Today I began reading Vilém Flusser's towards a philosophy of photography
, and it's fantastic. Thank you, Chuck. The first section, The Image
, expands on the introductory note and premise of the book that "the invention of technical images" marks the second fundamental turning point in the history of human culture (the first was the invention of linear writing). The Image
then draws out the ways in which images and linear writing make meaning, or rather how they and the people who read them make meaning together. One of the big distinctions he makes is the "magical" space and time of the image ("everything is repeated and everything participates in a significant context") versus the linear world of history ("in which nothing is repeated and in which everything has causes and will have consequences").
And then comes my favorite paragraph, perhaps ever:
Images are mediations between the world and human beings. Human beings 'ex-ist', i.e. the world is not immediately accessible to them and therefore images are needed to make it comprehensible. However, as soon as this happens, images come between the world and human beings. They are supposed to be maps but they turn into screens: Instead of representing the world, they obscure it until human beings' lives finally become a function of the images they create. Human beings cease to decode the images and instead project them, still encoded, into the world 'out there', which meanwhile itself becomes like an image - a context of scenes, of states of things. This reversal of the function of the image can be called 'idolatry'; we can observe the process at work in the present day: The technical images currently all around us are in the process of magically restructuring our 'reality' and turning it into a 'global image scenario'. Essentially this is a question of 'amnesia'. Human beings forget they created the images in order to orientate themselves in the world. Since they are no longer able to decode them, their lives become a function of their own images: Imagination has turned into hallucination.
He then goes on to describe the relationship between images and text, particularly how written language is essentially elements of the image abstracted into separate pieces and transcribed linearly. And then - even better - he discusses the relationship and struggle between text and images, mentions the idolators (pagans) and their clash with 'textolators' (Christians), who actually absorbed images and thus became pagan, explaining it thus:
"Texts admittedly explain images in order to explain them away, but images also illustrate texts in order to make them comprehensible... In the course of this dialectical process, conceptual and imaginative thought mutually reinforce one another... images become more and more conceptual, texts more and more imaginative."
Of course, writing is also a mediation and, he notes, it doesn't only mediate between people and images, but can also obscure images or even make images irrelevant (e.g.: the theory of relativity). Flusser's makes the point that other examples of 'textolatry' are no less hallucinatory than idolatry, citing examples in Christianity and Marxism wherein "Texts are projected into the world out there, and the world is experienced, known and evaluated as a function of these texts."
The Walker's Shadowland exhibition so clearly and elegantly elucidated these principles. I started in Cameron Jamie's BB, an 8mm B&W film of a bunch of guys wrestling in a makeshift ring in their Los Angeles backyard. Consistently violent, pathetic, and at times charming, the efforts of these boys - as well as their expressions, gestures, movements, actions, and environment - were exactly modeled after WWF/WWE/WCW American pro wrestling: the images of wrestling had remapped themselves into the So-Cal backyard, 'reality' is now modeled after image.
Right next to it is the 2-screen installation by (*) of European teenagers in clubs, isolated against a white background, but where they can still hear the music. Their self-consciousness in image, gesture, movement, as well as their comfort and discomfort with their likeness being recorded makes for a beautifully fascinating installation.
On the walls, right around there, are photographs of the names of movie stars superimposed onto clouds, a galaxy painting by (*), photographs of interiors by Richard Prince (fantastic!), a big, beautiful Jeff Wall piece, Joseph Beuys' sculpture Das Scheigen (The Silence), and then, around the corner, a SGP by Frensh photographer Patrick Faugenbaum, a simple portrait but so beautifully and subtly lit, with such wonderful grain and low contrast that the overall effect was stunning.
Finally, Doug Aitken's film Diamond Sea which impressed me so much that I scribbled the following notes:
a beautifully shot color film: landscapes, industrial interiors, seascapes, all shot so as to be almost abstract in a way, w/ a similarly beautiful soundtrack by Autechre, etc. Not a human in the film, but human machinery, machinery moving and sorting dirt, then nature moving and re-sorting dirt. Wild horses. a sort of documentary including human culture but transcending it. it's super-national, super-political (which is to say it's above politics, above nations, above categories (culturally and aesthetically)).
It seems that by abstracting his documentary footage, Aitken achieves something rather profoundly conceptual without any sort of text (although, of course, being a time-based medium, the film does have the linearity Flusser associates with text).