“The fans, which move from time to time, touched by invisible currents, serve also as some form of communication known only to the Reptiles.”
-William Burroughs

One of the key purposes of art in my view is pure inquiry-to ask ourselves some new questions, or to be invited to consider familiar or obvious things in a new way. As mainstream commercial art in all its forms becomes ever more committed to the quick narcosis of superficial entertainment, I think this inquisitive and participatory aspect of more thoughtful art becomes all the more significant.

I’m also very interested in the question of how electronic publishing is affecting our vision, both in a literal sense and in a more psycho-cultural way. So, I’d like to conduct some research here.

My chief artistic focus is my writing, primarily fiction, but I am a painter whose work is sold internationally. I derive a great deal of satisfaction from work in an exclusively visual medium. I find that it’s a means of asking some questions in a different kind of way relative to life on the page.

Black Forest by Kris Saknussemm

I’d like you to consider these four paintings of mine and to provide some feedback on how you see them. You’re of course free to judge their artistic merits-to some extent that’s hard to avoid. But what I’m really interested in is how their textural and dimensional nature translates through the electronic screen medium.

How large do you imagine these physical works to be?

More importantly, what is your perceptual or emotional reaction to them? If you had to assign a single word to each of them, what would it be? (Again, I’d be grateful if we steered past the issue of whether or not you consider them good or bad and attended to the issue of them merely as things to be seen.)

Hummingbird by Kris SaknussemmI will tell you that one of the principles I work with is steganography, which is defined as “the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient, suspects the existence of the message.” It’s a form of security through obscurity and is now one of the most pervasive albeit subtle aspects of the world we live in. Hidden watermarks, digital signatures, embedded information-these forms of communication and control are all around us now.

As abstract as these images may appear (and however competently executed or not in your opinion) they all objectively contain information that can be considered encrypted. These messages aren’t encrypted digitally-none of the images have been enhanced via computer–they are straightforward photographs of paintings. The secondary level of communication is physically within the works themselves.

Light Aquatic by Kris Saknussemm

I’ve found that direct short range contact with these works invariably detects this secondary level of communication, even if only intuitively and inarticulately. Seen in the flesh, the viewer either connects pretty closely with the surface level meaning of the hidden element, or interprets it subconsciously in exactly the opposite way to its conventional meaning.

In other words, when experienced physically and immediately as paintings on a wall, the hidden elements are perceived either as reinforcements of the impression overall–or as direct contradictions. There seems to be no middle ground. I find that very interesting.

Red Room by Kris SaknussemmIt would be very helpful to me as an artist, and even more so as an inquirer (which is how I classify myself), if you were to provide just a short and as automatic a response as you can on what you think you see here with each work.

The nature of the embedded communication isn’t the same in every instance. The philosophy behind it and the hands that were responsible are.

The composer John Cage once remarked, “When I wrote what I thought was uplifting music, people became sad. When I wrote serious music, people often laughed. I decided I needed to have another reason for composing music than communication.”

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KRIS SAKNUSSEMM is a writer, painter and musical producer. He is the author of the international cult novels Zanesville and Private Midnight. Random House is bringing out his third novel in the USA in March 2011, and a new book called Reverend America has just been completed and is already being sold in Europe. A Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, he has won First Prize in the Boston Review and River Styx Short Fiction Contests, and received the Fiction Collective 2 Award for Innovative Writing, in addition to publishing in a wide range of places such as Playboy, Nerve.com, Opium Magazine, The Missouri Review, The Hudson Review, The Antioch Review, New Letters, Prairie Schooner and ZYZZYVA, amongst many others. You can find more about him on his Facebook Page.

6 responses to “A Psychological Test”

  1. Gloria says:

    Okay, I’ll play. And I’ll label each painting numbers 1 through 4 starting from the top to the bottom. (Caveat: I’m super bad at this game.)

    How large do you imagine these physical works to be?
    1. 2′ x 3′
    2. 2′ x 3 1/2′
    3. 3′ x 5′
    4. 2′ x 3′

    More importantly, what is your perceptual or emotional reaction to them?

    1. Reminds me of The Carlsbad Caverns
    2. Reminds me of Jackson Pollock
    3. Looks like water
    4. Reminds me of blood. Also, I love the color.

    If you had to assign a single word to each of them, what would it be?

    1. Spelunking
    2. Chaos
    3. Water
    4. Redrum

  2. Uche Ogbuji says:

    1. 60x40cm. Strikes me as a nighttime vision of a Celtic heraldic dragon. “Cryofracture”.
    2. 150x100cm. Frozen pond under first days of frost. “Skate-tracked.”
    3. 300x200cm. Feels like experiment. Weather patterns on a gas giant planet. “Trade winds” (OK 2 words there 😉 )
    4. 300x200cm. Pathogen attack and immune system counter-attack. “Corpuscular”.

  3. Kris Saknussemm says:

    I appreciate these comments.

  4. bubba -boudreau says:

    size

    1. 10′ x 12′
    2. 11″ x 17″
    3. 8′ x 10′
    4. 5″ x 7″

    perceptual or emotional raction
    assign a single word

    1. never getting ou
    2. dancing at will
    3. floating with calmness
    4. someones heart exploded

    1. danger
    2. freedom
    3. peace
    4. murder for love lost

  5. bubba -boudreau says:

    size

    1. 10′ x 12′
    2. 11″ x 17″
    3. 8′ x 10′
    4. 5″ x 7″

    perceptual or emotional raction
    assign a single word

    1. never getting ou
    2. dancing at will
    3. floating with calmness
    4. someones heart exploded

    1. danger
    2. freedom
    3. peace
    4. murder or love lost

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