Finding your way

The Postmodern haze

Visitors will have an easier time identifying the intersection of the many Kosmorganic practices if they pivot away from the Postmodern gaze of styles; that is defining experiences solely by materials and self-references. In a Postmodern lens history and nature no longer serve as reference points. [2] Here nature is not exclusive to the phenomenal physical world but extends to the essence of human nature. In Postmodern art practice, the Artworld serves as its new reference. Art has been reduced to a commodity, like your house, your car, your blender, art too, gets caught up in the capitalist wind tunnel of categorization to be easily marketed and sold. This Postmodern lens is incongruent with Kosmorganica and yet, its logic lingers in the minds of visitors who apply it to local sights.

When anything can serve an artistic material, such as a toilet (Duchamp) or gravity (Acconci), identifying regions by their physicality, rather than philosophy, leads to an infinite number of categories and derivatives of them. The tendency of the modern West to sever art from its role to mimic nature reduces it to a linear progression of styles, limitless variations of treatments.[3] Mixed-media, Multimedia, Transmedia, Crossmedia, Intermedia, Conceptual, Post-conceptual, Neo-conceptual, Dada conceptual, Neo-Dada conceptual, Post-Neo-Dada conceptual, etc. Art folds onto itself in a vortex, turning the flowing wind of history and meaning into a tornado of styles that sweeps up everything in its path. The narrow reading of surfaces and self-reflexivity continues in prescriptions of contemporary art- You enter a dark foreboding room, a beam of light projects on the front wall. A video plays in a loop in slow motion, with a heavy bass soundtrack enveloping the visitor of a scene reminiscent of Douglas Gordon’s 24-hour Psycho. Replace Douglas Gordon’s 24-hour Psycho with any number of single-channel video art of the past thirty years. Art is a mirror not facing nature, but another mirror. Art chaotically feeds back on itself into an infinite regress of Artworld iterations. Postmodern logic is past its expiration date when it comes to Kosmorganica. The visitor will not need to pack this in their travel bag.

The rational craze to spiritual haze

Art categories are road signage to point the visitor in the right direction. With hundreds of categories in contemporary art and no official consensus of definitions, one can predict the outcome. The visitor may mistake the reception desk, litter, construction, the museum cafe ad on a plasma screen for art. [ figure 1 ]Perhaps, this may not be a bad thing, since art can also serve as a means to erase existing constructs, clearing the path to redefine our world in a different light. [see Tabula Rasa mindset ]

We predict that visitors, especially the rational literary ones, may keep one foot inside the chaotic postmodern logic of surfaces. It may be a challenge to loosen its grip of labeling art by its external physicality. Contemporary cultural destinations continue to be labeled and interpreted by the external or materialistic expression, such as immersive, monumental, minimal, fiber, ambient, installation, etc. Whereas prior to the 1960s they were labeled by philosophical reflection. (e.g. Naturphilosophie, Sublime, Surrealism, Fauvism, Romanticism, Symbolism, Impressionism, Baroque, Mannerism, etc.).

The near absence of spiritual or metaphysical interpretation in art may be attributed to practical reasons that coincide with art as a career or profession.  Research institutions, foundations, governmental funding, and universities grant more and more to scientific research over the humanities. Consequently, artists and historians try to sound like scientists avoiding other internal notions deemed misplaced such as mystical, poetic, spiritual, otherworldly, or ritualistic, key aspects of art aesthetics throughout the ages.[5] Art historian James Elkins remarks that in academia, any references to spirituality are not taken seriously.[6] He is not alone. Art historians Lynn Gamwell, Charlene Spretnak, Donald Kuspit, and Leesa Fanning made similar observations.[7] The majority of art historians, critics, and artists downplay or ignore religious and metaphysical interpretations in contemporary art analysis. For this website, books on consciousness studies and spirituality in art were rarely stocked at the university library.

The difference between the reception of Kosmorganica on a sensorial external level and an internal metaphysical level can be compared with wading in the shallow end of the pool or swimming in the deep end. Take, for example, James Turrell’s Meeting lightchamber. [ figure 2 ] It consists of a room with a bench and a giant skylight. [ See Forward ] Most reviews of this seminal work only examine the physicality of light and the psychological impact and visual sensation on the visitor. The artist himself has conflicting interpretations of his work. Early on in his career, Turrell claimed his light work had no religious overtones.[8] Yet, Turrell described the light in his installations as revelations.[9] Revelation is defined as ‘either the discovery of an unknown fact, surprise at the quality of something, as in wonderment, or divine disclosures.’  It is already a loaded term with social connotations mentioned often in the Bible. Romantic artists were also concerned with depicting revelation. These painters were concerned with luminosity, eternity, the infinite, serenity, and the magnificent. As similar as the two seem to be, according to Turrel’s previous reflections, he would deny any omnipresence or Transcendental notions as the American Romantic painters and writers claimed in their work. Turrell does give credit to his Quaker grandmother for her inspiration when she spoke about spiritual illumination.[10]  In a recent interview in 2018, Turrell evaded the question of his light connected with religion.  This time he did not deny spiritual notions. He reformulates the language to accommodate secular New Age wellness values. He describes his light as nutritional, personal, and inner light.[11] 

Art is not a substitute religion; it is a religion (in the true sense of the word: ‘binding back’ ‘binding’ to the unknowable, transcending reason, transcendent being.) But the church is no longer adequate as a means of affording experience of the transcendental and of making religion real- and so art has been transformed from a means into the sole provider of religion, which means religion itself.
-Gerhard Richter (2009)

Interpretations nor history are static. Authors and historians look back and may have completely different readings at another point in time that accord with their context, as well as their current position. Many early abstract expressionists and historians spoke of myth and the unconscious in the gestural and emotional paintings of the onset of this movement in the 1940s. Those internal descriptions of Abstract Expressionism disappear by the 1960s when an emphasis on external formalism dominates art criticism.[12] The hegemonic voice of formalism is the gum under your shoe when applying new logic to unfamiliar territory. Art critic, Seth Kim-Cohen asks why we have not graduated beyond strictly formal analysis, leaving the visitor with only sensory interpretation in Ambient art[13]

Ambient art or Ambient media inhabits a large part of Kosmorganica. [14] Theorist Paul Roquet describes ambient media as music, video, literature, fashion that allows one to tune oneself to the exterior environment, with a focus on the mood and emotional attunement.[15]  Kim-Cohen argues that if the reception adheres only to a perceptual response, such as an immersive colored light that elicits awe, a Turrell light installation, and a fireworks display are of the same breed. I agree but disagree. If we reduce art to physical description and a sensorial reception or as Kim-Cohen puts it, ‘what you see is what you get’ then it is likely one may confuse a screen saver for Expanded media art or the baby background noise machine for Ambient media. [ figure 3 ] To understand Kosmorganica which includes Ambient experiences, accepting existing religious overtones is essential. By ‘religious’ I refer to Mary Evelyn Tucker’s definition which has no mention of dogma.

Religion is ‘an orientation to the cosmos and our role in it…a means whereby humans, recognizing the limitations of phenomenal reality, undertake specific practices to effect self-transformation and community cohesion within a cosmological context. Religion thus refers to those cosmological stories, symbols systems, ritual practices, ethical norms, historical processes, and institutional structures that transmit a view of the human as embedded in a world of meaning and responsibility, transformation, and celebration. Religion connects humans with a divine or numinous presence, with the human community, and with the broader earth community. It links humans to the larger matrix of mystery in which life arises, unfolds, and flourishes.’[16]
-Mary Evelyn Tucker

Tucker’s definition of religion is not as restrictive as modern definitions loaded with personal and cultural baggage. It includes other domains such as cosmology, mythology, philosophy, sociology, semiotics, and consciousness studies. I align with her definition of religion. However, the label ‘religious’ is a trigger word for many Western ears. For many listeners, it elicits a knee-jerk reaction and conjures doctrine and the institutions that have prosecuted and divided people more than uniting them. For this reason, going forward, I use the word spiritual, higher consciousness, and metaphysical when referencing internal knowledge and intelligence.


[1] At the time of writing, 2021, the subcategories include but are not limited to: Expanded media, Visual music, Mapping, Immersive Media, Intermedia, Transmedia, Ambient, Ambient Media, Sound Art, Sound Walks, Art Walks, Ritualistic Performance Art, Sublime, Atmospheric art, Contemplative arts, Multisensory rooms, Experimental Architecture, Installation art, Visual Music, AV performance.

[2] Jameson, F. (1991.). Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Post-contemporary Interventions). Duke University Press.7

[3] Coomaraswamy, A. K. (1956). The transformation of nature in art. New York: Dover Publications.86.

[4] Briggs, J. (2015). Fractals: The patterns of chaos: discovering a new aesthetic of art, science, and nature. Brattleboro, Vermont: Echo Point Books & Media.

19-21.46.

[5] DePaoli, G. (1990) Meditations and Humor; Art as Koan. In Gelburd, G., De, P. G., Hofstra Museum., & Edith C. Blum Art Institute. The trans parent thread: Asian philosophy in recent American art. (pp.14-36). Hempstead, N.Y: Hofstra University.19.

[6] Kosky, J. L. (2012). Arts of Wonder. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.171.

[7] Gamwell, L.  (2005). Exploring the Invisible: Art, science, and the spiritual – revised and expanded edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Fanning, L. (2018). Encountering the Spiritual in Contemporary Art. New Haven, Conn.:Yale University Press.

Spretnak, C. (2016). Spiritual dynamic in modern art: Art history reconsidered, 1800 to the present.

Kuspit, D. B., Gamwell, L., & State University of New York at Binghamton. (1996). Health and happiness in 20th-century avant-garde art. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.

[8] Get quote.

[9] Turrell, J. in Kosky, J. L. (2012). Arts of Wonder. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.91.

[10]  ‘My grandmother used to tell me that as you sat in Quaker silence you were to go inside to greet the light. That expression stuck with me.’ James Turrell in Whittaker, R. (2000). Greeting the Light with James Turrell. Works and Conversations. (Retrieved 2021, Feb.16). https://www.conversations.org/story.php?sid=32

[11] Azzarello, N. (2018, Oct.16). Jame Turrell interview on the ‘light inside people’. Design Bloom. (Retrived 2021, Feb.16). https://www.designboom.com/art/james-turrell-interview-light-10-16-2018/

JT: for me, light is nutrition, almost like food. and I’m concerned with the light inside people. when you close your eyes or dream, you see a different light than with your eyes open. we usually use light to illuminate the things around us. but I am interested in the very personal, inner light.

[12] Get citation.

[13] Roquent describes ambient media as music, video, literature, fashion that allows one to tune oneself to the exterior environment, with a focus on the mood and emotional attunement. Eno who coined the term describes it as Ambient music ‘provides calm and space to think, while maintaining emotional freedom and subjective interest that earlier forms of background music sought to erase. It is ignorable as it is interesting.’ Roquet, P. (2016). Ambient media: Japanese atmospheres of self. Minneapolis, Minn: University of Minnesota press.

[14] Kim-Cohen, S. (2020). Against ambience and other essays.London, England : Bloomsbury Publishing

[15] Roquet, P. (2016). Ambient media: Japanese atmospheres of self. Minneapolis, Minn: University of Minnesota press.3.

[16] Spretnak, C. (2016). Spiritual dynamic in modern art: Art history reconsidered, 1800 to the present.14.