Saturday, October 24, 2015

Language as a Front Runner

Bird call waveform pattern

morse code
ogham pattern
ogham pattern on a Celtic ring
In some recent research, I was surprised to discover that language evolved before the depiction of graphic symbols. For some reason, I'd always thought that graphical symbols came first, or at least -- in tandem with spoken language. Someone asked me, "How do they know that spoken language came first?" I had to reply that I didn't know yet why this was 'known'.

But, if language did come first, and graphical depictions second, this would imply one of two things: 1) graphical depictions were initially linear, because language is a linear form (OR) graphical depictions developed adjacent to or in parallel with the development of language.

Because not too much research has yet been done to decipher the pictures of the Middle to Upper Paleolithic period regarding the meaning of patterns, this era of cognitive history is still mysterious and filled with unanswered questions.

What I came across today is fascinating, though, moving on the language first, linear depiction first theory. What does an early Celtic language comprised of lines, read right to left, called ogham, and a bird call and morse code all have in common? Each has a linear sequence, depicted as a simple representational pattern. Each has 'on' and 'off' elements. Acoustic patterns require a temporal interval to convey the on/off sequence. A visual pattern represents on/off with proximity and spatial position. The spaces between the lines of the ogham pattern are like the spaces seen in the birdcall waveform pattern and in the morse code alphabet. Take a look for yourself.

It makes me wonder if perhaps bird calls were the initial inspiration for humans to attempt language.

Jennifer Bartlett - Painter

In the early 1980s, while working on my fine arts degree, and for some deep reasons I didn't yet fully understand, I became mesmerized by the art of Jennifer Bartlett. I saw her first series of paintings, "In the Garden", featured in a printed arts magazine. Her work was strangely fascinating. The colours, the impressionistic strokes, the play of light dancing across the landscape and that mysteriously-empty fountain with the cherub statue. What did it mean? My feelings of curiosity surprised me. I usually found contemporary art pieces rather obvious and boring, crude and insufficient reflections of modern life. After all, I was already living it, this modern reality. I could see it all around me. And feel it. Why would I want to look at a crafted substitute for my authentic reality?

Until recently, I haven't thought about Jennifer Bartlett's work for years, but with renewed interest (and with the help of Google) discovered that one of her recent exhibits involves painting maps, and that she started out as a map maker. In her work I believe there are elements that hint at what I believe may be 'first principles' of perception and cognition. Some fundamental clues about what it how we see and understand the world. Something timeless.

In the words of critic Maurice Berger, Bartlett’s art “juxtaposes the raw and the cooked, examining the way the world is filtered through the human mind and is encoded into cultural conventions or sign systems.”


Jennifer Bartlett Fibonacci 1-987, 2010 enamel over silkscreen grid on baked enamel, steel plates 63" x 63" (160 cm x 160 cm), overall installed (artnews.org)