Theater of Meta-Interiority, Ensemble

Ari Melenciano
17 min readFeb 19, 2024

A recursive collaboration with selves — and a process as the art.

Preface

Cultures, spiritualities, and belief systems can be expansive tools to experience the breadth of the world through. In studying them since youth, they’ve personally been a cherished source of inspiration

In the past year, I’ve extended that research into exploring the relationships between cultural metacognition, notions of truth (both of which I discuss in this essay, “Paradoxical Intelligence), various uses of archetypes, belief systems and spiritualities, tools for consciousness (from sonic to mythopoetic), and psychoanalysis through artistic practices, through a self designed art and research residency. I wrote about the process in an essay titled, “Sculpting Consciousness: Art as a Materialization of Research — and Vice Versa.”

Part of what inspired the research shared in the essay on Sculpting Consciousness, included my explorations with AI and using it as a tool to study society. Which also accidentally taught me much about myself. I wrote about those explorations in an essay titled, Computational Anthropology and Exploring Identity through Artificial Synthesis.”

In that time of research, I was also creating this body of work. As stated in the first essay’s title, much of these works are simply materializations of the research done and inquiries held. Using art as a way to represent or symbolize ideas about the world has felt like a very fluid way for me to translate my studies into sensorial forms for others to experience; a public pedagogy rooted in the arts. To wrap up this area of work, I opened up my studio to my community to share my findings in hopes that this work could be an encouragement to their journeys as humans and creatives, too. It was an incredibly fulfilling and fruitful time to share this work and exchange ideas. And in writing and sharing this essay, I hope for it to serve your journey, wherever you are, as well.

This essay is filled with hypotheticals, and theories that are not intended to be taken as fact or dogma, but instead as questions that lead to more questions — and a mirror to which we can reflect on ourselves. While this feels like the beginning of a long road of inquiry, it’s also carrying the baton of incredible thinkers before me — an homage to their brilliance. And these findings simply being seeds for a gardening of the spirit.

Photograph by Dom Ming, sharing work discussed in the Sculpting Consciousness and Computational Anthropology essays
Computational Anthropology Series, piece printed and mounted by Montclair State University

The Otzkö Kazo Research Atelier Studio Tour: Theater of Meta-Interiority, Ensemble

This body of work is titled, “Theater of Meta-Interiority, Ensemble.” And it was shared in the form of a tour, converting my studio into the world of Otzkö Kazo. The idea of Otzkö Kazo is hard to define or encapsulate, as its meaning to me is constantly unfolding as I engage with it. And as I’ve explored it, it’s taken the form of a philosophical framework, culture, intangible and timeless location, and world of its own. It’s name not being something directly translatable to any other language allows for it to be a symbol of an exploration of the unknown. After starting off the tour sharing work from the first two essays, exploring the Computational Anthropology Series and Identity Synthesis, I guide the guests to these charts (as seen on the counter of this photograph, below).

Photograph by Dom Ming

As shared in the previous essays and in the initial work shared during the tour, I found that AI could be a powerful tool to dissect and better understand society. When we can see visual synonyms for words, through the nature of prompted language being converted into imagery, we can better understand how words are also symbols merely reflecting society’s values and understandings of truth. Culture is what programs our perception and how we perceive. Its influences are often unquestioned, unseen, as they impact our psyche and ways that we perceive the world around and within us. And the more I dissected the formations of the external society through the Computational Anthropology Series, the more I became curious as to who I am beyond (or, at least more aware of) the influences of external society.

I entered this body of work with a few objectives and ideas:

  • Flow: As an artist, I find the most gratifying part of the creative experience is when in flow-state — which I consider as an absence of questioning or thinking and is purely feeling. I believe the barrier to flow-state is when one is unrooted within their practice (unsure, doubtful, unconfident). I wondered if those barriers could be alleviated when one knows their truths. For my objective to enter the flow-state within any medium I engaged with, any time I entered the studio or a space of creativity, I decided I needed to know what my truths were. This work became an investment in uncovering them.
  • Inner knowledge: While “truth” is a tricky word to use, in this context I define it as what one believes without questioning its validity. Us, Westerners, live in a world that trains us to think scientifically, which also means to seek truth and knowledge externally. But I also believe this training calcifies our connection to our intuition, even to the extent of not trusting it.
  • Myths and Consciousness: The way humans have understood the world for the vast majority of humanity, up until the past few hundred years, was mythopoetic in form. Humans created stories, myths, to make sense of the phenomena they experience. Two prolific thinkers, Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, found significant similarities between humans that existed without contact/communication. Campbell devoted his life to studying the myths humans created from around the world, across various time periods. He noticed how similar the stories were, differences simply being the symbols to represent the same tropes and archetypes. Jung introduced to the world the idea of the Collective Conscious, the notion that humans have shared understandings of the world outside of their lived or witnessed experience. When considering cultures outside of Western societies (like the indigenous and of the Global South), they have a much different relationship to the intuition, and spirit — one of familiarity and trust. And, incredible inventions were created through this inner knowledge, such as tools to cultivate thriving ecosystems that modernity continues to destroy. All in all, I intended to explore how I could, while being a product of modernity, better refine my access to my inner knowledge and subconscious.
  • Lenses: Science is a beautiful practice. But it is only one lens to understand the world through. And when we perceive through one lens, we can only see what fits within the limitations of that lens. To expand our ability to perceive would require extending our tools of perception. This body of work and research has been an attempt to craft new lenses to observe the world through.
  • New forms of logic: More often, science’s validity is fostered on the invalidity and dismissal of mythopoesis/intuition/spirit, and self-designated supremacy in the established hierarchy for sources of truth. This body of work is a foundation to a theory that explores potential significance at the unity of science and spirit/myth/intuition, not in competition or at the other’s expense.
Excerpt from an essay I wrote during studies in a graduate architecture program on Batammaliba design, of Togo, Africa
  • Enlightenment and Spirituality: Years of studying various forms of enlightenment and spirituality have been great inspirations and influences to this work. From the Eastern world’s Taoism and Buddhism, Western world’s Stoicism, to the rituals and practices of the African diaspora, including the Batammaliba houses of Togo. This work has been an attempt to synthesize these ontologies and epistemologies, and offer them in a contemporary form.
  • Quantum energies: Inspired by the scientifically observed behavior of quantum activity, I use the idea of quantum a bit differently in the world of Otzkö Kazo. In reflecting on a lifelong aspiration to refine my cognitive capabilities, nurturing forms of intellectualism as deemed noteworthy by society, I wondered why? Why does this society praise cognitive intelligence more than emotional intelligence, or intuitive capabilities? Why do Western forms of logic sever relationships between the emotion and spirit? And, what did the ontologies of ancient cultures consist of to be able to achieve such astonishing feats without the technologies we have today? What were their technologies? A theory I explore within this world, is an equal distribution of sensual perceptive capabilities — to which success I equate to a sort of human energetic quantum behavior. I intuit our senses are too cultivated towards modes of perception of what we’re familiar with in the external world. To what we can see, hear, taste, physically feel, and smell. But what if there are senses outside of those that we haven’t cultivated, and can’t when relying too strongly on our current ways of perceiving the world? Similar to how meditation and transcendental rituals heighten other forms of perception.
  • Consciousness as a technology: Much of this work reconsiders our ideas of technology. We often assume technology is synonymous with digitality. But our consciousness is also a technology, and the origin to how we perceive the world. Our consciousness is programmed, wired, sculpted by what influences it. Thus, it can intentionally be designed to perform differently. This work has been an exploration of its malleability, using my own as the test subject within this study. This work is also an exploration in sentient technologies, and sentient code.

Through these understandings, I embarked on creating the myth of Otzkö Kazo. I created 12 different archetypes for this world. These charts (shown in the image below) were maps I created as I explored their relationships to each other. These archetypes were both tendencies I identified within myself, and within humanity at large. They exist independently, as different lenses to understand this world through, but also sequentially. Their sequential structure theorizes possible equations in aiding human enlightenment. This world is rooted in a logic that counterbalances contemporary forms of science. While chemicals are a core element in one branch of science, emotions are a core element in the archetypes of Otzkö Kazo.

Maps of archetypes
Mapping of archetypes

In this iteration of Otzkö Kazo, the world is created by Azueli. To the guests, I described the ways the core archetypes are designed; from their relationships to notions of duality, to how we might categorize their tendencies in today’s world towards a path of enlightenment. Their sequential order exhibits increasing levels of awareness, as an intention is also for the audience of this story to become more self-aware themselves. Whether it’s developing a greater understanding of how emotions can distort our perceptions of memories, moments, people, places — and cultivating greater mindfulness of such can be the difference between being reactive versus intentional. In this moment, how the archetypes relate to these ideas are discussed. Following that introduction, we enter into the world of Otzkö Kazo.

Photograph by Dom Ming
Artifacts of Otzkö Kazo

Here, we have some of the artifacts of Otzkö Kazo. This body of work is titled, “Theater of Meta-Interiority, Ensemble” because the process in developing, creating, and/or post-rationalizing this work was through the embodiment of one or a few of the 12 Otzkö Kazoian archetypes. Meta-Interiority is a word I’ve created to represent the self-aware analysis of one’s inner-world. Similar to how the anthropology discipline converted the technological ideology of cybernetics into second-order cybernetics, by introducing a level of self-awareness in the observation of a feedback loop. “Ensemble” refers to how these works co-exist within a sonic landscape. The center plant piece emits sound throughout the entire experience. Another section of these works are tools for sonic expression. And the culminating piece also utilizes immersive forms of sound. All of which I’ll describe in greater detail. But first, let’s start with the paintings.

Artifacts of Otzkö Kazo
Paintings of Otzkö Kazo

Top left is Seira, Mother Earth. Top right is Soloro, sun. Bottom left is Anza, archetype of meditation and detachment. The middle and bottom right pieces are the dualities I identify within the artistic/creative practice and generally human existence. Furthest right is the masculine side of that duality, Htzioro. In the form of an artist, he’s committed to the external perception of a craft. As a painter, he cares to use a technical skill that others can appreciate, more often leaning toward realistic figurative paintings. These top 5 paintings were done by him. The feminine side of the duality, Htziara, is more invested in how art is experienced in the internal world, with no investment in perception. As a dancer, she’s more concerned with how sound moves through her, embodying the sounds no matter how eccentrically presenting. Versus caring to sculpt her body in a way that others can appreciate her choreographic skill.

The bottom painting is a symbolic representation of Azueli and Toiszo, another feminine/masculine duality. Azueli, a form of water, represents emotions. Toiszo, a form of air, representing intellect. This painting uses symbols consistent with other cultures to represent similar ideas. The snake is a symbol used around the world, of different time periods, representing feminine natures. In this painting it is used to represent the femininity of Azueli, but also how the world of Otzkö Kazo intends to cultivate greater access to femininity . This is done in consideration of the modern world we exist within, that is more skewed towards masculine, ego-centric, individualistic ways of being. I use the duality of feminine and masculine natures merely as symbols of energy, similar to how yin and yang is used in Eastern philosophies. This work is not meant to distinguish either energy as better than the other, but to be reflective of their potential properties. And it explores how both of these energies exist within all sentience, no matter how it’s gendered.

Photograph by Dom Ming

The labyrinth imposition on the form of the snake is created through an algorithm I designed around the border of the painting (which is still in progress). The labyrinth design is used to signify Toiszo’s presence in this painting, as a symbol of intellectualism. The algorithm designed for this painting is inspired by the Punnett square — a square diagram used to predict the genotypes as used by biologists. Depending on the intersection of values through the grid at the border determines whether the snake’s structure is curved or angular. This technique was mostly used to indicate technological possibility outside of digitality, but even in the construction of a painted reality.

With the central figures of this story being archetypes, these characters can exist within any time period and geolocation. This particular body of work represents a significant period in Caribbean history, marked by the arrival of Europeans and the consequential transformation of the region. European invasion led to devastating consequences for the indigenous populations, including widespread disease and displacement. Additionally, this period saw the forcible transportation and enslavement of African populations, marking the beginning of Chattel slavery in the newly established Americas.

My ancestors came from the island of Hispaniola (certainly, Dominican Republic but also, likely, Haiti), and are products of this moment. The symbolic painting of Azueli and Toiszo takes the perspective of standing on the land of Haiti/Ayiti, overlooking Lake Azuei towards the land of Dominican Republic. Lake Azuei is geographically located at the border between Dominican Republic and Haiti — and who’s name influenced the name, Azueli. Much of this work is a reflection of the lost connections between our ancestors when we don’t have access to their documented memories (the indigenous of the islands, many Caribs, Arawaks, and Tainos, died before their history and intellect could be documented). That’s a significant lost connection within my ancestry. Which is not unique to me, but common amongst most of us. And if we believe our tendencies are impacted by the epigenetic imprints of our ancestors, to not know our past creates blockages in understanding who and why we are. Such then inspired this work to also serve as an exploration in using the subconscious to uncover lost memories.

In the image above, I fed archival images of artifacts created by indigenous Caribbean populations into AI tools to simulate how they might exist in a more contemporary time. This was an experiment in using AI to fabricate lost histories. This work was inspired by Victor Dibia’s AI generated African masks, done in 2018.

Flag of Otzkö Kazo

Here is the flag of Otzkö Kazo. The inspiration behind this work is in reflecting on the significance words hold within a language. How they represent the values of a culture. The Computational Anthropology Series inspired this observation, as I watched how words could completely transform my visual presentation based on how we’ve most dominantly used such words. I was also reflecting on moments where you learn of a word that exists within another language, but that isn’t directly translatable to English. I recognize that as a signifier that such culture values that concept enough to have created a word to represent that. And by not existing in the English language, it represents the absence of that value within English-speaking cultures. Each of these panels/characters are meant to represent a word that exists within the culture of Otzkö Kazo, but are not directly translatable to English — signifying this cultures’ values.

Photograph by Dom Ming, flag of Otzkö Kazo
Flag of Otzkö Kazo
Cosmogram of Otzkö Kazo

Here we have the cosmogram of Otzkö Kazo, representing each of the 12 archetypes. The colors within each of the circles indicate the tendencies of the archetypes. This piece becomes an icon of possibility when embodying the archetypes, whether individually or when considering some in tandem. The central markings represents their relationships to one another.

Cosmogram of Otzkö Kazo

This cosmogram serves as a visual tool within the studio. A reminder of the different archetypes, their relationships between each other, and the possibilities to create from them individually or as a collaboration between their identities.

Time Dimensions of Otzkö Kazo

As another tool within the studio, and through a similar visual language as the flag, is a representation of the different Otzkö Kazoian time scales. The columns represent the past, present, and future dimensions. But each panel expands on ways past, present, and future could exist through 18 different notions of time. These different notions of time create conceptual starting points to create from.

Tools of Otzkö Kazo
Symphosynthesis de Otzkö Kazo

Finally, we turn towards what has been emitting this eccentrically ambient sound throughout this entire experience. The Symphosynthesis de Otzkö Kazo. This piece is a symbolic representation of the love between Seira (Mother Earth) and Soloro (the Sun). Scientifically, we identify this as photosynthesis — when the plant converts the sun’s energy into a life sustaining source. The process of photosynthesis has been identified as a bio-mechanical form of quantum behavior, rare to be identified outside of the highly controlled simulated environments by scientists. I’ve placed sensors on the plants to detect the electromagnetic waves they emit during the process of photosynthesis. These sensors convert such energy into electronic voltage through my biofeedback module, within my synthesizer. And by patching this module to a voltage controlled oscillator, I’m able to sonically abstract the plant’s behavior into sound for humans to experience.

The sounds catalyzed by the plants’ energy is complimented by polyrhythmic percussive sounds I’ve also designed through the synthesizer. These percussive sounds are meant to represent the use of drums around the world, but especially within African cultures throughout various time periods, as a tool to sculpt human consciousness. The repetitive rhythmic patterns of the drum were designed to induce trance-states through spiritual rituals. Thus, Symphosynthesis becomes a representation of collective sentience consciousness. That of the plant, and a reflection of how plants are emitting energy, and receiving our energies. They are alive and conscious in ways beyond our understanding. And the drums being a tool to manipulate our human consciousness (and likely the plants’, as well).

Symphosynthesis de Otzkö Kazo
Symphosynthesis de Otzkö Kazo
Sound sculptures by Gjzitiua, performed by Htziara

Next, we have the sonic sculptures of Gjzitiua, performed by Htziara. Intuitively crafted, then used as tools to experiment with sound design. In using these sculptures, and amplifying their sound through post-processing sound effect machines, they become an additional layer to the Symphosynthesis soundscape. The sounds they produce are outside of traditional sonic palettes, making them signature to the unconventional nature of Htziara.

Sonic Sculptures
Artifacts of Otzkö Kazo

Lastly, here is the culminating experience of the Otzkö Kazo studio tour, “Theater of Meta-Interiority, Ensemble.” I projected a clip from a film I created to abstractly tell the story of Otzkö Kazo . The visuals were created with AI generated imagery turned to video, with post-processing done to create a cohesive aesthetic (stills from the film are shared, below). And while the guest sits in the dome seat, I live mix sounds to compliment the visuals — each soundscape being differently composed for each guest. The sounds are vibrantly percussive and textural. The dome’s structure creates a sound and visual distortion that produces a more immersive experience.

Still from Otzkö Kazo film
Still from Otzkö Kazo film
Still from Otzkö Kazo film
Still from Otzkö Kazo film
Still from Otzkö Kazo film
Photograph by Dom Ming

In closing, I would get to talk to my guests about their experience. For some, this was a rare moment to be still and stimulated in a way that allowed them to experience something indescribable. Others realized how they were subconsciously sense-making the sounds and images based off the stories I had told them, creating a new layer of experiencing the world. And others expressed an eagerness to re-emerge into the world with these new lenses. Oftentimes, we’d find we’re exploring similar themes within our work, and/or similar realizations within our lives. The opportunity to share intimate space with others, and to see how this work impacted them, was a deeply fulfilling gift. It made something that felt so personal feel more meaningful now that others could use these explorations, too. It’s exciting to close this chapter and embark on the next leg of this research. A gift to experience art as a process, and a portal to the inner world as a new way to experience the external world. I hope you’re leaving this essay with fruitful tools for you, too.

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