Emergence vs creation

In his book Making, Tim Ingold states in reference to the philosophical theory of hylomorphism as it relates to the act of making that:

Whenever we read that in the making of artefacts, practitioners impose forms internal to the mind upon a material world ‘out there’, hylomorphism is at work.1

He describes this as the view that there is separation between a mental idea or design, and a realisation of that idea in the material world. It follows that making is very much thought of as a two-stage process where the first stage is the development of an idea, and the second the realisation of that idea as a material object. With this Ingold points to a tendency that seems prevalent in human thought; to granularize experience and processes into discrete segments.

I easily tend to think similarly of my own process in creating animated figures: I dream of an idea, get excited by that and attempt to fully form that idea so that I can then “translate” it into material form. The next step is to capture a version of the shape I experienced in the dream as a design that will mediate between the imagined object and a realised material object. The design is the facilitator that allows the realisation of the imagined as a material object. In my case this design exists as a virtualised object represented in a CAD programme. To me, it’s an important distinction that even if the design or idea exists in a non-material realm, it doesn’t mean it’s not material dependent. My brain is material, as is the computers RAM and processor where two separate objects now exist as imprints on a hard drive and as imprints in a brain. The next step for me is the manufacturing of the design created in the CAD programme in which I am largely dependent on computer aided manufacturing, (CAM) specifically 3D printing. The act of making thus seems separated from the idea and design of the thing. The conceptual delimitation of the process of making, with the separation of the idea from the material thing, seems to me to be rooted in a fundamental mechanism common to most of our thought processes: The desire to subdivide all things into chunks, be it the world into discrete and stable objects, or tasks into sub-tasks. In short into things that can be perceived as singular. This sub-division affords hierarchy, structures, complexity and combination.

Thinking of the conception of a thing as separate from its making, differentiates the conception part of making from construction (whatever from that may take) and generally appears to enjoy a greater cultural appreciation than the part of making that is interacting with material. As Ingold points out scholars typically write about making as if having a design for thing is practically the same as having the thing itself. 2 This goes some way in explaining the privileged social standing of the auteur.

On the surface my process of creation when creating sculptures is as hylomorphic as it gets. Most of the shaping and design as well the actual making, seemingly happens in a virtual realm. Either in my mind, or the virtual simulated world of my CAD programme. Even the process of manufacturing, where pressing print on my 3D printer is a central activity, seems like a clear-cut example of hylomorphism, using a machine able to realise the virtually construed design as material objects. And indeed, I have myself often thought of it in this way when it comes to the figures I have built.

The transition from the dreamed sculpture into a material object is for me a process of discovery and loss. No matter how detailed I try to design the object in a virtual realm, either mentally or in CAD, the material realisation of that design has radically different qualities. I am not able to realise a design I have dreamt and experienced in my mind in the same way as the material object.

A contrasting view is to consider forms as emergent and that the properties a material has constitutes some sort of will and implied mutability of material. Whereas the hylomorphic model assumes the possibility of a stability, that matter can be fixed in a desired and preconceived form, considering form as an emergent property acknowledges the variability of matter and the relentless inevitability of change. 3 The prevalence of the hylomorphic model seems like another piece in a puzzle designed to cater to our desire for something in this world to have permanence.

A dance II

When creating figures, I experience the process as a set of transitions, or “replications” of an object firstly existing in the virtual realm of my mind, then as an actualised alternative object in the virtual realm of a CAD programme, and finally as an actualised object in the material world. It is unclear for me if the figure is translated, transformed or duplicated at each of these steps. But as the figure moves through each it leaves itself as it was in the previous realm. I experience that each step of this translation, teleportation or duplication of an object from one realm to another enforces transformation. To what degree is the thing as it was in each of these three realms related as objects? Each translation results dislodges the object from on realm to another with different rules coming into play. Each of these realms in which the figures are (re)born from are simply not governed by the same laws. What exists in my mind cannot be reproduced in the virtual space of the 3D CAD programme because the CAD programme is a fundamentally different realm. The CAD programme, all though aimed at creating objects in its virtual realm that can be translated to a material realm, shares almost nothing with the latter. To me they appear to be fundamentally different. This means that each attempt at translation, teleportation or duplication of an object from one realm to another is actually more akin to a process of creation, or at least re-creation. As an object is created in one realm, and then recreated in another, the process of transforming from one realm to another adds qualities from each and nullifies others.

As this journey of duplication and transformation occurs, rather than viewing the translation or recreation of the object as a process only of loss I find it fruitful to focus on the parallel process of discovery. The impossibility of making a facsimile of an object created in the mind in any other realm, though tinged with sadness at the impossibility of seeing it realised in any other realm, is as much a creative process and process of discovery as the initial act of imagination in creating an idea.

A major objection to considering my act of making a hylomorphic activity is that it inherently underplays that whatever design I create, is created informed by material experiences. I, as the designer, navigates solely from material experiences because I am continuously interacting with material being material myself(at least this is how it seems to me). Even in the imaginary realm where objects can be created in a non-material form free from the guidance or restrictions imposed by the physical principles of the material world, whatever I imagine lives among the memories and imprints of my existence as a material thing dealing with materiality. I simply have no reference point from which to imagine a material object not informed by my prior experience with materials. Though I may temporarily belive myself to be the creator of a design that is then imposed on material as form, it is equally true that material has imposed form on my imagination and the design sprung from it.

The process of creation of material objects from conception to physically actualized seems to me more akin to a vibrant interplay of impulses and impressions traversing the seemingly uncrossable gulf separating the realms of the mind and material. Seemingly material has the advantage since the mind is after all also material.

Hence, I have come to realise that to consider a “human-made” material object as nothing more than a copy or derivative of the pureness of the design as it existed in the virtual/mind therefore is a common but false narrative. At the heart of such a narrative is an assumption that the imaginary realm is somehow similar or the same as the material. That what is in the material world also is in the realm of ideas. It ignores the fundamental ontological differences. The world you can map out in your mind is not a facsimile of the material world your material self that holds that mind, exist in. Though my mind might try to make me, I would not assume that an object created in one of these worlds could exist in the same way in another.

Objects of the mind

When I create objects in my mind, what correspondence and relation do they have to material objects whose creation they can instigate? The mutability and flexibility of a mental representation compared to the perceived the stability of a material object can lead us to conclude that the mental representation is somehow less "real". But to grab the ontological borders of something that exists in the mind is itself an exercise in the compartmentalization so exemplified in the hylomorphic model. Even if I consider the mental construction of nonmaterial sculptures that only exist in my mind as an act of doing, like I consider creating sculptures in the material world as doing, this is unlikely to be the case for people generally. We need look no further than to literature on persons with aphantasia4 to realise that creation is possible with a radically different conception of what the process of creation is.

As outlined in this text the ability of mental imagery is the very source for the drive I have for creation. The excitement and engagement I can experience when imagining shapes, actions sounds, and sights drives me as an artist. The dialogue between the realm of the mind and what I perceive as the outside of my mind, as outside of me, is the very impetus I have for creating art. For me It is just about impossible to imagine being able to do this without mental imagery. It can therefore appear that my conception of art creation has many shared characteristics with the hylomorphic model. Maybe the act of creation seems like that for a lot of people explaining the prevalence of the hylomorphic explanation of how we exert influence on the material world to create objects. But as the phenomena of persons with aphantasia shows, this model is not the end all for explaining how creation takes place. Because such persons can also create, they just do it in a way that is unimaginable for me and completely counter to any hylomorphic model.