Painting as Polycontexturality.
A Collage of Commented Reading Notes.
by Stefan Arteni
||God is the artificer of man, man the
god of artifacts.
|The work of visual art suspends textuality’s hold, puts logocentrism in question. A pictorial event is untranslatable, it refuses to be paraphrased minutely, its discovery is bound to a tense visualconstruction. “A mark…intended as indicator is self-referential”, declares G. Spencer-Brown. Humberto Maturana defines visual art as an act within a culture, within a human consensual domain, an act that allows for all manner of non-verbal signaling.|
This essay attempts to produce a bridge for scrutinizing and deploying the inter-, trans-, or, in a word, polycontextural relationships of diverse cultural-artistic ecosystems, without overlooking either the simultaneous openness and conflict-ridden nature of cultural interaction, or the contingency of art domains and their asymmetries and ambiguities. Intertwining the plurality and difference of formal orders can be realized operationally, i.e. in the praxis of production. Hans-Georg Gadamer suggests that experience - Francisco Varela’s ‘embodied action’ which includes tacit knowledge - is recursive and self-reflective. “The purpose of a painter must not be conceived as separate from his pictorial means”, writes Henri Matisse, “ and these pictorial means must be more complete the deeper his thought”.
Byzantine painting, for example, survives its own death. Continuing the achievements
of Palaeologian art, El Greco applies pseudomorphic operations to the formal organization
and structure syntax schemata of Byzantine tradition. The hesychastic principle of
self-emptying (kenosis) facilitates the inscription of a ‘foreign’ communication style and the insertion
of a transposed iconography, while the primacy of color, of syntax, and of the material
medium, survives to our day in the works of Nicolas de Stael and Serge Poliakoff. Reference may be
made to Richard Rorty’s conception of “the self as a centerless web”.
“As in visual perception where we cannot evade the blindspot of seeing, our social construction of
meaningful environments is dominated by the blindspot of our cultural distinctions…” writes
S. J. Schmidt. “Signs do not refer to objects in reality but to our interpreted activities in culture, that is to communication…The reference problem is…a problem of semiotic material…versus the collective knowledge concerning the handling and interpretation of semiotic operations”.
Culture, says Vyacheslav Ivanov, is recollecting the consecration of the Forefathers. He continues:
“Remembering is a dynamic principle. Forgetting is fatigue and interruption of movement, decline and return to a state of relative idleness”. Michel Serres writes that “agriculture and culture have the same origin or the same foundation, a white spot that realizes a rupture of equilibrium, a clean spot constituted through expulsion. A spot of propriety or cleanliness, a spot of belonging…” Jan Assmann defines culture as the “immune- or identity-system of the group”, and speaks of “memory culture”, which reconstructs identity, and of “reference to the past”, which creates a shared identity, two concepts that may or may not coincide. Pavel Florenskii speaks of culture as the “conscious struggle against worldwide levelling”.
Man, a nexus of happenings, writes Hans-Georg Gadamer, becomes a coplayer being played in the world play of the boundless web, the tapestry that fate – Moira – offspring of night, is weaving,
while holding sway over gods and men. Art stabilizes the unstable, makes the contingent visible.
Art and myth – Jan Assman’s ‘mytho-motorics’ – function as cultural memory.
Niklas Luhmann defines memory as “the premise for the evential ability of communication…
Memory means forgetting and highly selective remembering, it means constructing identities for
re-impregnating recurring events”. In his essay on Elena Esposito’s book Social Forgetting,
Jens Kiefer points out that “memory emerges as the actualization of a context, on the background
of which one is enabled to understand communications”. And he continues: “Modern memory
replaces the primacy of remembering with the primacy of forgetting”. Pierre Nora describes the
paradox of postmodern memory: “We speak so much of memory because there is so little
of it left”.
Etymologically ‘art’ means skill, artifice, handicraft, mechanical art, human skill as opposed
to nature. It is only fairly recently that the terms Fine Arts, Belle Arti, Beaux Arts, Bildende
Kuenste, which refer exclusively to visual arts, have been introduced. Niklas Luhmann defines
art as a symbolically generalized communication medium, but he warns: “what one retrospectively perceives as art was produced as support for other functional circles”. In fact, the functional differentiation of art as a system, albeit a marginal one, begins in early modern Western Europe, and is a historically circumscribed event. Aby Warburg doubts whether visual objects from a pre-modern culture can be regarded as art. Dirk Kretzschman and Niels Werber ask a twofold question: “what is the meaning of communication by means of works in cultures that are not modern (i.e. not functionally differentiated), and how should we understand an art viewed against the background of completely different forms of cultural ties” and of different forms of social differentiation.
The ideological-aesthetic modernist break with, and dismissal of the past, consists, on the one hand, of an anticraft revolution (which occurred, however, when the word-factory, the Academy, had
replaced the master-pupil system), and, on the other hand, of autonomization (although
traditional functional circles had already started to dispense with art as support). The break was
radical: in the Western world of today “we relate to past cultures almost as tourists”, declares
Globalization may be described as one great witch’s cauldron, Benedetto Croce’s ‘future without
past’ where values that cannot be quantified are excluded. Arnold Gehlen speaks of post-history and
the dissolution even of the value of the new. Post-history brings about the definitive release
of the negative, writes Gehlen. Cultural identities are little more than transit stations, the raw
material from which the global persona – the mask worn to signify the role played, the role
having been described and prescribed in the scenario – is assembled. In Norbert Bolz’ words,
one speaks of “the simulation-culture of a high-tech society”. Man ‘exists’ as a contaminated
identity, displaced and out of place, among fragments of an uncertain frame of reference, says
Karl Loewith, against an historical horizon of control and homogenization. “Globalization
paradoxically produces fragmentation and disintegration”, writes Peter Horn. Globalization
and the disintegration of the periphery are coeval factors. Horn argues that “dissipative structures
[of world culture] retain their identity precisely because they constantly appear to break apart,
because they are open to influences of their surroundings…exporting entropy to their surroundings”.
Immanuel Wallerstein speaks of two time frameworks that may be used for investigating the
globalization of the Western capitalist world, the one going from about 1450 to today, and the
other from 1945 to today. The latter is a typical Kondratieff cycle. But Tamas Gaspar underscores
“the determining role of culture over economy”.
How consistent a pattern is there in the globalization of complex systems? Immanuel Wallerstein
notes: “Prigogine’s non-excluded third is called ‘deterministic chaos’ “. Each system is affected
by historical contingency, but to different degrees. Peter L. Berger points out that globalization is
much discussed, but it is a subtle and shaded occurrence with unexpected consequences. Such is
the globalization of the art system, the result of an inevitably interested and partial Western current
carried by intellectuals attempting to bind artistic regions together. John Tomlinson argues that
globalization is multidimensional. In fact, one must not ignore qualitatively different ways of thinking.
The phenomenon described by Wolfgang Welsch as transculturality might be better scrutinized by
using the metaphor of polycontexturality. In the case of East Central Europe, a world constantly wracked by changes that raise again and again the identities dilemma and the threat of oblivion, the cultural Dasein of the individual consists of a positive heterarchy that couples various languages and cultures toward a cooperative survival unity, without giving up the autonomy of parts. Maria Todorova suggests that memory, identity, and historical legacy are the pertinent categories of analysis. “One thinks of identity when one is not sure where one belongs”, writes Zygmunt Baumann. Piotr Piotrowsky speaks of “the other Europe”, while Arpad Szakolczai holds that the area may be viewed as borderlands of Western civilization, as located “between the both mythical and very real entities ‘West’ and ‘East’ “. However, “the concept of Borderline is twofold”, remarks Alexander W. Belobratow. “On the one hand it has a separating function and on the other hand a binding one”. Evidently, there are several different cultural logics at work at the same time, involving interaction and conflicting interaction, and, occasionally, the phenomenon of mimetism, understood both in the Girardian sense of ‘mimetic desire’, and in the sense the term is used in biology, as a way to ‘trick’ the environment. Unfortunately, notes Szakolczai, the area has been stuck too long in transitoriness, “in a precarious liminal condition”.
|…the illusion of communication…
Ernst von Glasersfeld
|Systems theory touches now every discipline that attempts
to describe visual art and the art work.
Hans Dieter Huber proposes a three-level Systemic Science of Art: art work, art system, society. The first level conceives of the work as a system. It may also involve the ecology of the art work (physical, cognitive, temporal and social aspects), and the structural coupling of the work with its environment
(display in an exhibition, museum, church, deterioration and conservation), i.e. a plurality of possible and actualized connections. The second level deals with the visual, non-verbal conditions and possibilities of art, the breaking off of communication, the question of style and the concepts of variation, selection and stabilization. The concept of ‘web’ may constitute the best description of the second level. The third level involves the interpenetration of systems.
Using this theoretical framework, one can say that a work of visual art, as subsystem of the art
system, is itself a multi-level system. The art work emerges as concretization of contingency and is bound by the material medium’s specific limitations. It implies poly-context and poly-factorial activity. One may speak of the simultaneous interaction of four domains enabled to play with each other: pictorial (visual) formants, organization, structure, and iconography (i.e. context-bound forms as result of pragmatic embedding in communicative contexts).
Aby Warburg speaks about the “biological necessity of the image as a product between religion
and art”, and about imagery as the ‘language’ of a culture.
An example of pragmatic embedding is the Roman and Renaissance view of the painting as a stage. Eric Gans speaks of staging as an anthropological act, pointing to “the fictionalizing act and the
metaphor of staging”, i.e. “the stage as a ritual altar”.
The poet Poliziano was the iconography ‘programmer’ in charge of textual correspondences, of
mapping the paintings commissioned by Lorenzo de’ Medici onto verbal descriptions.
According to systemic theory, communication is a three-part process: a distinction
between utterance (self-reference) and information (hetero-reference), and the expectation of
understanding as observation of the distinction. The difference between information and utterance is
regulated by ‘symbolic generalization’. “The process…has to indicate which side of
the distinction is supposed to serve as the base for further communication…Self-reference
is nothing but reference to the distinction between hetero-reference and self-reference…
Hetero-reference is possible only through self-reference…Self-referential closure correlates
with openness to environmental complexity…”, writes Niklas Luhmann. Art distinguishes
between itself and its topics. Communication can be rejected or it can be not understood.
Nina Ort describes the process as a heterarchic model of distinctions: complementary
concepts [e.g., utterance and information] may be conceived in a triadic constellation where
the third element, the unity of the difference…[is] necessary…”
Visual art functions in the medium of perception. “[Visual] art makes perception available for communication, and it does so outside…language…Art integrates perception and communication
without merging…their respective operations…[Visual] art, in circumventing language, establishes
a structural coupling between consciousness and communication…Consciousness cannot communicate, communication cannot perceive…”, observes Niklas Luhmann.
“…Our experience is moored to our structure in a binding way”, write Humberto Maturana
and Francisco Varela. “We do not see the space of the world; we live our field of vision. We
do not see the colors of the world, we live our chromatic space.”
Sight is one of the vital breaths in the Upanishads. Aisthomai, I perceive, with the substantive
aisthesis, is based on the Homeric ‘aistho’, I gasp, I breathe in. Seeing is a bestowal of
significance on the seen – the rehabilitation of the visible, the Schein.
“Seeing is overlooking”, remarks Niklas Luhmann. “The drawing of connecting lines in perception
has as target the seeing of coherent configurations…that are already known”, writes
Ernst von Glasersfeld. The Latin word informare means to give form, to shape; informis
means shapeless, deformed, without form, formless. Hans Blumenberg speaks of the
‘arrogance of the concept’, and suggests that the metaphor functions as a Dasein-control
strategy: “The human view of reality is indirect, delayed, selective, and above all metaphorical”. Rudolf Kaehr speaks of visual and image competence: “But visualization is not a ‘cognitive
artifact’…visualization…and related acts of media-translation act as sensory transducers
that change human perception”. Speaking about Piero della Francesca, Clifford Geertz cites
M. Baxandall’s insight that the skill in estimating the variety of non-standardized measures
and containers used in commerce during the Renaissance may have created a disposition
to perceive the structure of complex forms as combinations of simpler and more regular ones.
|Rules and categories are what the work of
art itself is looking for.
|A practical way of describing the actual realization of the
artwork is to borrow the terms applied
to G. Spencer-Brown’s Calculus of Indications, a non-numerical mathematics of form. One may
speak about the void and the distinctions in the void, a process that seems closely akin to Matisse’s
description of the actual act of drawing. The design of such an art-view must be recursive, it must be able to return to where it started and re-plobematize its starting point.
A distinction lies first in the viewing frame of the work (e.g. an empty canvas or blank paper). The part distinguished from its complement or background is an indication. Distinctions within the work create frame within the frame. When distinctions are made within the work, both the distinguished and the
unmarked space are parts of the same work. “Systems of distinctions may be called expressions”, says Louis H. Kauffman. Distinctions may be cast into graphic diagrams or planar constructs.
“The mark is both operator and operand at the same time…” indicates Kent D. Palmer. “The operation
of the mark is to mark itself, i.e. sever itself from the environment…The system is…all possible figures
on all possible grounds that show up as perceptual gestalts when looking at something…”
Rudolph Kaehr speaks of the “reduction of sign quality to the most elementary syntactic structure…
the rules of marking signs as marks.”
Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela have defined most cogently the distinction between organization (from the Greek organon, instrument) and structure (from the Latin struere, to build), a distinction that provides a basis for sorting out descriptions of systems into their presentation and representation aspects. According to Randall Whitaker, there is an organization and structure dichotomy, namely, “…a system’s organization specifies a category within which there may be many specifically-realized instantiations – a unity may change structure without loss of identity, so long as its organization is maintained…[There is a] generally invariant form in spite of specifically changing components”. Certainly, stochastic (random) elements affect the structure. According to George Kampis, “we could conceive of ‘rules’ that produce new ‘rules’ until the structure may be completely different from the initial one, with not even a rule left intact”.
Hjalmar Torp has investigated the Byzantine Integrating System of Proportion and has pointed out that it appears to be a Hellenized Egyptian canon, while “the Indian method must represent a development of the Egyptian system, parallel to but independent of the Byzantine method”, both systems aiming at endowing the image with an invisible pattern and at the proportioned integration of figures of different scale into one comprehensive representation. The Byzantine image is drawn “from within and outwards”. It is a matter of schema and Ereignis, of iconometric and iconographic systems, or, as Heinrich Zimmer writes, structures “are like receptacles, ever ready to receive and to hold the essence of new meaning”.
According to Alexander Riegler, the radical constructivist view of representation proposes a generative paradigm and the concept of functional fitness instead of a referential view. Marks are signals which convey no fixed meaning – they only point to and select whatever the viewer has associated with them. “Art objects are at least ambiguous, at most meaningless”, writes Ranulph Glanville.
Peer F. Bundgaard suggests that the dichotomy between the presentational level that allows the work to be grasped regardless of any representation, and the apprehension of figurative effects, the representational level, if any, can be elucidated in gestalt theoretical and catastrophe theoretical terms. Rene Thom has investigated the topology of structural stability, morphogenesis, and the question of discontinuity. According to Bo Kampmann Walther, the artwork is an emergent contingency: an open, dynamical system, that stops at complexity as self-organized criticality. “Complex systems”, remarks Stefan Banz, “seem to place themselves in a locus that may be called ‘the borderline of chaos’ “. Everybody is certainly familiar, for instance, with Cezanne’s comments on the effect of any additional brushstroke, although the process itself starts with the first mark laid down on the support: many small, and a few large, changes, the ‘pile-system’ as a model for self-organized criticality. One may conceive of every new application of paint as a throw of the dice. Maurice Merleau-Ponty makes the point that chromatic perception depends on changes in the whole field.
Any style of visual art exhibits certain structural categories that characterize it and do not refer to anything non-visual: a syntactic well-formedness. ‘Structural meaning’ that depends on the structure, says Frits Staal, is the syntactic underlying structure itself. Through syntax, new visual relationships, complementarity and contrast, may appear. As one learns new principles of syntactic order, one adds to the range of possibilities. Art is a play with forms.
Kent D. Palmer quotes John S. Hans as saying that play is a “non-dual activity prior to all other activities” that introduces values via aesthetics. For play to fulfil its purpose, the player must become lost in the play.
The mark itself, the brushmark or the trace of any tool used for painting, has indexical properties. Psychologist James Gibson remarks that a work of art is “a surface so treated that it makes available a limited optic array…of persisting invariants of structure…a progressive record of movement.” Svend Ostergaard argues that “the stroke…is pure presentation…The stroke is ‘marked’ by the incidental since the stroke results from an act that selects within endless possibilities…The stroke… a ‘cut’ in a continuum…”
Eberhard von Goldammer has shown that The Calculus of Indications appears compatible with Gotthard Guenther’s paradigm – “re-entry not as an ‘again’ but as a simultaneous generation of distinctions, of simultaneous-complementary processes, and as a presemiotic guarantee of a difference which is generated as a self-referential temporalization and spatialization of the operational distinguishing act in the form of distinction and indication”.
|The oscillation entails a dual split between formation and in-formation
Bo Kampmann Walther
|G. Spencer-Brown speaks of the paradox of re-entry as oscillation.
Interestingly, this same idea, developed for the study of mathematics, becomes
instrumental in the understanding of art. Liane Gabora comments on memetics,
creativity, and recursivity: “We carve out trajectories through meme
space, and because the fitness landscape that guides the process is fractal,
every time that landscape steers the production of a new meme (or even just
a slight variant of a preceding meme), the new meme in turn redefines the
landscape, and so on, recursively”. The opposition between presentation
and representation involves itself feedback, oscillation between two states,
comments Donald Kunze.
Francisco Varela has adopted G. Spencer-Brown’s Calculus of Indications to express the dynamics of autopoiesis. Varela’s Calculus of Self-reference speaks of the closed system that remains open via recursive feedback loops. Donald Kunze’s Boundary Language, which deals with oscillation and value inversion between spaces, makes mention of the Golden Mean and, at a different level, of the musical notion of theme and variations, as related to the concepts of re-entry, fractality, and recursion. The Fibonacci series, a special case of self-reference, is the classic example for recursion, i.e. a formula that generates the successive terms of an expression. Even approximate or statistical self-similar forms involve recursion. In the visual arts, the phi number (self-reference converted into a rate of growth), that is to say the Golden Rectangle and derived constructs, are an example of recursiveness and self-referentiality due to structural self-similarity. Mario E. Martinez points out that “iteration is defined in chaos theory as repeated self-similarity within fractal geometry. A form that repeats itself as it expands in multiples of its original shape…” It is a matter of rhythm (prosody) and, in the words of Piero della Francesca, of commensuratio or composition (polyphony). There are, of course, a variety of other constructs used by artists, such as L. B. Alberti’s musical proportions or consonances, or the rabatment of the short side upon the long one, or perspectives as geometry.
Peter Bogh Andersen defines art as a perturbed recursive system (the new state is calculated from the preceding one). He points out that codes themselves oscillate between a change state and a stabilizing state. There are fixed-point attractors and limit-cycle attractors, the latter meaning oscillation between several possibilities. Loet Leydesdorff speaks of embedded codes and potential incommensurability. Alex Brown defines style as a “typical set of elements or paradigm…an emergent phenomenon arising out of collective selection-combination”. Niklas Luhmann declares that “style is thus…what joins work of art to work of art and thereby makes the autopoiesis of art possible”. Michael Schiltz points out that “the topology of the medium makes the difference between distinctions making a difference and distinctions not making a difference”.
Obviously, no individual is completely locked into only one functional system. However, one is also exploring the operational making of art, a multivalued artistic world, the coordination of topologically different domains, artistic shifts, art as a heterochronic process, and the overlapping of heterarchical cultural systems. The recursive nature of art operations, communication and double contingency, context-sensitive constraints on subjectivity, subjectivity and reflexivity, set out a structural drift of the system and individuals involved in the system. “Psychic system is a closed temporal system…”, writes Janne Jalava, “…it is always unique and different”. Alexandra Hefner suggests that “structural coupling between the psychic and social system can then be defined as the implicit part, the ‘blind spot’ of knowledge allowing for the autopoiesis of the social system to take place”. As Terry Marks-Tarlow succintly expresses it, “cycles of re-entry continually oscillate between creating and erasing the seam where observer and observed, perceiver and perceived, inner and outer, self and other, intersect and self-cross paradoxically. At this seem, self and world appear mutually co-determining. This is where the act of making a distinction creates the world as we perceive it…” Nils Mortensen describes individuality as self-reference: “…individuality and identity are boundary concepts in the relation between and difference between psychic and social systems”.
Eberhard von Goldammer asserts that models of self-referential processes belong to the class of heterarchical structures, the modelling of parallel simultaneous processes. In the terminology of poly-contexturality, heterarchy is constituted inter-contexturally, it is an exchange game between contextures.
The definition formulated by Andreas Goppold connects polycontexturality with Buddhism: “The Whole is not Monistic but Pluralistic. In the language of formal logics used by Gotthard Guenther, a similar principle is called Poly-contexturality. The Buddhist principle of pattica samupada [co-dependent arising or conditioned co-production] is…a formulation of a world view that is completely relation-process driven…the important aspect of concept systems is their structure, not their names…they are simply logical places, inherently empty. Gotthard Guenther coined the term…’kenograms’ for this essential emptiness. In the Buddhist usage…this is called sunyata [emptiness, literally zeroness]”. G. Spencer-Brown conceives the Calculus of Indications as also related to the idea of co-dependent origination: “What a thing is, and what a thing is not, are, as form, identically the same.”
Eberhard von Goldammer envisions a Polycontextural Systems Theory which would imply a polycontextural reconstruction of visual art communication. Transjunctional operations would mediate the passage, transition, conversion, from a contexture to another. Rudolph Kaehr describes the process as “a positive heterarchy that couples various systems toward a cooperative unity, without giving up the autonomy of the parts…a heterarchic system [that] mediates a plurality of irreducible systems…[an] exchange relation of context and contexture”.
|The medium of an art style consists of its
canon of forms.
|Pictorial constructs are not sign systems a priori. Signs
caught in the pictorial game may be desemanticized. Peter Bogh Andersen
describes semiosis as a perturbed recursion schema, “a recursive loop
where previous utterances give rise to new utterances…The ‘old
signifier’ includes durable forms of utterances”, that is to
say “the memory of the system”. The utterance “is responsible
for the autopoietic regeneration of the system itself…”, writes
Niklas Luhmann. “Systems based on events need a more complex pattern
of time…Their presence is a co-presence of the before and the thereafter”.
The Peircean concept of sign addresses its recursive properties. Of course,
it is being assumed that ‘cultural memory’ has not been expunged.
In the case of hetero-reference, neither the material medium, nor the theme (information), have been produced by the art medium. Both will be reworked self-referentially according to the art medium’s characteristics: “the system processes information but it takes responsibility only for the action part of this process, not for the information”, emphasizes Niklas Luhmann. Hetero-reference itself becomes means of self-reference when, for example, a style becomes one amongst many. This is a system-internal process, a form of re-entry. Jens Kiefer describes the function of the ‘Museum’ as a system-internal context, both synchronically and diachronically, while Niklas Luhman distinguishes between citation and style, between form and context. Style is not exhausted by citation. Jens Kiefer continues: “…context is what functions as horizon of the work…The citation of other works belongs to the context, and the style is to be located not in the citation, but in the way it contributes as citation (and not only as moment of the form) to the form itself of the work”. To borrow a concept from Goran Sonesson, the medical model, the symptom model of the sign, appears to be closer to the visual mode: the expression is not radically heterogeneous to the content, or the expression is probabilistically coupled to the content. One may speak of both interpretive inter-iconic citations, and of an interpretive stylistic citation game, the latter playing a fundamental role in East Asian Calligraphic Art.
These considerations support the idea of a cultural code duality put forward by Jesper Hoffmeyer and Claus Emmeche in analogy with linguistics: a continuously variable analog action code based on iconic and indexical relations ( e.g. a work’s iconographic structure), and a memory digital code based on customs and conventions ( e.g. the same work as example of a style and period). The message of memory is of the analog type. The distinction between analog and digital depends on context. By digitalization of analog coding, the work becomes a detached sign. The process works both ways and at various levels: on the one hand a digitalization of analog coding and, on the other hand, as Joseph L.Esposito says: “The digital code stores the information to generate the system so that analog coding may take over, allowing the system to interact with the world and pass along the digital memory by a back-translation”. Regarding the specificity of the work’s construction, Anthony Wilden suggests that “a gestalt is formed by the decision to digitalize a specific difference, so as to form a distinction between figure and ground”.
Francis Heylighen emphasizes that “the referent…plays a relatively small part in the selection of a particular idea or belief.” Instead, coherence and novelty, publicity and authority, invariance and controllability, and ‘fit’ knowledge, are criteria that play a role. By this definition, the dynamic or operational aspects of the sign imply that the mapping from world to image present in the picture “does not need to be a mirror-image” and that it will also be simpler. Even semiotics no longer presupposes a firm relationship between sign and referent. The signified too is arbitrary, it is a set of relations and conditions. A gestalt may be multisignifying. The icon slowly distances itself from the object – the iconophiles release themselves from the referent. “ Every sign contains an element of self-referentiality…the sign’s signic quality, the knowledge ‘this is a sign’ “, writes Winfried Noeth. Given the recent epistemological revolution that asserts that key concepts are convenient ideal fictions, it is useful to make mention of Hans Vaihinger’s philosophy of ‘as if’ which has become interesting again. “Perceived worlds are worlds created by the observer”, remarks Heinz von Foerster.
“Semiosis…occurs in the context of a system of related signs, which is governed by its own rules for construction, recognition, and interpretation”, writes Joseph Goguen. For every mathematical theory, for every sign system, one defines first objects and then diagrams or structure preserving maps called morphisms that will describe the former. “Morphisms reveal what the structure really is”. Translation between systems consists of mappings (semiotic morphisms) “from signs in one system to ‘representation’ signs in another system “. Structure is more important than content, though “art…involves deliberate transgressions of preservation properties (among other things)”. Andre Lhote and Maurice Merleau-Ponty speak of the creation of a “system of equivalences”.
Structural variability has been described by D’Arcy Thompson. Pattern Theory and Vision Modelling investigate pattern inference and recognition as well as image understanding, spatial context (e.g. location of discontinuities such as sudden changes in depth, shape, or surface composition), brightness values and boundary variables. Considering the image structure as matrix, Ming Jiang defines image-models as “discrete-parameter stochastic processes.” He continues: “Representations are created using a compositional formalism. Simple primitives are combined into structure according to deterministic or random rules…The equivalence classes are called images and the set of images is called an image algebra”. The style is given by the “image formation system and is determined by knowledge of the system’s model and the noise distribution.”
At the time of the Iconoclastic Crisis, Nicephorus defined the artificial image as a medium-conditioned embodiment that develops internal criteria for representation and consists of a finite number of discrete features of which some have to match. He introduces the concept of relation or equivalence.
Speaking about semiotics as conventionalization, Rudolph Kaehr remarks that the definition of signs is circular. He continues: “Signs are itterable…A remains A, i.e. it also means it is independent from what it inscribes. The concept of potential endlessness…is implied…”
“Hetero-references merely serve as pretext for displaying alternate possibilities of order…one can reduce hetero-references to the material…thus demonstrating an improbable order at the material level”, writes Niklas Luhmann. He continues: “The concept medium indicates a specific difference, that is the difference between a medial substrate and a form constructed in this substrate”. Mimesis, forms in terms of object-like determinations, is a way of circumventing arbitrariness and randomness. Hans-Dieter Huber underscores the fact that the meaning of the artificial-artistic semblance is a cognitive construct, while the image itself is medium-conditioned. Reference to reality becomes a means of self-reference, a form of re-entry, when the negative syntactic field described by Victor Grauer, that is to say the fundamentally material medium (canvas, paint) infiltrates and disrupts the sign. A medium can be used as form, e.g. the canvas or paint themselves or, in East Asian Calligraphy, the blank paper. A form can be used as a medium, e.g. perspective as medium for other forms. According to Peter Angermann, contrast also may be viewed as the unity of a distinction. Contrast is form in the medium of light and in the medium of color.
The configurationality of the visual, remarks Mihai Nadin, relates to multivalued logic. Language is sequential. Logocentric thinking is monocontextural, notwithstanding the many contexts – context is an intra-contextural concept. Engelbert Kronthaler underscores the dichotomy inherent in classic representation semiotics, the dichotomy of prototype and hetero-referential image – where the image belongs to a different contexture than the prototype’s contexturality. The image, notes Mihai Nadin, is part of the semiotic field that is constituted of the unity between signification and communication. Presentation-representation will bring about through structuring of the gestalt, a context related (re)iconization, “a semioticisation of structure”.
“Materiality and color can not be dissociated”, says Nicolas de Stael. “Before being texture, the material is colored substance. It belongs therefore to the domain of vision, and not only to that of the tactile sense.” Hans-Dieter Huber introduces the concept of ‘color medium’. When viewed systemically, he writes, the superficial stratum, the color surface, possesses a selective distinctions potential – for example, reflection and absorption in optics – that has as visible result the actual color and texture. The art sciences, which work mostly with reproductions, are unable to deal with this materiality, as it can not be reproduced in another medium. “A reproduction”, notes Boris Groys, ”is not simply a repetition but a change of medium”. The question of the materiality of color is bound paradoxically with the question of its immateriality, they are two sides of the same distinction: the virtual hetero-reference, the represented, is grounded in the strict self-referentiality of the ‘medium color’, or, self-reference is coupled with materiality, while hetero-reference implies a dematerialization that looks toward an outside which can be only cognitively constructed. “Through a cultural logic, simple materials become complex media used to construct forms”, declares Hans-Dieter Huber. In fact, Vasily Ogryzko’s axiological approach to the conventionality of signs affirms that the material nature of the sign has nothing to do with what it signifies.
Let us examine for a moment Jan Vermeer’s pictorial game, a game apparently played for its own sake. At the level of marks and formants, a perusal of the scientific investigations performed on paint samples reads like a complete and ideal seventeenth century how-to handbook. The organization of the works inscribes perspective within the Golden Rectangle. Moreover, Vermeer is probably the only painter able to balance color and chiaroscuro without sacrificing either. Did Vermeer make use of the camera obscura? May be. If he did, he certainly also made use of optical corrections, like the Greeks in building their temples. Finally, at the iconographic level, Vermeer loads the structure with a complex combination of Emblematics and Allegories. Still, the paintings look like perfected operations where nothing seems superfluous.
|Being pure play, art alludes to deliverance.
|A visual art object acting as support for other functional
circles had a threefold function: visual art as persuasion, visual art as
cognitive medium, and visual art as aesthetic discourse. From the perspective
of systems theory, the concept of a visual ‘art’ is synchronous
with the early modern differentiation of an art system resulting in the
autonomy of art. Whereas Niklas Luhmann asserts that now “the function
of [visual] art can be traced to problems of meaningful communication”,
and claims that “art integrates what is in principle incommunicable,
namely perception, into communication, stimulating thinking in ways that
exceed verbal or conceptual comprehension”, S. J. Schmidt writes that
“art results from the self-organizing interaction and communication
of actants within the social system art”. The program will consist
of the self-programming of the work of art, which may simply imply the obvious
primacy of form.
Hans-Dieter Huber points out that in the twentieth century the loss of a purposeful functionality brings about a meaning- and identity-crisis of art. Stephen Schryer emphasizes that now the function of art consists only in “the autopoietic reproduction of more communications about art through recognizable changes in style”. Andreas Mertin remarks, however, that “art in the twentieth century has not only reached autonomy, it claims also a totalizing authority over the non-aesthetic discourse”. Notwithstanding the semantic indeterminacy of the art object, Theodor Adorno insists on the illusion of de-differentiation between art and politics, on the idiosyncratic expectation of political repragmatization - social critique as function of art - although this would be historically incorrect. And yet, Adorno notices the functionlessness of modern art, a functionlessness often expressed as self-negation or self-repudiation.
Hans Belting speaks of a contemporary “cult of Art”, while Daniel Buren describes the function of the museum as aesthetic, economic, and mystic. Dragan Kujundzic points out that the distinction between museum and mausoleum is being obliterated. Niklas Luhmann wonders whether the figure of the religious duplication of reality may find a functional equivalent in the artistic fictionalization which produces an aesthetic “meaning correlate of all observable immanence”, i.e. a transfer of religious semantic into the artistic discourse.
Niklas Luhmann views art as paradoxical communication: “Paradox opens up the pre-differential space…” G. Spencer-Brown’s remarks may be applied to art: “Our journey was, in its preconception, unnecessary, although its formal course, once we had set upon it, was inevitable”.
In mathematics, function describes a mathematical relation, formula, or rule. Claude Shannon’s communication model speaks of sender, message (utterance), amount of information in a message, channel (the medium, e.g. the art medium), ambient noise and noise in the channel, and receiver. Redundancy combats noise. There is also a process of encoding, decoding, translation, and transformation. Shannon writes: “…the semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant”.
Niklas Luhmann underscore the uncertainty of communication due to the ‘not yet’ meaningful information. Jac Christis suggests that Luhmann too uses the mathematical concept of a function. In fact, Luhmann writes: “The concept of function has nothing to do with goal or purpose”. According to Loet Leydesdorff, one has to distinguish between signal, i.e. meaningful information, and noise, and between these two dimensions and the contextual position, the latter meaning the intersubjectivity of users and their shared knowledge. Leydesdorff speaks of variation as stochasticism, and describes selection as “a recursive operation…selections can be selected for stabilization”. Leydesdorff continues: “…the distinction between information and meaning can be expressed in terms of ‘variation’ and ‘selection’…functional [binary] codes [e.g. beautiful or ugly]…enable us to focus on specific selections…one needs to select one background or another to stabilize a perspective”. Stabilization implies contingency. Attractors will be utilized to categorize one’s interactions with the system.
Roman Jakobson’s communication model uses the concept of sign systems as code. Loet Leydesdorff observes that “codification is based on recursion over time, it introduces a frequency into the system”. Frequency and the phenomenon of cultural ritualization are connected with meaning depletion and with reorganization into automated units, remarks Joan L. Bybee.
Lucia Santaella underscores the fact that “a sign may function as medium for the communication of form”. Werner Scheibmayr points out that the utterance is a selection that indicates the how and why of communication - when the utterance-side is strongly marked, the next communication will be bound more to the utterance itself than to the uttered information. Alex Viskovatoff indicates that “communications, as utterances, exist outside of minds but having, as symbols, only ‘congealed meanings’, they have only syntax, not (underived) semantics”.
|I am only a pencil God uses to write with.
|“Cultural ritualization is required to establish sequences
of behavioural patterns in humans”, observes I. Eibl-Eibesfeldt. The
ethological concept of ritualization explains Derek Hillard’s insight:
“Art in modernity becomes ritualistic per se”. Frits Staal suggests
that “ritual is supposed to not have a meaning” beyond it being
per-formance. According to Axel Michaels, ritual actions fulfill formal
criteria. They are repetitive and liminal, not private or idiosyncratic.
The formalization consists of codification, iterativity, normativity, and
prescriptibility. “Ritual is pure activity”, says Frits Staal.
Ritual may be considered as a self-referential and autotelic action. Ritual
is purposeless beyond self-presentation. “Ritual is transformative”,
remarks Victor Turner. He further speaks of the ludic deconstruction and
recombination of configurations, and introduces the concept of liminality
(after the Latin limen, threshold). Rico Lie describes liminality as “a
potentially and in principle a free and experimental region of culture,
a region where not only new elements but also new combinatory rules may
be introduced…The essence of ritual is its multidimensionality, of
its symbols their multivocality”. In today’s secularized society,
cultural performances have a liminoid, i.e. quasi-liminal, character, and
in this sense one may speak of art-making as a ritual action. Udo Figge
remarks: “Ritualization is an attribute of sign production…”
Eleanor Rosch points out that “according to Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, each moment is inherently not only timeless but also open (‘empty’), and free (‘self-liberated’ )”. J. Niimi describes meditation practices as schemata reorganization, as “eradication of habitual cognitive modes”, i.e. as a shift “from an action mode that entails manipulation of the environment to a receptive mode of unadulterated observation” and experiencing, to a state or condition of pure receptivity. In a review of Yoriko Yamada Bochynek’s essay on Haiku, Milena Dolezelova-Velingerova remarks that artistic manifestations of Zen culture are “nonverbal, spatial, holistic, and visual…because the production and reception…are governed by the right cerebral hemisphere”.
“Prayer is the negation of concepts..” writes Evagrius Ponticus. “Happy is the spirit that attains to perfect formlessness at the time of prayer.” A Zen Master may add: “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” Alexei Jawlenski once said that the artistic praxis becomes ritual and the painting itself becomes prayer.
John A. Mills cogently defines emptiness when speaking of set theory, where the set containing nothing is called the empty set, “the whole that contains nothing”. It is dissimilar to any set, “it is the utterly other…” It is unique and also a part of everything, “utterly different things have the utterly other in common”. It is even part of itself. Francois Cheng writes: “Emptiness is the nodal point where potentiality and becoming interweave, in which…self-sameness and otherness meet.”
Michele Marra points out that the Japanese have paid attention to the arbitrariness of signifiers, language having a “contingent, illusory logic…Philosophers of a major Buddhist school known as Tendai called the arbitrary linkage between sign and object ‘temporary specification’.” Commenting on the materiality of East Asian calligraphy, Akiko Tsukamoto describes its mechanism as “based on specific, deliberate and controlled yet unpredictable brush strokes…unpredictability [is] inherent in this highly controlled brush movement.” Kenneth Inada speaks of “a continuum of cyclic phenomena, a unique pulsation of interlocked momentariness.”
In his discussion of Nicolai Hartmann’s aesthetic views, Roberto Poli describes the aesthetic object as coming forth from the tension between a foreground – the actual material object – and a background layer – the content that is embedded in the foreground and which exists only for a subject grasping it – or as a “relationship of manifestation” on the basis of which the “foreground imposes constraints on the background.” The aesthetic object is a ‘presence-absence’ that can be grasped by a ‘revealing perception.’
|Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.
|The Byzantine Iconophiles have suggested the existence of
an art space that indicates the autonomy of the image (the artistic signifier),
guiding the viewer from a magical to a representational understanding of
images. According to Friedhelm Mennekes, the image concept may be construed
as narrative, typologic, ontic, or iconoclastic.
In his Graphic Semiology, Jacques Bertin speaks of the organisation of visual (perceptual) components. Serge Bonin defines image design as “a set of signs that allow you to transcribe the existing relations of difference, order or proportionality amongst qualitative and quantitative data.” Juan C. Duersteler speaks of “the rational part of the visual signs, that can be structured with a determined grammar”, i.e. by means of computation, which is a rule-governed process that manipulates representations.
There is a dichotomy between preattentive and attentive (focal) perception, indicates Marc Green. He continues: “In terms of vision research, space [planar dimensions] is special because location is the only attribute which all visual modules share, making it optimal for depicting correspondences.” This is why depth may be graphically suggested by successive vertical planes as perceptive gradients. Seeing is form-moulding, says Nicolai Hartmann, it reveals “the inner form-ness itself…The artist guides [the act of] looking…and exercises the power of letting-be-seen – the virtual within the concrete fullness of the real.” Marc Green strongly emphasizes the fact that “an image can be designed taking into account the viewer’s purposes”, i.e. the components of signs can be deformed according to various parameters and the image may be embedded into a canon of forms. Hintikka Jaako indicates that “a semiotic system will be constituted by two sets of models: the one of ‘texts’, and the one of built interpretations-referents”.
Jaques Bertin defines the signification potential of a figurative image as polysemic and that of an aniconic image as pansemic. Itamar Even-Zohar has introduced the linguistic concept of depletion of referential power, which, when applied to visual arts, may suggest a progressive de-iconization that will result in a functional change such as non-referentiality. One may speak of the play of heteronomous and autonomous forces. The mechanism of function disappearance consists in sign carriers decumulating functions. Even-Zohar continues: “Viktor Shklovskij postulates that the power of signifying signs…is under a permanent process of weakening…They become ‘automatized’…It is art…that counteracts this process…art was hence equated with de-automatized discourse…” But Even-Zohar notes that “depletion pervades art probably to no less an extent than it does non-art”, and then speaks about cultural depletion and ritualization. Depletion and de-iconization thus aim at achieving an other than referential function.
Itamar Even-Zohar also discusses the continuous process of cultural interference: “We all tend to attribute much more meaningfulness and expressivity to words in a foreign language than to those of our own. While for a native speaker certain expressions, utterances, and texts are definitely ‘banal’, for a non-native speaker they may sound powerful and fresh.” This conclusion may be also applied to visual systems: “…an appropriated repertoire does not necessarily maintain source culture functions…Transfers [of organization, structure, or representation systems] often involve functional shifts.”
|Emergence has a certain epiphanic status.
Bo Kampmann Walther
|Roman Jakobson defines culture as a semiotic polysystem. Itamar
Even-Zohar has developed a linguistic polysystem theory that uses concepts
such as ‘model’, ‘repertoire’, ‘canonized’
and ‘non-canonized’. John Gumperz has introduced the concept
of linguistic ‘code-switching’, to be applied to bi- or multi-lingualism
and their occurrence and interplay. Celso Alvarez-Caccamo defines the code
as a “correlational mechanism that transduces something into something
else”, i.e. a symbolic frame of interpretation. By analogy with Even-Zohar’s
view of literature, one may say that visual art is “a system of systems…using
concurrently different options…”, a dynamic polychrony. Art
can have more than one canon. In fact, Peeter Torop notes that “the
peculiarity of art as a model is not only… iconicity, but…the
quality of the sign to be, via its elements or as a whole, a part of more
than one system simultaneously”.
M. N. Bakhtin writes: “Culture does not possess inner territory: it is wholly located on borders… Every cultural act lives significantly on boundaries…Being separated from borders it loses its ground, becomes empty, tedious, degenerates and decays”. Karen Wong remarks that an individual needs “to become fluent in the language of knowledge” and to acquire “the language of the currently predominant culture”. It is sufficient to recall a few artists included in the ‘first’ and in the ‘new’ Ecole de Paris: Amedeo Modigliani, Juan Gris, Constantin Brancusi, Marc Chagall, Chaim Soutine, Ossip Zadkine, Gino Severini, Serge Poliakoff, Nicolas de Stael, Zao Wou-ki. The teaching and theories of Andre Lhote have influenced many East Central European artists. The transfer of East Asian Calligraphic Art traditions was mediated by the artists of the same Ecole de Paris, and by Julius Bissier and Hans Hartung of the Gruppe Zen. One may speak of ludic dislocation, or, as Rico Lie says, “the concept of displacement…is intrinsically linked to migration and diaspora”. Many of the artists of the Ecole de Paris were self-exiles, refugees, expatriates, and, obviously, bi- or multi-lingual. Mihai I. Spariosu suggests that exile is a “ludic-liminal experience”.
Alan D. DeSantis quotes L. Grinberg and R. Grinberg: “…for the exile, departure is imposed and return impossible”. DeSantis continues: “Monological thinking…denies the possibility of contradicting ideas existing simultaneously…Bakhtin’s polylogical philosophy of…human action supplies…an alternative perspective that accounts for the simultaneous and contradicting presence of the centrifugal and centripetal forces…in the communication experience…"
Dirk Kretzschmar and Niels Werber describe the view of one’s own culture as first-order observation. For a secong-order observer the world appears as a construction based on multiplicities of distinctions. As the wandering artist encounters the endlessness of its possibilities and recognizes the existence of cultural contingency, art may appear to the outsider like something uncertain. At the origin may lie an experience of overpowering by the fullness of art. Even one’s own world appears now as contingent. But it is precisely this swarm or turmoil that is the beauty of art. Romano Guardini remarks: “That is what play means; it is life, pouring itself forth without an aim…significant through the fact of its existence”. Artistic play casts light on different practices and on the possible integration and interaction of various formal domains. In game-theoretical semantics the processes of seeking, finding, and verification, are conceptualized as two-person games, e.g. myself and art. This is a space prior to the reified categories of the reigning art view, prior to the tacit paradigm of power from the perspective of which past events take on the appearance of vocabularies that are exhausted, and past contexts are transformed into semiotic wrecks.
“The border…is the territory of accelerated semiotic processes, which are always occurring at the periphery of the cultural space”, writes Yuri Lotman. Uri Margolin points out that the sign shows either “a tendency toward autonomization (free play or ritual)…or toward semantization”. Milena Dolezelova-Velingerova suggests that for the border-crosser, “an alien system is ‘empty’ and can be appropriated”. Speaking about the outlook of twentieth century periphery artists, Dolezelova-Velingerova writes: “ ‘Modern’ did not mean so much the ‘present’, as it was coterminous with things [West] European in opposition to traditional things…What dazzled the artist rested exactly in the strangeness of the alien signs”. Pictoriality is the result of chaotic and complex modeling where shapes and configurations turn into complex image structures by means of controlled randomness that takes into account unanticipated changes and variations. A distinction should be made between a possible superficial similarity and what may be called essential affinity. The artistic motivation of the ‘other’ modernist is, perhaps, due to a shift in vision that reveals a dimension hitherto overlooked by ‘canonical’ modernism. Shmuel Eisenstadt speaks of multiple modernities. Milan Kundera notes, for example, that “the people of Central Europe…represent the wrong side of history; they are its victims and outsiders”. They are “modernists…devoid of any avant-garde ideology (faith in progress, in revolution, and so on), whence another vision of the history of art…” Piotr Piotrowski writes that in East Central Europe “autonomous art was perceived as an expression of freedom…it was a strategy of compensation for traumatic experiences, aimed at the evil of politics”. Constantin Noica speaks of ‘the precariousness of being’, while Gabriel Liiceanu underscores the soteriological role of culture. The question is not whether the artist has interpretatively and imaginatively internalized and destructured a certain style - destructuring as going back into the roots in order to return to what most needs to be re-membered. Rather, the question is, what is the basis for these operations. No memory is pure. Traumas and shadows assert themselves forcibly. Danilo Kis indicates that the characteristic shared by East Central European artists is the “awareness of form…form as possibility of choice, form that is an attempt to locate points of fulcrum like those of Archimedes in the chaos around us”. Often in the backgound, much of their world views remains still intact and intertwined with paradigm shifts and changes in accordance with the environment in which they operate. One may speaks of a palimpsest where a fuzzy, many-valued logic, e.g. Buddhist or Jaina logic, may help explore the semantics of mental maps by taking into account the different frames of reference. Alternative paradigms coexist as differing configurations, as the multisignificance of functionally interdependent but largely disconnected complex systems – the canonical modernism or post-modernism and the systems rooted in diaspora cultures. The latter have experienced recurring negative feedback in their relationships with the external systems, the consequences of which have been extensive marginalization and continuing dissolution, literally living at the edge of chaos. Roger Lewin remarks: “Being at the transition point between order and chaos not only buys you exquisite control - small input/big change - but it also buys you the possibility that information processing can become an important part of the dynamics of the system”.
Per Aage Brandt suggests that images create mental spaces with different topologies. A process of both imaginal and formal conceptual blending and integration may take place. As indicated by Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier, only certain features from input spaces are projected into the blend. Some projected features may be blended, others may remain separate. The blend will be an emergent structure where topology and metonymic shifts appear important. Peer Aage Brandt speaks of combinations from a thematic space and relations from a rhematic [recollected] space projected onto a blended space. Thus a metaphor function, seeing something as something else, “creates a figurative-schematic transfer through a pictorial blend and a relational-schematic transfer through the analogical blend”. Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov points out that “montage [is] a dominant device of the art of the twentieth century”. In terms of catastrophe theory - structural stability and deformation limits, morphogenesis and the formless, and discontinuity, changes, and leaps - Rene Thom views the signified also as morpho-dynamic, as the dynamic properties of the structures of states of being.
An explanation of creativity may possibly be discovered by investigating complex systems - Francis Heylighen remarks that the Latin complexus means entwined - and also Per Baak’s theory of self-organized criticality, which has its roots in the concept of emergence, as well as Stephen Jay Gould’s punctuated equilibrium theory, i.e. evolution in leaps (stasis and ex-stasis). Emergence means self-organization leading to a pattern that can not be predicted from the elements considered separately.
Because of their ability to create linkages, artists can support a multiplicity of sign systems. This operational understanding need not be explicit. Peter Cariani speaks of emergence relative to a model and of deviation from expectations, or, put differently, combinatoric emergence and creative emergence. In Cariani’s view, one works with semiotic relations - syntactics, semantics, and pragmatic competence and performance - and their respective operations - computation, empirically contingent operations of measurement (interpretant behaviour), and evaluation as selection of syntactic and semantic relations. Louis H. Kauffman says that the mark as distinction stands for itself as a construction of a formal context.
Contingency opens up a liminoid space of play. “The paradox of play is that one can perform actions in play that do not mean what they mean”, writes Dirk Baecker. So there develops an exchange game, a subtle net of relationships extending in all directions, which, through the stressing of each respective function, can be unfolded to a versatile structure of multiple inheritances and even polycentry, or, to paraphrase Ilya Prigogine, multiple beginnings existing in parallel, multiple formalizations, multiple axiomatization sets. Polycontextural systems apply different codes of self-observation related to different observation positions. Transjunctional operations make it possible to change from one code to another. Borrowing and rejection, interpretive allusion and adaptation as creative fabric, appropriation and citation, have always been part of the artist’s creative devices. There may be an alternative, non-canonized history of twentieth century art, a history of periphery input and dispersed diasporas, a history of the omnipresence of present pasts playfully renegotiated by every new work that is itself informed by what precedes it. One may also underscore the ambivalence of the center and periphery concepts and of the hierarchic differentiation center/periphery. Czeslaw Milosz once remarked: “And the intellectual Paris of the 1950s and the 1960s turned with expectation towards the East…It tells the story of how a center, by losing faith in itself, changes through resignation into a periphery”.
|But what is useless can still be a force and perhaps the only one.
|One must look more closely at certain aspects of the image
as an iconic medium. Bo Kampmann Walther emphasizes that an iconic medium
functions in “culturally and semantically coded regimes”. A
distinction must be drawn between image as such (functional image) and aesthetic
image (work of art): “the image is sign, the work of art form”,
remarks Rolf Weibl. On the other hand, as Hans Belting indicates, when images
fall from favor, they may begin to be justified as works of art. Jan Mukarovski
writes: “The aesthetic function immediately penetrates and enlarges
proportionally wherever the other functions have weakened, withdrawn, or
Adrian Staehli speaks of Image-constituting Practices or Image-acts by means of which a configuration becomes an image that thematizes the symbolizing act itself, the very enframing of a relation between re-presentation and referent. The image plays a role in a cultural context and becomes, explicitely or implicitely, subject of social and communicative interaction. The Icon, like the Buddhist or Hindu image (pratima) and the sacred diagram (yantra), is intended to be an instrument or tool for the guidance of meditative practices including prayer, while, beginning with the Libri Carolini, Western Europe has assigned only a didactic and illustration function to the image. Hans Blumenberg speaks of ‘metaphorology’, i.e. the genesis of specific imaginal vocabularies and the play of associations. Images, e.g. cult-images or images as sema and mnema, should be differentiated from other types of iconic or aniconic signs which do not perform a similar function.
Art iconography means context-bound forms. Hans Belting remarks that images are medial, and that a change of medium may transform the perception of images. Regarding the materiality of the medium, S. J. Schmidt suggests the drawing of further distinctions: materiality and use, obtaining the competent use of materiality versus the function of such competent use, and reception versus use. According to Niels Albertsen, if the finished work is to be observed as a work of art and not as a worldobject of any kind, then the observer must perform a dechiphering of the “structure of distinctions of the work”. The work of art is a play of forms. “An object becomes a work of art in the way that the forms it uses internally each time reduce the possibilities of the other side”, remarks Niklas Luhmann. “The forms close circularly, reciprocally comment each other, and confirm that which one has started”. One may mention incidentally Igor Yevin’s remarks on the act of viewing a work of art: the act of looking consists of eye-movements that describe a scanpath. The work of art as a complex system, adds Yevin, operates near a critical point. According to Francis Heylighen, the formally successfull work of art is situated “at the edge of chaos or at the point of maximum fitness”. In fact, style is “formality”.
There is also the matter of an overlooked role that art should play among cultural phenomena, that is to say the role of joining or holding a social group together – Jan Assmann’s traces of memory. “Cultural events always take place within some type of social interaction that can best be described as play”, notes Michael Hutter. To put it in Luhmannian terms, art “makes the contingent visible…The imaginary world of art…offers a position from where something else may be viewed as reality…” Art is “the arbitrary generation of nonarbitrariness”.
Coupling between systems may result in intersystemic co-evolution or ongoing mutual co-adaptation. Art is a marginal and rather isolated system and it may be subjected to an asymmetric coupling - another system may impress its exigencies on the art system’s value code. Although functionally differentiated systems are intricately interwoven by structural coupling, observes Michael Hutter, there are only a few loose couplings between art and other systems. He continues: “All communication systems have the appearance of plays, i.e. of sequences of messages that define their own border of validity…we should be able to identify tracks of irritation across the interface of the two plays”. Art communication comes along the track of styles. Communication from all kinds of other systems comes along the track of themes. “Messages in one system can irritate the messages in the other functional system…The introduction of organizations at the interface between two functional systems adds complexity to the original distinction.” Museums and art galleries are located at the interface between the art system and the economy system and serve as venues for structural coupling. A system is distinguished by a binary value code and both systemic types of logic have to be integrated in communication. System implies system borderlines and value code. Systems coupling means “value plays”.
The coupling of art and the economy has produced a positive result on the economic side, that is a higher quality in product and advertising design. The mediation by visual arts may be regarded as a crystallization point for politics, the political system being unfortunately interested mainly in the visualization of information for the purpose of legitimization and propaganda, while aesthetics plays a secondary role. There are, in fact, many nineteenth and twentieth century instances that show that no distinction has been drawn between art and kitsch. The only positive example, on the art side, are Mario Sironi’s mural works.
“Contemporary religion points to and illustrates the paradoxical tension between differentiation and de-differentiation”, writes Peter Beyer. “The church was a religious institution with multifunctional characteristics…Reflexivity and closure of this religious system centred around the two binary codes of salvation/damnation and the moral good/bad…When discussing the binary code of religion more generally, Luhmann favours the distinction between transcendent and immanent”. Luhmann points out that “religion guarantees the determinability of all meaning against its first-hand experienced relegation into indeterminacy”. Thomas F. O’Meara indicates that, because the Christian world “projects itself into the visual…and because modern art is the sacrament of the twentieth century, the horizons of art and sacrality…could not avoid each other…” The coupling of Western art and religion in the twentieth century has produced a few interesting works, such as the chapel designed by Henry Matisse and the mosaics created by Gino Severini.
|Art may redeem the world.
|Hans-Georg Gadamer writes that the “image is an ontological
event, in which Being comes to a meaningful appearance”. One may investigate
the material image and imaginal repertoires embedded in cultural milieus
by exploring the concept of incommensurability between ways of seeing, or
between ways of “partial seeing”, a concept introduced by Ruth
Ronen in connection with the mimetic intention, i.e. the figural-imaginal
representational option undestood as aiming at realism or illusion. Incommensurability
implies “a translocation of a conceptual net”, an “epistemic
split”. ‘Mimesis’ is an elusive term. It has the usual
primary meanings of imitation or reproduction and of figurative artistic
representation. Ruth Ronen comments on the “immanent partiality of
representation…” where “each attempt sets its objects
elsewhere”. Ronen continues: “Incommensurability…inheres
in the relations between various modes of representing reality…In
representation reality is always distorted…This relation of impossible
representation is what I propose to call incommensurability…Each stage
in the history of mimetic art is incommensurable with its own artistic objective;
at the same time the various stages in this history are consequently also
incommensurable”. However, any new paradigm incorporates some of the
old repertoire and apparatus, although both are used in novel ways. There
is thus no strict incommensurability. Paradigms coexist. There is considerable
room for many-valued relations and for a wide range of blending.
Piotr Jaroszynski adheres to a Thomist notion of mimesis. In an essay on metaphysics and art, translated by Hugh McDonald, he writes: “The operations of the artist are operations upon accidents that perform the function of a sign”. If one understands mimesis as make-believe or game playing, then “art [is] a kind of imitation of reality which is neither a duplication or copying, nor a creation in the strict sense…it cannot be a duplication, since reality cannot be duplicated…The work of the artist is an actualization of potency…potency is an attribute of matter…” St. Bonaventure frequently uses the phrase similitudo expressiva.
What about analogy? At the time of the Iconoclastic Crisis, Theodore the Studite has written: “Every image is the image of an hypostasis, and never of a nature”. Erich Przywara’s theological concept of Analogia Entis implies a maior dissimilitudo in tanta similitudine (in every similarity there is an even greater dissimilarity). Karl Barth writes: “An analogy is a created picture, an image, which involves both similarity and dissimilarity”. Whereas Gabriela Goldsmith speaks of visual analogical mapping and defines analogy as “similarity between relationships”, Barbara Maria Stafford describes analogy as “sameness in otherness”. Anja-Karina Pahl points out that “analogy is formed, it is a process, a sequence” consisting of two steps: firstly, scale or ratio (as measure of differentness), and, secondly, proportion (as determination of sameness). Proportion may be discontinuous, continuous, or golden. Pahl indicates that “the process of establishing analogy is fractal”, and, as an example, suggests a connection between perspective construct principles, chaos theory, and the notion of topological equivalence in the respective neighbourhoods.
Gunter Gebauer and Christoph Wulf describe the ambivalence of mimetic images and the changing, complex, and shifting meaning of ‘mimesis’ construed as an anthropologial concept and a category of social science. One may speak of a play of representational options: from mimetic mediation - archetype and image - between nature and culture, like during the Renaissance, to mimetic interpretation or to construction. An artistic paradigm is a matrix and context. Paul Feyerabend remarks that “formal features of a style are in fact ontological features of the world to which it gives shape”. “It is not a faithful record of a visual experience but the faithful construction of a relational model that we see”, writes Ernst Gombrich. He underscores the fact that art, the coded conventional aspect of visual traditions, is learned by looking at art. As Juipi Chien points out, schemata, both mental sets and codes, are “a primary modeling system of visual arts”. It should be added that Ernst Gombrich also mentions the “beholder’s share” in visual communication. According to Erkki Huhtamo, there are an hegemonic, a negotiated, and an oppositional way of ‘reading’ images.
Never before have images been present everywhere. There is an inflation of contingent imaginal worlds. Artistic representation is however undergoing a crisis resulting from the iconoclastic praxis of modernity, notes Martin Schulz.
“Modernity identifies itself with the help of a differentiation from the past”, writes Michael Merlinger. Like Eric Voegelin, Arpad Szakolczai sees a gnostic return in modernity and especially in the political religions of the twentieth century. Thomas W. Heilke explains: “ Gnosticism consists at its core of a claim to special knowledge that will release the knower from the perceived disorder of being…into a new realm of order”. Likewise, Theodor Adorno’s aesthetics must be seen in the same light. Norbert Bolz makes clear that, for Adorno, “art…is the showing place of modern gnosis. Art works are the alien in an alienated world…Decay is the eschatological movement of modernity - namely as secularization par excellence. “ Bolz continues: “The preeminent interest of the gnostic does not consist in abolishing negativity, but in bringing it to a close.” Appearance itself is negativity and the Beautiful is put under a taboo for Beauty’s sake. Taeho Kang summarizes Adorno’s views: “The only way for art to be art consists in…a process of continuous self-negation”. Adorno regards mimesis as a “rudiment of the magic phase” and the autonomy of art as a “counter-movement to myth”. The movement started with “the emancipation of art from cultic heteronomy”. Consequently, modernism had to discard the mimetic moment. Modernism has reached an impasse, and in the end Adorno concludes that “the autonomy [of art] fails without a heterogenous [side]…” Art may still be “the refuge for mimetic behaviour ”.
That said, one may explore further the play of distinctions in the art system. Michael Merlingen writes: “In societies with low complexity, lifeworld structures (e.g. traditions, rituals, customs) and the situative presuppositions of face-to-face interaction tend to ensure the acceptance of communication, i.e. the absorption of contingency…With the recognition of the contingency of the content of communication, conflicts over communication become probable…We have to operate with a distinction between reference and coding [and] coding in the sense of the distinction between positive code value and negative code value. Both sides of the reference are accessible for both code values…Media condition the selection of the meaning…By manipulating media-specific symbols…communication can be kept on its tracks.” Programs set the context for the implementation of the code of the art medium (e.g. by starting from the code value ‘formally fit’) and open the system to the world. According to Niklas Luhmann, styles are the “effect of a spontaneous, merely code-oriented practice”. Programs may change – there is a continuous play of competing paradigms and there may be a dominant ‘legitimizing’ official paradigm.
One way to cope with this ambiguous situation is to test the complex dynamics of art communication. Niklas Luhmann points out that the utterance always takes a symbolic form: “The utterance must duplicate the information, that is, on the one hand, leave it outside yet, on the other, use it for utterance and reformulate it appropriately…by providing it with…form”. An artificial-artistic image or pattern is an autonomous system, a medial embodiment by means of a canon of forms within the boundaries of medium-specific limitations. Even a text is first visually scanned as a pattern, a graphic design. One may speak of the shaping of semiotic information (hetero-reference), i.e. of in-formation, and of exploring semioticity (the degree of independence of the object from its representation). The hypo-icon is structured by iconicity and by indexical and/or symbolic (rule-like) properties, writes Goran Sonesson. Recursive networking with other works defines the concept of art and probes its limits – Ken-ichi Sasaki speaks of “the play of the retrospective gaze” or the “prospective/retrospective play of imagination”.
Hang-liang Chang pursues a semiographemic investigation of Chinese characters. While underscoring “writing’s paradoxical nature of autonomy from and complementarity with speech”, Chang remarks that iconic signs have been conventionalized, i.e. desemantised and changed into symbolic signs. The medium (brush, ink, paper) has imposed the creation of a minimal number of components (graphemes or strokes) and their forms. However, throughout all its metamorphoses, the character is never entirely rid of its basic iconicity. All this has an important bearing on practice. Susan Rich Sheridan points out the connection between a child’s playing and scribbling: “drawing…persists in writing as its underlying mark-making impulse…Scribbling is the tangled matrix where drawing and writing begin”.
Chris Sinha holds that the epigenetic emergence of symbolization, e.g. language, means that “symbolization is essentially the process of the elaboration of the representational function”. Alfredo Tenoch Cid Jurado discusses mesoamerican pictographic writing systems in order to exemplify the relation language-image. In the same context, Paolo Fabbri views writing as symbolical production, as graphism and transposition, while Massimo Squillacciotti speaks of the play of word, image, and writing, of visibility and leggibility, of writing as a process of transcoding. In his studies of folk art, Vilmos Voigt notices transitory forms from writing to image and vice versa. David Baston and Mary Hamilton speak of the link between early visual representations, magic, ritualistic markings, mythograms, and writing systems.
According to J. L. Lemke, “all semiosis is multimodal”, although, “no image or visual representation means in all and only the same ways that some text can mean. It is this essential incommensurability that enables genuine new meanings to be made from the combinations of modalities”. For example, “writing always deploys a visual graphological-typographical semiotic as well as that of language”.
Itamar Even Zohar writes: “Repertoire designates the aggregate of rules and materials which govern both the making and handling…of any given product”, i.e. the coded conventional aspect of visual tradition. In traditional cultures, a code is mastered including calculated transgressions. The visual code successfully reduces information to a relatively recognizable extent, writes Han-liang Chang. The code consists of a set of tacit rules or conventions within which signs make sense. It consists of a set of practices for users of a medium that is employed within a cultural frame of reference - but J. L. Lemke speaks also of heteropraxia within a cultural system, of semodynamic cycles, and of semolytic processes. In strongly codified styles, like Romanesque or Byzantine art, the image tends to become a Peircean symbol. William Edmondson points out that “arrangements of signs are themselves signs, with conventional aspects to their interpretation…the set confers iconicity on its members so those individual icons can become more abstract (symbolic)”. One may speak of formal canon-making within the pictorial space. One can be absorbed into the pictorial space - it functions like a fictional, virtual space. The French describe it as ‘plastic’ space (from the Greek plastikos, that which may be given form). One may view the drawing of distinctions as a configuration of operations. Any configuration of operations of distinctions occurs in a matrix of relations, in a domain of processes - the no-thingness from which the artist brings forth form. It is a closed domain of structural coherence. To paraphrase William C. Hoffman, the pictorial ‘space’ means the visual manifold, the topology or set of neighborhoods which combine into a manifold. I use the term ‘pictorial’ in the sense of ‘painterly’ in order to distinguish the concept of pictoriality from image, imaginality, picture ( as image), or iconicity.
The visual sign is oriented toward plurivocality and can be adapted to different contexts. Augusto Ponzio also indicates that “replaceability is a necessary condition of signness”. Given that conclusion, one must mention that Roman Jakobson’s speaks of three kinds of translation: intralinguistic (rewording), interlinguistic (between different languages), and intersemiotic transmutation (between different semiotic systems). That is closely paralleled in Goran Sonesson’s visual semiotics. There can, accordingly, be a visual interplay in three ways: (a) intrapictoriality, as when Rubens brings back from Italy a repertoire of reference drawings after different masters, i.e. within a same style, or, as Sonesson suggests, as when a drawing is exchanged for another; (b) interpictoriality, as when Byzantine artists employ Hellenistic or Roman personifications of the Night or of Rivers, i.e. an inter-stylistic exchange; according to Sonnesson, there can be also inter-medial exchanges, such as substituting a photograph for a drawing; and (3) intersemiotic transmutation, as when Renaissance painters use visual analogues of rhetorical figures such as the ‘apostrophe’, i.e. a figure that looks in an abstract direction or to the viewer. With respect to the above, one must also bear in mind that Rene Lindekens defines intraiconicity as the “different plastic meanings of elementary shapes”, and Wolfgang Welsch defines intericonicity as reference to other works, and as paraphrase, pastiche or transformation of models.
|What you seek, it is near, already comes to meet you.
|“Cultural values provide the yardsticks for measuring
social space”, writes Michael Hutter. “Thus, individuals…perceive differences in the distance – horizontally
and vertically…Those who play…try to change the current [value] scales by proposing alternative solutions to
the dominant valuation patterns”. Axiologically, culture “appears to have significance beyond any social
and economic impact…” remarks Arjo Klamer. “Cultural valuation…cultural
capital are the power to inspire or to be inspired”. Cornelius Holtorf speaks of “the past as metaphor”. Liane Gabora writes:
“The creative mind is a contextual system…it draws upon memories
in a reconstructive manner”. Within the context of evolving complex adaptive systems, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza views cultural systems, such
as language, religion systems, or social systems, as ecosystems where order emerges through the interaction
of many entities. He describes cultural transmission as threefold: vertical
transmission, e.g. parent to children; horizontal transmission within a generation; and oblique transmission between unrelated
members of different generations, e.g. teacher and pupil. I have mentioned earlier the interpretive
stylistic citation game that plays an important role in the tradition of
East Asian Calligraphic Art and is connected with the notion of lineage.
From the perspective taken here, lineage may be described metaphorically
as a succession of drifts - the concepts of structural and positional drift,
and of the interplay of structural changes, have been introduced by Humberto
Maturana. Perturbance (noise), feedback processes, and ‘entropic drift’
may lead to ‘recursive consensual coordination’. Will Medd speaks
of temporalized complexity, i.e. “the reproduction of the system is
not concerned with straightforward repetition but, in Luhmann’s words,
with ‘reflexive production, production out of products’ “. Mark Johnson and George Lakoff have pointed out the role played by dynamic
cognitive constructs known as pre-conceptual image schemata, structural or topological schemata of
forms and forces that arise from embodied experience. Speaking about aesthetics and cognition in the Byzantine
cultural area, Jostein Bortnes observes that “imagination and thinking
in mental images was a cognitive activity. They were absolutely in keeping with modern neurologists, who have established that
the human brain in subtle ways stores sensory impressions, words and musical impressions in the form
of images”. While proposing a science of neurosemiotics and describing the construction of representema,
Donald Favareau writes that “the eye…is a sign-vehicle” whose activity is a “recursively
generating semiosis”. John Deely indicates that “a sign is neither a thing nor an object but the pattern according
to which things and objects interweave to make up the fabric of experience”.
Walter Biemel writes: “Art is the happening of a coming forth – not only of Being, but of the relationship between Humans and Being”. Niklas Luhmann defines the work of art as “a communicative artefact”. Art makes “the invisible visible” on the condition that “the invisible [transcendentally presupposed] is preserved”. To paraphrase Peter Bogh Andersen, one may say that art is an intrinsically self-referential difference between art and non-art.
Hans Urs von Balthasar builds his investigation of aesthetics on the three transcendentals: the Beautiful (pulchrum), the Good (bonum), and the True (verum). He speaks of “the play of form”, of working “from the whole to the parts”, and of “turning to the images”. It is not difficult to divine in von Balthazar’s requirements the choice of one type of reference, namely art, and of the code value beautiful. “Art creates the possibility of an Epiphany of the world in the world”, notes Peter Fuchs. “In all its operations, the distinction beautiful/ugly…points to the background distinction [formally] fit/unfit”. Beauty is the glory of being, der Glanz des Seins.
To paraphrase Itamar Even Zohar’s linguistic concept of multilingual polysystem, one may formulate a polycontextural aesthetics of production through the operational use of a ludic reconstruction, not fusion, of coexisting artistic approaches. Homi K. Bhabha remaks that “terms of cultural engagement, whether antagonistic or affiliative, are produced performatively”. Edward Said sees the “traveler as…a figure between spheres, between forms, between languages. From this perspective all things look really strange, rare, and wonderful”.
Perhaps this is the ideal point at which to remember the Moscow-Tartu semiotics school and their description of cultural systems: all the semiotic systems of a culture are means of modeling the world. The methodologies of systemic-functional linguistics may be applied to visual art. Christian Matthiessen investigates “..relationships between semiotic and social systems…context…as a higher-level semiotic ystem - one that coordinates and integrates language and other semiotic systems in multimodal semiosis [second-order contextual systems], and also social systems [first-order contextual systems]”. Michael O’Toole’s systemic-functional semiotic model helps analysing representational, modal, and compositional functions in art, thus breaking the barrier between a formal and a viewer-centered criticism, and highlighting the work of art as an open dynamic system. Howard Riley’s theory of representation is based on David Marr’s computational theory of vision: one uses algorithms-based (rule-based) conventional representation systems and algorithms governing transformations from one system to another, i.e. an aesthetics of production.
Instead of accepting a dominant, legitimizing paradigm, one may create “spaces of identities”. Knut Ove Arntzen indicates that “post-mainstream is a possible concept when mainstream movements…are being exhausted”. An artist can simultaneously work in two or more ostensibly incommensurable styles. Some specific formal tools may offer the right solution. The choice of the formalism seems to link creative processes. One needs a framework which can take into account discontinuity and representation options, but each new formalization can be seen as the result of an interpretative comparison with a past, which is allowed by the permanence of similar aspects in the formalisms. One may speak of the synchronicity of the asynchronous.
Victor Turner speaks of a “multiperspectival consciousness”. Both the making and the viewing of art may become, as shown by Rico Lie, “a space of transcultural communication and a state of intercultural liminality”. Solomon Marcus speaks of ludus and paideia. Hans Georg Moeller points out that “Chinese pragmatics tends to describe art as a process and places less emphasis on the produced work of art”. Art is essentially an experience before and beyond the moment it is a theory. The assessment - not to say the deconstruction - of art is best undertaken operationally. From a ludic perspective, Jean-Pierre Changeux views art as “actualization into gestures”. The drawing of distinctions may be viewed as a configuration of operations. To put it in Goran Sonesson’s words, art is essentially the record of an ephemeral gesture, of a movement of instantiating marks.
|Distinctions of reference and distinctions of [system] coding
are positioned orthogonally in relation to one another.
|Globalization occurs within functional domains. Segmented
and stratified societies still persist, as well as societies where functional differentiation does not dominate. Gerhard Preyer
and Mathias Boes indicate that “globalization is a heterogeneous process
that connects the global and the local on different levels…There are
many, partly connected world systems…borders do not only define in
and out; they structure as well the ‘in between’ “. It seems that
the general assumptions about globalization warrant some basic questions. Does cultural globalization mean only westernization
and hybridization, or does it mean multi- and trans-culturality instead of universalism? What about asynchronicities?
Is art a world-system? Niklas Luhmann writes: “We do not mean by ‘world-art’
an art that represents the world in an excelling way, but an art which observes
the world while being observed, and thus takes into account distinctions
on which depends what can be seen and what can not be seen…It divides
reality by means of form…Real reality becomes the everyday normal…Fictional
reality becomes the realm of other reflective (unfamiliar, surprising, only
artificially obtainable) possibilities of order”. Cultural globalization
may mean deterritorialization, disimbedded practices impacting on real-life
experience, disposable people. This brings to mind similar situations in the past, such as the twentieth
century utopia, its attempt at an universalizing and homogenizing ‘worldism’, and, as John Tomlinson
points out, its disastrous experiments in cultural engineering.
It may be enlightening to investigate the contemporary ‘Western’ art system in more detail. There is no attempt to do more than pick out several points of particular interest. Using a terminology proposed by Niklas Luhmann, one can say that the art system differentiates itself in regions (statements, propaganda, entertainment, etc.), which interpenetrate or may suddenly emerge simultaneously in the same event. Entertainment does not generate a ‘game’ in its strict sense, but a virtual reality that can be grasped as a game. Hans-Peter Porzner differentiates even between art system and art market system. Oliver Jahraus conceptualizes “system-theoretical art theory as a system, art itself as the other system. Both systems are environments for each other.”
The art system no longer produces only art.
Art is converted into non-art. Art works loose their art character.
“The products of modern aesthetic practice tend more and more towards integration into technical-scientific culture…towards anonymization”, writes Mihai Nadin. He then questions “the extent to which [they] fulfill a proper aesthetic function and from which point this function becomes secondary…” An unavoidable dilemma arises: to elide the signifier in an effort to allow the signified to shine forth - the artwork as protocol of a creative activity – or to collapse the signified into the signifier in order to secure the self-referentiality of the work.
“Regarding artworks”, writes Boris Groys, “almost all depends on rules and criteria, used more or less explicitely to differentiate art and non-art. These rules and criteria change not only historically, but are different for each medium. Not all media appear to be adequate art-media”. The guiding distinction, art or non-art, becomes fuzzy. The form of negation consisting of the re-entry of non-art into art or the stepping of art outside of art is a provocation containing the seed of inflation, Paul Watzlawick’s third form of the utopia-syndrome: “One overtaken by it, fancies being in possession of the truth and thus not only of the keys for, but also of the moral duty of removing all the ills of the world”. Lucia Santaella observes that postmodernist art “destructs its own form”.
In Goran Sonesson’s view, there is an imminent threat of a densification of transient technographic imagery and its an-aesthetic effect. Whether one refers to media culture, visual culture, or visual art, there is the same ideology of dematerialization, of ephemera and replicas, and the shift in relevance to theme, or, in a word, the move away from the ‘work of art’. A great deal is implied here. The equating of a work of art with a functional image forces a certain preconception on all art works. Thus the conception of ‘pictorial’ as ‘picture of something’ still dominates visual semiotics today. In other words, by merely focusing on the theme, one immediately raises the question of the aim of art. Art works are eloquent by means of their law of form - the content of the enciphered form. The opposite viewpoint is held by Eric Kluitenberg who argues that painting has become obsolete and that the “negative dialectics of avantgarde art” has been transferred to the new media. To this, Lev Manovich adds the notions of “information aesthetic” and “forms of content”.
One may speak of art as a medium of communication. A channel consists of a selection from a
particular array of options within the medium. The channel imposes constraints on communication.
Art communication should take into account physiological and psychological characteristics of
perception. Loet Leydesdorff indicates that “variations and selection are structurally coupled in
|…the cognitive mapping of a field…is always pluralistic and can be viewed from a variety of perspectives.
|The above questions could be inscribed and situated in the
more profound problem and larger context of Western models and meta-discourses or, as Boyan Manchev indicates, the
“abstract, philosophical… models of universality” and “the structural mimetism of universality”.
The Western concept of the image and of visual communication, the canonical artistic ideology and aesthetic
categories, the mythologems of the Avant-garde, place still pre-modern and non-Western cultures, as
well as partially Westernized and hybrid cultures - in short, cultures showing a deficit of modernity - on
the borders of an alien periphery.
“Who are we? Who are the others?” asks Immanuel Wallerstein. The diversity of reality constructs manifests itself in the variety of cognitive styles, conceptual frames, and concepts of seeing. Clifford Geertz writes that “culture is a historically transmitted pattern of meaning embodied in symbols, a system…expressed in symbolic forms”. Michael Boyden indicates that “Luhmann accords greater importance to memory as a stabilizing factor in social systems”. Elena Esposito calls memory a “continuous revision of coherence”. In Richard Dawkin’s view, the meme is a cultural replicator. However, cultural transmission is not simply a sort of epidemic dynamic process. Liane Gabora sees memes and memeplexes (cultural worldviews) as parts of a complex conceptual network - she speaks of meme, variations, and strategic creativity. Cultural transmission and drift may be viewed also within the framework of evolutionary game theory - players may not know all the rules, imitation occurs, and games are repeated. So why not re-shuffle the deck and look at art from a different prospective, from beyond the North-American and European core-cultures?
“…The symbol of the void is a blank space…just blank space”, writes Jack Engstrom. “In order for a form to arise out of the unmarked space a distinction must be made…further distinctions can also be made…and a calculus (set of rules) can be made on how to combine distinctions…” Through the idea of distinctions one sees how the outwardly figurative work actually proceeds on two different levels at once, explicitly on the embedded level of a demonstrative iconography proclaiming its progression, and then within the actual material stratum, where one finds the concrete realm of marks and surfaces that traverse this progression, restoring its deeper sense in a succession of apparently disordered (or differently ordered) color and texture areas. The movement of drawing distinctions, then, as a key to viewing the work, is not somewhere behind the image. It takes shape, rather, as something manifest, visible, quite literally as the form of form. Configuration moments, color moments, and finally figural moments, are bound by internal axiological relations. There is a logic of distinctions, for distinctions amount to a certain way of thinking, an experience of life that carries a subterranean socio-cultural context, perceptual and cognitive sets, frames of reference and selection.
Floyd Merrell speaks of the “interdependent, interrelated, interactive mediated patterning at the heart of all semiotic practices”, of the Peircean ‘nothingness’ that gives rise to all signs. In a shared context of use, configurational presentation is at the core of art - formal constructs, form in short, may be seen as essential content, as norms and archetypes of the world that have been generated by a play on emptiness, as root harmonies (from the Greek harmos, to join). A hermeneutics of organization, structure, and iconometry, that is to say of golden proportions, of systems of proportions - constituting initially different principles of visualisation of forms of divinities by means of iconometric diagrams - and of analogies with musical harmonies, a mereotopology of formal constructs grounding imaginal representational narrative, will easily establish this. In fact, where visual literacy is absent, an iconography may appear as a cryptogram. The procedure is to discover the formal relations which determine the pictorial space comprising differing neighborhoods. Presentation is non-representational. The key insight concerns the immanence of the universal interaction of abstract simultaneities, of virtual multiplicities. Habits of representation conceal this continuity.
Employing the rhetoric of pure experience, art thematizes the paradox of communication itself: according to Niklas Luhmann art communicates “by using perceptions contrary to their primary purpose…Perception…can decide quickly, whereas [visual] art aims to retard perception and render it reflexive”. Art communicates through the self-referential indication of pictorial formants. Giovan Battista Armenini describes painting as mirabile artificio.
In the context of image theory, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht speaks of “the mimesis oriented ‘signifier/signified’ paradigm and the paradigm…that is geared towards the production of presence”. Rumiko Oyama describes a syntactic code as spatial: “Visual syntax serves as cultural representation conditioned by a different underlying spatial semiotic system. So visuals are not culturally transparent”. The image as an ontological and phenomenological category is part of a multifaceted mode of representation - making present, presencing. In her investigation of Ancient Middle Eastern Art, Zainab Bahrani describes the image as a liminal presence, “a metonymy of presence in which presence is never a plenitude…because it always carries a measure of absence”. The image as substitute and/or equivalent has both iconical and indexical properties. It is “multiplication…not a copy in the sense of mimetic resemblance; rather, it is a repetition…Yet, like the pictogram, it can never give entire access to the signified…the signifier can never be unique, just as the pictogram is never simply iconic and separated from other meaning…” In fact, both writing and painting are connected to divination and the deciphering of marks, the form of signs, resemblance, participation or association (including synechdoche) - all are part of the problematics of configurations of marks, of re-presentation. One may speak of pictograph, ideograph, diagrammatic icon, image. H. Jense writes about the “variety of perspectives” used in pictographs. “Chinese is imageable because the Chinese emphasize intuition and images…” writes Chen Hongwei. “Chinese characters…are…complex means of conveying ideas vividly through images”. The matrix of East Asian Calligraphy can be viewed as independent sign systems occurring simultaneously - a writing system perceivable also and only as visual graphic marks - that create an oscillating, chiasmic, composite sign, an intersemiosis, able to generate its own chain of interpretants.
Such differently configured categories have survived in the other Europe, the overlapping areas known as Mitteleuropa, East Central Europe, and the Balkans. Alexander Kiossev points out that “the individual has a flexible relationship to the symbolic and institutional identity of the group”. Notwithstanding cultural borders and historical fractures, the region was open to eclectic influences, the limit being the process known as self-colonization (mimicry instead of the import and adaptation of trends), or, to use the terminology introduced by David Chavalarias and Paul Bourgine, cultural mimetism (conformism or anti-conformism and payoffs-based imitation). Obrad Savic uses the concepts of ‘simulation models’, ‘hybrid simulation’, and ‘mimetic simulation’. But meta-mimetic theory views mimetic rules also as modifiable features. The fact is that, in the age of Empires, cultures located at a crossroads and subjected to repeated colonization and assimilation attempts may feel the need of an encounter with ‘the’ culture or cultures. One can grasp the stochastic and the necessary within the transformative force of far reaching transcultural processes viewed as hybrid process. There is always an opportunity for cross-code interference, code-switching, discontinuity or pseudomorphosis, and a many-valued approach. The creation of a mixed code will not always follow the rules of either initial code. Art is complex and dynamic, i.e. constantly subject to change and learning. An ‘overcode’ does not erase earlier or alternate semiotics. Semiotic empty signs, semiotic manipulations, perceptual, hermeneutic, semiotic strands intersect within the ‘empty’ compositional matrix. Moreover, Czeslaw Milosz insightfully observes: “ ‘To see’ means not only to have before one’s eyes. It may mean also to preserve in memory. ‘To see and to describe’ may also mean to reconstruct in imagination”.
From a distinctions theory and systemic-functional perspective, one may argue for a selection of formants, a lexic of marks and surfaces, i.e. abstract systems of brushstrokes and graphic marks, organized syntactically by means of a culturally determined operational algorithm. At the level of pragmatics, structuring iconometrics and iconography as representation formalisms will create signs (embedded in a sign system which calls forth a code) as medium for form. The medially embodied representation will become image through a culturally institutionalized frame, an ‘image-act’. The context level will determine the type of activity in which the work has significance, the relations of work, viewer, and artist, and the consequent variations of type of formality. Aspects of the channel, noise, and communication aspects, styles, sub-styles, and idiolects as subjectivity within styles, will further place the work in a socio-semiotic perspective. In this context, even the Byzantine ‘models’ may be thought of as site for further meditational compositions.
Kevin Moss remarks that Y. Lotman and B. A. Uspensky divide cultures into two types: Western content-oriented cultures and Eastern expression-oriented cultures. I agree with the literal meaning of this classification. A content-oriented culture views non-culture as a chaos to be organized. A ritualized, expression-oriented culture views non-culture as incorrect. There is a dichotomy between the West and the East of Europe. At the same time, the East is caught in the middle, between the West and the Far East.
Why not be who we are? In Niklas Luhmann’s words, art constitutes a dynamic relation between form and medium. Art is being created beyond the categories of center and periphery. According to S. J. Schmidt, phenomena exist for observers in socio-cultural contexts - he speaks of perspectival observation, interaction between observer and observed, and circular processes. John Wood suggests a cybernetics of presence or of creative presence, instead of the strongly Western model of ‘self’ upheld by established cybernetic principles. The East Central European artist, necessarily at home in a few significant languages and cultures, views the world from two or more view points. Meta-artistic awareness of intrinsically alternating, integrated, and non-integrated cultural algorithms opens up a space of heterarchic play with the formalism of complex signs and with operative and co-operative conceptual systems, a space of contradiction, fractures, gaps, mutation, and transmutation.
Ben Goertzel suggests that stable systems, such as beliefs and single or plural worldviews, may act as autopoietic attractors simultaneously structured in two ways: hierarchically and heterarchically, the latter constituting associatively structured memory, i.e. based on pattern similarity. These insights correspond to certain Zen traditions. “The point is that the creative process involves ‘wild’ analogies,” Goertzel writes, “and wild analogies ensue from experimental reorganizations of the heterarchical network”.
Many of those ideas are not explicit in one’s education, but develop unconsciously as the alternative reorganization into heterarchical form and second-order learning - Chris Lucas indicates that parts obey different local laws and the diversity or mix depend upon the overall contextual evolution. Lucas goes on: “This is a fuzzy functionality very different to standard bivalent logic”.
Steven Mailloux describes transcultural experiences as “liminal acts opening up a space in which boundaries are transformed yet paradoxically maintained even as they are crossed”.
‘Someone else’s’ becomes ‘one’s own’, albeit in different ways and according to different outlooks, in the emergent co-play and co-existence of complex visual semiospheres, their coupling, alternating, conjoining, and intermixing. According to Peter Cariani, the semiosphere is the realm of symbolically-mediated processes. Iteration, recursion, renegotiating the historicity of semiotic spaces, will result in multiple rhythms of development, transient dominants, and unpredictable results.
The constitutive cultural paradox results in semantic transformations and a paradoxical communication matrix. Niklas Luhmann writes with reference to communication: “For the communication of paradoxes, the operative effect is decisive: it causes the communication to oscillate…” The Bakhtinian “crossing of borders” combined with the Eastern apophasis - the affirmation of such and the expectation of the contrary, or affirmation through negation - may be connected to the gesture of rejection paradoxically associated with newly received or appropriated patterns. Both Dumitru Staniloae and Pavel Florensky argue that the Byzantine Icon itself is apophatic. Ernst von Glasersfeld connects apophatic communication with radical constructivism. Michael Sells introduces the concept of performative apophasis: “Apophasis moves toward the transreferential…To the linear referential motion apophasis adds a circular turning back…The combination yields a semiotic spiral motion ever deeper into the pre-referential ground (or groundlessness)…” Emil Cioran proposes the concept of “positive negativity”.
As regards the meta-capacity of the East Central European spirit - a concept introduced by Caryl Emerson - one should admit its two-sidedness: one side, where the echo of the Greek Tragedy choir still resonates, and the reverse side impregnated with ironic estrangement and outsideness of oneself.
Hans-Georg Gadamer suggests that the artist stands “within a happening of transmission (Ueberlieferungsgeschehen)”, the aim being the actual experience that art is, the dimensions which underlie the concrete appropriation of possibility, the complexification and construction of multilogues as horizontal perspectives. So regarded, transcreative self-reflexivity - the work drawing attention to itself as factitiousness and construct - subverts the notion of a transparent medium as communication. It becomes painting about/of/as painting, i.e. meta-painting. The antagonism between civilization and culture, paradoxes, Zen, the symmetry of asymmetric terms - such as the dynamic opposition conceived by Stephane Lupasco’s logic of the included third - bring forth a ludic solution. Any number of chance factors contribute to providing endless variations on the theme of the play of art and once in a great while a flash of light opens access to hidden possibilities, to an inexhaustible domain, by plunging toward experiential origins, the beginning before the beginning. A category that emerges naturally out of the exploration of form space is the polyphonic identity cutting across definitions of center and periphery, thus sorting out crucial issues like change and continuity. And Michael Polanyi, moreover, sees art as rooted in tacit knowledge, i.e. in ineffable action-based skills. He writes: “An art which cannot be specified in detail cannot be transmitted by prescription…skill can be communicated only by example, not by precept…When we make a thing function as the proximal term of tacit knowing, we incorporate it in our body…so that we come to dwell in it”.
|Sunyata indicates boundless openness without any particular fixed center…Only in this way, is emptiness possible.
|The concept of polycontexturality provides a platform able
to facilitate both the description of an artwork’s emergence, and of the events within the context of the artist’s aesthetic
outlook and overall body of work. The use of cybernetic concepts may reveal new possibilities that a traditional
aesthetics of reception obscures.
The word ‘contexture’ itself means ‘interwoven structure’. Rudolph Kaehr uses the terms empty loci (kenograms) and configuration (morphogram) introduced by Gotthard Guenther, and often speaks of “the web of empty loci…The metaphor of net…kenogrammic disremptions [repetitions], transfers, events, the carrousel of sunyata…” One may interpret this statement as referring to both the kenotic self-emptying as a prelude to openness, and to the play-space of emptiness, that is to say to the continuous series of formal operations that may be called kenosyntactic, the inter- and intra-contexturally structured processuality, and also to a plural coding. In the words of Klaus Krippendorff, it is a way of “preserving the possibility…of multi-logical world constructions.”
Transjunctions of viewpoints and contextures, organized along the principle of polycontexturality, as Rudolph Kaehr argues, facilitate a centerless transclassic vision of art as a poly-evential site. A heterarchic system mediates a plurality of irreducible systems, the exchange and transition game between autonomous artistic domains, the simultaneous multi-perspectival interdependence of order. There are good reasons to attempt defining such an artistic outlook as polycontextural, owing to its ability to let multiple coexisting formal systems stand side by side. The focus of attention shifts to the experiential and operational factors underlying such praxis. One must be able, to put it in the language of Gotthard Guenther, to shift to the level of transjunctional operations. An artistic identity may be distributed over several contextures. Eberhard von Goldammer indicates that “every move from a contexture to an other is bound with qualitative transformations which must remain recognizable”. Gotthard Guenther’s ontology underscores the immanence of subjectivity and speaks of “the distribution of subjectivity in a plurality of I-centers”.
David Mc.Innes describes identity or subjectivity as an “on-going, iterative practice - a process of performativity”. M.A.K. Halliday speaks of modes of communication, e.g. the rhetorical mode, and of channels of communication, e.g. spoken, written, visual, or other communication media. Gotthard Guenther remarks that noise is both internally produced, e.g. image modeling and recognition may occur in a noisy environment, and comes from outside: subjectivity turns art into a noisy system. Dynamics of variety, unexpectedness, creative reorganization, improvisation, unpredictable creativity at a contextual level, are the disguises under which the subjective component conceals itself.
Wolfgang Welsch speaks of “making transitions between…diverse identity constructions…they exhibit overlaps, links and interdependencies – but equally, of course, frictions…recursive changes in style are possible.” Subjectivity can not be avoided. Arne Kjellman points out that “all there is in human consciousness, is…a private universe or priverse. But Zen Master Dogen remarks: “To learn the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.”
There is a tendency in human thought to believe that if
there is need for a something, it must exist. This is the fallacy of argument
from need. “The solution to a pseudo-problem is an absolute error”,
writes Jose Ortega y Gasset. Such is the myth of ‘information’.
See Stefan Arteni and Myriam S. P. de Arteni, “Peinture, Restauration
et Societe”, in Preprints of the 8th Triennial Meeting of the I.C.O.M.
Committee for Conservation, Sydney, Australia, 6-11 September 1987, ed.
K. Grimstad (Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute, 1987) 525:
top | Biography