Sneak peek: Prisoner’s Cinema

Last summer I announced that I started work on a new book, and at the time I intended to have the bulk of the artwork finished before I went to university in August. Of course, it didn’t turn out that way. Recently, however, I have started a enough new pieces for it that I feel confident showing a series of samplers. All of the following are 80–95% finished — or might actually go in the book as they are now.

I give you (a taste of) Prisoner’s Cinema:

“Prisoner’s cinema” is a form of entoptic phenomenon that occurs in isolation prisoners (hence the name) as well as others who have spent extended periods deprived of visual input, ie. in darkness or with their eyes closed, for example in extensive, deep meditation. The resulting spectacle is comparable to the trip afforded by psychedelic hallucinogens, described as a “light show” produced entirely within the visual system. A layman’s explanation for the phenomenon is that the visual cortex, deprived of stimuli, will fire random feedback into the optic nerve.

In his book The Mind in the Cave (2002), cognitive archaeologist David Lewis-Williams argues that geometric patterns and otherwise non-figurative motifs in upper paleolithic cave paintings are depictions of these entoptic visions or “form constants”, and that the seclusion of most known cave painting sites are directly related to their lack of light, making them particularly inducive of visual deprivation. It stands to reason that these deep caves were sites for initiation rituals during which the shaman experienced visions that s/he would reproduce on the cave walls; in fact, Lewis-Williams identifies three increasing stages of this “intensified state of consciousness” which are closely mirrored in paleolithic cave motifs.

With my current work, I want to present a modern-day equivalent of these internal visions — the structure of the brain making itself manifest on our optic system, as Lewis-Williams puts it — not on a cave wall but in the form of a book, a not-quite-modern means of seclusion from the world, but far younger than the rock images of Lascaux or Chauvet. Unlike my last book, When the Last Story is Told, Prisoner’s Cinema will offer a semblance of structure, loosely based on and adapted from Lewis-Williams’ proposals.

There are several reasons that I was enticed by this frame of concept: To begin with, my recent work tend toward visual research of participatory investment of a spectator in the creation process. That is, leaving non-figurative motives just suggestive enough that readers care to put a bit of themselves into the work and add to its meaning. The idea of images that emerge not from the visual world but from the neurological system with which we interpret that world — it was impossible to pass up.

Less theoretically, I want to shine a light on the treatment of prisoners, particularly in countries where the total isolation that produces this hallucination is used as a reinforced punishment. The effects of prolonged solitary confinement include decreased mental faculties and sense of time, hallucinations both visual and auditory, anxiety and paranoid delusions. In 2013, it was estimated that half of all US prison suicides happened in isolation cells.

Prisoner’s Cinema is planned to include about a hundred works of collage with monotype, and I hope to have it finished about a year from now. There is as yet no publisher attached, but that usually sorts itself out along the way.