Exploring the intricate landscape of consciousness remains one of the quintessential challenges of modern science, standing alongside enigmas such as dark matter and the universe's ultimate fate. Unveiling the secrets of consciousness is not just an intellectual pursuit but a journey to the heart of human existence. However, the answer remains a mystery.
Even though one cannot fully grasp what consciousness is, the answer feels instinctual. After all, consciousness is within every human and, therefore, reflected in everything humans create. Understanding consciousness requires an understanding beyond its biological roots. It demands a contemplative gaze into the mirror of art and culture, where the human spirit reflects its deepest mysteries.
From Louis Wain's abstractly painted cats that grew sequentially stranger as his schizophrenia grew worse to Maxim Vorobiev, known for painting beautiful and vibrant landscapes that suddenly turned dark and eerie upon his wife's sudden death, one will begin to understand the symptoms of consciousness that art translates.
Martin Riveros Baxter, an oil painter and sculptor, attempts to unravel this mystery. His work is grounded in the imagery of cellular and organic structures as the primary visual language. Acknowledging the beautiful and intricate universal mechanisms that govern all human minds and using them to explore the personal ways these properties emerge in every individual.
By creating art that bridges the gap between the scientific understanding of the human mind and an introspective exploration of the emotional and mental landscape, Baxter’s work aids in the knowledge of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Good Health and Well-Being.
Central to Baxter's work is two fundamental concepts: the body and formations. The ‘body’ in his art is not a physical entity but a symbolic representation of the flow of qualia –the ‘what it is like' aspect of sensations and perceptions. Qualia are deeply personal and challenging to convey in their fullness to others who haven't experienced them. Examples of Qualia include the intricate richness of a musical note or the profound crimson hue of a stunning sunset.
Whereas, the 'formations' refer to mental phenomena like ideas, feelings, and visions, viewed as a backdrop shaped by thought patterns. Baxter’s technique captures the interplay between subjective experience (the body) and the external world of thoughts and ideas (the formations).
Baxter's art delves into the metaphorical, capturing the dynamic and elusive essence of one's psychological states as they ebb and flow from the biological tides within. His imagery acts as a commentary on the ever-shifting nature of consciousness, shaped ceaselessly by both the internal pulse of one’s being and the external forces of one’s world.
In Heaven of Identity, Baxter explores the multifaceted self. The cube symbolizes the individual's persona, the carefully curated mask presented to the outside, a protective shell concealing true emotions and desires. This cube isn't just a boundary but a battleground, housing the eternal conflict of thoughts and feelings. “The thought that inside the cube of the individual is a conflict. They are flying and fluttering within that conscious space,” the artist described in an interview with the Bahía Utópica Art Gallery of Valparaíso.
Yet, beyond this cube lies the expansive subconscious, an impersonal landscape of deeper truths. Here, the human figures are manifestations of the self in a dream-like realm of illusion, where conscious desires, hopes, and dreams exist with subconscious reality. This tranquil backdrop, however, is fragile, disrupted when the self is denied expression when the conscious cannot harmonize with the real. In this tension, the heaven of one's true identity can swiftly become a hell.
Baxter’s work is centred around the mind-body problem, which explores how mental states, experiences, and consciousness are related to the physical world, particularly the brain. The mind-body problem is complex and involves three potential answers to what consciousness is: dualism, physicalism, and emergent properties. Dualism suggests a separation between consciousness and the biological processes of the body. Conversely, physicalism argues that consciousness is directly emergent from biological processes.
However, emergent properties suggest that complex systems can give rise to properties or behaviours that are not predictable from the sum of the system's parts. For example, water is an emergent property of hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen is a highly flammable gas, and oxygen supports combustion. However, when combined, these elements create water, which quenches flames and sustains life, none of which are characteristics of either element on its own.
For an example less rooted in biology, consider vehicles. Each can move, stop, and turn, and each driver can make decisions like speeding up, slowing down, or changing lanes. However, when many vehicles are on the road together, complex behaviours emerge that aren't present in individual vehicles or drivers. These include traffic jams, flow patterns, and waves of stopped and moving vehicles.
Consciousness is an emergent property of the brain, originating from biology; it transcends to create characteristic and complex behaviours that one cannot fully understand.
In the intriguing piece Object-Subject, a figure mysteriously rises from the depths of what seems to be the dermis layer of skin, symbolizing consciousness awakening within the human form. This entity exists between the physical, feeling and sensing through the skin, and the ethereal, interpreting these sensations in profound, existential ways. Enveloping it is a vast black void, the backdrop of human experience, deeply rooted in a biological essence.
Hovering above is a formation resembling a nebula, perhaps mirroring the human quest to comprehend both the self and the universe. Alternatively, this cosmic swirl might represent an iris, a gateway through which the figure, and by extension, consciousness, observes the world. This eye, a bridge between the outer universe and inner self, offers a dual perspective: it looks outward to explore the world and inward at the mysterious figure to examine the very nature of being, all through the shadowy void of human experience etched in biology."
Baxter's art creates a profound journey of healing and enlightenment, offering a visual language to articulate the elusive aspects of the self — those deep, often unspoken parts of our being.
In Pollinator, anatomical precision intertwines with surreal abstraction. A skeletal figure traverses a path, seemingly nurturing the biological forms around it. This image evokes thoughts of red blood cells and other peculiar structures vital for life, whispering tales of the unseen, intricate life of nourishment within oneself. It's a reminder of one's internal unity, where one is both the nurturer and the nurtured, the pollinator and the blossoming garden of one’s biology.
As one delves deeper into Baxter's creations, it becomes evident that these biological narratives are not just about sustenance; they are carriers of the human experience. The closer one looks, the more these processes reveal that they carry the weight of joys, sorrows, memories, and dreams. They are not mere spectators to consciousness; they are its architects. These processes don’t just sustain life; they are the very fabric of it.
Consciousness remains a mystery. However, within Baxter's work, one finds a dialogue between the known and the unknown, a dance between the physical and the metaphysical. His work doesn't merely depict consciousness; it embodies it, offering a tangible form to the most elusive experiences and inviting one to reflect on the nature of existence. As one ponders the intricate structures and surreal landscapes of Baxter's art, one is reminded that consciousness is not just a scientific puzzle to be solved but a personal journey to be experienced.