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A New Formatting of perception
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A New Formatting of

Dr. med.
Ursula Davatz, Washington, D.C., USA

An information is a difference

which makes a difference

Gregory Bateson

Human perception is determined by our sensory
organs and our brain, evolution's most complex product. More specifically,
it is formed, via the socialization process within culturally conditioned
systems of values, by tradition, religion, fashion and the dictates imposed
by the spirit of the age or Zeitgeist of existing economic and
political systems, by educational programs and other learning processes.
We refer to this refined programming of our system of processing stimuli
as the formatting of perception.

The Zeitgeist dictates what human beings are meant to believe,
to see, to hear, to feel, to eat and to taboo within their specific culture
area. Phenomena that do not comply with the Zeitgeist, the culture
area and its traditional systems of values are not perceived, but are
suppressed or erased.

Human perception is therefore restricted in its range. Without exception
only a certain section in the variety of the real world is accessible
to conscious perception. The intuitive or subconscious perception of reality
is greater than the conscious one, but it is not easy to access. The part
of reality we perceive subconsciously is stored - if at all - in the memory
of our subconscious. A reality previously tabooed in education or religion
is actively denied access to memory by our conscious control mechanism.
Every culture area, every religion and every era develops and cultivates
its own very specific perception section and, consequently, creates its
own perception taboos.

Even Sigmund Freud (note on the «Wunderblock» in 1925 [1924], textbook
edition, vol. III, Frankfurt; Fischer 1972, pp. 363-369) delved into the
phenomenon of human perception and memory as well as their recording as
«permanent memory traces». In one of his writings of 1900 he voiced the
assumption that the human perception's «unlimited ability to take things
in» and the recording of «memory traces» in the memory are due to two
different systems. He describes one system as «wide-awake consciousness,
which takes in perceptions, but preserves no permanent trace of them,
so that it can again behave like a blank page towards every new perception».
He sees the other as a «memory system at the rear», which retains and
stores the «permanent traces of perception». He then continues with the
hypothesis that «the inexplicable phenomenon of consciousness in the system
of perception takes over from the permanent traces». He compares
this system of human perception and human memory to a small device called
a Wunderblock, a magic slate, then sold in the shops and which
«promises to offer more than a sheet of paper or a slate».

This Wunderblock consists of a dark wax tablet covered by a celluloid
foil, which has a sheet of transparent wax paper on the lower side. The
pressure applied by the slate pencil presses the wax paper onto the wax
tablet, creating a dark script on the otherwise whitish grey surface of
the celluloid. The detachment of the wax paper from the wax tablet erases
the writing, clearing the Wunderblock for fresh notes. Closer scrutiny
of the surface of the wax paper and the layer of wax reveals traces of
all the former inscriptions by the slate pencil, but they are no longer
decipherable, as they all overlap each other.

Freud realizes «a remarkable match» between this Wunderblock and
what was for him the «assumed structure of our perception instrument».
On the one hand, both are endowed with a «constantly available reception
surface», on the other, they can supply «permanent traces of the recordings
received», with the minor difference that the permanent traces in the
case of the Wunderblock on the layer of wax below are hard or virtually
impossible to decipher whereas the memory often alters the permanent traces
but is capable of raising them to the surface again.

The memory or system of recollection, storing perception and thus permitting
consciousness, is additionally subject to a formatting process, in our
view. This formatting process influences the storage of our perception
and hence consciousness, which, as Freud says, «takes over from the permanent
traces», i.e. the memory. Our culturally conditioned formatting therefore
establishes which parts of our perception we can store and which parts
we cannot, what may be included in our consciousness and what not.

Power and Perception

Artists, researchers and founders of religions are often individuals whose
perception is well in advance of commonly held perception. They have a
very specific ability to perceive and present new things intuitively,
thus forming people's perceptive abilities in the future. Sometimes they
are so far ahead of their time, the political, religious and economic
order - Jesus of Nazareth, Giordano Bruno - that they have to pay with
their lives, or are not publicly rehabilitated until centuries later -
as in the case of Galileo Galilei, who proclaimed: «Und sie bewegt sich
doch», or Copernicus with his new view of the world. Perception is so
closely linked to power that frequently not until existing power structures
have been significantly weakened or an empire has collapsed is mankind
in a position to actually see the new conception of the world.

If these people are only a few years or decades ahead of the Zeitgeist,
the artist - Mozart, for example - is criticized for «a few notes too
many», or society rejects the aesthetic product, considering it to be
ugly and unaesthetic, as in the case of Van Gogh, for example. Should
the pioneers of human imagination be «just a few minutes» ahead of their
time, they may trigger upheavals in the transformation of perception in
human collectives. They cause an immediate change in perception and thus
a general transformation of the Zeitgeist (Goethe, Mahatma Gandhi,
The Beatles, Gorbachev).

From «more geometrico» to «more biologico»

A main characteristic of Da Vaz's approach to his oeuvre is that he never
proceeds on the basis of an internal conception or idea before beginning
a picture. He has nothing specific, no inner object, as it were, as his
basis. His creative approach is not directed by any central volition.
He therefore has no choice but to disappoint all the observers who ask
him about his prior inner picture with the answer: «No.» The artist had
no «pre-concept» before starting on the work. Da Vaz relies on his «emotionless
feeling». His basic approach is one of concentration in confrontation
with reality. When asked how the whole is structured, he simply says:
«According to the most arbitrary of criteria».

The thought that «the most arbitrary criteria» could guide the process
of intellectual order would have filled Descartes with horror, as he,
in his discourse on the method, compares the process of intellectual order
«...with the regular spaces that an engineer marks out on a plane on the
basis of a free draft».

We all know from our own experience where the Cartesian method has taken
us to, as our thought structures are still at the same Cartesian point
of view: at the «more geometrico». Allowing our gaze to wander across
such «locus of centralized organizational systems» we see: dirigisme
and standardization in economy, education and culture. We also see: forests
reduced to timber plantations, wild nature to leisure parks, sensuousness
to consumerism and sensationalism.

Giambattista Vico, the founder of modern historical thinking, perceived
this before. In his New Science he relates the history of civilization
as a short story. «The order of human affairs progressed as follows: first
there were the forests, then the huts, then the villages, then the towns
and finally the academies.»

Vico leaves not the slightest doubt that ever since the existence of academies
the woodlands cleared for cultivation begun to turn into deserts. That
was back in 1744 when Vico's New Science was published.

The history of the foundation of modern art commences with the perception
of the «inner forest-like character of our human nature». In ancient Greek
philosophy the «forest» returns to the «City» in the figure of Dionysos,
the god of sensuousness.

The life origins of modern art lie in surrealism, which, via impressionism
and expressionism accompanied by an unforeseeable abundance of impulses,
triggered the destructuring of human values and thinking patterns. Out
of this «forest» comes movement into the «City», into the «more geometrico».

Using the metaphor of the «forest» again we may relate the history of
our civilization in the following way:

There were those that descended upon the forest to burn it down, to hew
and clear the rampant vegetation there. In the oldest epic of humanity
Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk, is portrayed as the first adversary of the
forest. He seeks to conquer the wooded «Mount of Cedars», to kill the
forest demon and to fell the trees. He wants to enter this land and establish
his name.

There are the others who leave the «forest» for the «City» but taking
with them considerable unrest into the laboriously acquired order of man-made
environment. We call them «the biologists», for they take the «more biologico»,
the seeds of growth, into every closed system of values, deconstructing
the structure which was built with such tremendous effort and strain.

Da Vaz doubtless comes «from the forest». His approach harbors the seeds
of change, of constant transformation. Da Vaz' path hews a «clearing»
into the established intellectual order to make room for the «inner forestness»,
he erects a «wildness of the unseen», interruptions into our reasoning,
gaps in our formalistic thinking, in short, he is applying a reversed
clearing process.

We err, we are definitely mistaken to ask about the sense of it all. «The
question as to its reason», says Da Vaz, «is most likely a question of
power, a question as to the control of what has not yet been configured
in the mind. This excessive desire for knowing all the answers lures one
into the heroic assumption that one has to be enlightened, at any time
and in any place. This excessive control lowers the motivation for creative
commitment and curtails any inner risk-taking.»

His later addition of titles to some of his works, usually appended years
or even decades afterwards, does not mean that they are intended as a
form of explanation or designation of the contents of his work. On the
contrary, he uses them as a contrast in a debate with the pictures. He
says: «The concept to use titles as a gameplan, as an elementary expression
of literary perspective may open a possible access to the picture».

The effort needed to approach an unknown message is not diminished as
a result, however. The time required to format our perceptivity takes
longer than our attention span or the endurance of our curiosity may hold
out. The basic attitude of our mind towards change is quite often one
of inertia and resistance to any re-formatting of our sensory perception;
it is human propensity to cling to tradition. If our perception is re-formatted
nevertheless, our attitude towards change activates our intuition, our
quest for new horizons is set in motion, and our perception starts an
autonomous creative process. «Thinking is acting on trial», says Da Vaz,
«and perceiving is what leads on from there».

Perception and Content

Da Vaz ranks as one of the visual artists capable of strongly influencing
human perception. In a purely formal sense he is regarded to be an abstract
artist, i.e. he does not portray a material world of objects. His point
of departure is therefore not the concrete perception of the object world.
And yet Da Vaz is not a deconstructivist in the traditional sense, who
distorts the real world like Picasso, Chagall or Dali. Nor is he a concrete
artist of abstract painting such as Mondrian or Bill. His pictures are
not graphic-aesthetic works of art composed of geometric forms and colours.
He does not deconstruct the moral-ethical values of our society, either,
like Beuys, Warhol or Kienholz.

Da Vaz is a deconstructivist of the «new kind». He destructures perception
per se by starting out from «nothing». He says: «I proceed on the assumption
that the greatest possible creative power consists in nothing».

Da Vaz's forte is the new formatting of perception per se. His art leads
the human senses through worlds of unfamiliar sensation without offering
us any guideline assistance in the content. As if on a mental roller-coaster,
he accelerates the observer's perception across the surface of the picture.
He alters, distorts and deforms the image of customary three-dimensionality.
No sooner does one start to believe that one can cling to something concrete
in the content of the picture than the rug is pulled from under one's
feet. Without any prior warning one is whipped into a new whirlpool of
perception, into another corner of the picture. Da Vaz deforms the process
of perception per se and not the content. «Content» says Da Vaz, «is deep-frozen

Although a painted picture, unlike film, embodies a static representation,
Da Vaz is still able to make his drawings and paintings set us in constant
motion. Even though we fail to comprehend what it is that moves us, to
find any concrete content, purpose or meaning, our perception is moved
nonetheless. We perceive processes, we perceive movement in the picture
and in ourselves.

This is a new art experience in the area of human perception, triggering
a feeling of anxiety in some observers, probably because they can no longer
gain their bearings from fixed, traditional contents. Their bearings in
space and content are lost. Consequently, it is possible to view the paintings
from all angles; there is no obligatory top and bottom, they can be turned
in another direction and a new content, i.e. a new perspective is revealed.
This dis-orientation in customary three-dimensionality affords a new perceptual

Perception as a Process

The perception of processes, developments, restructuring and distortions
corresponds very closely to the reality of the modern globally networked
world in constant flux and development. Da Vaz therefore acquaints us
with the complex world of the 21st Century through the medium of visual
evolutionary perception. He formats our perception afresh; he takes us
away from the visually static perception of contents fixed in terms of
meaning and value, also named idioms, conveying to us the perception of
processes and procedures with no beginning and no end, setting our imagination
into never-ending motion as if we are caught up in a «perpetuum mobile».
Via his paintings we are directly tuned into the pulse of life, which
perpetually generates fresh energy in us on both the cognitive and the
emotional level.

Da Vaz and his portrayals repeatedly dissolve the boundaries of our traditional
perception, of our characteristic visual programming to lead us into an
unfamiliar virtual world of new symbols that, because of their dynamic
interaction, create a rich visual experience. He escorts us away from
the three-dimensionally portrayed world of reality to a multi-dimensional
virtual adventure world of the senses. The end result is successful, not
only in his colour paintings but also in his black and white drawings.
Even with the simple means of a pencil, rapidograph or even ball-point
pen he is able to generate a multi-dimensional world in time and space.

Whereas the «permanent traces» can be seen as an accumulation on the surface
of the wax paper of the Wunderblock described by Freud, yet they
cannot be deciphered, nor can the Wunderblock "'reproduce' the
erased writing from the inside", it is possible to decipher and experience
the recordings of the «psychograms» in this Wunderblock by Da Vaz.
His «Prozessgrammatik», engraved on the drawing paper, is accessible,
drawing after drawing Da Vaz' Wunderblock
harbors models for a new formatting of our perception.