I foresee my thesis as a combination of the formats 1 and 2 of the PZI Thesis Guideline. It will be a rapport on the progress of my graduation project as well as a reflection on my theoretical research in connection to it. However it won’t be presented alongside my work.
I would like to take my work as the red-thread of the thesis. This way I can articulate my theoretical research in relation to my work and my methodology. Since in my current practice I work simultaneously on several projects - different series of images, I would like to divide my thesis accordingly to different parts. Each part of the text can be around specific image series and reflect on the topics relevant to them. The texts will be based on interviews that I’ll conduct with people who are as well relevant to the topic to be discussed.
At the moment my bibliography consists of the following texts. Besides the reading, I did a considerable amount of audio-visual research (lectures, documentaries, interviews) on topics related the texts. One example would be the general ideas of Poststructuralism on language and meaning (in relation to Eco and Barthes who are associated with the movement).
-Vilem Flusser “Towards Philosophy of Photography” (1984), “Into the Universe of Technical Images”(1985)
-Umberto Eco “Open Work” (1962)
-Roland Barthes “Methodologies” (1957), “Death of the Author” (1967)
-Start Hall “Encoding/Decoding” (1973)
-Jean Baudrillard “Why hasn’t everything already disappeared?” (2009)
The main subject of my thesis would be the ‘image culture’. The overall two dimensional - visual culture that I refer as image universe. What are the peculiarities of images as communication mediums and what is their relation with each other within this universe? As well as looking at images as a medium for documentation - preservation of the past and as models - vision of the future. Taking into account my current works I have grouped together 3 general topics that seem to be the most relevant to my practice. However at the moment they only represent the connections I’ve made in my theoretical research (between the texts). As I mentioned before, in my thesis these topics will be discussed in relation to my works and my methodology.
-image as representation/signifier (Flusser, Eco, Hall, Baudrillard)
The notion of representation is tightly connected to images. Throughout history (from Plato to Jewish prophets) images where distrusted because of their tendency to take the place of what they represent. Instead of being seen as signifiers they took the place of what they signify - a phenomena know as Idolatry. The explanation for this is that images as signifiers resemble what they signify. Where in language (oral and written) the relationship between signifier and signified is arbitrary (the word ‘horse’ and a real horse), in images, an image of horse resembles a horse. This view suggests that there is a distinction between the representation and the ‘thing’ it represents in real world. However this notion has been changed. In our current circumstances where media apparatus constantly represents the world and creates a loop between presentation and the real, these two become interconnected. In fact the things have to be represented in order to become real (to become meaningful). This suggests circumstances where we are able to make sense of the world only through and in the representation - in images. However in this loop the notion of image as well changes. Image is no longer able to re-present the real since it has no distance from it, it became to intertwine with the real.
The digitalisation of photography has been seen as a crucial change in the field of representation as well as a metaphor for the change in our perception of the world. Their specific features: instant emergence of an image, their dependency on screens, their disposition to digital manipulation are seen as exemplification of the changes in the wide spectrum of culture. The extreme version of digital image - CGI suggests an image that doesn’t require the real anymore, it’s an image that resembles the real but nevertheless is a result of calculations and programming. This already opens up several questions regarding images as representations. Another feature of the digital is its seriality, digital tends to produces abundance of images (for example of an event) which creates an accumulation of images. This brings additional questions, namely the capability of a single image to represent an event.
-interpretation and meaning (Eco, Barthes, Hall, Flusser)
From the second half of 20th century the ideas on language and meaning became to take a new direction in the Western Philosophy. Poststructuralism claimed that there is never a single meaning to a sign (linguistic or visual), rather there are multiple meanings that come from different interpretation. In literature this was articulated through ideas such as ‘Death of the Author’(Barthes), which claimed that a text can have different meanings, depending on the reader’s interpretation. The concept of ‘author’ was seen by Barthes as an mechanism of power and control, which is done by critics who analyze the text in the light of author’s personal life and present it as the only correct interpretation. Same was true for visual language (images) - the idea of ‘openness’ (Eco) came to explain the abstract art that was already popular at the time. It uses the vocabulary of Mathematical Theory of Information - noise/message/redundancy to articulate on the meaning in visual art. Here as well, a work becomes ‘open’ (by implementation of noise) in order to be open to different interpretation but nevertheless it should carry minimum amount on message in order to not fall into total abstraction (this on its turn can be achieved by the implementation of redundancy). In short the shift was regarding the meaning of a sign. If before it was believed that the message (sign) was decoded in the exact way it was encoded - its meaning was singular, it became clear that the process of encoding and decoding is much more complex and that a message can have several meanings simultaneously. This however was not an undertaking of arts or literature, in order to make the world more abstract and chaotic. This was rather the reflection of the world that was becoming increasingly more abstract due to the domination of science. The world projected by science was, and still is abstract and inconceivable, it lacks continuity and is unable to give us a definitive image of our world. The task of the ‘open work’ becomes to represent this chaotic world that we are immersed in.
- gesture and choice (Baudrillard, Flusser)
Choice as an act has an element of expression. For example in fashion, we chose from existing products to express ourself, in contrast to this our ancestors would make their own clothing where the self-expression was more direct act. Today’s social platforms show that as an online-identity we are more constructed from the materials we chose rather than produce. But since the choices we make already carry in them certain predetermine significations, another layer of expression in needed in order to convey a message on more subjective level. This idea can be seen in the works of contemporary painters such as M.Dumas, G.Richter, P.Doig, L.Tuymans and other. Working exclusively from existing images (mostly photography) these painters integrate the concept of choice into the subject matter of their images. On top of this there is the additional layer of expression which is the physical gesture which shows the attitude - standpoint of these painters towards the chosen subject. By using paint as a medium to represent another already ecxisting representation (photography) these artist manage to create new meaning by subverting and questioning the predetermined meanings of the ‘original’ image. However the notion of gesture becomes problematic when it comes to digital images. A gesture that is digital is still operates within the closed loop of digital. It doesn’t have the distance - the ‘otherness’ that paint brings to the images of contemporary painters. It fails to bring a new viewpoint - to create a parallel world to which the world it depicts can be compared. However the failure of gesture in digital is not solely the issue of the medium but it also has to do with our reading of gesture within digital. Namely the tendency to see a gesture as a physical - visual manifestation. But since digital images are a result of computation and programming the gesture should be seen in this light. Instead of looking at what they show we should understand how there are programmed.