In the text I analyse my own project from 2015 titled Designate of the Word ‘Dog’ Is an Object of Which Truthfully Could Be Said That It is a Dog. Click here to see the project.
Text was published in COMO Magazine #8 in 2017 (link, p. 6).
„Matter has been given infinite fertility, inexhaustible vitality, and, at the same time, a seductive power of temptation which invites us to create as well. Matter is the most passive and most defenceless essence in cosmos. Anyone can mould it and shape it; it obeys everybody. All attempts at organizing matter are transient and temporary, easy to reverse and to dissolve.”
- Bruno Schulz
„When we walk over a hole in the sidewalk, the size of it does not matter; the only thing that matters is whether we can walk over it with our step”1. This means that perception conditions the performance of the object. American sociologist James Gibson claimed that “what we see when we look at objects is their affordance, not their qualities”2. Gibson explained the ability of an object to operate by examining several examples – among them, the case of a phone which clearly adapts to man. The structure of these devices offers certain possibilities of using them, while excluding others. It is precisely the way in which the material world is adapted to human beings that defines the concept of affordance3. It is extremely important to point out that the affordances exist independently of the observer – the sidewalk can or should always allow to be walked on, the seat, to be sat on, and an image to be seen. Affordances may be noticeable depending on the socio-cultural context4. If a person does not have the proper „equipment” of experience and knowledge, he or she may not notice the action of the object. This implies that the performance of an object is not entirely human-dependent. There are many situations where, if an object works differently than it was intended to, it may not be possible to notice its activity. Without much embarrassment, I refer to a photograph that independently enters into a relationship with the recipient, and, as it happens at times, without the recipient being present. Images provide endless opportunities to capture reality both individually and collectively. The properties of some photographic images are so strong that they themselves become a universe, a universe that gathers human imagery, fears, memories, and even dreams. These collective symbols of human experience, which are often “showpieces”, shape in people a greater sensitivity towards similar historical moments, breakthroughs in community life, making human beings more human5. To identify possible affordances of things used in my dissertation, I drew on a notion of logic – tautology, “a statement whose truth is guaranteed by its very structure”6. This definition becomes surprisingly accurate when we adapt it to the field of photography. As a text, each picture is true because it always tells the truth about the image.
The first tautology, seemingly imperceptible to the viewer, I placed inside the photograph. I used a program that allowed me to edit the code of the hexadecimal digital image file7. In addition to editing the code structure, I was able to modify it freely and type phrases selected by me into the file. I copied the definition of floor carpet from Wikipedia and then pasted it into the code. Thanks to this procedure I achieved a picture with multiple meanings. The transformations I introduced changed the visual layer. In the same way, the Persian rug masters deliberately embroidered errors into their work to signal the imperfection of man in the face of God8. The second tautology refers to the image-object relation, that is, among other things, to the material side of a photograph. I decided to literally bridge the gap between the meaning of an image and the meaning of an object. For this, I used the UV printing technique and placed a photograph of a rug on a 240 x 250 cm carpet (see IMG 1). During the printing process I did not have complete control over the image. Due to its size, the material undergoing exposure (carpet) had to be shifted several times during printing, resulting in an „incorrect” image. Introducing errors and analyzing their consequences in the subsequent stages of translation is what has always accompanied my artistic as well as my theoretical work9.
3. UNNECESSARY REPETITION AS MEDIATOR IN THE TRANSLATION PROCESS
„Mediators transform, interpret, interrupt and modify meanings or elements that they aim to transfer (…). No matter how seemingly simple a mediator appears, it may turn out to be complex, it may lead us in different directions which will modify all the contradictory descriptions of the role attributed to it”10. The mediator I introduced within my “network” of work is a smaller piece of carpeting that I have placed on top of the previously described carpet. It is much smaller in size (50 x 70 cm) and contains a fragment of the same photograph I used earlier (see IMG 2). Placing a photograph on top of another image resulted in the emergence of the relationship between these two photographs and the realization that they were primarily objects. The introduction of another tautology aimed at disrupting and slowing down the perception process of a potential recipient. Challenging the observer’s sense of certainty allows them to see and analyze the image as it is11.
Another layer of meaning that in itself accumulates the underlying layers is an aluminium cube (see IMG 3) placed on top of the carpet. Its objective is to “open” the flow of meaning of the object ‘carpet’ and, in a sense, symbolizes its infinity. It is not without reason that this shape is sometimes called perfect or Platonic. Due to its structure, it was often a stimulus for the reflections of philosophers, even used in their cosmological considerations. When preparing the cube, I decided to stop the polishing process before achieving a perfect finish, so that some scratches remained on its surface, symbolizing the imperfection of human perception. I made the cube out of metal and polished it until it began to reflect reality in a slightly distorted way (including the carpet it was placed on). This is the most performative element of the work that opens its affordances in many directions, including the inward gaze.
4. ERROR INSIDE THE RELATIONSHIP
Every artwork is a kind of network consisting of various relationships between which translation processes take place. These are “relationships which carry transformations” and only capturing them allows a proper understanding of the network12. They are not constant, so they should be re-examined all the time, taking into account the traffic within the network13. This internal dynamic is usually derived from the existence of active connections. Unlike passive connections – which occur in situations where everything goes according to plan –, active connections appear where broadly defined error exists14. Exactly when something goes wrong, the action of the mediators becomes clear. A response to a situation where the computer freezes and the keyboard stops working is called negotiating by Bruno Latour (the creator of translational sociology). It involves moving the computer, pulling from the cables, restarting the device, and the like15. The French researcher explains his concepts in the light of t actor-network theory, thus showing their relationality. Therefore, in revealing the nature of the photographic image, I had to examine the mediators by analyzing the activities in which they participated. Following the trace of the successive stages of translation to which the object was subjected allowed me to determine its features. It was important for me not to focus on the effects of the action, but on the action itself. My application of the formal procedures described above was intended to allow the recipient to derive not only theoretical pleasure, but also an uncomplicated aesthetic experience, as in the case of everyday observation of reality which takes place in a way that depends on the kind of perception of the observer.
1 D. G. Dotov, L. Nie, M.M. de Wit, Understanding affordances: history and contemporary development of Gibson’s central concept, translated by D. Lubiszewski, N. Strehlau, „Avant” 2012, vol. 3, no 2, p 284.
2 T. Dant, Material culture in the social world: values, activities, lifestyles, translated by J. Baranski, Krakow 1999, p 175.
3 In Polish translations, the term „dostarczanty” appears, however, the original term is „affordances”.
4 D. G. Dotov, op. cit. p 284-288.
5 W.T.J. Mitchell, What do pictures want? The lives and loves of images, Warsaw 2015, p 322.
6 W. Kopalinski, Słownik wyrazów obcych i zwrotów obcojęzycznych z almanachem, t. V, Warsaw 2007.
7 This is a „hexadecimal code” based on number 16, which is fitting in computer science, as it allows you to write larger numbers using less memory space, link, 30.07.15.
8 This work can also be interpreted in light of bringing the Persian tradition of carpet making to modern times. Instead of the natural dyes applied by the Persians, I used UV printing, which is typical for advertising. As for the error that the great masters wove into the fabric, I inserted a fragment of a wrong digital code file. Moreover, the rugs were handcrafted from exceptional quality materials, whereas I used a cheap carpeting material purchased from a chain store of a well-known brand and had it printed at a print shop.
9 More on the theory of actor-network and the concept of translation: B. Latour, Reassembling the social. An introduction to actor-network-theory, Krakow 2010.
10 B. Latour, Reassembling the Social - An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory, p 56.
11 The supervisor of my thesis repeatedly urged me to place another photograph on the carpet, such as a portrait or a representation of nature. If I had done so, the recipient’s attention would have quickly diverted to „somewhere else”. The performativity of the image that allows „the viewer to be transported to another world” places man at the centre of the image’s influence. In my research, I am concerned about the opposite effect – reversing the vector of performativity inward of the artwork.
12 B. Latour, op. cit., p 154. 13 Latour, Give Me a Laboratory and I Shall Move the World, translated by K. Abriszewski, Ł. Afeltoowicz, link, 01.07.15. 14 K. Abriszewski, Reassembling the Social. Introduction, [in]: B. Latour, Reassembling..., p XII. 15 K. Abriszewski, op. cit, p XII-XIII.