The abstract for my in-progress doctoral art/research project, at the University of Oxford, was selected for a presentation session in the “Me” strand of the NAFAE “Living Research: Urgency of the Arts” Conference that was held at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London on March 15, 2019.
This project proposes an artistic method for understanding consciousness, a concept that is still proving to be elusive to the sciences, cause of much debate for philosophers and phenomenologists and conceived variously in spiritual thought.
It is hypothesized that consciousness, defined as subjective experience, can only be conceptualized through the subjective, such as felt spiritual experiences and the inquires and processes possible in the domain of art.
The author begins by presenting an anthropological portraiture for himself that provides the subjective basis for his moving-image solution in which he seeks to embody the subjective experiences of all his subjects.
The author asserts that his own subjectivity lies in embodying the other’s subjective experience, in a process termed and introduced as “spiritual penetration”:
Using the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ as a methodology, the artist asks his subjects, through an intimate and revealing interviewing process, to provide one word that captures their subjective experience in response to the following question:
What is it like to be you?
The question is a play on the title of the seminal Philosophy of Consciousness paper by Thomas Nagel, “What is it like to be a bat?” (1974).
In the proposed film, the curated subjects are the face, not for their own subjective word for consciousness, but for each other’s. Furthermore, in order to find a unifying answer, and in line with the artist’s spiritual notion of oneness, the artist voices each response in his own voice. The final sequence of the film is intended to be the artist’s own likeness voicing his own word- a definition for consciousness- as discovered through this process.
The author concludes with offering that the answer for consciousness gained through his artistic practice is potentially a general answer, citing the ability of art to make the personal feel universal.