Monday, 20 January 2020

Stop! Look! Listen!

I wonder if as a species, we human beings are losing our powers of observation along with our capability for information recall?

I ask this because recently a friend of mine had visited an interesting tourist spot and I asked him what he thought of it. "Here, I'll show you" he said, and whipped out his smart-phone. 

Me, being a smarty-pants said "I don't want you to show me, I want you to tell me what you though of it". For a minute or two all I got was a sort of blank look from him.

Perhaps we too have set up a photo opp in a second or two without really looking at the subject or content only to move on rapidly. In our instant and accessible world, that memory has been digitally recorded to be dealt with later.

Are we really happy enough with remembering the recorded version rather than living one grounded in observation and experience, interacting with the real-time event?

Although memory is highly personal, subjective and in fact very malleable (what we re-member may or may not have been what actually happened) I do think easy, personal digital storage of this sort has implications for the way in which we view the world around us. Our unwillingness, or growing inability to observe and appreciate events "in real-time" may wrongly colour our understanding of both the present and the past, whether that's our own memory of events or our perception of history and the lessons to be learned.

Furthermore, failing to realise that past cultures had, over millennia developed a significant capacity for profound powers of information recall and therefore memory, could lead us to judge their story telling traditions as mere folklore rather than dedicated transmission of important information; information which often had life or death consequences.

We judge other cultures outside of our experience to be somehow primitive and inferior to our own as viewed from our 21st century, first world perspective without understanding the circumstances around such traditions as story telling/information recall.

And here perhaps lies a very real and insidious danger. Relying on Internet algorithms for delivering information about the world around us increases the chances of our being fed through the filter bubble of selective news feeds and targeted influence, reinforcing what could already be our preconceived, misinformed or manipulated opinions. This will only serve to further diminish the breadth and depth of our understanding and appreciation of major political, moral or social issues that face us.

What can I do about this? Well, over the last few years I have been checking myself regarding my response to what I read and see on-line that might make me annoyed or angry. My first reaction now is to stop and ask the following simple, but effective question.

"Why is this making me angry or emotional?"

If I take my time over answering it, looking out for the subliminal use of suggestive words, terms and photographs, all to often the answer reveals that it is deliberately aimed at manipulating my emotions and anxieties on a subconscious level while potentially trying to bias my opinions. Knowing this, I am more prepared to take a step back, avoid the Internet equivalent of an instant road-rage response and do a little bit of rational thinking and research.

Try asking yourself the same question next time it happens to you. Take a few minutes to analyse the less obvious aspects of the content. You may well be surprised at how considerate your response is.

A few notes about the new work including .....

A Random Act of Hope - etching with mezzotint panel

In Memoriam - Homo Deus - computer graphic image

Hope in Shifting Shadows - mezzotint with etched panel

Some of what I have written above is definitely present in the new works. As always with my artworks that have the word hope in the title, in the one called "A Random Act of Hope" we read the words "The Reactionary's Palimpsest...contemporary trends for the waging of war on peace". It's a reference, on one hand to the (deliberate or otherwise) manipulation of our anxieties, fears and preconceptions through our own narrow-mindedness. On the other hand, the olive branch, the smile and the doves sitting on the logos War and Peace offer an alternative route to the well-being of our own humanity, individually and collectively.

In the digital triptych titled In Memoriam - Homo Deus, the center panel has text that proclaims "And Man said "Behold, let us make god in our own image, so that we can be sure that god hates all the same people we do"". Visually it has placed "self" at the very center of the work with all power leading to, and flowing from the self centered individual. But there is also the suggestion that doing so is ultimately self destructive as indicated in the left and right panels. Divided between them, they contain the phrase "In Memoriam, Homo Deus".

In the mezzotint, "Hope in Shifting Shadows", it is the raven that unexpectedly takes the initiative by offering the doves an olive branch. Yet this occurs in front of graffiti on the wall that states "It is forbidden to proceed beyond this point". The initiative therefore is rendered null and void. As  British street artist Banksy recently stencilled on the Palestine/Israel separation/security wall "PEACE on EARTH *terms and conditions apply" However negative this seems, there is always hope as the raven, who has cropped up in other works of mine just keeps trying.

"To wage war isn't [usually] a purpose, it's a [defensive, preconditioned and often unconscious] threat reflex. We should be trying to think our way out of this mess" 1.

See the full selection of six new works launched on my website at

1. From the novel "Salvation" by Peter F. Hamilton with  my own additions in parenthesis and italic emphasis 


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