artist without organs – how I felt when I had a virtual lobotomy

Part 1: 2nd part tomorrow!


In 2000 I had a burglary in my studio. They took my computer, my digital video camera and it’s contents and my backup drive, which was connected at the time.

I learnt then that backups are important.

I wrote 2 responses, this is the first – the emotional response:

virtual lobotomy

Virtual Lobotomy

Last night I had a virtual lobotomy. I didn’t feel it happen, wasn’t even aware of it, until I saw the gaping hole. No blood, no entrails, no scalpel. Now I am an artist without organs, with a wiped hard drive. A victim of intellectual rape, yet the rapist does not realise the pain I feel, how empty and numb.

They plundered and removed my most tender thoughts, my writings, pourings, plans and dreams. Ideas all gone at the flick of a switch, the pulling of a power cable, with only a trace of them in my memory. 2 years work, 15 gigabytes of edited video, millions of words, days and days of meticulous editing, gone. Not only has my CV disappeared, my recent life has been annulled.

Update CV


Friday 20th July 2000

employment: none

examples of previous works: none – resources lost

proposals for new work: none – resources lost

I return to ‘body’ in this text, my body – numb, in shock, despair. In less than half an hour in the night  – all meaning erased. Work unmade and returned to its ethereal state, to hardware with financial value to someone, emotional value to no one but myself. Wipe the drive, erase my contents placed so regularly in its memory, profit from my loss. Someone should.

It’s only a computer, a hard disk, and a repository. An archive of a life of no importance. Like the ‘History of Art’ book I cut up – the feeling of sacrilege as I cut through the pages and removed them to insert my hi-tech LED display. I felt that sense of outrage, the deliberate defiling of a beautiful object, historical images, merely ink on paper but so loaded with meaning. Pixels were my ink spots, video frames my pages. Vengeance of the cruellest kind.


Ok, so I deserved it. Now I feel like that book, my spine is weakened, my interior a space of no substance. I no longer make any sense of myself, turn my pages only to find blanks, holes in my memory, materiality dissolved. My limbs feel reduced, shortened as if I have had a prosthesis removed after a long period of acclimatisation. I will get a new extension, but will have to learn all over again how to use it, to make it comfortable to be with. But I will never regain those feelings I experienced with the last one, the nerve endings have been cauterised. New nerves will grow, maybe even stronger than the first. I hope so.

The empty desk remains, my centre of existence, the nucleus of my days (and nights), stolen while I slept, remaining only in my dreams. Recorder of my ideas removed, in someone else’s hands. What will it film from now on? Happy family outings, lively sexual interactions, holiday memories? What will be seen through the viewfinder next?

Carolyn Black



Last night I had a virtual lobotomy (emotional) (download)

Skin of mistrust

Simon’s reflection upon the scanning process links with my earlier blog, about how ‘real’ something can be…..

Simon Ryder

Cabinet xbox double renderWhat I find particularly surprising about this type of 3D scanning is just how much it emphasises the artificial nature of the process. The basic scan (left) has an integrity of its own, whereas when you add colour, light and shade (right) it seems to reinforce how paper-thin this illusion really is. It is almost as if three-dimensional scanning is at the point where photography was during the first few decades of its existence. Then photography seemed to be a direct imprint from the real; its veracity dependent upon the lack of human intervention. It took us many years to break this trust down and to start mistrusting photographs, seeing them for the illusion that they are, and perhaps it is something of this mistrust that the colour, light and shade bring to the basic scan. In contrast, the underlying shape possesses a bit of that old photographic veracity –…

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it’s going to be hot next w/e coolest place to be is Clearwell Caves, watching great films

This is a repost because I don’t want you to miss this! Temperatures in the Forest of Dean will be in the 20’s next weekend, so going down into the caves in the evening to cool off is simply perfect!

Living in the Forest of Dean has many benefits – beautiful scenery, lovely people, quietness, simplicity. And now I can add to that list that it also hosts some amazing experiences which are unique to the place, and this film programme is one of them.

Bruce Allan and Ben Eastop share a huge passion for international artists film. Together they have curated a selection that will shift and morph as it travels. Don’t miss this launch though – it is the only one where you get to go deep into the caves to see it!

For those who don’t know Clearwell Caves, they are a remarkable venue in which to view films.

The show caves are part of an extensive natural cave system, mined for iron ore to make one of Britain’s most complex and oldest mine workings; dating back well over 4,500 years, when Neolithic miners dug for ochre pigments.

Iron ore and ochre is still mined there today – the beautiful purple ochre is very special. The caves are owned and worked by Freeminers, another special thing unique to the Forest of Dean.

See details below and share the flyer with your friends.

Please join us for the launch of Difference Screen at Clearwell Caves in the Forest of Dean on the 5th and 6th July, an evolving programme of international artists’ moving image that will travel across 20 countries over two years, developed and curated by Bruce Allan and Ben Eastop.

The tour launches with four programmes shown at Clearwell Caves, Gloucestershire, over two evenings:

Friday 5th and Saturday 6th of July 6-10pm (with breaks of course)

Tickets are limited, so please book now by telephoning Clearwell Caves on 01594 832535
100 seats are available each evening, seating is unreserved
£8/£6 concession per evening
£14/£10 concession both evenings
Refreshments are available and you are welcome to bring a blanket and/or cushion. The underground
temperature is around 11 degrees, so please wear warm clothes and flat shoes with a reasonable grip.
Please forward this email to others who may be interested.
The programme moves to the National Gallery of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (23-31 Aug), ARKO
Arts Centre Seoul, South Korea (8 Sept), Barge Ideaal, Brentford (21 Sept) and Whitechapel Gallery,
London (22 Sept), then on to Artisterium, Tbilisi, Georgia (4-6 Oct).
Bruce Allan
2 Mount Pleasant
New Road
Glos. GL15 4DF
home +44 (0)1594 517168
mobile +44 (0)789 686 1936

Technobiophilia? 3D scanning trees fungi artists designers – destination libraries

Photos by Chris Morris

Technology & nature are upmost in my mind this week. Following on from yesterdays blog about Barthes and photography, today is a reflection upon what happened in the woods yesterday. Some days my work can be very surreal – watching an artist and a designer scanning in a woodland was one of those days. A day of Technobiophilia in action – in reality, not cyberspace.

Finding a suitable way to scan a tree for Simon Ryder @artnucleus was never going to be simple. Tomas Millar, designer-maker from Millar Howard Workshop, worked with Simon, exploring how to capture the data to use in the process of making a cabinet for the Flow Cabinet of Local Change project. While watching images emerging on the computer screen there were moments of sheer fascination – the human next to me being instantly transformed on-screen to an avatar equivalent, then the trees, then the fungi. It was like being in 2nd Life for real!

Thinking about connectivity – these photos represent a merging of the real and the virtual, the organic and the machine. The ‘image’ is ephemeral, little more than data, but that data will be re-presented as a cabinet. A solid object in space.

Many years ago, when I did my MA in Fine Art, I became intrigued by these matters. At the time, my studio was burgled and my computer, camera and backup drive stolen. I wrote about it, calling it a ‘virtual lobotomy’ – my memory had been wiped. I’ll dig it out and put it on my blog, it was an interesting process of thinking through what had actually been taken. In truth, very little. And my memory was not stolen either – I still have it (for now). There is a slight irony too that having written about it and placed the words in a document that, at present, I am not quite sure where it is in my data backups………

All of these things speak of the past, the now and the future. I love the way one’s mind flips between those temporal modes, we are so much more than data – and we experience wonder and fascination, as I mentioned in an earlier blog that referenced a great article by Jesse Prinze in Aeon.

So this week has linked up many things in my brain – I enjoy it when that happens, when we begin to glimpse some coherence in the world. Next week I get to visit Google HQ – very exciting and lucky to do that!

scanning woods cb


what would Barthes make of Snapchat? Guardian article made me think

Today the Guardian carries a blogged article about a  Snapchat:

Snapchat: the self-destructing message app that’s becoming a phenomenon

One immediately presumes this is about sex, or ‘sexting’ as  refers to it. The concept that the image is ephemeral is not entirely convincing, as the article says – before it vanishes it can be photographed or grabbed from the screen. But it is a fascinating thing, and I wonder what Barthes would have made of it?

His book Camera Lucida is an amazing reflection upon the meaning of a photo and questions whether or not one photo can represent his dead mother in entirety.  I must read it again.

The book investigates the effects of photography on the spectator (as distinct from the photographer, and also from the object photographed, which Barthes calls the “spectrum”).

This app is very much about the effect of the photo on the spectator – and whatever the photo depicts can only be an ephemeral object. It leaves me feeling a little squeamish – a bit like when I decided to burn all of my artwork in my studio to enable me to move on. (I confess I did actually video the process of burning!) If I received an image that meant something to me, would I be able to enjoy it, examine it, relish it, if I knew it would disappear as fast as I read it? I’m sure the first thing I would do is capture it in some way, I couldn’t bear to risk it disappearing – it might in the future come to be the one photo that represents that person to me. But then Barthes would argue that is not possible.

But in reality, don’t millions of digital images disappear in a puff of smoke every day?

Maybe the question is would we want to lose control of our images? I suspect we already have.

(here’s one I took yesterday, which I rather like!)


wonder art religion science cabinets of curiosity

For those who have not yet discovered the online journal Aeon, here’s a gem of an article by Jess Prinz to introduce it to you.

It goes some way to explaining how the concept of wonder fits into our life, and the importance of it. It helps me to understand what it is I want specifically from art:

These bodily symptoms point to three dimensions that might in fact be essential components of wonder. The first is sensory: wondrous things engage our senses — we stare and widen our eyes. The second is cognitive: such things are perplexing because we cannot rely on past experience to comprehend them. This leads to a suspension of breath, akin to the freezing response that kicks in when we are startled: we gasp and say ‘Wow!’ Finally, wonder has a dimension that can be described as spiritual: we look upwards in veneration; hence Smith’s invocation of the swelling heart.

At risk of sounding a bit strange, I have to admit that the experiences of sensory, cognitive and wonder are key to my enjoyment of art – and not just the art itself – but where it is, the context, the place. I commission work for unusual locations, and that points to my interest in the bodily experience of witnessing the presence of an artwork in the world.

I do enjoy visiting galleries and of course they are in the world too, but they are stripped bare of lived experience, deprived of touch, smell and texture beyond the artworks themselves, they isolate the art rather than embed it. Don’t get me wrong, this absolutely what some works need for one to engage and experience wonder to the full and I love it when they do so.

But for me, I’m not so sure I can separate out those experiences of sensory, cognitive and wonder – I find work that is essentially only any one of those not fulfilling – and the gallery and museum tradition often shuts me out. Show me a fascinating surface I’ll want to touch it, exhibit a book and I want to read it.

From tree to shelf

the design of the ‘cabinet’ is beginning to evolve….much will depend on the materials and processes used… this space

Simon Ryder

22C-6-20130618175226My initial idea was to design a cabinet for a particular tree in the forest, and then to find a way of bringing this into the library, with the imprint of the tree on it. A good starting point; but I also wanted something that responded to the library itself, not just refer to the forest outside. I have always found that ideas can take you so far, but then you enter the world of making, and that has its own process. So now I am working with the designer-makers at Miller Howard Workshop to transform these initial ideas into realistic designs that can be laser-cut by Woodford Engineering in Lydney. For me, working collaboratively in this way is exciting, and together we are exploring ways of attaching to library selves (or even to the books themselves) somewhat akin to the way the fungi attach to tree trunks. For this…

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good news – VASW bursaries for artists – need a mentor? I can help

If you would like some support either for something practical, or as a critical friend, I can help you. You can read more about what I do along these lines on my Flow Advice page. A very popular service is providing support to artists to develop their online presence using WordPress.

I’ve had great feedback from several people and am happy to give you a  15 minute taster first on Skype or phone to help you decide whether it would work for you.

To arrange a time and date please contact me from the contact page on this website.

And best news of all is that you may be able to get a bursary to pay for that mentoring. Visual Arts South West (VASW) have agreat opportunity – check it out on their website.

You do need to be resident in the SW region to apply.

last chance cafe-library-social hub-blogging centre workshops- free today

Today is the last chance for you to join us on the blogging workshops AS WELL AS the day artist Simon Ryder tells us about what he is going to make as the culmination of his micro-residency in the Forest of Dean.

His blog gives you clues about what interests him, as it shares his research process. He’s thinking outside the box now and talking to some very interesting people about the production.

A cabinet need not be a box alone…….

Come and join us – 10am at Mitcheldean Library and 2pm in Newnham on Severn

Thanks again to LAG for supporting the project, and Forestry Commission

Supported by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas

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