21 KONSTRUKTIONS: a Language of Thought
The Language of Thought Hypothesis (LOTH) proposes the existence of an inherent, universal ‘mentalese’ that each of us uses to translate the world and our experiences in it. Jerry Fodor, an American philosopher and cognitive scientist, put forth the hypothesis in the 1970s. It was while listening to over 5000 hours of audio books as I worked on 21 KONSTRUKTIONS: Cross Stitch that I was introduced to the concept in Steven Pinker’s book, The Language Instinct (1995). The idea of a distinct mental language unrelated to our natural, spoken language complements the reading theories and explorations of text that Dr. Margaret Mackey lectured about in the Masters in Library Studies Multimedia seminar that I found to be completely transformative with regards to ideas of literacy, text, reading, and the processing of information in all its forms. Until recently the most common format, the book, was also a focus of my research particularly the History of the Book with Jeanine Green, former librarian in the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library at the University of Alberta. In this course we further deconstructing written language, this time in its physical form. Both seminars and the introduction to the LOTH are exercises in stretching one’s ways of thinking in many different directions at once and in the process make the familiar unfamiliar.
My work is all about making the familiar unfamiliar. I find artistic value in mundane, everyday objects, particularly their cast shadows. Though I’m neither a philosopher, nor a linguist, nor a cognitive scientist I am, however, fascinated by the inner workings of the human mind. The translation of written abstract symbols into information, thoughts, ideas and as representations of concrete items in the world we inhabit is of continual interest to me and has been since I learned to read and write. I continue to research the evolution of writing systems, the creation of symbols including typeface design, as well as reading theories and the dissemination of information in the 21st Century. I then express what I’ve learned in my studio practice.
For 14 years my artistic study and production has focused on what I call my ‘konstruktions’. Originally dozens of approximately 12” x 12” bas relief objects created out of common construction materials they’ve evolved into 21 characters in an original, imagined alphabet. Ten years ago after much contemplation and, finally, seeing no artistic merit in the actual konstruktions themselves I decided to discard them and start again. However, the time and materials, not to mention the original ideas behind the pieces, remained worthwhile so I decided to document the works before destroying them. It was in the process of photographing the all-white surfaces under extreme lighting conditions that I found myself completely engaged by the micro-world revealed in the eyepiece of my camera. In particular, it was the shadows cast by the various elements that compose the konstruktions including but not limited to: nails, cardboard, screws, and chicken wire on the surfaces of wood and plaster. It wasn’t until I’d printed the hundreds of photos that I could see what I’d created - an alphabet. And it wasn’t until learning about the LOTH that I realized what this alphabet represented - it’s my written version of mentalese. I see the metamorphosis of the konstruktions from common, everyday materials to the characters of an abstract concept representative of my formal academic studies expressed as visual art.
My interest in naturally occurring ‘written’ languages has not been limited to the konstruktions. I’ve always seen writing in the shadows of branches or in cracks in sidewalks to name but two. I discovered I was not alone in this when standing in front of Anselm Kiefer paintings of harrowed fields with actual stalks of bent straw embedded in the images only to learn that he, too, saw the shadows cast by these elements as text.
The overall project is called 21 Konstruktions: a Language of Thought and like any alphabet the characters of this language will be illuminated in a variety of media that I call suites. The first complete suite is 21 Konstruktions: a Language of Thought in Cross Stitch. This suite will be the most photo-realistic though its palette of muted tones will likely inform the project as whole being as I envision my inner language to be quiet, stoic, and introverted. In addition, the suite introduces a traditional craft as a contemporary, sophisticated art form. My intent is to engage the viewer in new ways of thinking about what surrounds us as well as to reconsider various media in the production of art.