Sunday, June 28, 2015

Formless non-shapes in 2D

Joanne Lee has published a wonderful meditation on chewing gum, artistic creation and aesthetics. You can read the PDF here or listen to the essay on Soundcloud. One of her subjects caught and focused my attention on shapes and especially on formless shapes. My earlier post is here: part 1.
One obvious observation is that natural irregular shapes - no matter how they were created - are usually quite harmless and even aesthetically pleasing. This irregular fossil in limestone could have dark associations of bats and night-monsters. But its cloud shape is aesthetically pleasing and harmless. It's even an unfathomable shape - at least for an amateur - because it's not immediately obvious how it was created.
 And while Joanne Lee (see the previous post) postulated that the shape of dog shit is aesthetically irredeemable - and I agree - these bird droppings still have some fractal appeal. The characteristic splash outline is forgettable, but it's not disgusting nor unfathomable.
To get real ugly shapes we have to look at man-made shapes. And not at new shapes but at decayed shapes. The moment when human design meets entropy. When an artificial object shows its real Frankenstein face. When paint starts peeling and objects finally confess: "We really hate you, humans!" This is the secret language of objects. These shapes are aggressive and uncanny. They are not forgettable, they are infectious graphic prions:
As the geometry continues to become more intense, vivid and bright it now completely blocks out or replaces the external world and one's sense of normal sight becomes completely impaired. This creates the sensation that one is no longer within the external environment but has "broken through" into another reality.

Some shapes really can be hatful in their ugliness. But could they be really be harmful? This idea has been postulated by the Scandinavian artist Leif Elggren:
 "Virulent Images-Virulent Sound" (2003) includes health warnings on biohazard due to its highly aurally and visually contagious sounds and images taken from HIV, Rabies, Influenza, Ebola and Smallpox among others biologically lethal agents.

Of course the idea is interesting and artistically stimulating. But I fear that evolution would prevent organisms from being this fragile - if shapes could harm an organism then this species would be quickly eliminated:
 Daoloth's indescribable shape causes viewers to go mad at the sight of him; thus, he must be summoned in pitch-black darkness. ... Those enveloped by the god are transported to utterly bizarre and remote worlds, usually perishing as a result. ... One request that can be made to Daoloth, ... is to view things as they really are, not as our veiled senses perceive them. The sight is more than one can bear.
 You could model the mathematical space of all possible two-dimensional shapes. It would be a large, but finite and countable set. Then you could search this space for ugly and evil shapes. And maybe you would find some shapes that no one has seen before and that no one has ever imagined. This would be an interesting and doable exercise.
Mathematics directs the flow of the universe, lurks behind its shapes and curves, holds the reins of everything from tiny atoms to the biggest stars.

But I would speculate that any emotion caused by shapes is based upon some meaning that we attach to them. Like in a Rorschach test we do not see abstract shapes but we see actors with intent. We are programmed this way by evolution. Shapes are evil because we see evil monstrosities in them. And sometimes the monstrosity resonates with some of our fears:
For had he not written that "personal well-being serves solely to excavate within your soul a chasm which waits to be filled by a landslide of dread, an empty mold whose peculiar dimensions will one day manufacture the shape of your unique terror?" 

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