fig. 24: Jabberwocky, 1994
© Corinne Whitaker

"What is known I strip away.
I launch all men and women forward
with me into the Unknown."

unfolding: a memoir

II Community

The American West embodies the lure of the unknown, the inner map of a world that we have identified as raw, unexplored, untamed and seemingly infinite. Each of us approaches our daily lives with our inner maps already plotted, life divided into neat neighborhoods of understanding. It takes a jolt, an abrasion, a tear in life's carefully constructed fabric, a piercing work of art, to make us transgress old borders and cross a new threshold of vision. It takes some kind of mental anarchy to disrupt our illusory maps of how the world works.

fig. 25: Jane on Top of the World, 1996
© Corinne Whitaker

Consider this description offered by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker magazine on October 20/27, 1997

the subjects "wander up stairs and through doors and down hallways and into the rooms of others, rummaging through drawers and closets, randomly opening and closing cabinets, looking for things they cannot articulate and may never find."

The description applies beautifully to the digital artist, the seeker of an unknown truth, the adventurer into unmapped territories of the human soul. We embrace curiosity, courage, exploration, and persistence. The article goes on to describe the subjects as idiosyncratic, resistant to regimentation, to structure imposed from without. Pure individualists, with unusual daily routines.

fig. 26: Wrestling with Death, 1996
© Corinne Whitaker

But these are not artists. These are Alzheimer patients, and the response of others is unfortunately familiar: this is a spirit that must be tamed, controlled, restricted and regimented. Made to conform to others' norms. Segregated and isolated.

fig. 27: One Sad, Lost Child, 1997
© Corinne Whitaker

To what extent does the artist reside in an Alzheimer-type world? To what extent do we share impulses and urges with these patients? For it appears that our maps of interrogation bear eerie resemblances to theirs. And one of the striking correspondences occurs in the silences: we don't know what happens in the silent synapses of an Alzheimer mind, in those large white expanses of de Kooning's late works. But as artists we do understand the investigation of silences, of those places on the map of being that others fear to visit. We incorporate negative space in the marrow of our souls. We cross the borders of insanity, clutching our visitor's pass.

fig. 28: Didn't You Know? Hamlet's Dead, 1996
© Corinne Whitaker

George Johnson, writing in the Sunday New York Times on October 12, 1997, put it this way: "There are many different ways the world can be mapped inside a brain or a computer. The mental pictures we take for the real world are just as much constructions as . . . Van Gogh's 'Starry Night'".


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All text and images © Corinne Whitaker.