"EmBodied" is SciArt Center's latest virtual exhibition. Exploring what the body can reveal about the inner self, curator Marnie Benney spoke with participating artist Steve Smart:
MB: In your view, does one's physicality reflect the soul, mind, or inner self? If so, how?
SS: I believe that there is no separation between mind and body for humans. Thought happens in the brain, and in a sufficiently complex brain ‘mind’ is an emergent property of thought. I think consciousness occurs in many species, but I think it is qualitatively different in each. It seems to me that the experience of consciousness can be very different even between individuals of our own species.
The brain is part of the body. I do not think we are something separate from our bodies that inhabits them. Our bodies experience, and our minds try to conjure a world from what we have sensed. I don’t know if I believe in a soul - if I do perhaps it is as some sort of extremely complex wave function that brings a collection of particles together for long enough to play the tune of gorgeousness, grief, gore and glory that makes a life, and then falls quiet.
MB: How have science and technology better informed us in our understanding of who and what we are?
SS: Science is largely an accumulation of study of the physical universe. As we are part of the universe, it’s not surprising that learning more about how it works involves learning more about ourselves. Technology has helped us to do more complicated science, and to gain greater insights about our own niche. Mostly these have been about shifting world-views further and further away from ‘me at the middle’. That’s usually a natural part of maturing for humans - and I think it’s a good thing if you can hold on to it. This will perhaps be a greater challenge as digital technology enables us to gain remarkable understanding of the score that codes the business of life itself.
That all technology is a mixed blessing is more a consequence of human nature than anything else. Of course through scientific study we’ve also come to learn a great deal about the psychological mechanisms driving our nature (much of which we don’t like!).
MB: What do you aim to communicate to your audience through your art?
SS: I’m pretty selfish as an artist. I don’t make work to communicate a message to others, as much as I do to try to see something more clearly myself. I need to make stuff (images, poetry, objects) to get ideas out of my head and in front of me so I can try to get a handle on them. Often the result is kind of lame, sometimes not. But like walking, making is just something I do to try to be.
The images of dancers and neurological and circulatory anatomy tried to merge the beauty of technical imaging of the inside the body with the expressive grace of the whole. The physicist David Bohm was interested in ideas about implicate and emergent orders, component and whole. These images encoded both aspects in one frame - a thesis of integration if you like. We are our parts, both fragile and fleeting, and briefly perhaps, something more.
MB: What has been your greatest discovery through creating this type of work?
SS: I'm not really in pursuit of great discoveries - although I feel very privileged to have met some scientists who probably are. Science is about hard looking, focussing careful attention upon each part, but also about trying to see how complex systems of individual forms (living or inert) interact. For my part, perhaps I'm coming to learn something more modest about looking.
I used to make more montages. I enjoyed bringing disparate elements together and experimenting with recomposing them into a new image. Although the images themselves were distilled from sustained looking, laterally I find I feel I need to look harder at each part. Maybe Blake had it right about ‘seeing a world in a grain of sand’.
I feel less sure how to bring these intensely observed glimpses together. I’m uncertain if I need photography, poetry, sculpture, all of these, or something else. Perhaps in the end the answer will once again rest in movement.
See "Embodied" on SciArt Center's website: http://www.sciartcenter.org/embodied.html