torna conversations #4
with Shannon May Powell

You can find the publication here.



MERVE KAPTAN: Tell me more about a stone, and it having a soul.

SHANNON MAY POWELL: I like to imagine non sentient objects containing souls. Perhaps this is an illusion, a construction of the mind that is obsessed with projecting meaning onto what is seemingly meaningless. Ayurveda, an ancient system of knowledge from India, believes that sentient life forms, such as humans, contain four elements (body, senses, mind and soul) and non sentient life forms, such as stones, contain two elements (body and soul). I believe objects speak to us more than we realize. An architectural structure made of stone can alter your state of being. We create museums and galleries that harbor miscellaneous objects. Objects can evoke immense feelings.

MK: Why is the anthropomorphism of objects a form of play? Is this the way we've learnt to ensure ourselves and create the artificial structures in order to get on with things?

SMP: The anthropomorphism of objects is the act of projecting human qualities onto objects, plants, animals or Gods. This is what the mind does in order to comprehend something that would otherwise remain abstract. It is a game for the mind. Something entirely abstract and unknown is often impossible for the mind to accept. And so we play this game of transforming seemingly meaningless things into meaningful things so that we can have a relationship with them. This is a very solipsistic way of being in the world. On a fundamental level we do do this in order to ensure that we feel secure, to feel as though there is some sense within our abstract and unknown existence. 
So perhaps it is actually more playful not to anthropomorphise objects. Perhaps the title of my next book will be, Accepting the Abstract Nature of Objects is a Form of Play.

MK: In your writings you are very personal yet are aware of your distance to the place you are writing about. Can you/do you write about home, the landscapes you are so familiar with in the same gentle but absent way? Is it possible do you think?

SMP: Yes it is possible to write about home from a gentle and yet absent point of view. The concept of home has always been very abstract to me. I moved around a lot as a child and I have lived in a few different countries now, perhaps this conditioned me to become a voyeur, to always observe the exterior from an outsiders point of view. To observe anything, a landscape, a person or an object, requires distance. Paradoxically, observation also requires intimacy, you need to be close to the place or thing in order to understand it.
As a writer/image maker I am aware of this paradox in myself, to always have one foot inside of the experience and one foot out in order to capture it. To do this requires being simultaneously close and yet far away, like gazing through a telescope, with one eye looking through a magnifying glass while the other eye observes the entire landscape, including its peripherals.

MK: 'Synesthetes hear colours, feel sounds and taste shapes…' Sounds wonderful and awful at the same time. The semiotics of senses. How do you see your practice in writing and image making in all this?

SMP: I find the cross breeding of the senses very fascinating. My understanding of synesthesia is very close to metaphor; a thing regarded as symbolic for something else. This to me is the most enjoyable part of creation. When you begin to think in this way the world becomes playful, everything is available for metamorphoses. My practice of writing and image making is synesthetic in the sense that I am playing with metaphor, I am cross breeding symbols in the same way that a synesthetes sensual experience in the world is cross bred. 

MK: When we talked about cities having their own colours, you said Istanbul was like an antique gold colour while Berlin - where you are based right now- being some sort of an artificially bright neon light. I like the colour distinction you have in your head for the two places. Tell me about colour and places.

SMP: I have become more sensitive to colour since I began experimenting with photography, when I am in a new place I often notice a continuity in the color and light. I guess this is a habit of the mind, to collect familiarities in order to understand something as a whole. These supposed continuities are subjective though, they are condensations of my own imagination. I'm sure someone else would see different colors through their own looking glass. I am projecting my own ideas or experiences onto a place. I choose to frame it in a certain light to create a certain mood. I shoot only with film though so these continuities are usually subconscious until the film is developed. Aesthetically, Istanbul had a romantic antiquity, in contrast to Berlin, which sometimes feels hyperreal, like something akin to the matrix.

You can find more on Shannon's work HERE.