What are these drawings?
Why did I do them?
Will they be of interest to anyone else?
Of any use?
Do they need to be useful?
Well, I guess they’re a lot of things. Faux
science, automatic writing, self-analysis, satire
and maybe even a serious attempt at finding connections
where none were thought to exist. And an excuse
to draw plant-like forms and diagrams.
They began a few years ago as instructions to myself
in a little notebook—“draw an evolutionary
tree on pleasure,” or “draw a Venn
diagram about relationships,” for example.
Commands to myself to make mental maps of imaginary
territory. These accumulated over a few years until
the impulse was spent. Maybe it was a sort of self-therapy
that worked by allowing the hand to “say” what
the voice could not.
Irrational logic—I’ve heard it called
The application of logical scientific rigor and
form to basically irrational premises. To proceed,
carefully and deliberately, from nonsense, with
a straight face, often arriving at a new kind of
But how can nonsense ever emerge as sense? No matter
how convoluted or folded, it will still always
be nonsense, won’t it?
I happen to believe that a lot of scientific and
rational premises are irrational to begin with—that
the work of much science and academic inquiry is,
deep down, merely the elaborate justification
of desire, bias, whim, and glory. I sense that
to some extent the rational “thinking” areas
of our brains are superrationalization engines.
They provide us with means and justifications for
our more animal impulses. They allow us to justify
them both to ourselves and then, when that has
been accomplished, to others. “The hope that
a mathematically unique solution will emerge [as
an explanation of nature] is as faith-based as
intelligent design,” says Leonard Susskind,
inventor of string theory.
This might not seem like a very optimistic perspective
on intelligence, but even viewed this cynically,
the result of centuries of this cerebral activity
has produced a lot of beauty, pleasure, and magnificent,
I watched a nature documentary on my laptop
with my daughter on a train today, and we saw creatures
from the ocean’s depths caught in the glow
of deep-sea submersibles. Some of the creatures
had never been seen before, or were not even thought
possible. Things that spew time-delay fireworks,
things that live where life was thought to be impossible,
a fish on a kind of stalk. Well, we both agreed
that they would have seemed preposterous, imaginary,
and unbelievable, if the camera hadn’t filmed
So, extrapolating from Mother Nature, if you can
draw a relationship, it can exist.
The world keeps opening up, unfolding, and just
when we expect it to be closed—to be a sealed
sensible box—it shows us something completely
surprising. In fact, the result and possibly unacknowledged
aim of science may be to know how much it is that
we don’t know, rather than what we do think
we know. What we think we know we probably aren’t
really sure of anyway. At least if we can get a
sense of what we don’t know, we won’t
be guilty of the hubris of thinking we know any
of it. Science’s job is to map our ignorance.
Some of the typologies I’ve drawn on—wine
descriptions, East Village clubs and bars, medieval
war machines—are terms that are possibly
obscure. Therefore I’ve written some paragraphs
that might give a hint as to what these names,
classifications, typographies and categories refer
to; these explanations will either illuminate my
intentions or simply annoy.
Lawrence Weschler, in his recent book Everything
That Rises: A Book of Convergences begins to ask
where these connections come from. He asks if the
similarities in the branching structures of neurons,
trees and genealogies mean that we have a predisposition
towards making things fit these structures. Do
we see that which we are? Is that both the limit
and form of our perception? Do we rule out other
ways of mapping and organizing as a result? And
if this is true, how does a structural pattern
evolve to become a way of seeing and thinking?
I think these connections go even further.
I see recent news photos that (unintentionally?)
mimic Caravaggios, others that look exactly like
images from Star Wars, the body attitudes of the
Loas of Vodou or of classical Greek sculpture.
Postures, poses and perspectives keep recurring
over and over. As if Jung’s archetypes—characters,
relationships and stories imbedded in our thoughts—unconsciously
urge us not only to psychologically label situations
and relationships, but also to gravitate towards
certain images and specific angles in our image
choices. The picture editor in our heads. I don’t
think every photojournalist, for example, has a
childhood memory of classical art that they once
saw on a school trip that they use as an unconscious
reference, though some might. I think rather the
journalists and the classical artists are more
likely drawing on the same deep internal sources.
Here indeed is intelligent design.
By that I don’t mean a far-off divine intelligence;
I mean that the mental structures themselves, the
trees and branches that predispose us to see things
in certain ways, evolved over millions of years,
are self-replicating and “intelligent.”
So, here I am pencil in hand, poking around in
the dark—wait, is it a pencil or a flashlight? …that’s
it! The pencil is a flashlight, and it roughly
illuminates a tiny part of the above “intelligence.” Maybe
just enough to get it all wrong, but the puzzle
pieces are us—we can recognize familiar pieces
of ourselves, and so they are scary, fascinating
Manila and San Francisco, 2005