Phi Center’s Sensory Stories & DHC Gallery’s Joan Jonas’ From Away


Joan Jonas. They Come to Us without a Word, 2015. Installation view, Wind (2014-2015), Room 3, multimedia installation. United States Pavilion, 56th Venice Biennale, Italy. Photo: Moira Ricci, courtesy of the artist

Julian Jaynes’ 1976 book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral mind, put forward the hypothesis of  “the loss” (former existence) of a particular function one part of the brain, formerly had. Jaynes hypothesized a brain split in half, one half “speaking”, actively outwardly doing, and the second half receiving, as it were, “listening” and obeying. That in this lost way our brain formerly worked, lateralized into two halves, the one that received “messages”, would then send those messages to the other half of the brain to then act out those messages. Sound vaguely familiar? Yes, ‘hearing voices’, “the bicameral mind was experienced as a different, non conscious mental scheme wherein volition in the face of novel stimuli was mediated through linguistic control mechanism and experienced a auditory verbal hallucination”(Wiki).

But hang on, don’t jump off the wagon of Jaynes’ theory just yet, because it might have some weight when one thinks that before our secular age, hearing godly voices was a (normal) thing. “Rather than making conscious evaluations in a novel or unexpected ways situations, the person would hallucinate a voice or “god” giving admonitory advice or commands and obey without question. “(Wiki). “One would not be at all conscious of one’s own thought processes per se. “ (Wiki)

While this may sound like classic schizophrenia and its sometimes concomitant auditory hallucinations (that is the medical profession’s definition of schizophrenia), Jaynes could have been onto something, in that our former brains thousands of years ago might have come to act in this way, formed by ultra religious doctrines that lived through the normalized existence of such voices.


Joan Jonas. They Come to Us without a Word, 2015. Video still.

The Phi Center’s present foray into VR, three dimensionality, story, and narrative makes important steps, to at the very least show us something out of the regular skill set of perception that we have come used to. Voices and visuals behind us, voices and visuals  in front of us, voices and visuals  all around us. Virtual Reality (VR) skews our normalized sense of perception, and for some, might give a haunting sense of something “meta” around them, so to speak. Perhaps for some, the meta (data) could come  to be considered as something within the purview of our present consciousness; something to perhaps compliment our present consciousnesses? Think of the opening to Beckett’s How It Is, “voice once without quaqua on all sides then in me when the panting stops tell me again finish telling me invocation/past moments old dreams back again or fresh like those that pass or things things always and memories I say them as I hear them murmur them in the mud/ in me that were without when the panting stops scraps of an ancient voice in me not mine”. Perhaps the show brings us beyond the pedestrian world, and to be sure we are  dabbling in meta-narrative, meta -reflection, and at the very least nudge our jarred thinking minds are asked to consider what a meta-consciousness might “look” like, “sound” like, “be” like.

With new immediacy in placing the viewers in the homes and lives of people/ kids living in extreme geopolitical situations, or bringing us into the fold of a lush and animated children’s narrative Turning Forest, the phantasmagoric never quite coherent (in a good way) Seances remix of Guy Maddin’s epic phenomenological film- riddle, The Forbidden Room, or the reconstitution of the final moments of Whitney Houston and JFK’s death, using the smells that would have been part of those last moments with sensory depravation (you are slid into a morgue like drawer), or the epic  re -vectoring of a world opposite from ours, the world of blindness as described by a meticulous scientist who lost his sight and was determined to draw out this other world for the seeing world to see and feel and understand – all of these have a certain angle in doing a stop-gag on our pedestrian world and attempting us to use “another part” of our brain. In all of these exhibitions, there is a slight feeling of re-arranging our spatio temporal existences. One might even say, begin to have feelings of a kind of “metaconsciousness”. Guy Maddin’s film reeks of this kind of “metaconsciousness”.  Metaconsiousness, as in Jayne’s 1973 “controversial” hypothesis where a  former bicameral mentality“would be non-conscious in its inability to reason and articulate about mental contents through meta-reflection, reacting without explicitly realizing and without meta-reflective ability to give an account of why one did so… deliberate mind wandering and conscious introspection of mental content. “ (Wiki)

Guy Maddin. Seances. Video still.

Guy Maddin. Seances. Video still.

Notes on Blindness (2016)

Notes on Blindness (2016)

Phi Center’s sister center DHC has the present art world Queen-mother of the meta-reflective, deliberate mind wandering ( Joan Jonas). In all these exhibitions, there may ultimately be a new way of presenting things that show us a kind of prescience (Maddin’s Seances pushes the envelope on this)  and meta-consciousness we can no longer deny as part of our human existences. Phi Center’s offerings should be taken in together with Joan Jonas’ From Away at DHC Gallery. Here, like in The Phi Center’s VR presentation of John Hull’s Notes on Blindness ( 1980s), there could be said to be attempts to re-vector and re-metaphor. Our normalized footings are taken away and we are led to immerse  ourself in the voyant world of Joan Jonas’ early 1972, Organic Honey’s Vertical Roll (Visual Telepathy) to her more recent diaphanous multimedia theatrical ensembles (drawing, movement, live instrument, video , various actors). Spanning  through this ” retrospective ” of Jonas’ work is a diaphanous fan, almost remarkably evoking the Afro Brazilian divinity  Oxum or the Hatian Goddess Erzulie; a natural prescience and coincidental evocation of a naturally developed woman centered vision, of our global past, future, present. Co-poesis, as Bracha Ettingermight say, is present in all these exhibitions. (Be sure to see Jonas’ room of mirrors.)

The time is now one might say, and yes we may not be in what Daniel Pinchbeck hoped for in his thesis of the Mayan year 2012 coming to fruition (or maybe we are) ;the veil may also be lifted. Think Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche NY.  Think of the diaphanous fan welcoming us into a new field of immediacy, at the very least into a new way of thinking or not thinking about how we perceive.

(1) “Co-poietic transformational potentiality evolves along aesthetic and ethical unconscious paths: strings and threads, and produces a particular kind of knowledge. Unconscious transmission and reattunement as well as resonant copoietic knowledge don’t depend on verbal communication, intentional organization or inter-subjective relationships. Aesthetical and ethical processes are impregnated by matrixial copoiesis.” (Ettinger has her own spelling schema for various words)


Embodied Narrative: Sensory Stories of the Digital Age will be at the Phi Center until August 21st
Joan Jonas’ From Away exhibition will be at DHC Gallery until August 26.


James Oscar studied closely under the Martiniquan poet Edouard Glissant. He has published as a poet Perch at Black Night, Pegasus Press 2009, Notes for the White Arboreal, 5X8 Press 2014, The Horns of Moses, Magenta Press 2014 recently performed and presented at MOMAPS1 in October 2014.  His work surrounds poetics, anthropology, and issues of “post” nation. His present projects are in cinema (commercial and independent), theatre and cultural criticism.