[NetBehaviour] Invitation to join in dialogue, COVID Net Art discussion

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Fri Apr 3 17:31:14 CEST 2020

Hi Danielle,

These sound fun, I will try to check one out!

I think the relevance of Leonardo da Vinci and his fabulous integration of art and science, indeed of all the arts and all the sciences, couldn't be more essential for the crisis of Covid-19 (a virus appearing during the year of Leonardo's 500th anniversary celebrations which I was fortunately able to visit in Florence last June).

How we build on and continue Leonardo's legacy may be crucial to how well the planet will cope with the pandemic.

Last July I got the strange idea, after reading a lot of Calvino's Six Memos, Giunti's "Decoding Leonardo" edition of the Codex Leicester (bought in Florence at the Galileo Museum's Leonardo exhibit), and a book on Leonardo's library, that the Mona Lisa is itself best understood as a work of network art, specifically, as a mindfulness network map of human and planetary history.

How did this viewing arise?  It occurred to me on the airplane while returning from a vacation in California, and was perhaps prompted by Calvino's mention in Six Memos for the Next Millennium, in Exactitude pp. 77-80, of Leonardo's highly poetic and visual description of a sea-going dinosaur in the Codex Atlanticus, which Calvino felt Leonardo used as "a symbol of the solemn force of nature."

For whatever reason, either the Calvino, or my recent visit to Florence, or my inability (on the same trip!) to visit the actual Mona Lisa at the Louvre because we visited on the day of the 1-day strike to protest the excessive number of tourists, I was really trying to engage with the Mona Lisa on that flight home from California.  I had realized that I thought about the ML more than I actually looked at it, and should look at it some more (if only out of respect for the artist on his 500th anniversary year).

What I saw in my mind's eye, looking at the ML in reproduction, was an interactive temporal and cognitive map.  This was partly prompted by my attempt to "meet the gaze" of the painting, not a quick glance but a sustained engagement.  To do this, I used a bit of mindfulness meditation while viewing it.  I tried to just look, without analyzing, for a sustained time, say five minutes or so.  I appreciated and felt how the ML's facial expression changed along with my internal mental state or attitude, "responding" in a kindly, admonishing, or neutral depending on my inner sense of my own viewing agency.  I saw this as a kind of mute dialogue, the image being designed by Leonardo so that an intelligence or knowledge of his own could greet and engage with something similar in myself.  This I felt to be a cycle, like breathing, not a one-and-done; what in yoga sometimes is called the namaste or mutual recognition.

This way of viewing the painting felt very rich and real to me, in an almost shocking way.  It seemed like a true step forward.  So, I looked to the background of the painting for clues.  I saw the bleak and empty landscape on the left background, showing the tectonic erosion as mentioned in the Giunti Codex Leicester pp. 58-59, and a river flow as on p. 14 (detail of the ML) and pp. 32-34.  This of course also elicited images of vortices of water, described in the Giunti thus:  "The spiral is one of the shapes of water that most attracts Leonardo (fig. 10), in his eyes it represents one of the greatest manifestations of the power of water, because the vortices can dig the bottom of the rivers like augers" (p.19).

I'd known for a while that the horizon line in the ML background is disjunct on the left and the right, but why?  It appeared to me that the main difference was that the right side was a bit more complex, but most strikingly, it had a human-built structure: a bridge.  This had to be a major factor -- it was practically the only object in the whole background, other than mists, flowing water, and primordial rocks.  Then the visual "shock" or rupture hit me, that the bridge flowed seamlessly into a vortex, a twisting braid of the sitter's shawl, bringing me back instantly from the mists of geologic time to the sitter's garment, then body, then face.

This struck me as consequential.  The sitter's garment is dignified, but far from gaudy or splendid.  It serves mainly to accent the hands (for me the most lush and gorgeous part of the picture apart from the eyes), the heart (simple and meditative), and the face.  I couldn't have imagined a more shocking and indeed blasting return to the gaze from an almost-infinite distance in time and space.  I cannot but confess this changed my life forever.  I scribbled on a piece of paper so I wouldn't forget, and showed it to my wife who was watching a movie on the airplane video system: "I figured out what the Mona Lisa means!"  Whatever this tale might mean to anyone else, it changed me irreversibly.  In that moment I came to love Leonardo and Florence, Galileo and the Arno, in an entirely new and complete way.  A friend and true kindred spirit, a colleague, a companion, a teacher.  Something like the sun setting behind the Duomo as viewed from Michelangelo's piazzale, completely overcrowded yes but still there.  Both a haunting question and a generous gift.

But I wax too poetical.  The epiphany was beautiful yes, and with memories of Cinque Terre truly helped me bond with the land where Calvino lived.  But like all epiphanies do and should, it faded and settled to something more quiet.  Was it real, at all, and if so, how?  Was it a major load of BS?

I've tried to research this, to ask others if they can see these visuals, or sense this interactive gaze.  So far no luck, but the hypothesis still interests me.  I have found references by Leonardo in his notebooks to science and learning as garments however, which to me is a fairly exact corroboration.  The bridge represents the works of art and science, which clothe humanity, but are not to be dominating or prescriptive over experience, which Leonardo called his mistress, witness, judge, and champion, and which I believe to be instantiated in the intersubjective gaze we can share in real time with the painting.  To see it though depends on our being present.  This relates to mindfulness and present-moment awareness, based on the cycle of breathing, a relatively new frontier in neuroscience which I believe must inform our approach to aesthetics and to history, the history of both art and science, if we are to truly progress.  After all, how could we possible progress without being present?  🙂

This is my speculative hypothesis on the nature of the Mona Lisa: a map of evolutionary and geologic time; of the history of art, engineering, science, and technology; an ethos balancing the human with the built; and a directive for each of us to simply be present as our starting point, goal, and locus of individuality capable of connective unity.  This is a map designed to help us balance, to understand, to help, indeed to heal.

Therefore I see this map as a human one, a transformative network-aesthetic process tailor made as it were for this moment of anthropocene crisis that bridges the medical, scientific, economic, and aesthetic realms.

Very best regards and thank you for all the great work Leonardo does,


Calvino, Italo.  Six Memos for the Next Millennium.  Vintage, 1996.
Laurenza, Domenico.  The Codex Leceister: Leonardo da Vinci.  Giunti: Decoding Leonardo.  2018.

From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Danielle Siembieda via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Friday, April 3, 2020 1:57 AM
Cc: Danielle Siembieda <dsiembieda at hotmail.com>
Subject: [NetBehaviour] Invitation to join in dialogue, COVID Net Art discussion

Hi there, I wanted to share a couple of important things Leonardo is doing in the next week. I thought you'd like to join us.

Coffee and Cocktails - A Social Connecting Space in your timezone.

They are on Mondays and Thursdays. Here is a link with details about times,<https://www.leonardo.info/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=489> when you register it will email you the private Zoom room information. Our next one is Thursday morning at 9:00 AM San Francisco time hosted by Leonardo's Managing Editor Erica Hruby.

I also wanted to make sure you know about and are able to attend a special panel discussion for a net art exhibition sponsored by the Chronos Art Center and Rhizome at the New Museum in response to COVID-19. We=Link: Ten Easy Pieces press release and ten partner organizations can be found here<https://www.leonardo.info/welink-ten-easy-pieces>. The artworks are currently on the Chronus site here <http://we-link.chronusartcenter.org/> and will soon be on the Leonardo site archived.

We hope you will join us for an interactive panel on Monday, April 6 at 5:00 San Francisco time. Details are and RSVP here<https://www.leonardo.info/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=490>. We will also share this live on Facebook<https://www.facebook.com/events/643544219757375/>.

One last thing, we are in the midst of collaborating with our LASER Hosts around the world for a global LASER Event. We will announce more soon.


Danielle Siembieda
Managing Director

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://lists.netbehaviour.org/pipermail/netbehaviour/attachments/20200403/63d85afe/attachment.htm>

More information about the NetBehaviour mailing list