Free Will
Yuko Shiraishi – September 2002
A gene call HFW has fourteen extons,
which together spell out a text
more than 6000 letters long.
Without HFW we would have no free will.
What is self? The self becomes fragmented under the diverse influences of society, culture and environment and this has been happening for a very long time. We are primates, a group of mammals, who were almost made extinct forty–five million years ago in competition with the better–adapted rodents of the time. We are synapsid tetrapods, a group of reptiles, who were almost made extinct 360 million years ago in competition with the better–adapted ray–finned fishes. We are chordates, a phylum which survived the Cambrian era 500 million years ago by the skin of its teeth in competition with the brilliantly successful arthropods. Our ecological success came against humbling odds. We are, to a ninety–eight per cent approximation, chimpanzees. We have twenty–three pairs of chromosomes and chimpanzees, great apes and gorillas have twenty–four, but each individual’s DNA is unique¹. Episode at the Mead Gallery has more of a focus on me, Yuko Shiraishi, and my choices as an individual. The idea of the exhibition was not only to exhibit my own work but also for me to curate ie. for me to express two different creativities. I have chosen the photographs for Gallery One, my own installation is in Gallery Two and in Gallery Three there is a group of my new paintings. In addition, since the galleries are inside the university which has a cinema as well I was also able to select a film by Andrei Tarkovsky, ‘Andrei Roublev’ (1966). This choice has nothing to do with a particular theme and is based purely on my own preferences. Instead of creating my own work I have chosen the work of other artists which I like and I can see my inner self from a different perspective. That is why I decided that the selection should be entirely to do with my own preferences. I could have curated a show of works which have a visual relationship to my own, but instead I have expressed myself through selecting works, which appeal to me, in a very basic, direct and almost primitive frame of mind. In writing this article I want to think about why it is that I like these things and why it is that my paintings turned out the way they did. Since this is such a vast subject area I can only give a brief introduction here. Just as my exhibition is an assemblage of episodes, this essay is a collage of quotes from writers who interest me rather than a sustained or logical progression of ideas. In the future, under different circumstances, I hope to have the opportunity to write more about this.
Perception of an object can be very simple, such as looking at the moon, but the dialogue between yourself and the object may be very complicated and extensive. When I look at the moon my first impression is one of a magical, mysterious power which is so vast and overwhelming. I also get a feeling of darkness and anxiety. When there is a full moon I have difficulty in sleeping right through, even if I am not looking at the moon, and I wonder what causes this. Is it a throw–back to primitive experience? Under the shower of light from the full moon I can easily sympathise with the werewolf. It is as if my psyche is tingling. The moon may be called a full moon, a half moon or a crescent moon, we say that it waxes or wanes and in Japan we also speak of a hazy moon; because we have language we can label our experience of the moon. In Japanese folklore it is said that a little princess found in a bamboo shoot by an old couple has to go back to the moon when she grows up, whence she came. It is also said that two rabbits are on the moon making rice paste because of the shadowy images one sees on the moon. This folklore was passed down to me through my grandmother or through school and so was shaped by my society and culture. The moon used to be a part of the earth before they separated. The moon is 3475.6km in diameter and its orbital period is 27.321 days. We know that Apollo 11 landed on the moon, because we are given this information and we have all these feelings and information about the moon which we can share with people who may have completely different ideas about it. Even though human beings displaced in time and space can all see the moon, we come to so many different conclusions about it. As Ridley says, this tension between the universal characteristics of the human race and the particular features of individuals is what the genome is all about. Somehow the genome is responsible for both the things we share with other people and the things we experience uniquely in ourselves.
I am facing the question of why I want to create work and why I need art. I remember an interview with Gabriel Garcia Marquez where the interviewer asked him the question, ‘Why do you write?’ and he answered that he writes because he wants to be loved. I find this a rather charming, clever and honest answer. At bottom we all want to be understood and want to share ourselves with others. People are motivated by what they have inside them, their free will and guts feelings, as well as by a desire to share with others, a form of survival instinct. Wavering between these polarities, one is always in a dilemma. This is an inescapable reality programmed into our bodies. Do I create work because I am searching for myself? Or is it because I derive such ecstatic pleasure from creation? I could say yes, but at the same time pleasure has a deceptive quality and this not only in art but in general. You can find it in relationships as in all other things. This is because pleasure requires imagination.
Freedom and knowledge are also quite tricky because they are both unstable. One never finds security or stability in one’s existence. This is why I ask again why it is that we need art in our lives? Wilson gives some explanation in which he suggests that the arts contribute to a full understanding of our experiences which we cannot acquire through intellect alone.
[The] lifetime of an individual human being is not long enough to sort out experiences by means of generalised, unchanneled learning. Because of the slowness of natural selection, which requires tens or hundreds of generations to substitute new genes for old, there was not enough time for human heredity to cope with the vastness of new contingent possibilities revealed by high intelligence. Algorithms could be built, but they weren’t numerous and precise enough to respond automatically and optimally to every possible event. The arts filled the gap. Early humans invented them in an attempt to express and control through magic the abundance of the environment, the power of solidarity, and other forces in their lives that matter most to survival and reproduction. The arts were the means by which these forces could be ritualized and expressed in a new simulated reality. They drew consistency from their faithfulness to human nature, to the emotion–guided epigenetic rules – the algorithms of mental development.²
Human nature is immutable and unchanging, but individuals only live for about eighty years and exist as unique beings. We try to develop the tools to live a better life and this is in a way a survival mechanism, a part of natural selection. As Gould says
Homo Sapiens also ranks as a 'things so small' in a vast universe, a wildly improbable evolutionary event, and not the nub of universal purpose.Make of such a conclusion what you will. Some people find the prospect depressing. I have always regarded such a view of life as exhilarating–a source of both freedom and consequent moral responsibility. We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universe–one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way.³
To end the essay, let me quote from Paul Bowles:
Death is always on the way, but the fact that don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply part of your being that you conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five time more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.⁴
1.     Ridley, M., Genome: The Autobiography of a Species, Fourth Estate, London, 1999.
2.     Wilson, E., Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, Abacus, London, 1998, pp.250–251.
3.     Gould, Stephen Jay, Rock of Ages, Vintage, London, 2002, pp.206–207.
4.     Paul bowles, The Sheltering Sky Penguin Classics, 2000.