Ambidelious Intuition

Palazzo Fortuny
13 May – 26 November 2017
Ambi: on both sides (Latin)
Delia: from delos: clear, manifest (Greek)

When I was a young person I went to the university and I learned a rational language, to think with the left side of the brain. But in the right side of the brain you have intuition and imagination. Words are not the truth; they indicate the way to go, but you need to go alone, in silence. Symbols have a language that kills the words. Alejandro Jodorowsky

When I arrived at the Palazzo Fortuny, I had completely no idea if and how the induction was going to work. It is difficult to test inductions in my studio because it's always best to test new projects with people who are completely unfamiliar with my work, in other words strangers, and I happen to be friends with everyone on my hill.
I also need a quiet window, which is rare as the rooster crows all day next door and the helicopters are busy looking for gang-members in the valley below.
I got as far as purchasing the clay and demonstrating the idea to a curator friend who was on a studio visit, but she had to leave before I could take her through an induction. On the other hand, I also don't like to rehearse projects, as they should be fresh and driven unconsciously. I feel that trying hypnotic inductions out encourages my conscious mind to slowly take charge and before you know it, the project is strategic and forced, rather than unconscious and flowing.
The proposal I had suggested to the curators Axel Vervoordt, Daniela Ferreti, Anne-Sophie Dusselier, Dario Dalla Lana and especially Davide Daninos who was instrumental in including me in the Fortuny exhibition, was to explore the process of simultaneous automatic writing. I actually had no idea if such a thing had been tried out, but I did discover through Davide that the Arte Povera artist Alighiero Boetti had tried some experiments in mirrored writing in the past and actually there was a beautiful example of his work included in the Intuition exhibition. I had also had an astonishing encounter 3 years previously with a certain Brigitte Slama who could write any series of words in a mirrored script with left and right hand simultaneously. But rather than mirrored writing, where the two sides of the brain are in liaison, I was more interested in developing a line of exploration that evolves from André Breton’s automatic writing or psychic-automatism, with the twist being to see if different sides of the mind could wander in completely different directions at the same time. Furthermore, I am more interested in automatic drawing than writing, as drawing relates to a more primary, sense and form based functioning of consciousness. Writing relates to language, which is generated primarily in the frontal lobes of the brain, whereas drawing is generated in the parietal lobes.
Davide was aware of a performance I had done a few years previously called ´Doors of Perception’ at Aldous Huxley's old house in the Hollywood Hills.
That project had focused on the idea of an unconscious portal and then rendering the vision automatically with one hand. So I thought: why not extend the experiment and do it in a simultaneous, ambidextrous way? I had used clay in that experiment as a writing or drawing surface: I liked the idea of a tactile, dimensional kind of 'paper', which responded to emotional pressure. Manfred Clynes many years previously had set up his 'Sentics' experiments where the pressure and time that a subject applied to a button became an indicator of emotiove investment in an idea.
I was also fascinated by the abilities of 17th century ? Flemish painter Lucas Jordaens ´el rápido, ´ to paint with both hands at once: what does it mean when both sides of the brain have expression over one idea? Is there a conflict or is it resolved harmoniously? Or even more interesting, is it possible for both sides of the brain to be in two completely different emotional states and follow diverging narrative journeys.
In my mind, I had been going over and over how the mechanics of the hypnosis inductions could work in terms of the left and right hand of a normal person working simultaneously with different narrative and emotional feeds.
Originally I had thought of building a surface that had two different sides to it
In my initial proposal to Davide, I wrote: “In order to activate both sides of the brain at once, one needs to entrain the mind to separate into two, through a hypnotic process. This technique can be encouraged by setting a sensory stage that exaggerates the difference physically. This could be done with the help of a platform to lie on, or an arm chair which is divided down the middle. One side is cold and flat, the other warm and inviting. The left brain, also known as the 'mute prisoner,' is encouraged with the softer, carpeted texture, whereas the right brain, the normally dominant side is treated with a colder texture.” The conversation about inductive furniture took an interesting turn as it seemed that the curator and architect of the exhibition, Axel Vervoordt had a company that makes furniture. Without knowing much about how Axel works and what his interests are (though he has a huge almost god-like following!), the furniture idea was steered towards old 17thCentury Spanish chairs. On the one hand, growing up in Spain with these ´poltrona ´ type chairs seemed like a natural and coincidental fit, but on the other, conducting hypnosis sessions on chairs that were probably quite at home in the inquisition seemed like a dark starting point and one which I feared would negatively impact visitors ´ sense of ease. Nevertheless we went ahead with the plan and also had special pedestals made for the right and left hand clay tablets to sit easily within hand ´s reach of each visitor. The final addition to this set up, apart from the dimensional paper-like clay, was a stylus for each hand, which I had carved out of balsa wood one full-moon night at my home in front a roaring bonfire, while my son Jasper made marsh-mallows. These were cast in bronze to give weight, so that the hands drawing automatically would engage into the surface of the clay tablets. The styluses also had varying textures to draw attention to the sense of touch and away from our usual way of engaging with our surroundings, that is to say through vision. The place reserved for the performance was on the top floor and could not have been a warmer and more magical place. There was a sense of intimacy and the wall terra-cotta colored walls gave a womb-like feeling to the place. There was a view out of the array of byzantine-gothic windows and across rooftops that reflected warm hues back into the dream-like space. Aside from the inductive seating arrangement, I was wondering if I would start with automatic drawing suggestions on one hand and then on the other, and then trigger the drawing process simultaneously, once the suggestions were anchored in each hand? Or would the project need to be more timid in its approach, encouraging one hand to draw automatically followed by the other, and he idea of drawing with both hands simultaneously would be more of a conceit that never actually happened. I was encouraged by the model of the octopus, through a book I have been reading called "Other Minds" by Peter Godfrey-Smith, which details how octopuses have a kind of semi-autonomous action in their arms. I was surprised to read: 'Further, much of the cephalopod's nervous system is not found within the brain at all, but spread throughout the body. In an octopus the majority of neurons are in the arms themselves, nearly twice as many as in the central brain.' Each arm is like an intermediate-scale actor and seems to have a kind of semi-independent consciousness: 'So it seems that two forms of control are working together in tandem: there is a central control of the arm's overall path, via the eyes, combined with a fine-tuning of the search by the arm itself.' (Pp 67 and 69).
The catch is that we separated on the evolutionary ladder some 500 million years ago, so there is almost no likelihood of any residual semi-autonomous neurons in our own arms. But still the model of an octopus could perhaps be used in the narrative suggestions at the beginning of the performance. Explaining plausible facts helps condition the visitor to accept mental and physical possibilities that they would not usually consider to be doable.
When exploring biology and the body in relation to automatic writing, it ´s useful to be aware that, unlike the octopus, our limbs come with their own structures and constraints. The arm can only flex through certain angles, the wrist too, which gives rise to a certain set of pre-conditioned motions. This reality corresponds to an area of psychology known as ´Embodied Cognition. ´ According to this line of thought, information is encoded within the structure and organization of the body and on that same basis, a route to automatic drawing and writing should be nothing more than releasing the information that is already embedded in the arms and wrists and that corresponds to body-based over mind-based knowledge. This body-based knowledge, once released, may actually reverse the mechanism of control back towards the mind, and create new or recovered patterns of thinking. In this way, exploring automatic writing is more than just an eccentric exercise, but rather a way to encourage a more visceral response to living.
In terms of advanced planning, I do, however, begin to sketch out inductive 'scores' long before I do a performance, as sketching has an automatic quality to it and narratives can develop that I would never have thought about consciously. I also usually produce a menu system that randomizes the narrative process of the hypnotic induction. This is a method I have developed of allowing visitors to control the narrative, as I like to reverse the cliché that the hypnotist is 'controlling' the trance process. In this particular case, I thought it would be interesting to directly tie into the Fortuny Museum exhibition theme of 'Intuition,' by encouraging visitors to run their finger over the top of a box with a grid painted on it, and 'feel' a place on the grid that seemed right to determine the narrative. Under the lid were 30 small compartments, each one of which held an orphaned object which I had found on my travels including in the Arabian Gulf, in Europe or nearer home in Los Angeles. I was interested in orphaned objects, as in as sense, the whole performance was about reconnecting orphaned centers of the brain.
This process of see-feeling was first brought to my attention through studying the life of Surrealist writer René Daumal, who practiced an activity that he termed 'paroptic vision.' For instance, he would attempt to sense the color of a cloth inside an enclosed box, or move around an unfamiliar room blindfolded, without crashing into anything. Whether see-feeling could actually exist or not is another story. Light sensors that turn into eyes over millions of years of evolution have slowly moved through a given animal across generations to end up where we now find them on the creature, such as in the head of mammals or on the top dome of box-jellyfish. Given enough time and training, perhaps we could see through our fingers, and in fact several experiments and innovations exist that use what is called ´sensory substitution ´ to visualize what is around us through our skin, via a special array that turns visual information into a matrix of bumps that can be felt on the tongue or on the back and then is re-translated unconsciously into what is around us.
But in actual fact in this case the 'paroptic' activity was less about seeing through the fingers, than intuiting, since even if you had eyes in your fingertips you couldn't see through a box, surely?
Rather like the story of the octopus having neurons in its arms, the suggestion of sensing things differently is a useful tool to open up visitors to a new way of thinking and releasing him/her into new unconscious processes.
Another aspect of the ambidextrous journey, which came to my mind, is the progressive use of both hands in written communication, on the cellphone while texting and while typing on a computer. This transition from hand-writing with a dominant hand, to using both hands activates both sides of our brain through sensor-motor reflexes. This bi-lateral conditioning could only be beneficial to our project, though in the case of texting or typing, both hands may be activated, but the mind is focused on only one message. Going back to the issue of hand-writing, my mother, Beatriz, had been a victim of over-zealous nuns who had forced her to give up her natural left-handedness (in latin and the church at the time 'left' is sinister) and had been forced to become right-handed. I always sensed that that re-wiring of her natural brain function had been hard on her trying to adjust, often sensing that things were beyond her natural control: just imagine how your unconscious mind feels about doing everything with the wrong hand?
And I think that this issue extends to a certain degree in all of us, since writing became widespread, which is when we became more one-handed than ever. So the recovery of innate ambidextrousness would probably not just be an artistic curiosity, but actually provoke a fundamentally cathartic dynamic in visitors.

The Sessions:
Eight chairs: eight visitors.
Before sitting down, visitors were asked to sign a disclaimer, which among other things was to get a sense of who was left handed and who was right handed, and how much emphasis to put on which hand during the session. In general my approach was to de-activate the dominant hand and give more freedom of expression to the non-dominant hand. When everyone was right handed in a session that was easy, but sometimes the sessions were more evenly split, though there was never a session with more than 3 lefties.
I began to realize that visitors, who had already immersed themselves in other floors of the Intuition exhibition, featuring a cascade of eclectic artworks that included Neolithic stellae, a curtain of vapor across a portal, artifacts from various generations of psychic investigators, as well as more contemporary expressions, were already in quite a rapturous daze. They were wonderfully primed so to speak, and the inductions would be that much easier to accomplish.
Each person chose a seat (again as much free-will as possible was being brought to the occasion). Each chair was different, with a unique scar patched up here, or an old floral pattern embossed into the cracked, leathery surface, like the skin of an old crocodile. Some chairs had higher seats and sometimes I needed to steal a cushion from the nearby sofa to put under some dangling legs. I also adjusted the pedestals with the clay tablets so that they were in a very comfortable position, with the styluses also easily accessible.
The induction really started as soon as I opened my mouth, though this is kind of transition phase where the visitor begins to approach the idea of a trance state, without it yet being a formal induction. I would begin to talk about altered states of consciousness: simple and everyday ones, like sitting staring out of a train window, or perhaps how hypnosis in some ways is akin to a psychedelic trip (hence the title Ambi-Delious).
Then, on the first few sessions I used a method of induction that starts off with everyone closing their eyes and then continues by suggesting that you have a magnet in each hand, which is slowly being brought together through its own will. I liked this starting point as it demonstrates to the visitor a kind of autonomy in relation to hands and arms: a sense that they have a life of their own. But then I realized, through listening to people ´s feedback after the sessions, and also trying it out myself, that the clay gave a cold and almost alien feeling to the hands when it came time for the automatic drawing.
Approaching the performances as a kind of psychic lab, I changed the induction so that visitors started with their hands on the clay tablets and I started giving suggestions that there was a heat and energy transfer between the clay and hands (believable and verifiable), and that the clay would warm up and the hands cool down. Then I would also suggest the similarities between clay and our bodies and how in some cultures we were in fact made of clay (drawing out more speculative ideas). In any case, I started to brew this feeling of symbiosis between the clay and the visitors ´ hands.
I also started, in the early sessions, to get 2 different visitors to select the narrative for the left hand and the one for the right hand by showing them the closed box and then asking them to close their eyes and intuitively select a square on top of the box, which would intern trigger the content of the narrative, based on the orphaned object below. I realized that this was a wrong procedure, since it would have more intuitive results if the selections were made while they were already in trance.
So once we had gone through the clay-hand suggestion, and suggestions of body relaxation starting from the head down to the toes, as well as the standard Eriksonian hypnosis journey of ´going down the 10 steps. ´ The visitors were asked to select the narrative by signaling who wanted to choose the left and who wanted to choose the right hand narrative. This signal was done by the minimal gesture of raising the left or right thumb just a few millimeters. The less sensory-motor activity the better, so that the visitors could stay in a deepened state of trance.
As I lead the induction I would walk around inside the closed circle of chairs on the watch for the hand gesture. If I saw a raised thumb, I would grab the orphaned-object narrative induction box and quietly take it to the person. Asking them to remain with their eyes closed in a deeply relaxed state, I would guide their corresponding hand over onto the surface of the small box. Then I would ask them to glide their finger over the box until they sensed the location above which the orphaned object lay inside.
I would then open the box up and put it on a low pedestal with the lid open so I could remind myself of what that object was. When I lead these inductions I find myself in a trance state too, so I need simple cues to help me stay on track. To help with the keeping track of the 2 narratives, I duplicated the box, so there was one for the left hand narrative and one for the right hand narrative. I also made sure that the left hand narrative was on the left pedestal and the right hand narrative was on the right pedestal. As I conduct the inductions I am in a state just slightly more present than sleep-walking so this method helped me keep track of the two basic narratives.
The orphaned objects included everything from an old bottle cap with Arabic writing that I found in the desert beyond Nazwa, Sharjah, to a lost earing that Yi-Ping gave me, to old pieces of glass washed up on the beach, to camel shit, to safety pins. As long as they were distinctly different from each-other and found at random, they qualified as triggers of the narrative inductions. If the same square was chosen on different sessions, the narrative always varied, since I was guided though my unconscious for the story to unravel automatically.
Sometimes the suggestion veered towards a distant and yet recovered memory, such as in the case of a safety pin, but that same element may end up as a more abstracted narrative more to do with the schema of combining 2 objects together.
Once the suggestion for the hand was given, the visitors were asked to have a heightened sense of recall or ideation which pulled in different sensory modalities, such as taste, smell or touch. What I was trying to do was to recruit as many brain centers as possible on the side of the brain that corresponded to that hand. I would usually start the induction with a focus on the non-dominant side, which was always the left hand. Then I would ´park ´ the memory feeling in some part of the hand, and go to the right hand narrative. Once both hands had each had their emotion-story anchored in them, I would do a short count down and help place the bronze styluses in the visitors ´ hands. The purpose of the short countdown, from ´three ´ to ´one ´ is to create a sense of anticipation and focus, and also to trigger the activity, which in this case was to get both hands to draw simultaneously.
To my amazement (and happily I may add) almost all visitors started to draw with both hands at once. I could tell that they were in a deep state of trance through checking their eye movement under their lids, checking that their arms were heavy and relaxed, and from their general body posture, with their head slumping heavily over their chest. The hands magically started to render traces of what was inside each side of the mind. A left hand would be piercing the clay repeatedly, while the right would be rendering geometric forms and angles like an architectural office plotter. Another person would be running parallel lines in one hand and with the other, expressing the most delicate of curved traces.
Admittedly some visitors didn ´t draw anything. Sometimes it was one hand getting stuck and sometimes both. In the case of both hands, usually the issue was that the person was in too deep a trance state to engage their sensory-motor system, and the best approach was to speak louder to them with suggestions of activity. However, if they still didn ´t respond with any automatic drawing I would just let them be. And in the case of one hand getting stuck, I would go over and focus attention on that hand, touch it very lightly and nudge it into action, almost like a car that had got stuck in the sand and needed digging out.
And some visitors were in a lighter trance than others, though onlookers came and went and generally I was able to maintain the inductive ´dome ´ around those taking part in the induction. I had already primed the visitors that there would be noises around them, some of which were from the present and some of which were, perhaps, lingering from people who lived in the palace centuries ago.
The only way that I really knew about what happened during these inductions was to listen to the visitors afterwards. Sometimes the end of the induction was greeted with complete silence, and I would have to go around and pull some of the visitors out of the trance state more emphatically. And after other sessions a conversation would begin to emerge relating to the feelings and sensations as well as the content that was visualized by visitors. My suggestions are always designed to be as vague as possible, so that the ideas and visions emerge as completely as possible from each visitor. In this way too, each visitor has a completely personal experience. It ´s as if you went into the Museum of Modern Art and each painting were absolutely and completely different for each visitor: color, shape, content, size, etc.
Sometimes though it seems that some visitors had visualized exactly the same thing, as a kind of ´morphic field ´ had communicated between them unconsciously. And in one induction, a guy chose a forest mushroom (without knowing in any usual way what he had chosen). The induction took visitors into a forest and even though I never mentioned the word mushroom, he drew on the clay tablet what he had chosen inside the wooden box of orphaned objects.
Returning to the theme of catharsis due to different brain centers being re-connected, more than one visitor ended up in floods of tears. One because of a sensed connection to all the ´evil in the world ´ and an inability to process the pain, and another due to buried memories being recovered unexpectedly.
Here is a note from one of the visitors after the session:
´Thank you for your message and caring for me. I ´m okay again. Your session left me confused, embarrassed, somehow released and bewildered, everything at the same time. I couldn ´t control my emotions what is very unusual for me. You have triggered and opened something in me which was safely locked away for a long long time… It seems like this strong emotion has to find its way out of me, otherwise I have to implode. Obviously, it has to be in the setting of art, otherwise I wouldn ´t have undergone a hypnosis voluntarily. To show my inner soul and my most vulnerable Me in front of you and an audience was definitely not my intention, that ´s for sure. But somehow it was fate that I participate in this session and meet you and that it has to be in this public frame.
I feel a close connection to you but can ´t explain it, because actually, I don ´t know you at all. You have seen my inner Self and I know nothing about you… Isn ´t it also very exhausting and dangerous for you to meet these strong reactions, which you can ´t predict? How do you deal with it? Actually, hypnosis is a form of therapy over a long period, I would not see it as an art performance. For how many years are you practicing it? I guess, that I am not the only person with such a reaction, you must have experienced multifaceted reactions. How do you feel during and after these sessions? Does it also stir you up?
And yes, this session has a profound effect on me. I will never forget this experience. At the moment I don ´t know how to deal with this catharsis and this awareness of this vast sadness inside me. I ´ll let it ease down and will see what happens next… ´
Rather than be thrown off by these engagements with inner pain and fear, I see the process as a creative journey that involves investigations into altered states of consciousness. It is not strictly therapy (though I have studied hypno-therapy), but to deny a cathartic process through the arts is to cut off its origins in more holistic and integral times in which the artist was as much doctor as communicator with the deities. And another way of looking at this process is to think of how the mind can expand beyond its state of ´normal ´ and learn from listening to the quieter and more expansive Intuitive side. The side that creates rather than judges and in the end is not the altered or alien state, but rather the state of being that better responds to the condition of being alive.

Text for catalogue:
The pristine surface of clay rests there under each hand, an ice rink that no one has yet jumped onto, to gouge a trail of her own. No trench or abyss to catch an edge. Just a blank, infinite, soft, silent emptiness.
My minds are in an inward dérive.
For a while now, my corpus callosum presents a hard wall of separation, a barrier between worlds and words so that no utterance may ever jump across.
The other side permeates through though, as the soft midnight thud of neighbours across thin apartment walls, or the bass notes of an argument in the other room.
But the actual messages are blocked.
Instead, thin lines issue forth through my fingertips:
On the one side, from the direction of the mute prisoner,
as jagged aqua threads with sweet points along their slopes.
From the other side, a jumble of cascading tangerine
Incisions, marinated in the sweaty tang of copper.
Paroptic, parauditory, parolfactory: my fingertips branch out through all my feeling strands. The woven threads hover in front of the chair, finally crafting a fabric of heightened sense, of sensibility. The weft gathers, warps and deflects out over the tiled rooftops, away, between the liquid roads of Venice.
Co-produced with Axel & May Vervoordt Foundation Curated by Daniela Ferretti e Axel Vervoordt Co-curated by Dario Dalla Lana, Davide Daninos and Anne-Sophie Dusselier