Color: Nature and Reality

The Matrix, Warner Brothers, 1999. Written and Directed by the Wachowski Brothers.

The transition from signs which dissimulate something to signs which dissimulate that there is nothing, marks the decisive turning point. The first implies a theology of truth and secrecy (to which the notion of ideology still belongs). The second inaugurates an age of simulacra and simulation, in which there is no longer any God to recognize his own, nor any last judgement to separate truth from false, the real from its artificial resurrection, since everything is already dead and risen in advance.
Jean Baudrillard

Red or Blue.

I am always surprised by the power of color. It affects us in ways that we don’t expect which makes color a dangerous thing. Case in point – when the Sistine ceiling was cleaned the unexpected riot of color found under the centuries of grime caused a huge controversy. For many, Michelangelo would never be seen in quite the same way again. His pure white marbles and strong monochrome drawings took on an entirely different meaning in the face of the deluge of hue painted on that ceiling. Form and Structure were seen as being threatened by Color, Light and Space. A whole new idea was forcing its way into our world and it changed what we thought we knew, what we thought we had seen.

Over the years we have become used to our chromophobes draining color from our pictures in order to accentuate the black and white of Structure and Form. These monochromaticists mistakenly believe that color is extraneous to any real issues of visual meaning, and they are suspicious of the power of color, especially when color easily evokes emotional connections. But things have changed. Since the 1980s we’ve seen art become more of a social/political commentary rather than a personal adventure, and as this didacticism has increased a new kind of chromophobe has emerged. Postmodernism continues the tradition of suspicion by sucking the meaning out of color – making it yet another found object placed in our way to provoke “discussion” of an issue. Rather than eschewing color entirely, the POMO gives us every color in the rainbow, or should we say, every hue on a color chart. Starting with Warhol, this new way to use color became a focus of Postmodern practice. It drains the meaning, the experience of personality from any visual encounter. Color is used as part of an interaction, as a means to participate in a culturally mandated, institutionally sanctioned critique of a socially emboldened, politically enhanced art entertainment experience™. And in their way, Postmodernists, catholic in their tastes of hue, remain suspicious of what any specific choice of color might mean.

Color in this sense is used as a selling point, a deus ex machina, the facilitator of a purchasing experience rather than a reason for visual contemplation. POMO is all about fetishizing our expectations, breaking narratives into elliptical codes and re-contextualizing meaning into packages of institutional critique while maintaining the viability and fungibility of institutional dogma. By inundating us with color the POMO leaves us drowning in endless choices. It is this illusion of choice that brings us to an endlessness of forgetting. We no longer retain thought or even experience deja vu, because we no longer remember, our computers do it for us. We choose our color for the first time every single time. Is it any wonder that we are surprised when our blood runs red, our veins trace blue, and our eyes shine green in the hard yellow light of an early spring morning? We prefer the chart of choices to the lived experience – we can make color fit our expectations rather than feel for its meaning. You might call this sort of color “camouflage” – color used to subvert the meaning and power of color.

To experience the meaning of the blue pill we must paint it in just this way. We wake up in our beds, we remember nothing and we go on with our studio lives – choosing our latest fetish from the color chart of endless possibility. We accept the “reality” of this construct, the everyday sureness that what we know is what we are doing, that one thing leads to another. We know what is expected of us. We know that we are in control.

Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?
Morpheus: You’ve never used them before.

Ah, but the red, that is something different. When we enter the red world color begins to take shape, to form essential relationships, to reveal itself as dangerous and unexpected. For the chromophile this sort of color is a revelation, it conveys something more physical, something thicker about our experiences. And when we encounter this sort of color, like Caravaggio’s Red Drape or Delacroix’s Boudior Rouge, we find vision. We experience a shift in how we understand our realities. The promise of the red world is that we will see a deeper truth, one connected to our very nature, one that is specific to who and what we are. We won’t know how things will end, how the color will look, how our expectations will never meet the reality of other existences. This sort of color is not easy and it requires more of us.

“Reality”—the idea that something really happened—is providing us with that thrill right now. We’re riveted by the rawness of something that appears to be direct from the source, or at the very least less worked over than a polished mass-media production. Living as we perforce do in a manufactured and artificial world, we yearn for the “real,” semblances of the real. We want to pose something nonfictional against all the fabrication—autobiographical frissons or framed or filmed or caught moments which, in their seeming unrehearsedness, possess at least the possibility of breaking through the clutter. A deliberate unartiness: “raw” material, unprocessed, unfiltered, uncensored. David Shields

It’s here that we see the change from the Postmodern to something distinctly different. This idea of reality, once held at a distance through our prolonged desire, has become, in the early 21st Century, a Hunger. We have moved from the abstract, from the map, the replication and the simulation, to the physical, the impassioned and the ‘real.’ For David Shields this is the crux of the matter. We want things to be unmediated, unprocessed, uncensored – RAW. All of these terms evoke a physical involvement, an unknown element of chance, the reality of fucking up – Consequences. It also brings up the idea of a new kind of morality, one connected to that physical element. What happens when there is no return policy, when the rubber breaks, when the pistol is drawn or the towers fall? At the end of a long flight when the plane has landed, nearly every passenger immediately turns on their cell phones and calls or texts someone. Why? Those who stand waiting to greet these passengers will be there at the exit gate. One can continue to travel to the office, home, or hotel before issuing the online reconnection. Why the need to instantly immerse in the world of invisible dematerialized communication, to acknowledge that our disassociated consciousness is now available again? What assurances does it give and/or require and to who does it give it? Why are we so willing, so needing, to immerse ourselves in this extended field of ethereal desire? Why blue, not red?

In our studios that is the question we must ask of ourselves. What happens if we continue on into the red world without the immediate gratification or the reassurance of longing? What happens if we speak directly about our life? What happens when we confuse the art with our emotional experiences? Will this enhance our color, change how we see it, how we use it? Will it be as compelling as the color being pumped directly into the back of our minds through these electronic screens? Will this studio light and space open up or will it show us as smaller human beings, stilted and uninteresting? When we determine to engage color in the red world suddenly we come up against our failings, our weaknesses, our limits and our humanity. We compare our vision to the known conscious comfort of the dematerialized world of pure color. It is a struggle to create our own reality in and through this simulacrum. We must find a way to paint these things, these small definitions of our very character and vision, using the charts and the purity of manufactured hue. We must find a way to claim these Postmodern things as our own. This “reality” may not be truth, but it can feel like it is, and more important, it can feel that way to others as well. And it is in the feeling that we impart something real.

Color will continue….

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