Tag Archives: Sculpture by the Sea

A memory walk through Cottesloe of the past

I never miss reading Robert Drewe’s column The Other Side in the Westweekend liftout of Saturday’s West Australian newspaper every week, because I have come to love the city that I grew up in and live in, and Drew’s pieces either provide a good laugh or an insight into the history of Perth, often both.

I couldn’t help noticing that in last week’s piece (June 13th 2015), Drewe describes some experiences that are a version of the method of loci memory technique. He writes of experiencing visual memories of past scenes of now-demolished Perth landmarks as he travels past the locations where they once served the people of Perth. Hamburger vendors on Mounts Bay Road and the Cottesloe foreshore are some examples given. I’m sure such experiences are common, and this is why anyone is able to exploit this type of memory experience using this ancient technique for memorizing a sequence of items encoded as visual memories. I have a special interest in the method of loci as I was I believe the first to describe, at this blog, a spontaneous experience experienced by myself and synaesthete kin in which we spontanously encode synaesthesia-like associations between concepts and visual memories of scenes, in a way that is similar to, but not the same as, the method of loci. My theory is that us synaesthetes have a greater tendency to memorize than most people, to the degree that we encode very robust long-term memories unintentionally and spontanously, just from being a passenger in a moving vehicle vacantly looking at passing scenery while listening to interesting news or stories on the car radio.

Drewe’s column unearths lost memories for readers week after week, which accounts for it’s appeal, so it is no surprise that his writing strikes a resonance with a piece that I wrote for this blog a while ago, detailing my inner visions of past year’s displays overlaying the current year’s display at specific well-used display sites at the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition at Cottesloe Beach. Like Drewe, I can’t be at that spot on the Cottesloe foreshore without “seeing” Van Eileen’s hamburger joint, with the semi-circular deeply sandy and untidy carpark area surrounding it. The odd thing is that my memory of how that spot is currently landscaped does not come to mind with any ease. Even if I was there, at that very spot, right now, I suspect that the green and well-tended vista would not seem quite as real as the memory, with associated sand in my shoes. It isn’t the real Cottesloe.

Pareidolia again at Sculptures by the Sea Cottesloe

definitely male and in a sombre mood

definitely not just a hunk of metal

mr melancholy by Paul Stanwick - Wright at Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2015

mr melancholy by Paul Stanwick-Wright at Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2015

Embodied within sculptures made of metal

I’m regretting that I never found the time to write about the works displayed at Sculpture by the Sea 2012 at Cottesloe because I know I had in mind to try to explain why Highness by the Iraqi Australian sculptor Ayad Alqaragholli had such an immediate impact on the viewer and appeal. The sculpture reached high into the clear blue summer sky and sea air, depicting a scene of human acrobatic performance with a joyful mood. I noticed that our young child felt compelled to perform handstands on the grass near the sculpture after viewing the piece of art, and I wondered whether there was something deeply psychological about the way it is typically received by people, perhaps evoking some kind of mirror-neuron activity. I was also fascinated by the way in which the emotion of joy had been depicted in the piece using body-related metaphors of reaching, expansion and elevation. The emotion of joy had been embodied in the sculpture, so was this sculpture something to do with embodied cognition? I felt that it must have. Regardless of the theory that might be read into the scuplture, it was my personal favourite for that year. I just liked it. We enjoyed it.

http://www.sculpturebythesea.com/image-gallery/cottesloe.aspx?Year=2012&Location=Outdoor

Not long ago I spotted this local newspaper article by Tanya MacNaughton about Ayad Alqaragholli and another one of his works, Embrace, which is exhibited in this year’s Cottesloe outdoor exhibition:

http://www.inmycommunity.com.au/going-out/theatre-and-the-arts/Sculpture-by-the-Seas-new-season/7657457/

and his new sculpture seems to have a similar theme, and once again I thought it was clear that there is some kind of metaphorical thinking in his work which I feel is similar to embodied cognition:

“There’s so much freedom for young people even when they’re just walking down the street; I like to have people flying in my artwork to show how happy they are.”

Flying = happy

up = happy

down = sad

freedom = flying

repression = trapped

imprisonment = held down

This is a scheme connecting emotional states with spatial locations, and social situations and feelings with physical situations. It seems to be one or two kinds of synaesthesia, but could also be interpreted as embodied cognition because after all, it is human bodies that are depicted in Mr Alqaragholli’s sculptures.

I can’t wait to get to Cott Main Beach to see the exhibition. Can’t wait to see all the sculptures! Can’t wait to have a dip too and take some photos and see the sunset over the sea and hear the noise of the feral rainbow lorikeets roosting in the tall pine trees. I love summer in Perth!

 

Embrace by Ayad Alqaragholli

Embrace by Ayad Alqaragholli

Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe Beach, memories and the method of loci go together so naturally

Even though I no longer live near Cottesloe, I make a point of visiting Sculpture by the Sea every year, with at least one of our kids in tow. We love it, and we love swimming at Cott Main Beach (not too deep though, we aren’t that daring). In the last few years I’ve visited with the child of ours who has as strong an interest in the sculptures as I do, so I’ve been able to take my time to really appreciate the pieces, and in doing this to memorize the sculptures seen, in context in their locations. This means that as I tour through the various highly memorable locations along the foreshore of one of Perth’s oldest beaches, I get to visually experience things that are there, and also things that once were there at that exact location. The organizers of the exhibition unavoidably re-use many specific locations for situating sculptures from year to year, so when I look at a sculpture I also often see in my mind’s eye a sculpture that was at that spot last year, or maybe in a year before that. This is an example of the unconscious or unintentional employment of the method of loci memory technique. I have written other posts at his blog about similar experiences of mine and our children in which we have memorized stuff with this or a similar method by accident, and I have even given a name to this phenomenon; involuntary method of loci memorization or IMLM for short.

Standing and looking at many locations along the Cottesloe Main Beach foreshore also evokes memories of family and personal visits to the beach in past years, in addition to the over-laying of more recent memories of the annual sculpture exhibition which has been operating in Cottesloe since 2005. Memories evoked include the time we ate fish and chips there when we were still unmarried, the day I unexpectedly met an elderly aunt (she’s long-dead now), then paddling with her and being shocked by finding a scallop that was unexpectedly alive, memories of many visits with my mother, a sibling and a grandmother which are sometimes also evoked by listening to a specific piece of music from the 1980s, and memories of swimming with my sibling at night in the cold fresh-water pool that was once situated near the groyne, the water tasting strangely sweet following the taste of salt water from swimming in the sea. I could point out the specific locations where I saw the dead whale and also where I touched the rough skin of a large dead shark that someone had displayed like a trophy at the shoreline, both events witnessed when I was a child. There probably isn’t a public place in Perth that evokes as many memories for me as Cottesloe Beach. If there is a neuron or a location within my synaesthete brain “for” Cottesloe Beach, it is surely thickly surrounded by many connections.

The 10th annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition at Cottesloe will be open from March 7th to March 24th 2014. I can’t wait.  http://www.sculpturebythesea.com/exhibitions/cottesloe.aspx

Pareidolia pictures

Xanthorrhoea plant looks like an Aboriginal man's face - pareidolia

“Blackboy” looks like a “black man” at park in Perth suburb – an example of pareidolia

Orange glass vase in window display looks like a face from one angle - example of pareidolia

Orange glass vase in window display looks like a face from one angle – example of pareidolia

Shipwreck by Steve Croquett at Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2012

Shipwreck by Steve Croquett at Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2012

Pareidolia at Sculptures by the Sea – our child clearly has an excellent left fusiform gyrus

Shipwreck by Steve Croquett at Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2012

Shipwreck by Steve Croquett at Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2012

I took our youngest with me when I visited this year’s Sculptures by the Sea at what is known to some locals as Cottesloe Main Beach. We had a wonderful time, and her favourite scuplture was the lounge room made of sandbags on the sea shore (Comfort Zone by Alessandra Rossi), but I think our child really got more fun out of playing with other kids with the sculpture Xing by Graeme Pattison. I would love to see some local government pruchase this sculpture for installation at a playground. As soon as she saw the Shipwreck sculpture by Steve Croquett our child identified it as two faces, not a shipwreck. This instant interpretation no surprise to me. Even as a baby our child has had an uncanny ability to detect visual patterns which are not apparent to others. I once noticed our child as a baby laughing at the calendar that was hanging in our kitchen. It was a freebie produced by our local council and it had a rather cheap attempt at art in it, in which a photo of faces was superimposed with some other image in a way that made the cheery faces rather hard to pick, but our little girl had noticed them. Our child was also quite gifted at spotting spiders all around the house which no one else noticed, even very small ones, very thin Daddy-long-legs spiders, and spiders way up on the ceiling. Our young one also loves to point out animal shapes in clouds, or in shapes found in natural objects, and I can always see the same thing when my attention is drawn to the shapes by our child. I suspect that our child’s interest and perhaps talent in identifying visual patterns might be genetically related to my unusual ability in face recognition. She has at times expressed observations that appear to be evidence of synaesthesia, which I experience and which runs in our family, but it is hard to know what to make of this as our child is young and some synesthesia researchers believe that all young children experience synaesthesia.

It appears that the term that is used for the ability to spot face-like visual patterns is pareidolia, but the definition of this term found in the Wikipedia isn’t really the same as what our child does. The Wikipedia defines pareidolia as a psychological phenomenon in which random or vague stimulus is perceived as significant. Our child doesn’t percieve the shapes as significant – our child percieves the shapes in non-face objects as resembling faces, but clearly understands that they are just resemblances, and there is no indication that our child thinks there is anything particularly significant about what is seen. The term pareidolia is also too general to define what our child does – our child notices patterns in visual stimuli to an unusual degree, but does not notice patterns in auditory stimuli to any unusual degree, as far as I can tell, but the term pareidolia appears to be not sepcific to any sensory mode. I would like to see a more specific term for identifying patterns in random or vague visual stimuli and an even more specific term for identifying faces in random or vague visual stimuli. I’m surprised that scientists haven’t already created terms for these things.

In January of this year an interesting  fMRI study exploring the relationship between pareidolia and face perception was published in the science journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. One of the authors of the study is from Dartmouth College and another is from MIT, two US universities where world-leading studies on face recognition are done. Two interesting articles about the study were also published in January, one at Wired magazine and the other at MIT News. To summarize the findings, the pattern of activations found in the left and the right fusiform gryri were interpreted as evidence that the left fusiform gyrus does the job of noticing face-like patterns in images, while the right fusiform gyrus also performed face processing, but did not duplicate the task done by the left, but instead performed the job of deciding whether or not a face-like image is in fact a real face. It is thought that these brain areas work together to interpret images. So it appears that the department of pareidolia in the brain is the left fusiform gyrus, while judgements about what is a real face are performed in a separate but similar and linked part of the brain. I think this arrangement will make sense to anyone who understands the processes that give rise to creativity and reflective thought. Different modes of thinking by different parts of the brain, in a series of stages, make up the process of intellectual creation. Turn-taking and specialization are features of this type of process, and it is no surprise to me that a most important part of the brain, the fusiform gyrus, also works in this way.

Sculptures by the Sea  http://www.sculpturebythesea.com/Home.aspx

Wikipedia. Pareidolia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia

Brown, Mark How does your brain know when a face is really a face? Wired.co.uk January 10th 2012.  http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-01/10/face-perception

Trafton, Anne How does our brain know what is a face and what’s not? MIT News. January 9th 2012.  http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/face-perception-0109.html

Ming Meng, Tharian Cherian, Gaurav Singal, Pawan Sinha Lateralization of face processing in the human brain. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Published online before print January 4, 2012. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1784.   http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2012/01/03/rspb.2011.1784.abstract

A sculpture that brings to mind personification synaesthesia – Level Best by Amy Podmore

Link to someone else’s photo of the sculpture Level Best by Amy Podmore at Flickr, which was displayed at Sculpture by the Sea at Cottesloe in 2011
http://www.flickr.com/photos/figgles1/5550022888/

2011 wasn’t my fave year for the Sculpture by the Sea (I’ve never missed a year), but this piece bought a smile to my face. Would you call it Surrealist? Whimsical? I don’t know much about art, but I do know what I like. The half-object, half-person Level Best felt as though it was pushing an unconscious perception to the point of absurdity. Almost believable and slightly alarming.

Ordinal-linguistic personification (OLP) is a harmless psychological phenomenon in which some people associate personal characteristics with numbers and letters of the alphabet. Like some other types of synaesthesisia it dates back to early childhood, it involves illogical but fixed associations between individual concepts from different sets of two different types of concept, it is involuntary and it is not intentional. I think it is generally agreed among synesthesia researchers that OLP is a type of synaesthesia. I have OLP and many other types of synaesthesia. The letter Y is male, yellow and cheerful, in my mind. The idiosyncratic and involuntary personification of things that aren’t people appears to not be limited to concepts such as numbers and letters. Some synaesthetes report a sensation of personal characteristics in everyday inanimate objects such as pot plants, vegetables and cutlery. I’m sure these people aren’t mad. I’m pretty sure that they don’t actually believe that their household bric-a-brac have lives and feelings and gender identities. I fully understand that letters aren’t alive, and I’m sure that other personifying synaesthetes also have a sure grasp on reality, but all the same the idea does sound more than a little bit flakey, like an old lady holding a tea party for her pets. I privately scoffed at my quaint fellow synaesthetes gifted with the ability to discern the gender of a Bromeliad or a Hoya. Then one day I chanced upon a discussion between synaesthetes about the sexes and ages of different types of cutlery. A crazy idea for sure, but the suggestion that a fork could be male just didn’t feel right. A fork has such an elegantly rounded shape. No way could a fork be male, when it is self-evidently female! Forks always have been women (?) and knives men (!) for as long as I remember. It’s a self-evident truth, but also utterly irrational and nonsensical. Sounds like synaesthesia.

Sculpture by the Sea 2012 at Cottesloe Beach starts today. I can’t wait!

Sculpture by the Sea http://www.sculpturebythesea.com/Home.aspx