I Thought I'd go ahead and post the catalog essay I wrote on Steven's upcoming show.
Steven LaRose, Life Science, The Thorndike Gallery, Southern Oregon University, Ashland OR
As I write this short piece in early fall of 2008, civilization appears to by in a state of wild and vertiginous flux, casting off structural members, demolishing calcified institutions, and out of this frothing churn of destruction offering quietly a vacuum of possibility that the momentum of history will all too soon rush to fill with reactive events and new forms of social order. The stock markets gyrate wildly, banks fall like dominoes, gas prices oscillate, foreclosures spread like wildfire, hurricanes slam into coastlines, would be presidents are locked in a fierce and bitter contest for power. And yet…. the sun still rises and sets, birds sing in the morning light, and the toilet still flushes in the same direction. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the myriad of contradictions that are now moving into evidence before us, but we must remember that all problems have now assumed a human dimension and theoretically lie fully within our ability to manage as a collectivity. Evolution must now be imagined as a cultural and ideological process- the only dominion still left to conquer remains shrouded in the darkness of the unconscious mind, the interior of the psyche out of which all of these Furies fly.
It is clear to me that this time is unlike none other, and it is imperative that those who would create culture must somehow express the peculiarities of this emergent moment. Obviously this is no small task, particularly when one comes to recognize cultural artifacts as reactive variables in a self-transcending system, and thusly as the arbiters of our collective destiny. As but one person in a population of several billion, our individual actions are rarely ever of great importance, but it is extraordinarily urgent that we live our lives authentically and thereby act as fully individuated agents of a collective will. As we tune in to our inner voices, spirit becomes manifest in this world, falling from the void of the pleroma into matter and dimensionality. Ideas are released into the language stream, become memes and spread like mycelium into the substrate of our consciousness. As new forms of order emerge, reality is shown to be provisional and temporary, nothing more than a mask clumsily fitted upon a formless energy.
It is also at this moment that we must begin to imagine the interrelatedness of all intellectual disciplines and to resist the Balkanization of epistemology that has narrowed our worldview and limited our notion of what is possible. We must resist the reductive tendencies of modern science, and place the human animal in the macroscopic context of a large and dynamic universe-a chain of occasion which is locally manifest as our host planet and the immediate environment that we inhabit. In this ecological vision we notice that human beings have changed little genetically in the last 200,000 years. We are essentially the same hairless monkey we were back then, it just happens that we've learned a few new skills and cleverly embedded them within the invention of language. The story of History is the carrier of this epigenetic code, symbolic knowledge that has given us a vision of time and an intuition about our relationship to something greater that now lies just beyond our view. Ironically enough, in our cleverness we have also devised complex self-organizing systems that have become independent of our conscious control. One can imagine these economies and political structures as discrete entelechies, entities who's will is exerted on us, rather than by us. The largest of these Faustian demiurges, Modern Industrial Civilization, represents a new order of life that, while birthed within in the space of our learned behaviors, has broken free from the laboratory and like the Golem, or Frankenstein's monster, has begun to run amok through the village. This phylogenetic oddity, this civilization, now appears to teeter on the edge of it's own demise, and we wait nervously beneath the shadow of this great beast hatching escape plans, casting blame, circling in paralyzed confusion. Hope is in short supply.
Certainly to materialist thinkers such as the formidable evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker, the future, as seen through the reductive lens of determinism and rational positivism is bleak at best. In his seminal work The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Pinker describes industrial civilization as a Hobbesian state of social paranoia in which , "violence is not a primitive, irrational urge, nor is it a pathology except in the metaphorical sense of a condition that everyone would like to eliminate. Instead, it is a near-inevitable outcome of self-interested, rational social organisms." The laws of human nature are thusly largely immutable and bound within the codons of genetic material. We are but machines enacting a script that we have very little say about. Similarly, the ugly and brutish child that we have spawned will remain in a perpetual state of adolescence, enacting pathological behaviors and engaging in habitual and lethal addictions. This is a vision that leads to a future of endless war, inevitable resource depletion, and the destruction of a whole planetary ecology by the hands of a few strands of dumb but all powerful molecular code. This is the narrative of Original Sin.
Pinker's materialist vision of man as a machine seems rooted in the type of bedrock Newtonian certitude that would appear to be above critique. But life is never as simple as it seems, and there are voices emerging in the intellectual arena that propose a new science of life, one in which the previously held properties and laws of nature are not writ in adamantine, but exist within a reactive field-morphogenic, non-deterministic and ever evolving. In the body of thought known as process philosophy, life is revealed as a phenomenon of terrifying tenacity, a self-transcending system that has miraculously defied the 2nd law of thermodynamic decay for over 3.5 billion years. Most stars have shorter lives than organic life on earth. In the fluid and dynamic ontologies of Alfred North Whitehead, Rupert Sheldrake, Brian Swimme and Ilya Prigogine among others, a new cosmogonic vision of phase transition and cusp flow moves into our ken. This is a world that acknowledges the human neo-cortex as the most densely ramified structure in the universe, and in this macro-physical object, in this 4 pound gelatinous organ, the entire history of being has been pushing itself ever closer towards the present moment. Recall that the universe, in it's quest to become self aware, has developed biological structure of the eye no less than forty times in the history of organic life. Now, as this entity widens it's circle of concern, we come into focus as the central actors of a grand cosmic drama. Through the blind luck of our stochastic ramblings will we give rise to emergent properties that are expressions not of the monkey body, but of a larger will? The imperative to act as agents of this Taoistic force becomes ever more clear, for there are many possible futures, but there can only be one that actually undergoes the formality of actually occurring.
This the moment when, science, art, and life collide, and the work of Steven LaRose provides a convenient metaphor for the efforts we now must undertake. As a person, I know Steven as a beacon of curiosity, a tirelessly probing node of social and intellectual causality. Although the relative seclusion of Ashland Oregon would first appear to be a hindrance to the free transmission of thought and imagery, the blogosphere has enabled Steven and many other artists and thinkers to create immersive networks of affinity. In this virtual Petri dish, LaRose has been the agar for a transnational discourse and exchanges both droll and profound. I see Steven's identity as the curator of a virtual salon as key for understanding the aesthetics of his most recent body of work, and it pleases me that the web of connectivity itself can be thought of as a type of hyper-spatial medium in which new social properties and phenomena might emerge.
The wider we pull back, the more that the distinctions between various disciplines seem to fade away, and it is in this mode of contemplation that I begin to constellate the various qualities that fall out of this collection of paintings. Like the single celled biota that first emerged from a primordial stew, the globules and amoeboid organisms that swim through these pictures are strangely with and without intent. Like the half-realized portrait/landscapes from a previous body of work, the entities here elude classification. They are both noumena and phenomena. They are becoming and become. Through the accretion of occasion, accident and chance a gestalt emerges. Color bleeds into color, the watery soup of paint begins to suggest the presence of a maker, if not clearly something made. Chaos gives rise to order and back again. The artist is the unseen hand that orchestrates this dance, closes the membranes, adds the appropriate organelles, and steps back to watch the experiment unfold. Life emerges and then morphs into a new previously unimagined state. These works are products of William Blake's divine imagination, a creative force that acts through the artist to articulate a visionary reality birthed in the Bardo ponds of hyperdimensional existence.
In a world largely stripped of aura and presence, these paintings remind me of the value of immediate experience. They remind me of the spirit of curiosity and play that led us from the stone age huts of the Paleolithic to the Pharaonic architectural declarations of our current age. While other animals fled in fear from the fire that came after lightning strikes, we stopped to play, to examine, and to learn from this flickering magic. We became entranced with the behavior and secret properties of our surroundings, and in a protracted state of exploration, we came to understand the nature of things, the scheme of the world. The artist has been deputized to carry this spirit of exploration forward, and whether it is seen as but a modest and meager flame to bear matters not. The authentic act is of universal importance, even in the humble gesturing and sprinklings of a lone painter fumbling about in the wilderness of life. It matters very little that these painting exist, but it is extraordinarily important that they were created.
As I come to understand the new science, I come to see all of us as artists in the story of life whether we are painters or not. I am cautiously optimistic. I know that whatever our cosmic destiny, we each have access to a telos, a larger purpose that stretches outside of human time into an infinite light. We find embedded within our own tiny lives an echo of the vast and unfathomable universe beyond. As the shockwave of eschatology bursts into form as human history, like the bow waves that ride before a battleship, we know that whatever becomes of our monkey genes, we will have participated in something far grander than the banality of ordinary happenstance, that in the mantle of our humanity was held the glittering amulet of 4 billion years of intent. Just as time can be understood as the moving image of eternity, so also can we see all human action as the intimations of a transcendent other, working through sable brush, or iron hammer, or electron microscope, to cast a humble shadow into this world of dust and debris.
Jacques de Beaufort, September 18, 2008
 Pinker, Steven, the blank slate, The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Penguin Books, 2002.
(links added by Steven)