100-page offset printed catalog/exegesis on ways that thought—and the phenomena that spark it—shapes culture. Contains 50 illustrations. Printed in an edition of 250.
Contact me for a print copy. See Academia.edu for a long excerpt...or download as a PDF (free):
1. WHAT IS A PHILOSOPROP?
The word philosoprop is a portmanteau of philosophy (love of wisdom) and either prop (theatrical property) or propaganda (influential communication), depending. A philosoprop is a device, implement, or illustration – crafted or discovered ready-made – that can be used for the purpose of demonstrating a concept or sparking a dialog. I began collecting and contriving them many years ago, quite by accident.
I didn’t set out to become a maker of philosoprops, per se – my path has led through science, scientific illustration, conceptual art, and social activism, ultimately becoming an amalgam of all of these things.
After noticing that, more than anything else, my work consisted of multimedia social interventions and apparatuses as catalysts for discussion, reflection, and action, I felt compelled to invent a word to describe the associated artifacts. The term art felt too ambiguous; philosoprop seemed more precise.
I am by no means the only person making philosoprops. In fact, it could be argued that they are everywhere, contained in nearly every facet of human endeavor throughout history: many works of art, music, poetry, and literature; religious icons; shamanic implements; acts and signs of resistance and protest; some scientific instruments; and even some culinary delicacies could be thought of as philosoprops. Anytime we need to express the ineffable, make the invisible visible, or connect with the intangible, we may find that a philosoprop comes in handy.
There is evidence that as far back as the 1600s European “experimental philosophers,” opticians, and mathematicians (the label scientist to encompass all of these disciplines hadn’t yet been established) began defining the tools of their trades – inventions such as the prism, camera obscura, sundial, barometer, ruler, and the telescope and microscope – as philosophical instruments. Devices such as stroboscopes, stereoscopes, and kaleidoscopes that were used as much to provide entertainment as to lend insight into the ways in which we perceive space and/or time fell under the subheading of philosophical toys. It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries that the term scientific became associated in particular with laboratory equipment.
Implements of research into the natural world have long provided inspiration for artists, scientists, philosophers, and the public at large. From beakers, flasks, and test-tubes, cabinets of curiosity, and planetariums to the Hubble Space Telescope and the Large Hadron Collider, scientific and philosophical instruments spark the imagination and “provide metaphors for writers and poets, they have an important pedagogical role in illustrating and confirming theory, and they define for the public what is acceptable science.”
Revolutionary historical examples of philosoprops – illustrative works that have caused profound shifts in the way entire populations envisioned their place in the universe – might include Leonardo da Vinci’s famed “Vitruvian Man” (or “Proportions of the Human Figure”) around 1500 or Copernicus’ drawings of the heliocentric solar system published a few decades later. In the mid-1300s a French thinker by the name of Nichole d’Oresme developed a coordinate system by which to plot units of time against space along intersecting horizontal and vertical axes. With the advent of the graph, both “experimental philosophers” and artists were able to visualize and consider abstract data – such as the movement of objects through space and three-dimensional perspective – in new ways. More recently, the double-helix model of the DNA molecule (1952) and the “Blue Marble” photograph of earth from space taken by the Apollo 17 crew (1972) have been noted for their widespread cultural impact. (Although, as journalist Naomi Klein recently pointed out, gazing down at an abstracted image of earth from high above may have done as much to reinforce humanity’s sense of separation from nature as it has done to remind us that we are all sharing one small, stunning planet.)
In 2000 I attended an exhibition titled Unnatural Science at Mass MOCA in western Massachusetts. Among the pieces, all in some way inspired by scientific investigation, was a work titled “Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions,” by Eve Andrée Laramée, consisting of an outlandishly intricate arrangement of laboratory glassware etched with “unscientific” words and phrases such as HANDFULS, PARADOX, UNSPECIFIED, and UNNECESSARY EXPLANATORY PRINCIPLES. Upon experiencing Eve’s piece I realized that I was part of a tradition of artist-scientist-philosophers: I would not have to pick a discipline – it would be possible to work in all at once.
While this book serves as a sort of history and field guide to mostly my own philosoprops, it is my hope that by putting a name to the genre others will feel compelled to add to it. By telling the stories of the inspiration behind many of my works (with historical references to science, art, and philosophy), I explore the causes of current social, political, and environmental crises and suggest that the way forward will require profound shifts to our collective vision of culture, to the conditions we accept as “normal” within our society. I believe that through the cultivation of all forms of personal creativity, everyone can play a role in the urgently needed re-envisioning of our relationships with one another and our surroundings.
PHILOSOPROPS: A UNIFIED FIELD GUIDE is equal parts art exhibition catalog, cultural critique, autobiography, and invitation to reconsider the standard compartments into which we are taught to divide our world. It also serves as a long answer to the question I am most frequently asked: What made you think of that?
"Alyce Santoro's Philosoprops: A Unified Field Guide is radical (meaning "proceeding from the root") in the truest sense. What at first seems like an account of her personal process of creation unfolds into a manifesto about the paradoxes of self-consciousness. We learn that her "philosoprops" give contemporary form to perennial conundrums. Long associated with Zen koans and ancient attempts to square the circle, her artworks playfully re-invent time-honored techniques for inducing illumination through befuddlement. Yet the book also reveals her intention of going far beyond celebrating the novelty of riddles. She seeks to give voice to the unclassifiable heretics that occupy the liminal realms at the boundaries of art, science, religion, and spirituality. Instead of succumbing to modern society's push towards specialization and categorization, she uses philosoprops to encourage pulling the rug out from under paradigmatic assumptions to examine the complex unities of existence. By documenting the decades-long nucleosynthesis of her own creative process, Alyce has managed to provide a touching insight into her own ongoing epiphanic supernova. Her explorations of the complementary possibilities of intuitive reason, gentle empiricism, and precise speculation have not only produced delightful objects, they have also enabled her to make a compelling case that embracing multiple perspectives on the world is essential for cultivating empathy, compassion, and reciprocation. Philosoprops: A Unified Field Guide is an open invitation to her fellow astronauts aboard the magnificent Spaceship Earth to embrace the playful nature of a mutually beneficial cosmos: in her words, to believe in everything instead of nothing."
– David McConville, cosmographic hermeneut and Chairman of the Buckminster Fuller Institute
"Alyce Santoro is best known as the inventor of the most creative advance in textiles in the past few millennia. Her Sonic Fabric brought cloth and clothing into an entirely new sensory and indeed ontological realm. Dialectical materialism may have gone out of style in recent times, but Sonic Fabric has assured that dialectical material has a great future. Now, with Philosoprops, Santoro dedicates her impressive creative energies to the cause of making sure that dialectical philosophy, and indeed, philosophy as a whole, also has an auspicious future. Her new book is a kind of “Guide for the Unperplexed.” If you fear that you may be lapsing into some kind of dogmatic slumber, Philosoprops will shake you up a bit and render you more creatively perplexed. What is a philosoprop? It’s a prop, something that helps you philosophize, and it’s also an op, an opportunity to have fun doing it. Santoro says that philosoprops are like philosophical toys. This is one of their most admirable qualities. They help bring play, and maybe even joyfulness, back into philosophy. It’s often been said that the origin of philosophy is in childlike wonder. But has this truth been taken seriously, or seriously unseriously, enough? Santoro thinks not, and wants to do something about it. Philosoprops is a guide to engaged philosophizing, to doing, and not just thinking about doing. It helps return philosophy to everyday life. Philosoprops takes philosophy out of the hands of the philosopros and philosoprofs and puts it back in the hands of the philosopeeps. Who knows what will happen when you get hooked on philosoprops? They may help you notice how you notice what you notice! If you do enough philosopropping, you may discover that in the end wisdom is just a mountain to be plucked, or a flower to be climbed, step-by-step! Whether or not you accept Santoro’s invitation to “choose determinism,” I certainly hope that you will be determined to get this book!"
– Max Cafard, surregionalist writer, psychogeographer, Zen anarchist
"Alyce Santoro (a.k.a. Alyce B. Obvious) is keen at pointing out with graphic grace, material beauty, and steampunk sensibility what should be obvious to us all: that the universe is marvelous, and that a down-to-earth, resilient lifestyle is immediately available to anyone who is willing to tune in, unplug, and DIY. Philosophical apparatuses and instruments – philosoprops – are the tools of Alyce’s obvious multiverse. Informed by a love of wisdom and an absurd sense of humor, these material propaganda draw attention to human behaviors and the social, political and environmental ramifications of our beliefs and actions. Alyce’s instruments broadcast a hopeful message: that changing the world for the better begins the moment we realize it is possible. When we reach out with open arms, an open mind and an open heart, simple actions (like hanging laundry in the sun to dry instead of relying on a machine powered by coal, fracking, or nuclear fission) take on transformative power. By raising questions like “Is magic real?” “Are we separate from one another?” and “Can we create a more just, egalitarian system?” philosoprops disarm us, make us smile, and show us a path towards participation in the wonder of it all. Whether we decide to notice what we notice, embrace paradox, follow our instincts and intuition, or live simply…the choice is ours."
– Eve Andrée Laramée, interdisciplinary artist, ecological activist