its walls and the area they made available. And as I realised that the “thank you” was a recognition of an equal contribution, a spiral began to turn and images and ideas co-incided with the space – the spilling of red brick dust and grey brick dust was a colourful, noisy intimacy echoed by the silent, muted, unplanned spilling of the work from the room into the corridor. The rising up of work from the centre of the room mirrored the work hovering above it, and echoed with the works that surrounded it, in a silent, play in colour and monochrome.
There was no time, only space. The Jaeger glove factory, the breeze block walls, the hopes felt and words expressed, smiles and curious looks, the photograph of the woman standing proudly in the room were all there and not there, a presence that is still there, rich, ever giving and supporting.
Appendix C: Heidegger Moments – an exploration (working draft)
“No, it was only a glimpse then,” said the man; “but you might have caught the glimpse, if you had ever thought it worth to try”(Tolkien, 1978 p. 19)
In this paper I attempt to place particular, intense creative events (Heidegger Moments – HMs) within philosophical and creative contexts. HMs can be seen as ‘other’, outside of usual creative experience. Given their ‘otherness’, I turn to philosophy as well as the act of making to try and understand their source and meaning.
In the first part of this paper I attempt to describe the HMs experience. I summarise the characteristics of 5 such events and examine one such experience in more detail.
The main body of this paper considers whether philosophy provides insight as to what the phenomenon of HMs is. I have selected certain texts to reflect a range of philosophical approaches to this question. I start with Malebranche’s Dialogues which seem to reflect a significant turning point in the development of philosophy and therefore provides a dualistic (old and new) context with which to start the journey. From this point we can look back at how the mediaeval mind might view HMs, using the work of Hans Gumbrecht, and then look at the work of more modern philosophers, such as Ponty, Kant and Nancy, to provide a contrasting perspective.
We can then consider the perspective of Heidegger, who rejects much of modern philosophy and tries to re-establish a more integrated approach to the world. Some of the most contemporary ideas make a definite break from the past and we shall use the concepts of Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) to re-examine HMs. The view from outside the Western world may provide insight and we shall examine that of the Yup’ik.
The final area of research is conducted through making. The first HMs were generated in the context not only of philosophical and cultural research, but also intense creative activity. Through painting, drawing and printmaking I was able to find a way of understanding … Repeat the experience through the creative exploration of the Welsh Tress HM.
The conclusion of this paper assesses the degree to which a satisfactory context has been provided for HMs through this work.
‘what eludes language, the revelation that speaks without words’
In this chapter we will attempt to explain the experience of HMs. The first challenge we face here is driven by their very nature - a revelatory experience that has to do with feeling rather than thought. Such a phenomenon is perhaps better addressed through poetry or music; however perhaps philosophy will help us here. It was during an in-depth study of the philosopher Martin Heidegger, alongside research into Yu’pik culture, that the first of these revelatory events occurred. Trying to understand Heidegger’s philosophy requires the ability to hold multiple complex, poorly understood concepts and use them to further develop understanding. The opening up of the mind necessary to achieve this co-incided with another change of mindset – that needed to understand the world-view of the Yu’pik people, that is very different from ours and again requires very agile thinking. I believe that the mental state engendered by these activities provided the right context for the first HM to occur.
I also believe that we need to maintain that agility when investigating HMs in more depth. We cannot grasp definitions or solutions, but need to be able to maintain insight one removed from any one philosophical concept or idea. Having studied HM’s previously, I am particularly concerned that words are inadequate to define what we want to reveal - I have likened words to trying to describe a flower with a pile of housebricks. Furthermore, we tend to bring pre-existing ideas (our worldview, philosophical thinking, common sense) to a problem which precludes understanding - as Heidegger put it, this enframement ‘represents an assault on the thing being of the thing’ (Haynes 2002 p11).
So armed we can begin to explore the world of HMs. The first step is, I believe, to describe HM’s in as factual and non-interpretive way as possible. This approach does not explain HMs but provides a basis on which we can understand them sufficiently to begin to apply philosophical thinking in the next chapter.
Below is a description of 1 recent HM, and descriptions of all of them can be found in Appendix A.
Welsh Trees: on a trip to North Wales I unexpectedly spent three days and nights in an ancient woodland. The form of the trees and surrounding landscape was novel to me (in spite of growing up in the countryside, I had not seen trees of this form before) and it created a very immersive experience. Again, unexpectedly, an intense moment of revelation occurred – the trees communicated, without words, a meaning of ‘I am complete and whole in myself, but only because the other trees are complete and whole in themselves’. As with the other experiences, a millisecond and that was that; it was also a total experience - what was needed to be experienced was.
This is a very simple description and does not do justice to the feeling and otherness of the experience. It does, however, point to the main characteristics of HMs:
● the experience comes out of the blue: there is no expectation that this is going to occur and when it does it seems random and a complete surprise
● the experience lasts less than a second, and yet -
● it contains all it needs to, it is a complete other world - a sense that the whole universe is brought to one point and revealed
● the experience takes over the whole being
● these experiences are felt are non-verbal
● there is no materiality - it is simply experiential.
There is a definite sense that this experience is something gifted, gifted in a matter of fact way (you are being given this, it is up to you what you do with it). It therefore feels as if it came from outside of my being, alien but in a delightful way - a positive, life affirming feeling.
So we have an experience that is somewhat out of the usual and other-worldy. This description doesn’t fully share the actual experience or feeling of a HM, but we can begin to explore it. I think that it is self evident that a scientific approach would not be appropriate here - we are dealing with feelings and experience, not things that can be readily quantified (imagine a scientific definition of experiencing love, the sight of a flower, grief at a loss). Equally, psychology is, I believe, inadequate as it would focus on me, the subject, and see the experience as a projection of my own mind. I am not dismissing this as an idea, but I find the approach too reductive - it does not allow for an independent view from ‘outside’. I want to explore HMs starting from the experience itself as a stand alone event, and then apply thinking that will, hopefully, open up possibilities is the broadest possible way.
So, we shall use philosophical thinking, something that was closely associated with the initials HMs - a study of Heidegger so hence the name Heidegger Moments. This is a reference to the open and agile mindset needed to engage with Heidegger rather than any specific philosophical idea of his.
DIFFERENT WAYS OF SEEING
Philosophy is not one unified theory of everything but has multiple strands that vary over time and geography. Each of these provides a different way of viewing the world and the humans place in it. Thus it provides an opportunity to take multiple perspectives on HMs.
We will start with Malebranche as his work seems to capture both Mediaeval and early modern thinking, thereby providing a useful starting point for our exploration. We will then look back to Mediaeval thought … forward to…
Malebranche - looking back and forward
We start with Malebranche’s Dialogues on Metaphysics and Religion as it is at the watershed between the mediaeval and modern philosophical world views, from God and revelation to the mind and the subject.
Nicholas Malebranche (1638-1715) was a near contemporary to, and a follower of, Descartes (1596-1650). Descartes
“offered a new vision of the natural world that continues to shape our thought today: a world of matter possessing a few fundamental properties and interacting according to a few universal laws. This natural world included an immaterial mind that, in human beings, was directly related to the brain; in this way, Descartes formulated the modern version of the mind–body problem.”(Hatfield 2018)
Malebranche provides a useful synthesis of his ideas with religious belief. His Dialogues on Metaphysics and Religion, published in 1688, presents eight dialogues between Theodore (a…) and Aristes (a…) in which we are taken on a journey to understand a world view that encompassess religious belief and reason. We can use this to assess where HMs might fit into such thought.
‘Let’s go! I’m ready to follow you into the land that you believe can’t be reached by people who only listen to their senses…….I’ll teach you that the world you live in is not what you believe it to be, since it is not what you see it or feel it as being’’ (Swabey et al. 1924, page 1)
So we are introduced to a core issue for us, are we dealing with something that belongs to our senses, or something else…… If we follow the argument that ‘The principal tenets of philosophy are based on the soul’s being distinct from the body’(Swabey et al. 1924, page 4) we can imagine disembodied experience, possibly akin to that of HM. We can understand that Malebranche is talking about the soul in a religious context, but for our purposes we can use the terminology to explore HMs. For example, ‘What a pleasant surprise it is when in this life the soul is carried to the land of truth and finds there an abundance of what it needs to nourish it’(Swabey et al. 1924, page 11) describes the feeling of the HM experience, something that ………. Equally, ‘’its being all things at the same time being one; its being composite (so to speak of) while being so simple (i.e. so non-composite) that in it each perfection contains all the others without there being any real distinction’ p15(Swabey et al. 1924, page 12) gives the sense of the universe being pulled together, seeming so normal and straightforward.
Given the resonance between Malebranche’s language and the HM experience, and in the hope that this explains the experience more fully, I will push on with this line of thinking one more step. My sense is that HMs reveal a world that exists ‘out there’ but that we do not recognise or comprehend it on a day to day basis. Perhaps this is because our minds are shaped by a world view that does not recognise such ideas (as we will investigate later) or that we don’t have the capacity to hold these ideas permanently in our minds. In the Dialogues, Malebranche talks of the limitations of the human mind and those properties that are incomprehensible to us. God being infinite, is beyond our comprehension - ‘in order to think about infinite spaces, we couldn’t do it, because our minds are finite’(Swabey et al. 1924, page 15). Again, I am not proposing God as the answer to the conundrum of HMs, but that Malebranche’s ideas and the way that they are expressed provides the language and type of mindset, free of modern restrictions, that does allow us to comprehend, at least in part, what they might be.
Malebranche has a very complex and sophisticated world view. One that reflects his time, and particularly the shift from the revelatory beliefs of the Mediaeval age to one that is logic based. His thinking is fascinating, but we do have to set aside core elements of his belief. For example, that ‘We only move our bodies though our creator ‘(Swabey et al. 1924, page 33), our every action is only because God enables it to happen, as if we were autonomons driven by a God engine. Is it possible that we can remove those elements of his thinking that are unacceptable to us, yet still retain the quality of ideas that help us open up something more about HMs?
Following this thinking further, we can look further back for a another world view from which to considers HMs.
Looking back - the Mediaeval
Malebranch provides a stepping stone towards a culture that is very different from our own - the Mediaeval. It is difficult for us to re-create the way in which the world was understood during this time - 476 to 1450 - roughly 1000 years. By examining the values of this time we may get further insight into HMs may be understood. As with Malebranche, we do not need to embrace the whole sense of this philosophy, but can consider those elements that perhaps have a resonance with the HM experience.
In simple terms, thinking in the Mediaeval era was dominated by a fundamental belief in God - that God created heaven and earth (ie everything). Life was, therefore, driven by an unquestioned desire to live as God intended, with everyone in their pre-ordained place, as well as all animate and inanimate objects. Philosophy was required to apply itself to understand God’s wishes and not to question - a commitment to an understanding of biblical revelations. During this period, the pre Christian, often pagan beliefs, were gradually suppressed as Christianity became the dominant religious force in the Western world.
Saint Augustine was one of the leading philosophers of this time, holding to the doctrine of divine illumination, in ‘that human beings require a special divine assistance in their ordinary cognitive activities…. The assistance must be supernatural…..or it will not count as divine illumination…..be special, in the sense that it must be something more than the divine creation and ongoing conservation of the human mind……The mind must regularly rely on this assistance, in order to complete its ordinary cognitive activity: otherwise, an occasional mystical experience might suffice to confirm a theory of divine illumination’(Pasnau 2020). Here we see a direct connection with Malebranche’s thinking and, in the same vein, seek to separate the thinking from a complete dependence on religious belief. Is it possible to describe HMs as some form of illumination, provided beyond normal human thinking?
Let us step back and consider the Mediaeval perspective on life. In his book Production of Presence, What meaning cannot convey(Gumbrecht 2004) Hans Gubrecht provides a useful summary of what he describes as presence culture, which includes the Mediaeval perspective, in contrast to our modern meaning culture. For our purposes, the most relevant idea is perhaps that relating to knowledge - how do we know about the world. In our modern era knowledge is obtained by a deliberate act of interpretation by ‘penetrating the “purely material” surface of the world in order to find spiritual truth beneath or behind it’ (Gumbrecht 2004, page 80). In common terms we can see this as a materialist, or scientific means of gaining knowledge. Within the context of HMs, this meaning culture approach to knowledge, assuming that we accept what HMs show us is some form of knowledge (?discuss) , is not relevant, we are not scientifically investigating the world. On the other hand, the Mediaeval presence culture relies on ‘revealed knowledge – not from the subject the knowledge that emerges from revelation and unconcealment without requiring interpretation’(Gumbrecht 2004, page 80) We could argue that the experience of HMs is revealing a world that we don’t experience directly but is there - they are ‘“events of self-unconcealment of the world”’(Gumbrecht 2004, page 81) in Heideggerian terms.
Furthermore, I have previously stated that the HM experience seems external in that it comes from outside my being, and comes as a surprise when they do happen. Gumbrecht similarly notes that ‘such events of unconcealment never comes from the subject..... Revelation and unconcealment, if you believe in them, just happen.’(Gumbrecht 2004, page 81)
There seems to be a philosophical context here that can be applied from the mediaeval period that is relevant to HMs. One final comment, HMs can be related to Gumbrecht’s ideas in that they are often seen in relation to what has been ‘the surfacing of the absent or what is perceived to be absent, or what has existed’. (Gumbrecht 2004, page 45)
If looking back to the Mediaeval has added to our understanding of HMs we can now look forward to more modern philosophical thinking to see what that can provide.
Looking Forward - modern philosophy
The landscape of modern philosophy is remarkably different from what went before. The subject-object duality introduced by Descartes clearly puts human consciousness at the centre of any understanding of the world. Given this understanding, how can HMs be understood? We can examine philosophical texts that show a range of viewpoints from the canonical modern texts of Merleau Ponty and Jean-Luc Nancy and then more radical thinkers such as Heidegger and Harman.
Nancy, in his book The Birth to Presence firmly places being at the centre of this world - ‘the subject - which is, always and in the last analysis, the philosophical subject’(1993, page 9); and to ram home the point he quotes the German philosopher Hegel ‘“Identity, as self consciousness, is what distinguishes man from nature, particularly from the brutes, which never reach the point of comprehending themselves as ‘I’, that is, pure self contained unity”’ (1993, page 9). Modern philosophy is therefore bounded by being (ie the human) and more specifically, human consciousness.
In a way, it may seem that this is a positive environment for HMs to be understood, given that it is essentially an experience of the mind, in human terms. Ponty reinforces the human-centricity of this thinking. talking of himself as ‘the absolute source….I am the one who brings into being for myself’ (Merleau-Ponty 2012, page xxii). However, I find this approach problematic for, as Ponty states ‘perception ends in objects’(Merleau-Ponty 2012, page 69). Philosophy, as narrated by Ponty and Nancy, seems to build a wall around the human, and we peer out trying to make sense of things with no thought that maybe in reality, or even only as a thought experiment, that something may be peering back at us. Edmund Hursserl, one of the most significant philosophers of the twentieth century, suggests, according to Gumbrecht, that ‘all objects outside the human mind were simply inaccessible to us’ (Gumbrecht 2004, page 42) so that, as Gumbrecht states later, the ‘only the contents of human consciousness can be the object of philosophical analysis’ (Gumbrecht 2004, page 60). As we peer from our bunker, we rely on our perception of the world, and ‘perception ends in objects’(Merleau-Ponty 2012, page 69).
This, I feel, takes us to the problem of understanding HMs through modern philosophy. Firstly, that it is sunk in human consciousness. This absents anything outside of human consciousness - anything that came before, or comes after, human consciousness, or any other form of other consciousness. Secondly, it views the world as objects. It is difficult to embrace HMs here as, I argue, we need to at least be able to imagine an external prompt for them and that they are not objects……… Given the edict that we cannot accept a non-cartesian, non subject-object world view, we limit our ability to understand the world……
If this experience of philosophy appears to be a dead end for our investigation of HMs, there are alternative philosophical approaches that we could employ.
Heidegger - A break from the past
Heideggerr reflected ‘a widespread discontent with the intellectual loss of the world outside human consciousness’ (Gumbrecht 2004, page 65) that arose in the early 20th century, recognising ‘an extreme alienation from the world’(Gumbrecht 2004, page 66). He prompted a return to earlier Greek ideas and, in particular, the nature of being - what it is to be in the world.
I believe that Heidegger’s ideas give us at least a language with which to understand the appearance of HMs. He examines the occurrence of truth and how it is revealed in a rather complex way, but in simple terms truth is hidden from us but can be revealed (for example through art) ….truth-something that happens-double movement of concealing and unconcealing Gp67…………..
Unfortunately for us, Heidegger links truth to Being which, in turn, is in the dimension of things, which does not relate to HMs. However, Being ‘rather withdraws itself instead of offering itself to us,’ so that’ the things that appear “in the clearing of being no longer have the character of objects”, which may be a way of understanding the appearance of HMs………………..
Another approach to Heidegger seems to offer another glimpse of the workings of HMs. In his The Origin of the Work of Art, he sees that art can be a site where unconcealment of Being/truth can happen. Heidegger references the Greek temple as art and that ‘the sheer presence of the temple triggers unconcealment’ 73 Therefore unconcealment can be triggered by something of this world. Could we extend the concept to a tree, leaf, even the switching of a light for the temple, albeit an event that cannot be predetermined. However, Heidegger states that ‘truth is not gathered from objects that are present or ordinary’ 72………..not something I agree with…………..
View from the edge
As western society becomes less hierarchical (particularly in the sense of bringing humans back into the fold of nature and the world) and more inclusive (with race theory, feminism etc) philosophy begins to overcome the Cartesian centrality of human consciousness. Within this world view HMs may be explained differently…..
One trend that is a product of this emerging worldview is Object Oriented Ontology (OOO). We are concerned here with OOO as representing a new way of thinking rather than accepting its whole logic. It seems to take the ideas of Heidegger into a new realm - in it ’one accept(s) a the existence of a reality independent of human culture and cognition’ with a ‘strong objection to ‘any privileging of human “subjectivity” in all or any consideration of subject object relations’(Harman 2014). This seems to suggest a philosophical realism – the view that there is a reality independent of the human mind(Harman 2018, page 202) which suggests that HMs can be considered in this light.
What is truly exciting about this approach is that ’a theory of everything should be able to give an account of non-physical entities…no less than physical ones’(Harman 2018) . Harman applies these ideas to companies, events ….as well as …..
conclusion to OOO
View from outside
Earlier we discussed ideas of a presence culture in the context of Mediaeval thinking. Presence culture could also be applied to non-western world views, particularly those of indigenous cultures.
Yu’ik – ‘everything has a personhood – every animal, every plant, every stone – and human thought and deed constantly takes this shared personhood into account’(Fienup-Riordan and Others 1996)
Masks’ open up a world’ and reveal its true nature; and evoke ‘the multiplicity of significant relationships’ Ray 1976 p 3
Painting as a form of research - deliberative
‘paramount importance of abstracting the form, banning all irrelevances that might obscure its logic, and especially divesting it of all its usual meanings so it may be open to new ones’ p14 – yes and no, more subconscious and from the idea
‘According to Freud….artists are engaged in an attempt to deal with inner conflict’ CSoM 3 ‘artists are searching for a form that will embody their own personal and unique experience of being’ – tree painting
Am dealing with the visible, the physical, unlike earlier discussion
‘soul of the subject – from own experience’ p12 CSoM - ?from ones experience is this essential
Not complete – parent and child
What am I painting? The painting challenges – lifelike, my view of the world – or the trees? Then tree perspectives – tree a symbol of something more. Also a sense of responsibility to represent the trees and what they are honestly and in a way that they recognise (as you would pai
CONCLUSION AND FINDINGS
Presence culture rather than meaning culture
revelatory in nat
difficult to experience in totlality - not possible in a western culture to experience and understand
Q do HMs originate, or initiated, outside of human consciousness