Democratic Visions

by John Mullarkey 5 October 2012

‘I start with a question – where does the past exist? But the starting point is from a notion of the philosopher Henri Bergson’s intuition as practice, to make art ontological’. — Lindsay Seers

To make art ontological – to give it ‘being’. And why not also make ontology art, give it ‘perception’ (aesthetics)? After all, for Bergson, philosophy is art for the masses, offering altered perceptions ‘more continual and more accessible to the majority of men’ – a democracy of vision irrespective of artistic aptitude: ‘all things acquire depth – more than depth, something like a fourth dimension which permits anterior perceptions to remain bound up with present perceptions, and the immediate future itself to become partly outlined in the present’ [1]. Nowhere Less Now, with its equality of images – ‘everything is images, and all images are equal’ [2], no less than Bergson’s Matter and Memory which begins and ends ‘in the presence of images’ [3] – performs these anterior perceptions and this outlined future, and gives them being through eyes, cameras, costumes, avatars, ships, churches, cults, animal sacrifice….

Seers’ intuition is not a state of mind but a practice, with a future life of its own – ironically, one involving the absence of photographs: ‘the future of my intuition is a world without photography’ [4]. The world won’t need photographs when everything becomes a kind of photograph or image, which is also Matter and Memory’s first intuition. Its second intuition too, is shared with Seers – that images are not located in one place: ‘no images are stored in brains, no images in water. Where is the image? Nowhere. Yet images are everywhere.’ [5] An equality of images, equally distributed, in space and across time. Across time, because the answer to the question ‘where does the past exist’ is equally nowhere and everywhere. Seers reconnects – with heterochromic George, with ghostships, with the Yoruba people, with past and present, with images that are located presently and ‘pastly’, everywhere. 

So, where are we to find specific past images, precisely? Nowhere, or at least less in any one ‘where’ bound to a single, immediate ‘now’. For Bergson, this search is a matter of attention: ‘the distinction we make between our present and past is therefore, if not arbitrary, at least relative to the extent of the field which our attention to life can embrace’ [6]. And so ‘the’ past too exists amongst many possible places: Matter and Memory connects unperceived objects and the ‘ghosts’ of memory, arguing that both are ultimately creatures of selective inattention: ‘when a memory reappears in consciousness, it produces on us the effect of a ghost whose mysterious apparition must be explained by special causes. In truth, the adherence of this memory to our present condition is exactly comparable to the adherence of unperceived objects to those objects which we perceive’ [7]. ‘The’ past is an unattended, hidden place whose desertion allows ‘the’ present (‘now’) to stand out, as a figure against a background. And there are multiples forms of each – pasts and presents. Seers goes looking for one past (hers) in places, things, and optical presents hitherto unattended (rendered past).

Contrary to the written text’s dream that ‘with 365-degree glasses my vision is complete. Everyone can have complete vision’ [8], Seers’ film proclaims that for something to be visible, something else must be invisible. Or again, for something to be actualised, something already actual must be made virtual. There is always an economy of attention and vision. And this attention can be both benign (meaning ‘respect’) and malign (a threat). In ordinary life there is ‘a constant effort of the mind to limit its horizon, to turn away from what it has a material interest in not seeing. […] life demands that we put on blinders, that we look neither to the right, nor to the left nor behind us but straight ahead in the direction we have to go....’ [9]. Any economy of vision will be lethal for some, but also protective for others. What we perceive is what interests us (and our bodies) at any ‘moment’: ‘the objects which surround my body reflect its possible action upon them’ [10]. The present then, being spatial as well as temporal, is a power of perception over space: ‘distance represents, above all, the measure in which surrounding bodies are insured, in some way, against the immediate action of my body’ [11]. The living, perceiving being is an acting, interfering one, so sometimes what is left unseen, left outside of our peripheral vision and attention, is thereby protected from us. In George’s eyes we see the left-overs of violent attention. In his heterochromia is the residue of a suppressed other, a virtual twin actually incorporated, but still showing through, seen through the pigment of one iris. Death and sacrifice is virtualized here, as in the film. The twin is virtualized, and made future anterior – where photos will have no longer existed.

Moreover, in this project, this film, something died in its actualisation: ‘you have to kill the bird quickly’ [12]. Seers’ reconnection to the Yoruba comes in part through animal sacrifice – an implied real death, though shown as a virtual death (for some things to be made actual, some other actualities must be made virtual). Pangolins, buried alive. Chickens, with necks broken. Perhaps some things are better left behind after all? Or rather, my preferred starting question would be – what would it take to reconnect with the dead through life, where everybody lives because all images really are equal? Can there be an attention that is not merely a different but still restricted economy of regard, but a generalized one, open to all and with good intentions?

1. Creative Mind, p.157
2. Nowhere Less Now paperback, p.8
3. MM, p.17
4. NLN, p.181
5. NLN, p.23
6. CM, p.151
7. MM, p.145
8. NLN, p.8
9. CM, p.137
10. MM, p.21
11. MM, pp.20-1
12. NLN, pp.77-9

The fee for this text was given to the British Hen Welfare Trust.