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NOT KNOWING ____________

A Masters Exhibition of Photography Presented to the Faculty of California State University, Chico ____________

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for the Degree Master of Fine Arts in Art ____________

by Rebeca Liberty Emmons Fall 2010

NOT KNOWING

A Masters Exhibition by Rebeca Liberty Emmons Fall 2010

APPROVED BY THE DEAN OF GRADUATE STUDIES AND VICE PROVOST FOR RESEARCH:

Katie Milo, Ed.D.

APPROVED BY THE GRADUATE ADVISORY COMMITTEE:

_________________________________ Teresa L. Cotner, Ph.D. Graduate Coordinator

_________________________________ Thomas E. Patton, M.F.A., Chair

_________________________________ Sheri D. Simons M.F.A.

DEDICATION

I would like to dedicate this to Emma Schutz Fort.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to thank my graduate committee, Sheri Simons and Tom Patton. I would also like to thank Visual Aid for their continued support.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

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Dedication................................................................................................................... Acknowledgments ...................................................................................................... List of Figures............................................................................................................. Abstract....................................................................................................................... NOT KNOWING Introduction to the Body of Work........................................................... Visual Elements ...................................................................................... Meaning .................................................................................................. Artistic Influences ................................................................................... Conclusion .............................................................................................. Notes........................................................................................................................... Bibliography ............................................................................................................... Masters Exhibition ....................................................................................................

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LIST OF FIGURES MASTERS EXHIBITION THE UNIVERSITY ART GALLERY FALL 2010

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for the first time again, Digital Photography; 54 x 36; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 19 the presents of darkness, Digital Photography; 54 x 36; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 20 liberty, Digital Photography; 54 x 36; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 21 shelter, Digital Photography; 54 x 36; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 22 innocence, Digital Photography; 54 x 36; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 23 compassion, Digital Photography; 54 x 36; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 24 internal play, Digital Photography; 54 x 36; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 25 strength, Digital Photography; 54 x 36; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 26 illuminance, Digital Photography; 54 x 36; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 27 in and out, Digital Photography; 54 x 36; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 28 vi

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vitality, Digital Photography; 54 x 36; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 29 belong, Digital Photography; 36 x 54; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 30 seeing, Digital Photography; 36 x 54; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 31 choice, Digital Photography; 36 x 54; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 32 apathy and compassion, Digital Photography; 54 x 36; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 33 curiosity, Digital Photography; 36 x 54; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 34 balance, Digital Photography; 54 x 36; Fall 2010 ................................................................................... 35

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ABSTRACT

NOT KNOWING by Rebeca Liberty Emmons Master of Fine Arts in Art California State University, Chico Fall 2010

In this paper I discuss the visual elements and the meaning of the series of work that makes up my culminating exhibition. I examine the theme of harmony of opposites and the complementarities of the metaphors in my work, which allow the viewer to perceive the whole of the concepts I explore. The work deals with innocence and wonder as vehicles to awareness of and gratitude for the present moment. I also describe how my past experiences with life-threatening illness have affected my art making process and my perceptions of the world. I describe how several photographers and postmodernist artists have influenced my art and set the stage for my work.

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NOT KNOWING

INTRODUCTION TO THE BODY OF WORK

Not Knowing is an exhibition of 17 mural size modified film stills that explore issues of vitality and fragility as well as my trust in the harmony of opposites. By appropriating stills from mid-century home movies and adding to them, using x-ray and MRI images of my own body, I am engaging technology to draw upon my past as well as the history of the film stills to unite the two in the present moment. The intentional creation of wholeness and equilibrium in my life is informed by and informs a sense of balance and unity in my work.

Visual Elements Two important elements in Not Knowing are the contrasts between extremes of light and dark as well as the opposites of inside and outside. The children illustrated within the film stills are illuminated within an environment that is obscured by the presence of a heavy shadowed darkness. Many of the images are filled with layers of pervasive dust that envelopes the children so that their environment is at once both ethereal and obscuring. The presence of the dust invades on the scene in a way that interferes with or alters the games and activities in which the children are engaged. The illuminated dust particles appear as orbs of light, often illuminating both outside and

2 within the children. X-rays and MRIs taken from the inside of my own body are also superimposed on the children in a way that projects a lightness into the inside of the childrens bodies, allowing us to see what is inside. Rays of light that descend upon the children further illuminate their unselfconscious play. Renderings of fire occurs in some of the images also illuminates, adding light to the darkness. In one of the images a chain link fence impedes a boys movement and blocks him from accessing some desired place. Another images contains a girl looking out from a window as if she is trapped inside, unable to be free. The contrasts of dark and light and inside and outside along with many other opposites, which oppose and balance each other, play very significant roles in the meaning of my work.

Meaning The Harmony of Opposites The substance of my work is held together with the thread of opposites. The constituents of the work are the extremes of dark and light, inside and outside, safety and danger, harmony and disorder, and peace and suffering. An old Taoist parable tells of a man whose son broke his leg and when the villagers came to the father saying what bad luck he had, the man replied, I dont know if it is good and I dont know if it is bad but I know that he broke his leg. The next day the army came through the village and took all the able-bodied young men. When the villagers came to the man to say what good luck he had, the man was inclined to reply as he had before. The parable continues on in this manner until the reader realizes that situations are simply what they are and it is not necessarily useful to judge them as either

3 good or bad, because all things contain a balance. Symbols in my work can be looked at in just such a manner. When an individual encounters what seems like hardship it might turn out to be the blessing that changes that persons life forever. Individuals have the responsibility to choose to suffer or not according to what they want to bring into manifestation. In the book The Heart of Understanding, Thich Nhat Hanh discusses the Buddhist Heart Sutra,1 explaining that, when deciding whether to suffer or not, if we choose to have compassion for ourselves and others, we will be inclined to settle into life instead of struggling against it.2 When I employ opposites within my images such as light and dark, I intend brightness as a sort of weightless freedom while darkness represents a heavier presence that imposes upon the objects near it. Within the weightlessness of light resides the heaviness of the dark, it is not possible to have one without the other. On the topic of lightness, Wu Ying-hau and Ma Yueh-liang, in their book Wu Style TaiChiChuan: Forms, Concepts and Application, explain that The word lightness used in taichichuan is a comparative term. They refer to the quality of light as it is described in the classics: If the left side of the body is weighted, you are ready to change to void at the left. If the right side is weighted, you are ready to be void at the right. A feather cannot be added, nor can a fly land without upsetting equilibrium.3 It is this equilibrium that I am thinking of when creating imagery. By depicting images of fire within the environments of children playing, and by obscuring their games with a pervasive ethereal dust, I am creating the opportunity for the viewer to choose differing ways of looking at the scene. The metaphor of fire in the work has opposing properties, it often appears out of control and potentially dangerous and

4 destructive to the children, but it also cleans out the old and nourishes new life. Additionally, in the form of lit candles, fire is under control and beneficial to the children in that it provides light. The dust particles also contain within them two opposing meanings. The dust particles, which appear to be orbs of light, seem to dominate the dark space obscuring visibility and making the surrounding unclear and uncertain. These orbs of light also illuminate the insides of the children and the environment, providing their own light in the darkness. Each individual reacts to circumstances in a unique subjective manner, and each individuals understanding of art is based on personal emotional and intuitive analysis. In a space like the art gallery, it is up to the artist to guide the viewer, but the artist only has so much influence before the viewers own intellect and unique mode of perception begin to filter the incoming information. When faced with contradictions in art, the opposing meanings can be inverted at will. Seeing the reverse of an idea helps define the whole of the concept because the existence of one element depends on the presence of the other. Only by experiencing the contrasting element can the essence of its opposite be fully understood. These polar parts are not enemies but contribute to a single identity. They sit opposite one another, face-to-face and interlaced, forming a more dynamic whole. Because one is true the opposite is also true, as both sides are of the same body. So when people look at my work they are given the chance to also see the opposite of what they initially saw and therefore they are able to see the whole of each concept. Frijof Capra, in his book the Tao of Physics, explains that the present moment and all of the matter within it is both a particle and a wave at the sub atomic level.4 This

5 concept from quantum physics comes to mind when thinking about the meaning of my art. When viewers see the metaphors of opposites in my work, they may see only one side of the pair of opposites, just as some people understand matter as only a particle. It is not until viewers see the complementary side of each metaphor that they are able to see the whole of reality, just as physicists understand the wholeness of matter as able to be both a particle and a wave. The illuminated orbs of dust particles can be see as both obscuring and revealing, but it is fear of the unknown that makes that haze dubious. In the book, Quantum Healing, Deepak Chopra writes, We need to consult quantum mechanics to really understand how the mind pivots on the turning point of a molecule. A neuropeptide springs into existence at the touch of a thought. A thought of fear and the neurochemical that it turns into are connected in a hidden process, a transformation of matter into matter. This notion that what each individual thinks and perceives creates his or her reality is translated into the opportunity for the viewer to either perceive the dust as open and airy or obscuring and oppressive or understand it as a whole that contains both opposing qualities. Deepak Chopra further explains that the same thing is true everywhere in nature, down to the level of atoms, the landscape is not one of solid objects but that sub atomic particles are separated by huge gaps making every atom more than 99.999 percent empty space.5 So, if one perceives the orb-like dust in the image as infinitely empty and unoccupied it intrinsically feels more navigable and fear dissipates simply through a shift in perception.

6 Change and the Present Moment My work speaks to the uncertainty regarding the unknown course life may take. The imagery and metaphor in my work leave the viewer feeling that he or she cannot grasp whether the children in the images are overtaken by life-altering changes that may befall them or whether their innocence allows them to be present to the joys of life regardless of not knowing what unpredictable changes may bring. Innocence is a quality that is available to everyone, not just children, and allows us to see that the present moment is enough in itself, and allows us to experience wonder within each moment. Innocence bestows on us the right to experience the world in a guiltless, blameless and unencumbered way because it allows us to just be as we are. The imagery also addresses the changeability of my own body because my own physical instability has been an issue for a good portion of my life. Now that I am reaping the benefits of relative health, I am at times, struck dumb by the complexity and intricate perfection of my body in its everyday functioning. I superimpose x-rays and MRIs, of my own body onto the figures of the children to highlight the fickleness and fragility of the human body. Even though the x-ray and MRI images are records of illnesses, I choose not to view them with fear but with gratitude for the perfection and resilience of the human body. I also enjoy the x-rays and MRIs for their simple beauty. I am a collector of light and am intrigued by the way these medical images shed light on the inside of the human body which is usually inaccessible and shrouded in darkness. It is as though I were looking through the view finder of an x-ray camera and am able to probe the inside of my body in ways that would be otherwise impossible. By using x-rays

7 in my art, I can embrace the upheavals of the past and create a work that helps me look more deeply into my present state of health. In the book, Art Heals, Shaun Mcniff suggests that art can be an aesthetic meditation.6 When I use x-rays and MRIs, I am awakened to the fact that these images are of my body, yet only as illustrations of the past; much has changed through the passage of time and the progression of my healing and these representations no longer portray my body in the present. Throughout my life, art has given me a medium to catch time and record it in a tangible form. The remnants of my past experiences color my perception as transparent shadows through which I sense the present moment. The fabric of these memories and my current awareness fuel my artistic sensibilities that have grown and matured overtime. Now that I am on the other side of a series of drastic unpredictable changes, my faith has been reaffirmed in the momentum of cycles that carry us back to a new beginning at the closure of each episode. All things must come to an end and that end is always a beginning of something new. Fully understanding and trusting in this allows me to move confidently forward through my life even in the face of an unexpected crisis. Having made it to the other side, I am able to perceive my struggles as experiences from which I have been able to gain strength, courage, wisdom, gratitude, and an acute appreciation for the gifts of the present moment.

Artistic Influences My artwork draws from a rich history of artists that have used the body as a reference and as metaphor. I have been influenced by a variety of artists who have been

8 able to capture moments in time, utilize light and darkness as metaphor, and create work that was open for interpretation. Marcel Duchamp Marcel Duchamp, a twentieth century artist, playfully explored the body in his work in new and revolutionary ways. The photograph, Tonsure (1919), shows the back of Duchamps head as he reclines in an armchair, and documents the shaving of his head in the style of a tonsure,7 which was clearly staged for the benefit of obtaining the photograph. Marcel Duchamp also used his own body in the creation of the female alter ego, Rrose Selavy. In a 1962 interview, Duchamp explained the adoption of this alter ego by saying My intention was always to get away from myself, though I knew perfectly well that I was using myself. Call it a little game between I and me. 8 Duchamp drew upon his own experience and story to both reveal and obscure important aspects of society and the art world to highlight societal assumptions about gender and art making. Duchamp was a pioneer in body art; he utilized the human body and his own body as metaphor and meaning rather than just form. Duchamp drew attention to the opposites of male and female in his art in order to highlight the concept of each by contrasting it with its opposing counterpart. By presenting both opposing genders within visual portrayals of himself, he challenged the viewer to examine and question the whole concept. Duchamps concentration on the human body paved the way for others to use these forms as both symbol and metaphor. Duchamp also made it possible for artists today to discard the tenents of modernism, allowing us to enhance the conceptual meanings rather that promoting more formal aspects of art.

9 Yoko Ono Yoko Ono, the avant-garde multimedia artist, musician and performer of Japanese-American heritage, performed her famous Cut Piece on several occasions. In her performances, Ono entered a stage in her best dress suit, sat in the polite Japanese sitting position with her legs folded under her body, placed a large pair of scissors in front of her and asked the audience members to come up one by one and cut her clothes off and take the scraps with them. In a 1967 interview, Ono explained that it was a form of giving since she felt artists were always giving only what they chose to give, whereas she wanted to let people take whatever they wanted. This intention of giving and allowing viewers to take what they want also extends to the meaning viewers wish to take from the piece, since she leaves it open for interpretation. This example of offering the work up to the viewer is an act that has laid the groundwork for audiences today to feel free to draw their own conclusions and bring their own reactions to their interaction with art. Cut Piece is an excellent example of the artist giving the viewer the prerogative to decide for his or herself the meaning of the work. In my current work, it is also my intention to provoke viewers to decide how they see my images, while I still present the opposites that make up the whole of reality without forcing a choice between them. Yoko Onos use of the body as a metaphor imbued with multiple layers of understanding help give artists today the freedom to layer images of the body with many other layers of meaning. Henri Carier-Bresson Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson waited for real-life scenes to arrange themselves into what he felt was the right juxtaposition of coincidence and disparity.

10 According to Cartier-Bresson, the decisive moment is the split second in which the physical spatial positioning of subjects and objects reveals the essential relationships between the subject, their individual meanings and the significance of the event as a whole.9 A captured decisive moment can be seen in Cartier-Bressons photograph, Untitled, Madrid, Spain. He waited until the composition was balanced and the photograph captured an interaction between the six boys in the foreground that communicates the essence of their relationship. Cartier-Bresson captures a sense of purpose, order and direction in the playfulness of the boys in the foreground as juxtaposed with the seeming disorder in size and direction of the people in the middle ground and of the windows scattered across the building in the background. My decisive moment comes from pulling stills out of old film. I am able to move forward and backward and I draw inspiration from Cartier-Bressons work when I am searching through the footage, frame by frame, choosing the image that has the right juxtaposition of elements. Diane Arbus Diane Arbus, an American contemporary documentary photographer, captured people on the fringes of society, including circus performers, dwarves, transvestites and nudists. Her photographs attempt to portray psychological truths about her subjects, often catching them in private and revealing moments. In the photograph, Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, a boy on a walkway in the shade of a tree in Central Park grips a toy hand grenade in his clenched fist, while making a comical gesture of frustration or anger. In the original context in which the photograph was taken, Diane Arbus was interacting with and taking a series of photographs of this boy, Colin

11 Wood. In the process he became agitated by how long it was taking, and made the facial expression and body gestures that are present in the final photograph. Arbus chose to use specific photographs that captured some strangeness, not necessarily the usual aspect of that individual. I am also choosing specific instances, pulled out from an original sequence of events, as representative portrayals of these children. Pulling images and individuals out of context, as Diane Arbus did, I am able to select what it is about the subject that I want the viewer to see. I choose specific instances of the children and place them in a new environment and context in which their emotions are now read as pleasure in the present moment or uncertainty or uneasiness about change in their environment. Linda Connor American photographer Linda Connor has traveled extensively throughout the world taking pictures of exotic locations with an eye for capturing the spirituality and sacredness of these sites. Linda Connor uses perspective, lighting, composition and other formal elements to convey meaning in her work. In her piece, Ceremony, taken in Sri Lanka, Connor uses lighting to convey the spiritual essence of the ceremony pictured and the integral and timeless role spirituality plays in the culture. The light of the candles arranged all across the ground and the setting sun casting lengthening shadows of the three ceremonial participants all provide a sense of the sacred. Connor uses both light and perspective in her piece, Passage, taken of a monk in a passageway at Drepung Monastery in Tibet. In this photograph, the monk is passing out of the darkness into the light, which acts as a metaphor for enlightenment. She uses the vanishing point of the image to lead the viewer into the light as well. It is Connors use of light and shadow that

12 inspires my use of lightness and darkness in a metaphoric way. I use darkness to convey a sense of not knowing and I use light to reveal the fragility and vitality of body and spirit. Annie Brigman Annie Brigman was an American pictorialist photographer who was dedicated to transforming photography to a higher form of art. The pictorialists used a soft focus in photography as a way of mimicking the effect of atmospheric perspective in order to create imagery in a manner that was closer to the way the human eye would see it. Much of the work that Brigman is famous for features the female nude situated within a natural landscape of rock formations and trees that complement the form of the female nude. Brigman was often the subject of her images and used her body in her art similar to my use of x-rays and MRIs of my body in my work. Brigman places the female nude in a new environment to imbue the nude female body and the natural environment with new meaning. Similarly, I add a new environment to the film stills of children and in so doing the original meaning of the stills is informed by and informs the new metaphors added to the environment.

Conclusion In the book, Homo Aestheticus, Where Art Comes From and Why, Ellen Dissanayake writes about species centrism, the idea that humans are oriented toward each other. She argues that all people like to look at other people in art because we recognize something of ourselves. Dissanayake also examines what she calls the biology of art, the compulsion of humans to create.10 I experience this compulsion when I am driven to reinterpret my circumstances and see them for what they are by making them tangible in

13 works of art. When these works are created, feelings that may have initially been interpreted as painful can be transformed into a feeling of lightness and harmony through the art making process. I realize that I have the power to choose what meaning I give my circumstances. I can choose to be present in the moment and attend to the joy and beauty around me. When navigating my way through uncharted waters, I can choose to honor my innocence and find peace in the moment because I have faith that I will be carried forward by the momentum of the ever-changing cycles of time. Lucille Clifton wrote it best in her poem blessing the boats: may the tide that is entering even now the lip of our understanding carry you out beyond the face of fear may you kiss the wind then turn from it certain that it will love your back may you open your eyes to water water waving forever and may you in your innocence sail through this to that.11

ENDNOTES

NOTES 1. An ancient Buddhist text written in the 1st Century CE. 2. Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajaparamita (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1988), 28. 3. Wu Ying-hau and Ma Yueh-liang, Wu Style TaiChiChuanForms, Concepts and Application of the Original Style (Hong Kong: Shanghai Book Co., Ltd., 1988), 15. 4. Frijof Capra, The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism (Boston: Shambhala, 1999), 192. 5. Deepak Chopra, Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine (New York: Bantam Books, 1990), 95-96. 6. Shaun Mcniff, Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul (Boston: Shambhala, 2004), 56. 7. Duchamp shaved a star-shape into the back of his head. In Catholicism and other religions, the tonsure is cutting or shaving of all or part of the hair as a rite of elevation to priesthood and is an exclusively male privilege that carries with it a renunciation of sexuality and elevation to the role of spiritual guide. 8. Katherine Kuh, The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artist (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 83, quoted in Amelia Jones, Postmodernism and the EnGendering of Marcel Duchamp (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994) 154. 9. Robert Hirsch, Seizing the Light: A History of Photography (Boston: The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2000), 305. 10. Ellen Dissanayake, Homo Aesthieticus: Where Art Comes From and Why (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 1-4. 11. Lucille Clifton, Blessing the Boats, in Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 (Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, Ltd., 2000), 82.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Capra, Frijof. The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism. Boston: Shambhala, 1999. Chopra, Deepak. Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. New York: Bantam Books, 1990. Clifton, Lucille. Blessing the Boats, in Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, Ltd., 2000. Dissanayake, Ellen. Homo Aesthieticus: Where Art Comes From and Why. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996. Hanh, Thich Nhat. The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajaparamita. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1988. Hirsch, Robert. Seizing the Light: A History of Photography. Boston: The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2000. Kuh, Katherine. The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artist. New York: Harper & Row, 1962. Quoted in Amelia Jones, Postmodernism and the En-Gendering of Marcel Duchamp. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Mcniff, Shaun. Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul. Boston: Shambhala, 2004. Ying-hau, Wu and Ma Yueh-liang. Wu Style TaiChiChuanForms, Concepts and Application of the Original Style. Hong Kong: Shanghai Book Co., Ltd., 1988.

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MASTERS EXHIBITION TAYLOR ART GALLERY FALL 2010

FIGURE 1. for the first time again

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FIGURE 2. the presents of darkness

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FIGURE 3. liberty

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FIGURE 4. shelter

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FIGURE 5. innocence

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FIGURE 6. compassion

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FIGURE 7. internal play

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FIGURE 8. strength

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FIGURE 9. illuminance

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FIGURE 10. in and out

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FIGURE 11. vitality

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FIGURE 12. belong

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FIGURE 13. seeing

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FIGURE 14. choice

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FIGURE 15. apathy and compassion

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FIGURE 16. curiosity

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FIGURE 17. balance