The Essence of Inner Freedom is Ambiguity
Intimately a sculptor-philosopher, Dr Gindi strives to give shape to what human beings can hardly express through the concept of art as a metaphysical activity. Best known for her bronze figures of humans in introspection whilst approaching the ambiguous infinity of being, she is widely recognized for her often-unsettling narratives and her depictions of fickle characters who refuse to conform to the rational choices foisted upon them. Here she offers reflections on her latest sculpture, The Fateful Choice.
By Dr Gindi
As creatures beholden to the shifting sands of nature, the very concept of inner freedom can sound absurd. How could I with my decaying body and distracted mind be free to allow life to unfurl into an open and contingent future? I have no say over the cherished number of breaths I take in this life. Thoughts float to the surface of my mind mysteriously and then disappear seemingly without my control. The fundamental practice of freedom seems beyond our grasp. So, we respond to the putative farce and the fear it dredges up by swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction. Overwhelmed by the ambiguity flowing all around us, we fall all over ourselves trying to take control of every molecule – every ephemeral aspect of our being – sacrificing the razor’s edge of our existence for the future. The irony is that we deny ourselves the vary freedom we seek by violently rejecting the ambiguity that is the only source of our primordial existential hope.
In The Ethics of Ambiguity, Simone de Beauvoir highlights our human drive to equate ambiguity with failure. There is perhaps no better illustration of this drive than Kant’s ethics. Kant sees evil as a privation of rationality and to act in obedience to the moral law as a direct consequence of our rational nature. Freedom for Kant, then, lies in our ability to follow universal laws and to suspend our emotional natures. Within this stark and rigid system of rationalist ethics, ambiguity has no place. But because our consciousness is ambiguous, argues Beauvoir, any attempt to give final answers to ethical dilemmas or to discover a set of absolute, universal rules we impose on others ought to be rejected. Beauvoir instead favors ethical projects that accept our limitations and recognize the future as open, leaving room for our humanness being the sole source of meaning in a chaotic world. In this sense, the ethics of ambiguity is the true ethics of existential hope.
In my sculpture series, The Integuments of Existence, I explore the ambiguity of consciousness communicated through the hulls of our bodies and minds. The tough outer layer separating the inner and outer domains of freedom dissolves and consciousness emerges from its cocoon, spreading its wings. My choices no longer belong to me because I am no longer separated from the mass of humanity. But far from removing responsibility, this revelation deepens my need to embrace the ties that bind me to others. In the singular act of recognizing that I am free, I must also recognize the freedom coursing through the veins of others. And I have a responsibility to call on others to join me in the ethical realm to use their freedom to bring certain values, projects and conditions into being. In other words, I can only acknowledge my freedom by acknowledging the freedom that belongs to all.
Within this series, the sculpture labeled The Fateful Choice depicts the loaded moment of separation dancing on the fragile threshold between the inner and outer dimensions of freedom. Deep in contemplation, the being in the form of a young woman muses elated at the power and burden she has, feeling the weight of the knife in her hands. Yet, awakening, she comes out of her trance feeling frail, unrecognizable to herself. The ambiguity of her choice hangs in the balance. She embodies the child becoming an adult, alienating herself from the freedom and innocence of childhood – ready to take her rightful seat as the ruler of the present moment.
Beauvoir’s argument for ethical freedom begins by pointing to a fundamental fact of human existence: We are born into what Beauvoir calls the “serious world” – a world of human-made values and established authorities. We inherit this Kantian world of lost hope, but we begin life as children neither alienated nor stifled by the responsibilities of freedom. Without the burden of being held accountable for our creations, we, as children, create imaginary worlds and as such, are true meaning makers. Free in the purest sense of the term, children live a metaphysically privileged existence. They experience the joys of freedom without the anxieties. When is this paradise lost? According to Beauvoir, adolescence marks the end of unfettered freedom and the time for moral decision-making. Entering the world of adulthood, we’re asked or forced to take responsibility for our choices. Alienated from our innocent freedom, only the memory of our hope remains.
Still, the question of our fateful choice lingers now that the veil has been lifted: Will we embrace the responsibility and the burden granted by this radical acceptance of inner freedom or deny our own freedom by denying the freedom of others?
The Fateful Choice by Dr Gindi