A Shifting Sense of Human Scale: Tracing ‘Deep Time’ aspects of Modern Depiction
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The affective status of the material world as it pertains to the historical development of human cognition and activity lies at the centre of the current discourse of cognitive archaeology. Through applications of 'enactive' (Varela, et al. 1993; Noë, 2004; Thompson, 2007) conceptions of mind the notion of a human mind that imposes its will upon an inert material world is being challenged by recognising how the mind emerges through the material engagement of an embodied subject that is always coupled to an affective material world (Knappett and Malafouris, 2008). The active role played by materials in the development of cognition (Malafouris, 2013) reveals a dynamic entwining of mind and matter across past spatiotemporal trajectories that positions human artefacts as a trace of such an entwining. There are two central point’s drawn from this context that are important for the discussion within this paper: firstly, the significance of the development of human perceptual experience and cognition that is relational to the material world; secondly how a more focussed study of human perception reveals how the material world itself (its status and meaning) emerges as relational to human experience. The emergence of the concept of 'deep geological time' during the nineteenth century will be used as an object of study in which the idea of geological deep time (its theory and its continued development) emerges alongside, and shapes, an historically contingent perceptual experience that itself plays an active role in the very shaping of the idea of geological deep time. This emergent relationship will be made more tangible through an art historical iconological study of a range of visual artefacts — artistic and naturalistic images of deep time — during this period readable through the changes and transformations of certain stylistic and compositional strategies used to depict human figures within the works.
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