"If literature has engaged me as a project, first as a reader and then as a writer, it is as an extension of my sympathies to other selves, other domains, other dreams, other words, other territories of concern." — Susan Sontag
Susan Sontag's words capture something of the spirit that drives many artisitc endeavours — the sense of extending our lives through the means of others. Over several years the 12 degrees have mined their material from a vast catalogue of over 350,000 discarded media scripts, articles, performances and assignments that each played with, and sometimes exploited how those means unfold. Commissioning a cast and crew numbering in the hundreds (over 500), the works are set across two mirrored volumes that each render the same material through different stages of the image making ritual. The aim is conjure parts of the stagecraft, or bias that move our pubic and private impressions. Each mirrored volume here serves as an Other, or a complementary way of seeing either fact or feeling, reason or instinct, or one and other. Between the two volumes, the goal is to find alternate ways of seing ourselves, our minds, or simply one's signal from the other's noise.
At its core is a philosophy that attempts to rearrange the roots of our perceptions and the influences that shape them — sometimes considered a visual bias. Reinterpreting everyday categories, 'Other' is a concept similar to what Einstein coined combinatorial play, or the idea of seeing and combining the familiar from unfamiliar positions. This principle echoes with a spirit of 'mindfulness' that is critical to reading and observing ourselves in an image laden landscape. Together, the 12 Degrees offer a sympathetic eye onto the often mindless 'primers' used to distort our appetites and appeals. But you'll notice one recurring theme here that psychologists call a theory of mind, and it highlights the ability to ascribe motivations, performances, beliefs, perspectives to both a self, and to others. It's acknowledging a line of thinking that might differ from one's own. In many ways, to concieve of others requires language and interaction. It can shape us, distort us, inspire us, or lead us astray, and bias can be a factor in its understandings. The 12 Degrees try to imagine the elusive dialogues and biases that shape both viewers and the viewed.
Carl Jung referred to the 'degrees' of our being as archetypes, Plato called them Forms, Kant called them Categories, while Edward Bernays called them the principles of Engineered Consent, or the roles, desires and symbols that motivate a consumer class. However phrased, they are all types of an unconscious projection that not only entertain us, but instruct us in our cultural and societal struggles. The works in both volumes are built using the media image as a contemporary form of myth making, and reflect on what it means to be wakeful authors and audiences to the desires and symbols that populate it. At times, it may seem like a difficult read, asking us to overturn or suspend many of the assumptions that we rely upon in our visual reasoning, calling many of them into question. But with a kind of anthropological approach that traces back values and intentions within others and ourselves, the works become much easier to follow, connecting into a type of central human philosophy.
Nietzsche once called it ‘ridendo dicere severum’ (say what is sombre through what is laughable).
As a whole, the volumes offer a curious challenge to engage with the complexity of human thought from unfamiliar perspectives. If you look closely, you'll notice that both Volume One and Volume Two share the same 'visual genetics' but are rendered through other stages of the reproduction cycle. The two volumes simply mirror one another in spirit, echoing ideas that ask us to look beyond mere surfaces, past the immediate, to discover the depths and follies connecting our shared realities. Nietzsche once called it ‘ridendo dicere severum’ (say what is sombre through what is laughable). These two modes are curiously intertwined here, leaving the viewers and viewed to never be sure which one is working their hand at any one time. It can be provocative, enlightening and slightly unnerving to apply these insights into how we think, see and act the way we do in an atmosphere of social and societal upheaval.
— Michael Graf
Featured below are two examples from both volumes coined the "Other Taste". (The works from Volume Two were captured across four days of auditions that yielded almost 10,000 images).