In a film made in 1963, Duchamp explained that it was not the mathematics of chess that interested him but the “logic and mechanics. Mechanics in the sense that the pieces move, interact, destroy each other; they’re in constant motion and that’s what attracts me. Chess figures placed in a passive position have no visual or aesthetic appeal. It’s the possible movements that can be played from that position that make it more or less beautiful.”2 As with Pilis’ art, Duchamp’s chess set is not an object displayed for admiration so much as a mediator for revealing cognitive structures. In challenging Greenberg’s modernist visuality of transcendence, Krauss analyzed Duchamp’s work, claiming that while his objects addressed the intellect of the observer they did so in a way that engaged the entire body, revealing thought as a corporeal function implicated by desire.3 Similarly, Pilis’ works refute any simplistic Cartesian dichotomy between body and mind. Rather, they indicate the imbrication of perception, thought and social interaction.
Situating vision as a negotiation of difference within individual and social bodies, Pilis’ works also resonate with emerging research on embodied aesthetics and new materialism. While scientists tend to focus on isolated organs and process, such as the vision centres in the brain, embodied aesthetics situates perception as a function of the entire body, a social organism constituted through ongoing interactions with the world. These areas of study reflect a sea change in Western philosophy of consciousness: the self is not a singular, isolated entity; the mind and body are not distinct.
While René Descartes is noted for introducing the mind/body split in Western culture, he also emphasized the fundamental contingency of vision. In his treatise on optics, Descartes described how embodied parallax constructs visual impressions, “just as the blind man does not judge an object to be double even if he is touching it with two hands, so likewise when both our eyes are disposed in the right way to carry our attention to one and the same place, they need only make us see one object, in spite of the formation of a picture in each of them.”4 The text was illustrated with an engraving of a blindfolded man, navigating the world by means of two crossed sticks. Pilis has fittingly chosen this image to introduce the exhibition.
Descartes’ blinded man welcomes us to the gallery and salutes us as we depart, inviting us to set down our everyday assumptions about vision and engage, with self-awareness, in our own, active, visual explorations.
1 Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago & London: Chicago University Press, 2005), 10.
2 Marcel Duchamp, speaking in a film by J.M. Drot, A game of chess with Marcel Duchamp (L’institut national de l’audiovisuel direction des archives: RM Associates/Public Media, 1987).
3 Rosalind Krauss, The Optical Unconscious (Cambridge, MASS & London: The MIT Press, 1998, c.1993), 138.
4 René Descartes, “The Optics,” in Descartes, Philosophical Writings, Elizabeth Anscombe and Peter Thomas Geach, eds. (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971), 249.
Alexander Pilis was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and currently lives and works between Montréal and São Paulo. He is an un-disciplined architectural investigator, artist and curator working under the aegis of Architecture Parallax – a methodology that displaces sight as the singular verification of reality. Furthermore, Pilis instigates a multi-media project exploring issues and questions raised by “the blind architect” as a critique of the modernization of vision and the collapse of the depth of field. He is a seasonal professor in the MFA department at Concordia University and was previously Director of the Global Architecture São Paulo Program in the John H. Daniels, Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, University of Toronto. Pilis has exhibited, taught, lectured, delivered workshops and published internationally, in Canada, USA, England, Spain, Germany, Italy and Brazil. He is represented by Galeria Virgilio in São Paulo, Brazil.
Sally McKay is a curator, art writer, artist and assistant professor of art at McMaster University. She completed her PhD in Art History and Visual Culture at York University in 2014. Her dissertation, Repositioning Neuroaesthetics Through Contemporary Art, argued that artworks can facilitate embodied knowledge about perceptual cognition. Recent publications include a chapter on Omer Fast in the anthology Aesthetics and the Embodied Mind (2015), an essay on Kristin Lucas in the spring issue of RACAR (2015), and an essay on Olafur Eliasson in the exhibition catalogue for Are You Experienced, curated by Melissa Bennett at the Art Gallery of Hamilton (2015).
Design: Tony Hewer | Editing: Shannon Anderson
Digital publication to the exhibition: Alexander Pilis: Architecture Parallax (Through the Looking Glass)
Presented by the Koffler Gallery | July 2 to August 30, 2015 | Curator: Mona Filip
© Koffler Centre of the Arts, 2015, in collaboration with the individual contributors. All rights reserved. ISBN 978-1-928175-05-6.