Mental pictures of a physical world: Where are you now?

Jane Hodgson

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This discussion and presentation centres around my video piece: “How Are You Today, 27 February, 2005”, with a nod towards the philosophical debate referred to as ‘The Mind-Body problem’,  ‘the World Knot’ , ‘Reality & Consciousness’ and  ‘the Theory of Forms’ – in short – Metaphysics.

I am here because my film installation fits this conference – “How Are You Today…” is a series of five films where me and 4 friends and family around the world, all asked of passers’ by “How is, or was, your day today?” filming reactions.

I edited all 5 pieces of footage down to nine minutes each; the films play on a loop, five films and their audio play simultaneously. it explores tiny slices of the world in 5 different continents, filmed exactly the same hour, on a February morning, (UK time) in 2005.


How are you today in exhibition


The locations and times were: New York, 12 midnight, England 6am, Soweto 9am, Hong Kong 1pm and Brisbane 3pm.

It was the start of my journey which has involved much imagining of other places; and when thinking about this talk I took the opportunity of researching the idea, that I don’t just live here, because I am physically here, but I live elsewhere a lot of the time, because my thoughts are elsewhere!



Up and Over Maquette



Up and Over Maquette




Since 2000 I have been immersed in a time/space, body/mind dialogue, because my sister and her husband travelled by boat to our nearest land based antipode, New Zealand.

Where were they?

What were they up to as I slept?

What was I up to when they slept?

What is happening elsewhere, anywhere, as I go about my day?

This led to my ongoing research interest into events happening simultaneously and in various antipodes. (Antipodes are diametrical opposite locations on earth, as if one passed a knitting needle through the centre of the world.) *




Another piece I call Weather Watch, is continuing until this October, when my sister comes home. We write about the weather every day, and have done since she arrived in New Zealand in 2004. Me in England, she in NZ.

These images are paintings I did of the words of 2008, where I painted small canvasses of each day.



Weather watch, NZ


Weather watch, UK



Weather watch, NZ close up




Weather watch, UK close up





The book title “Somewhere, someone is doing something” [1] sums up my curiosity.

It is obvious, of course. Always, someone is doing something, somewhere; yet how do we relate to that in terms of where we are living?

Where do we live?

Do we live physically or mentally?

Where am I at home?

In my mind, which is continually flipping here and everywhere, or where I sit, now as I write this, leaning on my desk, tapping at my computer, with the physical object of a world map in front of my desk.

This discussion will not answer the question, philosophers don’t have the answer, but it is an argument I have stumbled across in my own life, and on being asked to make this presentation, I have looked a little more deeply in to it.




So, my interest in time and space, mind and body, began in 2000.

I had just started a BA Hons in fine art, and my sister and her husband were sailing around the world.

They were constantly on my mind: where were they now?

What time of day is it where they are?

What are they eating as they ride 40ft waves?

Were they on land or on the sea?

Were they safe?

Contact was minimal, by post, carbon copies to family and friends, you were unlucky if it was your turn to get the last copy which was pretty hard to read!

By the time they reached NZ in 2004 we were able to contact them by email in the middle of oceans, which was bizarre. They had travelled slowly and had enough of the high seas, as they landed in NZ, they decided they liked it there, and stayed.






So, my little sister was now living in our nearest land based antipode: New Zealand. My work became rather obsessed by this. I was constantly placing photographs of New Zealand in our landscape; when I travelled out of the UK I worked out what that antipode was, and put different images there too, re photographing those images in situ, as the work.



Polarity series




I continued my studies when I found the MA Arts & Ecology in Dartington, I travelled every 3 months from Buckinghamshire here for our 3 week modules using a variety of mediums, as the course encouraged.

On my world map I worked out interesting land based antipodes around the globe, which is surprisingly difficult given that 70% of the globe is water!



World map antipodes









I was also researching Food Following, the discipline that follows our food from source to table, working with Dr Ian Cook, Assistant Professor in Human Geography at Exeter University. I have completed a couple of projects on food following, the results being video and installation.

“Milked Dry”, in 2007 is about the decline of the UK Dairy Farming Industry.

“Fishy Business”, 2008, about the lack of fish in our seas. [2]




For my MA final in 2008, I brought together my food following research and antipodes. I produced a dinner, an audio piece and an installation about the staple food of two antipodes, I showed the triangular conversation that was my research, and the journey the food made, to get to me.

Among many antipodes I considered, were:

Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong that all have antipodes in Argentina.

Lima, Peru is opposite Leach, Cambodia

Haillar, China is the Falkland Islands

Marbella, Spain is Auckland, New Zealand

Manaus, Brasil is Salawesi, Indonesia

Cape Horn is Siberia.


Don’t these words conjour such amazing images?




I settled on Hawaii and Namibia, largely because I was running out of time and I knew someone in Namibia; and in Hawaii they speak English and I found someone who was a huge fan of Poi, their staple food, on the internet. Maize is the staple in Namibia.

I’d have loved to have done India versus America, but sadly both their antipodes are an ocean!




Where was I when I was doing all this research?

When I was preparing the food and talking and eating; then thinking about how maize is cooked in Africa?, How it is boiled in big steel battered pots over a wood fire in mud huts.

How it is watered down for the school children, so they drink it and don’t take it home.

It’s opposite in Hawaii, Poi, is an odd green spinach type vegetable turning pink and watery when cooked and pulverised to a blancmange consistency, served primarily, with savoury foods although they also turn it in to a desert by sweetening!

I learnt how Poi’s popularity is declining because Hawaiian children now prefer Big Macs, and how Hawaii, as part of the Pacific Islands, has become the most obese area in the world because of the introduction of fast food.

I was all over the place, I always am, so are you!




My research for today, and my mind-physical issue, has led me from the Ancient Greek Philosphers up to the present day.

Firstly Socrates, (born around 470 BC), believed that “Physical objects and events are shadows of the ideal form”, and declared that the physical world doesn’t exist.

Plato born 50 years later also thought that the material world is not the typical real world in which we live, but the shadow of it. That objects are ‘forms, and are conceptual depiction of things we see around us’.

Their argument comes under the umbrella of Metaphysics, a phrase coined by Aristotle who was born 100 years after Socrates, in the late 300’s BC.

Metaphysics attempts to explain – being and beings, time and space – in other words, the material existence of ourselves and the world, and objects, balanced by our internal experiences of that world

Descartes 1800 years later, in the 16 C, said: “if I say ‘I am seeing, or I am walking, therefore I exist’, and take this as applying to vision or walking as bodily activities, then the conclusion is not absolutely certain. This is because, as often happens during sleep, it is possible for me to think I am seeing or walking, though my eyes are closed, and I am not moving about; such thoughts might even be possible if I had no body at all”. [3]




I have two final quotes that succinctly sum up this conundrum:

Firstly from David Bennet, who wrote about Arthur Schopenhauer, (b 1788), ‘who concluded that the mind creates “immediately and automatically” a mental picture of the external world. When we look at the night sky, or even another person, these objects, and everything else in the world, exist only as part of our consciousness, and in no other way. 

‘How does this happen? How can we see, smell and touch a rose and at the same time uniquely experience its beauty, and the feelings that may arise within us.  This “chasm” between the external, objective world and our own special, subjective experience was called “the world knot” by Schopenhauer’. [4]


And lastly:

‘…letters and words on a page are symbols, which have learned, and agreed-upon meanings connected with them. Similarly, when we speak to another person, our actual words convey information. Though thoughts and feelings may also be communicated, they are quite different things than the words themselves. 

Feelings, thoughts, and mental images serve as the medium of exchange for creating our reality. These feelings, thoughts and mental images are derived through a sense of knowing, a deep personal, subjective sense that an idea or thought is important, and when connected with other thoughts, provides us with insights and understanding of both ourselves and our surrounding world’. [5]



To bring my presentation to an end – this little mystery is still being voraciously discussed today; sometimes it is called the Theory of Forms, sometimes the Mind-Body problem, sometimes the World-Knot, but it’s all the same – metaphysics.

“In a nutshell since people are composed of chemicals, they must be physically explicable, but yet since they have consciousness they can’t be”. [6]


So where am I?

Am I standing here, or am I on the other side of the world, sitting on a beach in New Zealand?

And where are you?



On a NZ beach





* How to work out an antipode:

Take the latitude of the place you want to find the antipode of and convert it to the opposite hemisphere.


Then, take the longitude of the place and subtract the longitude from 180. Antipodes are always 180° of longitude away.


[1] Book by Yasmine Yim and Jari Lager



[4] Loosening the World Knot, David Bennet.