Universals is the ongoing project investigating the Google Images’ iconosphere through writing and creation of my own collections of packshots downloaded from Google which I find performing the strongest as images.

Pictures provide a whole range of ways to capture reality on both individual and collective levels. Especially in the context of the collective perception of the world by referring to concept-images, this seems particularly inspiring, because it proves how strong the image can perform. It allows images to be recognised as conceptual figures. It’s based on the extremely strong performativity of some of the pictures, thanks to which they become a universe gathering human imaginations, fears and memories. The affordability of such images is primarily to provide conceptual categories, thanks to which we are constantly accompanied by the image of every element of reality. One may be tempted to say that these pictorial collective symbols of human experience referred to by Mitchell as "representations of presentation?" shape in people greater sensitivity to similar historical moments, breakthroughs in the life of the community, which makes us more human beings. 

UNIVERSALS. Part I: Abstraction is not lying. A treaty on the lemon and other entities, in: Visual Reality, K. Berlak, D. Bugaj, M. Domanski, A. Osuch, Strzeminski Academy of Art Lodz, 2017. Click here to read.

Visual Reality was present in Przestrzen Robocza during Fotofestiwal in Lodz in Poland, and in Benaki Museum as a part of Athens Photo Festival in 2017.

Click here to read the Chapter II ︎︎︎
︎︎︎ Click here to read the Polish version


An universal is characterized by oneness, constancy and hierarchy – for instance, the universal ‘lemon’ is inclusive enough to accommodate all tangible lemons, their images (mental and real) and the words that describe them. Universals are constant – a universal once seen forever remains in the mind. It is exactly what we see in our mind’s eye when we think of the word lemon.

Universals have a different hierarchy, which today is ascribed to their resolution. Their prototypes are mathematical categories.

Some think that images (universals) are not entities of their own, since an entity can only be a substance. They agree that images exist, but only in relation to specific objects. This approach makes it impossible to keep thinking about an image if you can touch it. The image I am thinking of exists – I am certain.

There are different types of universals. The first type comprehends stand-alone image designata, isolated from their context. The second type are the universals that are described in the process of a human being investigating what a given entity can be. This investigation consists of three stages.

The first one is the physical stage,

where real qualities of the object and its reaction to the investigation are under scrutiny.  Some universals are trying to be interpreted through human action. This shows a sad anthropocentric truth – humans keep stressing their role in defining reality, whereas it is the very objects represented by the universals that offer us some possibilities for action, while concurrently excluding others. We are only ever performing predefined actions. The more prone a human being is to play with matter, the more interesting are the affordances that matter offers.

The empty space of signs where universals are adrift can easily be filled with any thoughts, connotations and even theories. In a situation like this, a universal can resemble a work of art. Sometimes it is hard to tell which one is the imitatio.

The second stage
of the investigation of universals is the mathematical stage, when the entity is checked quantitatively (what does it comprise and with what or with whom it relates).

Grouped universals are best observed in Google Images. This is where their 24-hour display takes place, contracting and expanding like the universe itself. The aesthetic quality of the images is software-sorted. Based on specific parameters, the viewer can choose the viewing method and concomitant aesthetic experience. The cunning software-creator is a bit of an artist, not easily satisfied with a dry inventory of objects.

First, the curator-program shows us pictures covered by colourful panels. It is an interesting strategy that utilizes the performative possibilities of the Internet. Slow computers, like other deteriorating appliances, make us appreciate this performance even more. Uncovering the universals resembles a TV game show in which the player waits for the curtain to discover a favorable outcome. As it often happens, the prize can prove unsatisfactory, like abstraction; therefore, I pay attention to bold compositions.

Grouped Universals form open, complicated and original compositions, made up of a multitude of small elements. Scrutinizing all these exceptional images together generates a most pleasurable, theoretical commotion in my head. If, for the purpose of analysis, we separate the rectangular panel from the object, we obtain an universal in its pure form and an abstract post-photographic image.

Looking at this photograph, I cannot remain indifferent. What we experience here is something beyond colour. In these mysterious rectangles I recognize meta universals, which represent a thought about abstraction whereby “the superficial impression of varied colour can be the starting point of a whole chain of related sensations” [W. Kandynski🔥️]. Abstract forms have an unlimited number of possible interactions.

Quantitative investigations of universals elicit general reflections on colour and cause the viewer to ponder specific questions, such as the colour scope of the panels covering particular entities. What was the program thinking about?

The third and last stage
is the stage that defines an entity’s existence. Apparently, the process of abstraction can lead to the conclusion that unempirical reality can exist.