Artcp galleria is an initiative involving artists at ACME studios in Peckham. We are currently relocating from our project gallery space in Notting Hill.
The impact of the programming has generated interest from new collectors and supporters and has created a positive atmosphere.
Presented here is an interim online show by Julian Sharples.
My father and uncle were both owners of car garages and would often tell me of the interesting customers they talked to discussing topics varying from music to politics. When my dad became ill suddenly, I took over the running of his car workshop and learnt about repairing engines. A few years later after having been advised by my uncle never to get trapped in the car trade I became a keen student of philosophy. I was fascinated by an aspect of the mind that philosophers used for underpinning their theories, called the Imagination. In this artwork I have sketched some engines, thereby resurrecting my own experiences as a mechanic. But I have also equated these engines to different accounts of the human soul including their most dynamic aspect, the imagination.
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher who as a precocious youth wrote A Treatise of Human Nature in 1738. It would fall “dead born from the press”. The writer, after a breakdown, would then re-establish himself as a famous historian and rewrite his Treatise in a much shorter but also less radical form. In the earlier work the emphasis is much more on ideas. These are copies of the world that become linked to each other through similarity or being circumstantially related in space and time. Such ideas then form strong interactions with each other. In consequence the pattern of these ideas, as they are triggered, creates a burst of consciousness that actually starts to shape the very world these ideas have originated from. We believe a match will light because the idea of flame has fused strongly with the idea of striking. This general phenomenon Hume called habit or custom and its implication is we not only learn from the past but are actively shaped by it in the present and in turn start to shape the world around us to conform with these habits. Once an impression triggers this chain of ideas we experience meaning as a process of signification as one idea after another comes to mind in a brief instant. Repetition of this experience makes the ideas fuse more strongly and we start to construct actual laws of cause and effect. We associate heat with a flame through their constant conjunction and our consciousness flows imperceptibly between those two ideas. The place of this activity in the soul is the Imagination. Not only have I used the example of combustion to characterise some particular ideas, but the ideas themselves appear to trigger other ideas as though they themselves were combusting or undergoing a chemical change. This triggering of ideas by other ideas resembles the combustion of a fuel mixture held in the sealed vessel of an engine by the spark. For Hume it is this explosive process that can then cause action through the will whilst reason, normally a primary faculty for philosophers, plays only an assisting role for the imagination.
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who spent nearly his entire life as an academic in a small town called Konnigsberg. Famously he declared one day that Hume had woken him from his academic slumbers. As an expert in logic, Kant would go on to create a curious hybrid of Imagination similar to that envisaged by Hume, but at the same time overseen by a new faculty of his own invention called apperception. Essentially this was a faculty of government which applied laws to the ideas to determine how they should coalesce and relate to each other, much like the laws that govern individual people in society. Kant was troubled by the type of fragmented consciousness he believed would result from ideas arbitrarily triggering other ideas in the Imagination. He did not believe that this matched up to his own experience of a coherent consciousness wherein he could say “this is who I am”. He felt he was more than merely a product of the ideas that he had acquired. For Hume the word “dog” would trigger ideas of particular dogs all with dog-like properties and create an association of ideas that, using a critical turn of phrase, would swarm across the soul. Instead Kant believed that these ideas should unite to form a concept of dog as an abstract idea. In addition laws would then be applied to the dog unconsciously to ensure it had properties such as persistence in time and a general coherence of dog-like properties that would allow the owner to experience this object in a coherent and unified way. Of course, this coherence can suddenly be shattered but Kant writes little of the effect of objects breaking the laws to which they had hitherto been bound, only commenting that confusion would ensue. This regulated imagination finds a good fit in the electric motor. Although I seldom opened them up, I frequently swapped motors from salvage cars into those being repaired for the customer. The motor is regulated by a commutator that ensures various forces in its windings of wire be united into continuous rotation. Without the unity afforded by this commutator it simply won’t turn and perhaps in a similar way without the coherent experiences of perception moulded by Kant’s newly invented apperception, it simply wouldn’t think. New faculties are extremely rare in philosophy and much of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is taken up justifying why this faculty should exist given that two thousand years of philosophy since the Greeks had failed to spot its relevance. The conclusion then was that we would mould are own experiences through our own laws and regulations in a shift matched only in magnitude to that effected by Copernicus in his re-evaluation of planetary orbits. But in a final twist of brilliance Kant was able to use his system to explain that if we speculate on matters beyond experience we would no longer have the contents of imagination to guide our reasoning, just as if the mechanic were to speculate on the forces that drive the motor, rather than servicing the commutator that unites them in rotation. This malignant and ultimately futile form of enquiry Kant called dialectical investigation.
Marcel Proust is known for writing an incredibly detailed account of the thoughts and experiences of a character supposedly resembling his younger self. Usually contained in three thick volumes, it is often found on book shelves though seldom read. I read my father’s volumes plucking them almost by chance from his heavily laden shelves. My first discovery was that the characters were quite mean to each other rather as I and my friends had been. But there was also a philosophical dimension that we also shared wherein reflection would allow us to forgive each other for our momentary acts of cruelty. For Proust this was an authentic part of human nature, along with jealousy and unrequited love, all things I had felt keenly myself. The young Marcel, the character in the novel, having experienced all of these things including the withheld kiss from his mother at bedtime, becomes a philosopher and beyond that wishes to write the novel of his own life. One thing stands in his way however, which is his inability to turn his experiences into meaningful prose. Then through the discovery of a new kind of involuntary memory upon the taste of a madeleine soaked in lime tea, he embarks on a new analysis of his past brought to life through a present sensation and those memories of events that had been affected by like-sensations in the past. The riddle of Proust is whether the transcendental effect of such memories as a vehicle for making art is a real potential for all of us or whether they are just the plot of the novel and genius actually lies deeper in the structure of the novel itself. I can’t pretend to know the answer to this, though I see the metaphor laden sentences that make up the novel as being a bit like the densely associative structures of Hume’s ideas and that what we would be reading therefore is not the outpourings of the soul in flowery prose, but rather the creation of a soul from perceptions already undergoing the associations of ideas as they enter the young hero’s consciousness. On this reading Proust was a philosopher and as Julia Kristeva revealed in her brilliant analysis of the texts that lie behind the novel, he not only studied philosophy but appeared to develop ideas that would go on to be influential in 20th century structuralism and post-modernism. The engine depicted has little to recommend it since it has merely a few chambers and pipes connecting each. The suggestion behind it is that some retained fluid in one chamber may be released almost by chance into another chamber imparting some additional force in the process, rather as memories of the past when encountered unexpectedly may affect the present all the more strongly. Some of the citroens my father worked on were known for having hydraulic systems involving bulbs and pipes which would allow the car to lift itself up once the engine had started and perhaps there is a connection with the workshop in this respect. But rather like the novel itself, maybe these connections to the past are more evocative when their relation to the present remains less clear and enigmatic.
The enduring image given to us by Plato is the cave where people trapped with chains see upon its interior surface only shadows of objects and silhouettes. The part that related to my own soul most clearly however was the description of the incontinent man, though not in the present usage of the word thankfully but rather in the Greek sense. The word meant being unable to stick to a resolve that represented the best interests for an individual as a result of the interposition of their more base desires. This reminded me of my constant battles to stop smoking. Such incidents of conflict were ultimately productive for Plato since they revealed the substrata of the mind through its small malfunctions, rather as an earthquake may be put to good use by the seismologist to reveal the layers that make up the inner structures of our own planet. Then ultimately through these investigations Plato would discover the three distinct parts that would make up his soul and their inclinations towards reason, appetite and spirit. The motor chosen is simply one I remember seeing at the science museum as a youngster, when the building was punctuated with the visceral boom of the extraordinary, million volt, spark-machine. Sounding hourly after having charged up its massive capacitors, it would enliven all the exhibits within earshot, including the one depicted here, in the process.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s was a 17th century philosopher and mathematician who combined the two areas of his expertise into an all-encompassing model of the universe. The key to his philosophy was information and how it was made accessible to a type of individual that Leibniz called a monad. The most developed form of this entity was a soul, which could perceive the world immediately around itself as well as reflect upon divine matters and morality. Despite this apparent freedom, however, it was constrained to operate within a harmony set up by God. At first sight the information needed for each monad, with assigned body, to perform a lifetime of choreographed movements was infinite. Yet there are hints that mathematics played a role in this philosophy. Certain numbers that interested Leibniz are curious in that they contain an infinite amount of information if their digits are remembered sequentially yet contain very little information if the calculation which gives rise to them is known. Such a number for example, is pi made by the division of the circumference of a circle by its diameter. Leibniz’s own study of these numbers in the field of mathematics suggested that they may have informed his representation of the universe giving a sort of digitalised experience that was infinitely complex from the viewpoints of the monads yet simple from the viewpoint of the divine creator who performed each calculation needed to generate the digits for the monads to move to. I would need an engine for this representation altogether different from those chosen thus far in this piece, one that was both sealed and had no moving parts. As a student I worked at Harwell, a nuclear research establishment. Its three nuclear reactors with domed roofs were clearly visible from the entrance, and each day I would drive into the compound in my blue Citroen 2CV past the armed guards and barbed wire fences. The reactors were filled with a radioactive substance called uranium and housed a chain reaction that released energy and produced new materials used for medicine and nuclear research. The reactor was similar to Leibniz’s soul in that it was a sealed container. But there was a further similarity too since each vessel had a carefully mediated relation to the outside world. For the reactor this was through control rods that could be lowered or raised to regulate the reaction, whilst for the monad this was through sensory organs that could receive seasoned perceptions to augment the barely distinguishable information already stamped upon it.
Arthur Schopenhauer’s famous work The World as Will and Idea is essentially a fusion of Kant’s and Plato’s ideas combined with Indian philosophy, but all aligned to an important early work of his own called The Fourfold Root of Sufficient Reason. He had presented this as his doctoral thesis. This early work describes how all phenomena, be they the physics of objects or the motivations of thought, must be related to each other through cause and effect. Like Kant, he did not believe objects in themselves needed to be related in this way, but rather for a human to have consciousness that was clear and unified, the appearances of the objects needed to fit together as though they were related. As my time in the workshop drew to an end I would sometimes fit new chassis to Citroen 2CVs when their rusted metal plate could barely hold together any longer. Perhaps the analogy is overambitious here, but in a similar way Schopenhauer can be seen as stripping away Kant’s apperceptive faculty that orders the imagination and then replacing it with a new structure of his own. There are two key differences for Schopenhauer’s soul, however, though both controversial. The first is he believed awareness of our own bodies put us in touch with a fundamental force called the will. This is a primitive force that drives the individual to flourish in the world, though with no specific aim of its own. The second exception is that this will is in fact observable in some phenomena such as in beauty and even as forces of nature such as gravity. For Schopenhauer these definitive experiences of the world are akin to mental archetypes, instantly recognisable and presented as a reality by the countless examples offered up by perception. These archetypes Schopenhauer likened to Plato’s own mental archetypes called forms. The engine shown is a jet engine of which I have no direct experience I hasten to say. The principle illustrated is that of force, simply the constant force of an expanding gas against the internal structure of an engine, harnessed to provide a forwards thrust. This is the principle of the Will. It is fixed as an absolute entity, as are all forces, but is just a phenomenon in the circumstances of its appearance, sometimes visible and sometimes not.
That concludes our online show.
Other Artcp Galleria news and events
The opening is on 7 April and the show runs from 8 April until 23 April at Rottstr5 Kunsthallen.
Please enquire for more details.