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Toril Johannessen

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Transcendental Physics

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TRANSCENDENTAL PHYSICS

Toril Johannessen

Modern Art 200-level, Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies, subject area: art history, University of Bergen

9 February 2010, 14.15–16.00. Sydneshaugen skole, auditorium Q.

 

Key terms: illusions, minimalism, spirituality, the 4th dimension

 

Abstract

 

Experimental science and concept art have one thing in common: both involve methodical investigation and a systematic approach in pursuit of consistent conclusions. Results in the artistic field, however, do not have to be strictly logical or rational, and, as we shall see, not necessarily always in the field of science either.

This lecture will look at the relation between natural science and minimal forms of expression, and at mysticism and spirituality, with special reference to the lives and practices of the German scientist Johann Zöllner (1834–1882) and the Canadian-American artist Agnes Martin (1912–2004). In their respective ways, both worked systematically and methodically, Martin with a focus on geometry, Zöllner using the scientific techniques of his day, while the objects of their investigations were various dimensions of the spiritual.

Agnes Martin’s meticulous paintings and drawings are composed primarily of horizontal lines, fields and grids. In the 1960s, early in her career, Martin’s works were associated with minimalism and concept art. Despite an anti-narrative approach and formal similarities with contemporary minimalists, both her method and the themes she addressed differed considerably from those of the latter. Martin pursued inspiration, beauty, truth and joy in her art and life via an attitude that raised the impersonal and the disinterested to an ideal. Painting was part of a spiritual, intuitive, inspired experience, something many observers claim can be felt in the direct encounter with her artworks. Martin has described her work as abstract expressionism.

Johann Zöllner was in his day a highly respected scientist. He was, among other things, an astronomer and instrument maker with a particular interest in optical phenomena. By experimenting on optical illusions, Zöllner developed skills that allowed him to see through illusions and to explore perceptual abilities, both his own and those of others.

Zöllner was also interested in natural phenomena that defied rational explanation, and which were consequently often categorised as miracles. He subjected such phenomena to scientific experiment and introduced the term ”Transcendentalphysik”.  According to Zöllner, some people have special sensory capacities beyond their own consciousness, which give them access to phenomena that others are unable to sense. The process of gaining access to such phenomena he termed “inspiration”. His basic attitude towards spiritist experiments was one of scepticism, but in his collaboration with the American “medium” Henry Slade, he believed he had found someone with clairvoyant abilities. For Zöllner, these abilities were empirical evidence for his theory of a 4th dimension, to which Slade had access.

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Transcendental Physics

Abstract
Abstract for lecture at the University of Bergen, Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies, subject area: art history. 9 February 2010, 14.15–16.00. Sydneshaugen skole, auditorium Q.

 


Thanks to Dr. Klaus Staubermann for generous input on the subject of Johann Zöllner.