The world which matters to us is false, i.e., is not a fact but a fictional elaboration and filling out of a meagre store of observations; it is ‘in flux’, as something becoming, as a constantly shifting falsity that never gets any nearer to truth, for – there is not ‘truth’.
Friedfrich Nietzsche | Writings from the Late Notebooks
I have a proclivity to conjoin meaning to experiences that I perceive and this can often be advantageous in the creative act I practice. Unfortunately I am aware that sometimes the motivations for such connotations become lost in translation when bearing in mind the eye of the beholder. In my recent conversion from artist to designer I sought to hone my ability to communicate through visual methods and negate ambiguity (although I now accept the same issues arise that I faced in the arts). In my latest photographic venture I attempted to emancipate from the mimetic and veracious objectivity (of or relating to actual and external phenomena as opposed to thoughts, feelings, etc) of the world through the photographic medium, I subsequently proceeded to eradicate all obstacles (mimetic elements) between artist and viewer in pursuit of externalising emotions and/or ideas, essentially incorporating the notion of the simulacrum, whereby I re-presented/ re-contextualised my chosen subjects.
I strove to find a transmittable and solitary voice through the photographic medium, extricating myself from the unbounded disparate meanings fragmented by the diversity and context of the spectator’s own life that therefore alters their perception of an image. Self-reflexively engaging with my earlier endeavours to regulate and isolate meaning, certain obstacles began to emerge with regards to the illusive nature of connotative meaning. For instance, a particular image within my ‘Window of Appearances’ series depicts a rose materialising from a red bedspread, by fastidiously determining the composition I had sought to subject the viewer’s gaze and subsequent implied interpretation. I had originally assumed the image would unequivocally denote the stimuli of love and passion, no doubt a self-righteous and partial approach to my work. By engaging in progressive contemplation and researching archetypal images, I began to broaden my own interpretation of the image in question, layers and multiple meanings were exposed, ‘Above all, roses signify love, in all its earthly and heavenly hues: what or who we love in the present; the one we loved and have lost, and the longing for something name-less’ (See Martin 2010). A positive nuance had been negated with reference to ‘loss’ and in its stead surfaced a complexity I had not anticipated.
By chance I found an analogy in Roland Barthes’ Mythologies that uses the rose to explain the transcendent nature of the ‘sign’. Roland Barthes explains that there is not only the signifier and signified but a third term. A bridge between the visual stimulus and what we interpret. This connecting term is the ‘sign’. The sign is essentially the meaning that we imprint upon the signifier. Barthes goes on to explain this further by using a bunch of roses to infer passion and how they become passionified by the sign. But the sign develops within different cultures and mass psychologies. And is susceptible to change.
Take a bunch of roses: I use it to signify my passion. Do we have here, then, only a signifier and a signified, the roses and my passion? Not even that: to put it accurately, there are here only ‘passionified’ roses. But on the plane of analyses, we do have three term; for these roses weighted with passion perfectly and correctly allow themselves to be decomposed into roses and passion: the former existed before uniting and forming this third object, which is the sign. It is as true to say that on the plane of experience I cannot dissociate the roses from the message they carry, as to say that on the plane of analyses I cannot confused the roses as signifier and the roses as sign: the signifier is empty, the sign is full, it is a meaning.
Roland Barthes | Mythologies
Window of Appearances (2014)
I remain sceptical of whether objectivity can ever truly be achieved; Friedrich Nietzsche maintained that ‘there are no facts, only interpretations’ and this observation has been shared by a number of contemporary artists. Leading on from my previous post on Duncan Campbell I have uncovered a resonance of ideas in prior and current Turner Prize nominees. Winner of the Turner Prize 2013 Laure Prouvost’s work explores the disparity between reality and fiction and tends to take the form of a video whereby an immersive narrative interweaves with a multitude of stimuli. The format that Prouvost embraces diverges from the conventional milieu of video installation owing to her inclusion of object d’art that relays a tangible presence in juxtaposition with the visual narrative. Comparable to my own questions regarding the elusive ontology of meaning, in an interview preceding Prouvost winning the Turner Prize she stated:
The Whitechapel show is much more playing on the idea of sensation and clichés and emotion; how do you translate that sensation of the smell of dry grass scent on the skill? How do you translate the sensation of the touch? Yes, it’s like creating stories, but I think it’s less about lies, more questioning what is it we’re seeing all the time and what is it we’re understanding.
Prouvost recognises the equivocal nature of the sign and consequently chose to relinquish control to the viewer rather than enforce a solitary meaning. She merely attempts to invoke a sensory response from the spectator and cox a narrative from the visual auditory theatre that is fabricated in the space. By having two synchronistic components to Prouvost’s installations she has made an effort to “blurring this idea of fiction and reality and how, where do we keep those distance[s], what is what, what is reality, what is fiction [?]” (See Channel 4). The paradoxical methodology of reality and fiction is a troublesome proposition for the visual arts, certainly for those who strive to communicate their experiences. There does remain those who find solace in embracing the multifaceted dimensions of meaning such as Laura Prouvost but what can be done for those who rely on the visual stimulus to transmit a message? Those applied artists such as graphic communicators whose profession remains reliant on the viewer’s laconic interpretation. I believe that it is this fundamental question that I intend on alleviating in my book Diegesis.
Recently I have been pondering over what sub title I should attach to diegesis to convey my topic ology, after all I am aware of the possible connotations that could be inferred. So far I am deliberating between either borrowing a title by Susan Hiller ‘the provisional texture of reality’, or possibly adapting a sentence in this post to ‘the elusive ontology of the visual message’.
BARTHES, 1957, new edn 2009 p 136
MARTIN, K and RONNBERG, A. (ed.) (2010) The Book of Symbols. Cologne: Taschen.
NIETZSCHE, F. (2003) Writings from the Late Notebooks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 80
Turner Prize (2013). [TV Programme] Channel 4, 2 December 2013