The Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group held a seminar on 14 August 2020 led by Cheng-Chu Weng, with the title ‘Sensation in Practice and Phenomenology’. The seminar focused on one of Merleau-Ponty’s chapters in his Phenomenology of Perception (1962, originally published in 1945) – ‘Sensation Experience’. In examining how Merleau-Ponty yields the idea of body account in relation to art-making. Cheng-Chu provides a parallel relationship between practice and philosophy by introducing her doctoral research and practice. This article provides a reflection of the seminar and a few notes from the participants, Jane Bennett, Luisa Menano, Noriko Suzuki-Bosco, Wenke Sun, Yvonne Jones.
As a visual artist and a scholar, I have been interested in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology account. His theory helps me to understand my works, for example, my interested in the ‘sense’ of painting space and the ambiguous relationship between one and others (subject, object and environment) in my works or what I called the structure of ambiguity. Therefore, my works are not somewhere to ‘look at’ but rather ‘experience’. The importance of body, sense and experience also can be seen in Merleau-Ponty’s writing ‘Sensation Experience’ (1958, origin published in 1945). How body experience structure the visual experience and how senses experience helps one to formulate the relationship in-between body and object/world. Following Merleau-Ponty’s complex account of sensation, one can see the optical is not a matter of seeing but unseen, moreover how it draws out one’s an awareness of being. These consideration of visual and issue had been discussed on the following questions that I brought out, how one ‘formulates’ the sensation experience and how one approach to colour and sound in the process of art-making.
My understanding of colour and sound are two elements that relate to one’s sensation experience. Moreover, they break the language field and human social structure and take one to a subjectivity state. In my practice, colour and sound are problems. They like the trigger of fire, too sensation and dramatic. In order to take one to a sense of painting space where allows one to contemplation and becoming aware of oneself within the surrounding, the colours of my works are almost white. Here, I cannot say I am using colour to create my works but rather working with the colours of the space. Since my expansion painting is working with the actual light and shadow, the colours of papers, fabrics and woods are alter constantly. On the other hand, the ‘bland’ views of my works can be understood as a critic of screen images, a contrast with the ‘noisy’ images that happen in modern life.
The physical dimension of my works, colour is no longer colour but phenomena that gather subject, object and space together, equally, Merleau-Ponty’s definition of sensation:
Sensation as it is brought to use by experience is no longer some inert substance or abstract moment, but one of our surface of contact with being, a structure of consciousness, and in place of one single space, as the universal condition of all qualities, we have with each one of the latter, a particular manner of being in space and, in a sense of making space. It is neither contradictory nor impossible that each sense should constitute a small world within the larger one, and it is even in virtue of its peculiarity that it is necessary to the whole and opens upon the whole (1958:257).
The idea of ‘being in space’ and ‘a sense of making space’ could be experienced in my works, as the effect of my works provides – the structure of ambiguity, an effect gathering the one and others, as well as an open space, allows one to contemplation.
Although I did not make many notes from the participants, I am grateful for their contributed their thoughts and advice.
Jane Bennet: Jane suggested my diagram (A Reflection of Merleau-Ponty’s in-between body and object) could puts in the elements of touch and space because those two are also mentioned in Merleau-Ponty’s text (The added in the diagram will look like as follow). Moreover, for her, colour is unnamable and it relates with one’s experience of it.
Jane also suggested the book Seeing is Forgetting the Name of Thing One Sees by Lawrence Weschler. The idea of seeing as forgetting the name fits in with Merleau-Ponty's account of phenomenology well.
Yvonne Jones: Yvonne made a connection between the elements (visual and sound) and cinema.
Noriko Suzuki-Bosco: For Noriko, colour also problematic in her art-making process. Colours are not only hard to define but also hard to ‘make’.
Luisa Menano: Luisa interested in what colour and sound for me as well as sharing her experience of colour. For Luisa, colour and shape are bound together. Luisa suggested clarifying how the terms, such as colour, sound and visual, relate to my practice as well as to read Six Memos for the New Millennium written by Italo Calvino.
Wenke Sun: For Wenke, both colour and sound are a matter of sensation. Wenke brought out interesting questions relate to Chinese aesthetic and theory of empty space. What the colour of empty space and time.
While we discussed the relationship between colour and shape, artists that we brought out Pat Steir, Mark Rothko, Agnes Martin and James Turrell, James Turell’s works could be an excellent connection with Merleau-Ponty’s sensation experience account, science his works is a matter of one’s sensation experience of the colour and space.
Merleau-Ponty, M. translated by Routledge & Kean Paul (1958) Phenomenology of Perception, Routledge Classics: London.