An Atmosphere

What the meandering transrealist exploration captures can perhaps best be described as an atmosphere. An atmosphere, thought of here, as a certain condition of poetic, irrational, temporary and often quite intangible qualities and reverberations. In a political setting the atmosphere could constitute that feeling of unease or ecstasy that urge on collective movement and action, but in its fleeting and affective nature falls short of creating that solid moment to rally around. In the artistic expression the atmosphere could relate to intuition, feelings, desire, the unknown and the other - that inexpressible mood or feeling that the artist senses (as important) and works towards bringing into experiential being. In a time-based art practice the atmosphere shapes pockets of temporality that oscillate between creator and affected. An atmosphere is in essence a temporal figure in the way it is always forming, taking place and passing. In our contemporary social media setting we set the atmosphere for others to see regardless of the impossibility of these settings ever truly reflecting the deeper emotional traits of the strange materialisation of such an atmosphere. The sense of skin that crawl, the heart skipping a beat, a burdensome breath or a set of phantom eyes resting on us, escapes the formats of mood-setting on the devices that relay our reality. And finally, the atmosphere also has a direct link to something quite physical; the air we breathe. In this sense the atmosphere again turns political in regards to whom are being exposed to what kind of physical atmosphere. There is a double relation to the atmosphere; as something that exists physically between us - breathable - and psychologically - experienced. How does one work artistically with the notion of atmosphere? How does one relay this type of experience that escapes expression? How can we explore the political and social potential of the formation and changing of atmospheres? And how can an artistic practice that takes into account the emotional, poetic and seductive power of the atmosphere, create new spaces for collective experiences and resilience?

The Atmospheric
I formed the questions above in a course description for a group of students at The Art Academy - Department for Contemporary Art at KMD, University of Bergen. These questions had not existed as formulated research questions that related to my artistic research project prior to this, but as I formulated them it dawn on me just how much they had been floating atop everything I had been doing up until that point. In the artistic work of Oceanic Horror, and the reflections hereon, this notion of an atmosphere or a condition is key and the artworks really mostly gravitate towards meeting this atmosphere – the shaping of a mood, the stirring of a feeling, the making known a condition. There are certain qualities, pitfalls and strange relationships forming in the artistic work that revolves around the ghostlike notions of the atmospheric. A tension in the air, an undefined dread, an enveloping horror, an oceanic feeling; something that is felt in the gut and that one can seemingly only ever formulate in a conceptual and removed manner. As I reflected further on where such atmospheres were manifesting in my artistic practice, I got the impression of it being heightened by the seductive and dramatic ‘air’ of the cinematic medium and its immediate recognition by an audience.

Describe a Glass
Reflecting directly on the shapes of such atmospheres – or how an atmosphere is felt – or how an atmosphere arise to shape a certain condition that leads one to feel – proves strange. Just like the problem of describing the purposefulness of the purposeless meandering. It’s like the scientist’s attempted description of 'The Empties', one of the contraptions found inside the distorted alien reality of the zone in Arkady & Boris Strugatsky’s 1972 sci-fi novel 'Roadside Picnic'. It is in the very beginning of the novel: 'They’re just two copper discs the size of a saucer, about a quarter inch thick, with a space of a foot and a half between them. There’s nothing else. I mean absolutely nothing, just empty space. You can stick your hand in them, or even your head, if you’re so knocked out by the whole thing – just emptiness and more emptiness, thin air. And for all that, of course, there is some force between them, as I understand it, because you can’t press them together, and no one’s been able to pull them apart, either.' (1994) The atmospheric pressure between the copper discs, which defines their relation and animated state – their push and pull – is beyond description. The pages pick up the conundrum of describing something that can really only be experienced: 'No, friends, it’s hard to describe them to someone who hasn’t seen them. They’re too simple, especially when you look close and believe your eyes. It’s like trying to describe a glass to someone: You end up wriggling your fingers and cursing in frustration. (1994)

Wriggling of Fingers
Perhaps reflecting on this strange atmosphere emerging and the being within it, calls for exactly the wriggling of fingers and the cursing in frustration. This is a language one could adopt; a language that would perhaps most honestly reflect the strange work of artistic expression. Working towards the realisation of an artwork, fingers do wriggle and frustrations are heard. In the artistic process described as a wriggling of fingers, the different contorted figurations of said fingers shape the language of the artistic practice. I have been describing a glass for a while now – to myself and the visitors of my installations – and in the frustratedly wriggling impossibility of it other atmospheres arise. Atmospheres not always intended, nor the same for anyone whom might experience them, but it may be this exact quality that sets them free – free for something to be autonomously felt in there. Or for the finishing of unfinished thoughts. In the attempt to give a description of the methods to get to this point, theory and certain dramatisation can be framing tools and they can thus form a companionship to the frustrated and wriggling compositions. As the fingers try to describe the see-through, the nought, the objectless, it will be in the transitional temporality in-between positions (the meandering, the lighting from the side) that the forming of new knowledge is attempted. Between every composition - that will ultimately either fail or stand out as mannerist positions - there is the potentiality of approaching, processing and figuring out. In the very gaps between beginning compositions, a truly reflective space may emerge. One that is not readable in words or constellations, but in the disturbing (hand) movements before a next configuration.

Atmospheric Attunements and Worldlings
In 'Atmospheric Attunements', Kathleen Stewart sets out to explore ways in which one can attend to the charged atmospheres of everyday life. She describes this work as atmospheric attunement, a work that entails a perpetual attunement to something in constant flux; in constant movement and becoming. She thinks of this atmospheric attunement as a form of worlding: 'An atmospheric attunement is an alerted sense that something is happening and an attachment to sensing out whatever it is. It takes place within a world of some sort and it is itself a generative, compositional worlding.' (2010)

There is a strong link between this idea of worldling and artistic practice; an endeavour that takes place in the world and in doing so, creates worlds. Also in relation to transrealism this idea of worldling seems significantly apt, since the transrealist approach really is about staying truly attuned to the world, while unreservedly reshaping it. The atmosphere that might be generated through transrealist thinking will never form ex nihilo. The movements beyond reality will always be angled. Or as Stewart writes: 'Every attunement is a tuning up to something, an accretion chosen or unwillingly shouldered. A labor. A sentience to a world’s work, bodies, rhythms, ways of being in noise and light and space. It depends on the first feel of an atmosphere as you enter and the angle of arrival.' (2010) In the same way as with any worlding we can, and should perhaps, ask 'how things come to matter and through what qualities, rhythms, forces, relations and movements.' (2010)

The transrealist movements of a narrative or of a scene unfolding, perhaps manifested as atmospheric, reveals telling conjectures about its becoming and the place or climate it came from. In the same way the atmospheric attunement also speaks directly to the attentive tracking of the meanderer. In the meandering approach to a certain field there is a need for a certain attunement to the atmosphere that one travels through. The meandering is not really seeking answers to what happens around it but is rather interested in what movements might be found in the vicinity of such happenings, what transformations are part of its coming into being. Stewart again stresses the need for an attending to the transformative nature of an atmosphere: 'Rather than rush to answer the general question - "what’s going on?" – we might give pause to wedge into that question a speculative curiosity – a descriptive detour into the necessarily compositional and generative nature of a present moment caught in the throes of emergences and wanings of all kinds. How can we know anything about what’s going on without thinking about a transformative present as it is being variously lived out? A worlding taking place in difference. Every person is a nexus of compositional moments. Every scene, every effort, every sensory engagement weirdly shared is a case.' (2010)

In this she is making the case that when we examine something we need to see beyond the thing or the happening and really find ways to stay attuned to the movements of said things or transformations occurring around said happenings. The qualities that form atmospheres. She asks how we may come at a sharpening of attention to the expressivity of something coming into existence. And to answer this question she suggests 'that we rethink what our analytic objects might be to include the openings, saggings, and trajectories of things that are both compositional and lived.' (2010)

The Atmosphere of Gaps
Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos warns us about the atmospheric, reminding us about 'the kind of air inhaled without critical reflection, atmospherically offered as the only alternative.' (2016) He argues that 'this air, polluted and gassed, or rationed and reserved for specific bodies, or indeed readily perfumed and seductive, is increasingly becoming our political, legal, architectural, cultural atmosphere.' (2016) In his problematisation of the atmospheric he stresses the political aspect of an atmosphere and the danger of uncritically accepting a certain atmosphere. He writes: 'In its enclosure, an atmosphere directs bodies and their airborne affects in politically specific ways and for politically specific purposes. […] However comfortable, an atmosphere is politically and legally suspicious because it numbs a body (via the body’s own desire) into an affective embrace of stability and permanence.' (2016)

I have been thinking a lot about this notion of an atmosphere that numbs the into the illusion of stability or recognition. Returning to how I have related the atmospheres emerging in my artistic practice to the seductive and recognisable qualities of the cinematic, perhaps this numbing could potentially be evoked by the atmospheres that my work create. The viewer experiencing a video installation that has a certain cinematic quality to it may experience a certain belonging. An atmosphere offered as a place of belonging. To break with such numbing atmospheric places of belonging one must create deliberate withdrawals from such atmospheres instead of the type of withdrawal that the cocooning in an atmosphere 'regularly exploited by atmospheric engineering in the form of illusions of belonging" (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, 2016) produce. 'To know when to withdraw from one’s desire, however, is the real moment of withdrawal' (2016), Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos writes. A political strategic gesture towards the escaping of an atmosphere and the atmospherics of desire.

I would propose that this conscious withdrawal from the atmospherically numbing can be encouraged by the way a work makes known the strategies involved in the shaping of the atmosphere it produces. The revealing of an apparatus, designed to produce a certain (cinematic) atmosphere can perhaps break the numbing spell of the illusion. Instead of seducing the viewer to enter the atmosphere an invitation is forwarded: an invitation to partake in a collective atmospheric attunement. Furthermore the video installation has the potential to offer gaps in the atmosphere. Uncontrolled, and thus arguably autonomous, zones in-between the perfumed and seductive atmospheres. A change from on atmosphere to another can easily arise as another visitor enters the installation space or as one moves from one position to another, changing the angle of arrival; or the dark spaces that might actually give pause to wedge a speculative curiosity into the experience of an atmosphere. In the gaps, new atmospheres arise. Atmospheres perhaps less intended or engineered; atmospheres perhaps offered as real alternatives.