Slow Looking, The Art of Philosophy

Can we look at a tree without the image of the tree?

I.

Ever since I came to know Krishnamurti (thanks to a friend who introduced me to him), this question he pointed out has been stuck in my mind ever since. 

“Can we look at a tree without the image of the tree?”

Can we really look at a tree, without translating it with our own terminology, categories or temperament? Just looking – just seeing what’s in front of us – seeing what is actually taking place, and feeling it without words of interpretations?

II.

It reminds me of another piece of reading that I loved by Brian Massumi on the autonomy of affect. 

“A man builds a snowman on his roof garden. It starts to melt in the afternoon sun. He watches. After a time, he takes the snowman to the cool of the mountains, where it stops melting. He bids it good-bye, and leaves.” 

Researchers took this short-film and turned it into 3 versions: the original voiceless version and 2 with added voice-overs (one factual and one emotional) and gave them to a group of 9 years old children to watch. What was astonishing from this finding was that the original non-verbal version elicited the greatest response from the children’s skin, the factual voice-over was the least unpleasant and the emotional voice-over was the most remembered. The result clearly showed us that our body responds to what we see before the formation of words. And then with the addition of words, they amplify or dampen what is being seen. Even with factual descriptions, it linearised what and how the images were being looked at, and in turn became an interpretation of what we see. 

Note: In the case of watching a film, we are looking at consciously indexed moving images. This means that there’s an intent of how those images were framed when creating the film for the audience to look at. But the takeaway here is that – what we see produces a primitive affect prior to any input of words, whether we are consciously aware or not.

III.

So, can we look at a tree without the image of the tree?

Zheng Bo, a Hong Kong-based artist, who spent his art practice working with plants mentioned that, the whole point of his daily rituals of drawing plants, is so that he can look and study the plants. He said that his artworks of plants are of no mastery of craftsmanship, but the experience of daily pencil-drawing of the plants made him slow down and look at the plants closely. He was documenting his experience of looking at plants. 

IV.

As a photographer and a psychologist, I’m fascinated by looking – the way we see – the images we form both mentally and physically. With this question in mind, I did an experiment with photographs, with the intention of just looking at trees. 

I picked a tree randomly and began looking at it from the bottom, where the roots are, then moving up to its branches and observed how they separate, and finally gazed upon the leaves and the fruits. And then I realised, the moment I took a photograph was the moment that I compared it with my mental image of a tree. I was photographing something that’s outside of my mental image of trees as new knowledge for me to keep. After this realisation, I then decided to not photograph anything and just observed. I watched my thoughts while I was just looking at this one particular tree, and I saw myself comparing that with what I know about trees, “oh the branches on this tree have such irregular shapes!” “the roots here are super interesting, they look like claws” etc. It seemed like the space between the looking and the thoughts is abducted, or maybe I just wasn’t aware enough of the gap in between. So I tried again. This time with a different tree. At first I did the same thing – I started from the roots and slowed moved up my gaze. Then I noticed the moment I took the phone out it changed the way I was looking at the tree. The act became purposeful in capturing something. So instead, I started all over but this time using my phone camera live view as a lens to observe the tree. I zoomed in as if I leaned forward; and zoomed out as if I took a step back to see the whole tree. Then at those moments where I was just looking with my mind emptied, I pressed the shutter. Something magical happened. The captured images have this sense of deadpan and mundane. They are really just ordinary, and at the same time I’m fascinated. I bet these are some of the images that one wouldn’t even spend a second and swipe to the next. 

V.

Looking at a tree, without the image of the tree, documenting it as an image, and looking at the tree in the image. What do you see?

Reference: 

Art Asia Pacific. (2021). Zheng Bo: Life is hard, why do we make it so easy? [Video]. Retrieved 8 June 2021, from http://artasiapacific.com/Projects/ZhengBoLifeIsHardWhyDoWeMakeItSoEasy.

Krishmurati, J., 2020. A mind free of ‘me’. Retrieved 8 June 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88ewKAjk7sg&t=1001s at 16:25 

Massumi, B. (1995). The Autonomy of Affect. Cultural Critique, (31), 83-109. doi:10.2307/1354446

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Slow Looking

The life of VR

What if we do live in games in our future… what would it be like? And what if we develop relationships with people inside the game… and not just a feeling but actually can do everything like what you can do in real life too and be able to sense all that… then what is the boundary between real and not-real? Do we then need reality? And then what if the people you developed relationship inside the games you discovered are the people that you actually know in real life too, wouldn’t that confused the fuck out of you? Especially in the games one can change their appearance and character… then again it goes back to… what’s real and what’s unreal? Who is the real identity and are both real and game you both you? And then, wouldn’t one thought about what if the reality we are now in is actually just a game that we are all playing in? And that there is a greater reality out there somewhere?

Sometimes I watch too much anime. The Sword Art Online anime made me think a lot about virtual reality worlds, and that really is like another world e.g. Mars or Moon that people can live in I suppose – with everything that can be adopted from the real world e.g. governance, structures, associations, relationships, homes, crimes etc. And eventually the world doesn’t even need avatar of real people, it can just be AIs. What will happen if each and one of us are able to create our own VR world with AIs in it… then do we even need other human beings? If everything can be replaced by AI… do we need each other, the social aspect of human connection? And then literally, if one can create more than one VR worlds, one can jump from worlds to worlds to experience different things or systems, relationships, power dynamics, rules etc. Then what is the significance of the reality? And would that matter anymore? Right now for all that matter I might just be in one of the VR worlds designed by someone higher, and that I am put in a place called Hong Kong to do what I am to do. Who knows.

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Slow Looking

Do dogs dream?

The dog next to me was sleeping peacefully while I was doing some work on my laptop just next to her. Suddenly there goes some crazy sounds from my right end and I thought she must have been snoring. I took a quick glance over and saw her body was frozen in a crescent moon shape with twitching eyes and continuing with these strange sounds as if she was having some bad dreams. I then typed in google and asked, “do dogs dream?” Apparently they do. Just like us humans.

And then I wondered, “What was she dreaming about?”

Is it her mother? Or is it the neighbour garage dog that she sees everyday? Maybe she was picking a fight with him since she runs away usually in her awake world.

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Slow Looking

The fake valentine.

The workers are on a roll again. When I saw this tunnel full of fake pink sakura flowers hanging beautifully, I know it is the season of love soon. Their florescent orange uniform clashes so loudly with the pale pink fake sakuras that it was eye soaring. Standing on the side of the tunnel, they robotically take apart the pink sakura flowers one by one from sheets and sheets of them, leaving bags of green plastic branches, and bunches of never dying flowers that are waiting to be glued onto the tunnel that people enter into on their daily walks from the ferry pier to the city hub.

“I’ve had enough.”

I imagined one saying that, hanging his uniform on the roof of the temporarily built workplace next to this tunnel that overlooks one of the tallest financial building across the harbour.

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Slow Looking

The poetic dance of the mind.

7:42am. I messaged Zoe, “I dreamt of you last night.” And then she replied, “I thought of you last night and was going to message you today.”

Is there really something called telepathy? Or simply by chance that I thought of you subconsciously and you consciously thought of me too at the same time? Was it because I dreamt of you that somehow that thought came to you so you thought of me? Or was it because you thought of me so your soul travelled to my dreams? Or was it really a synchronised photon entanglement of transporting the same message to two people at the exact same time? Or it doesn’t really have any explanation at all but just plain coincidence. But… isn’t it beautiful? That when I thought of you and you also thought of me? The poetic dance of the mind where at that moment, in some altered universe, we were connected for a split second. And here… are the traces, the breadcrumbs of that beautiful encounter.

She said, “Oh yeah some how the art exhibition event at the gallery we went together during Christmas popped up. So I thought of you.”

I said, “You were teaching me how to play piano in my dreams, and performed first. Somehow you were so into it that you were glowing, and then in the middle of the tune, you stopped, went towards the electric guitar, picked it up and started rocking and rolling.”

Makes me wonder – are there any connections between the two?

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Slow Looking

My body is screaming – let me sleep.

Recognising inner mental processing is an art. And being able to distinguish between the voice of the head vs. the voice of the intuition is a constant cultivation from moment to moment. Am I really feeling this way or is it a disguise of my mind?

This afternoon the sun is piercing in this early Jan of Winter 2021. It makes one want to just lay down hugging its warmth and embracing its passion. The dog next to me is certainly enjoying herself under this temperature, dosing off to sleep from time to time. Watching her just makes my head feels heavy with the crown of my head tinkling, and my whole head just feels like it wants to melt and become one with this cosy air. My eyes can still vaguely see the yellowy orange colour of the sun when closed, my body shivers to contain the heat from outside… for a moment I forgot where I was – the rooftop of my home in HK – and entered into a space of where I could be in Spain by the beach right now, or in Sweden when it was Vicky’s wedding… different body postures transport me down to different memory lanes of similar feelings of this sun saying its hello. So really, our body register a lot of memory too, it’s not just the mind.

And then there, the world stood still.

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Slow Looking

I don’t have a title.

Beginning of this year, I am cultivating into my daily routine of slow looking. And slow noticing of what’s physically around me as well as the mental processes that is going through inside of me. I guess it’s sort of a meditative act into slowing down and really appreciating the present, especially during this time of mass information, past-truth era and everything outside of the realm of self seems so noisy and clustering. The point of this practice is to flow fluidly into the writings, and to be more mindful with little things in our everyday.

And there. My mind goes blank. It’s a good thing, because often we don’t like our mind going blank, and let it sit in the blank state for a while, information or gushes of urges to fill this void keeps coming in just so to relieve this uncomfortability. To be engage with something is our primary instinct? Or my primary instinct. I can’t distinguish. But definitely sitting with this blank state of mind is nothing but uncomfortable. I guess sitting still and watching how the wind blows the “daily schedule” sheet of paper right in front of me soothes me a little. The longer I watch, the more I notice about the heaviness of my stroke on my handwritten daily schedule sheet, how fluid they are or vice versa. And that repeatedly drawn line separately the time and the activity irritates me in a certain sense, because it is not straight and it is rough, with patches of ink around it – I believe it was my finger running on it while the ink wasn’t dry. The more I look at it the more I resonate it with my life line on my left palm. It’s complicated just like that, with different lines overlaying each other, brings me to think about my life path where I seem to go off to different roads before getting back to the main route, and those branches are I guess what makes my life tree interesting, rather than just a plain boring straight line with no characters.

I think I can go on with this automatic writing and practise of noticing but I will stop here. Because this will turn into pages and pages of thoughts that are just flowing through into my brain and just letting my hands be the mechanical system to physically executing them, on this screen and on this page. And honestly, it is very liberating.

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Slow Looking

Contact

Do you ever look closely what technology default functions do to you? What data are they collecting and what information does it provide you with these data?

If there’s no manipulation with these settings and if you input everything in those empty boxes (because you feel obliged to when you see an empty space plus some you must input anyway), what this information says can tell you whether you are on someone’s contact list (you’ll figure out the formula if you really want to…) 

Now what is a contact? Someone you would like to be in touch with? Someone you want to be able to identify (because you can input as much details as you’d like to label that person)? Someone you want to develop a relationship with? Now does it matter whether you are on his/her contact list or vice versa (since your name – if you choose to put your name as your name – will be displayed anyway when you message that person)? And why do you choose to add someone to your contact list and some don’t?

Probably this isn’t something you care about… but it is something that I came to think about. 

What is relationship? and with the advancement of technology, how does the data you give (probably without you noticing) indicate/influences our relationships with others nowadays? 

And now once you noticed, what information do you choose to share with these technology? And even if you don’t, do they secretly keep them anyway in their server?

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Photography Today, Slow Looking

Graffiti – a form of art or vandalism?

 

 

 

Graffiti isn’t something that we usually come across with in the walks of Hong Kong streets. Here the streets are almost always clean and free from street and public art. In these 4 months and counting of the political outburst from the anti-extradition bill, there’s been a blossom of graffitis, spray-paint wordings, sticker arts, poster arts, street installation arts etc in all 18 districts of Hong Kong.

Almost everyday I have to take a cross-harbour bus to work, and everyday I walk on this footbridge from where the bus stop was to the MTR station, a journey of less than 5 minutes. On that footbridge, each and every time I walked along it, I am surrounded by graffitis and poster arts about the current political movement, slightly different every week.

One day from almost a month ago, out of the blue, the footbridge was swiped clean. The graffitis were wiped out and the posters were torn down, as if nothing happened – life goes on and the footbridge walkway becomes just as how it was before. This change threw me,

why does the society (well government) wants these to be cleaned? Were they “not-clean” beforehand? If so, what is “not-clean” about these graffitis? Is it because of the content? If so, surely only people who have knowledge of Chinese can understand it, or else it’s just a bunch of symbols? Or, is it because it is damaging properties? That it is somehow destroying the artistic minimalism of the property? What is the intention behind wiping these out? Is it really just about “cleanness” or are there hidden agenda e.g. induce the idea of forgetting / erasing what happened? There are actually street arts in parts of Hong Kong e.g. the one on Hollywood road, what makes someone / a group of authorities to say this can be on the wall and that can’t? What values are they judging by for these types of “art”?

During the movement these 4 months, there were actually street installations of origami cranes e.g. outside Fortress Hill station, why were these being removed? If the phrase 「時代革命,光復香港」were spray-painted with a bit more artistic quality and aesthetics elements, would they be considered more art than vandalism?

So many questions popped up from the experience that day, which led me to read up and research about the history of graffitis, the type of graffitis there are, why and how graffitis came about and how it relates to culture and politics (which will be discussed in the next blog post).

 

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