Thoughts Spectacle

Ivana Müller

There is something extremely satisfying in TRYING TO IMAGE THE UNIMAGINABLE… Something as unimaginable as thoughts.

For a long time I have been asking myself questions like:

What do thoughts look like? Where do they reside in the body? Are they waves? Can they travel through space from one person to the next? Can we own a thought or are they public property? When thoughts leave us, where do they go? If they aren’t my thoughts whose thoughts are they? When is a thought private and when does it become common?

I often travel by train. Once a friend of mine told me that in the train she gets either horny or bored. To me trains are more like thinking consoles; places where I find great pleasure in just gazing out of the window and where I get ‘nice and warm’ in my head. So if there is any conditioning related to trains, mine is that train journeys make me think. So, once when I was sitting in a train a simple thought came to my mind:

I tried to imagine a puppet theatre play in which thoughts play the main role… The theatre was in a public park and most of the audiences that watched the performance were children. The piece staged a happy thought, a witty thought, a cool thought, an attractive thought, a lazy thought, a boring thought, a majestic thought, a naïve thought, an exuberant thought, a brand new thought, a political thought, a funny thought, a scientific thought, a curious thought, a benign thought and finally a blond thought. All these thoughts were typecast for their specific qualities and together they created a simple but very metaphoric story that occasionally made the children laugh, cry and dance.

The play I imagined had the kind of dramaturgy that is not at all about recognizing signs and symbols in a linear or logocentric way but was made, rather, in such a way that it tickles the subconscious of the children watching it and makes them understand life, the world and themselves by means of new relationships.

The play did not have a happy ending (the theatre director reckoned that Disney was evil). At the end of the play a heavy thought appeared. All the children screamed, knowing that something awful was soon going to happen. The heavy thought placed its weight all over the stage and simply smashed all the other existing thoughts. It sat on them like a sumo wrestler and did not move anymore. Other thoughts slowly suffocated beneath the heavy thought, producing very high-pitched piping sounds… and the heavy thought became heavier and heavier and heavier…

A possible deus ex machina might in this case have been light thought levitating around the heavy thought, like a beautiful illusion, lifting up the heavy thought from the other squashed thoughts underneath it and carrying it away, up into the stratosphere … but since the theatre management was experiencing a financially difficult season and had no budget left for special effects it all ended there…

This only proves that the economic situation concerning the work of art always influences artistic decisions, and in such a way the art work itself is affected.

We could, quite naturally, imagine the same puppet play staged in our own head instead of in a public park.

Or perhaps it could also be seen as a location project that happens somewhere between our lung and our heart. Or even as one of those multidisciplinary events, a fictional ‘guided tour’ for instance, that could be placed all over our body, under the skin.

Of course the question is, if these thoughts are puppets, who is manipulating them?

In order to get into closer contact with my thoughts and the mechanisms of their existence, their multiplication and transformation, I decide to conduct a couple of experiments.

Since most of the time thoughts do not arise ‘just’ as thoughts, but have a quality attached to them, I decided to concentrate on two specific types of thought: heavy thoughts and light thoughts. The first because in my play they were represented by a villain, and I quite like the idea of dealing with bad guys (in many different ways). The second because they are almost close to an illusion and can rarely be seen.

Before going any further maybe it is good to figure out what we usually consider to be heavy or light thoughts. There is no reference to this in any encyclopaedia or dictionary that I have come across and I guess that the range of interpretations might be quite broad. However, without any detailed explanation, we do somehow all understand what heavy thoughts are. Or don’t we?

We probably need them too, otherwise what would we sing about in love songs, what would we talk about in political discussions on late-night TV programmes, what would we share with our therapists and friends, where would we get our headaches and nervous breakdowns if not from heavy thoughts.

Or is what we call a heavy thought something else entirely? Is it related more to the complexity of thinking rather than the complexity of the subject we are thinking about.

Take for instance a ‘circle’. One might say it is quite a simple thing. Now, think about all the mathematical equations that have been ‘invented’ in order to try to understand a circle. I think they may be heavy thoughts too…

Or perhaps ‘heavy’ thoughts are rather related to a phenomenon that is also known as a ‘deep’ thought…

It is ultimately not that simple.

I once decided to ask some of the people I met that day to write down some of the thoughts they considered might be light (if the editor has kept to our arrangements, you should be able to see the result in the form of a collage accompanying this text).

It is a rather nice thing to do, because while doing it I met new people and made some new friends. Talking about light thoughts seems to put people in a good mood.

One of the people I met that day was a doctor of medicine, with whom I engaged in quite a long conversation. I guess he was in some way charmed by my ‘intuitively grasped theories’, since for him it was almost ‘forbidden’ to think that way, or at least impossible to publicly express himself in a non-axiomatic and intuitive way. He always formulated his opinions based on tests. He thought that other types of deduction would have a counter-productive effect on his career. He was getting paid as a researcher and even though he could take his time, in the end his boss always expected some sort of results from him; the type of results that would make the pharmaceutical industry happy.

I had to think of the idea of freedom, conditioning and commissions for both scientists and artists.

This whole subject of heavy thoughts and light thoughts, tests and different ways of thinking made me really curious and I thought it would perhaps be best to go and get my brain scanned; to check whether or not it would be possible to see and visualize thoughts and try to picture the unimaginable in such a way.

After a dinner and a few glasses of wine, I made my ‘indecent’ proposal. I asked my new doctor friend if he wouldn’t mind doing a scan of my brain?

I must say he didn’t find it very thrilling.

He explained to me that the functional IMR scanner, a machine with which the brain could be scanned, isn’t a cheap toy and that it is meant to be used for people who really need it.

I managed to convince him that I really needed it too; otherwise my research would have been incomplete, so finally he agreed to do it.

We had to do it on Sunday, though. I guess it was because then fewer people would notice it.

A few days later I was holding the picture of my brain in my hands.

It felt weird. At first I was very proud of that picture. It was like when the pictures for your passport turn out extremely successfully. My brain had, as I could see it, the right size, the right proportions, even some sort of personality. My brain was beautiful.

But I couldn’t see any thoughts…

It was impossible to visualize them like that.

It was not even obvious what sort of brain activity would be axiomatic for the type of thinking we defined as light and/or heavy thoughts.

It was altogether a bit of a disappointment.

My mother called me later and asked me if they had found anything… I had to tell her there was nothing. She seemed to be pleased because she had a completely different set of associations with this type of image.

I remembered that another friend of mine once told me that a possible definition of a heavy thought is one that is stuck, fixed and doesn’t move (I immediately hade to think of my villain and how he ended completely immobile in the middle of the stage in the puppet-theatre play). Light thoughts, she said, could be seen more as nomadic thoughts, since they are flexible, fluid, moving from place to place, ever changing. This friend of mine is a philosopher and I believe a lot of what she has to say about thoughts. After all it is her profession.

Also I find this way of imagining thoughts the most amusing.

It may even correspond to the multidisciplinary art project, taking place in the body; the one that I mentioned previously…

Taking all this into consideration, I decided to look for light and heavy thoughts and play with them, as with those puppets, in my own body. To meet Mr. Villain and Mrs. Illusion personally. I decided to do it by using my common sense and with the aid of physical forces.

After a few days of thinking I bought myself a trampoline.

When I was a dancer, gravity had always been very beneficial to me so I decided to take a chance on it once again.

The idea was to use the principle of a decanter; I would try to unfix heavy thoughts with each jump and let them fall down to my feet. On the other hand, I would send light thoughts up into my head and possibly even make them leave my head on their way to the stratosphere.

After a few minutes of jumping I felt kind of high and my head felt sweaty. Soon afterwards I started to notice a pain in my left ankle. I thought my job was finished since I had probably managed to send the heavy thoughts down to my ankle.

I peacefully went to sleep.

Next morning I woke up with a heavy sensation in my head. I immediately suspected the presence of heavy thoughts. Then I thought: how is that possible? Last night I left them in my ankle. How did they travel from my ankle to my head without me jumping upside down on my hands? Then I realized it must have happened because I was ‘thinking’ them in my dreams; are dreams there to transport our thoughts?

I also remember that I had left the television on by mistake that night. Maybe these thoughts were not the ones from the night before but some new ones that were somehow beamed into my head.

Once more I thought of my question: if these thoughts are puppets, who is manipulating them?

I decided to take a little more control over my own thoughts and to weight-watch them.

Next day I was back on the train.

Thoughts Spectacle was comisioned by and published in Janus Magazine number 17/04
(Young Talents/ New Concepts)