Browsing Tag: Plato

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    Book: The Aesthetics of Mimesis: Ancient Texts and Modern Problems, by Stephen Halliwell

    March 15, 2021

    In my work in progress on Lascaux, Altamira and Chauvet it has not been easy to find a word with which to talk about the various representations of these painted caves. But, I was recently reminded of the word mimesis since it is one of the earliest art historical terms, and, as I learned from this erudite book, mimesis is best thought of as a familial framework of ideas, through which we might sometimes speak of imitation and copying, sometimes of representation or description, and sometimes of expression and interpretation.

    Plato’s ideas around mimesis, frequently thought of as a monolithic dismissal of poetry, are themselves shown to be complex here, and he allows for a way of rendering the real world, through poetry or painting, that is, in itself, not degenerate at all, but, rather, ethical and good. Later Aristotle took up this term mimesis and gave it a twofold definition: encompassing external reality and internal logic – the Greek tragedy, for instance, should offer a true sense of the world and an audience response governed by the artwork’s structure

    In the first two parts of The Aesthetics of Mimesis, Halliwell explodes this dusty academic term and offers a dazzling array of the varied thinking of the ancient world. From its beginnings, poetry, and by extension painting, was understood to deal in hypothetical yet emotive realities. As long we have recorded notions about art, art could be said to simulate the world, as much as to reflect it. Whereas Plato famously thought of poetry as a potential negative influence, he also looked for correctness, mental benefits and pleasurable qualities in the sphere of art. Plato did not equate mimesis to verisimilitude; instead he looked for the ‘what’, ‘how, and ‘what for’ of form and beauty: these questions remain relevant to any 21st attempt to write art criticism. He wasn’t convinced by visual illusion, so mimesis has in fact never been about simply mirroring external realities; confounding what I had assumed to be the case. Aristotle later saw the work, whether written or painted, as both a performance and an intention. (Mimesis is, of course, applicable to acting, human learning, and music.) He was to argue that likeness need not be literal minded and so I hope to show by these examples, of which there are many in the book, just how complex and lively the debates of Ancient Greece remain today.

    Having said that, mimesis is not what it used to be. Leonardo da Vinci criticises fidelity to appearances. The Romantics gave up all attempts to depict the world out there and made expressive pictures and poems about the inner life, and for the Moderns there was no going back to the aim of mirroring nature. But that had never been the primary aim of mimesis, after all. We now live in what has been called a post-mimetic era. And yet the impact of both romanticism and modernism is show in these pages to have been more gradual and inconsistent than you might imagine. In the third and final part of his book, Professor Halliwell shows that, although Plato and Aristotle had the most to say about mimesis, the idea did not spring up with their arrival, and nor did it vanish with the passing of neo-Platonism.

    Perhaps most interesting is the encounter between mimesis and a thinker frequently engaged with on this blog. Derrida is oft said to unsettle the foundations of Western civilisation by destabilising, among other of his tenets, Plato’s conception of truth in poetry/painting. But this idea can be destabilised in turn because 1) Western thought is perhaps equally indebted to Aristotle and owes a further debt to an array of philosophers from the ancient world; and 2) Plato himself takes up a number of evolving positions in his writings about mimesis beyond the most familiar passages in The Republic. Perhaps I have got this wrong, and I invite comments which qualify this short review. I have tried to represent The Aesthetics of Mimesis, but I don’t promise to show things as they (really) are.

    This title is from Princeton University Press (2002) and read via Kindle.

    installation art

    Jac Leirner, The End (2016)

    April 18, 2016

    leirner

    The drug addict and the contemporary artist share a certain flair for rebellion. And so the sight of a high tensile steel cable threaded with roaches from spliffs makes perfect sense here.

    We are told that Leirner is/was an addict and that the work here in her blue-chip show at White Cube was originally put together in a three-day cocaine binge in 2010.

    More paraphernalia is threaded onto further cables which cut across the upper ground floor space like an infra red beam alarm system. Like an addict we must transgress with care.

    Suspended in line with the drug taking gear are pocket spirit levels, which no gallery technician can ever be without. Just as Lerner must depend on a certain equilibrium to remain an ‘artist’.

    But it has been said: “Those who have taken a powder with quasi-magical effects and consider themselves quite unfettered, entirely liberated, out of this world perhaps, are still running on tracks.”*

    So although this installation benefits from some of the outsiderish drama, the evidence here of years of drug use have thrown up very little new or imaginative. There is no Kubla Khan.

    Instead the topic here is a gruelling relationship with repetition as months and years pass in which the artist skins up, chops out and perhaps shoots up to very little transcendental benefit.

    Instead Leirner is marking time and perhaps archiving an impoverished personal history. So her resinated rolling papers could become like Plato’s pharmakon: a tool for remembering.

    Of course, the pharmakon is a drug of two halves. As a repository for our past, it frees us to stop carrying around the baggage of memory, perhaps also here the baggage of sober reason.

    The roaches also criss cross the room like lines of text to become a written diary. And, thanks in part to Derrida**, we know that in the opinion of Plato the written word was also a pharmakon.

    Whether remedy or poison, this show called Junkie offers a meditation on the monotonous reality of drug addiction. That drug addiction possesses a ‘reality’ of its own should not surprise us.

    Jac Leirner: Junkie can be seen at White Cube Mason’s Yard, London, until May 14 2016.

    *Henri Michaud, quoted by David Boothroyd (Deconstructions, A User’s Guide; edited by Nicholas Royle, Palsgrave 2000). 

    ** Jacques Derrida, The Rhetoric of Drugs (Points, Interviews 1974-1994) Stanford University Press 1995

    abstract painting

    Brent Wadden, Alignment #53 (2015)

    October 8, 2015

    wadden

    There’s a great warmth that comes from the ragged, woolly presence of Brent Wadden’s large (two by two and a half metres) woven work. You might even say its tactile qualities are cosy.

    But the design is less comfortable: irregular, patched together in haste, an austere black and white. He doesn’t use much technology, but Wadden has borrowed the look of a glitchy piece of software.

    Software and soft furnishings; weaving and, as has been often pointed out, coding. There is a correspondence between this ancient form of craft and the digital times we live in.

    In the critical theory of weaving* we find this: “Freud believed weaving and plaiting to be the only technique ever invented by women (no small invention if it leads to computers).”

    (Had Freud lived to see the arrival of abstract expressionism, he might have been agog to find, in thirtysomething Wadden, a male artist with such a feminine take on a macho genre.)

    But as anyone could tell you, having seen the Viennese psychologist’s famous couch, Freud was not averse to making you comfy with a rug or two, a cushion or three.

    There’s something about the welcome in his consulting room which finds an echo in the work under discussion. This dense piece of stitching allows the viewer to unravel a little.

    Or at least to grow absorbed in the varying yarns and shades of the panels which make up the whole. This was at least as absorbing as a neurotic monologue about my mother might have been.

    But unlikely as it seems, weaving is also widely political. Caroline Rooney’s theoretical essay on weaving also mentions The Statesman by Plato, where weaving is a metaphor for good government.

    And so as s/he, “weaves the good and serviceable threads together to produce the unified, harmonious social fabric”, the ideal head of state is, of course, closer to a mill worker than a banker.

    Brent Wadden: How Long is Now? can be seen at Pace, London, until 31 October 2015.

    *Deconstruction and Weaving, Caroline Rooney, from Deconstructions: A User’s Guide, ed. Nicholas Royle