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THE REAL-FAKE

The Fake and The Real Symposium

Roger Denson

Matthew Fielder

Erkki Huhtamo

David Getsy

Donna Gustafson

David Schwarz

Robert Stalker

Carrie Robbins

Mark Levy


the Real-Fake

Many of the papers started as papers for the symposium The Real and the Fake, which took place at California State University, Sacramento on Saturday, April 16, 2011 While The Real-Fake looks at contemporary artists' use of virtual 3D computer graphics for avant-garde purposes, the texts present a range of papers that historically position this fundamental question of art as it plays out in a variety of artistic attitudes, forms, and media.

Introduction

The Real-Fake is an exhibition that presents the approaches employed by artists exploring artificial xyz space, the non-referenced synthetic image or object, and the specific qualities of the virtual camera that records it. Its purpose is to position 3D computer graphics in the discursive context of contemporary art. The artists in the exhibit all use 3D software to create a range of art forms, from the still image to animation, interactive works and installation. All of them self-consciously place 3D within an avant-garde lexicon. Like their predecessors, video artists who adapted TV technologies for artistic use, these artists have adopted the technology employed in 3D shooter games and feature-length Hollywood animation blockbusters, but reject entertainment industry aesthetics and content, instead applying the medium to the trajectory of art history.

Their common strategy is to isolate and define a formal language native to the virtual. These formulations are then integrated into a variety of contemporary practices emerging from the discourses of media and of representation as they have impacted on photography, experimental film, and installation-based contemporary art. Their languages arise out of the painting traditions of figuration and abstraction, and artistic movements as wide ranging as Surrealism, Constructivism and Pop Art, as well as avant-garde cinema, post-Modern image making and experimental animation.

It is rare even in the new-media art context to find artists involved in contemporary practice that are deeply invested in exploring 3D computer art. The particular burden of the artists in The Real-Fake is to break away from the constraints imposed by the domination of an extremely fast-paced military/entertainment complex, beyond the commonly adopted strategy of appropriation. The Real-Fake proposes the potential of 3D computer art as the post-photography medium currently emerging from the new technologies and Zeitgeist of the early 21st century.

The Fake and The Real Symposium

Eighth Annual Festival of the Arts Art History Symposium
California State University, Sacramento
Saturday, April 16, 2011, 1:00pm-5:30pm, Mariposa Hall 1000


The Fake and the Real symposium topic is inspired by the concurrent new media exhibition, The Real-Fake, on view in the University Library Gallery from March 31 to June 4, 2011. While the exhibition looks at contemporary artists' use of virtual 3D computer graphics for avant-garde purposes, the art history symposium presents a range of papers that historically position this fundamental question of art as it plays out in a variety of artistic attitudes, forms, and media.

Writers:

G. Roger Denson, Independent Scholar: "The Visual Basis of Reality and the CGI Revolution in Scientific Paradigm Remix"

Matthew Fielder, Independent Scholar: "On The Accuracy of Fictions"

David J Getsy, Ph.D., Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of Art History, School of the Art Institute of Chicago: "Obsessional Realism [Prospectus for a Foreword]"

Donna Gustafson, Ph.D., Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey: "Claes Oldenburg' Bedroom Ensemble: Disruption and Transformation"

Erkki Huhtamo, Ph.D., Professor of Media History and Theory, UCLA: "'What's In the Box?': An Archaeological Approach to 'Peep Media'"

Mark Levy, Ph.D., California State University, East Bay: "Magritte and the Triumph of the Simulacrum"

Carrie Robbins, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History of Art, Bryn Mawr College: "The Real and the Fake in Thomas Demand's Trompe l'oeil Photography"

David Schwarz, Ph.D., College of Music, the University of North Texas: "A Double-Take on the Body (A Psychoanalytic Approach to the Body in Electronic Art"

Robert Stalker, Ph.D., Independent Scholar: "Screening of the Real: The Films of Bruce Conner"

The Visual Basis of Reality and the CGI Revolution in Scientific Paradigm Remix

Roger Denson

The Visual Basis of Reality and the CGI Revolution in Scientific Paradigm Remix
ABSTRACT

Each epoch must refashion its reality around the generations that inhabit it and the technologies that inform it. For a seeing culture, reality--the collective set of physical-conceptual valuations given priority in a culture--is to a great measure generated by the visual paradigms premiere to the day. This isn't a new development. Visual artists have always provided the models enabling societies and civilizations to conceptualize and apply realities. As such, artists know that paradigms for the real and the imaginary shift--even exchange--values with the evolving visual models and their valuations. Whereas the dominant ancient and medieval idea of the physical world seems to have been based on visual-tactile and muscular intuitions that accompany a spatial-sculptural predilection, from the European Renaissance to the present day, reality became literally a view, one to a great extent based on visual habits and intuitions. This was a period in which art became imagined as a "mirror" of nature. But as the study and use of projective 3-point perspective evolved through the modern centuries from its Renaissance construction by Alberti, Viator, and Durer to influence Einstein's Theory of Relativity and on to digital vector graphics of today's Computer Generated Imaging software (CGI), the metaphor for visual representations of reality shifted from the "mirror" to the "projection." In keeping with the projection model, 6-point perspective and the more advanced perspective systems to succeed it have become the basis for CGI at the same time that 3D animation has come to shape scientific paradigms. We can see this by looking at the 3D imaging that physicists use to "demonstrate" current Super String Theory and geneticists to "model" the Genetic Algorithms of DNA. But more than demonstrating theory, I propose that CGI substantially shapes our emerging view of the physical world as much if not more in science as in art and entertainment. This can be seen in the way that physicists, chemists, biologists and other scientists resort to CGI to demonstrate the dimensionality and interactions of their physical models. It's time for theoretical scientists to come clean and give credit to the priority of visual modeling. At present this means admitting that the exemplary utility that CGI affords scientists is more than a visual application answering a conceptual need. CGI has quietly become the visual substratum for scientific paradigm construction and remixing even if in many cases its priority is a largely unconscious or downplayed stimulus. At present the paradigms are still grounded in pre-CGI era principles and laws, but this is increasingly less certain with each new advance in visually generated or enhanced theory however rigorously the model is constrained by prior physical paradigms. The result is a convergence of the physical and the cognitive paradigms the very nearness of which puts in question conventional distinctions of the real and the imaginary. A variety of educational videos made by physicists, chemists, and biologists, with web links provided for video viewing, will be cited as exemplary of how CGI informs experimental theory in these fields. The society that inherits these physical-cognitive paradigms finds that the interface of the real and the imaginary is repositioned to evolve a new collective reality advanced by scientific institutions. The resulting remix redefines the real and the imaginary to the extent that they exchange values in theoretical and artistic cultures alike. As distinctions between what is real and what is imaginary become destabilized to the point of proving a liability to paradigm construction, the hypothesis professions could build up a preference for deferring definitions of the real so as to widen the potentiality of the imaginary. Within such an evolution of relativity, realities shown to be applicable to specific models of reality can no longer be thought to rule out other potential realities. For with the number of competitive paradigms increasing comes the realization that what isn't real in one paradigm may be real in another yet to be conceptualized.

On The Accuracy of Fictions

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Matthew Fielder, Independent Scholar


On The Accuracy of Fictions:
What fiction can forget about reality and what reality should remember about fiction

ABSTRACT

The exhibition The Real Fake, Virtual Bodies and Impossible Objects, brings together a group of artists that all use 3D computer software in the creation of their work. If we understand these artworks as intentionally constructed realities we may also view them as the result of an intense process of fictionalization. This paper explores some of the intertextual connections between fiction and its relationship to the creation of digital artworks. I will present some very general but key examples of the role fiction plays in relation to 3D computer graphics, art, and the distinction between the real and the fake.

In a world that proposes cyberspace and virtual reality, we cannot simply rely on the Cartesian dualism and scientific negativism of mind and body, or in this case the real and the fake. Here we must begin to redefine reality instead as a combination of both, as a construction of 'make believe'. This age old concept permeates eastern philosophy and is supported by the science of quantum mechanics. It seems the nature of reality, like art and science, are products of a generative fiction. It is not a matter of the critical divide between what is authentic or simulated, but rather a type of active and ever accelerating fictionalization that enables us to know the contrary. If we are to extract any meaning in relation to contemporary experience, we need to deal with the phenomena of a reality that is at least as strange as, if not stranger than fiction. For theorist Peter Lunenfeld, critical theory 'has proven itself only partially competent' in accounting for this emergent condition. This paper will investigate the ways in which fictionalization as a process within art may help critique and reevaluate our invented world, and shared realities.

Using Coleridge's concept of a 'willing suspension of disbelief' and Iser's notion of fiction as a transition program mediating the real and the fake, we can use the classical aesthetics of fiction to critically engage with the hyper-aesthetics of reality. No doubt the masters of literary fiction have anticipated and shaped our adopted futures. Fiction allows for a process of understanding and relating to reality that can provide an accurate model of a world where our perceptions often exceed our burdens of proof and empirical truths. Authors like Borges, Burroughs, Ballard, etc, echo the non-linear dynamics of poststructuralist and postmodern thinkers, such as Baudrillard, Lyotard, and Deleuze. Perhaps if we consider fiction as forms of transition and transformation, we can further inform and even add to the ideas of modernity, as well as enlighten the augmentation of the next century.

What's In the Box? - An Archaeological Approach to "Peep Media"

Erkki Huhtamo, PhD

What's In the Box? - An Archaeological Approach to "Peep Media"
ABSTRACT

Media culture is often associated with a quest for widest possible visibility. The bigger the screen and the larger the audience, the better - so goes the logic. Yet media history also knows strands that have purported to hide images and to reveal them only within carefully calculated confines. From peep show boxes to optical toys, Mutoscopes and Kinetoscopes, subjects have over and over again been invited to marvel at hidden visual treasures beyond peepholes. Indeed, we could speak about "peep media," and related "peep practices." These have left behind countless traces, but they have rarely been excavated with the aim of profiling a general exposť of hidden media culture, the goal of this keynote.

Erkki Huhtamo holds a Ph. D. in Cultural History, and works as Professor of Media History and Theory at the University of California Los Angeles, Department of Design | Media Arts. He has published extensively on media archaeology and the media arts. Media archaeology is an emerging approach he has pioneered. It excavates forgotten, neglected and suppressed media-cultural phenomena, helping us to penetrate beyond canonized accounts about media culture. Professor Huhtamo has applied this approach to phenomena like peep media, stereoscopy, the notion of the screen, electronic games, and mobile media. He has also written about the ways in which media artists have integrated media-archaeological elements into their works. Professor Huhtamo's most recent books are Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications (edited with Jussi Parikka, The University California Press, 2011) and a forthcoming monograph titled Illusions in Motion. A Media Archaeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles.

Obsessional Realism

David J Getsy, PhD

Obsessional Realism
ABSTRACT

Representation's history is punctuated by the recurring desire for its dissolution. At these moments, the urge to achieve total realism and verisimilitude becomes singular and over-riding, directing much of the work of depiction towards its own transparency. A representation, by definition, can never be the thing it represents, and the gap between the actual and the depicted has driven histories of image-making by virtue of its own impossibility.

Looking back through history, this story is replayed when we look to Classical Greece, to the emergence of linear perspective, to nineteenth-century painting's coping with the competition of photography, with the Realist novel, with fantasies of the holodeck, and with - most persistently - computer-driven animation and CGI in film and video games.

Why, in other words, does realism recur as a goal despite its ultimate impossibility? The history of art and of representation shows us that it is not just a delight in illusionism and the trickery of making a flat wall, a flat canvas, or a flat screen appear as a livable world. More importantly, the desire for realism is always an ideological one - to demonstrate omniscience and master over representation as a means of asserting the truthfulness and inviolability of the realist gaze. Used for both oppositional and collusive aims, the rhetorical framing of realism as the true and transparent showing of the world is, in the end, about conveying power.

When we imagine current manifestations of the obsessional (in the full sense of the term) pursuit of realism in video games and in cinematic verisimilitude, we can see how much of the content of realist depiction relies upon narratives of power and domination to which the mode of seemingly seamless representation serves as an analogue for messages of truth and power. This is one reason the video game, of all media, has become the proving ground for technologies of verisimilitude. Once we put the current technological drive for realism into its context as an eternal return of the desire to fill the gap between the presented and the re-presented, however, one can begin to visualize the not-yet-real alternatives.

David J. Getsy is the Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His research focuses on the history and theory of three-dimensional representation, from the origins of modern sculpture to current developments in contemporary art, performance, and new media. His books include Rodin: Sex and the Making of Modern Sculpture (Yale University Press, 2010); Body Doubles: Sculpture in Britain, 1877-1905 (Yale University Press, 2004); (ed.) Sculpture and the Pursuit of a Modern Ideal in Britain (Ashgate Publishing, 2004); and (ed.) From Diversion to Subversion: Games, Play, and Twentieth-Century Art.

Claes Oldenburg's Bedroom Ensemble: Disruption and Transformation

Donna Gustafson, PhD

Claes Oldenburg's Bedroom Ensemble: Disruption and Transformation
ABSTRACT

The most striking elements of Claes Oldenburg's Bedroom Ensemble (1964) are his ironic celebration of the domestic, emphasis on the artificial, and deliberate distortions of single point perspective. A neglected but pivotal work in his oeuvre, the Bedroom (planned as a multiple in an edition of six) is a recreation of New York's Sidney Janis Gallery, a distillation of Southern Californian domesticity, an homage to Jackson Pollock, an interrogation of private and public space, and a purposeful disruption of the real in favor of the fake. While critics declared it a "disaster" (G.R. Swenson), a "nightmare" (Sidney Tillim), and "monstrous" (Lucy Lippard), Donald Judd praised the installation as "a thorough corruption of all its sources, even a corruption of the readymade aesthetic that seems to drive it." The materials are indeed ersatz-formica and plastic surfaces, vinyl sheets, fake furs-- described by Briony Fer as a "dream map of commodity culture and its projected desires." Oldenburg also hung what he described as fake Pollock patterned fabric on the walls and skewed the perspective of the room in order to falsify the clarity and geometry of the Renaissance system that made painting a window onto the world. I argue that Oldenburg's intentions in this provocative essay on the real and the fake (encompassing representations of the real in actual space and time, film, psychology, and advertising) create a liminal piece that is neither simply real nor fake, but a work whose multiple falsities and exaggerations disrupt the illusions of artistic and social conventions that are understood as realism and reality. Creating a three-dimensional space that only appears correct in photographs of the installation, the Bedroom questions both physical and visual experience. As Oldenburg admitted, "this is the kind of reality that if you intrude it vanishes."

Dr. Donna Gustafson is the Andrew W. Mellon Liaison for the Mellon Program and Curator at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Her areas of expertise are American and contemporary art. Previously, she was Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Art History, Rutgers; Director of Exhibitions at the Hunterdon Museum of Art in Clinton, New Jersey; and Chief Curator at the American Federation of Arts. Her publications and exhibitions projects include Ilene Sunshine: out of line, Kentler International Drawing Space, Brooklyn, NY, 2010; A Parallel Presence: National Association of Women Artists, 1889-2009, Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, 2008; "Structuring Thought," in Elizabeth Chapman, Ed Kerns: Word, City, Mind: A Universal Resonance, Muhlenberg College, PA, 2007; Almost Human: Dolls and Robots in Contemporary Art, Hunterdon Museum of Art, Clinton, NJ, 2005; Images from the World Between: the Circus in Twentieth- Century American Art, MIT Press, 2001; Thomas Moran: the Poetry of Place, American Federation of Arts and the Gilcrease Museum, 2001. Her recent exhibition, Water, an interdisciplinary project, was on view at the Zimmerli from September 1, 2010 to January 2, 2011. She has published reviews and articles on a variety of topics and presented papers at CAA, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum; Lafayette College; Visual Arts Center of New Jersey; Wadsworth Athenaeum; Zimmerli Art Museum and other institutions. In 2012 she will co-chair a panel on Fluxus at CAA.

A Double-Take on the Body: A Psychoanalytic Approach to the Body in Electronic Art

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David Schwarz, PhD


A Double-Take on the Body: A Psychoanalytic Approach to the Body in Electronic Art
ABSTRACT

In my talk, I'd like to discuss the body in recent electronic art, in the works themselves, and in discourses addressed to them. In writings on electronic art, artists and scholars mostly avoid defining what the body is and what the body isn't; and descriptive, critical, speculative language that refers to the body is often underwritten by either humanist essentialism (Hansen) or pessimistic nihilism (Kittler). I will put forward a suggestion for how we can avoid simplistic binaries such as body / mind-an approach to the body based on extensions of the teachings of Jacques Lacan.

I think most of us would agree that western culture has moved well beyond postmodernism both as cultural moment and discursive practice. If postmodern culture and discourses can be reduced to the statement "all is representation," then our post human, post Cartesian, post historical "present" would seem to have some abiding referent. What is it? To say that it is "reality" or "actuality" or "intuitive presence" is to fall into a simplistic binary that keeps us from grasping some of the new subjective structures that artists are already evoking in their work. I think that the art of this cultural moment requires that we move beyond simplistic binaries across the board.

As far as "reality" and the body to which my remarks will lead are concerned, the Lacanian Real can help. The Lacanian Real is that pulpy stuff that supports all socially-constructed meaning; or, if you could subtract all social conventions, all language, all ways of understanding ourselves, our social and private spaces, our history from experience, the Real would be what is left. We have no direct access to it, and no one interested in self preservation would wish to experience it. But from its thingness, its never fully-chartered territories, new structures are constantly emerging. The Real appears when the fabric of symbolic social space is under strain, and in our current culture, it is appearing quite a bit.

The Real is surrounded by fluid thresholds to language, to visual, tactile, sonorous, and olfactory envelopes of identification out of which we develop as children. No simple binaries bind its discourses together; it offers us a unique read on current works of electronic art. In my talk, I will ground the body in the Lacanian Real, with reference to current works of electronic art, especially that of Claudia Hart.

I'm an Associate Professor of Music at the College of Music, the University of North Texas, Denton, TX. I have two books (Listening Subjects: Music, Psychoanalysis, Culture Duke UP 97 and Listening Awry: Music and Alterity in German Culture Minnesota 06); I'm working on a book that will take a post-Lacanian take on Electronic Art. Here's a link to my website with a full vita.

Screening the Real: The Films of Bruce Conner

Robert Stalker, PhD

Screening the Real: The Films of Bruce Conner
ABSTRACT

My films are the "real world." It's not a found object. This is the stuff that I see as the phenomena around me. At least that's what I call the "real world." -Bruce Conner

California assemblage artist and experimental filmmaker Bruce Conner (1933-2008) was fascinated by the boundary between the real and the fake. He once sent out an invitation to his own exhibit announcing works by "the late Bruce Conner." On more than one occasion, he arranged for an impostor to stand in for him to present his own films. He even went so far as to title an exhibit comprised solely of his own work "the Dennis Hopper One Man Show" (1970-1973). In his assemblage work from the late 'fifties and early 'sixties for which he has become justly renown, Conner deployed sordid and violent "real life" material drawn from newspapers and tabloids (such as the infamous "Black Dahlia" murder case or the controversy surrounding the Caryl Chessman execution) in a highly fictional-or as he described it, "theatrical"-way to create works that, as Boswell writes, "curiously hover [. . . ] in a Neverland where fantasy and reality . . . dance hand in hand."

Beginning in 1958, Conner carried this dialectic of the real and the fake into film, producing some of the most important-although, still underappreciated-avant-garde or experimental films of the post-war era. In this paper, I examine early Conner films such as A Movie (1958), Marilyn Times Five (1968), and, especially, his masterpiece Report (1963-1967) to explore how Conner's films provocatively negotiate the borderland between the factual and the fantastic, the real and the fake. As I demonstrate, Conner's preoccupation with the real and the fake emerges in his films as a complex interrogation of the impact of the mass media on historical representation.

In A Movie (1958), Conner combines and juxtaposes found footage from both documentary and fictional sources to achieve a complex interplay of the real and the fake, the horrific and the humorous. Conner's Marilyn Times Five (1968-73) explicitly engages the boundary between the real and the fake by creating a film from a one-minute loop of a purportedly Marilyn Monroe dressed only in panties. While Conner's stated intent was to take the found footage and rearrange it "to see if the quintessential 'Marilyn' could emerge," some sources claim the footage is taken from a '40s stag film featuring Monroe look-alike Arlene Hunter, the film thus engaging quite provocatively the issues of the genuine and the counterfeit.

With Report, Conner carries his interest in the real and the fake into broader territory, tackling the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the media spectacle surrounding it. Immediately following the assassination, Conner began filming news reports directly from television. Later, when obtaining the Zapruder film and other filmic documents proved impossible, Conner bought the rights to the television footage, splicing it together along with television advertisements, footage of a bull fight, academy leader, and a "flicker film" to form one of the most complex and insightful aesthetic responses to the assassination and its aftermath. Together with its "sister film," Television Assassination (1963-65/1995), concerning the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, Conner's Report represents, as this paper argues, a provocative interrogation of the impact of mass media on historical representation. As this paper demonstrates, Conner's films provocatively confound the real and the fake in their efforts to highlight a crisis in historical representation.

Robert Stalker received his Ph.D. from Emory University in 2004 and works as an independent scholar specializing in post-war West Coast American art. He has presented scholarly papers such as "Shooting Blanks: Time as property in the Photo-books of Ed Ruscha," "Panorama of the Everyday: Ed Ruscha and the Cinematic," and "Auto,Body: L.A.'s Finish Fetish and the Vernacular Surreal" at academic conferences in the U.S. and abroad. A frequent contributor to The Art Section: An On-Line Journal of Art and Cultural Commentary, Stalker has published articles on Joseph Cornell, Mel Bochner, the films of William S. Burroughs, and Yves Klein among others. He is currently working on a project about L.A.'s Ferus Gallery.

The Real and the Fake in Thomas Demand's Trompe l'oeil Photography

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Carrie Robbins, PhD


The Real and the Fake in Thomas Demand's Trompe L'oeil Photography
ABSTRACT

In what D.N. Rodowick calls a "paradox of 'perceptual realism,'" digital image-making technology pursues the goals of "perfect photographic credibility" according to Lev Manovich or of "digital mimicry" as Philip Rosen has it. According to these new media theorists, digital image production, a field imagined to be free of the constraints of reality, is thus (paradoxically) geared toward the "realist" conventions of photography's linear perspective. Insofar as digital mimicry adopts the representational conventions of another medium, it pursues an illusionism not unlike that of trompe l'oeil. Trompe l'oeil is typically understood according to its trick, as an exact imitation that is also wholly dependent upon its failure. But I want to suggest that this staging and testing of representational verisimilitude allow a return of the real by reminding viewers of what is at stake in representation - our corporeal bodies and lived experience.

Like digital image makers, Thomas Demand pursues the 'perceptual realism' of 'perfect photographic credibility' but through entirely analogue means. Demand reproduces in three-dimensional paper models the scene of a found photograph, only to re-photograph it. What initially seems to be a straight-forward photograph is suddenly undone by a stray pencil mark - or other sign of handmade "digit"-alization. But his "digital" interventions return us to the body (his body) and to another capacity for the real. Like new media's digital mimicry, his paper models are made to conform to the conventions of photographic realism; but our active recognition of this deceit returns us to our own bodies, as well as to the historical and ethical stakes of representing the real that motivated the initial photograph. Demand's trompe l'oeil strategy reinvests us in the stakes of recovering a real from representation's inevitable fakery.

Carrie Robbins is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History of Art at Bryn Mawr College, specializing in Modern and Contemporary art with a focus on photography. She received her BA in Art History from Grinnell College in 2002 and her MA from Bryn Mawr College in 2008. She was a teaching assistant to Prof. Homay King in Bryn Mawr's film department, a graduate assistant in Bryn Mawr's photography collection, and a research assistant to architectural historian, Prof. Barbara Miller Lane. Her Master's thesis engaged Michael Fried's recent work on contemporary photography, part of which grew into a paper, "Without Medium: A Consideration of Loss via Thomas Demand," that she presented at the Frick Collection in 2009. Carrie also co-chaired the 7th Biennial Graduate Student Symposium, "Thievery: The Anxiety of Influence and Appropriation," at Bryn Mawr in December 2009. She is beginning dissertation work advised by Prof. Steven Levine that reconsiders contemporary photographic strategies relative to trompe l'oeil.

Magritte and the Triumph of the Simulacrum

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Mark Levy, PhD


Magritte and the Triumph of the Simulacrum
ABSTRACT

In The Treason of Images 1927-1928) Rene Magritte draws attention to the gap between image and reality. Here a painted image of a pipe is not a real pipe as the caption "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" affirms. In the words of the French linguistic philosopher Ferdinand de Saussure ( 1857-1913) there is a difference between the "signifier" or sign or the "signified" or object . The signifier or sign is a simulacrum of the real thing. Of course, as Magritte demonstrates, the viewer often suspends disbelief in the reality of the signified and this is especially telling in The Treason of Images as the image of a pipe is simply a colored cartoon with modeling.

In the Key of Dreams (1930) Magritte also shows that words, the equivalent of images, are similarly arbitrary designations of things. An image of a glass, for example could just as easily be called, "L' Orage" which is usually designated to mean storm in French. As Saussure had already affirmed, signification is always determined by culture; there is no natural relation between the signifier and the signified. As I hope to demonstrate in this talk with examples from the work of Barbara Kruger and Vitaly Alex Komar and Melamid, Magritte's paintings anticipate the Deconstructionist trope of adding or changing signifiers to bring out the hidden ideology behind so called natural signification. The reality of the signified is thus brought into question. Moreover, Magritte was a precursor of the free play of signifiers without signifieds that that is found in the postmodernist works of such artists as David Salle and Sigma Polke which I will also discuss in this talk. In beginning to pry loose the natural link between the signifier and the signified Magritte anticipates the triumph of the simulacrum and the erosion of the real in late 20th and early 21st century art and culture.

Mark Levy (Ph.D) has taught courses in modern European art, contemporary art. Asian art, and shamanism in art at Kenyon, College, The University of Nevada, Reno, John F. Kennedy University, and the San Francisco Art Institute. For the last twenty-eight years he has also taught at California State University, East Bay where is currently the senior Professor of Art History. He has written many reviews and articles for national and international publications and two books, Technicians of Ecstasy: Shamanism and the Modern Artist and Void/in Art, about the significance of emptiness in Eastern and Western art. He is currently finishing a new book Tantra, Art and Anarchy, and is designing a game for the IPod/IPad with graduate students from the multimedia department at California State University, East Bay based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.