Griffin Pines: Summoning our Inner Anthropologist

Using video loops of flashing squares, visual cultural objects, and audio events, Griffin Pines creates aleatoric audio-visual experiments that test the connections we hold between senses and symbolism, eyesight and mind, and ultimately between empiricism and rationalism. He combines seemingly disparate image and sounds to create overtones of paredolia in the spaces between objects. In one piece, “VC972”, these objects seem to have no relationship to one another such as toddlers playing and rockets exploding. In other pieces, such as “Getting There” and “WC612” he presents us with similar slices of different faces that function together like a shredded document reconstructed.

However, it is not through disconnected imagery that Pines necessarily draws the viewer in with, but the suggestive use of musical structures that underpin the composition.  The artist uses mathematical codes to signal not everything he is presenting is pure chance. There are rules at work in his art; the only problem is that the rules are hidden from us. As a result, we play a kind of hunt and seek rather then taking the images and sounds as we find them, to let them wash over us.

Leona Jaglom, a child developmental psychologist, writes about our native human ability to project order upon the world in her essay “Cracking the codes of Television: the Child as Anthropologist.” She observes “Most of us have been anthropologists early in our lives. For in being placed in front of a television set, and being asked, in effect, to make sense of the innumerable fleeting images it presents, the young child of two, four, or eight years of age is a kind of anthropologist.” Indeed, she says, the child’s job is even harder as they have only a few years on this planet from which to construct context and meaning. “He [or she] must make sense of diverse and seemingly incommensurate forms of reality, …which constitute daily video fare.”

Griffin’s work presents us with an anthropological puzzle reminiscent of when we were children first encountering the disjointed world of television. The found video indicates that we are looking at a collage of social codes, but what kinds of codes? On one hand there are visual codes which are highly unstructured and subjective, and on the other hand we are given musical codes, which historically signal what Umberto Ecco calls a “rigorously structured system” is at work. Pines musical codes tell us there’s more order here then meets the eye, and so we scan the pieces for other codes such as systems of similarity, or plot structures.  Studying the patterns I even wondered if I could detect evidence of even deeper formalized or mathematical structures at work smacking of Morse code or boolean algebra.

It is this very searching, and ultimately, our projection of codes that is the real subject of Pine’s work. He recreates our first childlike experiences with society, or what sociologist Hubert Blumer refers to as “Society as Symbolic Interaction.”  From birth we are symbolic social creatures, craving symbolic meaning from the world and from one another’s actions. We can’t help ourselves. As Blumer writes, “…human beings interpret or define each others actions instead of merely reacting to each others actions…based on the meaning they attach to such actions. Thus human interaction is mediated by the use of symbols…” When deprived of these shared symbolic meanings and schemes, we our left with our true selves; our isolated selves. 

Relationships, including ours to the world, depend on structure. We define ourselves not in isolation but in relationship to social narratives. We use this commonplace Gestalt principle to deconstruct the components of the outside world, but often overlook that our internal individual self is also organized and defined according to our relationship with other’s. However, as Adorno noted,  human beings, “…are in the habit of requiring that a work ‘give’ them something,” or else they, “fall back on the shameless assertion that they do not understand.” Pine is demonstrating to us that the  meaningful symbols we expect the world to give us are found in the rationalistic symbols we impose upon it.

Pine’s work lies in the disconnection between what our senses see and the meaning our minds want to supply. In one work he begins with purely rational codes of white squares. We find a collection of visual objects and instinctively react as if we are tasked with decoding and interpreting. However, any symbolism we find externally is an illusory projection. As Rudolph Arnhiem, in his book Visual Thinking, points out  “If a visual item is extricated from it’s context, it becomes a different object.” Or to borrow a phrase from essayist Hal Foster, all the content Pine assembles for us is merely “signs taken for wonders.”

Now while Pine’s ultimate thesis may be that we bring our own meaning to the world, this isn’t necessarily a tragic conclusion. After all we are talking about the stuff of creativity, hope, faith, and even love here. Cognitive scientist Gilles Fauconnier congratulates us accordingly: “Human beings are exceptionally adept at integrating two extraordinarily different inputs to create new emergent structures, which result in new tools, new technologies, and new ways of thinking.” In this sense, Pine’s work explores our unique abilities of conceptual integration, cross-space mappings, and selective projection that we call imagination.

In taking us back to the flashing video images of our childhood, Pines reminds us that we did navigate the many disconnected worlds we encountered. As Jaglom said, “…amazingly, the average child, working largely on [their] own, succeeds in making sense of these worlds in largely short order. All the same time, the child’s conquest…is not total nor totally.”

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