Archive for the ‘sign’ Category

Hirst’ Shark and Perec’s Room

June 8, 2008

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

Damien Hirst, 1991

Some banal questions before some even more banal ones:

Is it a shark or a work-of-art? It’s both, no? it’s “a shark placed inside a work”, and it’s “a work placed inside a museum” that makes this shark in a work in a museum a work-of-art. Like Duchamp’s fountain.

Major changes to the object’s native territory provoke shifts in meaning; it’s the re-territorialization into a different topology that reincarnates the object as a different semantic object.

But what about minor changes within the same territory – so minor we can hardly notice?

When, in a given bedroom, you change the position of the bed, can you say you are changing rooms, or else what? (cf. topological analysis)

Georges Perec, Species of Spaces

Barton Fink’s room perpetual metamorphosis

Or in the case of Hirst’ Shark – The Shark began to disintegrate (poor preservation) and so Hirst was hired to replace it with a brand new shark, making sure this time the materials used in the preservation process will beat Time for a little longer.

A philosophical question was acknowledged by Hirst, as to whether the replacement shark meant that the result could still be considered the same artwork. He observed:

“It’s a big dilemma. Artists and conservators have different opinions about what’s important: the original artwork or the original intention. I come from a conceptual art background, so I think it should be the intention. It’s the same piece. But the jury will be out for a long time to come.”

Let alone, our language.

A fantasy to hide our flesh

July 22, 2007

This post is about eating Knowledge and the creation of the first System. It discusses the moment in history in which man created the first, provisory sign, and that other moment which came right after.

Provisory Sign

“And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed”, Genesis, 2, 25.

[6 verses later]

“she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;

One minute before, one minute after, and in between – the moment of revelation, produced through a method that even Hume couldn’t have but approved – and here they are, Adam & Eve, digesting the naked, shameful truth – the body.

Their eyes wide open, Adam and Eve realize that this truth is too painful to watch, maybe too banal, for sure too concrete. And so they create, on the spot, in the same verse, in the same time capsule – the first sign.

and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

This first sign, however, was too fragile. The fig leaves were sensible to the blowing winds, to brusque movements, and so most of the time they were failing to hide the flesh, to cover up on the naked truth. The sign was too unstable, the referent being visible here and there.

Borrowing from Lyotard (The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence, 1982-1985), this instability of the sign evoked fear and trembling: the exposure of the referent and the failure to fixate the referencing sign, which is the other, creates a problem of identity. If the other’s identity is not fixed, neither is mine. It is the ability to rapidly identify and decipher the meaning of the sign – not its referent, which should be hidden for good – but the meaning arising from its contextual, structural entourage – that assists in the creation of self-consciousness, and of identity. The more rapid and stable this process of exchanging and recognizing signs is, the more stable are the effects of realism, the more solid is the Fantasy of the Real.

Surprisingly, this floating point of identity bothered God and made him react by providing Adam & Eve with some practical knowledge, that is – how to design and fabricate stable signs.

“Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them”.

No, God didn’t provide us humans with light, or fire; nor did he provide us with arrows or scrolls. The only practical thing God has provided us with was the Fashion System, Le Système de la mode, an empire of signs: a fantasy to hide our flesh.

stop the fashion system, february, 1990

Franco Moschino, Stop the fashion system, february, 1990

Maybe a Monad (Phaedrus by the river)

July 15, 2007

My Alter Ecko has recently published two posts around Phaedrus – this beautiful dialogue between Socrates and his beloved one, with the impeccable scenery of a mythological river, an oak and a rock, an idyllic setup for discours amoureux.

Yet, while tapping into the conversation between the two, I felt a growing uneasiness. Maybe it was the merciless manner by which Socrates slaughtered Lysias’ speech, unwrapping it from its content (utilitarian love), from its style (rhetoric), from its medium (written on scroll) and [implicitly] from its audience (the crowds), leaving nothing behind, not even some grains of Lysiasian ashes for a hasty funeral.

But most probably it was the erotic love praised by Socrates through never ending parabolas [although beautifully narrated: the black horse, the white horse etc.] that evoked my discontent. For through the mists of heavenly passions I saw a stream, an oak and a rock. By the stream sat Narcissus; by the rock stood Echo [I was hiding behind the oak]. Narcissus-Socrates was looking at Phaedrus, through the watery reflection, remembering the lost heavens of his fallen soul; and Phaedrus, standing by the rock, his heart engulfed with emotions, was watching the figure that was Socrates, seeing nothing but his own image, Phaedrus holding a scroll, echoed back onto his eyes, again and again and again and again.

Echo and Narcissus by Waterhouse

No, this was not a dream: I have it all well written.

The Lover is his mirror.

“And thus he [the beloved one] loves, but he knows not what; he does not understand and cannot explain his own state; he appears to have caught the infection of blindness from another; the lover is his mirror in whom he is beholding himself, but he is not aware of this”.

The Beloved is his clone.

The qualities of their god they attribute to the beloved, wherefore they love him all the more… wanting to make him as like as possible to their own god… for no feelings of envy or jealousy are entertained by them towards their beloved, but they do their utmost to create in him the greatest likeness of themselves and of the god whom they honour.

Oh boy! A mirror and a clone, a love for oaks and rocks.

I’m not sure about my above distribution of the Echo-Narcissus roles; I do feel, though, that this erotic love, although praising the other, is deeply ego-centric to the point that I am willing to concede that indeed each and every one of us is a self-contained monad, all the others being eventually nothing but reflections of one’s own self.

Cut out the I, Man

May 7, 2007

Cut out the I, Man.

Click to see full size image

Man Ray’ story of the eye had two incarnations and three names: Object intended to be destroyed (1923); Object of destruction (1932); and Indestructible object (1957). The current story is different [as the unplanned typo in the full size  image suggests]; actually, I’m not even sure that it’s the same object.

I give myself up to language

May 2, 2007

“I give myself up to language, anon, in a gift economy”, ecko4inc

I give myself up to language

Erasure Heads, part#2

(Click to enlarge)

Language, a reversed panopticon. In the heart of the desert one stands circled with guardian Words. Their gaze. All it needs to see them is to take one step outside yourself; the whole path lasts no longer than one step.

The Gaze of the Sign

April 24, 2007

(This post follows Gater’s role in Body/Language: Barthes-Foucault vs. Gater’s Taboo)

“The signs exist insofar as they are recognized, i.e. insofar as they are repeated”.

Through this simple definition Barthes introduces the concept of the other (used as a technique in the philosophical discourses of the past [the Greek friend, see D&G]; used as an existential condition in Buber, Barthes and others).

We’re all signs. Think about concepts. Each concept has a never ending trail of other concepts, and behind each concept there’s a human – that human who gave life to the concept in the first place; that human who revived the concept after it has long been forgotten. With every word we pronounce, and every sign we digest, it’s the history of humanity mashed between our teeth.

We’re all signs, and hence our existence is dependent on recognition and repetition – repeated recognition by other signs.

If God is the first Word and words are signs, then God needs repeated recognition just the same. This can probably explains why we, the other signs, have been originally created, and in his own image.

Sometimes, we like to create our own recognition signs – we can then play and replay them again and again – an endlessly repeating loop of recognition.

“I like to do it with my friends; sometimes we videotape it, then we watch it…”.

This is a cry for meaning – a desperate need for recognition. For whatever reason, a new sign is created for this purpose: a videotape in which the original sign is captured. Then, the original sign plays and replays the secondary sign, the videotape, gaining through this repetition the so wanted existential recognition.

But then, something else happens. While watching the secondary sign affirming our existence, we do it again. This time, the original sign is the one affirming and recognizing the existence of the secondary sign.

This is the potlatch: one affirms our existence and we reaffirm back his/her own existence, in a looped process that can potentially persist for a while. The more this process continues, the more respectful and ‘full of life’ the two signs become.

Only, the inhuman sign not only cannot become ‘more full of life’, but it is found to have very strange effects, when used as an affirming sign: the potlatch is canceled!

Here’s an example: you’re giving your friend a present. Your friend is very happy. She then wants to repay you for making her happy and so she gives you back a present: only, it is the same present you gave her in the first place. Evidently, this will not make you happy, for by that act, your friend has canceled your act. It is a canceling exchange, because it’s an echo.

Whatever echoes, mirrors, cannot be considered as an existential affirmation and recognition. Whatever echoes cannot be used as a potlatch, for the echo cancels the potlatch. Gater’s video should be seen as a cry for a meaningful existence. But the inhuman videotape gives no salvation: it’s a static dancing.

There’s no replacement for the human gaze.

The Gaze of the Sign