10 – HAVE A SNACK / 20 – GOTO 10

(click on photo for full size)

This vivid piece of photojournalism, taken in extremely arduous conditions, documents elusive first-person mental states. Here, in the war zone of Fairfield, CT, we braved the forbidding terrain of a middle-aged Jewish lady’s kitchen. The woman was extremely accommodating – until the boxes of snack food started flying around the kitchen, crashing into her cabinets.

This photograph addresses three of my primary intellectual concerns:

Focus and attention. Here, Elif is beckoned by the siren call of snack food, and she’s literally pulled, zombie-like from her work into the kitchen.

Balancing short- and long-term goals. Friends and lovers often endeavor to reward each other and share pleasure in ways which are harmful to their wallets, society, or their long-term goals and future selves.

Butts. A picture is worth a thousand words – yet, while the English language contains hundreds of thousands of words, not one of them does full justice to the marvelous beauty of a woman’s posterior.


Here’s a version I mounted on a card for Holmes stereoscope viewers:

Participating artists in TSC exhibition

Towards a Science of Consciousness conferenceTSC 2006

Center for Consciousness Studies
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

ART EXHIBITION of works related to the nature of
conscious experience

TSC 2006 - Towards A Science of Consciousness
TSC 2006 - Towards A Science of Consciousness

April 4-8, 2006



Don Bodin

Moran Cerf

Sila Cevikce

Brian Felsen

Andrea Hersh

Jon Jost

Hyunsuk Kim

Adrienne Klein

Steven Lehar

Minda Novek

Michael Roth

Elif Savas

Michael Schippling

Janet A. Van Horne

curated by Brian Felsen




stereography (including antique View Master and Holmes Stereo reels)

short films




sculpture and a few surprises



Reporting the so-called “stream of consciousness” is famously difficult.  A first-person report is necessarily intrusive, unreliable, and unverifiable. Words alone are linear and slow.  The terms and metaphors of folk psychology often are coarse and misleading.  This exhibit features artists developing a new artistic language to notate and express the subjective experience of consciousness.

Our project is to work with a new system of tropes to model the contents and “feel” of conscious experience. Our art illustrates the multi-layered complexity of the brain’s processing systems and recursive structures. Throughout our work, we show how the experience of consciousness emerges from the clamor of competing voices within the parliamentary chamber of the mind – in the same way it does between the “voices” of two people in a relationship or artistic collaboration.



The opera singer Elif Savas will sing two new works. Refreshments will be served.

“Practicing the cadenza”

(Click image for full size)

This is a rare and precious document of the opera singer Elif Savas rehearsing an aria for an upcoming concert. By employing unobtrusive photography techniques and sympathetic lighting, I create an image which is far more natural, and less “staged,” than those commonly seen of Dmitri Shostakovich “composing” or Vladamir Nabokov standing at his writing desk.

At the moment the picture was taken, Elif was intently focused on the type of deliberate, error-focused practice which affords every musician the greatest gains. So concentrated is she on the score that appears completely oblivious to the presence of the photographer. The many distractions in her practice room hold no sway over her, as she works out the phrases which naturally present the greatest difficulties.

From the series: “Subjunctive Moods”

This series illustrates how our memories, planned futures, fantasies and desires compete for attention with the “real world.” Holmes stereoscope viewers, View-Masters, and 3-D images show how subjunctives and counterfactuals occupy our thoughts and actions – from generation to generation, from childhood through adulthood.



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Artist’s statement

Whether mounted on a wall or placed lovingly in a neat plastic notebook on the counter, the dread Artist Statement is always easily found, polluting every art gallery near you.  Read one, and any desire you might have had to meet the artist will immediately melt away.  In merely a few obtuse paragraphs, the artist will tell you what you already know, expound inarticulately upon philosophies which they know less about than a standard Wikipedia entry, and allude to art trends or influences which have nothing whatsoever to do with their work.  (One glorious exception: Bill Viola, whose notebooks are as enlightening as some of his best video art.)  I know, for I have been guilty of this.  The artist would do best to heed the sage advice of Frank Zappa: “Shut up and play yer guitar.”  Still, art gallery owners have required me to write one, and, depending on which artworks of mine they exhibit, my Artist’s Statement usually goes something like the below:

My photography explores the link between the way thoughts jostle for attention in one’s own consciousness and the way people compete to control each other’s behavior.  As many of these procedures and behaviors (even among lovers) stem from childhood experiences, I create entertaining and theatrical compositions, stereo photography (View Master Reels and Holmes stereo viewers), and digitally manipulating children’s objects.  My hope is that the work’s psychological concerns and modernist attention to detail give the work a depth which rewards extended viewing

One of my obsessions is in exploring the theatricality of daily life: “performances” we play for ourselves in conscious experience, and the games couples perform with each other.  Rather than photograph with strobe lighting, I use the hotlights of film, manipulating and positioning my subjects like department-store mannequins. I typically create unusual juxtapositions in common living spaces: a pregnant woman in a cage in a snow-covered suburban backyard; a wife spoon-feeding her husband in a crib, both serving and infantilizing him.

Another theme running through my photography is how our memories, future plans, fantasies and desires compete for attention with the “real world – so that we live our lives both in the present and in a halo of counterfactual states. My fine art is a visual depiction of this simultaneity.  To illustrate the way memory acts as a scrim on our daily experience and relationships, I transform toys and children’s books and shoot in abandoned swimming pools and playgrounds.  I combine dreams with reality through digital manipulation: an opera singer practices in a room full of distractions and alternate selves acting on them; a husband fantasizes murdering a sleeping spouse in a bedroom filled with dry ice.

Photo Gallery: Towards a Science of Consicousness conference

TSC 2006 - Towards A Science of Consciousness
TSC 2006 - Towards A Science of Consciousness

Of all of the mysteries of the universe, none is crazier, nor more amazing to me, than the mystery of consciousness.  I’ve always been interested in how people think – not just in the psychology of others, but in how a lump of grey matter can process incredible amounts of information; how the brain serves our volitions and instinctual needs automatically; how it generates the sense of personal identity (a self) and the feeling that we have a “soul” – and, above all, why the heck it feel like something to be the subject of experience!

Ever since college, I’ve read the works of cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind, starting with Douglas Hofstadter‘s Godel, Escher, Bach and moving on to the works of Dennett, Humphrey, Chalmers, Rosenthal, and too many others to mention.   Every other year, many of the greatest minds in the field gather in Tucson, Arizona for the Towards a Science of Consciousness conference (TSC).  Elif and I go whenever we can, and we’ve twice exhibited our art there with some of our favorite writers.

Here are some pictures from the 2006 TSC.