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 Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Me

Although I have done some research and studies on different perspectives of the body, I believe there are some more profound notions and knowledge about the body, which are more philosophical and more poetic. Fortunately, I found the French philosopher, Maurice Merleau-Ponty who writes about the idea of the body. His work is so inspiring and entirely extends my thoughts. It feels like we have an excellent dialogue.

In his book The Phenomenology of Perception, he reveals the central structure of perception. Bodily perception is the extension structure of existence as well as a process
of building a connection with the natural world. The subject of perception is moving towards the world and establishing a relationship with the natural world continuously. The body is both the medium and is the subject of perception. Namely, the body becomes a passage that perceives the world.

Imagine that you are sitting on the floor, crossing your legs, closing your eyes, and trying to slow down your breath and remove all the thoughts from your mind. Inhale and exhale. Soon, you don't feel yourself. You become part of the space. It is as if you are the air around the space, amplifying your listening—it is not simply the everyday sounds you hear. You also hear more subtle details, layers in one sound, and you begin to amplify all of your senses. Your body is connecting with the world.

This is the way I do my meditation. Through this practice, I feel my body can expand to entirely embody the space I sit in. In this way, our bodies provide us with access to this world. The feeling is like what Dewi mentioned in our interview: “the whole body is in me." I interpret this experience as I am all, all in me. When you achieve this level, it is like "my body is a thing among things. It moves and sees. The world is made of the very stuff of the body, becomes visible to itself and the sight of all things."It seems that there is no me, no material body, I cannot sense my "own" conscious, because I merge into being part of the whole world. It is more approachable to perceive our original, authentic experience of surroundings.

Besides, I think "meditation" is a sort of sensorial mediation.“we are mediated by our senses, and constituted by what we hear, see, touch, smell, and taste.”8  we carry our senses all the time and meditation is a way to help us release our senses, to extend them into the surroundings, as well as experience and know other people. It is important that we connect this notion of senses mediating our experience to the sociology layer, “we must add the mediation of the senses themselves by culture and history. How we experience one another and the world around us is necessarily mediated by the recognized and unrecognized cultural baggage with which we learn how “to be “in the world. So, the relationship between the subject (the experiencing sensorium) and the object (that what we experience) is one of mediation; thus, it has a cognitive, a moral, and a cultural dimension.”The mediation is not only showing the center of yourself in connection with the world, it also shows more links from each other to interact with. Our mediated senses become amplification of the perception of others and transform into a sense of empathy and tolerance. The meditation, perceptual mediation, is the social aspect; we use our senses to feel various cultures globally. Same as the way I work in my art by extending my senses to embrace the differences between bodies and cultures and to feel the imperfectness of everything.

>To artistic practice

I love the description by Merleau-Ponty about how he pictured the way painters engage with bodies: "The painter takes his body with him. It is by lending his body to the world that the artist changes the world into paintings."10 The painter paints from some kind of emergence from his body, based on what his body perceives, and moves through his body into something visible. The vision of the painter is an endless birth. I have experienced these miracles sometimes. When these feelings come to arrive, they are in my mind, in my body, filling the whole of my senses; and I even when don’t know where these strong feelings and inspirations came from, I cannot resist them. I cannot stop sketching, writing down, creating and making before it disappears. Or until the next inspiration shows up. I urgently want to note everything that my body receives and attempt to make those perceptions reappear in my works.

Similarly, my body serves as an interface to bring the audience into my artistic sphere and to link both with the wider world. In my artistic practice, I used to make big visual projections and created an immersive surrounding feeling by moving landscapes, changing patterns and creating a performative environment, to link my body and extension of sensation. Except for the visual feast within the projection, I felt my skin had some kind of visual function. It was not limited to the visual, but it extended to the whole body. Every part of my body felt a finite enlargement to each corner. It was like I was a big, inflated balloon. I sensed that my emotions and the shape of my body changed within the interwoven images. With the pattern of the visual projection transforming dynamically in tight rhythm, I became more nervous but more excited. I perceived my form was changing with the patterns, sometimes bigger and sometimes smaller, it was a feeling like I dropped into a supermassive black hole, the feeling of mirror-touch synaesthesia. The synaesthesia is "a similar sensation in the same part of the body, for example, when you touch in another person that another person feels."11 Similarly, the notion of Double Sensation from Merleau-Ponty teaches us that when” one hand grasps the other- one touches and is touched, experiencing the body as subject and as object simultaneously."12  When your right-hand touch left hand, the feeling of the left hand has the sense of "be touched" and "touch[ing]" (right hand) at the same time. There are multiple layers of our sensorium, and it is bidirectional interaction. Likewise, I will project the synesthesia into when I look into artworks and how it works with my body. As Fiona Torrance said, "Artworks come alive to me”.13 For instance, when I saw Jay DeFeo’s work, " The Rose", I could sense the strong, powerful texture and impacting my senses, I could feel it penetrating my body and then I was integrated with the flood of visual impact; I could perceive an alive power in this painting, symbolizing a never-decaying rose and injecting this strength inside my body.

 Jay DeFeo on the making of The Rose,  1958-66

I had already been a big fan of Jay DeFeo for several years. So I was extremely excited to catch sight of the authentic piece “The Rose" in person when I was in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York during the study trip last year. Actually, the connection between me and Jay DeFeo beganin my early creating stages when I studied as a bachelor student. The way DeFeo engaged with material reflected on my artistic practice. Following her style, I observed several kinds of textures of the material, how they grew and transformed and tried to listen and wait what these materials want to say. I represented their features, by folding, twisting, creasing…etc, and transformed into new form and showed their strength into visual works and engraved in people’s visual memories.

 Details of my pieces of works,  2010-2012

Also, Jay DeFeo’s work “echoed the beats.” “The Rose, in its making, is one continuous poem, bound up with the artist’s body.”14  “This kind of flower is associated with the goddess Aphrodite in Greek mythology, as the rose stands in for the female body and for female sexuality.”15 I like how DeFeo molds the layers together into the flower as it becomes the female body, and how she makes use of beauty but fragility as metaphor in her work. Through this metaphor, she illustrates the impermanence of life: “The Rose’’ was first called “Deathrose.” In the beginning, the name changed with the life of“ The Rose”.It came alive and eventually deceased. Maybe It showed that DeFeo wanted to bloom her life and show extraordinary creating power within her short lifetime. Like what Defeo did, putting her life of vigor and strength into her works and allows the audience to experience, embody, echo the message what she delivered. Like how "The Rose" stings my skin and lets me feel the struggle and beauty of life. Her work taught me that Merleau-Ponty’s “Double Sensation” can be extended past physical touch to all sensations. DeFeo’s work “touched” me, making me more than simply a viewing subject, I also became an object of the gallery, and object of her work.

7.Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception, ed. James M. Edie, trans. Carleton Dallery, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964. Revised by Michael Smith in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, Galen A. Johnson, ed., Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1993.
8.Edited by Caroline A.Jones, Michael Bull, “Sensorium: embodied experience,technology and comtemporar art”, 2006

10.Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception, ed. James M. Edie, trans. Carleton Dallery, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964. Revised by Michael Smith in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, Galen A. Johnson, ed., Evanston:Northwestern Univ. Press, 1993.]

11.Mirror-touch synaesthesia:Mirror-touch synesthesia is a rare condition which causes individuals to experience a similar sensation in the same part of the body (such as touch) that another person feels. For example, if someone with this condition were to observe someone touching their cheek, they would feel the same sensation on their own cheek. Synesthesia, in general, is described as a condition in which a stimulus causes an individual to experience an additional sensation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror-touch_synesthesia

12.Daria Martin, “Mirror-Touch Synaesthesia- Thresholds of Empathy with Art”, 2018
14.Yevgeniya Traps, “Romance of the Rose: On Jay DeFeo”, 14,05,2013. https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2013/05/14/romance-of-the-rose-on-jay-defeo/