BLOCKS! is an art project that explores the extent to which novel creation can occur in the face of a narrowing set of creative possibilities.
I'm 37 years old and I've been making artwork for long enough that I've noticed a predictable cycle that my creative interests go through. First there is unrelenting attraction. I get excited by an image, feel propelled not just to explore it, but to figure out why it's so powerful. Why do I want to spend so much time with this thing? 12 years ago I was attracted to an image of a guy carrying around a big fish. I painted it over and over trying to figure it out. Later this transitioned into paintings of monsters carrying women around that were taken from 1950's movie posters. It was all I thought about for months. Then one day I went to studio and had no desire to ever paint one again. An idea that had sustained me, that had seemed to give my life direction and meaning, now meant nothing. This was not surprising. It had happened dozens of time. I stopped painting and never looked back.
This was around the time when I started playing with blocks. What appealed to me was that there was a finite set of creative possibilities. There were only so many blocks which could only be configured in so many ways. It was also not a creative problem that centered around meaning. I never struggled with what each configuration meant. Instead what interested me was, "How long could I sustain my creativity in the face of a finite set of arrangements?" I decided to sit down each day and come up with something new regardless of how inspired I felt.
Going through this practice a question hung over me. "Am I actually intelligently exploring or have I just found a context that is conducive to cranking out images that look enough alike that they can be considered coherent?" As I mulled this over I started to consider how I could tell the difference between an actual display of intelligence and a fairly mindless reformatting of visual information. One conclusion I reached is that displays of intelligence involve the ability to remember the collective history of all previous moves and actively seek to avoid not just their exact repetition but similar sets of moves that lead to similar conclusions, while also being able to recombine skill sets that bring about a satisfying emergence of novel information.
(February 21st 2017 - Present)
The way I manipulate these blocks is also occurring in a fairly unusual cognitive style. I do not have the ability to internally visualize, what some people more poetically call "a mind's eye" but what has currently been labeled, "Aphantasia" by the scientific community. This is to say that all of my visual thinking happens right in front of me, which may be another reason I'm attracted to blocks as a particular problem set since all of the possible information I have to work with I can touch.
What this means is that the configurations of blocks that I arrive at are created through the process of intuitively recombining and dismantling the various pieces so that the final result emerges quite unexpectedly, not a process of expert planning. When I use the word "intuition" though I am actually speaking about two different interconnected processes that are happening simultaneously. The first process is what most people describe as their "gut reaction" or what I would call "being sensitive and following the emotional output of the body in relation to actions in the world". The second intuitive process is "condensed packets of experiential knowledge performed unconsciously in order to make my experience more fluid".
So as I move a shape on the board and look at the blocks it makes me feel a certain way. I take that feeling and apply it to the stored history of information that I have so far from doing this process and then decide whether it was a good move or not. Through a trial and error process I work with what is in front of me until I have the feeling that something new has emerged, that visual information has been generated that I previously did not have access to. When that happens, I stop, take a picture, clear the blocks off the board and start again.
This is BLOCKS!
(April 1st 2014 - August 6th, 2014)