THE TAPESTRY OF VISION|
Roy Amiss, November 1994
In order to circumnavigate the flux of life, one must use any means possible to achieve this end (subject to moral and ontological considerations!). The photo-transfer is one such means. Mixing media is a commonplace now, but early in the history of modernism, it was regarded with suspicion and a corruption of the purity of an art-form. In this, as well as many other aspects, I share much the same attitude as the Surrealists, as expressed by Scarf:
'Surrealists refrain from making any categ-
In these new paintings I admit a relation with the past - how could I ignore history? But there is a movement forward; the surrealists Ernst and Dali, both made use of collage in their works combining it in such a way as to be barely distinguishable as collage. I have done the same, except that I have used something more akin to Rauschenberg - the photo-transfer; and perfected the technique to such a degree that it can be said that the boundaries between the photo-image and painting is virtually invisible. Furthermore, there is a difference in conception of the artwork to these modernist giants. My conception and method of working is I believe, interesting not only from the perspective of the rich reservoir of images that can be used, but is of profound philosophical interest.
The Photo-Appearance of the External World
The photo-image being the dominant form of appearances that we believe to be real, gives us something of the world fixed in space and time as a concrete particular. Using this kind of information is a useful starting point from which to reflect upon its nature and its relation to the world. With the photograph we are confronted with a record of a definite physical event, a fixed moment in space and time, and the mystery of the conundrum of what it is representing. Furthermore, the practise of combining different photo images together in a new way, can disturb our consciousness by confounding our expectations. This only works because we accept the photo-image as an ambassador of reality. According to Gombrich we accepted the reality of the renaissance discovered per-spective, because we needed to see the world in that way. The camera was a mere instrument which extended this tradition of a perspectival reality. The success of Photo-montage depends on this sense of identity between the photo and the world. Aaron Scarf draws attention to this important aspect of photo-montage:
'The power of photomontage to provoke the
Inverse Trompe l'oeil
In traditional illusionistic painting, an illusionistic object is painted. In these paintings, the mind is fooled by mistaking the photo for the painting, which results from painting not the object, but the objects context - the imitation of the colours and tones of the boundaries of the photographs and extending them out of the object into the surrounding space - this becomes the new context in which the object is perceived. As the colour and tone of the photograph have been matched with paint, the painting and photograph cannot be distinguished, they blend imperceptibly into each other. Thus the status of the painting and photograph become ambiguous. Is it a painting or a photograph? Physically we know that it is an object constructed from paint and the photo-image. But what is its status, conceptually or in terms of appearance? This is interesting from a philosophical point of view and leads us to consider the nature of our perception of the physical world.
The Perception of the Physical World - Qualia
The term qualia is a useful shorthand for referring to certain aspects of our perceptual experience. The philosopher Nelson Goodman in his book 'The Structure of Appearance' devised a system for the description of appearances, the basic elements of which he called qualia. Thus there is the qualia of colour, qualia of place, and qualia of time. Place is located in the visual field, and time refers not to the dating of physical events, but to the temporal sequence of experiences. A physical object is a concrete particular, and is constituted by a relation of togetherness which holds between qualia of these different types. These concrete particulars have a definite size and shape. The celebrated English philosopher, the late A.J.Ayer, added further qualia, he took size and shape, and object-pattern (e.g. a chair-pattern, or a leaf-pattern). The qualia I would like to draw attention to in the context of these paintings is the qualia of colour. If we consider what is conveyed in a photograph as a 'concrete particular'; and what is conveyed of colour, at the boundaries of the photo as their particular qualia; we can identify 3 sub-qualities: hue, chroma and saturation, which to simplify for understanding we may think of colour and tone. But as Bishop Berkeley once remarked, 'there is no colour without form', therefore, I have to some degree reproduced the qualia of size and shape. But I have not gone as far as Ayer and reproduced the object pattern as such.
In these art-works we have a record of nature in terms of a photograph; and we have paint that corresponds in qualia to the boundaries of the photo; which means that when we perceive either of those things, the same kind of information is relayed to us, so we cannot distinguish where the painting and photo begins. This being the case, what then, is the resultant appearance? As Ayer points out in 'The central questions of philosophy", we have no means of distinguishing by vision alone, the difference between the 2 mediums. Only by touch or some other sense, could we discover their true identities as separate media.
The subject matter of these artworks are the retinal world as seen through the camera, and the qualia of the boundaries of these retinal worlds. By placing the photos in a random configuration and by making interconnections between not the object-patterns of the photos but by the extension of their constituent qualia, we get a new juxtaposition and fusion of qualia - thus a new morphology is created - A counterfactual reality where basic sense-data is weaved into a new kind of fabric hitherto unseen.
The Abstract and the Real
By removing photographs from magazines etc, we at once abstract them. Furthermore, by combining these fragments with paint in the way I have described above, they become further abstracted, forming a pattern. But this pattern of vision can be unravelled to reveal either the 'abstract'- when viewed from a distance; or the 'real'- when viewed close. These paintings dissolve these categories and yet uphold them. A double-aspect phenomenon where¬by we can switch and focus on either.
These paintings tell us about perception and how fragile our perception of photo's are. They tell us something about how we interpret the photo-image; for when the photo is taken out of context and rebuilt from the outside as it were, then strange optical phenomenon become apparent, and this changes the morphology of the perceived original image. This was demonstrated by the artist Richard Hamilton in a photograph of a beach scene called 'People' (1965-66). In this work, a series of enlargements were made and worked with oil and cellulose, until they reached a point where once-recognisable features of the original photo became ambiguous, as Scarf points out:
'He has inverted the traditional precepts gov-
In contrast to Hamilton, I seek to clarify and express both the abstract and the real. For although there may be ambiguity, by selective attention it is possible to perceive both perspectives. The dichotomies are maintained, but the way we perceive these dichotomies is transformed. Once-stable forms start floating and hovering in space and strange spatial inversions become apparent. We are in the strange position of seeing the simultaneous conjunction of the photo - jettisoned into a new spatial dimension formed of its own qualia; whilst also seeing the photo in the context of itself - i.e. the content within the photo.
Thus, Richard Harland discussing the phenomenological model of perception, highlights the 'active' aspect of seeing and emphasizes the role of 'intention' of the observer:
'The mind is not a container for images
This principle can easily be demonstrated by observing the cover of this book with the appropriate mind-set. It is possible to perceive the title as an overlapping white rectangle on top of a tapestry pattern; or the rectangle can be made to 'spill' out into the tapestry pattern, transforming the rectangle into a polygon that takes on the form of the background tapestry pattern.
A Synthesis of the General and Particular in the Formation of the Tapestry of Vision
When the boundaries are removed between photo and painting, and these are combined into a single artwork, object becomes one with the surrounding space. The borders of the photographs are dissolved so that the 'many' becomes the 'one'. Paint fills the void between objects, and unifies the particular. As each photo contains 'particular' qualia, by extending it out and merging it harmoniously into neighbouring related qualia emissions, the qualia become generalised over a larger space, and this forms an emergent generalised qualia pattern which also retains the 'particular'. The pattern that emerges in the course of painting as I have described above, is a pattern of intricate complexity - a tapestry. We here have a Tapestry of Vision in which abstract and real, form and content, are interwoven in space - a double-aspect phenomenon. This also demonstrates interconnections between disparate phenomena whilst creating an inverse morphology or mirrored universe. But it is a special mirror that is being held up to reality. For it only reflects certain aspects of it, these are the qualia of colour, tone, and boundary form, at the boundary of each photo.
The photo-images will disappear if we will let go of our percepts (i.e. will cease to be recognised as they once were). By focussing upon the whole painting, with the appropriate conceptual shift, the concrete particulars or what Ayer called the qualia shape-patterns, disappear.
A Topological Inversion The deconstructed photograph takes part in a reconstructed image within a frame. By extending the photograph with paint and fusing it with other photographs, a new morphology is constructed. This derived morphology, partly originates from the original photo's in terms of 'qualia - colour, tone and space; but the organising principle in this reconstructive process, is the dissolution of the boundary, and the connecting of the same qualia from each photograph. This deconstruction results in the simultaneous reconstruction of the photograph and results in a topological shift which transforms and reverses the morphology of appearances. This I perceive to be an unconscious intuition of a topological idea I recently come across in the writings of the famous cosmologist George Gamow. He demonstrated how the human body itself can be seen topologically as a doughnut form, so that what is 'inside' can also be considered to be 'outside'.
when I dissolve the boundaries, we get a new class of thing. With this new class of thing, the concept of 'inside' spills 'outside', evoking a topological dimension where 'outside' is also 'inside'. It is comparable to the mobius strip in which 2-dimensions are transposed into 1-dimension- flatland. But the important difference is the transition from one state to another in the mobius strip, takes place through a movement in 3-dimensional space. No such movement is necessary with the painting, for it requires merely a shift in perception to transform the space.
Matter is created from Space; qualia is sucked into the void and sculpts a new morphology out of negative space, whilst in the process, objects implode and matter is negated. Sometimes in the painting there is the inversion of space, other times we are plunged into illusionistic projectile space; the convex and the concave juxta¬posed together, exaggerating their difference; a new topological world is born. In this context, there is a relation between these paint-ings and the English sculptor Rachel Whiteread's sculpture where she made a cast of the interior of a room in a building, thus producing a reverse copy of the room in negative space. However, the problem with her sculpture, is that it is impossible to get back inside the original space from which it derives. In my paintings it is possible to perceive this negative space and its origins. By dissolving the boundaries, it gives us a new conception of the perceived object. We get a spatial inversion that creates a new morphology. The paintings end up like a world full of holes in which we feel we could walk around either on the inside or outside, for the inversion of form results in the possibility of topological twisting in ambiguous space. It is like a work by Escher, where we get interlocking horses in both normal and negative space. The inverse of the morphology of reality, creates a new morphology, an anti-morphology, a thumbprint from nature. Thus we are left contemplating the paradoxes of an ambiguous space.
A Counterfactual Reality -The Deconstructed Photograph or Anti-painting
These paintings could be described as photo-realist paintings, but that would be a mistake. For what is real is contrary to the fact. The real is the counterfactual paint surface surrounding the photo. Painters in the past painted things, that is, objects of perception - fully-formed things (Ayer's Qualia of Size and Shape pattern). However, I have just dealt in colour qualia, not the original content of the photograph. This is the reversal of the normal perceptual process, and allows us to see this photo-reality in a new way, and in the process, results in the magical appearance of a new morphology. Thus, it is not what I paint, but what I do not paint.
Rawson, in an essay on drawing, observed the difference between the Eastern and Western traditions of drawing. The latter draws by bounding an object with lines to contain it. The former work from the outside, concentrating on the space around the object. This is essentially the approach I have employed in painting. Starting from the photograph, I work outwards from it, extending their colour qualia. Thus I focus upon the qualia and not the object itself; so I am still painting, but painting colour qualia. The objects are the photo images, and I have avoided the problem of painting the object. But the irony is that despite my attempts at not painting the object, I end up painting a new kind of object.
The photographs are deconstructed: deconstructed because the image of the photo is divorced from the reality in which the image was made; and deconstructed because the photo-images, are in themselves taken out of context, thirdly, they are deconstructed in form by extending certain aspects of the photos in such a way that these extensions become the context in which the photos are perceived, and thus the perception of the photo is deconstructed. However, what happens in this process, is the reconstruction of the photo by creating a new context that is born of its own qualia.
There is a parallel here with the ideas of Derrida; if we think for instance of how Derrida reads Plato, the word Pharmakon - can be taken to mean both a remedy and a poison; so too we can consider the photo as being reconstructed and deconstructed. In the structuralist's account, there is a prioritised structure of binary polarizations that define our concepts by giving one term a 'presence' and an authority over its opposite; but with Derrida's deconstruction, on the other hand, this prioritising of polar concepts is removed, and the meaning fluctuates ambiguously between the two poles, so instead of 'presence' we get absence. Because the 2nd term in conventional structuralist thinking, is considered to be lacking or inferior to the 1st, 'absence' becomes lack of 'presence'.
In the case of the photo and its conjunctive painting, we see what happens when we change our habit of focus from object to the surrounding space, thus shifting the presence from object to context - the prioritising of perceptual dichotomies is obliterated so the image oscillates between both poles. It’s meaning is fluid, capable of change at any moment. And we are able to perceive its alternative possibilities. The problem with Derrida is that he will not allow meaning to settle on anything, in fact his method only allows the perpetuation and multiplication of meaning. The net result is that anything can mean anything, and we are left unable to say anything meaningful at all. One wonders why Derrida puts so much effort goes into demonstrating how language cannot mean what it says. Harland concluded that what we are conscious of with Derrida's writings, is that he has clearly framed the evidence in favour of the thesis 'he' is promoting, by careful editing and focussing on single words 'he' has chosen to isolate. This leads us back to the phenomenologists notion of 'intention'. For what Derrida does is to 'intend' to read the text in a particular way, and in specific directions - this is what makes it possible for Derrida to say anything at all. Derrida seems to suggest is that we should 'intend' to 'not-intend', in which case we would write nothing.
With the photo, we can 'intend' not to see what it is. We can perceive it as an abstract pattern. But we can perceive the original image(photo) if we wish. This is an old fact of selective attention, but stated in a new way. With literature, as with propaganda, we can read any text we like and de-stable its original intended meaning by choosing to look at it in a particular way - we see this in the continual rewriting of history, it is a matter of interpretation. There may be no disagreement upon the dates, places and events, but this does not give us a history. What changes our history is the accumulation of new facts, or the inclusion of facts we neglected in our original account. However, there can be little doubt on some facts such as dates, places and events that are well recorded and documented; these are things we cannot deny. Photographs and their respective qualia emissions, are such things.
Should we not be pursuing strategies that create meaning, and not pursue the type of unravelling of language and meaning that Derrida promotes? - which essentially seems to suggest the impossibility of knowledge. Landau writing on Derrida, suggests that Derrida and his ideas are not so revolutionary as he makes out. His ideas are steeped in tradition and have typical modernist characteristics. One such characteristic, he notes, is the 'striving for reform' tendency, a feeling that the present is unsatisfactory, and we need radical rethinking to create a better future:
'...Derrida participates in the modernist
Thus, tradition becomes the enemy and target for modernists and postmodernists - hence the tendency for the revolutionary zeal displayed by the Dadaists who proclaimed their antagonism against virtually everything - even to the extent of being anti- the anti-, which like Derrida's philosophy, results in self-refutation - the denial of their own discourse. We do need categories in order to define the limits of experience. The principle of Parsimony or 'Occam's Razor' seems a necessary one for human beings to identify phenomenal experiences, as Martin notes:
'The organism must be selective. It would
For the modernist, the 'need to be different' was a means to an end that was aimed at penetrating beyond appearances and discovering some essential truth about the world. In the postmodern world, this 'need to be different' has become ingrained in our thinking so much, that it has reached a point where it has become a value in itself( linked to the notion of the 'individual' and 'self-expression). It exists in isolation, for no other reason than to be different and to assert its difference. At once it asserts identity and difference - the identity of the self, and the difference of the self. Self-identity is internal, and difference is external. Thus we have Self and Other. Both are necessary to define the 'self'.
What is needed is a way of not continually destroying our conceptions of reality altogether. Instead of constantly replacing old ideas with new ones, or continually creating new world systems from which all prior systems are to be judged; we must accept certain aspects as given. That history accumulates knowledge, some of which is more reliable than others, and that it is unnecessary to continually challenge these hard-won facts. Defending a realist ontology, Martin emphasises the stability of certain features of the world:
'Such factors as the stability and (observ-
The photo-image is one such sort of reliable fact. Its use is worldwide, even used in a distorted form, its value lies in its mimetic function. The imitative quality of the photo-image can be used to discredit that very imitation. This only works if it has some basis in reality. The surrealist Aragon saw the Tran formative potential of the 'imitative' aspect of the photograph:
'Heartfield, Grosz and Ernst not only employ
What can be observed in people's reaction to my paintings of this series, indicates that I have caused the spectator to doubt the imitation which simultaneously affirms the painted context as real. Furthermore, I have used the photo-image as a snapshot of reality; the photo itself is unchanged, it is a record of a concrete part- icular. But by regenerating and extending the attendant qualia at the boundary of each the photo, the concrete particular is perceived differently, both in form and content. This happens also with some of Rauchenberg's paintings where he combines a diversity of photo-images together. But the essential difference between his random assortments of photo-images and what I have done, is that I have sought to contain all once-seperated photo-images, into a single context. This context is derived from each photo, and this is their respective qualia which I have attempted to harmoniously merge with other neighbouring qualia. The Rauschenberg image is unintegrated, chaotic and no solid relationships are established. His works are comparable to the infinite possibility of meaning of individual words taken at random and in isolation.
According to Harland, the symbolist poets such as Mallarme, exploited the formerly hidden power and potential of language by loosening the grip of conventional grammatical structures. This had the result of increasing the expressive possibilities of literature such as the poem so that unusual word combinations 'suggest' rather than 'describe':
'...the French Symbolists discovered
By taking a single isolated word or image, its meaning is potentially infinite. Harland again:
'Left to its own devices, the word possesses
The difficulty with employing this suggestive capacity with mechanical visual images is that a succession of images cannot flow freely like the words of a poem. The mechanical and practical problem of thinking and pursuing a stream of visual images interferes with that spontaneous unconscious pursuit. However, if we loosen the 'visual grammar' of the photograph by extending the photo-boundary qualia, the images can be made to speak in new ways, and the painting becomes like a symbolist poem. If as Harland suggests, the symbolists unlocked the autonomous potential of language, the same can be said for the qualia-extended painting - by letting the qualia spill out of the photograph, the grammar of the photo is broken, and it suggests new possibilities. But these possibilities will only manifest, if the images can be perceived as 'real'.
The Rauschenberg image is perceived for what it is- a collection of fragments within a frame. No matter how hard we may try to perceive the composition as an integrated whole, we are always frustrated by the conspicuous presence and awareness of the fact that it is constituted out of separate unrelated images that are clearly perceivable as such, with their limiting 'snapshot' appearances.(and his blunt unsubtle photo-combinations) Consequently, any attempt at deriving a narrative from these separate images or any attempt at evoking the suggestive capacities of these images, as suggested by Harland, is made difficult. We might compare this to a kind of white noise that emanates from the conspicuousness of the media, so the message gets lost to the point where we could say that the medium becomes the message. We are conscious of the qualia of the 'edge-of-photo', and therefore see the photo as a superimposition on a unrelated background. In contrast, by harmonizing separate photograph in the context of each other, then the images are believable, and we are not conscious of the noise of the media such as we find in Rauschenberg.
The Metamorphosis of Perception
It has been said of modernist movements that what they did was to find new ways of looking at the world, and this they did. For example Naum Gabo in 1948, developed a kind of scientific aesthetic, arguing that:
'If the scientist is allowed to show us a
What was this new consciousness, and what was the relation be¬tween what they saw and the world? In historical terms, I would put the situation like this: the classical mind sought an order in nature; the modernist imposed order on nature; the postmodernist has given up trying to find any order at all!
The Impressionists asserted the relativity and flux of sensory experience. They sought to oppose the lie of the camera and expose the myth of its retinal vision. They sought what they conceived to be the real; that is, the fleeting atmospheric images that flutter before our eyes, decaying, like butterflies in momentary flight.
With cubism, artists, inspired by Cezanne, imposed geometry onto the world and ripped it asunder. According to the histo¬rian Hamilton, cubism overturned our established pictorial view of the world:
'Cubism embodied for the first time in
Hamilton saw the essence of cubism's new kind of artistic reality as the:
'...rejection of conventional perspective
What was really being rejected was the camera's eye view of the world. Painting had to redefine its role, because the camera had killed its mimetic function. We could say, in the spirit of Gombrich, that the artist needed to see the world in another way. And this other way was one influenced and born of new discoveries in other fields at the time. For some reason, an African mask became a significant factor in western culture especially to one man - Pablo Picasso. This clash of Western Art with Primitive art, at that moment of Western cultural ferment, enacted a transformation in the potential way in which we perceive the world. Their vision was one tempered by the revolutionary scientific and technological developments which generated a concomitant sense of alienation that left the human spirit fragmented. The clumsy hand of modernism crushed the butterfly wings of reality in their attempts to capture it, and their resultant images were what they were, groce distortions of the reality of the world - as Ortega y Gasset described the modernist aesthetic - the dehumanization of art. Life is surely richer than the spheres, cubes and cones of a Euclidean universe! Le Corbusier occupied such a sterile universe. In his 'purist' anti-aesthetic writings, we perceive the enthusiastic materialistic ethic that characterised much of 20th century modernism at the time, as revealed by the revolutionary discoveries and developments in science:
'The least thing in the world, the tiniest
Optical artists and colour-field painters, refined the qualia of colour, light and pattern, showing how important the overall gestalt pattern was in determining our perception. But the problem with this, as can be said in general for the overwhelming tendencies of the 20th century era of specialization, is that we lose contact with reality - this results in abstract formalisms which becoming ever more diversive, splintering the human world into a thousand isms and languages. Pluralism and fragmentation are the offspring of specialization and has resulted in separate communities of people each with their own language of discourse - thus they do not communicate with one another. Furthermore, in the postmodernist epoch, there is an atmosphere of unhealthy skepticism, pessimism and nihilism. There is a growing spiritual void in humanity which has been created by the successes of materialism. The consequences are a sense of human futility - we stare into the void. I would describe the situation like this - redeploying my aphorism with a slight change of emphasis: A classical artist would look to God. A modernist would look to the world. A postmodernist looks at the simulacra of the world, and sees behind it, a void.
The post-structuralist tendency is to take images and deconstruct them and leave them at that; the image unravels into the void as it were. Thus, Rauschenberg, Hamilton, and Derrida, all fragment reality by unravelling the tapestry of vision or language and leave it unravelled (or unravelling!). In contrast, the modernists such as the cubists, fragmented reality but united the fragments by imposing a geometry onto the world. But this geometry was also a non-Euclidean one inspired not only by Cezanne, African Masks and the invention of photography, but by the then current new scientific ideas of multi-dimensional space and multi-perspective relativistic views of the world. Following Gombrich's example, we could say that they needed to see the world in that way. We see in cubism, not only an attempt at imposing an intellectual order upon the world, but we also see a vestige of classicism permeating through it and other movements such as futurism and neo-plasticism. The classicism I refer to is the quest for harmony, for balance, for the beautiful, the elegant, the aesthetic. In fact, whereas in the renaissance they would speak of heavenly grace or the beauty of the divine, in the modernist period and preceding transitional epochs, the god-given divine attributes of the world were replaced by the more materialistic scientific theory of the aesthetic, such as that articulated by Clive Bell and Roger Fry who put forward the aesthetic hypothesis of 'significant form', which was a psuedo-scientific theory. Nevertheless, we see in much of the early modernist forms, a concern for beauty, composition and balance.
What I seek is integration and interconnections; this is a classical aim - the quest for harmony. In my paintings I have reconciled both form and content; painting and the photo-image; the abstract and the real. I have retained the camera's grip on reality and not interfered with it; and yet this reality is transformed, not by the actual physical transformation of appearances such as we find in cubism, but by the subtle subterfuge of recontextualising the photograph so that a change in perception occurs; the appearance of the object is destabilised and we are presented with 2-worlds; the world of the camera, and the world of this world in the context of its own qualia. Thus I preserve the photo-reality whilst also examining that reality in a new way; a new perspective tied to the material reality of the photograph. With cubism we see not the real, as Hamilton admits, but human invention.
The Voice of the Camera: The Photograph Speaks
The surrealism of Dali and Magritte continued the tradition of a fixed retinal perspective and Euclidean spatial illusionist world. But they used this 'realism' to confound our expectations and discredit reality. It is important to emphasize that the reality they discredited, was not the perspectival world (for this they depended upon to articulate their vision- i.e. this world was a successful public language in a world conversant with the perspectival image), but upon meaning-relation or causal relation between elements within the perspectival frame. Physical appearances were not discredited but reaffirmed. According to Norbert Lynton, their focus was not upon the physical appearance of things in the world, but on what psychological effects the physical appearance of these things could be made to deliver:
'In asserting the efficacy of detailed
One may even speculate why this role should have reasserted itself in that time. Was it, that after the formal experiments of cubism, both artist and public were bored with their images and felt a need for something more than the purely formal aesthetic of the physical appearance of things. The public could perhaps no longer empathise with these abstract conceptions precisely because, in the words of Ortega y Gasset, they were 'dehumanised'. Perhaps too, the seemingly meaningless occurrence of the 1st and 2nd World War, created a need for a sense of meaning, and this kind of meaning was one grounded in what could be readily understood through the vehicle of something tangible in this discredited reality - the world of perspectival illusion and narrative mean¬ing (something lost in what Peter Fuller called the kenotic tendencies of the modernist drift towards a formal abstraction). This was the kind of meaning that Dali and Magritte were concerned with, as Lynton notes:
'...Meaning, that is, in the old sense of discursive
In my qualia-extended paintings, this type of meaning is tapped. The paintings not only create a new abstract view of the world, but the special nature of this abstract view, unlocks the narrative potential of the photograph. A narrative will accidentally or magically arise by the unconscious apprehension of recontextualised concrete particulars which are transformed in perception by the new qualia context that is derived from the photographs. The once-seperated unrelated photographs, are in a sense, connected physically together by harmonising their res¬pective qualia emissions. This creates the situation where the impossible is made possible, and we are coerced to perceive the total image as a completely harmonised visual space. This causes the spectator to accept as 'real' what he sees, and interpret these 'resolved' images with his customary discursive eye; an eye that already contain his expectations, desires and narrative ideas. These stories of the mind we readily 'read-into' the works of Constable, Rubens etc. But when the elements in the perspectival frame have been arranged in a new way, a new unexpected narrative is born that confounds our minds, and we reach that point that Breton spoke of - the domain of the 'marvellous'.
The images are simultaneously believed and disbelieved, and this creates a tension which promotes a new aesthetic of meaning. This meaning is one that can be viewed from 2 perspectives, depending upon our priorities of language as emphasised by Derrida. And here I am thinking of the dichotomy between the conscious and the unconscious. We can see the painting as a dislocated world that parallels the dream - an imitation of the dream state by reference to seeing something that looks like a dream. Or, we can see the painting as a strange mechanism that stimulates the mind to recreate the dream-state in the full daylight of consciousness. Here I have reached the same conclusion as Roland Barthes who gives us 2 choices in our response to the photo image:
'Such are the two ways of the Photograph. The
That 'intractable reality' was the 'punctum' of the photograph, in which the unconscious of the spectator is instantiated in the concrete 'particulars' of the photo-image; this provokes in consciousness, a feeling of significance that goes beyond merely the physical fact of the photo - the real becomes more than real- a surreality. Barthes notion of the 'punctum' reverses what Harland called the phenomenalist's 'intentional' process of perception, and decentres the subject, as observed by Iversen who quotes Barthes:
'The punctum.....reverses the direction of
The unifying of disparate photo-images within a frame', allows us to empathise with the painting, and 'feel' ourselves transported into the dream state. (I can cite empirical evidence of this state, recounted to me by an interested observer!) For a moment, we become unconscious in conscious-ness. We move from surveyor to the surveyed, the dream stares at us! Lacan:
'I see only from one point, but in my
A Surrealistic Vision
By extending the photograph we simultaneously deconstruct it and are forced into seeing it in another way. Our normal mode of perception is destabilised and another reality is created. This other reality is I believe a surreality, a manifestation of a non-freudian empirical unconscious. The artist has removed the normal context, and shifted perception into a new mode, a peculiar world of floating sensory forms which more readily reveal the true structure of our percepts, and not the conventional images we are accustomed to. More true to the reality of sensation in its primitive state.
We might compare these paintings to the early perceptual experience of a newborn infant at the paradoxical moment where the infant discovers for the first time, difference; a critical transition point in which although conceptual awareness becomes apparent, this awareness exists in a highly volatile state of ambivalence in which 'inside' and 'outside', 'self' and 'other', oscillate in consciousness.
When we discover the causal relation between things, what formerly we took to be contradictions undergo a conceptual shift. They no longer appear contradictory - they are understood as logically consistant events in a causal chain. But until we address seriously, the unconscious, we shall never establish a complete knowledge of the interrelations between things. We have at present only a partial grip on the world, which I can express by way of the following analogy; if we imagine a tapestry made of two different types of fibre that are interwoven at 90 degrees to each other. 1 type of fibre represents our conscious understanding; the other fibres represent our unconscious. Then if we lack either type of fibre, the tapestry collapses, and our knowledge crumbles because the interconnecting lattice-like points of meaning found in our conceptual tapestry, are cast into free space and therefore become impotent. Knowledge becomes unravelled and disconnected (this is also the danger with over-specialization which results in the omni-directional stretching of the lattice - an expanding universe!).
To be a realist, one must be a surrealist, for with the realist, the balance of reason weighs upon all possibiilities. When philosophers employ the idea of possible worlds in order to solve rational problems in our actual world, they are in fact invoking the imaginary (as does the mathematician), and it is precisely the realm of the imagination which the surrealists sought to exploit.
For Breton, surreality was that point where contradictions ceased to be perceived as contradictions, a point neither up nor down, forward nor sideways. This point is the Spinozean point, where everything is identifiable with everthing else. It is the immanent now of Mallarme; the symbolist moment itself; the simultaneity and identicality of self and other; the object of the present - a tapestry of vision.
Roy Amiss, Nov.1994.
REFERENCES & NOTES
1. Scarf, Aaron; 1986, Art & Photography (Penguin, USA), p.293.
2. ibid. p.282.
3. See Construction of our Theory of the Physical World from A.J.Ayer's Central questions of Philosophy (1973), reprinted in Philosophy As It Is, Co-ed. Honderich, Ted, & Burnyeat, Myles; 1979, (Penguin, London), p.324-328. 4. Scarf, ibid. p.318.
5. Harland, Richard; 1993, Beyond Superstructuralism (Routledge, London), p.71.
6. See Gamow, George; 1955, One Two Three....Infinity (The New American Library), p.64-65, for his enter taining topological expositions.
7. Landau, Iddo, 1994, What's Old in Derrida? - Philosophy/The Journal of the Royal Institute of Philo sophy, July edition 69, Cambridge University Press, p.288.
8. Martin, C.B, 1993, The Need for Ontology: Some Choices - Philosophy/The Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, October Edition 68, Cambridge University Press, p.505-522.
10. Scarf, ibid. p.289; Reprinted from original essay on photomontage by Louis Aragon.
11. Harland, ibid. p.169.
12. Harland, ibid. p.169-70.
13. Scarf, ibid. p.312; Reprinted from original.
14. Hamilton, George Heard, (1984), Painting and Sculpture in Europe 1880-1940 (Penguin), p.235
15. Ibid. p.237.
16. See the essay by the Spanish Art Historian Ortega y Gassett, entitled; The Dehumanization of Art.
17. Scarf, ibid. p.308.
18. Lynton, Norbert, The Story of Modern Art, p.161.
19. The evolution of cultural transformations has of course, many causes. I can supply hints, but would not pretend here, to have supplied an exhaustive proof and empirical evidence for these particular speculations. Why the drift to abstraction in America? Was it because they were not involved in the War to the same extent as Europe?. On the other hand, what of Malevich, and Mondrian, who both worked abstractly but in the war-torn environment of Europe. Could we also correlate America's military involve- ment in Korea and Vietnam with the reas¬sertion of photographic images in pop art. Was this then foll- owed by the rise of 'slogan' art as a response to TV images of the war. The Repetition of the Vietnam war on TV, anaesthetised the public. The photo-image could no longer speak, the public were tired of these images. This led to Art based on politics, feminism, race, the use of text, conceptual art and the arrival of performance and happe-nings. And what of the Pill and the sexual revolution. How much do these things transform artistic production? The motivational drives for artistic production for different artists and artists from different countries, may obscure the truth of my speculation. Also, the nature or record of the public's aesthetic response to their works, needs to be taken into account, so the problem is quite complicated, and a detailed and comprehensive study needs to be under-taken to settle the issue.
20. ibid. p.161.
21. Requotation of Roland Barthes, 1981, Camera Lucida:Reflections on Photography, New York, p.119, from an article 'What is a photograph' in the journal - Psychoanalysis in Art History, edited and written by Margaret Iversen, vol.17, No.3, Sept.94, p.462
22. Iversen, ibid. p.457.
23. Requotation of Jacques Lacan, 1973, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, p.72, Harmondsworth, from the above article by Margaret Iversen,ibid. p.455.
24. See Playing and Reality, by D.H.Winnicott for a psychoanalytical account and interesting theory of The transitional object and its importance in early infant experience.
Gamow, George, 1955, One Two Three....Infinity (The New American Library).
Gassett, Ortega y, The Dehumanisation of Art.
Hamilton, George Heard, 1984, Painting and Sculpture in Europe 1880-1940, (Penguin).
Harland, Richard, 1993, Beyond Superstructuralism, (Rout¬ledge, London).
Honderich, Ted, and Burnyeat, Myles, 1979, Philosophy As It Is, (Penguin, London).
Iversen, Margaret, 1994, Sept.edition/ Psychoanalysis in Art History - chapter 'What is a Photograph?', Blackwell, vol.17, No.3.
Landau. Iddo, 1994, What's Old in Derrida - July Issue of 'Philosop¬hy'/The Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press.
Lynton, Norbert, The Story of Modern Art. Martin, C.B., 1993, The need for Ontology: Some Choices - Philosophy/The Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, October edition 68, Cambridge University Press.
Scarf, Aaron, 1986, Art & Photography (Penguin, USA).