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Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire

School of Creative Arts

THE COLLAGE AESTHETIC _

Non-Linear Narratives and Personal Myth Making

by

Helen Horgan

Submitted to Department of Art and Design in candidacy for the Bachelor

of Arts Honours Degree in Visual Arts Practice, 2009

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DECLARATION OF ORIGINALITY:

This dissertation is submitted by the undersigned to the Institute of Art


Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire in partial fulfilment of the
examination for the BA (Hons) in Visual Arts Practice. It is entirely the
author’s own work except where noted and has not been submitted for an
award from this or any other educational institution.

Signed ____________________________________

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

I would like to thank Anna Colford and Sinead Hogan for all their support
and advice in writing this thesis. Also my family for the encouragement
they have given me in pursuit of my interest.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS:

1. List of Illustrations 5

2. Introduction 7

3. Chapter One 10

• Defining the Collage Aesthetic as a philosophical concept and


mode of inquiry.

4. Chapter Two 22

• Incorporating The Collage Aesthetic as an artistic process that


reunites conceptual and perceptual divisions.

5. Chapter Three 35

• How The Collage Aesthetic overcomes the male and female divide
in perception and in conventional and unconventional aesthetics of
image making.

6. Conclusion 48

7. Bibliography 50

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LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS:

Figure 1, Lobster Telephone, Salvador Dali, 1936 13


(Plastic, painted plaster and mixed media object: 178 x 330 x 178 mm)
http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?workid=2988, 24/08/09 20:40

Figure 2, Baleful Head, Edward Burne-Jones, 1885 -1887 17


(Oil on canvas, 150cm x 130cm)
http://www.staatsgalerie.de 24/08/09 20:42

Figure 3, Irregardless, Anita Di Bianco, 2002 20


(Chalk on blackboard, Dimensions unknown)
http://www.anitadi.net/wr.htm 24/08/09 20:45

Figure 4, Loplop Introduces Loplop, Max Ernst, 1930 23


(Oil and various materials on wood. 100 x 180 cm)
http://en.wikipedia.org wikiFile:Ernst_Loplop_
introduces_Loplop.JPG 24/08/09 20:50 5

Figure 5, Field Guides, Fred Tomaselli, 2003 25


(Photocollage, gouache, acrylic and resin on wood panel, 152cm x 213cm)
Fiona Bradley, Fred Tomaselli - Monsters of Paradise.
(The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 2004) pg 62

Figure 6, Detail from Monsters of Paradise Times Two, Fred Tomaselli, 2002 26
(Leaves, pills, photocollage, acrylic and resin on wood panel, 244cm x 183cm)
Fiona Bradley, Fred Tomaselli - Monsters of Paradise.
(The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 2004) pg 41

Figure 7, Men Shall Know Nothing of This, Max Ernst, 1923 27


(Mixed media, oil on canvas, 80.5cm x 64cm)
M.E Warlick, Max Ernst and Alchemy_ A Magician in Search of Myth
(University of Texas Press, Austin, 2001) pg 73

Figure 8, Probleme der Mystik und ihrer Symbolik, Herbert Silberer, 1914 28
M.E Warlick, Max Ernst and Alchemy_ A Magician in Search of Myth
(University of Texas Press, Austin, 2001) pg 46

Figure 9, Sediment Gift of Nature Out of Gneiss Lava..., Max Ernst, 1920 29
(Chromolithograph overpainted with gouache and pencil, 15.2 cm x 20.6cm)
Benjamin Meyer-Krahmer, Max Ernst Dream and Revolution
(Hatje Cantz, Germany, 2008), pg 221

Figure 10, The Same in a Finely Polished Little Box Slightly More Expensive, 29
Max Ernst, 1920 (Gouache and Pencil on Paper, overpainting of a print, 25.3 cm x
24.4cm) Benjamin Meyer-Krahmer, Max Ernst Dream and Revolution (Exhibition
Catalogue). (Hatje Cantz, Germany, 2008), pg 48

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Figure 11, The Great Orthochromatic Wheel Makes Love to Measure..., 30
Max Ernst, 1919 - 1920 (pencil rubbings from printing blocks and clichés
with pen and ink, watercolour, and gouache on paper, 35.3cm x 22.5cm)
Benjamin Meyer-Krahmer, Max Ernst Dream and Revolution
(Hatje Cantz, Germany, 2008), pg 220

Figure 12, The Enigma of Arrival And The Afternoon, 31


Giorgio De Chirico, 1911 - 1912, (Oil on Canvas, 70cm x 86.5cm)
Magdalena Holzhey, Giorgio De Chirico _ The Modern Myth.
(Taschen Koln, 2005), pg 18

Figure 13, Anxious Journey, Giorgio De Chirico, 1913 32


(Oil on Canvas, 74.3cm x 106.7cm)
Magdalena Holzhey, Giorgio De Chirico _ The Modern Myth.
(Taschen Koln, 2005), pg 25

Figure 14, The Great Tower, Giorgio De Chirico, 1913 34


(Oil on Canvas, 123.5cm x 52.5cm)
Magdalena Holzhey, Giorgio De Chirico _ The Modern Myth.
(Taschen Koln, 2005), pg 30

Figure 15, The Mirror of Venus, Edward Burne-Jones, 1877 38


(Oil on Canvas, 120cm x 200 cms)
http://victorianweb.org/painting/bj/paintings/7.html 25/08/09 22:02

Figure 16, Mermaid with her Offspring, Edward Burne-Jones, 1877 40


(Oil on Canvas, 29 x 25 cms) http://www.fineartprintsondemand.com/
artists/burne-jones/mermaid_with_her_offspring.htm, 25/08/09 22:07

Figure 17, The Depths of the Sea, Edward Burne -Jones, 1887 41
(Watercolor and Gouache, Original size unknown)
http://www.artunframed.com/images/b-c-artist/burne413.jpg, 25/08/09 22:09

Figure 18, The Hermetic Androgyne frontispiece from E.A.Grillot de Givry 42


M.E Warlick, Max Ernst and Alchemy_ A Magician in Search of Myth
(University of Texas Press, Austin, 2001) pg 148

Figure 19, The Hat Makes The Man, Max Ernst, 1920 43
(Gouache, pencil, oil, and ink on cut-and-pasted printed paper on paper,
35.2 x 45.1 cm) http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=35478
25/08/09 22:12

Figure 20, Portrait of Gala, by Max Ernst, 1925 43


(Oil on Canvas, 81.6 x 65.4 cm)
M.E Warlick, Max Ernst and Alchemy_ A Magician in Search of Myth
(University of Texas Press, Austin, 2001) pg 148

Figure 21, The Robing of the Bride, Max Ernst, 1940 44


(Oil on Canvas, 130 x 96cm)
http://www.artchive.com/artchive/e/ernst/bride.jpg, 25/08/09 22:15

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INTRODUCTION:
________________________________________________________________

The purpose of this thesis is to define the intentions of “the Collage Aesthetic” as a non-
linear, internal and external language, which reflects the visual and verbal processes of
perception that are common to us all. As a mode of art-making and interpreting it attempts to
overcome the shortfalls of verbal language alone, and so I will examine the relationship
between image and text; the structure of language and its effects on our thinking. I will
explore the transient, metaphorical language of Myth as a perceptual thought process,
utilised in artistic production as a tool for connecting the personal to the universal, and
positioning individual identity within a broader culture.

In Modernism and the Collage Aesthetic, Budd Hopkins describes the Collage Aesthetic not
as something confined to any medium but more as “a philosophical attitude” that reflects our
Modernist perception. Contrasting materials, formal strategies and dialogues, the collage
aesthetic represents a sort of non-linear “elliptical narrative”1 that metaphorically recreate(s)
the complex reality in which we actually live. I will argue that apart from the effects of
Modernism, the Collage Aesthetic reflects the core aspects of perception itself as a visual-
verbal, intellectual-perceptual process, a tool by which we construct our own personal
models of the world, with information gathered from many sources across time and place.
Unlike Hopkins’ view of the artist “not as storyteller... but rather filmmaker” 2 I will
investigate the perceptual aspects of both writers and visual artists combined. Stemming
from the intertextual, cut-up methods of William Burroughs, which can be seen as a form of
hermeneutic enquiry, I will consider the effects of language on perception, positing the artist
as myth maker, who utilises the mind/body effects of text and image to occupy a third space,
where the true expanse of the individual subjective experience can be explored.

In Chapter One I look primarily at the concept behind the Collage Aesthetic, introducing
the writers and theorists, and the philosophies that they represent. Beginning with William
Burroughs’ concept of the cut-up as an intertextual language that reflects our perceptual
workings, I then look at Post Structuralist philosophers Deleuze and Guattari and their

1 Budd Hopkins. “Modernism and the Collage Aesthetic” (New England Review. Vol. 18, 1997), pg 6

2 Ibid, pg 8
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concept of the Rhizome as a reflexive model of thought between the individual and their
environment. The importance of reading signs in the cultural landscape is then set out by
Edgar Allan Poe’s tale The Man of the Crowd and later developed by Roland Barthes in
his work on semiology, the language of signs, and his theory of differing structures of
reading and constructing Mythical language, a language he sees as having a logic once
removed from direct observable significance. The oddities of the logic behind language
itself and its relation to identity and identification is explored through a brief look at the
work of Victorian writer Lewis Carroll, while the ordering of language and its relation to
specific cultures and recorded history is then questioned by Post Structuralist philosopher
Michel Foucault. In this chapter we begin to understand the significance of identity as a
process of change, not something that can be fixed by any one grammar or system of
constructed order. The emphasis here begins to be outlined, on realising the ambiguity that
exists between the mind’s application on the senses and the imaginative interpretation of
new or conflicting material, and being responsive to that.

In Chapter Two I begin to apply the issues looked at in Chapter One and their possible
solutions to the artistic process itself. Reintroducing the basic theory of the structure of
language, as one that sets up binary opposites in terms of identification, I look at ways that
the artist himself can inhabit an ambiguous area through a transformative, alchemical use
of the language in art making, utilising the space of play between the mind and the body.
In this way the divided polarities of the individual are continually redefined and reunited
through the discovery of relations of change and of continuous differentiation. This
questions the expectation of the identity being something fixed or predetermined as
opposed to something affected by changing contexts, and I reintroduce here the theories of
Michel Foucault, which represent the mind’s inherent desire for constructing order. This
is part of the narrative process itself and its application in perception. The artists looked at
here are surrealist artists Max Ernst and Giorgio De Chirico, and contemporary collage
artist Fred Tomaselli. All three explore the culture/nature divide and ways of overcoming
it through an emphasis on incorporating ambiguity and flux in the artistic process. Max
Ernst uses the hybrid of man and animal as a symbol of uniting civilised man with his
natural primal instincts. He employs this compound figure in order to construct his own
personal language. Fred Tomaselli posits the hybrid as the collage process of combining
ideologies with pictorial traditions, and questions symbols of cultural myths, playing with

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the junctures between the abstract and the figurative, the specific and the universal, and
with materiality and immateriality, form and concept. He investigates notions of the
archetypal figure, replacing him with a more metaphorical definition that can bear
significance across time and differing contexts. Towards the end of Chapter Two I
reintroduce Roland Barthes’ theories on reading and constructing Myth and ways to
incorporate a balance between the active and constructed, and the passive and reflexive
modes of perception in the process of art making, and in dealing with the correlation of
image and text.

In my final chapter I discuss notions of the male and female aspects of perception and
their relation to conventional and unconventional aesthetics of image making. I begin by
outlining the emergence of matriarchal and patriarchal systems of thought as mirroring our
divided self, the perceptual inner conflict between hidden desires and rationality, and
further investigate their reflection on the world of aesthetics, in order to understand their
effect on the generation of identity in representation. I look at the idea of self and other,
beginning by positing the embodiment of elements of the feminine and masculine
character within conventions of folk symbolism. The work of Victorian painter Edward
Burne Jones is then given as a model within which to explore issues of identity and
representation within the aesthetics of pictorial traditions. As both symbolist and aesthete,
I investigate his dual emphasis on surface and depth as purposely signifying the
ambiguities that exist between the physical and conceptual elements of the picture plane.
Max Ernst uses the figures of Loplop and La Femme 100 Têtes to signify the male and
female aspects of his own personality. Through his work I investigate notions of desire
versus self- or socially imposed control. Ernst sees sexuality as central to the creative
process, the want for physical presence as a desire to embody the mind’s subconscious
motivations in material form. Within Ernst’s aesthetic we observe contrasting use of form;
the organic depictions of nature and its ties to the feminine, versus the angular, geometric
constructions of the masculine form. Finally I discuss how issues of desire and control
impact on the gendering of information and personal significance, looking at the Victorian
fascination with reading social types from the physical form as a need to plan out the
complexities of the immaterial mind versus the decaying limits of the physical body.
Again the need to accept the ambiguities that exist between the two polarities is revealed
as paramount.

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CHAPTER ONE:
Defining the Collage Aesthetic
as a philosophical concept and mode of inquiry.
________________________________________________________________

William Burroughs speaks of our “psycho-sensory” processes in an interview with Conrad


Knickerbocker for Paris Review in 1967.

Somebody is reading a newspaper, and his eye follows the column in the proper
Aristotelian manner, one idea and a sentence at a time. But subliminally he is reading
the columns on either side and is aware of the person sitting next to him. That's a cut-
up... a juxtaposition of what’s happening outside and what you’re thinking of...
traveling in time.3

The cut-up to Burroughs is a true representation of our perceptual experiences, not


usually translated by the conventional written word. Overcoming the accepted divisions,
or gaps, of language, by rearrangement and juxtaposition of text, the cut-up inhabits the
boundless environment of the mind. Burroughs speaks of language as a disease, and
sees its inability to transcribe our mental worlds as having a limiting effect on our
thought patterns; encouraging either-or, binary logic which is constrictive. The world
does not present itself delineated into separate parts but as an experiential whole. He
explores the need for nomadic thought, a continual dialectical relationship between the
mind and its extended environment and sees himself as “a map maker, a cosmonaut of
inner space” who wishes to “explode the rigid determinism of history supported by a
straight narrative line”4 . The geophilosophy of the Rhizome, as developed by the post
structuralist philosopher Gille Deleuze and psychoanalyst and social theorist Felix
Guattari elaborates on this model. The Rhizome is a multidimensional map, whose
objective is not to impose order on the world but to experience its rich complexity.
Using the analogy of the Orchid and the Wasp, Deleuze and Guattari describe the
Rhizome as a dialectical, back and forth interaction, between the mind and its
environment, between a society and its underlying structures. The orchid does not

3William Burroughs. “Interview with Conrad Knickerbocker” in John Calder (Ed.) A William Burroughs
Reader. (Picador, London. 1982) pg 265

4Mario Vrbancic, in “Burroughs's Phantasmic Maps” in New Literary History. (The Johns Hopkins
University Press, Maryland, USA. Volume 36, Number 2, 2005) pg 315
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simply take on the tracing of the wasp, it forms a map with the wasp. It “constantly
captures and inflects from outside itself”5.

The process of observing both the inner and outer environment, of seeing and reading,
is discussed by literary theorist Kevin J. Hayes in Visual Culture and The Word in Edgar
Allan Poe’s “The Man of the Crowd” 6 . In Edgar Allan Poe’s tale the narrator relates the
experience of reading a newspaper in a coffee shop while being distracted by the
activity on the street outside. Similar in concept to Burrough’s character, Hayes intuits
that “before long the newspaper yields completely to the street, yet not before the act of
observing has become analogous to reading written text”. Hayes suggests The Man of
the Crowd “indicates the importance of observing the urban landscape and reading its
signs”. This was a growing fascination over the course of the Nineteenth Century, a
period of accelerated change and discovery which resulted in the Victorians’ heightened
self awareness, and their desire to have the underlying psychological and social
implications of their environment revealed before their eyes like a book; “a matter of
interpreting a set of personal and cultural signs akin to language _ signs such as
clothing, facial expression, gesture, demeanour, and voice. This proverbial comparison
establishes a hierarchy of cognitive and perceptual tasks”. The desire for and belief in a
standardised system of representation and interpretation confines our thinking much in
the same way that conventional verbal language does. 7

Victorian author and mathematician Lewis Carroll held an obsessive interest in the
oddities of the word, both its limits and its potentials. Michael Irwin, Professor of
English Literature at the University of Kent, points out his use of self-interrogation, and
the misreading between characters, as an exercise in exploring the limits of language to
both express individual thought and communicate this thought amongst us. Playing with
syntactical structures and cross-referencing by the use of puns and combinatory words

5Mario Vrbancic, in “Burroughs's Phantasmic Maps” in New Literary History. (The Johns Hopkins
University Press, Maryland, USA. Volume 36, Number 2, 2005) pg 313

6 Edgar Allan Poe, Tales Of Mystery and Imagination. (Everyman, London. 1993)

7Kevin, J Hayes, Visual Culture and the Word in Edgar Allan Poeʼs “The Man of the Crowd” in Nineteenth-
Century Literature. (Vol 56, No.4, The Regents of the University of California, Berkeley, 2002) pg 445 _ 450
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he “multipl(ies) the surrealist possibilities”8 of the text. His verbal and imaginative play
with words is often used solely for its aesthetic effect. Contrastingly, his use of mythical
narrative adds a particular emotive drive that encourages inner reflection. His stories
often involve preemptive, protagonistic characters who “move in the shadow of
predestination”9, critiquing our inherent expectation of narrative conclusions. The
Queen of Hearts will have her tarts stolen, Humpty Dumpty is doomed to fall. Irwin
suggests that Through the Looking-Glass is an enticement to look back onto mirrored
reality for answers, not the world of representation by reflection. In this way we see
Carroll as a great philosopher. Alice is told at one point that “She is only a sort of thing
in his dream!”10 , but whose dream is it? This provokes the philosophical dilemma of
spiritual existence. Did God create us or did we create our perception of an all-seeing
God? These grand questions outline models of thought and of our fundamental
perceptions of the workings of the world, as addressed through the language of Myth.
Irwin also suggests that Carroll’s deep internal and external reflections pre-empt one of
the greatest debates of Modernist criticism: is the author the teller of his own tale or
merely a “conduit for outside influences”11?

We use language as a tool in search for meaning. As languaged beings we cannot think
without it, but the structure of language affects our most basic thought processes, and
through our native tongue we inherit cultural views. By recording our histories we have
fixed these particular views in time. Burroughs, Deleuze and Guattari all had a contempt
for the “mother tongue”12 and wished to evade historical ideologies by endlessly
traversing multiple perspectives. The dilemma of historical documentation and the
development of discourse is often discussed as our troubled Modernist legacy. It has
origins in Victorian thinking, which I will explore further in Chapter Three. Here I will
continue to investigate the peculiar structures and effects of language itself.

8Michael Irwin, in Lewis Carroll, Aliceʼs Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass.
(Wordsworth Classics, Hertfordshire, England, 2001) pg 15

9Kevin, J Hayes, Visual Culture and the Word in Edgar Allan Poeʼs “The Man of the Crowd” in Nineteenth-
Century Literature. (Vol 56, No.4, The Regents of the University of California, Berkeley, 2002) pg 15

10 Ibid pg 17

11 Michael
Irwin, in Lewis Carroll, Aliceʼs Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass.
(Wordsworth Classics, Hertfordshire, England, 2001) pg 18

12Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus _ Capitalism and Schizophrenia (The Athlone Press Ltd,
London, 2004) pg 8
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Figure 1, Lobster Telephone, Salvador Dali, 1936

French philosopher and sociologist Michel Foucault believed that we live in an era of
“time” not “place” and that through derivative usage of language we have created a sort
of mythical “non-place”13. It is this non-place that horrifies and enchants him in The
Order of Things _ An Archaelogy of the Human Sciences. Originally inspired by a
passage by Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges, which Foucault says “shattered the
familiar landscape of my thought _ our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our
age and our geography”14. The Order of Things attempts an understanding of the exotic
attraction of another culture’s thought structure. The passage from Borges quotes a
Chinese encyclopaedia, where animals have been set down on the page by alphabetical
listing, beside each other, categorised by peculiar taxonomies that bear no relation to
Western conceptual understanding. “Where could they ever meet, except in the
immaterial sound of the voice, or on the page transcribing it?”15 This use of alphabetical
listing to combine irrational groupings removes all logical context, and constructs a
place that cannot be inhabited by Western imagination. By what “grounds” have they
been identified? What “table”? Like the famous operating table of the surrealist writer

13Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (translated from the Les Mots et les choses “Words & Things”) -
An Archaelogy of the Human Sciences. (Routledge, London, 2001) pg XV

14 Ibid

15Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (translated from the Les Mots et les choses “Words & Things”) -
An Archaelogy of the Human Sciences. (Routledge, London, 2001) pg XVI
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Raymond Roussel, where umbrella can encounter the sewing machine, they have been
removed from their natural environment by the peculiar juxtapositions of this absurdist,
subversive use of language. This is a method often employed by the surrealist artists
such as Salvador Dali (Figure 1), to undo rational language logic and access
subconscious motivations and desires. For Foucault this intellectually constructed order
has removed not only the external operating table but the tabula, the inner space where
the mind’s operations can take place. Foucault wished to unearth the underlying order
he believed resided at each place and time across history; the Classical, Pre-
Rennaisance order, prior to the influence of the new Humanisms, such as History and
Discourse. This order, as “pure experience”, would appear when we combined our
intellectual and perceptual processes in the “middle region” “between the encoded eye
and reflexive knowledge”.16

Linguistics, the science of the verbal and written word, is only a part of the general
science of Semiology, the language of signs. For French Semiologist Roland Barthes
meanings can be found in all aspects of contemporary life, and are revealed in our use
of Myth. In Mythologies Barthes sees Myth as a particular type of speech, not defined
by the contents of what it refers to, but the logic behind its use. As a form of discourse,
Barthes sees Mythical language as a vehicle for cultural ideologies, transported through
all social interactions and media representations. In the “First-Order logic” linguistic
structure, a word or object (the signifier, the pointing finger) is attached to a concept
(what is signified) resulting in a sort of conscious symbol, or sign. According to Barthes
this chain of relations is then taken as the raw material to construct the language of
Myth. This “Second-Order Logic” presumes an original meaning is agreed, and builds it
into its structure as a belief. By the use of the familiar forms of language, historical
perspectives and social conventions are naturalised into a given culture, and so what is
“significant” about something is “taken as read”. By deconstructing the Mythic
structure the Mythologist can free these meanings from their “bourgeois norm” 17. In his
essay The World of Wrestling Barthes posits different types for each form of wrestling
that reflect a particular culture’s moral mechanisms. Like Borges’ alphabet, Judo’s

16Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (translated from the Les Mots et les choses “Words & Things”) _
An Archaelogy of the Human Sciences. (Routledge, London, 2001) pg XXI

17 Roland Barhes, Mythologies. (The Noonday Press, New York, 1993) pg 109 - 159
14
“hidden symbolic aspect”, with its measured gestures “drawn accurately but by a stroke
without volume”, is in contrast to the “stage managed spectacle”18 of traditional
wrestling, which carries an exaggerated form akin to ancient theatre, and narrates the
tragicomic tale of the hero. For Barthes, like the Victorian critic, the bourgeois reader of
Myth is happy to familiarise himself with the codes. It is unclear whether he is
suggesting that the individual in society is a blind consumer of such constructed beliefs,
or whether he has his own influence. The very process of setting up a system for the
deconstruction of Myth appears unrealistic, as Barthes is aware of his own arbitrary
selections regarding his choice of subjects for discussion. He sees Myth as something
“at once true and unreal”, surely the conditions of all subjective experience, and so
perhaps Barthes simply wants to make us aware of Myth’s presence. His “claim” is “to
live to the full the contradictions of my time, which may well make sarcasm the
condition of truth”19.

Since we are languaged beings it is by the use of language that we think about the
world. Because of this we have an inherent desire to find meaning. Everything must be
for something, must have “transitive value”20, as an element in a chain of events or
relations. But we are also bodied creatures. We read with our senses as much as with our
intellects. William Burroughs reflects on the verb “to be” in The Job:

You are an animal. You are a body. Now whatever you may be you are not an
‘animal,’ you are not a ‘body,’ because these are verbal labels. The is of identity
always carries the implication of that and nothing else, and it also carries the
assignment of permanent condition…21

18 Roland Barhes, Mythologies. (The Noonday Press, New York, 1993), pg 16

19 Ibid, pg 12

20Sven Birkerts, “The Drowning Signal _ Self in The Information Age”, in Irish Pages _ A Journal of
Contemporary Writing. (The Linen Hall Library, Belfast, Volume 4, No 1 “The Media”, Spring 2008)
www.irishpages.org, pg 12

21Daniel Odier, The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs (New York, Grove Press, 1969) pg 200 -
201
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Reality is not so fixed. In The Logic of Sense 22, Gilles Deleuze uses the analogy of
Alice's character in Alice in Wonderland 23 becoming bigger in one instance, and
smaller in another to elaborate on this. She is not bigger and smaller at the same time.
She is constantly becoming one thing or another. Our experience of the world and
ourselves is wrapped up in a process of change. Roland Barthes sees cultural myth as a
“memorial” to some meaning in the past, but it is difficult to see how this could work
exactly. A “meaning” after all is something “being thought”24, and the world is
something being experienced.

Roland Barthes sees Myth as cultural ideology. Educational theorist Kieran Egan,
suggests Mythical Understanding 25 is a natural part of children's language
development, which utilises metaphor as the base link between language and its
discursive thought processes, and is compounded with our somatic (sensory) thinking in
adulthood. For the philosopher Dr Edmond Wright the rich and immediate aesthetic
effect of Myth is a result of its ambiguous nature which attaches to both our intellect
and our sensory emotions. “The greater the ambiguity the stronger the emotional
draw.”26 During times of intense change, the leap from familiar expectations to the
shock of reality has a profound effect on the intensity of our awareness.

Starting in the late 1830s, what we perceive today as our expansive visible world
revealed itself to the Victorians over a matter of decades. The elevated view of balloon
travel, the probing eye of the microscope, the speed of the modern railway where “time
itself” was “consciously beside us and perceived”27 , disclosed once hidden private
worlds for public view, and alerted the Victorians’ self-conscious perceptions. In The
Victorians and the Visual Imagination, Kate Flint discusses the Victorians’ accelerating
drive to disclose hidden worlds, and accumulate knowledge, and the questioning of

22 Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense. (Continuum, London, 2004)

23Lewis Carroll, Aliceʼs Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass, (Wordsworth Classics,
Hertfordshire, England, 2001)

24 Edmond Wright, Narrative, Perception, Language & Faith. (Palgrave MacMillan, London, 2005)

25 Kieran Egan, The Educated Mind. (The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London, 1997)

26 Wright, Edmond Wright, Narrative, Perception, Language & Faith. (Palgrave MacMillan, London, 2005)

27Dante Gabriel Rosetti “A Trip To Paris and Belgium”, in Kate Flint, The Victorians and The Visual
Imagination. (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000) pg 10
16
Figure 2, Baleful Head, Edward Burne-Jones, 1884

rationality that followed. The growth in art criticism, literary fiction and historical
documentation attempted to delimit their newly subjective worlds. “For many mid-
Victorian spectators their favourite paintings were the ones who told stories. Art had the
function of confirming the narratives which they used to make sense of their lives.”28
The “power of the visible sign” was for them a necessary translation “of the material
world into language”29. However this structured gaze ultimately desired the sort of

28Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination. (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000)
pg 197

29 Ibid, pg 66
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obviousness of interpretation that Roland Barthes later disputed, leading to an inner
blindness that overlooked the true vagaries of individuality. Andrea Rose discusses her
view of the Victorian Pre-Raphaelite painters; that they longed for a return to a “unity of
feeling”30 in their work that would restore inner value to their lives. Victorian critic John
Ruskin was a great follower of the Pre-Raphaelites and argued for “particularity, for
individuality as opposed to broad allusions, for local truths rather than general
perceptions”31 . Latecomers to the Pre-Raphaelite movement, the artist and writers
William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones employed vivid medieval imagery and
mythical narratives (Figure 2), to release historical fiction from the grasp of “the false
and modern systems of thoughts”32 , and the world of representation, in an attempt to
access the mythical “divine realm, which is richer, stronger and more enduring than our
own”33. I will look further at the Pre-Raphaelites’ treatment of the subject in the context
of private and public narratives in flux in Chapter Three.

“Mythology is the discourse we need in extremity.”34 It returns through the path of


history often at times of profound anxiety and change, to help the search for meanings
that logic cannot find. In The Drowning Signal: Self in the Information Age, Sven
Birkerts, one of America’s leading prose writers, addresses the idea of “pervasive
change, and the common perception of such change” 35 in today's information world.
He describes the events of September 11th using the analogy of gaseous substances,
“undetected except by way of the effects they produce”36 . “Terrifying in a primal way”,
this revealed to him “in a way that no history or rational scientific discovery could, that
we are trapped inside a huge system”37 , governed by external, invisible forces. Living in
the global network of our new digital Information Culture, he feels, has shattered our

30 John Ruskin in Andrea Rose, The Pre-Raphaelites. (Phaidon Press Ltd., London, 1981) pg 8

31Andrea Rose, The Pre-Raphaelites. (Phaidon Press Ltd., London, 1981) pg 15

32 Ibid, pg 20

33Mircea Eliade, “Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, The Encounter Between Contemporary Faiths and
Archaic Realities” in Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth. (Canongate, Edinburgh, 2005) pg 5

34 Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth. (Canongate, Edinburgh, 2005)

35Sven Birkerts, The Drowning Signal _ Self in the Information Age, in Irish Pages _ A Journal of
Contemporary Writing. (The Linen Hall Library, Belfast, Volume 4, No 1 “The Media”, Spring 2008) pg 8

36 Ibid, pg 8

37 Ibid, pg 8
18
assumption of the local, of the “sovereignty of place”. The sense of human presence is
diminished _ replaced by “a boundless environment of invisible signals”. In this
mediated space there is a growing impossibility of “inhabiting a bounded ‘I’”38 . We
have lost our connection to the source of things; all our knowledge and individual
endeavour seems to come from some god-like terminal, fundamentally questioning our
rationality. The self’s aim is to find equilibrium in this overload of signals; if we can’t
curb our intake we must learn to be selective. Birkerts’ solution is that we must focus
our attention, and tells us that

imagination is the instrument of concentration... Art, via imagination, is the


necessary complement to information... imagination creates shape, information
imposes shape. The former is the energy of the self, the latter of the world. The
health of the dynamic has everything to do with the vitality of the self in the
world.39

In closing I would like to briefly mention a recent exhibition I attended in the Irish
Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, by American artist Anita Di Bianco (Figure 3).
Working mainly in film, Di Bianco’s work reworks existing text from writers such as
Gertrude Stein, Jean Genet, and Marguerite Yourcenar, and according to museum
documentation we should find her work to be “Alternately parading, fixating on, and
glossing over the crude markers of... self-conscious reconstruction” 40; elsewhere it
“diagrams relations between scholarly knowledge and imagination, and insists on the
formidable presence of reconstructed characters in the realm of the historical”41 . Over
the course of the last few years, in compiling this research, I have noticed a growing
popularity in work involving historical fiction and the reappropriation of texts, which I
imagine reflects some certain need or lack in today's society to re-establish meaning.
While Di Bianco’s aims are exemplary the work itself appears to act against its own

38Sven Birkerts, The Drowning Signal _ Self in the Information Age, in Irish Pages _ A Journal of
Contemporary Writing. (The Linen Hall Library, Belfast, Volume 4, No 1 “The Media”, Spring 2008), pg 16

39Sven Birkerts, The Drowning Signal - Self in The Information Age, in Irish Pages - A Journal of
Contemporary Writing. (The Linen Hall Library, Belfast, Volume 4, No 1 “The Media”, Spring 2008)
www.irishpages.org, pg 21

40 http://www.imma.ie/en/page_170682.htm

41 http://www.imma.ie/en/page_170682.htm
19
Figure 3, Irregardless, Anita Di Bianco, 2008

concerns, in a paradoxical relationship that I imagine to be the opposite of her goals. To


return to Roland Barthes, he suggests there are three ways of reading Myth: the first
being the work of the Journalist, the producer of Myths, who focuses on the object and
allows the concept to consume its form. The second is the Mythologist who deconstructs
the logic of the Myth and reveals it as a lie. The third type is the Reader of Myth, aware
of its presence, he responds to the “mechanism” of its dynamic. 42

42 Roland Barthes, Mythologies. (The Noonday Press, New York, 1993)


20
In my experience of Di Bianco’s work I found it to employ the first method. Its self-
conscious attack of the Mythic structure left the work, for me, without feeling. If her
intention was to create a work that addresses the coldness of today's eternal self-
reference, and the futility of artistic endeavour, then I don’t see how it approached
resolution. If anything it may appear to perpetuate the problem. For Barthes his solution
is to occupy the third space, the space of the Reader of Myths, not as a political spoke in
a wheel, nor by reductio ad absurdism, but as a hapless individual, who both bravely
and naively lives the full ironies of the Myths’ endless attraction.

21
CHAPTER TWO:
Incorporating the Collage Aesthetic as an artistic process
that reunites perceptual and conceptual divisions.
________________________________________________________________

In this chapter I will continue the investigation of the language of Myth as a visual/verbal,
intellectual and somatic process of understanding, and defining our own personal worlds. My
aim is to approach a habitable position where the individually subjective and the universal
experience can exist in a space of continual discussion, and in this chapter will look at how this
is approached through the process of art-making, emphasising the process (as transformative)
over the object, or objective goal (as something fixed). I will further explore the different
aspects of this thesis introduced in Chapter One, which include: ways of overcoming the
division set-up by the structure of language between the individual perceptual being and his
environment, the effects of recorded history and embedded cultural ideologies, the oddities of
the logic of language itself as a form of play that approaches more philosophical concerns of
our inherent desire to find meaning, and ways in which the individual can inhabit a boundless
and reflexive territory of personal individuation.

In an exploration of the basic principle of structural linguistics, that a signifier only acquires
an identity through differential referencing (for Roland Barthes the signifier to signified
relationship = the sign), in 1884 the German linguist Karl Abel determined that in ancient
languages there not only existed a large number of words that originally held two meanings
(that is the meaning of the word and its opposite) but also an abundance of compound words
in which two words of opposite meaning had been combined in a way that took on the
meaning of only one of the two parts. The conclusion from this discovery is that “concepts
arise through comparison and that every concept is thereby the twin of its opposite”43 . We
can understand the concept of strength only in contrast to the concept of weakness and so the
word that signifies strong also carries with it a simultaneous memory of the concept weak. In
reality this word does not signify either condition in isolation, but the relation that brought
the concept into being. In the development of modern languages this concept has been
overridden in some forms by differentiation and the splitting of words into two, resulting in
aspects of conceptual ambiguity.

43 August Ruhs, In The (Un)depths of Cognition or The Last is Also the First, www.biennale-
schabus.at/images/downloads/biennale_ruhs_engl.pdf , (06/08/2008 17:59)
22
In the previous chapter I explored the structural linguist Michel Foucault’s distrust of
modern derivations and taxonomical structurings, and his favouring for a return to the
classical, or even pre-historical site of original meaning. In the realm of the individual, the
concept of identity as something innate, or buried, hermetically sealed even, as opposed to
a process of differentiation in the world is something explored by psychoanalysts such as
Sigmund Freud. He uses archaeological metaphors of digging for buried truths to reveal
the original site of trauma and therefore differentiation, be that of birth, of traumatic
experience or pivotal change, or of our primordial eruption as beings in the world. For the
artist the search for meaning can be one that continually probes and attempts to redefine
the spaces between recorded history, group experiential reality and individual subjectivity,
and the role that memory and perception plays in all three.

Figure 4, Loplop Introduces Loplop, Max Ernst, 1930

The surrealist artist Max Ernst, who held an interest in philology (the philosophy of the
word), saw his artistic quest as an ongoing search for primal matter, the base chaotic
material of the alchemist. Alchemy for Ernst was a metaphor of the creative process as a
method of self-revelation and a charting of his own polarised personality. In his essay
Beyond Painting he elaborates on the role of the collage process and its relation to the
alchemical process of fusing disparate, divided elements into a united whole. In a
section titled “‘Instantaneous Identity’ 44 he balanced his childhood traumas with the

44 Max Ernst, Beyond Painting. (Wittenborn, Schultz, Inc, New York, 1948) pg 18
23
magical incubations of his homeland”45. He begins here to introduce hermetic symbols
such as his alter ego Lop Lop (Figure 4) and his female counterpart La Femme 100
Têtes. Fusing human figures and birds in the style of Freudian symbolism, he questions
the primal and civilised aspects of the human psyche (or so-called natural and cultural)
while also positing emblems of personal traumatic encounters. As M.E. Warlick puts it,

Ernst often created hybrids by combining human figures with birds, animals,
masks, or machine parts. Sexuality and metamorphosis were pervading themes.
His combinations of human figures with birds were his first manifestations of
the ‘dangerous confusion between birds and humans’46 that he experienced as a
child47 .

Already in Ernst’s early works it becomes difficult to distinguish the separate


component elements from the strong structural integrity of the overall image.
“Ernst created perspectival spaces around these newly formed creatures to
preserve the clarity of figure-ground relationships”48 stressing the unity in the
resulting image. In this way the structure evolves to reflect and support the
continually redefined subject/object relationship.

Working both figuratively and abstractly, contemporary artist Fred Tomaselli occupies a
unique space between collage and traditional painterly techniques. Something of an
“Unnatural Historian”49 he sees his work as an ongoing “quest for a pathology, of
seeking the right symbols to convey the distortions and disfunctions inherent in the so-
called natural world of contemporary life”50. Trawling through an immense body of
data, both real and imagined, he creates a meticulous formal language with which to
depict the hybrid.

45M.E. Warlick, Max Ernst And Alchemy _ A Magician in Search of Myth. (University of Texas Press, Austin,
2001) pg 9

46 In 1906, on the night of January 5th, Ernst suffered the loss of a pet cockatoo. The following morning, on
discovery of the corpse his father came into the room and announced that his sister Loni had been born.
The trauma of these simultaneous occurances resulted in the confusion between birds and humans
becoming permanently encrusted in his mind.

47M.E. Warlick, Max Ernst And Alchemy _ A Magician in Search of Myth. (University of Texas Press, Austin,
2001) pg 105

48 M.E.Warlick, Max Ernst And Alchemy - A Magician in Search of Myth. (University of Texas Press, Austin,
2001) pg 105, pg 106

49 Fiona Bradley, Fred Tomaselli - Monsters of Paradise. (The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 2004) pg 9

50 Ibid, pg 9
24
Figure 5, Field Guides, Fred Tomaselli, 2003

When I talk about my work as hybrid, it’s another way of talking about a collage
aesthetic, but it’s also not necessarily collage in the purest sense of the word... not
just in terms of materiality but in terms of the ideologies and pictorial traditions
that are coming together... to talk about the modern predicament of perception 51.

Tomaselli understands that he is a “mediated person for whom there are so many
artificial versions of the real”52 . His figures are archetypes, omni-positional stand-ins for
the viewer, whom he sees not as observers but as part of the landscape. Our attempts to
conceptualise our experience of nature seems to lead us further away from our origins.
Tomaselli wishes to bring the experience of its sublime mysteries, both beautiful and
unsettling, into the room. In Field Guides (Figure 5) we see a man raking the field,
harvesting, toiling. Is this character shaman or madman, or possibly the artist himself as
visionary, on a quest to transcend his own materiality and become part of the
environment? In Monsters of Paradise (Figure 6) he constructs an imaginary insect
which “seems both extremely remote and ultimately human”53 . Its leg-like appendages

51Fred Tomaselli, in conversation with Raymond Foye and Philip Taafe, in The Heavenly Tree Grows
Downward. (James Cohan Gallery, New York, 2002) pg 65

52 Ibid, pg 59

53 Fiona Bradley, Fred Tomaselli _ Monsters of Paradise. (The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 2004), pg 20
25
are built up from human parts and the entire creature is connected to a diagram of two
figures who might be Adam and Eve. Is it suggestive of the result of unavoidable
genetic changes, of man becoming one with nature, or is “this oneness the new Eden we
are about to enter”54?

Figure 6, Detail from Monsters of Paradise Times Two, Fred Tomaselli, 2002

Tomaselli’s body of work explores this space between the material and immaterial, our
embodied and disembodied experience of the world. He feels

the dislocation of the reality is in fact the basic condition of modern man in this
technological, globalised world. It is actually the story of our perceptions right
now. One is entirely unsure of what the authentic is at this particular point 55.

This dislocation is what Foucault speaks of when he says we live in a non-place of time
and not place. Reality is temporal, perpetually slipping from our grasp. Ideological
thinking is rigid and false, unable to satisfy the complexity of our true perceptions. Can
the artist access and represent the experience of this non-place with any authenticity?

54 Fiona Bradley, Fred Tomaselli _ Monsters of Paradise. (The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 2004), pg 20

55 Ibid, pg 65
26
Figure 7,
Men Shall Know Nothing of
This, Max Ernst, 1923

We return here to the three


structures of Mythical
language as set out by
Roland Barthes in Chapter
One. The first approach, that
of the Journalist, the writer
of Myths, is to make the
claim that if nothing in the
world can be fixed in place
as objective reality, then
reality itself must merely be
a construct that exists in the
mind as nothing but an
interpreted system of signs.
Early esoteric works by Max
Ernst seem to present the artist as grappling with surface reality as mere concept. In
response to the perceived blindness of modern materialistic desires, it is the artist’s role as
divine seer to access the depths of his own mind and bring forth singular truths: truths that
can only be interpreted in a closed hermetic, personally defined, mode. Following on late
Nineteenth Century theories of perception in the early 1900s, Ernst and the surrealists
explored the relationship between alchemy and psychology as a journey of personal
discovery and psychological maturity. However, “The work of the alchemist was one of
contemplation not a work of the hands”56 . Viennese psychoanalysist Herbert Silberer
explored the relationship between alchemy and psychology while the influential alchemist
Fulcanelli, who transcribed a decoding of of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 1926 in
his work Le Mystére des Cathédrales, interpreted hermetic symbolism through linguistic
associations, exposing the interests of the day to reduce the environment to a system of
signs. One of the most emblematic of Ernst’s work at the time, Men Shall Know Nothing
of This (Figure 7) is imprinted on the back by the artist with a list of its alchemical

56M.E. Warlick, Max Ernst And Alchemy - A Magician in Search of Myth. (University of Texas Press, Austin,
2001), pg 28
27
symbols including “the sun, the moon, and a sexually united couple formed by fused
floating legs in the centre of the canvas”57 . As a diagrammatic landscape it can be
compared to Silberer’s work Probleme der Mystik und ihrer Symbolik (Figure 8) where
the alchemical work is summarised by symbols within a landscape setting. The embodied/
sensual form of the artwork has been emptied out and replaced with conceptual references
to a personally constructed, purely self-reflexive language.

Just like in Borges’ Chinese alphabet, the surrealists were fond of playing with exotic
and derivative uses of language. As deconstructor of Myth this could either take the
form of a political deconstruction, an attack on the subverted power of language as
propaganda or capitalist marketing tool, or an attack on the rational, languaged mind
itself, to force it to relinquish its power over repressed unconscious desires in an attempt
to unearth the authentic human psyche. Ernst saw “the unaccustomed plane” of
language as “the bed or alembic vessel, or
base illustration”58 , the container for all his
chaotic source material. His language was
one gathered from many: music, geometry,
archaeology, encyclopedias of the human
sciences, and catalogues from popular
culture. Ernst described the collage process as

an alchemical composition of two or


several heterogeneous elements
resulting in their unexpected union, due
to a will tending _ by love of
clairvoyance _ toward the systematic
confusion and derangement of the
senses (Rimbaud), either by chance,
or a will favoring chance59.

Figure 8, Probleme der Mystik und ihrer


Symbolik, Herbert Silberer, 1914

57M.E. Warlick, Max Ernst And Alchemy - A Magician in Search of Myth. (University of Texas Press,
Austin, 2001), pg 72

58M.E. Warlick, Max Ernst And Alchemy - A Magician in Search of Myth. (University of Texas Press,
Austin, 2001) pg 134

59 Ibid, pg 134
28
Figure 9, Sediment Gift of Nature Out of Gneiss Lava Icelandic Moss..., Max Ernst, 1920

In his text-image pieces such as


Sediment Gift of Nature out of
Gneiss Lava Icelandic Moss...
(Figure 9) or The Same in a Finely
Polished Little Box Slightly More
Expensive (Figure 10), the parodied
use of technical terms from different
fields is a humorous move to
stimulate the viewer to “discover the
sediment, the named landscapes”60.
The foregrounding of the narrative or
annotated content in the image
Figure 10, The Same in a Finely Polished Little Box
produces an irritation “based on a Slightly More Expensive or Icelandscapes, Icicles, and

qualitative displacement of the the Types of Stone of The Female Body, Max Ernst, 1920

60Benjamin Meyer-Krahmer, Max Ernst Dream and Revolution (Exhibition Catalogue). (Hatje Cantz,
Germany, 2008) pg 220
29
Figure 11, The Great Orthochromatic Wheel Makes Love to Measure, Max Ernst, 1919 - 1920

relationship between representation and reception”61. A distancing occurs for the viewer akin
to Brechtian alienation that reminds us of the impossibility of embodying any position.
Ernst’s “text-oriented image production” is more clearly observed in works such as The
Great Orthochromatic Wheel that Makes Love to Measure (Figure 11), where the machine-
like workings of language itself overpower the linguistic content of the elements. Saturated
with form, the mystery of its possible interpretations is reduced to an enigma.

61 BenjaminMeyer-Krahmer, Max Ernst Dream and Revolution (Exhibition Catalogue). (Hatje Cantz,
Germany, 2008), pg 221
30
Figure 12, The Enigma of Arrival And The Afternoon, Giorgio De Chirico, 1911 - 1912

Surrealist Giorgio De Chirico saw this enigma as an expression of the loss of meaning and
sense of alienation experienced by modern man. He found himself captivated by its sublime
unnattainability. His images portray architectural sites as ambiguous, airless spaces, full of
long shadows and conflicting unrealisable perspectives. In his lifelong quest for immortality
he states, “To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and
common sense will only interfere... one must paint all the phenomena of the world as an
enigma”62.

Whereas in works such as The Enigma of the Arrival and the Afternoon (Figure 12), the wall
separates the realm of the visible and invisible, mysterious works such as Anxious Journey
(Figure 13) are
themselves no less than labyrinths, within which perspective systems are multiplied
and the laws of nature contradict each other. These are pictures whose spaces
cannot possibly exist in the way they appear to and where different planes and
times coexist in apparent harmony... conventional means of orientation are
employed in contradictory fashion63.

62Giorgio De Chirico in Magdalena Holzhey, Giorgio De Chirico - The Modern Myth, (Taschen Koln, 2005)
pg 7

63 Magdalena Holzhey, Giorgio De Chirico _ The Modern Myth. (Taschen Koln, 2005) pg 28
31
Figure 13, Anxious Journey, Giorgio De Chirico, 1913

Whether following or destabilising form in isolation, the work is left distractedly


unresolved, not as a solution to our modern predicament of displacement but as an
unintentional supporter. Similarly paradoxical to Anita Di Bianco’s treatment of Myth as
discussed in Chapter One, as deconstructor of Myth in these instances, De Chirico’s
absurd compositions appear to work against their own means.

However, in terms of artistic production for the Reader of Myth it seems a prerequisite to
inhabit an ambiguous space such as De Chirico’s since, “only through abandonment of
logical principles of order... is it possible to arrive at a new, unobstructed view of the
enigmatic nature of things”64. De Chirico saw the enigma as the link between philosopher
and painter and was a follower of the Greek philosophers and presocratic Heraclitus _ who
started out from a belief in nature as being “animated by mysterious forces and meanings
(which are) only revealed... in signs”65. These signs would reveal themselves to the artist
in the process of creating work and responding to its material in both an active and

64 Friedrich
Nietzsche in Magdalena Holzhey, Giorgio De Chirico - The Modern Myth. (Taschen Koln,
2005), pg 37

65 Magdalena Holzhey, Giorgio De Chirico _ The Modern Myth. (Taschen Koln, 2005), pg 15
32
reflexive manner, what Nietzsche described as “the true metaphysical activity of life”66 .
De Chirico felt any authentic and profound experiences we may have are all rooted
exclusively in the present world and his Pittura Metafisica sought the “enigmatic quality
of earthly phenomena not in some other dimension, but within the things of this world”67 .
What was required was a pronounced sensitivity to the environment and an openness to a
boundless way of thinking. With the sentiment of Rimbaud’s Alchimie du Verbe he wanted
“to equate language with the human soul”68 . The language he felt necessary to access this
was the instinctual language of Myth. “The juxtaposition of different, essentially
incompatible worlds _ ancient and modern, memory and present, myth and reality _ is
captured in a timeless moment.”69

Revelations born from the sudden experience of some new aspect of the environment,
the conjunction of the sublimely inexplicable and deeply atmospheric, were what
formed his early Pittura Metafisica paintings such as The Enigma of the Arrival and the
Afternoon (Figure 12): “a picture based on actual perception that shifts things of reality
into the realm of the inexplicable (it) renounces narrative logic and creates a picture
sustained solely by its disconcerting atmosphere”70.

De Chirico’s fascination with the unknown and the peculiar sensation in his
environments of presentiment are a constant drive for him to seek out an understanding
of the world beyond convention. “Everywhere infinity, everywhere mystery... One
shudders, one feels the pull of the abyss.”71 As in The Great Tower (Figure 14) De
Chirico often used the symbol of a tower or Ziggurat as Axis Mundi, to represent man’s
infinite drive for knowledge and wish to establish a pivotal position. Also a strong
exponent of the teachings of Nietzsche, Max Ernst understood the true value of this
drive, not as an enticement to obtain resolution, but the desire to construct meaning as
an activity in itself. “Everyone seeks his ideal chiefly in the unknown... it matters not so

66 Magdalena Holzhey, Giorgio De Chirico _ The Modern Myth. (Taschen Koln, 2005) pg 15

67 Ibid, pg 15

68 Ibid, pg 102

69 Ibid, pg 39

70 Magdalena Holzhey, Giorgio De Chirico _ The Modern Myth. (Taschen Koln, 2005), pg 19

71 Ibid, pg 31
33
Figure 14, The Great Tower,
Giorgio De Chirico, 1913

much what ideal he


seeks but that he seeks
one. Effort itself not
the object of effort
forms the basis of
development.”72 The
artist as reader of
Myth inhabits this
ambiguous space in
the process of
creation, balancing the
mind’s action on the
material with the
passive, responsive
senses, unearthing
new meaning in flux,
and constantly
redefining his identity
in the world.

72Max Ernst in M.E.Warlick, Max Ernst And Alchemy - A Magician in Search of Myth, (University of Texas
Press, Austin, 2001) pg 183
34
CHAPTER THREE:
How the Collage Aesthetic overcomes the male and female divide
in perception and in conventional and unconventional modes
of image making.
________________________________________________________________

In the last chapter I explored the value of perceptual ambiguity, looking at the processes
and methodologies of art-making as continually transformative; as an end-in-itself. In
this chapter I will look at the relevance of this ambiguous space in the creation and
interpretation of the aesthetic of the image in terms of surface and depth (the public and
private identity), and the self in opposition to the other. Utilising and exposing the
element of ambiguity which exists within perception and representation, we can
experience identity not as difference but as continuous differentiation. I will explore the
intellectual and sensual aspects of perception as symbolised by masculine and feminine
aspects, debunking these inaccurate binary divisions, and looking at forms of
representation that can re-establish the uniqueness of the human character. To begin
with I will explore the masculine and feminine aspects of perception in relation to these
matriarchal and patriarchal systems of thought, and their relations to conventions of
symbolic expression.

The preface to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil is opened with a question:
“Suppose that truth was a woman?”73 . He suggests here that all philosophers in their
“grotesque seriousness”74 and misguided dogmatism have not really understood women.
What I infer he is pointing at here is the classical division set out in the theories of
matriarchal and patriarchal societies, and the underlying principles they represent: that
of the sensual and naturalistic in opposition to the rational and constructed. In the
following chapter I will look at underlying theories for these dual principles.
The social psychologist and humanistic philosopher Erich Fromm explores alternatives
to Freudian interpretations of the Oedipus Myth in his book The Forgotten Language75.
Fromm sees Myth as a symbolic language that expresses religious and philosophical

73Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, (Cambridge Texts in The History of Philosophy,
Cambridge, 2002) pg 3
74 Ibid
75Erich Fromm, The Forgotten Language, (Grove Press, Inc. New York, 1957)
35
ideas, experiences of the soul. The Oedipus Myth is interpreted by Freud as expressing
the underlying incestuous drive of the boy infant for his mother. Fromm turns to the
Nineteenth Century Swiss anthropologist Johan Jakob Bachofen for an understanding of
the matriarchal and patriarchal divide that the Myth represents. The Oedipus Myth in
this sense is not seen as representative of the son’s jealousy for the father and wish to
possess the mother, but a problem with the authoritarian principle that the paternal
structure sets up, which, as a construct, is not part of human nature. Bachofen believed
that originally man lived in a state of promiscuity: only the mother’s parenthood was
unquestionable, and so she as was the overriding natural authority and lawgiver. Over a
long historical process man subdued the female and established the patriarchal system
where he took the dominant role in a hierarchically organised society.

Matriarchal culture is characterised by an emphasis on ties of blood, ties to the


soil and a passive acceptance of all natural phenomena. Patriarchal society, in
contrast, is characterised by a respect for man-made law, by a predominance of
rational thought and by man’s effort to change natural phenomena.76

This reflects the active and passive elements of the active mind and the passive senses,
the dual characteristics of perception within the individual, and the role of perception in
establishing the individual in a society, based either on the sensual acceptance of natural
universal order or the rationalised constructs of power and obedience. Later I will
develop this theme by examining the work of Max Ernst as positing the androgyne as a
way of uniting the male and female aspects of his own personality. I would like to look
now at the Victorians and their examination of the female subject in a new light, at a
time when the emphasis on rational thought and control was fast advancing in
desirability, and the female with her constant reminder of the volatility of natural forces
and hidden sensual urges was steadily repressed.

In Strange and Secret Peoples _ Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, Professor of


English Carole G. Silver explores the web of connections between the Victorian’s
interest in fairy folklore and the cultural significance of the Myths they explore. The
recurring figure of the fairy bride, incarnated as swan-maiden, selkie, sidhe and seal
bride, is positioned as an embodiment of various elements of the feminine character,

76Erich Fromm, The Forgotten Language, (Grove Press, Inc. New York, 1957) pg 207
36
from subdued and civilised to fiercely independent and savage in her nature. At a time
when it was seen to be a man’s right to take a bride and have her under his household
rule, it seemed appropriate to envision her forceful and sensual complexion as more
animal than human. Simultaneously, her depiction as an elusive and promiscuous
earthly creature, possessing mystical powers of intuition and endowed with an
enchanted beauty was revered as much as it was feared. The

swan-maiden tales, as a genre, were dangerous... over-turning the prevailing


hierarchy of gender. They suggested... the symbolic ‘otherness’ of women, their
alien and ‘natural’ characteristics; their inability to fit with comfort in a ‘normal’
patriarchal world.77

Selkies, the seal women, seen to be “captured” from their native place within the
capricious powers of the sea by mortal man, would sacrifice their savage ways for the
duty of civilised matrimony, an unnatural sentence they would eternally struggle
against. Some of the oldest tales of Irish mythology speak of “truly independent
powerful fairy Queens who simply seduced, consorted with, and abandoned mortal
heroes at will”78. These tales spoke as much about matrimonial conflicts and gender
relations, at a time when the divorce law of 1857 was being debated, as it did of the
natural and conditioned characteristics of the human subject, and of the Victorian’s fight
between their cherished rationality and their overwhelming sensuality. Folklorists at the
time saw women as “closer to ‘nature’, less rational and more instinctual... closer to the
‘brute creation’ than to more highly evolved masculine qualities of intellect and
reason”79 . It was these very qualities in the feminine character that the Pre-Raphaelites
expounded as the antidote to the inner disharmony and suppressed individuality of
contemporary man.

In the last chapter I examined the psychological and perceptual implications of depth, or
interiority, and surface appearance, or exteriority. Founder of the second phase of the
Pre-Raphaelite movement, Edward Burne-Jones’ work explored in great range both the

77Carole G.Silver, Strange and Secret Peoples _ Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, (Oxford
University Press, New York, 1999), pg 94.
78Carole G.Silver, Strange and Secret Peoples- Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, (Oxford
University Press, New York, 1999), pg 95
79Ibid, pg 100
37
Figure 15, The Mirror of Venus, Edward Burne-Jones, 1877

symbolic and aesthetic qualities of the painted picture. In The Mirror of Venus (Figure
15), the importance of the surface is part of the narrative content. Only a solitary figure
looks up to stall the departure of another who threatens to break the enclosure of this self-
regarding female world. This standing figure (identified as Venus by some contemporary
critics) in her gesture of onwards movement is the only hint at temporality. The stylised
multiplication of similarly featured women may signify “an excess of generic femininity,
and a concomitant erasing of individuality”80. The mirror is often invoked as a metaphor
for “self-fashioning” reflecting a united but illusory view of the “whole” person,
independent of the exterior influence of others. The relevance of this metaphor has been
challenged in relation to female self-presentation. Susan Stanford Friedman argues that
when a woman perceives herself in a mirror she sees not her isolated self but an image of
“woman” as member of a social and cultural grouping. The female identity is framed by
all images that define femininity and she experiences herself as a representation, delimited
by the edges of the mirror and the boundary of self and all others. The surface of the
mirror in this sense may be seen as a barrier to a woman’s individual interiority. This
disjuncture between private and public self was increasingly apparent in the portrayal of
women in late Nineteenth Century painting. The actions of the contemplative mind were
increasingly problematic within the practice of observation and interpretation and the

80Kate Flint, The Victorians and The Visual Imagination, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000)
pg 236
38
expectations of aesthetic understanding. The emphasis on the function of physiology put
forward by the aesthetic school to which Burne-Jones belonged was seen as a response to
this dilemma. The Mirror of Venus was read by some critics of the time as defining

the art of culture, of reflection, of intellectual luxury, of aesthetic refinement, of


people who look at the world and at life not directly... in all its accidental reality, but
in the reflection and ornamental portrait of it furnished by art itself81.

Yet it was the picture’s call of attention to surface, its decorative qualities and obvious
detachment from the world that questioned this inviolability. For Charles Harrison this is
“what gives pleasurable pause... the strange and distinctive form of scepticism about
appearances that is set in play when the allure of imaginative depth meets resistance from
the vividness of decorated surface.”82 In relation to narrative content the elimination of
individual identity within the figures of the painting may serve as an invitation to the
individual identity of the spectator. Observing the painting in terms of the then developing
science of psychology breaks open its apparent self-enclosure and any claims to a
solopsistic aestheticism that might otherwise have been implied. Burne-Jones’ later work
was often criticised as romantically positing the female as delicate and fragile, an image of
“feminine morbidity”83. Later critics would argue that it was not the replication of the
human form that mattered but the “glory and delight of living line and visible rhythm”.
The psychologist James Sully suggested an alternative to the assumptions of an aesthetic
standard, and in his writings he attempted a classification of its individual pleasures. From
the stimulation of form, the gratification of novelty, the intellectual stirring of memory and
the experience of intuition, he writes of the pleasures of the imagination, and on the
“tendency of the mind to idealise... the satisfaction of the universal longings for something
higher and more complete”84 than the presented actuality of the material world.

81Henry James, “The Picture Season in London” in Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination,
(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000) pg 238

82Charles Harrison, “On the Surface of Painting” in Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination,
(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000) pg 238

83Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000)
pg 241

84 James Sully, “Sensation and Intuition: Studies in Psychology and Aesthetics” in Kate Flint, The
Victorians and the Visual Imagination, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000) pg 244
39
Figure 16, Mermaid with her Offspring, Edward Burne-Jones, 1877

The Pre-Raphaelite treatment of the feminine character, and their artistic excavations of
the expansive spaces between symbolism and aestheticism, at times mistakenly suggest
an excessively romantic view but this is explained in an observation of their dealings
with perceptual extremities. Edward Burne-Jones’ Mermaid (Figure 16) depicts a
“Madonna like mer-mother”85 holding a swaddling child, seemingly reinforcing and
confirming for the viewer her innate maternal instincts and her due reverence of giver
and protector of life. We do, however, find in images such as The Depths of the Sea
(Figure 17), a vision of the dark side to her primal drive; a mermaid holding the sailor
she has drowned. He has been seduced by “the call of adventurousness, of the ‘natural’,
thus, of anarchy, of the lawless force of nature”86 of passion, and of death. These tales,
as embodiments of a female desire for freedom and male fantasies of possession and
fears of separation and abandonment, anatomised to fit their cultural environments, are
at the same time token archetypes of the individual struggle between our instincts and

85Carole G.Silver, Strange and Secret Peoples- Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, (Oxford University
Press, New York, 1999) pg 104

86 Ibid, pg 114
40
our rationality, our need to to inhabit our own boundless individuality, and our fear of
stepping outside the periphery of established law and being cast out from our place in
society.

To posit the female as reclusively


ephemeral and emotional and the
male as the divine instance of
intellect is clearly problematic. As
always in the true language of
Myth, it should not be taken in its
literal sense but as symbolic
characterisations of two sides to the
one human subject.

In Mythologies, Roland Barthes


describes the face of Greta Garbo as
partaking in “the same rules as
courtly love, where the flesh gives
rise to mystical feelings of
perdition”. For Barthes, her beauty
suggests a divine archetype of an
originating ideal of the human
creature, almost sexually undefined.
In the film Queen Christina, seen as
both young woman and cavalier, her
beauty is “intellectual even more
than formal”. But this lack of
differentiation, far from a feat of
“transvestism” ultimately leaves us
no doubt, she is always, without
pretence, herself. 87 Figure 17, The Depths of the Sea,
Edward Burne -Jones, 1887

87 Roland Barthes, “The Face of Garbo” in Mythologies (The Noonday Press, New York) pg 56
41
The Viennese psychoanalysist Herbert Silberer interpreted the androgyne, with its fusion
of male and female archetypes, as the polarised aspects of the human personality reunited
into the adult psyche (Figure 18). The Surrealist Max Ernst explored his own divided
personality through the motif of the androgyne as the alchemical fusing of the male and
female elements of primal matter. The propositional characters of Loplop and his female
counterpart La Femme Sans Tête indicate the beginnings of this personal excavation. La
Femme was also “A true composite, representing the chaotic, seductive, and terrifying
power of the feminine archetype
and the ideal erotic woman of
his dreams”88 . Sexuality and
desire were central to Ernst’s
and the surrealists’ formula for
artistic creation and fed by
Freudian and alchemical
symbolism. Ernst stated that in
order to create a painting he first
had to conceive it in his mind
“and then desire so ardently to
see it with my own eyes that
this desire can be only
compared to the desperate
need... to see in one’s own
physical presence the loved one
whose absence one desperately
regrets.”89 Ernst’s relationship to Figure 18, The Hermetic Androgyne frontispiece from
E.A.Grillot de Givry “Le Musée des Sorciers, 1929
his work, he would admit, was of a
“frankly erotic nature”90. The imagery was deeply erotic also: headless women, horned
males and floating female genitalia powered by “futile Dada machinery” explore the

88M.E.Warlick, Max Ernst and Alchemy _ A Magician in Search of Myth, (University of Texas Press, Austin,
2001) pg 136

89 Max Ernst “Beyond Painting” in M.E.Warlick, Max Ernst and Alchemy _ A Magician in Search of Myth,
(University of Texas Press, Austin, 2001) pg 72

90M.E.Warlick, Max Ernst and Alchemy _ A Magician in Search of Myth, (University of Texas Press, Austin,
2001) pg 180
42
Figure 19, The Hat Makes The Man, Max Ernst, 1920

dynamics of desire and the opposing machinations of rationality central to the work. In
The Hat Makes the Man (Figure 19) we can observe again Ernst's appreciation for
visual and linguistic puns where he
introduces the “phallustrade... an alchemic
product, composed of the... autostrade, the
balustrade and a certain quality of
phallus”91. In the image a tower of hats is
supported by an erect protuberance,
suggesting the Freudian signification of the
hat as accessory of bourgeoisie and a
common symbol representing repressed
desire. In contrast to the outward blindness
of modern man, the inner vision of the
female is evoked in Portrait of Gala
(Figure 20) where his lover and wife Gala Figure 20, Portrait of Gala, by Max Ernst, 1925

91Max Ernst, Beyond Painting - the Documents of Modern Art, (Wittenborn, Schultz, inc., New York, 1948)
pg 16
43
Figure 21, The Robing of the Bride, Max Ernst, 1940

is depicted with the intense vision of the mystical seer gazing at a world beyond
materiality. Often he explored the feminine aspect through the depiction of organic
forms_ butterflies, natural and abstracted flowers and shells_ in contrast to masculine
angular and geometric constructions. For Ernst, the artist, like the alchemist must
always follow nature. The alchemical relevance of the androgyne is depicted in The
Robing of the Bride (Figure 21). After the initial process of destruction the King and
44
Queen, Sulphur and Mercury, are separated in the whitening phase of purification.
The white Queen revives, followed by the King, robed in crimson. In this image the
central female figure appears draped in red, parted to reveal her naked body
beneath. The head of the creature resembles an owl, while a third mysterious eye
observes a second figure slightly obscured by the larger bird. The owl in nature is a
noble hunter, faithful lover and doting parent. These two figures can be interpreted
as a fusion of a large red male with his doting female partner. There is also a mythic
connection between the owl and Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Ernst’s
Robing of the Bride suggests the chemical wedding of Sulphur and Mercury and
sexual conjunction of King and Queen. Their union produces the Philosopher’s
Stone, “an androgynous substance capable of its own multiplication”92 , explaining
the duplicate image in the background. Ernst’s earliest androgynous depictions
relate to both his parents and himself. In subsequent developments of the couplings
and emergence of Loplop and La Femme 100 Tétes Ernst describes these archetypes
as polarised aspects of his own identity. These masculine and feminine characters
later merge his own characteristics with that of the women he loved. For Ernst the
androgyne was “both a metaphor for psychic development and a visual model of his
relationships”93 . The creative energy of his talented partners and their nurturing and
volatile nature served as the perfect balance to Ernst’s passionate artistic strivings.
His search for a vision beyond prescribed reality was not, like it was for Silberer, a
quest for the “mystical union with God and the experience of Divine Love”94 . For
Ernst and many Surrealists the highest goal was not one of religious aspirations, but
the “eternal quest for the ideal woman, in which their human love and desire could
merge”95 .

In The Victorians and the Visual Imagination, Kate Flint looks at the idea of
gendering knowledge. In relation to the philosophical debate between rationalism and
empiricism this provokes discussion over whether knowledge is gained from

92Max Ernst, Beyond Painting - the Documents of Modern Art, (Wittenborn, Schultz, inc., New York, 1948)
pg 19

93Warlick, M.E.Warlick, Max Ernst and Alchemy - A Magician in Search of Myth, (University of Texas
Press, Austin, 2001) pg 182

94 Ibid, pg 178

95 Ibid, pg 183
45
observing the natural world and discovering natural orders inherent there, or whether
it is something engendered through reasoning, the rational mind and human
intervention. Rationality is connoted as the constructed order of masculine
determination, while the empirical suggests the feminine intuits of signs from nature.
The term “lifting the veil” is employed to suggest that there are truths to be revealed
behind the veil of surface appearance. This further raises the question of whether
these can be divine truths, set down since conception, unchanging and marked out in
advance by their predestined paths, or whether they are something temporal,
subjective and in constant dialogue with the inter-workings of our changing worlds. In
the first chapter I introduced the perceptual phenomenon of reading signs in the
environment in order to determine one’s particular position. The Victorian fascination
with gender and with physiognomy was an attempt to define particular types amongst
social differences by an examination of one’s own physical characteristics, the
bounded interior of the body. This suggested that individual identity and knowledge
was to an extent inborn and predestined, as implied by the work of evolutionists of the
time and their examination of the production of species. In particular the female body
was seen as something unknown and other, mystifying to the point of promoting
superstition and fear. With the seemingly boundless capabilities of enlightenment
science to penetrate unknown territory, there was a drive to uncover and delimit the
workings of the female form, and construct a system of thinking that related her
physical aspects to her emotional and intellectual characteristics. Beyond mere
speculation, the Victorians wished to marry the troubling differences between the
infinite complexities of the mind and the limiting territory of the decaying physical
body into a unified and graspable language. In The Lifted Veil, the Victorian author
Mary Anne Evans (publishing under the male pseudonym George Eliot) explores the
notion that the workings of the body may be homologous to reading texts “We learn
words by rote, but not their meaning; that must be paid for with our life-blood, and
printed in the subtle fibers of our nerves”96 . She presents the human body as a kind of
pathological system and, through the character of Latimer underpins the unsettling
divisions between mind and physicality:

96George Eliot, “Lifted Veil” pg 44, in Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination, (Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 2000) pg 99
46
The speculative, imaginative, fiction-creating mind, with its capacity for
prevision, has the ability to travel backwards and forwards in time. The human
body, however, has no such ability, and nor... can our deep-seated responses adjust
themselves to rational knowledge.97

It seems there is a double consciousness at work between the cerebral and the physical
functions that cannot be conjoined by scientific language alone, and an implication of
the possibility of supernatural forces behind what cannot be fully observed or
rationalised. Ultimately it is an acceptance of the mysteries that lie therein via the
imagination that traverses the boundaries of any particular doctrine. Sight alone is
inadequate; sense is supplemented by the visual imagination: “A facility which goes
beyond all mechanical powers of science”98 and refuses to take as a final “the
phenomena of the sensible world, but looks beyond that world into another which rules
the sensible one.”99 It is from this dual mode of reasoning and physically intuiting that
systems of Mythology and scientific theories have equally sprung.

97Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000)
pg 99

98 ibid, pg 114

99J. Tyndall in “Atoms, Molecules, and Ether Waves” in Kate Flint, The Victorians and The Visual
Imagination, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000) pg 114
47
CONCLUSION:
________________________________________________________________

The purpose of this thesis was to define the intentions of the Collage Aesthetic; both what
was meant by the term itself and the underlying drive behind its use as a mode of art-
making. By researching both artists and writers I have presented it as a philosophical
approach to art making that combines the intellectual reasoning of the languaged mind
with the instinctual desires born from the perceived image. Throughout my research I have
returned to a notion of activity and passivity; what is constructed by the active conscious
mind and senses and what is subconsciously and passively received. My aim has been to
examine the self reflexive dynamics of the Collage Aesthetic as a process driven by
human modes of visual/verbal perception itself and self-consciousness, not confined to
Modernist theories. It cannot be disputed that Modernism marked a historical change in
conscious thought, but taking a look at the work of the Pre-Raphaelites whose self
interrogative excavations of cultural myths predates Modernism by over fifty years,
indicates that it is the heightened awareness brought about at times of intense change that
fundamentally alters perceptions, change being the trigger for perceptual activity itself.
For the Pre-Raphaelites the sudden influx of new information brought about by travel,
scientific discovery and the growth of the media provoked a rupture in previous ways of
thinking and perceiving their world. At the end of the Nineteenth Century the then
accelerated momentum of enlightenment reasoning and rationality turned full circle, and
Modernists were forced to re-question the limits of human logic, and the reliability of
mediated truths. For surrealist artists such as Max Ernst and Giorgio De Chirico the
psychological effects of World War One and the trauma that followed shattered their
familiar understanding of things and caused them to fundamentally rethink their place in
the world. Today tragedies such as September 11, anomalies such as the growth of the
World Wide Web and our increasing reliance on a delocalised contact with the world; and
most recently the current economic crisis, has prompted us to rethink and reconnect,
intellectually, physically and artistically once again.

With change comes an instinctual need to establish new order and having ascertained
the importance of interpreting the visible sign in chapter One, in chapter Two I set out to
consider the varying approaches to Myth in reuniting our divided perceptions of the

48
world through a marriage of concept and form. I then went on to explore conventional
and unconventional Aesthetic traditions and their relation to the divided male and
female aspects of identity. By examining the work of writers and folklorists as well as
the singular perspectives of artists Max Ernst, Giorgio De Chirico, Fred Tomaselli and
Edward Burne-Jones I posited these conflicts as resulting as much from inherent
perceptual processes as from cultural affects of the time.

In approaching resolution I have found that the resolution has been in defining the
process of approach itself. The Collage Aesthetic is one that supports an integration of
varying artistic dialogues in a state of continual flux and ambiguity, the state of
ambiguity being the philosophical mode of questioning incited, and essentially
necessary, in order to unceasingly redefine oneself as an individual in an increasingly
changing world. Identity is not a condition of difference but a process of continual
differentiation.

In the current Issue of Frieze, the overarching debate is that of the current place of
theory in art given the effects of the global financial crisis. Certainly we need abstract
concepts now more than ever, in order to understand the relevance of values that fail to
take on physical form. It was a new discovery to me, however, to read that it is possible
that theory somehow failed us in the 1980s when it leaked out into popular culture and
became an interdisciplinary method, instead of a set of fixed doctrines of belief.100 It is
possible that I am coming in too late in the game myself to understand it any other way
(than interdisciplinary) but I have difficulty in grasping why the application of theory as
an artistic process instead of a purely intellectual pursuit could be a failure. Perhaps
again we should return to the notion of activity and passivity when we speak about
application, and the integration of theory and practice or concept and form.

There is a shift occurring in artistic discourse presently. It seems we have been


attempting a clumsy rethink of Modernist theories for the last ten years or so and maybe
now we are in a position to view matters more from the far seeing eyes of the Victorians
than the naval gazing self disdain of the Post-Modernists. I recently met with Art
Historian and Curator Padraic E. Moore, at the Dublin City Gallery Hugh Lane in

100 “Teaching Theory” in Frieze Magazine, Issue 125, September 2009 (Frieze Publishing, London)
49
Dublin. It was refreshing to meet with someone so convinced of a Romantic belief in
the possibility of a unification of art and life. One would be tempted to be sceptical of
his youthful idealism were it not clearly evident that his practice is what he preaches.
His recent collaboration, Unpublished Dialogue, on show at Temple Bar Galleries in
Dublin, is a published phone conversation with Factory Records cover designer Peter
Saville. Moore speaks of his own ongoing relationship to Modernism “whether that be
aesthetic or just even philosophical” as a “belief system... as well as a way of
approaching aesthetic issues... fundamentally based on... making it new”101 .
Disinterested in the postmodern paradigm of parody and deconstruction, Moore sees the
self reflexive revisionist strategies of art discourse as a personal ideology that lends a
notion of progress, particularly pertinent to the younger generation of todays resurgent
quest for meaning. In reciprocation, Saville sees in his artworks the journey of his own
education and at the same time the communication of a process of discovery unearthed
from the activity. With uncertainty and change comes a fearful desire to conserve order
as much as to question and deconstruct previous conventions. We need to accept this
ambivalence. The relationship between published doctrine and interdisciplinary
conjecture is one that should be held in debate. Ultimately the true value of cultural
production is in the open-ended intertextual space of dialogue itself.

101 Padraic E. Moore, Unpublished Dialogue, (Temple Bar Gallery and Studios Dublin, 2009) pg 3
50
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52
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53
54