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UNIVERSALS. PART I: ABSTRACTION IS NOT LYING. A TREATY ON THE LEMON AND OTHER ENTITIES


Write ‘lemon’ into Google Images search box. What can you see? Images helpful in understanding what a lemon is? Expressive yellow shapes arranged in an algorithm-driven mosaic? Maybe an ad, aesthetically similar to contemporary art? If you do the same with an unstable connection, you’ll end up with a bunch of colourful rectangles compiling an intriguing abstract composition.

The title Universals relates to the so-called ‘problem of universals’ – an ancient question from metaphysics: should the properties an object has in common with other objects, such as colour and shape, be considered to exist beyond those objects? And if a property exists separately from objects, what is the nature of that existence? I transfer these issues to the interpretation of Google Images—the greatest image archive of humankind.



ABSTRACTION IS NOT LYING. A TREATY ON THE LEMON AND OTHER ENTITIES  



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 [IMG. 1]  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 [IMG. 2, 3]. 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 [IMG. 4]. 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 [IMG. 5]. 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 [IMG. 6]. Sometimes it is hard to tell which one is the imitation.

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 [IMG. 7].

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 [IMG. 8]. 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 [IMG. 8]. 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 favourable 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 a universal in its pure form and an abstract post-photographic image [IMG. 9].

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 non empirical reality can exist.