INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Vancouver Observer JANUARY 14, 2011 - by Pravin Pillay
BRIAN ENO'S ILLUSTRATED TALK
In a decisively non-technical and unpretentious presentation, ideas were conveyed with a fittingly awkward flipping of transparencies, quickly drawn sketches and moments of humorous self-depreciation. The Illustrated Talk not only outlined the pivotal moments in history and creative principles that have generated Eno's impressive achievements, it slipped the audience almost imperceptibly into an immersive experience of these same creative principles. At least that's what my pattern-seeking mind was saying to me as it wove together the two hours of ideas into a delightful, informative, and insightful experience. The Wiz had proved his point as only an artist-trickster could.
It was Monday evening at the beautifully restored Vogue Theatre and Brian Eno, The Wizard - musician, visual artist, writer, and evangelical atheist - was going to let us peek behind the curtain and perhaps open a door or two. The audience was packed with artists, critics, musicians, fans and other curious members of the public who had gathered to experience what was being billed as An Illustrated Talk. Given that Eno had just opened the installation exhibition of 77 Million Paintings in Calgary's Glenbow, and that he had been brought to Vancouver by International Art Initiatives and The Vancouver Art Gallery, the talk in Vancouver was expected to be centered around the exhibition. However Eno surprised us all and perhaps himself by deciding to give extra talk and start a half-hour before the scheduled time. The former Roxy Music glam rock star, clearly at ease with a large audience, was about to surf on the edge and surrender, at least a bit, to the creative moment.
What the audience experienced was ecology of the thought that flows through four hundred years of western consciousness into Brian Eno's creativity and interconnects his artistic process with so many contemporary artists, musicians, and political activists now on the cultural frontier of social innovation. I suppose nothing less was to be expected from an acknowledged cultural icon and visionary. For nearly forty years, The Wiz has been generating entertaining, engaging, complex, elegant, and compelling creative works across several disciplines that play between the conceptual boundaries and sensibilities of so-called high and pop art.
In a decisively non-technical and unpretentious presentation, ideas were conveyed with an fittingly awkward flipping of transparencies, quickly drawn sketches and moments of humorous self-depreciation. The Illustrated Talk not only outlined the pivotal moments in history and creative principles that have generated Eno's impressive achievements, it slipped the audience almost imperceptibly into an immersive experience of these same creative principles. At least that's what my pattern seeking mind was saying to me as it wove together the two hours of ideas into a delightful, informative, and insightful experience. The Wiz had proved his point as only an artist-trickster could.
One of the principles that Eno "illustrated" through us and noted in his talk, was how generative art requires the mental patterning processes within our brains to actually complete it. The artist sets up the conditions but the process of pattern seeking within the mind of the viewer completes the work and consequently transforms a passive viewer into an active participant involved in the creation of the work. While the talk seemed simple and easy, given his abilities, somewhere in there I started to feel that The Wiz was contributing a certain vitality to a few simple principles that might have some unexpected and generative implications outside the two hours and beyond the walls of the Vogue.
During the journey through the territory of his mind, we touched on three revolutionary ideas or non-intuitive leaps in thinking that fundamentally changed the way we understand ourselves and provided insight into principles that have enabled the generation of much of his creative work including 77 Million Paintings. In doing so, The Wiz made visible that which is so taken for granted in our industrial-technological world view, that we may no longer recognise how our thought, perception, and how we live is shaped.
Revolutionary Idea 1: In 1543 Copernicus published De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions Of The Heavenly Spheres), a model of the solar system that displaced the earth and humanity from being the centre of the universe. The implication was like the dawning upon the growing awareness of a two-year-old that our planet might not be the most important thing ever created.
Revolutionary Idea 2: In 1859 Darwin published the book that came to be known as The Origin Of Species. The ideas about evolution began the process of dethroning humanity from being a divine creator's favorite, not even on the earth. Recently this process resulted in the Phylogenetic Tree by Hillis. Eno stated that this image was something worth looking at in detail and downloading. You can get the PDF here and zoom in to truly see that we are one of many riffs on a theme. Simplicity made complex R-US.
Revolutionary Idea 3: Cybernetics came into its own during the 1970s with thinkers like Stafford Beer. Cybernetics - or the study of self-organising systems - refers to a simple set of instructions that through feedback adapt, modify, and replicate themselves in a system. This applies to anything digital, mechanical or biological and for Eno this includes visual and auditory art and apparently Illustrative Talks.
With these three revolutionary ideas, we trace a historical influence to generative art and the ambient music composition of Eno. However we also get a sense that in his awareness there is no need for a designer of the universe. As Eno put it, "Complex things can come from simple things".
The Wiz went on to state "what matters is the picture that you have in your head". We act and create upon those pictures in our heads. "Science reveals" what might be and "Art is what it is like when we live as if it is true". So art enables us to experience an idea of what might be possible before it actually becomes ubiquitous and disappears into the background of the human social experience. In our contemporary heads, we might have a picture of a pyramid with a few leaders or divinely inspired creators at the top and the masses at the bottom that follow.
During this talk, I found myself asking what if we lived with the beautiful Phylogenetic Tree of David Hillis in our collective heads? I wondered what if we might better appreciate the delicate experiment in humanity that is taking place in this generative biosphere amongst so many millions of other species and on a planet that is very likely one of billions in the universe? I wondered how that realisation would manifest itself in how we organize and govern ourselves and how we would live with each other and the other organisms of this biosphere? What kind of art experiences would allow us to feel what it would be like if we were to live in accord with such a cosmological vision?
Eno in the course of his talk enigmatically spoke of New York as once being the greatest of medieval cities, with Rio now holding that space and Vancouver showing signs of emergent possibility. Medieval cities in western culture were hotbeds of cultural activity. Perhaps we denizens of Rain City are close to generating the vital intensity needed for real scenius - the form of distributed genius that arises when a community reaches a certain vital functioning and actually generates the potential for individual genius to occur. What you See is what you Get. Imagine That.