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reality_machine art

“After dinner they looked at the photographs which Durieu has been kind enough to send me. I persuaded them to try an experiment that I made quite by chance a couple of days ago. After examining the photographs of nude models, some of whom were poor physical specimens, with parts of the body overdeveloped – not very beautiful to look at – I showed them some engravings by Marcantonio. We felt repelled, indeed almost disgusted, by the inaccuracy, mannerism and lack of naturalness, in spite of the excellence of style. It is his only admirable quality, but we were incapable of admiring it at that particular moment. As a matter of fact, if some genius were to use dagguerrotype as it should be used he could reach untold heights. Above all, when you look at these engravings, the admitted masterpieces of the Italian School that have exhausted the admiration of every painter, you realize the truth of Poussin’s remark that ‘compared with the Antique, Raphael was an ass.’ Up to the present, this machine-made art has done us nothing but harm: it spoils the masterpieces for us, without being able to satisfy us completely.” The Journal of Eugene Delacroix

In this pleasant evening in the mid 1800s we are seeing artists discussing the difference between Mannerism and a new reality. The lens won the day. Unlike Delacroix and his friends we are not discovering photography and the power of the lens. We have lived with it in our everyday lives. EVERYTHING is filtered through it. As you stand at the cash machine, make your way through the airport, drive your car down the street, live on a block, upload into the programmed internet – EVERYTHING is being captured and replicated, categorized and indexed. We have all become data – data searching for other data. For instance if I’m doing research and I search on google for X – am I any different than a programmed spider looking for information – am I not also pulling information, classifying and categorizing as I go. My research, once posted, will also be part of that giant index. And somehow, for me, that removes a piece of my humanity. I am a program in the vast program – I’m not Mark, I’m not real and that bugs me, makes me viral. At first the promise of internet programming was that it would mirror and replicate the outside world, “bricks and mortar” as it was called. But like all machines, they can not work efficiently if they actually copy the way things work in the “real world.” They must work like machines. A car does not have legs, an airplane does not flap its wings and the internet does not actually see, think or remember. We are immersed in the ground and we adapt quickly to its “reality.” From the beginning of our Postmodern age we began to confuse the reality of our electronic extensions with the reality of our fleshy existence. Today we are not confused. We expect life to run like a program and look like a picture – Postmodern life is a program.


Dehumanization Part 1 from Kimberly Butler on Vimeo.

I found this wonderful series of videos by Kimberly Butler that discusses many of the issues that we’re facing and we’ve been discussing here on Henri. McLuhan comes up quite a bit in each of these discussions. Obviously, he was prescient about the effects of electronic media – and he wasn’t afraid to take the logic of his discussion as far as it would go. What I’ve found to be truly fascinating in his work was the idea of the tetrad. “The tetrad is a means of examining the effects on society of any technology/medium (put another way: a means of explaining the social processes underlying the adoption of a technology/medium) by dividing its effects into four categories and displaying them simultaneously.” The final stage of this process is always a reversal, usually at the point of medium over saturation. The reversal then redefines and reincorporates the old processes that were supplanted by the ascendancy of that very medium. If we use the tetrad in our own POMO art world we can see that the retrieval and reversal of Postmodern mannerism has begun to take place, and we are starting to see a swell of some new ideas on the horizon. For example – the emphasis on “reality” as seen, as experienced is part of that retrieval. It takes us away from the all-encompassing ground and takes us into the rising subject. The reexamination of certain Modernist academic techniques – like the drippy brush stroke and our reliance and surety of the primacy of Greenbergian literalness. A reconsideration of the ubiquity of Postmodern provisional painting, and a deep refutation of the mannered use of Modernist flatness, Duchampian inconsequence, Warholian replication and Neo-Surrealist nihilism. Many of us are experimenting just as Delacroix did in his day.

What we are talking about is reality, not in the program, but through the program – what comes out on the other side. How do we see after our eye has become a lens – do we understand things only through that machine, are we forever tied to that program, is that the reality? Or is there something else, something deeper that we might need to learn, to retrieve and reverse. Something that will allow us to move beyond the program, beyond Modernism and Postmodernism into the new century. I keep thinking of Georgina’s quote – “We are our own devil.” And for me that means we must question, transgress and risk.

reality will continue…

One Comment

  1. Dennis Bellone wrote:

    Notes on Reality Art Machine

    I find it ironic that a celebrity photographer is talking about the dehumanization of the human and further it is baby boomers who were shaped by the media and are in control of the media who speak in the piece.

    I don’t think the lens is the issue, the lens captures light. Ok there might be some issues with the lens in its single lens perspective and this had been a problem with art since the renaissance. The most important innovation to our detriment is not the lens but in my opinion is the CRT and its descendant the flatscreen aka the Television. They are the projectors of light and the bearers for better or worse of the ‘message.’

    When I was a kid there were 4 channels and kids programming was limited to Captain Kangaroo, the local weatherman dressed in some naval uniform showed cartoons on the weekday mornings before school and Saturday cartoons. I was lucky in that our local PBS channel showed movies from the Janus collection when I got home from school and would watch those. One day the TV broke and we didn’t replace it, we went without TV in the mid 70’s for about 3 years. I lived on an old farm with four generations in the house and would hike throughout the woods. I learned how to make maple syrup with my grandfather. My great grandfather who was an engineer in the early auto and aviation era would tell stories, often times over and over as elderly people do. My upbringing is rather unique.

    When I came to New York in the late 80’s the New York art scene was in upheaval due to market forces. This was also the beginning of what I call the new tribalism. I’m more edgy than you type of shit. I remember seeing the first tattoos and Carhardt Jackets on nearly everyone, the new uniform. Then more tattoos and piercings became prevalent and so on and so on. The more people become disassociated the greater the need to be part of something, a group; this is the natural condition of social animals. Only to me this extreme form was rather ridiculous and when middle class bridge and tunnel people starting sporting their tats and every barmaid had a big tribal tattoo over her ass it had been ‘commodified’. The extremism is born out of this commodifying, the store bought isn’t authentic, I’m me, I’m authentic and I’ve got my marks to show it and I’ll get even more to show YOU that I am authentic.

    Jump forward 15 years and the children of the narcissist generation (the baby boomers) are half drugged out legally on prescription anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals. This is the MTV generation, the cable barrage of 300+ channels. The talking heads of the Vimeo video say that TV shapes opinions, attitudes and self. Yes this is true but then the Catholic Church use to tell people not so long ago where their place was in the world too. There is always someone mediating or at least trying to mediate what you think or feel and who you are.

    But twitter, facebook and myspace are just symptomatic of the increased disassociation from reality and a true social interaction that people experience. Walking in the city proves daily that most peoples experience of the world is limited to visually three feet in front of them and roughly the dimensional size of the friggin television, that is if they aren’t busy twittering on their handheld that they’re crossing the street. Listen into a conversation and you’ll be struck dumb at how banal it is and worse is the number of times over the last two years I have met young people whose ambition is to be in marketing and branding. The concept of being free of labels and to experience the world one to one is gone.

    Now I don’t blame Post-Modernism for this, POMO is nothing but a descriptive form or philosophy of the current cultural existence. I like Baudrillard because he accurately perceived what was going on at the root and described it. Baudrillard and other Post-Modernists often bemoan the Matrix like reality that we’ve found ourselves in. The Deconstructionists wanted to show how the hierarchies worked, how power was implemented and how false the classical concepts that underlay our political and class systems were.

    It is the ironic misuse of post-modernist critique that has allowed us to get even deeper into the shit. And the worst criminals of decontextualization and outright lying daily are the right wing Republicans (as if there are any non right wing Republicans) who say we don’t torture but we did, that Brownie did a heck of a job, that we need more deregulation, etc. etc, and now our President who said he would do away with Guantanamo, stop illegally spying on citizens, etc, etc has even amped it up even more. Up is down, black is white.

    We truly are in an Orwellian nightmare.

    I was fortunate to drive through Europe to the middle of nowhere in Greece three years ago. No TV for that entire time, when I got back I canceled my subscription to cable. I have fast high bandwidth access to the internet, gots to have me my porn you know. I would like to yell out the window that I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore but …
    I will, like most people I’ll be a sheep… or will I?

    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 7:11 AM | Permalink

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