The Dali Dimension

A couple of weeks ago I watched a documentary called The Dali Dimension, which came out in 2005. I had rented the DVD from Netflix hoping it would delve into his methodology, in particular the paranoiac critical method he developed. Instead, the film focusses on Dali's interest in math and science, and his interactions with accomplished scientists throughout his lifetime, which turned out to be really interesting, since I hadn't realized he was so tuned-in to trends in science, and moreover, that this sensibility influenced his works. For example, he had a fascination with psychoanalysis, quantum mechanics and nuclear physics, DNA, and computational geometry. Toward the end of his life, in 1985 an interdisciplinary congress/conference was held at the Teatre-Museu Dali in Figueres, Spain, where many of the mathematicians and scientists he had developed friendships with over the years gathered to discuss their discoveries and ideas. The film uses this event as a sort of lynchpin to tie together biographical footage exploring his various pursuits of scientific understanding.

One of the more interesting notions I distilled from the film is that Dali had a tendency toward metacognition-related themes in his paintings. That is, his paintings often invoked symbols or patterns that can project the viewer out into a higher plane of awareness, where one's mind is able to peer in onto itself and sense the interpretive mechanisms at play in one's own cognitive processing. Dali coined the phrase paranoiac critical method to refer to the techniques he employed to induce this sort of metacognitive response. The painting fragment above is a good example of this technique, where the mind's deep-rooted ability to recognize human faces is triggered by the miscellaneous arranged objects in the composition. These explorations remind me of an intriguing book published by O'Reilly called Mind Hacks, which offers a series of cognitive experiments, such as viewing optical illusions, that allow one to sense other-wise unconscious mechanisms being triggered in the brain.

The crescendo of the film occurred toward the end when the religious and scientific underpinnings of his painting The Crucifixion were being explored. The painting depicts Christ being crucified on an unfolded four dimensional hypercube. I don't think I had ever seen this painting before (or if I had it didn't leave an impression). The image of the hypercube represents a kind of meta-awareness or transcendence out of our everyday plane of existence (our perceived three-dimensional world) into another higher-dimensional realm, much in the same fashion that his paranoiac critical method tries to induce. In Western culture, the crucifixion of Christ also represents a transcendence, but a spiritual one. I like this duality at play in the image, which for me symbolizes two distinct ways of understanding our world: from a spiritual/religious perspective and from a rational/scientific perspective. And what I find most intriguing of all is that our tendency to seek out and find patterns in the world, our apophenia-like tendencies if you will, are at play in both religious and scientific thought. So I see a strong connection between this painting and the notions I'm attempting to highlight in the created name of this blog. 

The Crucifixion, 1954

Fighting the battle against creative stasis

Although it's been nearly a month since my last post, I have been making steady but slow progress in nurturing my creative spirit back to a more healthy and active state. 

Being interested in the creative process, and looking for inspiration, I've watched several biographical documentaries over the past several weeks about highly creative people, such as Sketches of Frank Ghery, which I've already described in a previous post. Tomorrow I'll write a post about The Dali Dimension. Unfortunately I won't have time to write about all of the ones I've seen recently, but at least I'll list them here (in descending order of how much I liked them):

One creative outlet I haven't let wither away over the years is my guitar playing. However, it has reached a kind of hum drum stasis, where I tend to play the same chords or chord progressions for minutes at a time. When I first started playing the guitar back in college, I would make an earnest effort to compose songs, and I'd like to get back to that level of intensity again. So, I've dusted off Garageband on my mac, and bought a new Taylor acoustic guitar (the 110ce model) with a built-in pickup, and started recording my musical sketches. I'll be starting a Music Projects section and posting more about this in the future.

Another soul stirring activity I've embarked on recently is salsa dance lessons offered on campus at UIUC (CUATSALSA). Actually, I've been more social in general lately, having friends over or going out with friends: playing board games, Beatles Rockband, or just out for dinner and drinks. 

Sketches of Frank Gehry

I recently watched the documentary film Sketches of Frank Gehry, directed by Sydney Pollack, and released in 2006. Pollack (who died in May 2008) was a good friend of the acclaimed architect, and the two of them have many on-screen conversations about their respective creative processes, finding common ground between film and architecture along the way. During the course of the film, they visit the sites of several of his creations, some of which were under construction, with cinematography that beautifully captures the bold curves and lines that have become Gehry’s hallmark. Pollack also interviews various friends, associates, and critics of Gehry’s, including his lifelong therapist. It received favorable reviews when it debuted. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Before watching it, I was not very familiar with the work of Gehry, but was drawn to the film because it seemed like it would delve into the many facets of the creative process, which indeed it does. Their conversations are very laid back and introspective, and filmed in a nonintrusive way, as though you were sitting in a cafe listening in on an engaging discussion from the table next to you. One thing that resonated with me is the sense that Gehry is just a regular person, self-doubting and struggling at times to find inspiration. That aspect reminded me of the documentary Comedian, which follows a modest and self-doubting Jerry Seinfeld as he struggles to relaunch his standup act in a post-Seinfeld world. Another thing I liked was that it showed him working with his two proteges in the studio, brainstorming and building prototypes, starting with very crude hand crafted paper models that inspire detailed CAD and rapid prototyping models, leading eventually to the full-scale construction.