THE YAWNING ROOM
Yawning Room (2015) (excerpt of 1 video channel & 6 channel audio) by Michaela Davies
AN EXHIBITION BY
Michaela Davies | Mariah Blue
JAN 15 – FEB 14, 2016
tAd is pleased to present the exceptional work by cross-disciplinary artist Michaela Davies, who holds a Doctorate in Psychology from the University of Sydney, and is an Australian Music Centre represented artist. Her practice is informed by an interest in the role of psychological and physical agency in creative processes and performance, and how obstruction can change the trajectory of both individual development and creative outcomes in and beyond the context of musical performance. Entitled Yawning Room, this exhibit at tAd is a participatory audio/video installation aiming to induce involuntary yawning responses in the viewer upon exposure to the work, thus contributing, in real time, to the environment created by the multiple yawners in the installation.
In tandem with Davies’ video installation, the exhibition also presents a series of four drawings by American artist Mariah Blue, who works and lives in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Blue combines ink, crayon, and modeling clay as her medium, allowing her hand to travel rapidly across the paper with little conscious control. These drawings are parts of her extensive body of work which explores the hallucinatory visions and sounds in the mind space of hypnagogia, an in-between state of sleeping and waking in which the mind is awake while the body is asleep.
Snake Dance (2014) Ink and Crayon on Paper, 32cm X 47 cm, by Mariah Blue.
Affect Comes Into Play
by Araya Vivorakij, Curator
The Yawning Room is an encounter of affect, the Deleuze and Guattari notion of affect. It’s not a subjective feeling, emotion, or affection. It moves beyond and above that to the impersonal, universal, and pre-consicous dimension. You cannot read affect from the exhibits; affect is non-representable. Nor can I write about the encounter; no language is able to capture the bodily sensations that affect produces. But when we look through a conceptual filter, it is best described as a force or intensity that can only be felt or sensed. It’s something that happens to you, like an event. For affect is autonomous by nature. It exists everywhere, in places, people, media, architecture, music, art …(1)
The exhibition is titled after Michaela Davies‘ audio/video installation, Yawning Room, a work that distinctly brings affect into play. It invites our bodies to sense, feel, and react to the affect induced by the ‘yawners’ and their ensemble performance on screen. The experience is a symphony of yearning. Our bodies may or may not join in and yawn along, but either way the responses are involuntary. Not only have we no control, but may not have absolute awareness of every single sensation aroused by the artist’s seemingly simple yet sophisticated rendition of what Deleuze and Guattari call affect.
Michaela Davies is a cross-disciplinary artist who has her doctorate degree in psychology. This little background knowledge can easily be an excuse to openly bring up this question which seems too elementary and embarrassing to ask (especially by a curator): Why is this installation a work of art, as opposed to some kind of psychological and physical study? It is elementary because inevitably we have to fall back on the fundamental question of what art is. I imagine an encounter like this could happen: while we’re experiencing the affect with Yawning Room, our mind may automatically be thinking “what is this?” or “what is this about?” Actually, two operative elements are intermingling here — representation and affect. When we think “what is this about?”, we’re already engaging with this installation and reading it as a work of art. This is because representation in Hans- Georg Gadamer’s sense of Darstellung influences the way we interpret this object which represents and presents itself to us as an artwork.(2) Representation also serves to evoke recognition (what is this?), making the ‘yawners’ and the act of yawning recognizable on screen and in sound. Despite these apparent roles of representation, Yawning Room is however not about yawning per se but the invisible force that convulses the body into yawning — the affect of yawning. And affect, according to Deleuze, is essentially what art is. Art, through affect (and percept), creates a ‘bloc of sensations’ that bypasses and exceeds representation and recognition.(3) In this regard, Michaella Davies’ Yawning Room embodies the Deleuzian notion of what art is.
A shorthand to draw out affect and a ‘bloc of sensations’ is through abstraction. This is where the work by artist Mariah Blue comes into focus in this exhibition. Unlike Davies’ Yawning Room in which the representation of yawning is clear and immediate, Blue presents us with abstract images. From her extensive series of drawings, four pieces are selected for this exhibition. They’re titled Astral Mother, Crystal Nebula, God’s Eye, and Snake Dance. With ink, crayon, and modeling clay as her medium, the artist employs the sense of colors, the contour of shapes, the motion of lines, the entanglement of forms, and the spatial placement of the drawings to exude vibration, resonance, and forced movement (or rhythm) — the mechanism that gives rise to affect in art, as Deleuze identifies in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation.(4) In this instance, the affect comes into play through the artist’s way of delivering the images. An interesting question is, “Would this affect change in one way or another, when we come to recognize later that those abstract images are in fact emanated from the mind space of hypnagogia, an in-between state of sleeping and waking?”
This recognition will likely bring our preconceived idea and subjective experience of hypnagogia into the picture. But the straight answer to the question is no. That’s because we’re referring to the universal, impersonal, and autonomous affect. What we’ve witnessed though, is how Mariah Blue’s work attests to the fact that affect is outside the realm of representation and recognition. Instead of ‘what is this?’ or ‘what is represented?’ affect arises from how it is represented — the conditions of representation.
Back to Michaela Davies’ Yawning Room, we may now see that the affect permeates the space through the artist’s rendition of the sound, the visual, and the installation set-up. For example, her suppression of colors accentuates vibration in the sound; her arrangement and coupling of the ‘yawners’ brings out resonance; her installation (originally comprising three separate sets of video projections and six audio channels) instigates forced movement (or rhythm). These and such other manipulations are, so to speak, Davies’ brushstrokes. And the Yawning Room she has painted is comparable to what many great painters have done. One of them is The Scream by Edvard Munch. Despite the painting’s prominent representation in western art history or in the socio-economic ambience in late-19th century Norway, The Scream essentially communicates affect — the force or intensity that impels you to scream. And from this perspective, the difference between ‘the yawn’ and ‘the scream’ boils down to the artists’ choices of material and medium.
I may as well draw a parallel between Mariah Blue’s and Cézanne’s works. Both the artists share a simple yet challenging task: to draw or paint an object, looking past representation to the sensations that shape the perception of the object. In other words, they both sketch out the relationship between sensation, perception, and percept. According to Deleuze, sensation gives rise to perception, and therefore it can alter how we perceive. What apples are or how we perceive them is quite solidly synthesized in their object-form. To explore how they can be different, Cézanne has to ‘deform’ the apples and ‘extract’ from them a ‘bloc of sensations’. Conversely, hypnagogia appears formless, and our general perception of it is mostly vague or unformed. We may even understand it merely as a concept. In this case, Mariah Blue’s task differs from Cézanne’s. Instead of ‘deforming’, she gives her formless object a material and visual form — a sensation and perception. This visual form, however, does not serve as a representation of hypnagogia. Otherwise her images would have resembled those from a brain scan. A more useful elucidation can be revealed from the kind of diagram that involves the paradoxical coupling of rhythm and chaos, as described in Deleuze and Guattari. According to them, rhythm and chaos are the cosmos forces that give rise to affect and percept, and embodied in them as well. Such diagram does not function to represent something real, as Deleuze and Guattari writes, “but rather constructs a real that is yet to come, a new type of reality” — a new perception of reality.(5) Cézanne has said that the painter must look beyond a landscape to its chaos. This way of looking past the ‘real’ is percept, for “the percept is the landscape before man, in the absence of man.”(6) Mariah Blue’s ‘diagrams’ present this percept, allowing us to tap into the rhythm and chaos for a new perception of hypnagogia, and more importantly to sense the possibility of what hypnagogia can be.
And that’s the possibility of art. We witness what art can do in the The Yawning Room encounter of affect and percept, in the simultaneous moment when we also think ‘what is this?’. Because that is when art puts us in a zone of indeterminacy where our formed perceptions and subjective feelings are confronted with the pure affects and percepts that give rise to a ‘bloc of sensations’. These sensations don’t leave the mind tranquil and inactive, but they force it to think. After all, Deleuze and Guattari have shifted our focus away from the questions of ‘what is this?’ in or by itself, to the act of thinking it, and most importantly to the invisible force that impels us to sense, to act, and to think. And that is precisely when affect comes into play.
1. Brian Massumi (1996) ‘The autonomy of affect’, in Deleuze: a Critical Reader, ed. P. Patton, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 217-239.
2. Hans-Georg Gadamer (2003) Truth and Method, trans. J. Weinsheimer, New York: Continuum, pp. 110–21.
3.Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1994). What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, New York: Columbia University Press.
4. Daniel W. Smith (2012). ‘Aesthetics: Deleuze’s Theory of Sensation: Overcoming the Kantian Duality’, in Essays on Deleuze, Edinburgh University Press, pp. 89-105.
5. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1987). A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p. 142.
6. See 3, p. 169.