Three Questions for us all

When it comes to the ways that we see and define the world, there are three questions that each of us should be capable of answering.

One) how does language really work? 

Two) what can it do to help or hinder our wellbeing? 

Three) the question we seldom engage with— why?

Although there are no easy answers to these questions, in pursuing them, they inch us closer to a deeper understanding of our human condition — and more importantly, the power to reshape ourselves within it.

Language — as we use it in music, myth, fiction or fact — is one of our greatest evolutionary tools. It holds the unique ability is to translate the intentions and relationships of authors, subjects, and audiences between themselves. But for many of us, the roots of how we communicate are beginning to erode, leaving them to function as preferences of the worlds around us. In some ways we are losing a sense of the shared foundations used to communicate with one another, which has in many ways diminished the value of language itself. Our capacity to develop communications and to use it creatively is considered an innately human gift. Visual language in particular, forms new insights into how we make sense of the world around us. Many thinkers and artists (myself included) believe that our languages are shaped through venturing across opposing perceptions, which translates one's familiar vantage through an unfamiliar one. Ancient Chinese philosophy might call this principle yin yang, or the idea that all things exist as indivisible and contradictory opposites, where both sides contain parts of their other. This idea opens us to both the positive and negative aspects of the objectives we're uncovering, groups we're hoping to better understand, or the connections we're hoping to expand upon in deeper ways. Used in advertising, popular media, or daily living for that matter, the use of conflicting ingredients comprise the birth of language itself. Whether overt or nuanced, emotional or rational, fact-based or fictional, our cultural evolutions are shaped for better or worse through these opposing forces — or otherness. Finding new measures of unity between them results in the birth of a broader literacy, and we use this in a fantastic variety of ways to wrestle with the disparate and enigmatic parts of our other selves.

The things that fuel our languages are called metaphors, which literally translate to ‘carrying over’ one meaning through that of another. Yet this uniquely human gift is also something we unknowingly use with reckless abandon. The symbols we use in our public messaging often isolate only one side of the language equation. More often than not, messages are left to simply motivate behaviours or appease wants, while seldom addressing the deeper developmental struggles within our larger wholes. But grasping an awareness, and consequently a deeper understanding of the inherent frictions in language can propel our cultural evolutions forward, which in turn can stir behaviours, and in return influences cultures back again, creating something like the cycles of an Ouroboros. The Ouroboros — a snake-like figure devouring its own tail — creates an image of enduring return that has forever shaped our minds, models of thought, and evolving languages. It's this cycle of exchange that has formed the seedbed of thought used here — or Other. How we go about cultivating these seedbeds is what has made us a uniquely ‘poetic animal’. And with this poetic language in hand, our ability to explore opposing views (or otherness) can help us to uncover more sustainable measures across difficult divisions — it's a necessary step for growth and understanding. When our languages are reinforced by like-minded reveries, followers or customized feeds, we're also left to collapse into ever narrower silos of thought.

The benefits of reframing languages and how we see ourselves in them are self-understandings — not just as individuals, but also as societies, groups or clans as a whole. Our successes in navigating groups are rooted in an ability to establish common goals, and to identify how they operate. Languages — including words, image, or music — can help to reimagine (or maybe reconsider) how these goals get realized. And that flies in the face of how we tend to see art and language, often labeling them as, ‘It’s just what I like’. I’ve never been a proponent of this thinking because… well… it’s just plain lazy. The goal here is to build a more robust common knowledge, along with a deeper aptitude for human behaviour and motivation. Understanding our behaviours can help to keep us honest about the varied duplicities that colour our own worldviews.

If I could summarize it best for you, our perceptions hold both virtues and vices. Without these polarities, language and life itself would cease to exist. Realizing that we hold these duplicities is where deeper self-understandings can begin to emerge — and yet the increasing tendency is to believe only 'one' virtuous side of an equation. This is something that's been gestating in our culture for years, and is sometimes that often manifests as the Rashomon Effect — or the belief that only perspective that matters is your perspective. Borrowing from the choreography and countless scripts in our media-centric culture, this idea has come to shape the roots of what this collection explores. ‘Other’ becomes a place where the unseen figures in our lives come to life with a sense of reflection not always present in our public persuasions.

As for the question of 'why' — the pursuit of common goals and long term objectives form a type of bedrock for our sustainable wellbeing. To better discern the objectives shaping it, we need some ability to see past the doctrines of only ‘chosen’ ideologies — no matter how beholden we are to them. Although it may seem easier to see through the prisms of one’s beliefs, history has shown us no cultures that have endured without a diversity of thought and perspective. Other’ has never been about appeasing audiences with wants or whims, or even jingles that appease, instead it’s about challenging us to grow as both groups and individuals, one and other. But it also reminds us that the inherent conflicts between ‘the one’ and ‘many’ are ideas we will continually grapple with. This clash of these forces will never result in a complete equilibrium. If we leap too far towards individualisms, or too far toward to blind universalisms, our societies will inevitability collapse. As we move back and forth between one perception and the other, the language of the arts can help us to gain a more complete sense of the human equations guiding us along this path.

So what’s left? While our ‘eyes’ play a more prominent role in our evolving interfaces, we seem to be caring less for the ingredients that we feed them. The 12 degrees offer a way of rekindling the power of our visual thinking and especially our mind’s eye. Without learning how to discern the duplicity, rhetoric, or deceptions in our seeing ways, we will remain in deep pool of ignorance about them. Here, a way out is called Otherness, or seeing as Strangers to Ourselves. And it’s a skill that’s never been more important. It can teach us about one of life’s most wondrous yet overlooked gifts — our cycles of language, self-understanding and the mind’s eye.

The 12 degrees are rendered here as ‘thought problems’, or living voices common within us all, yet seen through the guise of another process, place, time or face. Together, they create a model of endless inquiry and discovery about our all too fallible human nature.

— michael graf