member of:Observers of the Interdependence of Domestic Objects and Their Influence on Everyday Life

This group has been active for a long time and has already made some remarkable assertions which render life simpler from the practical point of view. For example, I move a pot of green color five centimeters to the right, I push in the thumbtack beside the comb and if Mr. A (another adherent like me) at this moment puts his volume about bee-keeping beside a pattern for cutting out vests, I am sure to meet on the sidewalk of the avenida Madero a woman who intrigues me and whose origin and address I never could have known...
--Remedios Varo

(Slideshow is of Artwork by Remedios Varo)
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
--Franz Kafka

Monday, January 23, 2012

Uncharted Territory: Gina Litherland, Nikola Tesla, and the Eidetic Image

Queen of Uncharted Territory by Gina Litherland

This post is really an extension of the last post (on the paintings of Madeline von Foerster and the magic that brings animals and plants back from the brink of extinction). One idea explored (again) was that our perception of the world could be defined by a latent image of sorts that we then proceeded to animate in endlessly similar variations throughout our lives; this part is more an exploration of the possibilities of changing that image, which, so, so unfairly, is pretty much cemented into place by your fifth year of life.

In recognizing that image and its power we can alter it, though it takes a lot more effort once we're past those tender years of constant play and imagination and we’re fully immersed--and invested-- in an image. One powerful method is to work with your dreams, lucidly re-entering them and changing  aspects, much like moving the furniture around your house to create a more open mood or room for knocking down a wall and putting in widows, etc.

Not good at recalling your dreams? Haven't been successful at achieving lucidity? There are other ways...

The Surrealists tried all types of automatic techniques to allow their subconscious to speak over their egos. There were Exquisite Corpses, which were sentences, poems, stories, or even images put together piece by piece by different players, none of whom could see more than a sliver of what the person before him/her had wrought.  Thus your subconscious is directing communication--both how you try to communicate with others and how they respond to you is a result of the way you are perceiving the universe, and it’s interesting to take part in an activity that reminds you that what’s outside your body is affected by this ‘latent image’. You think you just happen to live in the neighborhood where all the jerks are, but tomorrow they could all be different--if you’re able to change that image.

IMAGE: Exquisitely created new mythological creature by Paul Compton and Priscilla Ambrosini
The second half was created with only a sliver of the first half uncovered to aid in the completion.

IMAGE: Lilly-Putians, by Immy and Mark Tattam. Again, this was divided into a top-half and a bottom-half, with only a sliver of the first part exposed to guide the second artist.

Lillyputians were very tiny people created by writer Jonathan Swift in his novel Gulliver’s Travels. Their name became synonymous with being not just tiny in size, but trivial or petty, due to the satirical nature of his work.  In the above work, they have surfaced as a result of a top/bottom collaborations: what was a stamen becomes a neck, or the flamboyant hair of a person on a television screen.  To me, this image is the evolution of the Lilliputians to something higher. The people are tiny, and their heads are blooms, and the mechanical bits of the bottom merge seamlessly into the flora of the top. Which, when I think about it, is the opposite of how humanity tends to work, at least in the West: we tend to be a bit machine-like with our brains, wanting rules and repeatable experiments and evidence, but a little more animalistic with the body. Here, these beings seem to float—they are not rooted, as plants would be—, and they are further “raised up” by the size of the lovely blooms. Their transition is a transcendence.

If all this seems very professional to you (as it does to me), and therefore difficult to pull off with the necessary sense of ‘play,’ you can try it the way the Surrealists did: by cutting out pieces from magazines and old texts. Someone starts at the top of the page, puts his/her “head”, covers all but a sliver and passes it to the next person.


Try it with words. Give each a part of speech, in this order: Article, adjective, noun, verb, article, adjective, noun. Everyone writes down his/her word without peeking at the others', then they are put down in order to make a sentence.

From this process, of course, one could take one’s favorite parts of various of these sentences and let his consciousness have a go at continuing on with it, using the so-created surprising metaphors and connections to develop something quite grand. Or…leave it as is.

Another way to let the subconscious speak was/is through the technique of Decalcomania. This is done by slopping paint onto a paper or some other surface and then pressing that paper with another and peeling it off. Or folding the paper in half and pressing to create a mirror image. Or pressing that paper onto your canvas and peeling it off. The result leaves chance impressions that can then be developed into whatever images seem to be wanting to emerge.

IMAGE: lion bicycle created via decalcomania by Oscar Dominguez

Queen of Uncharted Territory by Gina Litherland

For example, Gina Litherland says of her painting process:

"While some of my paintings begin with an idea that I have been ruminating over for some time, or are inspired by a particularly compelling book or folktale, others occur quite spontaneously, beginning with a decalcomania underpainting which suggests forms that emerge and develop into a personal narrative. The act of painting becomes a complete process of revelation. A mysterious narrative emerges, Rorschach-like, from a turbulent, chaotic ground of color and texture. Myths, dreams, memories, and phantoms of pigment suspended in medium are in continuous dialogue with one another. Dormant images ignite slowly, as our eyes adjust to their dark submerged brilliance."


"The imagination is a wilderness--liberating, ecstatic, waiting to grow and fly and howl. From a brush dipped in verdigris or terre verte, wilderness waits to creep vinelike over canvases and panels, curling and flowing, collecting on the edges of forms like frost, and sleeping in deep pools of viridian and ultramarine. It grows from poetic associations, unfolding its leaves to reveal shadows and phrases momentarily obscured from view." (Litherland)

It grows from poetic associations.


So once you have an image, revel in it. Make it eidetic. This is key; this is what makes it like a dream, a lucid dream.

Eidetic:  adjective: “relating to or denoting mental images having unusual vividness and detail, as if actually visible.” noun: “a person able to form or recall eidetic images.” This word was a German term coined in the 1920s from the Greek eidētikos , which is from eidos, ‘form.’

Those who can see eidetic images claim that they are so real, they can be inspected for newly-discovered detail, as if the object were actually present, and not simply remembered. The object seems to take physical space, to exist again in front of them, but only for them and not those around them--this is an escape from the limits of consensual reality, in a sense; it is a crack in the wall. The eidetic viewer can see what you can’t, and what he/she sees is as much a physical reality, for him/her, as it would be if you could also see it.

You can try to understand this through over-stimulation of your retina. A blinding flash will often leave a thickly present image on the back of your lids of whatever was in the flash--however, the image jumps and leaves too quickly, and you cannot really inspect it. That type of image is only useful to suggest the thickness, the difference in fullness, of what an eidetic sees. A holograph is another way to think about it. The object, not touchable/tangible or physically present, is nevertheless available for true inspection; more detail than you recall about the object, even more than you actually saw (for example, you can go around the object and see its back-side) is present. Another aspect of this image is that the attendant sound and emotive effects are present; if the image (which can be even a lengthy memory of an event) is present, the entire feeling of the experience of that image is present. This is like what happens under hypnosis or a hallucination: you sink into the image, you exist there, where it “was”--that is how you are able to go around the object, or notice new details about the event. It’s how you re-enter a dream lucidly. It is also (I would posit) how one really manages time travel--because remember that what we’re in right now is an eidetic image; no ‘present’ is any more real than another.

In Sinister Yogis, David Gordon White explains the Buddhist meditation concept of anusmrti as a type of remembering; not just any remembering, it is 'remembrance subsequent to,' or 'methodical remembrance': "Here the core of the practice was to so concentrate one's vision on an image of Buddha or a deity as to be able to subsequently and methodically envision the same image without the need for [a] meditation support."

He calls the technique eidetic imaging, and quotes a fifth-century Buddhist text in which a similar type of meditation, kasina meditation, is described: "The meditator then concentrates on the meditation object until an eidetic image of it can be recalled at will whether or not the external object is present. Briefly, this is a means by which external stimuli can be interiorized, a psychotropic technique by means of which all mental activity can be brought to a single point and concentrated there..."

Then White suggests something interesting: that at the time of these writings, the meditators might have been using oil lamps to contemplate religious cave paintings in this manner:

"The walls of a fifth- to seventh-century Buddhist cave shrine at Simsim, in Chinese Turkestan, for example, are painted with representations of the world of humans on its lower walls, with fabulous mountains above these and the firmament with its supernatural powers at the summit of the vault. The Buddha image inside the cave, half enclosed by the stone into which it is cut, is surrounded by a great, flaming halo, a sunburst of light..."

Staring at this recessed image in the light of an oil lamp against the deep black of the darkness of the cave would make the image against your eyelids very strong once you closed your eyes, and it would stay for some time. Practicing like this, one would then hope to be able to call the image up in its completeness at any time, day or night, in any place and in any situation. The image would then become central to the meditator, almost the effect of carrying a saint within oneself.

"...according to Nyaya-Vaisesika philosophy, all memories are exact transpositions of the past onto the present: if one is but capable of remembering, the content of that memory of the past is wholly actualized in the present and is therefore as true and real as other valid cognitions, such as eyewitness perception, and so on."

In Lucid Waking: Mindfulness and the Spiritual Potential of Humanity, Georg Feuerstein also talks about Buddhist masters of this technique:

"We can witness the same kind of astonishing visualization in some meditation masters of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, who are able to construct complex and extraordinarily vivid inner images of various deities and their divine environments...Also, they are able to maintain these visualizations for hours at a time, during which they move deeper and deeper into the mysterious multilevel world of consciousness."

He shows how this type of imaging will then carry over into physical reality:

"Other Tibetan yogis are able to create so much body heat through visualization that they can sit naked at the top of Himalayan mountain peaks and dry wet cloths on their bare skin, melting the snow around them to boot. Since this extraordinary accomplishment has been captured on film, we know that this is not mere legend or wishful thinking."

But it's not just Buddhists; Feuerstein also talks about Nikola Tesla, who (More than Thomas Edison!) created ways to transmit power over long distances without the use of wires.

Feuerstein says: "Tesla was apparently capable of such vivid visualization, or internal imaging, that he could test his electrical machines without having to build or even draw them. He allowed them to run in his imagination, checked in with them regularly, and determined the wear and tear after so many hours of purely imaginary running. He improved his hypothetical machines by making the appropriate adjustments in his mental imagery. When he was satisfied that an invention was running at optimal performance, he would finally set about building it. His mental simulations invariably proved accurate."

Is it even possible that he made them real before they existed? That they worked because first he imagined them working? And what did he create but light and heat and sound via electricity, this magical power (recall Galvini's experiments attempting to re-inject life in corpses via electrical stimulus, and the later stories of Frankenstein) from the universe brought into our homes. He changed the world, through his imaging.

(Publicity photo of Tesla in his Colorado Springs Lab in 1899 by Dickenson V. Alley)

According to Wikipedia:
At the 1893 World's Fair, the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, an international exposition was held which, for the first time, devoted a building to electrical exhibits. It was a historic event as Tesla and George Westinghouse introduced visitors to AC power by using it to illuminate the Exposition. On display were fluorescent lamps developed by Westinghouse[59] and single node bulbs. An observer noted:

‘Within the room was suspended two hard-rubber plates covered with tin foil. These were about fifteen feet apart, and served as terminals of the wires leading from the transformers. When the current was turned on, the lamps or tubes, which had no wires connected to them, but lay on a table between the suspended plates, or which might be held in the hand in almost any part of the room, were made luminous. These were the same experiments and the same apparatus shown by Tesla in London about two years previous, "where they produced so much wonder and astonishment".”

At the same fair, Tesla demonstrated the first neon light tubes, and he powered the Exposition itself with AC electricity, which was then proven to be a huge improvement over Thomas Edison’s DC Power. Out of anger, Edison used AC currents to create the first electric chair for New York, in order to show that the type of current Tesla was using was deadly.

It is the type of current we still use, however, and hugely more efficient than DC power; Edison eventually had to concede to that fact, and his company switched over to AC power. Tesla also created the first remote-control devices, and demonstrated the first such radio-controlled boat.

The thing about Tesla is this: he was making , basically, spooky action at a distance. Until he figured it out, you couldn't make a rowboat you weren't touching in any way (ie via wires or your hands) move. It was magic. Recall the Arthur C. Clarke quote about any technology, insufficiently understood being the same as magic. The point here is Tesla was able to imagine doing it, focus on that imagined action, and then pull it out into reality. He changed the world.

At the Velvet Rocket , Justin Ames describes Tesla’s work:

“In 1899, Tesla moved his research to Colorado Springs where he devoted himself to experiments with high voltage and electrical transmission over distances. Here he constructed electrical devices of Dr. Frankenstein proportions, most notably his Magnifying Transmitter, a 52-foot diameter electrical coil that was capable of generating millions of volts and sending lightning arcs 130-feet long. Witnesses claimed that they saw a blue glow like St. Elmo’s Fire emanating from the environs of the laboratory, with sparks emitting from the ground as they walked. On one occasion, a backfeeding power surge blacked out the whole of Colorado Springs.”

As I was noting in the last post, you can’t worry too much about ridicule or the reactions of others...

In his autobiography, My Inventions, Tesla said
"In my boyhood...When a word was spoken to me, the image of the object it designated would present itself vividly to my vision, and sometimes I was quite unable to distinguish whether what I saw was tangible or not.
The theory I have formulated is that the images were the result of a reflex action from the brain on the retina under great excitation. They certainly were not hallucinations such as are produced in diseased and anguished minds, for in other respects I was normal and composed.
To give an idea of my distress, suppose that I had witnessed a funeral or some such nerve-racking spectacle. Then, inevitably, in the stillness of night, a vivid picture of the scene would thrust itself before my eyes and persist, despite all my efforts to banish it. Sometimes it would even remain fixed in space though I pushed my hand through it.
If my explanation is correct, it should be possible to project on a screen the image of any object one conceives, and so make it visible (10)."

Now, consider this a ratcheting up of the intensity of the world as you experience it. You see perhaps not a particular funeral but the nightly news, in which things are constantly exploding, dying, being endangered or molested, etc. See how he experiences it with so much intensity, and so he is forced to do something about it. And what does he do?

"To free myself of these tormenting appearances, I tried to concentrate my mind on something else I had seen, and in this way I would often obtain temporary relief; but in order to achieve it, I had to conjure continuously new images. If was not long before I found that I had exhausted all of those at my command; my 'reel' had run out, as it were, because I had seen so little of the world--only objects in my home and the immediate surroundings....Then I instinctively commenced to make excursions beyond the limits of the small world of which I had knowledge, and I saw new scenes. These were at first very blurred and indistinct, and would flit away when I tried to concentrate my attention upon them, but by ad by I succeeded in fixing them; they gained in strength and distinctness, and finally assumed the concreteness of real things. I soon discovered that my best comfort was attained if I simply went on in my vision farther and farther, getting new impressions all the time, and so I began to travel--of course in my mind. Every night (and sometimes during the day), when alone, I would start on my journeys--see new places, cities and countries--live there, meet people and form friendships, and meet acquaintances and -- however unbelievable-- it is a fact that they were just as dear to me as those in real life, and not a bit less intense in their manifestations.
This I did constantly until I was about seventeen, when my thoughts turned seriously to invention. Then I observed to my delight that I could visualize with the greatest facility. I needed no models, drawings or experiments. I could picture them all as real in my mind. Thus I had been led unconsciously to evolve what I consider to be a new method of materializing inventive concepts and ideas, which is radically opposite to the purely experimental, and is in my opinion ever so much more expeditious and efficient."

This is important, because this is where he explains what you're doing when you work on the latent image in your mind of the world you want to be able to see versus tinkering with the physical world around you, which is no more than animating the latent image you already carry:

"The moment one constructs a device to carry into practice a crude idea, he finds himself unavoidably engrossed with the details and defects of the apparatus. As he goes on improving and reconstructing, his force of concentration diminishes, and he loses sight of the great underlying principle. Results may be obtained, but always at the sacrifice of quality."

The studies in the field of psychiatry that have been done on this subject suggest that children around 7-14 are highly likely to have this kind of memory or imagery, and that adults are highly unlikely to. As you grow, it becomes less spontaneous; you have to try, and the energy/interest doesn’t seem to be there. It would seem that this degeneration of the eidetic ability is a result of our coming to more completely accept what is in front of us (the consensual reality, based upon our ‘latent image’) as the only possibility, thus forgetting the agency we could have. Eidetic imaging is a sign of our agency--for being able to see, fully and in all detail, what the person next to you cannot, and being able to accept that vision enough to take the time to inspect it and acknowledge and believe what you have seen is to recognize that you need not be constricted by consensual reality. If you can see it and inspect it, isn’t the next step simply an additional thickening--just a little bit more than what you already have in front of you, and the objects are physical? And if you can convince the person next to you of your vision, then the fingers will feel it when either of you reaches out to test it: the tactile sense, remember, happens in the mind, which is why an amputee can feel a limb, and why, if that amputated limb then brings him considerable pain, he can relieve it by enacting stretches and exercises of the opposite limb by a mirror, convincing his mind that both sides are doing the relieving exercises.

Unfolding its leaves to reveal...

So enter the image, whatever image you have decided on. Feel all of it, use all your senses. Then start tweaking. In the den of your mind, add a chair. A chair of a color that doesn't match the others. Add a pattern. Change the lighting. Move the table. Did you discover a secret hatch underneath it? Maybe you don't see it yet, but go out into the world now, 'awake', aware, and you will stumble onto a secret hatchway of sorts. When it happens, pay attention. Notice that you have just worked magic, because noticing this boosts your belief in your ability, and that belief boosts your ability.

DINNER PARTY, by Gina Litherland
Then come back and tell me about it. Because the fact that you can do it will help me. :)

Gina Litherland's work came to my attention via Jodi LeBirge at Yew Tree Nights .


  1. WHAT a fascinating and stimulating essay! Upon reading it, I realized I have some eidetic ability. I do it with people, but mostly animals, imagining and visualizing, in detail, their lives [or fragments thereof] beyond my, often brief, interaction with them. I thank you for the mental jolt!

  2. that's fascinating--would you say that you recognize any impact on your (external) life as a result of any specific images you've detailed?
    i'm glad you liked the essay :) thanks.

  3. Zoe, this is so inspiring! I really want to try and cultivate this ability now!

    And your discussion of eidetic imaging is fascinating as well. I can remember reading about someone who has a musical variation on this ability, where music plays in his mind. Sometimes he will have two entire symphonies running at the same time, and they are perfect down to the each note being perfectly timed. There were a bunch of studies on this person... I can't remember where I read about it.
    I wonder how this might come in handy, especially in cultures with myths about the world being sung into existence.

    Also, randomly, reading this made me remember visiting the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, which I had totally forgotten about. (The night before I had stood on an overnight bus from Pristina, since it was overfull and there were no seats... this probably helps explain my forgetfulness).

    Also: (Sorry for the source there, I just googled it and the photos there were good).

  4. WOW! jodi--that link was the most unexpected connection! what amazing photos :D it would be awfully fun to dress up like that, to go who knows where. but there you have it: immy and tattam had some subconscious activity going on, created their image and *bam*! the idea sprouted flesh!
    i'm falling over!

    oh, lucky you. the more i read about tesla, the more fascinated i am. and the more appalled i am at the behavior of edison. but i prefer to focus on the fascination. so far, i'm really enjoying his autobiography.

    also, the link you made with singing the world into existence...such a lovely idea, and i had never heard of this person who could have two entire symphonies going in his head at once?? how?? i have to look into that--the book by murakami that started this whole 'latent image' idea for me starts off with the main character riding up an elevator, calculating two very different number series in his mind at once. his ability to think through two processes with such separately is i think what makes it possible to 'see' the choreography between his latent image and the physical reality he experiences...
    and thinking of the music reference, i am recalling a study sacks did with a patient who had been injured and could remember nothing personal, could make no new memories, but could somehow keep playing the piano exquisitely, and learning new pieces by heart. i'll have to go back and dig that up, too. i remember thinking at the time something about whether he could try to associate new people he met with musical themes--if that would help him remember them?


  5. trouve les peintures tellement lumineuses , comme des fixes(peinture sous verre)

  6. Hi Zoe, there are times when I'm behind my camera waiting for a bird or animal to show itself the light will change and something I hadn't seen will suddenly appear and everything else that I know to be there fades away - I hadn't given it much thought before but perhaps because I'm waiting and watching I slip into a sort of visual meditation because when I feel myself in that state the photo I capture is never the bird or animal I'm expecting to show, but instead it's something "strange" with a tree for instance. As for some of "my" birds I have trouble describing in words how they sound, but I think I might try the cutting up of magazine images to give a face to their calls. Thanks for this post you have sparked something within me*!*

  7. bimbimbie: it does seem like a visual meditation....some sort of 'pause' in the regular churning of your mind which allows different forms to float to the surface? and i love the idea of 'giving a face' to the bird calls! i hope you will post those, and process, too!!

    merci, elfe, pour votre visite!

  8. Zoe, thanks to you and Jodi I've spent the best part of a wet Sunday re-reading your post and discovering more of Gina Litherland through your links - I found myself nodding my head with lots of what she has to say about the human/wild connection or disconnection (sadly in so many).

    I've had some interesting connections this past month which I'm quietly sitting with.

    ... oh and the magazine ripping has begun!

  9. bimbimbie: isn't litherland's work beautiful? i found her writing very interesting, also.
    now, let's see those clippings!!

  10. Yes, her writing immediately made me think of Jay Griffiths and her book Wild: An Elemental Journey do you know it? I think she just might be a current adventuress fresh from Varo's worlds.

    clippings... hoping to have something to show this weekend... I daren't read your latest post until then ;)

    1. no! i've never heard of her--but now i will have to go look. thank you!
      looking forward to a post form you :)

  11. Found one of the Litherland quotes rather inspiring... useful, in the odd way such things are useful.

  12. Sometimes I come here and I'm staggered by what I find. Thank you Zoe. Much, much food for thought in this post.

    1. i'm so glad...and i'm so glad you read this one, now--your comment made me come back and go through it again. i need to *focus*... :)

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