Sally Annett

Sally Annett

Meta-representation, Contemplation and ‘Ordinary’ Consciousness: Examining links between alphabet, number, language and [self] consciousness/self-reflection as methods of altering consciousness.

An idiosyncratic feature of human consciousness appears to be our capacity to have thoughts about other thoughts; to have beliefs about other beliefs, other peoples’ and our own beliefs (speculation, about speculation, about speculation…). This awareness is structured by various factors; some immediate, individual, physical, instinctive or advantageous, some which lead, through action and external process, to a longer term, social, collective advantage, driven by belief. This is generally termed meta-representation but what is its function and relation to language and memory? Our oldest Western alphabets are shared culturally, as are our languages and originally, religious systems. All are constructs. Speech, writing, alphabet, lexicon, number, visual, artistic, subconscious, conscious, all are ultimately associations of symbol and sound to a shared abstract idea/concept. Symbol or utterance originates not in a platonic, material form, but as pure cognition, as thought, perhaps attached to an object, but more often to an emotion or experience which, is hypothetically, less tangible. In speaking and writing we make manifest in the external world an internal concept or comprehension. Human consciousness in its ‘normal’ state can be neurochemically altered and our perceptions of the outside world may change radically. This is a sensory and cognitive illusion, it is not the outside world, which changes, but the chemistry of our brains. It is the inside, which has changed, our subjective experience, therefore, how can we be sure that what we see, feel or think ordinarily is ‘normal’? Our senses and material self are in a constant state of flux, it would be reasonable to suggest that so is our consciousness.

There is little to bridge the psychological and physical gaps here, we lack ‘laws’ and sophisticated understandings, but explore and devise entire paradigms to try to share and convey our experiences. We construct our world with languages of different kinds, from an MRI scanner image to a Tarot card, we attempt to create systems and pictures to predict and explain the outside world. Alphabet and writing relate directly to ideas about externalised cognition. This capacity to make self-reflective consciousness, and processes of storing and substantiating our internal subjective cognitive memories and beliefs externally by associating them with external and objective symbols, e.g. alphabetically, is a meta-representational ability and are linked to predictive processes. This presentation explores the results of a series of arts interventions, which, mirror this process, and through contemplation, explore the use of symbol and number to structure a process of self-reflection. It attempts to categorise several differing states of consciousness within a ‘normal’ neurochemical range using a methodology which directs a sequence of thought processes from 0 – 11 and specific questions to establish an internal conversation or dialogue with an individual’s ‘inner voice’ alongside some sensory deprivation techniques [as opposed to psychoactive agents] in parallel with structured interviews and questionnaires which focus on archetype.

This research is supported by the Arts Council England.


About Sally Annett

Sally Annett is a multi-media artist and curator/producer based in the UK.

Her work is concerned with the intersections between science, art and religion, focusing on consciousness through ritual, play, pilgrimage, contemplation, and language. She is especially interested in collaboration and postdisciplinary practice. Annett is interested in using the human body as an artistic mediator. Material artworks include photography, print, paint, performance and film, used in an interventionist manner. Annett exhibits and lectures internationally and was one of the London LASER speakers for 2014. Her current project ‘snakes and ladders’, (ACE), she has also translated into a Masters Degree in Intercultural Communications ensuring continuing academic rigour and examination of her arts practice outside her specialism. She is best known for her curatorial role working with Arts Council England (ACE) siting contemporary artworks in public spaces.

As a producer Annett has developed sustainable collaborative and curational projects; A founder member of the Silbury Group and Westbury Studios (1991), in 2008 she co-established FRINGEMK, Celebr8 and The Milton Keynes Cenotaph Projects with Gavin Anderson, delivered 3 international arts festivals, run project and exhibition spaces, and co-ordinated several ground breaking ‘world firsts’. Through FRINGEMK Annett brought 90 international artists and performers to the Eastern Region, in turn raising £400,000’s for high quality Art events and performances in Central Milton Keynes. Her work has been enjoyed by over 22,000,000 visitors and under Annett’s direction FRINGEMK was nominated for 7 regional and national awards in Arts and Business, including those in Branding, Community, Innovation and Technology. Having relocated her studio practice in 2012 to ‘&co’, Annett’s key projects are ‘Snakes and Ladders’, ‘Contemplation Seats’ and the Striped Van’.

Her main studio is based at &co and she co-writes with Historian Rowena Willard-Wright (English Heritage).
Annett is published by Foulsham.


  • I-create: Bedford Creative Arts/&co
  • University of Bedfordshire. International Business School
  • Arts Mark
  • AXIS web
  • The International Mobile Gallery Association
  • BASS/SocRel
  • Science and Medical Network UK

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