Tabula Rasa is a Latin phrase meaning “clean slate”, it is a term often used by some epistemological philosophers to encompass the theory that we are born without built-in mental content, and all the knowledge we attain comes purely through experience or perception. We are a clean slate upon which our natures are formed as a result the nurturing and influence we receive from those around us, and through the environment we live within.
It’s a doctrine that sits in opposition to that of innatism, which holds that the mind is born already in possession of certain knowledge and traits which form the basis of our nature and personality, and thus are unlocked, rather than formed through the process of gaining experience and our developing perceptions. Both doctrines have long histories, tabula rasa can be traced back to the writings of Aristotle, whilst innatism was a doctrine held by the likes of Plato and Descartes.
Tabula Rasa is also the title Theda Tammas has selected for her latest installation, which recently opened in Second Life. It Occupies a sky platform on which is set a stark setting – a construction site, if you will – has been established; a place of beams both horizontal and vertical, here and there with sheets and strips of fabric attached. Within it, and under the overcast sky, figures stand, walk and twirl on the spot. Most do so individually although some are in pairs; all have their faces covered as they appear to be exploring their environment.
The symbolism here is clear: the covered faces reference the idea to the blank slate, the we are all initially vessels empty of knowledge; their motions and poses of the individual figures suggesting they are exploring their environment – that through these acts, they are embodying the core concept of tabula rasa – that the knowledge we gain, we we become, is the result of exploration, experience and the growth of our perception.
This is further exemplified by the pairs of figures, their poses encompassing both the idea of experience and the concept of nurturing: in one place a hood figure cares for another by carrying it; in another two hold a loving embrace, suggesting the love and care passed from a parent to a child, further helping the latter gain understanding of love and care through the contact.
Nor does the symbolism end there; it extends to the construct that forms the setting: the fact that the setting is that of a construction site underlines the idea that who we care, what we become, is a process of construction through experience and growing perception – just as a building is formed the the bringing together of beams and joists.
Whether or not one agrees with the doctrine of tabula rasa (studies have show innatism can be shown to exist, whereas tabula rasa is much harder to establish), this is a fascinating and rich exploration of the latter. When visiting – and as per the sign at the landing point – make sure you have ALM and shadows enabled (Preferences → Graphics), and use the local environment settings (menu → World → Environment and make sure Use Shared Environment).
- Tabula Rasa (Sevenfold, rated General)