“It is in the Renaissance that the false is born along with the natural. From the fake shirt in front to the use of the fork as artificial prosthesis, to the stucco interiors and the great baroque theatrical machinery.” - Jean Baudrillard, Simulations
, Semiotexte: 1983
The act of reaching for a fork is ritual, routine. I hardly know what really goes on between my hand and metal, not to mention how nuances fluctuate with my mood—lowerings and liftings, extensions and accelerations, rhythms and twitterings, a jerk. Ritual, routine, like pulling a lever on a factory farm to feed, the act of reaching for a fork is also feudal: a basic, unconscious, but unequivocal demonstration of a belief in social hierarchy. A fork is prosthesis, a device to supplement my body... but, a fork is unnecessary. In many cases, practically, I could best eat with my hands. Eating with a fork demonstrates class. I eat with a fork to demonstrate what? I demonstrate my separation from rank animals, my control of my extremities, my whole living self, and by extension, my control of the people who work for me: build, maintain and clean the devices I use to travel, write, read. I am a King.
“Even if one has a general knowledge of the way people walk, one knows nothing of a person’s posture during the fractional second of a stride. The act of reaching for a lighter or a spoon is a familiar routine, yet we hardly know what really goes on between hand and metal, not to mention how this fluctuates with our moods. Here the camera intervenes with the resources of its lowerings and liftings, its interruptions and isolations, its extensions and accelerations, its enlargements and reductions.” - Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," 1935
In pictures, I wear a fake front tuxedo shirt. Like the clown from the Middle Ages who dressed up to parody the King, my fake front tux shirt is a cheap gag and a delusion of grandeur, yes. My fake front tux shirt—white silkscreen on plain black t—I also always wear in all humorless contexts: humorless glass after humorless glass of champagne, t-shirt where dress tuxedo is required. My fake front hurdles over commands of recognized class costume.
Baudrillard: “In caste societies, feudal or archaic, cruel societies, the signs are limited in number, and are not widely diffused, each one functions with its full value as interdiction, each is a reciprocal obligation between castes, clans or persons. The signs therefore are anything but arbitrary.” (Also from Simulations
Exalted eminence, I fit here; I think this t-shirt stands-in just fine as three-piece suit. Anywhere signs are limited in number, anywhere signs are cruel, the production of counterfeit sings and embodying false signs become disciplines. I’m not being a jerk; this is serious. Don’t be a jerk.
Fashion can always be a sign. Think of the implications if now, even food can exist merely as sign for food. There is no more original fruit; there are no heirloom oranges on trees. My snack orange is an idea of an orange that scientists dreamed up in a laboratory. Engineered from seed, my snack orange, grown as one in a massive quantity, advertised and displayed, hoping to approximate the expectations of a rushed but cost-savvy consumer. It would be silly for me to demand of the grocery store worker, warehousing oranges: I want an original orange! As there is no original ipad—all ipads from the same line are the same ipad—there is now no original orange. I can claim no counterfeit. Benjamin: “From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense.” ("The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction")
Baudrillard on the Industrial Revolution: “Which is to say the series, and even the possibility of two or of ‘n’ identical objects. The relation between them is no longer that of an original to its counterfeit—neither analogy nor reflection—but equivalence, indifference. In a series, objects become undefined, simulacra one of the other. And so, along with the objects, do the men that produce them.” (from Simulations
Oh to be more than an undefined simulacra, one, just the same as my neighbor, us both reproductions of reproductions. Oh Claes Oldenburg: “... I draw things that I come across in the city. Even there I don’t draw an orange, imitate an orange as it is, but I imitate the picture of the orange as I know it in the city because the orange is always being represented to me by somebody.” (from Robert Pincus-Witten, “The Transformation of Daddy Warbucks,” Chicago Scene
Oh dinner roll. The Gold Rush, on the eve of a new year, still poor, but emboldened by new hopes and new dreams, Charlie Chaplin in his shack joined by beautiful guests. Revel and toast. To entertain, Chaplin performs a puppet dance. Sticking two dinner rolls with two forks, Chaplin’s forks in Chaplin’s hands become legs, dinner rolls are big feet. Chaplin playfully manipulates these puppet legs, makes them dance: dadada duh duh duh ding ding, da duuummmm! Forks spear dinner rolls, dinner rolls reproduce little big dancing feet.
Fakes are everywhere. Faking is politics sometimes, fashion, sometimes faking is fun, and sometimes faking is necessary. On three, yell a synonym for fake, one... two... three... Synthetic! Superficial! Photoshopped! Phoney!
Try to reproduce exactly even the simplest action... wrapping up a computer chord for example. Do it. Do it again exactly. I think doing it exactly is not so easy. Have someone else do it. Do it as they did it exactly. This might be hard. Open an umbrella while getting off a school bus, open an umbrella while getting off a school bus, turn on a flashlight and shout to a low flying plane, turn on a flashlight and shout to a low flying plane, break a bottle, break a bottle. Copy a copy of copy of a copy, copy that last copy, copy it again.
And, it should be so: a bumpy terrain of slight difference, expanding nuance. True democracy would depend on more than difference, even more than diverse responses. Hegemony is one body’s absolute take over of the world. Hegemony is the desire to make of the whole world, one substance, to reduce all matter to one matter, to pre-determine the material of all shape and form, all objects, buildings, and bodies made of the same stuff. Jean Baudrillard imagines: “...concrete furniture, chairs, drawers, concrete sewing machines, and outside in the courtyard, an entire orchestra, including violins, of concrete—all concrete! Concrete trees with real leaves painted on them, a hog made out of reinforced concrete, but with a real hog’s skull inside, concrete sheep covered with real wool.” (from Simulations
) Concrete everything? Or plastic everything? Terrifying? Awesome? Both? Both.
I saw a Jasper Johns target painting in a museum, a layered painting of a target. Seeing the painting I also saw Target gift cards, Target photo and pharmacy, Target daily deals on women’s, men’s, baby and kids’, Target shoes and beauty, home, kitchen patio furniture. My thoughts are replaced by images, advertisements, billboards.
Benjamin: “The painting invites the spectator to contemplation; before it the spectator can abandon himself to his associations. Before the movie frame he cannot do so. No sooner has his eye grasped a scene than it is already changed. It cannot be arrested. [A critic], who detests the film and knows nothing of its significance, though something of its structure, notes this circumstance as follows: ‘I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images.’ The spectator’s process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant, sudden change. This constitutes the shock effect of the film, which, like all shocks, should be cushioned by the heightened presence of the mind.” ("The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction")
I want be something, an amalgam of moving images. I think I want to be George Clooney. I want to be George Clooney, after George Clooney. I wear a film still of his face on my t-shirt. Look at this film still face on my t-shirt. Don’t look at my face! Look at my t-shirt face.
A stream of fakes: imitation, founding, stamping, replicas, print from engraving, print from etching, print from woodcut, student replicates master’s sculpture, a poster, a silkscreen, an mpeg, a jpeg, a reproduced gesture. Then, a transfer of money by electric wire transfer, a dizzying transfer from account to account, transfer money and matter all by numeric code. Reproduce, reproduce, reproduce, move goods, move money, order services. I take your picture with my cell phone. You press your face to the little lens. The picture is all nose. The phone is ringing. The call does not go to voicemail. The phone keeps ringing and ringing and ringing and ringing.
How about if I could be a composite: George Clooney’s forehead, Johns’ or Andy Warhol’s nose, Barack Obama’s mouth.
Like what I imagine of a part of a splitting cell, a little pail of undetermined yellow fluid not yet completely separate from a very similar but larger pail, I look a lot like my father.
Would you believe me if I said I am now the exact age he was when this picture was taken? Would you agree with me if I said, I look exactly now like my father does in this picture? Often, I feel like an exact reproduction, visually at least. I am now his age, the age he was when this picture was taken. Sitting there, might be his hand was picking at a stain on the blue sofa, in front of the colonial style, porcelain lamp.
Listen to the photographer Phil Collins: “The supposed grammar of empathy, that we identify with character, and with narrative view-point, rather than with the bed that you’re fucking on, the air that you breathe, or the wilting geranium, is something which continually eludes me. I’d always wanted both to be everything I could see, and, simultaneously, to replace everything. And I always, impossibly, wanted to replicate this feeling in my photographs and videos, frames you would literally want to crawl inside. Experience not the mastery of objectification but the sharp wound of exclusion. Photos you would piss yourself to get into...” (Now What? Artists Write!
, Bak: 2004)
I am in his body, but I am not in my father’s mind. Often, I am not in my own mind. I can’t replace everything.
The phone is ringing cruel. In The Red Tapes, Part II
, 1976, clopping around, singsong Vito Acconci reproduces rough, dysfunctional domestic life, a scattered, scattering frightening mind. Here, from The Red Tapes: “She says... I can see right through you...” [Sound effect: a fast ticking clock.] “She says: you’re belittling me...” [Jaunty camerawork. Set: a network of white platforms and unstable ladders.] He says: “I’m too good to you.” [An egg timer buzzes. Acconci climbs and scowls through trap doors and attic accesses, the camera warbles, trying to follow Acconci.] “She said: you’re deceiving yourself.” [Sound effect of doors opening and closing, a creaky door.] “He said: you’re deceiving me.” [The ladders are unsteady. Acconci shakes his mop of hair left and right, Acconci speaks directly to the camera.] “Cut it out, cut it out, cut it out!” [Camera static. Cut. Begin again a similar sequence.]
In the Documentary, The True Story of Artaud the Momo
, one evocative recreation of Antonin Artaud: his mind as black-and-white negatives on a light table, placed casually, one at a time, then piling up. Image: Artaud leaning against a wall. A hand shifts the clipped negative bits. Artaud smiling, scratching behind his ear in front of abstract paintings. Of film, of a clutter, of overlapping blacks, grays, Artaud faces. Artaud looks down. Artaud and cigarette, large mouth down turned. Artaud: “Patients and Doctors, Sickness is a state, Health is just another, baser one. That is, more cowardly and mean. No patient has failed to grow. The healthy always betray you, to escape sickness. Like the doctors I’ve had to endure. I’ve been sick all my life, and ask only to keep it up.” (Documentary film by Gerard Mordillat, 1993)
And/or getting into making what images you would not want to crawl inside, images that curdle, that startle, that stop you in your tracks—cages, sickness, wobbly infrastructure. Just one response perhaps to being stuck in the copy machine, reproduce this: Antonin Artaud. Antonin Artaud: “In the anguished, catastrophic period we live in, we feel an urgent need for a theater which events do not exceed, whose resonance is deep within us, dominating the instability of the times. Our long habit of seeking diversion has made us forget the idea of a serious theater, which, overturning all of our preconceptions, inspires us with the fiery magnetism of its images.” (Artaud, The Theater and Its Double
, Grove Press: 1958)
Images: Plasterer's Tools
from Joseph Maxon's Mechanick Exercises
, 1703; Barbara Kruger, Don’t Be a Jerk
, 1996; Orange Grove
, Western Publishing and Novelty; Order Fun Tux
; Jasper Johns, Target with Four Faces
, 1955; Andy Warhol’s Troy Donahue T-Shirt; Andy Warhol, Female Movie Star Composite
, 1962; Richard Wentworth, Ditto
, 1987; Dad
, thanks for putting up with this, Dad.