THE PAST IN THE PRESENT
3. The Hand-painted Holograph
4. Beyond Imitation - Disjunctive Novel Presentations
5. That Obscure Object of Desire - Marilyn Monroe
6.. The Persistence of Vision
7. . A Presentation of Alfred North Whitehead
8. . The Past in the Present
These works really have to be seen to be believed! No photograph can do them justice; they are optical paintings and to be truly appreciated, rely on the direct-perception of the viewer. They are constructed out of 2 net screens, each one painted with the same image but with different colours that are 'optically' balanced. By combining the screens, a 2-dimensional image is perceptually transformed into 3-dimensions, creating visual 'illusionistic' space which unlike conventional 'tromp l'oeil' paintings, exploits other particular properties of the eye and nervous system, in a new way.
With this technique I have been able to resurrect and breath new life into such classical Greek exemplars as Aphrodite, Apollo and Demosthenes. But this technique allows not only sculpture to be spatially reconstructed, but to 'construct' for the first time an added spatial aspect to hitherto-existing paintings such as Leonardo's 'Mona Lisa', and Raphael's 'School of Athens.'
These works reveal the past in the present, combining both classical and modern approaches, and stand as an original contribution to the history of art, optics and the reconstruction of visual space. They are simultaneously both paintings and spatial sculptures!
. The Hand-painted Holograph
The hand-painted holograph is a modern miracle! It is comparable to magic or a form of alchemy whereby from the simplest material means, rubbish is transformed into gold!
These works are optical paintings in which the colour mixing takes place in the eye, and not on the canvas. Thus the human observer is an 'active' ingredient in the perception of the image. The holographic painting can also be called a diffraction painting; two nylon net screens painted in two different colours that are optically balanced, when placed one behind the other, generates a luminous flicker of light that oscillate in perception. Through motion parallax and the moiré effect produced by the diffraction of light, between the 2 net screens, not only a sense of spatial depth is created, but also a sense of apparent movement. Thus 'time' becomes more apparent. The static painting acts as a frame of reference for the perception of images which are intimately related to our bodies as motile-perceivers.
An interesting aspect of these paintings, is that they are simultaneously both modern and classical in conception; the latter is demonstrated by the fact that they draw upon the scientific approach, such as the employment of mathematics and measuring; the former is demonstrated by the fact that they are creative acts of human invention - there is no hitherto example of such a case. This synthesis of classic and modern approaches, employs the human 'interpretative' faculty of spatial depth, via colour and light arranged in such a way that allows the implication of space. Thus I was able to render an appearance of the past, as an appearance in the present.
The images presented are modelled upon the photographic image. The people depicted in these paintings, range over historical time of some 2.3 thousand years. They are historically displaced. Despite the vicissitudes of time and space, they have survived history as objects and images. Thanks to the invention of photography and other reprographic processes, they are visible to us simultaneously in different parts of the world. The image transcends history if we allow it to; we can choose which part of history's accident to preserve.
Beyond Imitation - Disjunctive Novel Presentations
Contemporary physical theory seems to confirm the belief of Heraclitus, that everything is in a state of flux and that there is no clear and distinct identity of physical objects. And yet we are presented with enduring objects But if modern physics is right, then no event can be repeated. As objects are events, these cannot endure, they continually metamorphose (at a level below the threshold of normal human consciousness.) Furthermore, modern quantum theory puts limits on predictability; at the atomic level there is uncertainty, which results in only a statistical description of nature. Thus, the object cannot be produced again as it is a unique event in an infinitesimal moment of time and space - there can only be one referent, at one time. Whitehead sums up the situation like this: "An actual occasion is a novel entity diverse from any entity in the 'many' which it unifies.'1
But there is the argument that human beings never experience objects, only their qualities. On this view, what I experience as the table in my room, is an appearance; I am presented with an amalgam of what Russell would call sense-data, out of which I recognise the table situated in my room as an element in the total object of consciousness, or as one of many presentations. The question now arises that: when I continue to see the object; when the object persists as an object disclosed in my conscious experience for a given duration - am I experiencing the same presentation? If the argument about the object above is true, that there can only be one object itself, and that it only exists once - then it must be doubly true that if the object cannot be produced again, it can never be presented again as the same object in consciousness! Therefore, there can be no representations, for the same argument applies to them as to any presented object.
What is the solution to this dilemma? We must consider objects as constituted out of what we are presented with in conscious experience. We can only recognise something if we have seen it before; therefore there must be the persistence of a collection of specific qualities that cohere together, when we are presented again with the same object. Only what we recognise is not the same object, but similar qualities. It is language, as Whitehead asserted, that misleads us into thinking that the same experience can be had twice.
That Obscure Object of Desire - Marilyn Monroe
The metaphysical status of the 'reproduction' is under question. For reproduction never actually obtains. There is no way anything can be produced again. Things simply are with their unique spatial and temporal determinations. In otherwords, everything is unique, but not completely unique (although they all have the same quality of uniqueness. )
However, it might be argued that there are representations. A re presentation is the production of the same appearance again. But this seems impossible, given the above argument. Eg. If something is produced, eg. Marilyn Monroe. I cannot produce again the same Marilyn. But I can make a copy, or what can variously be called - a duplicate, an imitation, a clone, a resemblance or replica. That particular Marilyn , is only that Marilyn; she can only be produced once. Due to the nature of time and space, that Marilyn can never be produced again (here produced is taken to mean the 1st time in which she was made - the moment of her creation or becoming.)
However, there is another sense in which Marilyn is produced. For once she comes into existence, she then continues to exist in time and space, as an object in consciousness. Marilyn exists in this sense, for a certain duration. She is an enduring object. What can be reproduced are qualities of things, but not things themselves. The manufacture of an enduring object is a complex process, the product of an interaction between mind and body. Descartes insisted that in order for objects to endure, God had to continuously recreate them each instant. But the idea of an instant seems to be a matter of arbitrary convenience as far as our senses go - but the limitation of the infinite continuum of spatio-temporal events or process, seems to be itself a necessary kind of event to make things objects of possible experience for human beings.
Marilyn is reproduced each moment of our experience of her. Consciousness is a constructive act. We cannot deconstruct her with our senses (in normal circumstances) - we can of course change her, customise her, or even destroy her! But then we are active ingredients in the creation of something else by default. Marilyn, left to her own devices and with the passive observation of a normal human being, continues to be Marilyn. In otherwords, she is continually reconstructed as an appearance. Things can be presented again, but not created again. But the presented thing is never the same. We are presented with a succession of different Marilyns' that resemble each other - through scientific reductive analysis, she becomes something else, and furthermore, at these levels of observation, she is conceived not only differently by novel increased abstractive extensive observations and conceptions, but she is also conceived statistically, with the result that the former concrete enduring object of Marilyn, becomes only a metamorphosing object; a summary of probabilities with the net result that Marilyn is only probably Marilyn, and as such cannot be fixed for eternity as a clearly demarcated locus of events which constitute the occasion which we formerly described as Marilyn.
But this reductionism is only an organon - an explanatory device in which the Marilyn is described differently, in order to better explain her. For in the end we must return to our original experience and conception of her as an appearance in consciousness. But is it an appearance or something else? A criticism of the use of the term appearance, is that it seems to imply that there is something behind it. This conception goes back to the ancient Greeks, to Heraclitus 's concept of Irony, and Plato who articulated the famous simile of the 'Cave' with the shadows on the wall, to illustrate the idea of appearance and reality. This however is a paranoid way of looking at things. For things are what they are, whatever our experience of them. Appearances are always true to those that have them. It is our mistake to consider them as either true or false. Thus we recognise illusions as such. The fact that a stick appears bent when observed half-immersed in water is a true-appearance. It is simply 'what appears to be'. By removing the stick from the water and observing its straightness, does not invalidate the original appearance - the stick half-immersed in water appeared bent, is still a real-event, but one connected to a contextual occasion - i.e. the stick being half-immersed in water, in daylight, and observed by a normal human being. The stick when removed from the water, produces a different appearance, thus the appearance is a contingent event, and not isolated. We conclude that in certain situations, sticks appear bent or appear straight. If we consider the boomerang for example, then this is a bent stick; and given a knowledge of the refractive properties of water, it is possible to construct a boomerang that appears straight when half-immersed in water!
We can make a distinction between physical and mental appearances. Or, what appears by virtue of physical or mental factors. Although in practise I suspect that this is actually quite a difficult thing to do. We perhaps reserve the term 'appearance' for those occasions in which 'what appears' can be otherwise - such as is the case when we know that 'what appears' is an illusion. This implies that we know those occasions in which appearances are not-illusions, ie. are real! Outside these cases, it perhaps is better to adopt the term 'presentation' or 'image'. Thus we are presented with an object in consciousness; these objects are sensations, but sensations that have particular arrangements or determinations in space and time. Thus we move from physiology to psychology; from sensation to perception. We hear a particular sound, see different colours and shapes, and these qualities constitute what is presented to us in consciousness. The experience of a real object is always a new presentation.
Marilyn then, is a presentation and when we see her again, it is another presentation(but not the same.) We are continually confronted by successive presentations of her. Strictly speaking we should make a technical distinction between presentations themselves. We can say that Marilyn presents herself continually as a perceived object (i.e. something else is presented that resembles the last presentation of her). But a second sense is an occasion where we see a presentation of Marilyn which is not the actual perceived object itself. Thus there are two kinds of occasions in which we experience presentations: those occasions of the presentation of the actual object; and those occasions of presentations that have become separated from the object. E.g. The perception of a photograph is the latter kind of occasion. What this amounts to saying is that in the latter case, something/quality has been removed from the presentation and that the spatio-temporal occasion of the presentation is different. To illustrate this, think of a black and white photograph. It is a presentation, but one in which the colour has been removed; the spatial depth is lost; and the image is without its frame of reference (image exists at a different temporal/spatial location - it is dislocated in space and displaced in time).
Thus, there is the event that was Marilyn Monroe and there was the occasion in which a photographic event occurred, and that can be characterised as belonging to Marilyn Monroe. What was it that survived in the photograph that belonged to Marilyn? Clearly nothing material. What remains is the image, the appearance, the likeness. In physical terms, or sensory/perceptual terms, what survived are two things: some internal relations embodied in the presentation that are physically instantiated in the reflection of various light intensities, which are so-arranged, so that what is apparent in the photographic image are features that we recognise; internal relations are maintained from the single perspectival viewpoint on the 2-dimensional plane; and from countless other possible images of Marilyn, one image is selected. The photograph limits the possibilities of interpretation. In this sense, some photographs have more 'limitive' power than others. The objectivity of the image is the combined result of the physico-chemical laws embodied in the photographic event, and our psychological disposition to react to it.
A painting too, can similarly be construed as this latter kind of disjunctive occasion. Time and space are primary components that serve to create this kind of disjunction. For the actual occasion of the presentation of Marilyn as a property of contemporary experience is always one of becoming. It cannot be other than contemporary. But the photographic kind of presentation, is a disjunctive version of what Whitehead would say is an occasion where the past is observable in the present. Furthermore, the photograph constitutes the future in the present. But in a disjunctive way. All objects according to Whitehead contain something of the future in the present - the future is immanent in the present . Thus the photograph is a kind of eternal object2, and Marilyn Monroe is an immortalised but obscure object of desire.
The Persistence of Vision
During the history of modernism, photography established itself as an independent art form, and what became apparent is that artists became dissatisfied with the camera as a mere recording-device manufacturing 'objective' images, and so developed various techniques that allowed subjective expression in the photograph. Photographers became manipulators of reality. Thus there was the rise in subjectivism in photography, a development that characterised one central trait of modernism - individual self-expression. During the modernist era, this desire for self-expression was channelled through a variety of ideologies which have become historically recorded as the now-familiar movements we call Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism etc.
Now, in the postmodern era, it appears that there are no clear common ideological funnels through which subjective desire can pour itself; so a real state of subjectivism has arisen whereby there are as many forms as there are individuals; an 'ism' per individual or self. Each man is his own 'ism.' Thus we live in the paradoxical state of unity in diversity!
But the photograph however, still cuts through history like a knife, carving its objective image across the face the world. This is the 'persistence' of vision. Historical moments are trapped by the photograph. An act of photography is a real-event. These 'real-events' are transposed into the future; the now which is us (the present occasion), reconstitutes the past object.
What is a photograph? There is the event which is the real-object of the photographic moment; and there is the occasion in which the photographic moment occurred. The photographic moment is one of many possible moments in the total occasion -- what survives in the photograph is a 2-dimensional spatially-extended impression. We call this impression an image. It is an image derived from a single viewpoint; the lens of the camera (another event, another occasion) collects reflected light from the object extended in space and time, according to the laws of physics. Furthermore, a photochemical reaction takes place. Silver halide crystals in a plastic film darken. This is another event which is followed by others; the processing of the film produces a fixed 'negative-image', and by further processing a photograph is formed on paper.
So a photograph is the culmination of a succession of events, some of which are more rapid than others. What survives this process, is a spatial configuration - an abstract pattern is transmitted from the real-event, the formation of the photograph. We recognise this abstract spatial configuration as a presentation of a past event. (as the camera-produced image is modelled upon the retinal image in the mechanism of the eye) Thus far, this is how the past implicates perspectival images in the present - a family of past occasions implicates the present appearance.
It is customary to consider a photograph as a representation. A photograph is considered as a representation of something, a past object or event. A representation is thought to be an occasion where something is made present again. Clearly when we are presented with a photograph, we are not presented again with the original object. But we are presented with similar qualities to the original object that are sufficient to allow us to recognise the similarity between past and present occasions. What survives in the photograph, are a specific pattern of qualities. One can argue that the tonal arrangement, the ratios and proportions of the elements within the photograph are identical in form with the original object at the time of its photographic moment of capture. Thus there is a structural correspondence between past and present. One based upon qualities experienced and recorded. What survives intact from the original moment, are the internal relations of form. It is these that are repeatable, thus what we actually are presented with are not actual objects but certain visual qualities of those objects, precisely those qualities that are recordable by the photographic process. As the visual image recorded by the camera have very similar properties to those images revealed by the mechanism of the eye, we believe that we recognise in the photograph, the past in the present. We recognise past 'qualities' of objects.
A photograph is a memory trace of visual form as is recognised by human beings. The photograph functions as a memory of past occasions, because we remember past occasions; it prompts our recall of the internal relations of visual phenomena. The photograph remembers past qualities but not objects. In this respect, human beings are in the same situation when they recognise any object they see. We do not see the same object but only experience similar qualities. Thus there are no representations. The same can be said for the holograph and the hand-painted holograph - they are disjunctive novel presentations.
The photograph is an extremely interesting kind of event. It is so because it is 'hard'. By hard I mean tangible to more than one person. Also the process is structurally correlated with the physiology of the individual human eye (which almost everybody has). The camera mimics the monocular mechanism of the eye. This makes the camera a miraculous kind of object! An object that empirically satisfies us via internal and external sensations - a kind of independently existing bridge between mind and body. The photograph is validated both internally and externally by the eye and the camera. It is an abstractive device but one which renders the unrepeatable experience repeatable in a limited aspect. Specific 2-dimensional kinds of form are repeated in the present. It is further possible to deduce 3-dimensions from the image.
A Presentation of Alfred North Whitehead in 1998
The reconstruction of the image of Whitehead, via the scattering of light by a superimposed magnified photographic configuration of rhenium atoms. The image is a record of 2 real events - events in which a disjunctive past is made simultaneously present, producing an extra-novel event. The work embodies the philosophy of Whitehead in an 'overt' way. The 'optical effect' is peculiar to the interaction of the actual artwork and the human observer. Whitehead:
"....There is a dual aspect to the relationship of an occasion of experience as one relatum and the experienced world as another relatum. The world is included within the occasion in one sense, and the occasion is included in the world in another sense. Eg. I am in the room, and the room is an item in my present experience. But my present experience is what I now am." 3
This principle is exemplified in your and my experience of any painting. But in this painting, it is exemplified in an overt way. The peculiar nature of the image is such that a photograph of it cannot duplicate the optical experience of direct observation of the art object (unlike most paintings.) Eye, brain and artwork converge, and their interaction results in your and my experience of the optical effect. The painting is in the room and the room is an item in my present experience. But my present experience is what I now am, and this includes me with my particular optical sensation of the painting. One cannot appreciate the apparent depth of a hologram unless you have direct experience of a hologram. Thus here, the photograph is largely impotent.
The Past in the Present
We do not borrow from the past, the past is already an essential ingredient in any occasion of the present. Visual form is captured in a past moment, by photographic means, retaining the spatial relationships of the original object, in terms of tone on the 2-dimensional surface of paper. This form we read as a photograph that presents something we recognise. From these artifacts, hand-painted holographs are derived. But the hand-painted holograph, like the holograph or stereoscopic image, transcends the photograph in spatial terms.
So here before you, lies the remnants of history. But these remnants are not decadent or dead, but are new objects; they are alive in the present. Nothing can be recreated - they can only come into existence once. Thus, the idea that after photography, painting or art had to recreate itself, is nonsensical. But there is a sense in which objects have an extended-history. This extended history is constituted via presentations, such that, in the words of Whitehead:
"...the immediate past is now the basis of your present." History converges upon the present. Whitehead: "Your mind is now what it was a quarter of a second ago plus certain other influences - extraneous influences flow in constantly."4
One can say that the entire history of the universe implicated me now. That is, we all have influences; but in the present duration of 1998, whilst Alfred North Whitehead is the dominating feature of my present, there is a lesser part of me constituted out of Demosthenes, Dali, Mona Lisa and of course, Marilyn Monroe!
Roy Amiss, October 1998. The Hague.
1 Whitehead, A.N., p.21, Process and Reality; Pub. Macmillan (Free Press) 1978 (originally published 1929.)
3 Whitehead, A.N., Modes of Thought; Pub. Macmillan Co. NY (1938), originally appeared in 'Nature and Life' 1934.
4 Whitehead, A.N., Lecture on 'Time and Endurance' at Harvard, 1934.
Roy Amiss, London 1958
Roy Amiss is a painter, designer, writer, musician and songwriter. Inspired by surrealism, philosophy, logic and postmodernism. Studied biological sciences in England (1979-81); Thurrock Technical College: Art and Design Foundation (1987-88). Cheltenham School of Art: BA(hons) Degree, Fine Art; Painting. (1988-91).
1990 Beckford Silks, Surrealistic/Classical Interior Design, Beckford, England.
1996 'Tower of Babel', Installation, KunstRai Art Fair, Schröder Galerie. Commission of Design Agency 'Keja Donia', exhibited at Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam.
This catalogue is published for the occasion of the solo exhibition of Roy Amiss entitled 'The Past in the Present' in the Schröder Galerie/Ateliers, October 10th - November 22nd 1998.
© 1998 Schröder Foundation. All rights reserved.
Publisher Schröder Stichting
Special thanks to Dominique, Rob and Nieck for their help, and to Anita for her support and enthusiasm.
Schröder Foundation, Anna Paulownastraat 54A, 2518 BG The Hague, Holland
Tel: +31 70 345 31 42 Fax +31 70 427 59 23
Paintings in the catalogue
Aphrodite, circa. 300 BC, 189 x 82.5 cm
Apollo (detail), circa. 300 BC 189 x 93 cm
The Mathematicians, 1946 154 x 178 cm
School of Athens, 1510-12 261 x 208 cm
Voltaire, seated, 1795 77 x 56.5 cm
Velázquez, self-portrait?, circa. 1630 40 x 35.5 cm
Marilyn Monroe, 1962 142 x 125 cm