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Curiger’s Overview

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Bice Curiger the Director. Photo courtesy of the Venice Biennale Painting by Tintoretto moved to the Giardini from the San Giorgio Maggiore Basilica. Photo courtesy of the Venice Biennale Philippe Parreno, Marquee 2011. Photo courtesy of the Venice Biennale Jack Goldstein, The Jump, 1978, video. Photo courtesy of the Venice Biennale Gianni Colombo, Spazio Elastico, 1967-8. Photo courtesy of the Venice Biennale. James Turrell at Venice. Photo courtesy of the Venice Biennale Franz West, Extroversion (2010-2011). Photo courtesy of the Venice Biennale Monika Sosnowska, Antechamber, 2011 Haroon Mizra, The National Apavilion of Then and Now, 2011. Installation (3 sided triangle structure), anechoic chamber, LEDs, amp, speakers, electronic circuit. Photo courtesy of the Venice Biennale Maurizio Cattalan, The Tourists, 1997. Photo courtesy of the Venice Biennale

While a concept of illumination may encompass the scientific and humanist developments of the Western enlightenment, what Curiger chooses to focus on is the semantic structure of the word illuminations: illumination and ‘nation'. In an effort to address and counteract the inherent nationalism of the Biennale, she commissioned four artists to develop ‘parapavilion' structures which were used to exhibit other artists' work.

The 54th Biennale of Venice


Directed by Bice Curiger

4 June - 27 November 2011

The title of the international curated exhibition at this year’s Venice Biennale, ILLUMInations, will undoubtedly induce a semantic cringe or two in many readers. Curator Bice Curiger has chosen this moniker as a means of exploring both the philosophical and phenomenal concerns of light and the political concept of nationhood, something that is particularly pertinent to the biennale itself. I was curious to see how her selection of artworks might overcome the apparent disconnection of these two themes by teasing out potential relationships, juxtapositions or conflicts between the seemingly divergent notions of luminosity and nationalism. While there were many great works on show, I’m not sure that the exhibition ultimately delivered on the promise of its title.

Curiger’s most successful and beautifully executed curatorial moment lies with her exhibition of paintings by the Venetian Old Master Tintoretto in a biennale that is expressly focused on contemporary art. Three large paintings borrowed from across the water at their home in the San Giorgio Maggiore Basilica were given pride of place in the central gallery of the Giardini. Rendered in Tintoretto’s signature hasty brush-stroke, their biblical scenes are described by a fragmented light wrought with wonderful movement and rhythm. Nonetheless, it was the juxtaposition of this painterly representation of light with contemporary explorations of luminosity that I found most captivating. Over the entrance to Tintoretto’s gallery hung one of Philippe Parreno’s constellation of tungsten light bulbs. Having been liberally exhibited in the last few years, Parreno’s Marquee works may seem like nothing new, but his entrance set up an effective meeting of a religious divine light and the exuberant electric light of the 20th century. It looked like we could be walking into a movie theatre.

Appropriately, seminal works by filmmaker Jack Goldstein and kinetic artist Gianni Colombo could be found flanking the Tintoretto gallery. The LED illuminated high-board diver of Goldstein’s 1978 work The Jump speaks to the important technological development of light and cinema in the last century. Similarly, Colombo’s Spazio Elastico - a work made up of a grid of illuminated wires delineating a pitch-black space - recognises the role of light in immerse environments and installations (a rather underwhelming minimalist light work by James Turrell’s can also be found in the Arsenale). This art historical role-call maybe too dictatorial for some, but it is the most coherent curatorial grouping of artists in Curiger’s show. Outside of Tintoretto’s constellation of art works, the conceptual connections underpinning ILLUMInations become tenuous and confusing.

The show seems to come undone where Curiger attempts to link the concerns of light to directly political issues. While a concept of illumination may encompass the scientific and humanist developments of the Western enlightenment, what Curiger chooses to focus on is the semantic structure of the word illuminations: illumination and ‘nation’. In an effort to address and counteract the inherent nationalism of the Biennale, she commissioned four artists to develop ‘parapavilion’ structures which were used to exhibit other artists’ work. Although I enjoyed the overt bizarreness and irreverence of Franz West’s ‘extroverted kitchen’ - a structure covered in paintings, video and various objects that was reportedly a reconstruction of the artist’s own kitchen - very few of the works exhibited within these mini-pavilions did well from their surrounds.

The exception to this was a work by British artist Haroon Mizra who is gathering some well-deserved buzz. In a wall-papered maze of dividing walls created by Monika Sosnowska Mizra installed an interesting work that was comprised of a piece of gold in a cup attached to a vibrating stereo speaker, a series of images projected onto mirrors and coloured strings stretched across an MDF construction. While it doesn’t sound like much, an intriguing ad-hoc rhythm was generated between the electric noise of a jiggling gold nugget and the brief flashes of miscellaneous imagery appearing as small reflections on mirrored surfaces. Mizra completely eschewed the spectacular impression that many other works in the Biennale sought to achieve and was rewarded with viewers who spent a great deal of time attempting to decipher the rhythmic relationship between these elements.

Nonetheless, Mizra’s work and its installation within Sosnowska’s ‘para-pavilion’ did not seem to relate or gain anything from the thematic discourses of ILLUMInations. While Curiger’s contrast between lofty, phenomenal forms of illumination and the gritty political realities of nationhood is interesting, this juxtaposition did not play out effectively in the works on show. But before completely dismissing this curatorial framework, it is worth noting that the current expectations and conventions of an international biennale do not work in its favour. Uniting the diversity of current art practices with a universal theme or line of inquiry is tricky precisely because of contemporary art’s celebrated diversity. Curiger thoughtfully addressed the art world’s thirst for newness by including works by a very Old Master, but beyond this ILLUMInations played it safe. Aside from a few sound spill issues, Curiger’s show offered a well-paced and elegantly structured gathering of current art practices. Nothing more and nothing less.

I am tempted to consider Maurizio Cattelan’s reshowing of his 1997 pigeon work The Tourists as a response to both the pitfalls and wonders of the biennale. This time round Cattelan added more of his stuffed pigeons to the rafters of nearly every space in the Giardini’s central gallery. While Cattelan’s birds offer a reflection of the increasing commercialisation of Venice, where tourists and pigeons seem to go hand in hand, could they not also suggest an irreverent comment on the form and function of international art exhibitions? With his pigeon redux Cattelan has denied the impetus to produce something new while humorously acquiescing to the need to produce something bigger and ‘better’. Starring down at both artworks and visitors from their lofty perches, Cattelan’s Hitchcockian pigeons seem to be having the last laugh.

Kate BrettKelly-Chalmers

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This Discussion has 88 comments.


Roger Boyce, 12:51 a.m. 3 October, 2011

Barbara Pollock (Via ARTNET) querying Bice Curiger - Artistic Director of the next Venice Biennale.

Barbara Pollock:
While you were making your selections, did you see a major trend in contemporary art?

Bice Curiger:
Yes, I looked long enough to see that many artists are dealing with classical genres. They do sculptures, they do paintings. It is not this emphasis that was there in the 1960s and '70s on "anti-art" or taking your art practice out into society. It is more looking at the fundamentals of art and culture itself.

Reply to this thread

John Hurrell, 10:01 a.m. 3 October, 2011

So Roger, are you implying there is a trend away from the cross-disciplinary approach?That Curiger has noticed that?

 In reply

David Cauchi, 12:27 p.m. 3 October, 2011

John, do you think that particular ideas or particular kinds of work are only valid in a particular place at a particular time if they are fashionable?

Because that seems awfully like what you've been saying.

Andrew Paul Wood, 5:43 p.m. 3 October, 2011

Trends, or who just happens to be visible on the exhibition/biennial circuit at any given time? Personally I think both classic and cross-disciplinary co-exist and it's the critics and curators rebelling against daddy every generation that give the impression of trends.
The fashionable swing to championing the classical genres is very much a late 1990s/2000s thing. The writing was on the wall with the Vitamin XYZ books and "Dear Painter, Paint Me: Painting the Figure since Late Picabia" in 2003. I predict a surge in figure painting and still life over the next few years, climaxing around 2018-2020.

Reply to this thread

John Hurrell, 1:10 p.m. 3 October, 2011

No,no - far from it, David.

My question was aligned around tertiary institutions and the way they teach fine art practical courses, namely say the cross-disciplinary approach of Auckland University versus the separate media approach of Canterbury.

I've looked at the first half of Curiger's reply, you've looked at the second.

Reply to this thread

John Hurrell, 6:04 p.m. 3 October, 2011

I wonder if the distinction is not so much from say abstraction to figurative subject matter, but more a shift in methodology, towards traditional patterns of preparation and planning - away from process or 'open 'image.

 In reply

Andrew Paul Wood, 12:03 a.m. 4 October, 2011

Wot, you mean learning how to draw? How will the art world ever cope?!?!

John Hurrell, 12:53 a.m. 4 October, 2011

As preparation it could be a drawing, a photo, a collage, a photoshopped image, a written paragraph, a verbal phrase spoken into a tape recorder....

Thus it is not seeking knowledge like a scientist but demonstrating it by sticking to a plan. Not research but involving more a guild system using craft.

I'm not taking sides at all here, but setting up two positions that can be examined.

David Cauchi, 10:53 a.m. 4 October, 2011

But, John, doing a preparatory drawing, collage, photoshopped image, etc IS research.

It is seeking knowledge by solving problems and testing hypotheses (yes, like a scientist), not just sticking to a plan.

In any case, battle plans never survive contact with the field.

John Hurrell, 11:11 a.m. 4 October, 2011

I take your point David, but I'm trying to make a distinction between planning a work, doing research as to its nature and using that information to then construct it, and works which are more open in their execution - that try out a formula or procedual method directly in an effort to discover something only half grasped, or even unforseen.

David Cauchi, 11:30 a.m. 4 October, 2011

Hmm, I am deeply suspicious of what seems like a construct setting up a binary opposition whereby 'planning' = closed (bad) and 'process' = open (good). Whereas I suspect it's more a continuum made up of different strands tied to different poles (to mix my metaphors thoroughly, magnetic poles that have influence but no real physical presence).

If planning determined everything about a work, who'd bother executing that plan? What'd be the point?

Or am I missing something?

John Hurrell, 11:58 a.m. 4 October, 2011

No I'm looking at the difference between two approaches, not saying one is bad and the other good.

Of course Lawrence Weiner is famous for saying that an idea need not be executed. As much as I admire him I think that he is mistaken because holding an idea in the mind is very different from seeing the actual manifestation out there in the 'real' world, experiencing it 'in the flesh'. There are heaps of reasons for bothering to execute it. Creating an experiential bodily sensation for starters. (I know - and believe - the mind is bodily, but they are not the same.)

David Cauchi, 12:26 p.m. 4 October, 2011

Maybe I'm projecting, but that seemed to be the implication.

Neither am I clear that the difference is as stark as you seem to be making out. Executing a plan is an open-ended process, and to follow any process no matter how unplanned you still need to do some things before you can do other things. To make a roof of any kind, you need to first build a house to put it on. Omelettes, eggs, and all that.

But then I've never understood the splash some sh-t (how 18th century!) around and see what happens approach. It just seems like personal therapy to me. I prefer works that aren't just flukes but that have some actual thought behind them. (Yes, I am being highly unfair. I want to hear what the other side thinks.)

David Cauchi, 1:08 p.m. 4 October, 2011

My somewhat cynical and highly unfair point of view on the difference here.

Some artists (I call them 'good artists') start by wanting to make a good work. They expend time, effort, and care on making that work as well as they can, ultimately for themselves, out of a kind of compulsion, an obsession, because they have something to say. If other people get something out of it, that's all to the good, but if they don't it's not the end of the world by any means. What matters is that the work exists.

Other artists (I call them 'careerists') start by writing a proposal to get funding. They do not expend time, effort, and care on executing the work as well as they can, because that doesn't matter. What does matter, and what I've seen them worry about, a lot, is documenting the work to its best advantage (even, or maybe especially, if that documentation is either an outright lie or a misrepresentation) so they can use that documentation for their next funding proposal.

And never the twain shall meet.

Reply to this thread

Roger Boyce, 1:56 p.m. 4 October, 2011

@ John
The trend away from a sort of catechism-like allegiance - still alive and well in the academy - to cross-disciplinarian gospels had lost its novelty before I'd left for the antipodes (over 7 years ago). Apostates were everywhere. Crugier might have noticed.

I, personally, never had (nor do I have) any problem with the more (ahem) conceptual practices that have uneasily co-existed with object-making for as long as I can remember. In fact I quite enjoy its more interesting and/or disorderly manifestations.

However, I don't often encounter a live-and let-live attitude in strictly-conceptualizing brethren. There seems to be (or perhaps used to be) a sort of desire to plow under and fumigate (like strawberry cultivators) the very art-ground kind-of attitude amongst the true-believers in post-object practice.

As if eliminating the rank and weedy growth of graven images and objects would somehow prepare the ground for a crop of pristine (and, of course) market-resistant concepts.

If artworks are conversation pieces - then why not simply have the conversation, sans piece?

I find (primitive soul that I am) that my language centers work much better when I'm standing near a catalytic thing as opposed to submitting to a (supposed) intellectually (limpet-like) immersive experience.

Eros and art both more compelling/arousing (at least to me) if there's a not-so-obscure object of affection/desire at the center of the mix.

But then again, WTF do I know.

 In reply

David Cauchi, 2:12 p.m. 4 October, 2011

'However, I don't often encounter a live-and let-live attitude in strictly-conceptualizing brethren. There seems to be (or perhaps used to be) a sort of desire to plow under and fumigate (like strawberry cultivators) the very art-ground kind-of attitude amongst the true-believers in post-object practice.'

Try doing an MFA in painting at Massey and see what kind of reaction you get.

John Hurrell, 5:23 p.m. 4 October, 2011

Even with Simon Morris there?

I suppose the other sort of painter might include Simon Ingram, and James Cousins. More process driven and live in Auckland.

David Cauchi, 5:30 p.m. 4 October, 2011

I like Simon. Like him a lot, in fact. He's a really good guy, but we do not have much in common, except maybe an evil sense of humour.

Yes, even with him there.

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David Cauchi, 5:32 p.m. 4 October, 2011

And Simon Morris's work is all about following a formula, a process, seeing where it takes you.

I don't understand what you mean by 'other sort of painter'. I've gotten horribly confused about what's meant to be opposed to what where.

 In reply

John Hurrell, 5:50 p.m. 4 October, 2011

Well while Simon's interest in time provides a conceptual underpinning, he is at heart a very sophisticated image maker, and I can envisage him planning their construction by traditional means. Even with computors etc. He's quite different from say Ingram or Cousins where they might not know how an image is going to turn out when they start.
(They might disagree with me of course...)

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David Cauchi, 5:43 p.m. 4 October, 2011

I wish I could say I'm surprised no publicly funded artist working in the post-object mode has seen fit to dispute my characterisation. No-one at all.

Wouldn't want to jeapordise that precious career now, would we?

 In reply

John Hurrell, 5:55 p.m. 4 October, 2011

I think you are muddying the waters with this political crap, David. It's irrelevant! Let's stick to the nature of image making practices, the various types of procedures that lead to different sorts of painted mark or image etc.

John Hurrell, 6:08 p.m. 4 October, 2011

How do you get on with Martin Patrick, David? He's interested in conceptual processes but is very lucid, avoids puffery and writes great articles like this..

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David Cauchi, 6:15 p.m. 4 October, 2011

This political crap is at the heart of the nature of image making practices, John. Procedures aren't empty forms. They have meaning. Unless you think we're all wasting our time with trivial decoration.

These things matter. I happen to think they matter more than any thing else, because image making is what separates us from the cows in the field.

What you make is determined by how you go about making it, by goddamn definition. If what you make matters, so too does how you go about making it.

It is not goddamn irrelevant!

And I like Martin too. Unfortunately, he's been ill.

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John Hurrell, 6:56 p.m. 4 October, 2011

Look David your outburst about publicly funded artists indicates paranoia about the very tertiary institutions you willingly immerse yourself in. Who are you thinking of - these artists who ignore your 'characterisation'? Relational people like Maddie? 'Conceptual painters' like Simon Morris or Simon Ingram? But with your blogging history and conceptual contextualisation around your practice you can be seen as a sort of post-object practitioner yourself. You are known for advocating a specific set of political ideas, right?

But if that is not what you are about then why are you not in Christchurch studying with Roger B. and Robin N. - assuming they represent a stance that you relate to. Don't play the victim in Wellington? Move to CHCH.

Reply to this thread

David Cauchi, 7:26 p.m. 4 October, 2011

Yes, John, I may be paranoid. I said who I was thinking of, a generalised class of people, not specific individuals. If I'd meant specific people, I'd've said so.

In any case, how does being paranoid invalidate my point about the political nature of image making procedures?

Which I note you haven't addressed at all. Remind me of the stated purpose of the website again, John? Is there something about this topic that you'd rather avoid discussing? Why personalise it instead?

All I'd like is to hear the other side's opinion. Cos there are sides. Cos it matters.

And, yes, I do advocate a specific set of political ideas, through objects. I repeat, through objects. In various forms. The particular forms that best express particular ideas. But predominantly painting. Cos it's the best way of expressing ideas there is.

The image making process. What separates us from the cows. Quite literally. What separates our human ancestors from our non-human ancestors. Not anything else. The first human was the first genetic mutant to scratch the ground or pile a rock on top of another, and ascribe meaning to it. And ascribe meaning to it.

Image making. Nothing else matters.

And I chose Massey precisely for the challenge. I'm Ngati Pakeha. I know how to wero.

 In reply

Owen Pratt, 9:13 p.m. 4 October, 2011

...and i'm ngati arty and i know how to be a wierdo.

That said David, I completely agree with your points on " those who can do, those who can't preach" plastic / conceptual divide.

What about that load of bull below us, who made it? a film techo, who took the credit? a conceptualist. Where did the funding come from? CNZ and N.I.C.A.I..

..but its still a good image.

Andrew Paul Wood, 10:29 p.m. 4 October, 2011

Good Lord, Owen, next you will be demanding that every functionary in those pre-industrial old master studios of yore be given individual credit for filling in a bit of the sky or grinding up a bit of lapis lazuli.

David Cauchi, 12:41 a.m. 5 October, 2011

As they should. They weren't workers for a firm as we understand it, but part of a collective, communal effort working because and for the reputation of the master of the studio. Eventually, they'd hope to use their part in that reputation to start a studio of their own and make a name and reputation for themselves.

The craftspeople who worked on Parekowhai's bull deserve credit for their work, but it's not their work, not their art work.

Andrew Paul Wood, 4:32 p.m. 5 October, 2011

Presumably as does the people who made your paper and marker pens, eh David? Where does it end?

Ralph Paine, 5:19 p.m. 5 October, 2011

It's worth noting here that with films there is a requirement to acknowledge all those who have worked on or provided services for any given production. But then film is the great industrialised art, with an amazing history of worker struggles.

Anyway, I guess this ends - or begins again - where we, the multitude,want it to.

David Cauchi, 1:09 p.m. 6 October, 2011

Andrew, I know how to make my own paper, pens, canvases, brushes, etc. I've done it before. I'm not very good at it though because I haven't done it very much, because that's not how I want to spend my time.

(Incidentally, good rag paper is a much more durable support than linen canvas. Just saying.)

So I exchange money someone has given me for a previous picture for the product of someone's care and attention, a specialist's care and attention. And damn straight they deserve credit for their work, not just the dosh.

Especially the guy up in Auckland who made the canvases I'm working on at the moment. (I forget his name, at Studio Art Supplies.) They're a joy, true joy. I rang up and asked for some, put some money in their account, and a week later two boxes arrived on my doorstep. Late industrial capitalism. There are some things to be said for it.

And the guy in Wellington who made my frame, Paul Craig. Stand up guy. And hilarious.

David Cauchi, 1:12 p.m. 6 October, 2011

Actually, that's not exactly true. Courier companies. Sand in the gears.

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Roger Boyce, 10:04 p.m. 4 October, 2011

I hope not to be contextualized (or held out, or up) as a 'traditionalist' (whatever that may be) or reactionary here in this so-called discussion.

I've 'raised' a conceptualist or two in my teaching time....because that's where the nascent artist's practice organically led to. And at the end of their personal bread-crumb trail the work shaped up into something worth looking at. And I stress the term looking, in the previous sentence.

I think Cauchi's barb concerning the public funded artist category is legitimately (and entertainingly) thrown...and that politics and political exchange are often sorely missing in artworld conversations, because art-folk fear: $losing$ out, offending, being seen as difficult and thus losing their place in the reception line, the exhibition, the cultural-dole.

I observe that artists are much-much more 'domesticated' now than when I started out as a lad amongst the once-irascible-set. The more money that came into the system (which can, of course, be a good thing) the more artists began to 'behave'....because (obviously) there was more to lose.

Salons used to enjoy boho shenanigans and rough-housing. At dinner parties, chicken drumsticks and spring-rolls were known to greasily bounce off of auction-class paintings. But as patience, politeness, and quiet forbearance became the fashionable manner for artists - that sort of demeanor began to be expected. Deference to taste-makers, curators, directors, etc. was not seen as the embarrassment (or bohemian disqualification) it once was among demimonde's denizens.

I disagree vigorously with Mr. Pratt's characterization of Parekowhai's practice as a load of bull just as I vigorously oppose glib dismissals of Tao Well's Benificiary's Office.

Parekowhai's pianos (encountered when I came to NZ to interview for a job) gave me the courage (I had real, gup-inducing, trepidation at the shallowness of public painting collections) to move here. And Tao Wells' 'bad behavior' reminds me of a lost world I used to enjoy.

Argument (political or otherwise) isn't the polarizing thing it's often thought to be. Dismissal - prior to real investigation - is the polarizer.

What all that sh-t I just talked adds up to I just don't know.

 In reply

Owen Pratt, 8:45 a.m. 5 October, 2011

I gleefully anticipate the vigour of your disagreement Roger but Mike's practice is premised on bull, he is playing a post object game with reference to that great toreador Duchamp.
He playfully appears in the press, Mike not Marcel, dressed in overalls and scuffed work boots, the working class Maori of our preconceptions, mais non! he is the autuer the architect, la roi du merde taureau.

Andrew Paul Wood, 4:34 p.m. 5 October, 2011

And Picasso's blue work shirts were actually made of silk by a tailor. What is your point, Owen? All art is some kind of illusion and subversion. You are being disingenuous!

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John Hurrell, 12:08 a.m. 5 October, 2011

Here is an article by Tom Mitchell readers of this thread might find interesting. It discusses why there is no such thing as visual media anyway....

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Roger Boyce, 2:12 p.m. 5 October, 2011

W.J.T. Mitchell's foundational position is that text underlies image.

That position could only be tenable if text preceded image in human history. And while no one can be sure about pre-history I feel fairly confident in submitting that image preceded text - and probably sensible language.

Although Mitchell's entire body of work germinated from an early fascination with William Blake's marriage of word and text he made an early and fatally flawed assumption - that Blake's images are illustrations of the artist's text. i.e. - the word made flesh.
Nothing could be further from the truth - in Blake's regard.

This - flesh become word tenet - is the fundamental (redolent of protestant dogma) position of all too many scholars attempting textual exegesis of images.

Attraction to word made flesh siren is a manifestation of the mind/body dilemma. Making it delicious to consider that Mitchell derives - in great part - from notions first codified (codified in clinical language, that is) by Freud.

Mitchell should stick with Marx if he wishes to reliably (or should I say rigorously) negotiate dialectic tween word and image.

Having said all that - Mitchell is one of the more readable of his terms of prose styling.

 In reply

David Cauchi, 6:59 p.m. 5 October, 2011

'And while no one can be sure about pre-history I feel fairly confident in submitting that image preceded text - and probably sensible language.'

The way that creole languages get developed by kids playing around is suggestive. And I reckon, in kids, symbolic language precedes spoken language. The language of images. Can't have a roof without a house.

Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 3:43 p.m. 5 October, 2011

Perhaps the notion of "braiding" to which Mitchell refers in the essay counters what you're saying here Roger. And perhaps his referencing of semiotics does too. For with semiotics what must be allowed is that the notion of signs includes both image and text, and would also allow coding, numbers,etc... And thus the human all too human overlay of concerns about origins, breaks from the animal, etc. can be ignored. But then the choice becomes: sensation as power to affect/ be affected vs. signs as power to affect/be affected. Or perhaps, as Bob Dylan sings, "It's either one or the other or neither of the two.

 In reply

David Cauchi, 6:48 p.m. 5 October, 2011

But 'coding, numbers,etc' are images. What else are they? Can you point me to a '2' that is not an image?

Ralph Paine, 10:57 p.m. 5 October, 2011

What's your point?

David Cauchi, 12:56 p.m. 6 October, 2011

You seemed to be distinguishing between image and text and coding/numbers, and saying it doesn't matter which came first.

My point (has that been edited?) is that you can't just ignore the question of which came first, merely wish it away. The written word is what distinguishes history from pre-history, c. 6000 years ago.

The image (for lack of a better term) and spoken language came along somewhere between roughly 100,000 to 250,000 years ago (though, as our knowledge becomes more refined, these numbers go in one direction: further into the past).

The visual image and the written word are not equal, nor can they unproblematically be exchanged for one another in any kind of abstract system. The latter is a subset of the former.

You remember how the people had to steal the written word from the gods, eh? And then one part of the people turned it on the rest.

And verbal grammar is nothing at all like visual grammar. They are completely different things. The written word is an image, but the spoken word is not. For example, verbal grammar is necessarily sequential, whereas visual grammar is static, unidirectional.

They are not just all 'signs', despite what the semioticians have to say.

Oh, and the other part of my point was that I don't worry about the problem of universals very much. Things like '2' and 'red' are images: lines and colour on a flat surface.

David Cauchi, 1:38 p.m. 6 October, 2011

Imagine two separate circles. One is labelled 'visual image', the other 'spoken word'. Overlaid, connecting them is an ellipse, labelled 'written word'.

There are other representations. Think visually, not verbally.

Ralph Paine, 3:16 p.m. 6 October, 2011

Imagine a vaguely coherent line of thought...

Ralph Paine, 8:23 p.m. 6 October, 2011

... a speculative one. Let's propose that what actually exists is a vast and open set of dynamical processes, all operating at different scales, different speeds and slowness. Let’s call them FORCES in movement. The movement is an activity, an exchange of forces, and thus a transformative process: interaction, metamorphosis, osmosis, symbiosis; a mixture then of subsisting qualities, quantities, intensities: a pure relation=the power to affect/be affected. Now let’s call all this SIGNS in movement. Again, the movement is an activity, but this time an exchange of signs, a process of translation or trans-coding: again, interaction, but this time semiosis.... And again, a mixture of subsisting qualities, quantities, intensities: a pure relation=the power to affect/be affected.

Given the above, let’s say that forces and signs act in the same manner, that the two terms are simply synonyms; or, put slightly differently, that there are forces everywhere and everything is a sign. Or we could keep the two versions apart, saying that in the former we would be dwelling in a zone of pure sensation; of colour, tactility, sound, scent, etc., and hence we would be free of all signs and coding, including symbols and language. An impossibility? Perhaps, but nevertheless something worth speculating on, and one that artists, yogi, drug users, seers, witches and shamans and so and so forth have been experimenting with for millennia; and there are certain traditions of thought believing this realm to be a kind of pre-semiotic cauldron, one which gives birth to all signs.

But in the later version of the two we would be dwelling in realm of purely abstract signs, that is to say, in an idealist/rationalist zone where all signs only refer to other signs; a zone where we could create logically and coherently real – yet wildly speculative – possible worlds. Or in a more negative sense, this is where so much discourse dwells, where everything becomes hyper-symbolic, hyper-real. Or we could occupy the in-between of my two versions, the middle zone. But rather than being obsessed with creating scientific-type adequacy - or overly strict representation, or dogmatic correspondence - between them, we could instead play freely with attribution, and link up the two realms in ways never before imagined. But what we could also do is say is that it is the movement/action of the mind as it travels between all three options that is our best image of thought.

David Cauchi, 10:42 a.m. 7 October, 2011

Now we're cooking with gas!

The short answer is that not everything in the world is a synonym for everything else (to put it very clumsily). If that were the case, anything could be interchanged with anything else. There would be no meaning at all, no possibility of meaning.

But everything in the world is not interchangeably part of the same dynamic process (well, is and is not at the same time). Things have properties that distinguish them from other things. You can't just ignore those properties because your artificial system demands it. The operations '3 + 5' and ''3 x 5' are not synonymous. If they were, they'd mean the same thing.

Within the world of appearances, the only world we can even try to get to know, things have meaning, a meaning determined by their properties. Things-in-themselves.

It's very easy to come up with a theory where you say 'half the world is A, the other half is B, and A and B are the same'. You can write at length about that model, for a very long time. And none of it has anything to do with anything other than itself, the model someone made up to start with, without much reference to anything external, let alone 'scientific-type adequacy'.

It's not about being strict or dogmatic. It's about seeing things as they are, not how you want them to be.

Do you have anything to say about my point re: the differences between verbal and visual grammar? Or would you prefer to wave that away with comments about coherence?

David Cauchi, 10:47 a.m. 7 October, 2011

Consider a tree. If you think about it, it is easy to theorise the tree away. It's not a thing-in-itself. It can't exist in a vacuum. It's roots interact with the soil, and it's leaves with the air. There is no tree, only the dynamic process.

Bollocks. Of course there is a tree. You climb it and swing on it, pick the smallest hardest fruits and throw them at your brothers.

David Cauchi, 11:03 a.m. 7 October, 2011

My dad sent me this this morning:

David Cauchi, 11:11 a.m. 7 October, 2011

I reckon semiotics is just astrology with pretensions to sophistication. I'm more interested in our modern cosmological astronomy than astrological models.

Ralph Paine, 10:36 p.m. 7 October, 2011

You misread me, attribute to me things I simply either do not say or imply: too much noise in the channels... E.g. the way you interpret and use Kant's concept of the thing in-itself is the complete opposite to how I would. But hey.....

And where my speculative little schema actually ended up was with this: "But what we could also do is say that it is the movement/action of the mind as it travels between all three options that is our best image of thought."

Which would be a Deleuzian-inspired kinda notion. Here's how he puts it in Difference & Repetition:

“In going from A to B and then from B to A, we do not arrive back at the point of departure as in a bare repetition; rather, the repetition between A and B and B and A is the progressive trajectory or description of the whole of a problematic field”.

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Owen Pratt, 6:38 p.m. 5 October, 2011

to reiterate Parakowhai's practice is based on fakery so it is quite poetical, in a sense, that the 'work' was sculpted by a prop maker.
It is a great image and I hope to see and hear a performance on the working piano (art plus) but it has little to do with mark making and the retinal. Its trickery, a cynical game.

This kind of work disrespects the audience by treating them as dumb consumers but then maybe, Andrew, you think we deserve that..

 In reply

Andrew Paul Wood, 12:48 a.m. 6 October, 2011

If you think all art is supposed to just retinal, Owen, that probably IS all you deserve. I prefer to think it's a place of many mansions.

Kim Finnarty, 9:55 a.m. 6 October, 2011

Andrew you are able to move from the specific to the general to suit your humour but in the process not really having any worthwhile opinion of your own.

I think any move away from a conceptual hegemony that validates an illustrative practice toward a classical approach that values mark making, is a healthy one.

John Hurrell, 10:14 a.m. 6 October, 2011

Kim, I don't think you of all people can comment on the worth of Andrew's opinion when you hide behind a pseudonym. You've got a lot of cheek to criticise people who have the courage to identify themselves when they add to the conversation.

Kim Finnarty, 1:36 p.m. 6 October, 2011

So you disagree, John. APW seemed to be playing the man and not the ball but on this site its not what you say but who you are that counts?

Andrew Paul Wood, 4:43 p.m. 6 October, 2011

Oh dear "Kim", I thought I had been perfectly clear if you had put down your axe and stopped grinding it long enough to read further up the thread. As I have stated, I do not believe for a moment that process/concept based art and retinal/mark-based art are at war - they have always been with us in one form or another and it is fashion that dictates which appears to be "ascendant" at any given time. I also believe that all the theory in the world (a much tilled field that requires no further tilling by me here) is no substitute for using ones eyes - something sadly neglected in the world's art schools these days. All ideology is bunk if you take it too seriously. Otherwise I have been responding facetiously to facetiousness - even though I disagree with David, John, and Owen on certain points, they at least would appear to have a sense of humour.

David Cauchi, 10:50 a.m. 7 October, 2011

I thought Kim's point about what you say not who is saying it extremely well made.

Andrew Paul Wood, 1:44 p.m. 7 October, 2011

In which case you would both be dramatically overestimating my sphere of influence.

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David Cauchi, 10:48 a.m. 7 October, 2011

Ye gods. 'Its' not 'it's'. Twice.

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John Hurrell, 11:48 a.m. 7 October, 2011

David, please keep your comments together in the one post. Not piecemeal fragments popping up like clay pigeons.

 In reply

David Cauchi, 11:57 a.m. 7 October, 2011

Sorry. An edit function would help.

Anyway, clay pigeons are for shooting down.

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David Cauchi, 1:54 a.m. 8 October, 2011

Oh boring. Is that seriously meant to be a rebuttal? One that doesn't actually rebut anything? Or even address the points made at all?

And if you're going to claim that I've misread you, please specify what I've misread and how. Not enough signal.

Speaking of misreading, what makes you think I'm talking about Kant's thing-in-itself? I never mentioned Kant. Sure, he used the term too, but that doesn't make every reference to 'thing-in-itself' a reference to Kant. How does how I have been using the term indicate Kant? It obviously isn't the Kantian 'thing-in-itself'. How could it possibly be and make sense in the context I've used it? And why do I even need to say this? I honestly don't think it's me doing the misreading. Nor, for that matter, do I think I'm the one producing too much noise. Is this your much vaunted understanding of things-in-context and dynamic processes in action?

Why the default assumption I'm merely rabbiting received ideas? (Oh right...)

When you say I'm misreading, I assume you mean, even though you provide no clues of any kind what you mean, my comment about the operations '+' and 'x' not being synonyms. And, yes, nowhere did you say they were. You said 'let’s say that forces and signs act in the same manner, that the two terms are simply synonyms'. Are you asking me to accept that you meant that forces and signs, which you'd already defined as comprising the entire universe, are synonyms and act in the same manner, but that you somehow specifically excluded the possibility that two signs, both made up of two crossed lines whose only difference is a slight angle, are synonyms and act in the same manner? Is that why you claim it was an invalid inference? I will freely admit that I completely missed that qualification. Signs being synonyms seemed pretty implied to me. It still does.

And, while I'm at it (and cos I don't see this going any further), I reject the idea that words and sentences are completely self-contained, that 'all signs only refer to other signs'. It is completely at odds with my experience of how words work. For example, when used as an object in a sentence (i.e. 'This is a big mug'), the word 'mug' does not gain its meaning by its relationship to the subject and verb. Rather, its meaning is derived by reference to an external object in the world, depending on whether that referent is a kind of drinking vessel, a face, or a type of person.

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David Cauchi, 10:39 a.m. 8 October, 2011

Let me quickly explain why the rudeness. It's nothing personal.

I try to work out the person behind a constructed object (such as text) they present. I'm interested in human beings, not reflex machines parroting ideas they've bought off the shelf without apparently making any alterations whatsoever. Especially not when they seem proud of their wilful ignorance of our knowledge of objects in the world.

For example, take what Ralph said about seers, drug users, witches, and shamans seeking sensation rather than knowledge. Now, the mystic experience is, like most things, an area of study in which sensible people have done good solid work. For example, at Otago, some guy called Flynn (I forget his first name) taught a course once upon a time about the mystic experience as a way of bringing about a political utopia.

Obviously, the mystic experience is a search for knowledge, not sensation. Take the Taino, the Caribbean islanders wiped out by Columbus. Their shamans would take a drug called cohoba in order to see the geometric patterns underlying reality. Evil spirits would rip holes in that pattern and cause illness, crop failure, etc, which the shaman would then patch up, using knowledge. This is, of course, a simplified rural version of the more sophisticated urban Mayan priest schema.

I don't see the point of making stuff up out of ignorance. It seems a waste of time. Not at all worthwhile.

Like I said, I'm not trying to be personally rude (despite, as a friend once put it, my 'extremely forthright way of putting things'). I am merely presenting how I see things and seeking a response.

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Ralph Paine, 10:46 a.m. 8 October, 2011

I think you are misreading me because you do not follow the MOVEMENT of what I wrote, the trajectory of its linked possibilities of sense, as it were. E.g. concerning this whole synonym problem of yours, here's what I actually wrote in the schema: "Given the above, let’s say that forces and signs act in the same manner, that the two terms are simply synonyms; or, put slightly differently, that there are forces everywhere and everything is a sign. OR WE COULD KEEP THE TWO VERSIONS APART..."(emphasis added). From that you somehow conclude that I believe every sign to be a synonym for every other sign, which is clearly an absurdity, and clearly not what I meant.

As for the Ding-an-sich or Thing-in-itself, it is Kant's concept, he created it, gave it its being, its shape and sense. To not somehow take this into account when using the concept would seem a mistake, akin, say, to not taking Einstein's equation into account when writing about cosmic relativity, or not taking Picasso's work into account when writing about cubism.

Here's a dictionary account of Kant's concept:

"The meaning of this phrase is explained by Kant in his "Prolegomena for any Future Metaphysics": 'As the senses ... never and in no single instance enable us to know things in themselves, but only their appearances, and as these are mere representations ... all bodies, together with the space in which they are, must be held to be nothing but mere representations in us, and exist nowhere else than merely in our thought. Now is this not manifest idealism?" Kant himself answered this question in the negative. His grounds were that he did not deny that there are things-in-themselves but only that we can know any of them as they are."

I guess David you can go on using the phrase "thing-in-itself" in any way you see fit, but when you use it in the complete opposite manner to what Kant intended then you are gonna come up against considerable misunderstanding.

Finally, in your last paragraph you seem again to deny possibilities and differences, and thus you seem to conflate empiricist-type statements of 'fact' with rationalist-type statements of 'reason'. E.g. if I was to say "There is a monkey in the next room" then we would have to go into that room to prove this. If on the other hand I was to say "All bachelors are unmarried men" then the truth of the statement relies on us knowing the grammatical rules, meanings of the words, etc. only. Maths is like later: set up an initial set of self evident propositions or axioms and extrapolate from there.....

 In reply

David Cauchi, 12:38 p.m. 8 October, 2011

Cheers Ralph.

Yes, I did find the movement in what you wrote, from A to B back to A which is not-A back to B which is not-B, absurd. I am trying (with difficulty) to understand what you meant. The difficulty is because it is so completely foreign to my experience of the world.

I have taken Kant's concept into account in my treatment of the 'thing-in-itself', even though I didn't make that explicit (or particularly implicit) here. This is a complex area that, for our purposes here, I have simplified. Maybe too much. I answer Kant's questions (specifically, his questions about the status of geometry given how we perceive space) in a different way than Kant did. In my scheme, the thing-in-itself doesn't actually exist, but that doesn't mean we can't know it (with all necessary qualifications on the word 'know' here). It's a complex area (the 'common-sense' part of 'common-sense nihilism'). Do we want to go into it?

Similarly, I have also simplified, to make my point, what's going on in the sentence 'This is a big mug' (just as I neglected to mention the modifying role of the adjective 'big'). I am aware of how grammar works and the example 'All bachelors are unmarried men'. Yes, grammatical structure (words and rules) is necessary for meaning. And of course there are words (not to mention punctuation) whose only role is to express those rules in operation (e.g. 'therefore'). My point is that grammar, although necessary for meaning, is not sufficient. It is very much not enough to ONLY know the rules. Rules alone do not determine, cannot determine, the meaning of the sentence 'This is a big mug'. Not the truth value, the meaning.

For example, say you have three oranges, and I give you another five. To represent this, the sentence '3 + 5' is not sufficient. Where does it represent the colour, the shape? The feel of the peel? Etc etc.

Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 2:14 p.m. 8 October, 2011

Actually, with the A to B stuff I was quoting Deleuze; but again, you seem to wilfully misread what he's saying too. Here's the quote again : “In going from A to B and then from B to A, we do not arrive back at the point of departure as in a bare repetition; rather, the repetition between A and B and B and A is the progressive trajectory or description of the whole of a problematic field”.

So rather than the trajectory proceeding via 'bare repetition' or a series of negations - which is how you are reading this - what Deleuze is saying is that the trajectory proceeds via a series of enhancements, expansions, or positive differences, ones in fact created by the mind moving between things: A > B, B > A' > B', B' > A'', etc.

How this might relate to any of your actual, embodied, real life experiences is not my call; but in my experience it's perhaps best in life not to negate the possibility that others have already or may want to experiment with the possibility.

As for your comments above about shamans, when I wrote that freeing oneself of all signs and coding, including symbols and language, might seem an impossibility but was nevertheless something worth speculating on, and something that artists, yogi, drug users, seers, witches and shamans and so and so forth have been experimenting with for millennia", I was in no way negating other possibilities for shamanistic experimentaion (prophecy, social healing, etc.).

 In reply

David Cauchi, 3:55 p.m. 8 October, 2011

Oh, and (sorry John) there's no doubt the mystic experience can involve a regression to a pre-linguistic state (along with interesting transitional stages).

However, I suggest that this pre-linguistic state is not pre-conceptual state free of 'all signs and coding' but rather the primal conceptual state of visual images I've alluded to above. (I hope I'm replying to the right comment this time.)

Consider the cave paintings in the Herzog film. They were made using highly sophisticated technical means that had been developed over thousands of years. I don't understand why people persist in trying to understand them with simplistic, primitivist notions of sympathetic magic and crude correspondence etc. The conceptual underpinnings of those paintings are as sophisticated as their technical means.

Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 3:25 p.m. 8 October, 2011

For what it's worth, here's a an actual/experiential example of the A > B, B > A', A' > B', B' > A'', etc. sequencing, an artistic one.

Let A = the gannet colony at Muriwai on Auckland's west coast, and let B = McCahon's painting "The Care of Small Birds: Muriwai" (as I write, on display at Auckland Art Gallery).

By moving between the two (one a geographical location, the other an artwork) over an extended duration might it not be possible to gain an enhanced and constantly expanding sense of the two, with each encounter at one changing the next encounter at the other, and so on, but with all the actual encounters adding up to create a field of thought/feeling?

Reply to this thread

David Cauchi, 3:35 p.m. 8 October, 2011

I know you were quoting Deleuze. Writing that is predominantly made up of what seem to me extremely vague abstract terms, completely lacking real world examples of what is meant, is very opaque to me. But I have made the effort.

Could you provide a specific example of A, A', A", B, B', etc?

An incidental note: Readers of this thread not familiar with philosophical discourse might not be aware that Ralph and I are championing, like jousting knights of old, rival philosophical traditions, old ones. Ralph has entered the lists under the banner of the Continental philosophical tradition, with Deleuze on his shield (or tied around his neck as a favour?); I under that of British empiricism (otherwise known as the Anglo-American analytic tradition), with a black square on my shield.

 In reply

David Cauchi, 3:45 p.m. 8 October, 2011

That is an excellent example. Why can't you just compare the relevant properties of each thing and say 'Okay, they're in a mutually reinforcing reciprocal metaphorical relationship'? Why the apparatus?

Andrew Paul Wood, 4:59 p.m. 8 October, 2011

And here was me thinking that the analytic tradition had been killed off by the Derrida virus and assorted Marx-in-drag. Please be careful how you bandy the word "Continental" around - I'm partial to German Idealism.

David Cauchi, 5:55 p.m. 8 October, 2011

It is a fairly ragged banner I will admit.

But there are a few people around who've designed their own shield and weapons. Image making. What separates us from the cows.

Andrew Paul Wood, 8:08 p.m. 8 October, 2011

A difficult distinction to make in Fonterra Nova. I say less teaching of Derrida in sycophantic American translations, and more teaching French - and German etc. Read some literature. The Rortian Pragmatist in me suggests that there is no ultimate truth, but the processes we develop to try and get there are the only relevant things to analyse. Making up spurious methodologies for the sake of it seems eminently pointless.

Reply to this thread

David Cauchi, 3:35 p.m. 8 October, 2011

Oh snap! Nice.

 In reply

Ralph Paine, 8:59 p.m. 8 October, 2011

To help clarify something I have written I use one quote from Deleuze and suddenly I'm a knight in a battle defending the whole of Continental philosophy against the whole of British empiricism! And not only that, somehow this British empiricism is the same thing as the Anglo-American analytic tradition. All too grandiose - and mis-representatively grandiose at that.

Andrew Paul Wood, 9:51 p.m. 8 October, 2011

You can't cherry-pick philosophy. It and art are both surprisingly empirical. Just because Deleuze is airy-fairy enough to seem to mean anything you like, you cannot divorce him from the post-Freudian post-structuralist neo-Marxist French tradition. There are very systematic received reasons why certain signs are applied to certain concepts, mainly out of tradition. Visual imagery isn't even processed in the same part of the brain as written words.

David Cauchi, 9:53 p.m. 8 October, 2011

It's a joke, Ralph.

Ralph Paine, 10:37 a.m. 9 October, 2011

Ah, the strictures, all these rules and regulations Andrew, these you-can'ts.

But yeah, as in art so in philosophy, of course there are myriad schools and camps, traditions and styles. But there's also Proper Names. And there's also a lot of cross breeding and contagion going on... And cherry picking, which seems to me a way more pleasurable activity than having to read inept statements like "Deleuze is airy-fairy enough to seem to mean anything you like".

Anyway, I wasn't divorcing Deleuze from what you are calling the post-Freudian post-structuralist neo-Marxist French tradition. But what I was divorcing myself from David's version of our conversation being a kinda Dungeons and Dragons.

So yeah, a joke David.... A bad one because Deleuze was actually a fan of British Empiricism, in 1953 writing a book about Hume. And these days Manuel DeLanda is a great writer about Deleuze's philosophy and its connections with the Anglo-American analytic tradition. See his "Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy".

David Cauchi, 10:56 a.m. 9 October, 2011

Heh, Dungeons and Dragons. I was thinking more the medieval pageantry we're surrounded with at the moment, which I'm surprised to find I'm quite enjoying. I'm also thinking I might have to do an imaginary parody order of common-sense nihilist knights. Doesn't that term have a nice ring to it?

And Deleuze writing a book on Hume is exactly the kind of thing I'm joking about. One day, I might write a book on Deleuze.

And, yes, isn't it nice we all found each other. I'm happy too. Ha ha.

Reply to this thread

trevor rolland, 12:05 a.m. 9 October, 2011

Just because Deleuze is airy-fairy enough to seem to mean anything you like, you cannot divorce him from the post-Freudian post-structuralist neo-Marxist French tradition.

= best comment ever. feel like andrew paul wood just clocked eyecontact.

 In reply

trevor rolland, 12:06 a.m. 9 October, 2011

so happy you all found each other.

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John Hurrell, 12:40 a.m. 9 October, 2011

Whilst I do believe in the merits of conversation for conversation's sake, perhaps looking at (ahem!) Venice, either Curiger's selection or NZ's selection - in turn - of Culbert, might be in order.

By the way, has the next director for 2013 been announced? If not are they utterly irrelevant to what this country sends? Is their overarching curational direction totally superfluous? ie. Aren't we prematurely jumping the gun, or is there really no 'gun' to jump: the directoral mission being absolutely inconsequential?

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Owen Pratt, 9:57 a.m. 15 October, 2011

a link 4 David Cauchi.

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John Hurrell, 9:03 a.m. 16 October, 2011

Owen, some stuff you can flick on to other contributors privately via their own blogs or websites. We really want comments here to be about the intial post or some related art dialogue theme.

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Owen Pratt, 11:19 p.m. 16 October, 2011

It is directly related to David and Ralph's comments, thanks John.

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John Hurrell, 11:47 p.m. 16 October, 2011

Elaborate then, Owen. Explain the connection to EC readers, & convince them that this thread hasn't done its dash.

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Owen Pratt, 9:27 a.m. 17 October, 2011

Cauchi writes of the inherent sophistication of the paintings at Lascaux as a prop to a theory of pre linguistic not equating to pre conceptual, of how a particular code develops its own sophistication within its own confines.

In the meme quiz the code is set by the question: linguistic, about another code; numerical, where the answer to the linguistic question lies elsewhere in a third code.

Its a simple and effective illustration of separate codes co-existing simultaneously and the difficulty of separating them out with limited clues.

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Recent Posts by Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers

Thomas Hirschhorn at the Swiss Pavillion. Image courtesy: la Biennale di Venezia

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