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  • martinamargaux

Risk and the element of surprise

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Last week, MM was invited to do something risky, something that might likely fail. At first she was excited, she liked the idea of a challenge. But she didn’t know what to do.

Maybe she cheated a bit, because she actually chose to do something she was certain she would fail at.

MM normally uses lenses or digital tools (or she collaborates with a team of professionals!) to create something…well, this time she decided to change her tools.

She went to an art supply shop and bought a bunch of stuff: paint, wax crayons, charcoal, different kinds of paper, glue, even some objects whose intended purpose eluded her.

MM enjoyed this part; She chose materials with child-eyes, guided more by what was instinctively and aesthetically attractive to her than by the use she wanted to do of them. Fair enough, she didn’t know what she wanted to do.

When MM got home, she arranged all her new art tools on the floor. They looked so appealing and shiny. Then, came the difficult part.

MM spent a couple of days just looking at the material. Delusional thoughts swirling through her mind: “I don’t know how to paint”, “I suck at drawing”, “I am not up to this, who am I trying to fool?”.

At the same time she felt as if she was somehow disrespecting the art materials, no matter what she did. If she didn’t use them, they had no purpose, they would just stay there and eventually decay. If she did use them, she feared she would violate them by doing something outrageously ugly.

On the morning of the third day of mutual staring, MM went for the second option. "Better a brutal end than a wasted life", she thought.

She prepared herself for the alleged massacre of art supplies - she did some breath work, put on some good instrumental music, cleared the table and put ALL the objects on it.

She chose a red wax crayon first. It was so sexy, like a brand new lipstick. MM simply couldn’t watch herself mar its perfection and closed her eyes.

She then let her hand be guided by all senses other than sight. She pressed the point of the wax crayon firmly onto the paper, feeling the wax crumble under the pressure. She liked the sensation, it smelt good too - she turned the crayon on itself adding pressure, then let it glide for a first stroke of liberation. After that, we don’t know whether MM's hand was guiding the crayon or the other way around.

When MM opened her eyes, two round shapes were staring back at her from the paper.

She examined them closely - one shape looked like a weird, unbalanced vortex, connected to the other shape by a single, thin stroke; the second shape was a sort of elongated snail shell, originating from the centre of the first shape and growing larger.

To be frank, it was not a masterpiece. So there was no harm in exploring a bit further, she considered.

MM's research on neuroscience popped up in the back of her mind: Caltech researchers have combined tools from machine learning and neuroscience to discover that the brain uses a mathematical system to organise visual objects according to their principal components. The work shows that the brain contains a two-dimensional map of cells representing different objects. The location of each cell in this map is determined by the principal components (or features) of its preferred objects; for example, cells that respond to round, curvy objects like faces and apples are grouped together, while cells that respond to spiky objects like helicopters or chairs form another group.”

MM wondered, "what if an object is both round and spiked?"

She picked up a red pencil and started drawing some other thin lines radiating from the centre of the objects and spiking towards the periphery.

“Mmm…it needs some texture”, she assessed.

The box of paint sat just next to her, eager to enter the game.

MM opened the little tube of red acrylic paint and put a big quantity in the centre of one of the round shapes, brushed it around in a spiky centrifugal manner, then painted the outline directly with the tube…she added layer after layer with brush strokes, the paint tube, her own hands…she tested how to dissolve the background using water and paper...she couldn’t remember all the steps, but it was actually pretty fun. Time had passed and MM didn’t even realise it. Not really thinking, not performing, not delivering, not pleasuring anyone but herself in painting for herself.

Now, MM doesn't aspire to become a painter. And that’s exactly the point. She was experiencing the process, not focusing on the result.

After a well deserved break, MM came back to her creation.

“What are you?” she asked the blobby red thing she made.

Maybe they were boobs, maybe it was two snails doing a weird sexual dance, maybe it was some sort of alien organ or embryo. The multitude of possible interpretations satisfied her.

Red Blob 1

MM decided to take some pictures of it, and other discoveries came along - something else happens through the eyes of a lens, that can change our perception of scale.

MM didn’t have her camera at hand, therefore she took pictures with her iPhone. It was good enough. Suddenly the blobby thing was changing identity again, it was potentially changing size, changing shape. It could be an atom in one shot, and become an extra-terrestrial landscape in another.

It reminded MM why she loves working with lenses and why she's so viscerally drawn to abstract. Lenses can be portals to other identities of the same object, while abstract can hold multiple identities within the same object. Each viewer can reveal some of these identities, while others will be revealed only to another viewer. Not only our eyes, but our subconscious, our culture and our self-awareness, contribute to the construction/projection of the identity and the reality of an abstract object in a specific, unique, subjective way.

From MM's notes:

Back to first singular person, I actually made two experiments in one! I gave it a go at Jonathan's suggestion to write in third person, and I found myself to be much more compassionate and supportive than I would normally be to myself. When I started this experience, I wasn’t even planning to share it on the blog. I was ashamed before even placing the paper on the table. More than taking a risk, I was convinced I was signing up for failure. And yet, I now take responsibility for my experimental, red blob. It may never have a place in an art gallery. But I see now how that was never the point. The point is that this experience made me discover something, made me remember something, made me create something, and made me forget, just for a moment, that I am not a painter :P

What will I do next? I am intrigued to explore more textures through my lens and see how I can work on this scale-shifting effect, both with video and photography.

I will investigate on whether quotidian objects may conceal abstract identities.

I will experiment how mixed media can play a role in a scale shifting, space shifting, time shifting experience. I will use the third person technique again, when I feel particularly insecure and need to take some distance from my emotional self.

Lastly, I will ask more questions.

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