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Pure Singleness and the Scottish Parlimentary Cross-Party Group on Culture

Guest Blog Post. Stan Bonnar

Stan and Cara thought hard

Stove member Stan Bonnar shared with us his recent open letter to the Scottish Parliamentary Cross-Party group, on creating spaces and environments for thinking, discussing. How do we nurture culture? Stan used our AGM back in October as a stepping stone in his letter, and so we asked him if he would kindly let us share his letter on our blog.

For more on Stan, please have a look at his interesting flickr account here which includes an alternative artistic reading of his letter


“i attended the agm of the stove artists collective in dumfries the other night. after all the formalities were over, they had organized a group discussion on public art, and this was facilitated by two groups – dot to dot active arts (blyth, northumberland) and the open jar collective (glasgow). also there were mark lyken and emma dove (who are currently artists in residence at the stove). this meeting of minds took place in an underground car park (closed to cars but not to skateboarders) and the various spaces of this dark cave were illuminated – some by moving images projected onto sheets, some by sculptural installations.

all these artists are actively and intimately involved with people. i would describe their art practice as mindful listening – cupped hands held open in places where people are – people fill the cup with all sorts of ideas and things. some of these leak away – filtered through fingers, but some remain for people and artist to see more clearly, and perhaps to make something of – a work of environmental art, of social art? but i also see the work of these artists as indicative of a greater search for cultural equanimity that started after the second world war. a continuing response by the individual to the excesses of technological globalization. but what drives such a human response – an ethical impulse – a quest for fairness?

human beings are naturally universal, by which i mean that our ideas and impulses are the very fabric of the universe. if the universe has a capacity to be unthinking, then so do we. if we are ethical and mindful, then the universe is ethical and mindful. we extend as the universe, and the universe extends as us – we are things like any other.

i will now try to take you on a trip into the universe as i understand it. i want us to consider the following quotation which is the current wikipedia definition of quantum entanglement: “Quantum entanglement is a physical phenomenon that occurs when pairs or groups of particles are generated or interact in ways such that the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently—instead, a quantum state may be given for the system as a whole.

“Measurements of physical properties such as position, momentum, spin, polarization, etc. performed on entangled particles are found to be appropriately correlated. For example, if a pair of particles is generated in such a way that their total spin is known to be zero, and one particle is found to have clockwise spin on a certain axis, then the spin of the other particle, measured on the same axis, will be found to be counterclockwise. Because of the nature of quantum measurement, however, this behavior gives rise to effects that can appear paradoxical: any measurement of a property of a particle can be seen as acting on that particle (e.g. by collapsing a number of superimposed states); and in the case of entangled particles, such action must be on the entangled system as a whole. It thus appears that one particle of an entangled pair “knows” what measurement has been performed on the other, and with what outcome, even though there is no known means for such information to be communicated between the particles, which at the time of measurement may be separated by arbitrarily large distances.”

for me, the phenomenon of quantum entanglement/measurement seems to show that the nature of things in space and time is very much comprehended from the point of view of something, like ourselves, who is entangled in the system. it’s not possible to become physically disentangled from a physical universe of space and time, especially if we ourselves are by our very comprehending, projecting the physical universe. so what is the universe really like beyond our comprehending of it?

for me, the phenomenon of quantum entanglement shows that the universe is the extension of pure singleness, throughout which we things project an infinite array of differently entangled realities of spacetime. the point is, that no matter where or when we look, we are looking at that thing with which we are entangled, which is ourself. we are our own differential comprehending of pure singleness.

i asked the question earlier concerning what drives the human ethical impulse – the quest for fairness to which social artists are compelled. the answer is clear that it is our pure singleness that drives such a quest. but how do things come into existence from pure singleness?

here is a representation of pure singleness…

…because of our nature as spatio-temporal things, this space is the closest we can get to actually describing pure singleness. for us it is the pure singleness of ‘space’ which has no property other than that it can extend for a ‘time’. as ‘things in space and time’ is how we comprehend our own pure singleness. but what constitutes a thing?

if singleness has the property that it can extend as our understanding (and then as the comprehending of that which we understand), then our ‘thinghood’ is the symmetrical extending of pure singleness. what i mean by this is simply that there can be no extension without that which is extended from. a thing is always a symmetrical alterity of otherness – that very system of a particle mentioned in the wikipedia definition of quantum entanglement. a thing is always the symmetry of otherness, and although i comprehend myself as an individual, i am actually nothing but my difference from you.

there is no ‘thing-in-itself’ as such. a thing is not for example the cat which strolls past me on the pavement on a sunny day. rather the thing is pure singleness extending as symmetry of the universe – nuances of which are the cat, the pavement, the sun and me. nuances which constitute the thinghood of the things that i comprehend.

but as i hinted earlier, comprehending is nothing more than our comprehensive grasping together of a basic understanding that we have with otherness. understanding-with is the sheer symmetrical extending of pure singleness as the alterity of otherness. understanding-with is the basis of the universe. the cat, the pavement, the sun and i are all nothing but our difference from each other, and we create and recreate each other in the

very moment of our understanding-with. this is the very spacing and temporalizing of pure singleness.

if i become conscious of the cat on the pavement, then for a few moments i will cultivate my understanding-with of the cat/pavement/sun/me thing. i might then nurture that initial cultivation by bending down to speak to the cat. if i then find that i am not only absorbed with this cat but with cats in general, i might join the cats protection league and be absorbed into a culture of cats and cat related things. in other words, i become ‘cultured’. the point is that there is no thing that is not cultured to some extent, and a thing that is cultured has been cultivated to be so. culture is the way of things.

if culture is the way of things, how best are we to nurture culture? by what means do we ackowledge the cultivation of things as cultures? do we simply celebrate cultural differences? of course we do, but this can be a hugely broad and insensitive brush stroke. rather, it is important to acknowledge the details of sophisticated cultural practice – literally for example, the manipulation of the nuts and bolts of a mechanics’ workplace.

many artists such as those whom i mentioned earlier, are deeply entangled with the cultures of others. they seek to interrogate, nurture and extend these cultures because they are very sensitive to the way of things. their work in these social contexts is at once public and intimately detailed. we might look on the scottish parliamentary cross party group on culture as a place where cultural things become entangled – but the ultimate purpose of such a group must also be to nurture the cultures of others. if it does not, then it runs the risk of becoming nothing more than a showcase for the arts establishment.

there is no limit what art is and where it can be found. at its most fundamental it is about the languages of cultural things and how they develop. the CPG on culture must be sensitive to artists working with ‘nuts and bolts’ and enable them to become entangled with MSP’s. both groups are working to nurture cultural things – but artists also nurture the languages of things.

all over scotland, MSP’s and artists occupy the same localities, and these are where new CPG working parties should be founded.”

stan bonnar 2014

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