Collected texts: on obstructed vision, blindness, perception, darkness, speculation, adaptation, and various other excerpted ruminations surrounding said subject matters; presented in parallel with a collection of images depicting certain avant-garde individuals whom, for reasons yet unknown (fashion statement? spiritual experience? an attempt to more intimately connect with their surroundings?), have obstructed their own vision.
Motives of pursuing ideals of trend and fashion aside, one might ask: to what end are the individuals presented throughout this publication blinding themselves?
Is it, as Denis Diderot asserts, an attempt to perceive their surroundings more abstractly and thus without deception?
Or, as with Oedipus Rex before them, have they willfully blinded themselves out of the shame brought forth by some terrible revelation that has exposed their own ignorance and inability to realize their true identity?
the nature of clouds presents a wide array of hypotheses of this nature, intended to examine the motives of and experiences behind obstructing one’s own vision.
—Preface (excerpt), the nature of clouds
the nature of clouds, a project I’ve recently published through Edition MK, is a 236-page book which is accompanied by a series of 3 offset-printed posters (each of which I apply a unique, ultramarine-blue-chalk mark to).
With a selection of 27 excerpted texts that I’ve presented alongside a collection of images that reveal a particular contemporary visual phenomenon that is widely-seen yet seldom given a name, I edited together the nature of clouds with the intent of presenting the otherwise-disparate collection of texts and images in a way that searches for new meaning and interpretation between the two.
The texts that I collected for the nature of clouds refer to a spectrum of subjects such as: self-inflicted blindness, blindness as punishment, the blind’s perception of their surroundings, adaptation, echolocation, the symbology of blindness, the explorations of blindness within art, blind prophets, et al. I sought out and chose these texts for the thought-provoking ways in which they enhanced the visual content of the book’s collected images. These texts include excerpted works from philosophers such as George Berkeley, Denis Diderot, and René Descartes, Greek tragedian Sophocles, physician-authors F. González-Crussi and Patrick Trevor-Roper, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, critic and novelist John Berger, theorist Guy Debord, as well as texts focusing on the works of artists, such as Giuseppe Penone and Lygia Clark, who specifically explored blindness and sensory deprivation in their work.
Meanwhile, the connective thread shared between the images that I’ve presented throughout this project, as it quickly becomes obvious, is the fact that all of the subjects appearing in these images are shown either with their faces and eyes completely covered (often with a large, flowing piece of cloth or drapery) or, simply, with their vision obstructed in some way. The subjects in these images can, as I like to think of it, be imagined to be in a state of blindness (or, at least in a state of heavily impaired vision).
I prefer to describe what is appearing in this collection of images as a type of “visual phenomenon”—one that, based on the shear amount of iterations produced, appears to be alive and well within the contexts of contemporary photography, art direction, fashion, visual art, et al.
setting the stage
The intended sentiment behind the book is one in which the viewer wouldn’t necessarily be able to determine whether the book advocates for the visual phenomenon mentioned or if it’s tearing it down. I felt that taking one position or the other, especially in this scenario, became much less interesting because the chosen position leaves you at a conclusive point where the conversation terminates. Instead, I attempted to leave the message and editorial direction of the book more open to interpretation and the reader’s own imagination.
I also believe it was necessary to go beyond the point of producing a book that simply said: “hey, look at all these similar images of people with their faces and eyes covered, isn’t this crazy?!” Pointing a light on this visual phenomenon is, of course, a substantial part of the book, but the book couldn’t just be about the visual phenomenon alone. That’s what a Tumblr cataloging the visual phenomenon would be for, because that’s all a Tumblr is expected to be. As such, I had no doubt that the collected texts were essential for inclusion in this book. An examination of this visual phenomenon (regardless of your position on it) becomes so much more compelling when an image is simultaneously presented alongside a text that provides the basis for viewing the image through an alternative lens or which tells a story in such a way that the reader is encouraged to imaginatively interpret the image beyond it’s surface intentions.
This project began as a recognition of a pattern that wasn’t difficult to see. But the more this pattern seemed to perpetuate itself, the more I felt compelled (like some modern visual anthropologist) to explore it further and to create a context or site that could enable the pattern to be seen from new and unexpected perspectives.
Poetry derives from inspiration, from an inner vision connected to dreams. Closed, blind eyes connect one with the world of the dead, with those who can no longer see. They are the mask which hides the expression of the face from the onlooker and allows a vision of the world which in not present but past or future. To be there but not to see, to appear there but not to be present, like the Pythia or Sibyl who used to pronounce prophecies with their faces covered. …
The condition of dreaming is blindness. One can imagine better with one’s eyes closed. Light invades the mind. With eyes open, one absorbs light. With the eyes closed, images from one’s mind are projected onto the vault of the cranium, on the wrapping which surrounds us, on the inside of our skin which becomes a border, a division, a definition of the body and a container of our thought. The wrapping is important as it is the definition of the individual.
—Giuseppe Penone, in Giuseppe Penone: Sculture di linfa (Milan: Mondadori Electa S.p.A., 2007), 226.
I do think there’s some relevance to bringing visual trends, patterns, phenomenon, recurring motifs (or whatever you want to call them) into the arena of collective examination and reflection. That said, I also feel very aware of the relative absurdity of bringing attention to a visual occurrence taking place within a niche world of creative output. With that thought at the fore of my mind throughout the project, I attempted to interject elements of humor (albeit a very deadpan type of humor) into the book as a means of throwing the seemingly serious tone of the book off balance.
—The book’s overall tone of feigned naivety that suggests that the subjects depicted in the images throughout the book are actually coping with and adapting to the affects of blindness.
—The use of satirical and amusing pairings of text and image content, as with the section of the book that pairs an excerpt from Patrick Trevor-Roper’s essay, “Total Blindness”—in which he recounts the story of a saint who, after looking at a man lustfully, tears out both of her eyes, only to then be given two replacements by God that, unfortunately, are so large that they had to be carried around like handbags—with an image of a woman (her head completely draped with vision obstructing fabric no doubt) who is lugging around two pineapples.
—The implication that the subjects in the images have, as with Oedipus Rex, willingly inflicted injury on their own eyes to the point of blindness.
—The inclusion of a statement of dedication, addressed to René Magritte, which acknowledges the influence of his demonstrations (referring to his 1928 paintings, titled Les Amants and L’histoire centrale) of how one should go about “swathing the heads of pretty young things with excessive yet stylish amounts of cloth and drapery… .”
on the title: the nature of clouds
I had happened across a John Berger book that I had never heard of, titled The Sense of Sight. Many of the texts were a nice surprise to me because they were written in such a different way than the structured and academic tone of writing found in the Berger text that many of us know so well, Ways of Seeing.
Many of the texts in The Sense of Sight are poetic, obscure, and at times difficult to read and decipher. But one of these texts in particular, titled “On Visibility,” had an influential affect on my search for a book title that was at once mysterious and referential.
In many ways, I feel that the below passages from “On Visibility” serve as very apt metaphors for the modern condition of image production, creativity, and trends.
At the beginning of the text, Berger points to what has become increasingly more obvious in the worlds of visual production as time moves on:
All appearances are continually changing one another: visually everything is interdependent.
He then speaks to the concept of visibility in a very remarkable way:
Visibility is a form of growth. Aim: to see the appearance of a thing (even an inanimate thing) as a stage in its growth—or as a stage in a growth of which it is part. To see its visibility as a kind of flowering.
Finally, he concludes the text with a really great allegory. The passage could be interpreted in many different ways, but through the lens that I had created for this project, I found the word “clouds” in this passage to be interchangeable with the notion of the life and existence of a visual phenomenon (which, of course, is what the nature of clouds indirectly addresses):
Clouds gather visibility, and then disperse into invisibility.
All appearances are of the nature of clouds.
—John Berger, “On Visibility,” in The Sense of Sight (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), 219.
These marks/gestures, simply said, are an attempt to visually represent and reinforce the arguments that Berger proposed in the above passages from “On Visibility,” namely: the idea that a visible thing is a form of growth and that it gathers visibility (represented by the actual making of the mark of ultramarine-blue chalk) and that this visible thing then disperses or disappears into invisibility (represented by the fact that the mark of ultramarine-blue chalk is highly mutable by touch and able to be effectively erased).
on thamyris, phineus, and tiresias
The publication is accompanied by 3 limited edition, offset-printed, ultramarine-blue-chalk-marked posters, respectively titled thamyris, phineus, and tiresias, each the name of a blind prophet.
Rarely in history was a humane thought given to the armies of blind beggars that languished in every kingdom. … [The] Byzantine Emperor Basil … sent back his 15,000 prisoners, every man blinded, to their king (who died of the shock). And in England blinding was introduced in AD 600 as an alternative to the death penalty. Thus the blind remained through history as ineducable mendicants, who only came to the fore when their sightless eyes were replaced by an inner vision. The famous soothsayers of history and fable have, in the main, had their prophetic eyes liberated by their blindness.
As Milton put it:
Blind Thamyris and blind Meonides and Tiresias and Phineus, prophets old.
To these may be added Blind Bartimeus, who recognized Jesus as Messiah, ‘Capys, the sightless seer,’ who inspired Romulus, and Appius Claudius, who warned the Roman Senate of disaster if they came to terms with Pyrrhus. Democritus, the laughing philosopher of Abdera, even eviscerated his eyes so that he might think more clearly, and this was the practice of some muezzins, who, after learning the Koran by heart, thus ensured that they could not be distracted by beauty. Indeed a similar pseudo-castration was suggested by certain Fathers of the Church, on the ground that a vision of the next world was preferable to vision in this.
— Patrick Trevor-Roper, “Total Blindness,” in The World Through Blunted Sight: An inquiry into the influence of defective vision on art and character (New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1988), 159–160.
the nature of clouds, thamyris, phineus, and tiresias are all currently available for purchase at editionmk.org.
Each will also be on sale at the upcoming Medium Cool art book fair in Chicago on August 11.
I’ve also created thenatureofclouds.tumblr.com (NSFW at times) as an ongoing visual postlude to the nature of clouds