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

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Angels and Demons

Cavorting Demon Maquette, face based on a Noh mask.

Several weeks ago, I posted a segment from a Borges story in which there were two worlds, each on opposing sides of any mirrored surface; in that story, those living on one of those sides, as a result of a curse, was forced to do no more than mimic the actions of others. I posited that ours was that side, and that, the more I read on neuroscience and memory and habit, the more it seems that our lives are constant repetitions of habits we began very, very early in life. I also told the story of a Russian reporter identified only as S. by his doctor, A.R. Luria, who unconsciously applied a marvelous technique, pretty much exactly like that recommended by the Ars Memoria, in order to instantly file information for recall--instantly, as it came at him. He did this via vivid symbols, and one of those symbols, a red-orange thread, represented pain. He saw the pain, and then was able to control it by snipping away at the incarnadine thread in his mind until it disappeared, and along with it, the pain.

But he was studied precisely because most of us can’t do that. Because his ability was an anomaly.

Then I came upon the book Monsters and Magic Tricks, or There’s No Such Thing as Hypnosis?, in which the author, Steve Heller, describes the processes by which we learn to move around in the world and memorize facts and form habits as basically variations of hypnosis. He claims that hypnosis is a process we often undergo: imagine yourself, as a small child, your parent squatting in front of you, straightening your collar, telling you very seriously: it is very important to listen to what the teacher says. It is very important that you behave. What your teacher says will embed itself in your brain, even without effort on your part. Even if you don’t consciously remember it.

You learn a vocabulary, a language, methods of communicating both verbal and non-verbal, and you learn how people interact and what is expected and who is important and what kinds of goals to take seriously, all of these things, before you’re even of an age where you can consciously remember any of them. So they are remembered beneath the surface. They affect your behavior without you noticing. 
And this idea is supported by study after study being processed now--our conscious decision-making forms a very small percentage of our lives. Most of the time, we are on autopilot. (Now, think again of that yellow emperor).
He gives a very basic example, which can then be broadened to apply to less “mathematical” topics, by asking the question what is 2 + 2?:
“I am confident that you would respond with the correct answer. If you were asked how you knew the answer, you might reply that you learned it as a child. In other words, the question itself caused you to go back into your personal history and find the ‘proper’ associational connection. You would have done that instantly, without conscious awareness of the process.”
The above example also explains why we work so much on auto-pilot: otherwise, we would be constantly over-burdened with very basic things. Instead, we see the red light and automatically stop the car--which is a good thing.
Heller writes that we can counter that automatism, the result of so much hypnosis (even now, as we drool in front of the television or flick through image after image on the internet, barely stopping, taking in information without consciously processing it), with a sort of self-hypnosis. Which is really no more than a very focused form of imagining, using all five senses.
Some examples he gives of working with patients reminded me immediately of the Russian journalist, S:
“For example, a woman was complaining of a severe headache in my office. She said that it was so bad that she didn’t think we could continue our session. I asked her to close her eyes, and see what color her headache was. She looked at me as if I was crazy. Of course, she was right. I just get paid well for it. Finally, she shrugged her shoulders and closed her eyes. After a short time, she informed me that she did have a picture of colors, and that ‘it seems to be bright reds and oranges.’  I then instructed her to listen to the steady sound of her breathing, and with each exhalation, she would breathe more and more of those colors out of her system. She was told to continue until she could see it ‘all’ across the room, as if a painting hanging on the wall. It was several minutes before she signaled that the picture was on the wall. I asked her to see someone walking into the room, taking the picture off the wall, and to hear that person’s footsteps as he walked out of the room. In less than five minutes she terminated the hypnotic state that she had spontaneously achieved, with the headache gone (pp.43-44).”
Now, not only did he hypnotize her, or have her self-hypnotize, and use her imagination to review the pain, he did it in a very specific way: he shifted her ‘feeling’ sense, her focus on what he calls the kinesthetic system, to her visual and audio sense. He moved the pain from a feeling to an image, then added sound to remove it completely. This was not a one-off:
“Case 13: Patient was a 57-year-old male hospitalized with terminal cancer which had metastasized through areas of his skeletal system. He was in intensive care and, in spite of four to five injections of morphine daily along with oral pain medications, he was suffering intractable pain, insomnia and extreme agitation. His physician asked me to see him about pain control as well as reduction of the patient’s agitated state.When first seen, the patient was complaining in a very harsh tone about his pain. He was thrashing in the bed, and generally being verbally hostile to everyone (Which, given his circumstances, was to a degree understandable). I noticed that his room contained a portable stereo, a small radio and a small tape recorder. Based on the way he was using his voice (complaining, harsh tone, using many words), and the equipment I had observed, it would be a good guess to assume that he was highly auditory. Since his cancer was causing him pain (throwing him into nearly constant kinesthetic), I knew I needed to get him back to, and then anchor him into, auditory with his visual as a backup system...After introducing myself and gathering some information about his hobbies (he loved listening to music), as well as some areas he felt competent in (one of which was working with wood), I was ready to proceed... I then asked him to close his eyes and listen to what his pain sounded like. He stared at me in disbelief...”
After some effort, he was convinced, and he soon described the pain as a “terrible grinding sound.” He was asked to (with eyes closed) think of a woodworking tool which sounded like it, and he was able also to do that. He was told to get a very clear picture of it in his mind.
“I then asked him to ‘see’ that tool or machine across the room in his mind’s eye, and to speed it up as fast as he could. Within several seconds, he nodded again. I then instructed him to ‘see’ the tool or machine slowing down, little by little until it had stopped.”
He was also successful in removing his pain, and over the next week came of a majority of his pain medications and was in a much better mood, able to move out of intensive care and soon returned to living at home.

Maquettes:Automaton Shell and Escaping Brain Demon
Now for exorcising the demons of bad habits (even if you like them, as I’ve grown inordinately fond of this demon over the last few weeks): altering the habit, being alive instead of automatic, using all your senses as you recreate yourself in your mind into some being that would not even have been possible in your “old” mindset, but is now natural. And then that new you discards its old shell, pushes through the mirror--greatly expanding its universe (possibilities)--and continues on.
I haven’t yet settled on a composition, but I’ve been playing:

For your amazement: mirroring, and something to remind us all of the fact that there is no such thing as impossible:

(Maquettes by Zoe, photos by Gabriel)


  1. "altering the habit, being alive instead of automatic" fantastic idea, I am in!
    your art is way beyond visual representation and I adore everything you create zoe!

    1. ha! you've never been even the slightest bit automatic :)
      hvala puno, lepotice!

  2. quelle souplesse dans les corps.. dans le geste.. et dans la peinture!

    1. merci, elfi-- souplesse is the big goal! :D

  3. Love the Demon Maquette, face based on a Noh mask!! Some demon Noh masks called Hannya(般若)look really scary. Interestingly, the Hannya originally meant prajna or wisdom!! What you've created are all charming!
    As Vesna says, "altering the habit, being alive instead of automatic" is great. I'll remember it. Thank you, zoe.
    Borges uses mirrors as motifs in many ways. How interesting!

    1. that's fascinating, that the word originally meant wisdom. i wonder if it's because it's the scariest things we face that make the biggest, most important changes in our lives? i know in the dream world, you're always to turn around and face the monster, no matter how scary, and it usually turns out to be some minor thing that you've let grow into something horrible by ignoring it...
      i thought it was fascinating that the noh masks (not the demon ones, but the others) were specially made so that the angle you see them at defines the "expression" you will see. what talent in the creators! and how meaningful!

  4. Zoe, this is incredible. I dare say Clive has some maquette making competition on his hands! Your maquettes are just , well, incredible . The background you have given, the personal understanding you have offered, deeply impressive . This will be one hell of a painting! I wish I could suggest which composition I like best ( the enlightened Self straddling the repressed Self is terribly compelling); but that decision can only be made by you and your Muse. Keep us posted, in admiration, LG
    post script: the Demon is wonderful as is the extremely disturbing spinal column.

    1. thank you, leonard, i'm turning pink :D
      i was looking around for bone structure images--i wanted her to be part human, part automaton--and i came across the google skeleton app, and i was *struck* by how mechanical the spinal column looks all by itself--it's creepy, isn't it??
      i will probably try to conceal the demon's pins--they bother me a bit on him, as he's smaller. plus, it gives me a detail to pick at while i ignore the looming bit about choosing a composition :D

  5. there is an app with the skeleton system? i need that, I love anatomical models, I try to gather as many as i can afford. i have purchased really micro teeny brads for my maquettes, I purchased them at the craft chain, Michaels. They were in the section devoted to scrap-booking I think. They come in tons of colors and styles-it is a whole other world!

    1. ha! you have a perfect, gorgeous grasp of the human figure. but here it is anyway:

      yes, this demon is small enough that the microbrads still stick out-- i made him three different sizes, but ended up painting the smallest, so his "foot" could fit inside that cranial cavity :D

      but colored ones, you say? hmmm....

  6. Maquettes and compositions are simply stunning. Awe-inspiring work Zoe. You are in your element, completely in command of your art.

    1. you have no idea what your kindness and encouraging words mean to me, clive :) i'm very happy that you like them :)

  7. PS. I wrote a little about these in a comment box at Leonard's site!

  8. Check it out Zoe! you will blush (:

  9. Zoe, your maquettes are ever more wonderful and I'm completely in tune with the getting-rid-of-demons project. In fact in 2008 I made a video of just that, not with maquettes but acting it out (masked). It's at this link if you want to have a look: