Digital Media
MSOA Filmmaking Ba 2020.

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Consciousness in Digital Art.

It is a widely accepted theory among artists and art critics alike that the evolution of art, through visual interpretation (aware or unaware), shows the conscious cultural perspectives of the era, the artists, and most importantly the society in which the piece is presented.

Stemming back to the magical consciousness of early Palaeolithic cave drawings, to a mythical understanding of a greater external consciousness of the agricultural revolution, and then developing further through the Baroque and Renaissance periods; as the age of enlightenment and reason evolved, so did an understanding of personal perspective, both physically and mentally. We can infer a strong parallel between the art of a generation and the philosophical or scientific perspectives on the human brain, and with this we can begin to understand a generation’s subconscious information processing.

It is a task for anyone to comprehend an alternate perspective of reality past our own personal experience as we become more accustomed to the normative ways of the 21st century mindset. It was widely accepted for thousands of years that the only reality was that of an objective, outer experience that one came to understand through the being of a higher power (Gods of Goddesses). This was until 1641 when Descartes published his work ‘Meditations on First Philosophy’, which some describe as the invention of the Modern notion of an inner dimension of experience. Art has always been a visual pathway into the workings of the human mind and, as a physical form, can be a great, if slightly abstract, form of cultural analysis overlooked by our social blockade of absolute materialism in the scientific fields. luckily, as we gain more of an open understanding of the world around us, we move away from the prevalent philosophy of Logical Positivism (which claims that any scientific statement must be backed strictly by objective observations) and this is having a great impact on contemporary artist movements as well as new ideologies on consciousness in the 21st Century.

Over the past 200 years, horizontal evolution of conscious awareness (meaning that each person’s perspective is personal to themselves and no-one else, as opposed to tribe or collective consciousness) has led to a confusing and tangled understanding of both internal and external experience. As Surrealist artists such as Salvador Dali and Jean Arp began looking deeper into the inner consciousness through to visual interpretations of the subconscious, it showed a very important cultural shift as we developed more of an innate understanding into how the brain processes the objective information of the outer experience. Materialism holds that consciousness is a product of the physical body, and as we evolved past the industrial revolution, so did our linguistic comprehension of the brain in an extremely material sense; you may have heard the idiom “I can feel the cogs turning” to refer to the mechanisms in the mind forming an idea. If we are to try to comprehend the processes of the mind in a physical sense, our first point of call will always be the latest developments in technology.

As our technology develops, so do our theories on brain processes and consciousness. Therefore it is fitting that we, in the late 20th and early 21st Century, think of the brain as a software for a computer system - gaining useful information, processing this as knowledge and using it to control how our hardware works. On the surface this seems a logical and sensible comparison, considering the knowledge we already know of the mind. Alan Turning defined a computer as anything that can be simplified to the programming of 1 and 0 (a window is either open [1] or closed [0]), therefore the issue with this analogy is that it overlooks the need for a user interface to work the computation of the brain: sentience. This automatic assumption of Descartes and Galileo’s Dualism means that we are still searching for some sort of Artificial Intelligence within ourselves that must be in control of the hardware of the brain, but this presumptive cause and effect relation has meant that any discovery surrounding consciousness places sentience as outside of the ordinary physical world, and therefore outside of the realm of natural science. This goes against the Materialist objective view that scientists regard as fact and therefore leaves philosophers and scientists once again stumped for any explanation of the inner workings of consciousness.
As our cultural perspectives begin to change alongside the new technologies presenting themselves in the early 2020s it is becoming clearer to look past this flawed conception of causation when researching the processes of the mind. Certainly cause-and-effect can explain many scientific breakthroughs, but lets take water as an example. If someone was to ask why water is wet, you might say “well my dear fellow, because the H2O molecules that build up water flow freely and therefore cause the water to be in a liquid state.” But when we look further into this analysis we see that although cause or effect has taken place, the H2O molecules are not an extra event, but purely a feature of the water itself which allows the water to be wet. We can say the same for sentience; let us say that low level processes of the brain cause the present state of consciousness, there is an assumption that retrospective cause and effect is taking place. Consciousness is a feature of the neurobiological processes of the brain, and therefore has no physical causation other than the existence of itself. This provides us with a solid solution to surpass both the assumptive nature of Dualism and Materialism simultaneously, but leaves us tiptoeing around other presumptions of essentialism and fundamentalism, which inherently could be seen as even more problematic in the scientific world.

As a culture we are coming more to terms with technology that presents itself as an intangible essence, a placeless space, allowing the audience an awareness of their own consciousness and experience whilst viewing such art, much like William Raban’s projected pieces, Mark Rothko’s simplistic canvases, or Mark Tansey’s ‘Innocent Eye Test’. All of these pieces, although very thematically different, all hold the same values attempting to make the audience contemplate their own conscious experience of the piece as opposed to the piece itself. Rothko does this quite elegantly by giving his work names like ‘#20’ denies the audience of any subliminal or underlying meanings and forces the viewer to contemplate solely the present experiential moment. By using the cultural apprehension of technological advancements such as the internet and computer-generative art, I hope to present the audience with questions looking past the physicality and materiality of the art, in an attempt for them to question their own conscious experience of the art itself. What digital components create the visuals you see everyday online?