Last weekend, as I was standing in the middle of Parcel 5 in front of a small planet preparing for liftoff, on a beautiful warm night, all drugged up with preventative migraine medication, under the close watching of a giant floating eyeball, I could not help but think about the purpose of art.
This is a giant floating monster puppet nuzzling a giant glowing planet and/or egg. I don't know what it means, and given the introduction of a ringed planet later, I think the show was supposed to take place in space. But I kept getting the feeling that I was standing on a seabed looking up at the strange creatures of the ocean.
Watching sea/space creatures floating through huge cement towers is surreal. For the duration of the show, the city was a place of wonder and delightful confusion. I had no idea what any of it was supposed to mean, but I admired the confidence of its strangeness. Particularly once the sperm arrived.
The sperm were lovely. But it was at this point that an idea came to me, an image of a woman talking to her neighbor.
Neighbor: What does your daughter do?
Woman: Oh, she tours the world with a balloon-puppet show which requires her to dress in black and dash through crowds carrying a glowing spermatazoon on a pole.
Neighbor: I'm not shocked in the least, for she and you and I are all French.
In a move that would no doubt confuse and alarm any preteen in a sex ed class, the next thing that happened was the sperm spent some time noodling around by the egg-planet (not eggplant, but egg planet, to be clear), which then began a kind of launch process.
This really was very impressive and beautiful and made me feel like a small child at a magic show. Perhaps the purpose of art is to remind you of previous states of being - namely, someone young enough to feel that everything is new and amazing. Or to foretell future states of being, in which you are old enough to feel that nothing is new, it is only rediscovered, reinterpreted, and re-represented. Humans will always be humans and feel the same emotions, regardless of the different things that trigger them. Or will they?
Last week I watched a video of Neil deGrasse Tyson in which he demonstrated how three dimensions would appear to a consciousness that only understands two dimensions, thereby demonstrating that some things that seem inexplicable to us in our three-dimensional world might be explained by the existence of a fourth dimension. I was simultaneously overwhelmed with awe and deeply sorrowful that human lifespans are so short - I'm desperate to know what it would be like if humans evolved to be able to grasp and make use of four dimensions.
In all honesty, I am hoping this would allow us to apparate. I hate airplanes.
But the point is: What if there are four-dimensional emotions? Ways of feeling that we can't currently conceive of? According to Lisa Feldman Barrett, emotions are based on interoception, meaning the physical sensations inside your body (like hunger), which are very basic: pleasantness, unpleasantness, arousal, and calmness. What we think we feel emotionally comes from our reaction to those internal sensations, which are learned and influenced by our frames of reference. If we expanded our frames, goodness knows what we might discover in ourselves.
Interoception, according to the radio show Invisibilia, where I learned about this, is like having an inner eye that is always focused on you rather than looking out. I'm not sure this is what Plasticiens Volants was aiming for, but the above photo seems apt.
The photo below, showing the egg-planet in flight, once again put me in mind of the ocean: it's reminiscent of coral. Or a rock that has been subject to honeycomb weathering. Later, an eye appeared inside the lattice.
Eyes were a big theme of the show.
For a long time in the beginning, there was just one eye, one of the white ones. It just floated here and there with no apparent purpose. I asked my friend, "What is it doing?" She said, "Lookin' around."
There was much to look at.
I know what some kinds of art are for. I know because they tell you what they're for. Art like this does not tell you, it just happens around you and your body scrambles to decide: pleasantness, unpleasantness, arousal, or calmness? And it freaks out a little, because none of these sensations are triggered more than any other. Art like this, that baffles even your interoception, seems like the closest we can currently get to fourth-dimension emotions.
Photos are by me, of a Rochester Fringe Festival show by Plasticiens Volants called "Big Bang."
If you'd like Neil deGrasse Tyson to blow your mind about how many dimensions there are, watch this video.
Lisa Feldman Barrett's book is How Emotions Are Made The Secret Life of the Brain. I haven't read it but it looks fascinating.