Category Archives: Critical writing

The Madness of Mis [1]

In order to order my thoughts on the Goddess in the Machine I have been exploring ideas of the Heroines’ Journey. This is a subject wonderfully covered and researched by Sharon Blackie in her book ‘If Women Rose Rooted’ [September Publishing, 2016]

Grief and anger as a stimulus for transformation

It seems that everyone knows about the wild men in Celtic mythology. The enigmatic Brittonic figure of Lailoken, who almost certainly, somewhere along the line, became conflated with Merlin, leading to the legend of Myrddin Wyllt, the wild man of the woods. Suibhne Geilt, Mad Sweeney from the old Irish tale Buile Shuibhne (‘The Frenzy of Sweeney’): the subject of a fine body of poetry which extends from Yeats to Heaney. It’s a story we seem to have seen before: everybody knows about the men, but somehow, nobody focuses on the women.

So let’s take a look at Mis, the most colourful and original wild woman of Irish mythology. (There are no great poems about Mis, but I’d like to think there will be, some day.) Mis was the daughter of Dáire Dóidgheal, a powerful ruler from Europe who set out to invade Ireland. He landed with a huge army in Ventry, County Kerry, and a fierce battle followed which lasted a year and a day. Dáire was eventually slain by the hero-warrior Fionn mac Cumaill, which ended the battle. Mis came down in the aftermath to look for her father, and found only his dead body, bleeding, on the beach. Mis was overwhelmed by grief, and flung herself across her father’s body, licking and sucking at his bloody wounds to try to heal them, just as an animal might. When this failed to restore him to life, madness overcame her and she rose up into the air like a bird and flew away into the heart of the Sliabh Mis mountains.

Mis lived in the mountains for many years, and grew long trailing fur and feathers to cover her naked skin. She grew great sharp claws with which she attacked and tore to pieces any creature or person she met. She could run like the wind, and no living thing was safe from her. They thought her so dangerous that the people of Kerry created a desert stripped of people and cattle between themselves and the mountains, just for fear of her.

The king in those parts, Feidlimid Mac Crimthainn, offered a reward to anyone who would capture Mis alive. No-one accepted, for fear of Mis, except for a gentle harper by the name of Dubh Ruis. Dubh Ruis enticed Mis out of hiding, and made love to her. He coaxed her into a pool and, over a period of days, washed away the dirt and scrubbed away her feathers and fur. He combed her hair, and fed her, and made a bed for her. And eventually, he brought her back to civilisation, and married her.

This is some of what I wrote about Mis in If Women Rose Rooted:

‘Sometimes, madness seems like the only possible response to the insanity of the civilised world; sometimes, holding ourselves together is not an option, and the only way forwards is to allow ourselves to fall apart. As the story of Mis shows, that madness can represent an extreme form of initiation, a trigger for profound transformation.

… Mis is the original wild woman, that archetypal madwoman who lives deep within each of us. She speaks for us all: for the rage which we cannot express, for the grief which eats our heart out, for the voices we have suppressed out of fear. This old story shows us a brutal descent into darkness during which all illusions are stripped away and old belief systems evaporate, and in doing so it suggests that the extremities of madness or mental breakdown, with their prolonged, out-of-control descent into the unknown, might offer us a path through which we can come to terms with the truth. Like other legendary geilta (the Irish word for madwomen) Mis is driven to extremity in her grief, shape-shifting into bird form, flying away into the hills and woods, growing fur and feathers, eating wild and raw food, leaving the intolerable world behind her. But a geilt cannot emerge from her madness and come back to the world until she has achieved some kind of personal transformation. Through her ordeal – her removal from society and her time spent in the wilderness – she must find a way to reclaim a more authentic sense of identity and belonging. She finds it with the help of a man; she finds it in the union of the masculine and feminine.’

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The Mind-Body Problem

 

Or:

The Male-Female Problem

Musings created for The Goddess in the Machine

‘The mind-body problem is the problem: what is the relationship between mind and body? Or alternatively: what is the relationship between mental properties and physical properties?

Humans have (or seem to have) both physical properties and mental properties. People have (or seem to have)the sort of properties attributed in the physical sciences. These physical properties include size, weight, shape, colour, motion through space and time, etc. But they also have (or seem to have) mental properties, which we do not attribute to typical physical objects These properties involve consciousness (including perceptual experience, emotional experience, and much else), intentionality (including beliefs, desires, and much else), and they are possessed by a subject or a self.

Physical properties are public, in the sense that they are, in principle, equally observable by anyone. Some physical properties—like those of an electron—are not directly observable at all, but they are equally available to all, to the same degree, with scientific equipment and techniques. The same is not true of mental properties. I may be able to tell that you are in pain by your behaviour, but only you can feel it directly. Similarly, you just know how something looks to you, and I can only surmise. Conscious mental events are private to the subject, who has a privileged access to them of a kind no-one has to the physical.

The mind-body problem concerns the relationship between these two sets of properties. The mind-body problem breaks down into a number of components.

  1. The ontological question: what are mental states and what are physical states? Is one class a subclass of the other, so that all mental states are physical, or vice versa? Or are mental states and physical states entirely distinct?
  2. The causal question: do physical states influence mental states? Do mental states influence physical states? If so, how?

Different aspects of the mind-body problem arise for different aspects of the mental, such as consciousness, intentionality, the self.

  1. The problem of consciousness: what is consciousness? How is it related to the brain and the body?
  2. The problem of intentionality: what is intentionality? How is it related to the brain and the body?
  3. The problem of the self: what is the self? How is it related to the brain and the body?

Other aspects of the mind-body problem arise for aspects of the physical. For example:

  1. The problem of embodiment: what is it for the mind to be housed in a body? What is it for a body to belong to a particular subject?

The seemingly intractable nature of these problems have given rise to many different philosophical views.

Materialist views say that, despite appearances to the contrary, mental states are just physical states. Behaviourism, functionalism, mind-brain identity theory and the computational theory of mind are examples of how materialists attempt to explain how this can be so. The most common factor in such theories is the attempt to explicate the nature of mind and consciousness in terms of their ability to directly or indirectly modify behaviour, but there are versions of materialism that try to tie the mental to the physical without explicitly explaining the mental in terms of its behaviour-modifying role. The latter are often grouped together under the label ‘non-reductive physicalism’, though this label is itself rendered elusive because of the controversial nature of the term ‘reduction’.

Idealist views say that physical states are really mental. This is because the physical world is an empirical world and, as such, it is the intersubjective product of our collective experience.

Dualist views (the subject of this entry) say that the mental and the physical are both real and neither can be assimilated to the other. ‘

Or:

The Male-Female Problem

The male-femlae problem is the problem: what is the relationship between male and Female? Or alternatively: what is the relationship between male properties and  female properties?

Humans have (or seem to have) both male properties and female properties. People have (or seem to have)the sort of properties attributed in the physical sciences. These physical properties include size, weight, shape, colour, motion through space and time, etc. But they also have (or seem to have) mental properties, which we do not attribute to typical physical objects These properties involve consciousness (including perceptual experience, emotional experience, and much else), intentionality (including beliefs, desires, and much else), and they are possessed by a subject or a self.

Physical properties are public, in the sense that they are, in principle, equally observable by anyone. Some physical properties—like those of an electron—are not directly observable at all, but they are equally available to all, to the same degree, with scientific equipment and techniques. The same is not true of mental properties. I may be able to tell that you are in pain by your behaviour, but only you can feel it directly. Similarly, you just know how something looks to you, and I can only surmise. Conscious mental events are private to the subject, who has a privileged access to them of a kind no-one has to the physical.

The male-female problem concerns the relationship between these two sets of properties. The male-female problem breaks down into a number of components.

  1. The ontological question: what are male states and what are female states? Is one class a subclass of the other, so that all female states are male, or vice versa? Or are female states and male states entirely distinct?
  2. The causal question: do female states influence male states? Do male states influence female states? If so, how?

Different aspects of the male-female problem arise for different aspects of the mental, such as consciousness, intentionality, the self.

  1. The problem of consciousness: what is consciousness? How is it related to the brain and the body?
  2. The problem of intentionality: what is intentionality? How is it related to the brain and the body?
  3. The problem of the self: what is the self? How is it related to the brain and the body?

Other aspects of the male-female problem arise for aspects of the physical. For example:

  1. The problem of embodiment: what is it for the mind to be housed in a body? What is it for a body to belong to a particular subject?

The seemingly intractable nature of these problems have given rise to many different philosophical views.

Materialist views say that, despite appearances to the contrary, female states are just male states. Behaviourism, functionalism, mind-brain identity theory and the computational theory of mind are examples of how materialists attempt to explain how this can be so. The most common factor in such theories is the attempt to explicate the nature of mind and consciousness in terms of their ability to directly or indirectly modify behaviour, but there are versions of materialism that try to tie the female to the male without explicitly explaining the female in terms of its behavior-modifying role. The latter are often grouped together under the label ‘non-reductive physicalism’, though this label is itself rendered elusive because of the controversial nature of the term ‘reduction’.

Idealist views say that male states are really female. This is because the male world is an empirical world and, as such, it is the intersubjective product of our collective experience.

Dualist views (the subject of this entry) say that the female and the male are both real and neither can be assimilated to the other……

Hello again…….hee hee hee

 

GODDESS IN THE MACHINE

  *

Goddess in the Machine

The Spinghead Trust

Fontmell Magna

Dorset

3-13th April 2017

www.springheadtrust.org.uk

The phrase ‘the ghost in the machine’ and its many levels of meaning has for some time been used in an, often derogatory, fashion by critics of the philosophical concept Dualism; as set out be Descartes et al.

The ghost being the consciousness, or mind, carried in a physical entity: the machine.

Gilbert Ryle coined the term in his 1949 work The Concept of Mind as a criticism of René Descartes. Descartes believed that the human mind is not physical, that it exists independently of the human brain. Ryle contrarily believed that human consciousness is dependent upon the human brain.

The phrase has come to also describe the supposed consciousness in a mechanical device that behaves as if it has a will that is independent of what its human operator wants it to do.

Computer programmers have also appropriated the term to describe programs that run contrary to their expectation.

It is a metaphor, a comparison made figuratively.

Long debated on several levels of meaning; at its core it is a phrase used to describe the soul [ghost] and the machine [body] and infer one’s interference, existence and influence on, and as distinct from, the other.

Hijacking this phrase and all its meandering debate is simply a way to attempt to structure discussions on the inextricable duality of human existence; suggesting that the ghost [Goddess] and the machine [patriarchal societies] are indivisible from the whole whilst constantly acting upon and, interfering with/defining one another.

SHOW

Running from the 3rd to the 12th of April [11am – 5pm – closed Thursday and Monday] an  exhibition of new paintings by the artist Deanne Tremlett curated by Anne Hitchcock.

EVENTS

Workshop;  Research for painting; developing thematically within your work

Friday 7th [1-5pm]

Participants will be asked to come along with a piece[s] of their recent work and be ready to discuss their interests and, where relative, narrative with Deanne Tremlett and Anne hitchcock. We shall be discussing why it is crucial to develop as an artist, not just in skill, but in inquiry.

£25 – concessions available on inquiry, to book your place use the contact form below

Seminar: Goddess in the Machine

Saturday 8th  [10am-5pm]

a structured, but loosely,a day consisting of talks and panel discussions around the construct of the new phrase; plus participation, performance and casual conversations engendered by it.

£30 – concessions available on inquiry, to book your place use the contact form below

With artists, curators, actors, singers and writers:

Deanne Tremlett 

[artist] on – goddess in the machine

Her current body of work; on show in the galleries, motivations and necessities for establishing one’s place in the world and the existence of the male muse

 Anne Hitchcock 

[curator of the accompanying show] on -curating women artists

What makes a good exhibition? Why are some exhibitions more memorable than others? There is no doubt that the works shown are important, however in this talk Anne Hitchcock will propose that a successful exhibition is more than a collection of individual works, no matter how good those works may be.  She will suggest that much depends on the underlying curatorial premise – the concept – on which the exhibition is based. Drawing on her own experience of curating exhibitions both at The Slade Centre and elsewhere, she will consider the development of exhibition concepts and the importance of context in the widest sense

Fiona Robinson

[artist, curator, writer] Subverting the feminine – Angela Carter and Visual Art

The exhibition Strange Worlds The Vision of Angela Carter which has just finished a three month run at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol was an opportunity, as curator, to gather together artwork which related to Carter’s writing. The exhibition included work by Ana Maria Pacheco, Paula Rego, Alice Maher, Lisa Wright, Marcelle Hanselaar, Wendy Elia, Eileen Cooper and others.  

Carter’s iconoclastic writing with its intensely visual use of language focused on revisioning fairy tale from a feminine point of view.  She explored gender, metamorphosis between animal and human, and deviant behavior, nothing was sacred; there were no taboos.  It included a controversial female take on the writings of the Marquis de Sade. Using contemporary works from the exhibition and contextualizing them historically where appropriate, I will look at how these artworks subvert traditionally accepted attitudes to women, gender, identity and the male gaze and suggest that Angela Carter is still an influential force for contemporary artists.. 

 Francesca Steele

[performance artist] – A Performance Piece

A live and  video artist who is mid PhD with the Visual and Material Culture faculty at Northumbria University. Francesca is currently researching on how processes of trauma impact on art practice and will talk on her work and perform a piece.

Steele’s work features on internet sites such as ‘girls with muscle’ and persists outside the tradition of the white box space; permeating wallpapers, concealed within the doctors surgery, hidden in cheap hotel rooms, living in the gym, held in a reflection and breathing through scar tissue.

Wendy Elia

[artist] on – the female gaze in the 21st century

A brief history of female self portraiture and a dissection of the female gaze.

Judith Jacob

[British Actress, Compaire and DJ (Conscious Radio)]

Judith has been on our TV screens for more than 30 years, she recently started performing stand up comedy. As a DJ Judith presents her own show on Concious Radio 102fm on Thursdays between 1 and 3pm

http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/thebritishblacklist/judith-jacob/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Jacob

http://geestor.co.uk/judith-jacob/

Madi Shrimpton

[singer, songwriter]

Madeleine Shrimpton is a singer, performer, creative facilitator, yoga teacher and sounder healer from London. She studied Drama at Exeter University many moons ago now and has a wealth of experience performing and singing (former co founder of female performance art trio Goodbye Leopold), running creative arts, singing, music and drama workshops with diverse groups of children, women, families and refugees (Blackheath Conservatoire, Artis and Eastside Educational Arts) and more recently she trained to be a Kundalini yoga teacher (Karam Kriya School) and sound healer (with the esteemed Gongmaster Don Conroe). She is passionate about the healing power of sound and incorporates elements of sound medicine in her performing and teaching.

Students

There will also be students from the Visual Art, Photography and Drama departments of the Gryphon School, Sherborne; who will be reacting to, documenting and participating in the event.

 NB:

The theme of the event is definitely female but participation will in no way be gender restricted and, indeed, many of the students who have expressed an interest are male.

 Artist Talks

Sunday 9th [brunch/lunch] 

Brunch/Lunch with the artist, Deanne Tremlett

Other activities

Monday 10th  Private Day

Student talks

Wednesday 5th and Tuesday 11th

Invited students from school/college Art Departments will be invited to bring work for critique and enter into critical debate within the space.

*image of Springhead Gardens’ water turbo by Edward Parker

BOOKINGS AND INQUIRIES:

Women Beware Women

Women Beware Women - work in origress

Women Beware Women – work in progress

Writing in the Daily Telegraph last year, Hannah Betts, unwittingly helped me with my research into a phenomena I had witnessed firsthand in my social circle, something that is anathema to me as a woman who has outgrown the playground; namely ‘divide and ostracise’ and a subject first visited by me in paint 15 years ago in The Three Muses, now in a private collection in London:

Three Women

The Three Muses

The events leading to and fallout from the spectacle were felt rippling through the entire village, to a lesser or greater extent, for years and things have never, and may never, be the same a gain.

Women Beware Women is a Jacobean Tragedy by Thomas Middleton that deals with several episodes/facets of ‘female transgression’ and has not one likeable girl in it. To be fair the men are all pretty bottom dwelling too, however, the play is notable for its scathing description of female motives and reasoning. Admittedly a period piece, where the concerns of the protagonists bare not a lot of resemblance to first world 21st Century issues, the idea represented here of woman colluding with man to bring down her fellow female is seen to be both laudable and villainous at the same time. However the girl on girl crime is the real crux of the story, the men manipulated by the women to enact retribution upon their sisters.

Hannah Betts wrote under the headline:

Women are being bitchier than ever – where’s the sisterhood gone?

Women have always judged each other – usually in private. But overt bitchiness seems to be on the rise as everything from weight to wardrobes is harshly judged. Are we all Mean Girls now?

……the Daily Mail website’s notorious right-hand column, aka the “sidebar of shame”, a diet of celebrity sex scandals, fashion faux pas, reality television and incredible weight-loss stories, with judgment of women’s bodies and behaviour the underlying theme. One of the kindest people I know, a mother of teenagers and friend to all, describes it as her “dark addiction”.

“I ‘right-hand’ constantly, day and night,” she says. “No matter what is going on in my own life, there is always solace to be had in fashion fails and bikini bodies. It’s a compulsion.” Many who openly despise the body baring of Page 3 are covertly devoted to the bodily critiques of Mail Online.

This compulsion – as with the compulsion then to let rip – originates with childhood, according to Dr Frankish. “Something happens that triggers a relatively infantile response, belonging to the pre-socialisation stage of development. Not all women attack others, so the implication is that those who do are insecure in their attachments and are triggered by what they see as someone being better than them, or getting more attention than them.” We justify ourselves with the delusion that it is a victimless crime, the subject as virtual as the medium.

For my part, I see the escalation of bitchiness as a symptom of the overall rise in and currency of misogyny. Not only do people – women included – get lured into replicating its manifestations, feminism has become a live issue again, and with this liveness comes a backlash and sense that it can be used to foster divisiveness. There have even been reports about a Reddit group that may be striving to seed infighting among feminists, encouraging them into ever more “extreme” stances.

The effects of this girl-on-girl sabotage can be still more concrete, affecting women’s relationships in the workplace and their polarisation into mother and non-mother camps, each virulently opposed. They divide us into ugly versus pretty, fat versus thin, small-breasted versus large, fashionable versus unfashionable – all enforcing the stereotype that a woman must be pretty, slim, buxom and stylish rather than, say, bright, healthy, happy and fulfilled.

One must not be naïve, of course, we are never all going to get along merely by merit of possessing two X chromosomes and a vagina. Equality means equal opportunities to like and dislike rather than exist in some Pollyanna universe. But neither should we turn against each other because of possession of said attributes. Not least because in sisterhood lies strength.’ [source; The Daily Telegraph 21 February 2015]

Cliff Notes

What attracts most about Deanne’s work are the layers of engagement and response it demands of the viewer. I am drawn into the physical nature of the paint while encountering stories of vulnerability, playfulness, absurdity and the deeply serious impact that relationships have on our mind and body

This often comes across as an intense tension, bearing witness to a moment in time, a narrative, a play. Yet the psychological drama that is unfolding has been caught or frozen, not so that it loses the context of what happened before (or will afterwards), but maybe as with a polaroid, in that it processes, changes and reveals before your eyes.

When I look at Dawn Peebody it typifies my whole viewing experience. Drawn in, seduced by paint and flesh, discomforted, protective (of) and unnerved (by) vulnerability – what has happened, with whom and why?

It is always interesting to observe the structures artists use in constructing their stories in paint. Deanne, in setting her stage (as Francis Bacon did with plinths, cages and furniture), frequently separates foreground and background and by doing so emphasises further the sense of seeing the figures in an unfolding scene or drama. This has an effect, as with the analogy of a polaroid picture developing in front of you, that can be almost filmic; you are waiting with trepidation to see what might emerge next.

Deanne’s use of paint compounds this effect. Often she uses milky translucent washes, as in Dawn Peebody, that make the figure look as if it is emerging from freshly developed film, and yet could just as easily fade away if over exposed.

At other times the canvas is stencilled, embossed, paint and lines tattooed. It forms, as in Jane Doe, a background for startling light and dark contrasts. The body almost becomes functional, sometimes displaying an enveloping controlling maleness, or a female vulnerability that confronts aspects of itself and others.

Overall I love these paintings, the bewitching, sublime and complex responses they evoke. Like a satisfying debate, they start by tempting and luring me in with paint and light, consolidate by playing out the theatrical psychological drama, and then finish with the need to return the gaze.

Visceral, physical and perfectly disturbing.

Written by Cliff Free in response to a studio visit, January 2016

image Dawn Peebody

A gift

I must thank you, Cliff, for my birthday gift.

I think.

David Sylvester’s conversations with Francis Bacon (Thames and Hudson).

I had only read them in part before but today has been both blighted and lighted by them.I have not painted at all. I have read and re-read. His process makes me tingle.

I do not think anyone has ever more eloquently captured, in such an accessible manner, the truth of it (that is).

I offer you this:

“I don’t really know how these particular forms come about. I’m not by that suggesting that I am inspired or gifted. I just don’t know. I look at them – I look at them, probably , from an aesthetic point of view. I know what I want to do, but I don’t know how to do it.. And I look at them like a stranger, not knowing how these things have come about and why have these marks that have happened on the canvas evolved into these particular forms. And then, of course, I remember what I wanted to do and I do, of course, try then and push these irrational forms into what I wanted to do.”

WTF? I so wish he weren’t dead.