“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.
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…