The Art of Cognition – Infravisual Image-Language and the Case of Aboriginal Designs [talk]

:: talk | DFG Network ‘Image-Philosophy’ | @ Budapest Academy of Sciences | 100918

(i): ‘The Barunga Statement’, Barunga Various artists 1988
Parliament House Art Collection, Canberra, ACT >


Cognitive Science with its re-evaluation of schematic imagery, the role of metaphorical cognition and its new understanding of the centrality of embodied categorial structure allows for a fresh, enlightening look at aboriginal image-systems – which in Western theory have for long only been perceived as ‘mythic illustrations’ or ‘decorative/ornamental designs’, that is as primitive purely graphic imagery unconnected or only losely bound to language-reasoning or differentiated structural conceptualization/cognition.

The Mardayin, the ‘holy designs’ of the Yolngu – an aboriginal tribe in the Northwestern Territory of Australia – as well as Australian Aboriginal (image-)language in general will be presented and discussed in the stereoscopic perspective of recent Cultural Anthropology as well as Embodied Cognitive Science. It can be shown that within this elaborate sign-system is encoded a infravisual cognitive system, which is iconic and highly abstract at the same time; and that these infravisual images are bound to complex, richly structured idealized cognitive models, i.e. they are connected to rich and dense ‘logical’ or cognitive structure (embodied reason). It also illustrates a semiological understanding that ‘myth’ indeed is a propositional system/style and that language is ‘ideo-logical’ at core, i.e. motivated by a world-view.

Contradicting traditional epistemic conceptions (and dichotomies) of western theory several continua can be posited in light of the aboriginal ‘designs’: an category-sign-environment-continuum (shown, e.g., in the fact that aborigines ‘read’ landscape…); a cognition-language-praxis-continuum (shown, e.g., in dense correspondences between ritual, social praxis and sign system); a cognitive continuum between different levels and dimensions of the cognitive system, e.g. between schemata, grammar and signs/images.

Posited is thereby a broader continuum (or: integral) between cognitive structure, embodied agents and material culture and cultural environment, mediated by lateral ‘motivations’ – a concept of cultural meaning leaving behind the dichotomy of ‘arbitrary vs. determined’. It can also be seen that so called ‘primitive’ languages question the divide between ‘object’ and ’structure’ often assumed in Western epistemology, language theory as well as in most of Visual Studies (Bildwissenschaften). In fact, the Yolngu – as well as Australian Aboriginal culture in general – have their own theory of cognitive representation, which conceptualizes an infra-perceptional reality intrinsically connected to richly structured human embodiment, cultural landscape (and thereby acestral history) and the material sign system itself. The Yolngu and aboriginal cultures thereby ‘make the case’ that perception, cognition and complex (infra-)structural and diagrammatic ‘mappings’ are closely linked – particularly in (their) iconic language and image systems.

Workshop ‘Vision and Activity: Enacting Images’

Concept: Zsuzsanna Kondor>

In the traditional framework of sense data and internal representation visual perception was taken as separated from other cognitive and motor capabilities as well as from the perceiver’s environment: visual perception was seen as a necessary source of information about the external world arranged along the patterns of the propositional structure of verbal expression. In accordance with the dominance of verbal expression, this view of visual perception underestimates the role and importance of images. Many difficulties and anomalies (the puzzle of homunculus, inattentional blindness, perceptual presence, the blind spot, the qualia debate, etc.) emerged within this traditional frame of reference and the resistance these anomalies demonstrate indicates a necessary shift in perspective.
Some recent considerations point towards a holistic view of visual perception either with an emphasis on sensorimotor capacities or on the affording/facilitating circumstances provided by the environment. Unlike phenomenalism and the snapshot conception, a holistic approach might resolve many old puzzles and may locate visual perception within a framework of motor capacities and the encompassing environment. Against the background of active engagement in the ambient world the visual scene plays a significantly different role, viz. it does not merely provide information for further cognitive processing but rather it yields a responsive background for any kind of cognitive and/or motor activity. Accordingly, images appear in a new light.
Revisiting the scope and limits of visual perception highlights some basic questions of visual processing and pictorial representation such as: What distinguishes pictures from other representational means? Why and how is it possible to consider a picture as a picture of something? Are there abstract pictures? If yes, what are they especially about? Where is the border-line between visual scene and picture and what yields grounds for it?

Program Workshop

10.00-10.30 Opening of the workshop

10.30-11.50 Erik Myin>, Is Aesthetics in the Head?

12.00-13.00 Antje Kapust, The Double Force of Images/ Die doppelte Kraft des Bildes

13.00-14.30 Lunch 14.30-15.50 Lambros Malafouris>, Active Material Engagement and the Origins
of Pictorial Skill

16.00-17.00 Oliver Lerone Schultz, The Art of Cognition – Infravisual Image-Language and the Case of Aboriginal Designs

17.10-18.10 Zsuzsanna Kondor>, Images of Perception, Ways of Depiction