"Things have their root and branches. Affairs have their end and their beginning.
To know what is first and what is last will lead near to what is taught in the great learning."
Confucius, from The Great Learning, (500 B.C.E), translated by Ezra Pound
THE LEARNING continues the artist’s ongoing exploration of the relationships between language, reading and codification. The work has been inspired by the forest as an archetype which represents a site of testing and transformation, and makes reference to two philosophical texts. The first is one of the four books of Confucianism, which offers a guide for moral self-cultivation. This is achieved through learning, or ‘the investigation of things’, which leads to a state of balance and harmony through a better understanding of the world. The second is Spinoza’s Ethics, a controversial text first published in 1677 that critiques traditional philosophical conceptions of God, nature, the mind, the emotions, the intellect and the universe. Spinoza’s works were subsequently banned by the Catholic church and were studied in secret until they were translated from Latin into English in 1856 by George Eliot. They have influenced many philosophers and thinkers including Goethe, Hegel, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Deleuze.
THE LEARNING has also been inspired by the minimal formal beauty of the numerals zero and one, the two symbols that are the basis of all digitally produced information. The all-pervasive emergence of the digital in contemporary life and its unstoppable creep into the natural world is therefore at the heart of the project.
The exhibition consists of three interconnected elements: a video projection accompanied by an audio track, two large scale suspended sculptures and a series of eight framed images.
The video features a woman sitting at small table in a forest. She wears glasses made from tree rings and in front of her is a large old book with pages that appear to be completely blank. The woman turns the pages very slowly, pausing at each as if able to read something that we cannot see. The audio track is haunting and otherworldly, suggesting that something unexpected is about to happen.
The eight digital images are double page spreads from the book that features in the video, seen from directly above. These pages depict ghostlike traces of maps, diagrams, text from Spinoza’s Ethics and other mysterious objects. It is as if we are seeing what the woman wearing the wooden lenses sees.
The sculptures are a large scale, silver wood grained ‘zero’ and ‘one’ that hang just a few centimetres from the floor of the gallery and move very slowing, spinning from their central axes. They represent the merging of the natural world with the digital, and the organic with the inorganic; they suggest the presence of an unknown but powerful force.