Exquisite Mindscape was a live experiment
virtually inspired by the 21st century and art,
featuring the correspondence of two artists:
Stephen Gibb and Sabina Nore.
The Exquisite Mindscape project took place between February and March 2013.
This PDF file was created on June 16 2014 and serves as a backup of the original project.
February 13, 2012 Stephen GibbUnheimlich Maneuver
Stuck in the throat like something that can’t be
spoken. Stuck in the spot where the Heimlich
maneuver becomes the “unheimlich” maneuver,
lodging the words deeper in the throat causing
translations to interbreed and create their unique
chaos, a circus spectacle.
Stuck where the hands of time rust in place and
the madness unfolds in an endless stream of
consciousness, until the ringmaster becomes self-
aware, stumbling on his rehearsed delivery,
rendering the audience unconscious, catatonic,
vibrating in harmonic resonance with their DNA…
February 13, 2012 Sabina Nore
My thoughts have traveled from (exquisite) mindscape to Imaginarium, to something grotesque
or uncanny, to the circus and my fascination with its visuals and the symbolism. However, when
I say circus I am stuck at the older version of the same, maybe up to the 1930s. I am as
unfamiliar with the modern circus as I wish to be with the symbolical circle of existence.
Speaking of grotesque and uncanny, the
German equivalent to uncanny is
“unheimlich” which, if translated
literally, would mean “unhomely”.
There’s a picture in there somewhere.
The unhomely circus of existence.
Bringing German into the mix reminds
me of Freud who said that the uncanny
“derives its terror not from something
externally alien or unknown but, on the contrary, from something strangely familiar which
defeats our efforts to separate ourselves from it.”
Stuck in the unhomely circus of existence…
build around that notion. Circuses are travelling
shows, entertainment brought to your town,
usually for enjoyment, frivolous yet thrilling.
What if this circus has another agenda, deeper,
more profound…? Now I’m reminded of Robert
Pirsig’ mention of the “chautauqua” in Zen and
the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
Let’s dive into this a little more…
February 15, 2012 Stephen GibbThe Midnight Circus…
I was always fascinated by the idea of a Dark
Carnival (actually a band from Detroit), or a
Midnight Circus (Cries from the Midnight Circus
is a song from The Pretty Things) or the idea
behind the story Something Wicked This Way
Comes (Bradbury) where the conventional circus
is upended with something off kilter, uncanny. I
think of freaks, side shows, acrobats, exotic
animal…I like the circus idea. Maybe we can
February 14, 2012 Sabina NoreCircus Spectacles
Let’s construct the visual.
A person wearing circus spectacles stares at the audience in the mirror…
February 15, 2012 Stephen Gibb
The other way to see it is through the aspect of performance. Nothing is real, nothing is
genuine. It is all fake and merely a colorful illusion, put in place for spectators and for the
money, to then be torn to pieces, stacked into cages and boxes and carried elsewhere.
So you see, one view is, for me, extremely positive, the other extremely negative. Which do you
want to go with? Or do you propose a third or forth approach?
trompe l’oeil of Olay
It’s all deception. Nothing is real. Nothing’s surreal (say that 5 times fast). Art is the oldest
illusion of all. We’ve conned ourselves into thinking of art as some lofty ambition, some noble
discipline that brings us closer to the gods. It is fakery. It mimics life, it strives for
verisimilitude, it tries to attain some intangible level of sublimity, but it’s just art and a form of
entertainment when you strip it right down. I think that’s why I love it so much – it’s my facade,
created and controlled by me – no one else uses it like the next person since we all create our
own art facades. It may resonate with deep feelings, emotions and personal investment but it’s
essentially paint organized on a panel (organized being the key word).
February 15, 2012 Sabina NoreCircus Freaks
For me there are two ways to approach a circus.
One, as a place full of natural mutants
or freaks whereas, when I say that,
there is no negative connotation
whatsoever. One of the nicest things I
can call a friend is “freak” and I
always chose to surround myself
with such people, because they are
the interesting ones. In that sense the
circus is a stronghold of the unusual,
the different and the refreshing.
February 16, 2012 Stephen Gibb
February 16, 2012 Sabina Nore
OK Sabina I totally missed your post on Circus Spectacles. We could
start there…a sort of interspection by looking at one’s self from a
We are the freaks
An image is taking shape in my head. I picture someone
looking into a gilded mirror, only it’s just a plywood cutout of
a person and we can see this because we are viewing the
cutout from behind as if it is us, almost as if we were about to
peek through the cutout eyes. The reflection is also visible to
us, and I sort of imagine a Victorian woman, maybe even a
sideshow freak like the bearded lady. Beyond the mirror is the
the dark depths of a circus tent with the raggle-taggle crew
and performers strewn about. I see a gorilla disguised as the
Ringmaster directing the audiences attention to something in
the centre ring, something profound…
I don’t know Stephen… I don’t think it’s all fakery. Maybe I’m fooling myself, but I would rather
be a fool with noble ideals than a bitter cynic, at least at this point of my life. I don’t mean to
imply that you are a cynic, I hope that’s a given, nor a fool. This is simply me getting warmed
Being a cynic is like being a joker. The cynic is a nihilist of sorts, and so is the joker. Could fear
be at the source of both their attitudes? Fear of rejection perhaps?
If paint is organized on a panel it doesn’t make it any less profound. The universe itself is
organized. Chaos is organized. Just because there is no obvious pattern or order, visible to us,
doesn’t mean that something is any less profound, any less sublime. The circus is definitely not
So I guess what I’m saying is your dual view of the circus is valid
from either perspective. I think I’d like the circus to be a stage or
setting for presenting the “main event” in the centre ring. Use the
circus metaphor to house the central theme. It’s funny but people
often use “circus” synonomously with chaos, but could a circus ever
really be chaos?
February 16, 2012 Stephen Gibb
chaos, I agree, unless we say it is organized chaos. Like preparing a scene in a play, and the
scene is meant to depict chaos. If all goes well, and if the actors do their part, then the audience
will perceive it as chaos, however that impression is intended and what is behind it is studious
work and organization.
Something profound in the center ring. I like that, but let’s not address that yet. I would like the
center ring to remain a mystery for now.
What if, instead of the plywood cutout, there are glasses or spectacles of some sort in the
center (same position and view as you described for the cutout), and the image in the mirror
that is visible through these glasses in not the same as the image in the mirror outside and
around that area?
So the viewer of the picture is the one looking through the glasses. There is no mediator
between the viewer and the mirror, except for the glasses?
Could the aforementioned center ring be visible through the spectacles?
Beyond the mirror, the dark depths of a circus tent fading into a starry night sky. The whole
background would be darkish, the mirror somewhat brighter, and the area visible through the
glasses the brightest, the clearest.
Would a court jester have a place in this picture? Not a clown… but a court jester.
Marquis de Facade
I think you are fixed on the spectacles, with their clear allusion to illusion and vision. That’s OK,
but I have a sort of affinity to the “facade” component of performance. The clowns and acrobats
and magicians are there for our entertainment, a contract between the audience and performer.
I paid – you entertain. Entertainment is a facade put on by the performer, an interface. It usually
has nothing to do with what is going on in their private life so it is not a genuine extension of
themselves – hence the facade connection.
I like the stars, the darkness, the mystery. I also like the jester, I see him as a surprise element,
maybe a little unsettling in appearance, kind of popping into view…
February 19, 2012 Sabina Nore
February 20, 2012 Stephen Gibb
Masque de Charade
I may have been fixed on the spectacles as I saw them very
clearly, and they looked really good too, but I can easily shed that
vision in lieu of a new one.
A facade or a charade. Charade goes better with the jester. A
Venetian carnival mixed in with the circus. Everyone wearing a
Venetian mask, even the animals.
I am not really trying to make any sense at the moment, rather
going with the flow. Not sure that any of this is worth keeping.
The music from the Tomb Raider game comes to aural mind, the Venice theme… which adds an
element of chase…
The music is playful as well though. Children
playing hide-and-seek, angry adults handing out
Venetian masks to the kids, angry because it’s not
proper to go outside and play unless you are
Masks are a pretty obvious symbol. Too obvious for
a main feature but may work as an added goodie.
What do you think?
Masque of Amontillado
Now I’m veering off into Poe-land… A jester, an Italian city (Venice, Venetian masks), Carnival
(or circus) and the deception (being bricked into your own tomb)…
OK let’s start to build an image. I like the mask idea. Let’s somehow use this as a central image,
perhaps the masked figure engaged in the mirror??? The circus or carnival becomes a reference
to what is going on inside the masked character’s mind, the reflection in the mirror being the
February 20, 2012 Sabina Nore
February 20, 2012 Stephen Gibb
February 20, 2012 Sabina Nore
reality. If you agree that this could be a foundation to build outward from, we can proceed to
flesh out the secondary details. It all depends on how far we want to fine-tune the consensus.
Do we have to scrupulously describe every detail down to colour and position or do we rough-
out the scene with ambiguous latitude for interpretation?
Solidifying the Cast
Yes, it’s time to start solidifying our ideas.
Masked figure engaged in a mirror. – Yes!
Being that the circus is an outward spectacle and all about performance and audience, it makes
more sense to me as a reference to “reality”, even if it’s a distorted view of reality (though it
doesn’t have to be distorted!). By the same token, the mirror is reflective, introspective; the
character gazes into the mirror to find the true self, unaffected by the surrounding circus. It
works either way though, and maybe that’s an added charm of the dual outcome.
As for fine-tuning the consensus, and how far to go, I’d say that we should agree on some must-
have elements, general meaning, but details like color, position, etc. should remain a surprise.
How about we each name a few things that must be included as part of the general image? The
general setup we have pretty much already described, haven’t we?
It’s a wrap…
Masked figure (central figure), mirror (central prop), circus (setting). Those are the three
elements that HAVE to be included in the image. Is that too general? I don’t think so. If we start
splitting hairs as to what circus elements be included it could take months to arrive at an
agreement. I’m sure with this as the launch point it conjures an image in the reader’s mind just
as it does in ours, but the results will inevitably be vastly different… or not…
I didn’t mean to split hairs but simply each of us to list a few (three or so) must-have elements
(details), but we can do it this way as well. The image started conjuring up a long time ago, and
shifted and changed a few times too, so yes, I am fine with wrapping it up and getting down
with the fun part!
Any time frame? Shall we wait until each of us has completed the painting and then present it
on the same day, or how?
February 20, 2012 Stephen Gibb
February 21, 2012 Sabina Nore
February 21, 2012 Stephen Gibb
Strap on your pressure suit
I’m ready to go.
I just wonder about the value of any kind of exchange during the actual art making period, or
would that cause interference and influence the other in an adverse way? Kind of like “no
peeking”… But I think “peeking” would be cool too because it would continue the process of a
long-distance collaboration. Should it be hidden, both in description or in actual posted images?
Maybe we could aim for a target date. How about the 15th of March? That has some significance
It could be interesting to share the progress half way through, or so, and risk an accidental
March 15th is a Thursday… so we could present what we have on March 1st and then again on
March 1, 2012 Stephen Gibbthe rough edges
This is where I’m at so far… Just some simple sketches to build around. I wanted to make the
mirror a character in the painting so it has become anthropomorphised into a face with cloven
hooves for feet. The masked figure is ambiguous as to its logical position relative to the mirror
and as to its identity (is it the viewer?). The circus tent will be dark and foreboding and the
ringmaster will have a sort of perplexed look of not quite understanding his role in these
bizarre events. Just like the expression I wear every day…
As you can see I am painting in black and white at the moment. Color and additional details
come at a later point.
March 1, 2012 Sabina NoreSubjective vs. Objective
Cool! I really like how the mirror looks, as well as the “abyss” in front of it.
As for me, I got into my painting – big time, but I accept the suggested format, so I’m not going
to reveal the whole picture yet either. Instead, here are two details, each containing numerous
In the second picture is one of the scenes that shows something that is happening in the ring, a
boy infatuated with it all, and right at the entrance of the circus tent, a rabbit that’s coming out
of a top hat. The magic is spilled right at the entrance, so to speak, but that doesn’t make a bit
The child is outside the ring, but it can’t wait to join the circus. What it doesn’t know is that it is
already chained to it, and doesn’t have a choice but to eventually become part of the spectacle.
The nail is stuck into the ground inside the ring (not visible in the above picture, obviously) and
would pull the child in to face the same direction as everyone else who is “playing along”.
Direction, and who is facing which, is important in my painting, but that will be more clear
when a bigger part of the picture is visible.
For instance, the main character in front of the mirror will probably be much more “fleshy” and
March 9, 2012 Sabina NoreProgress
Well, I didn’t get as far as I had planned for this showing, but here is what I have so far.
March 9, 2012 Stephen Gibb
Here’s where I’m at so far… about a day behind schedule and some interesting details still to be
added… stay tuned.
March 16, 2012 Stephen GibbSecret agenda of the Midnight Circus
Here’s the final… hope you like it!
March 16, 2012 Sabina NoreThe Unhomely Circus Of Existence
I am not 100% sure if my painting is completed, but this is what I have at the moment. I need
some distance from it to see how I’ll feel about it being finished then. I hope you like it!