Final Major Project

PROJECTIONS

 

Introduction 

‘This Is Not a Meal’ questioned the authenticity of reality. ‘Projections’ continues this interrogation, whilst commenting on the lack of authenticity in the very foundation we have built our society on. To help interpret the world around us, we naturally create mental ‘maps’ of our reality. These are maps of established concepts of the outside world that we all collude with. With our unique cognitive ability, we have created extensive maps, yet we have become so reliant upon our maps of the world that we have lost touch with the reality behind them. We could now be compared to the characters of Lewis Carol’s ‘Sylvie and Bruno Concluded’, who made a ‘map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile.’ Just as they predicted, now our maps are laid across reality ‘it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight’. (Carol, 1895, p.132)

 

Value 

One specific map of reality is society. This map exists in the form of an idea, or indeed as a collection of ideas. For a network so complex as our society to exist, we must all communally believe in it. Therefore, many principles of our society, such as country borders, religions, governments, companies, law and even the concepts of right and wrong may be defined as “intersubective” ideas. In his book ‘Sapiens’, Yuval Noah Harari defines the intersubjective as ‘something that exists within the communication network linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals’. Society is an imagined order with rules that only exist ‘in the shared imagination of thousands and millions of people.’ (Harari, 2011, p.131 – 132) For this reason, some of the most important concepts in our world,  including money and law, are no more real than choosing to believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden.

One critical intersubjective idea is that of value, as it has rather objective influences in our world. On a basic level, a person of value is more likely to have a better quality of life than a person of no value. According to value theory, value can be categorised into two forms, intrinsic and instrumental value. ‘An instrumental value is worth having, as a means towards getting something else that is good,’ and ‘An intrinsically valuable object is worth having for itself, not as a means to something else.’ (Wikipedia, 2019)

There is no intrinsic value in money, or in gold. In fact gold is a fairly useless metal, yet it has massive value in our society. Yuval Noah Harari discussed this, asking ‘What was so important about a metal that could not be eaten, drunk or woven, and was too soft to use for tools or weapons?’ (Harari, 2011, p.193) Gold, however, has significant instrumental value. For instance, I can use it to buy or trade for another object of value. Its instrumental value is valid because it is believed to be valuable by a vast majority. The case is the same with a coin or a five pound note. The value of these objects ‘involved the creation of a new inter-subjective reality that exists solely in people’s shared imagination.’ (Harari, 2011, p.197) 

The value of an object is often unrelated to its physical properties. In his piece ‘Heirloom’, Jonny Briggs makes an exact replica of his father’s old hammer, creating two materially identical objects. Although they are physically the same, one is considered an ‘Heirloom’ and the other a copy or fake. This is evidence of our mental mapping, in which the associations and memories entangled with one of the objects is what gives it value.

 

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Figure 1 (above) (jonnybriggs.com, 2013) ‘Heirloom’ by Jonny Briggs. 

 

We are increasingly place value on objects that in fact have no intrinsic value. In comparison with our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we take ownership over a vast array of objects that would be worthless to them. Jean Baudrillard talks of this phenomenom in his book ‘The System of Objects’, stating ‘our urban civilisation is witness to an ever accelerating procession of generations of products, appliances and gadgets by comparison with which mankind appears to be a remarkable stable species.’ (Baudrillard, 1996, p.1) In postmodernity, according to Baudrillard, objects have won, and in a sense we no longer have control over objects, the objects now have control over us. These objects float in a soup of intersubjective ideas; an example of our extensive mapping of the physical world around us. So extensive in fact, that we have forgotten all about it.

In ‘A Valuable Log’, I highlight that the value of an object is decided by a made-up frame work of fairly irrational assumptions and ideas. I have juxtaposed the ‘valuable’ substance of gold with the neutrality of nature, which is free from our materialistic evaluation.

 

Valuable Log

 

‘A Valuable Log’, by Zak Berry

 

Objects 

One way we can sort the world of objects around us is by defining them by their individual function. Jean Baudrillard establishes this, stating that one way we classify an object is ‘the object’s relationship to its own objective function.’ (Baudrillard, 1996, p.1) The following surrealist sculptures castrate the original function of multiple objects, and even reverse it. For example, in the case of ‘Nuage articulé’, Wolfgang Paalen ‘denies the object’s intended function by causing water to be absorbed rather than repelled.’ (Rose, 2019)

 

 

 

Figures 2,3 and 4 (clockwise from top left) ‘Nuage articulé’ by Wolfgang Paalen (Wikipedia, 2019), ‘Cadeau’ by Man Ray (Tate, 2019) and ‘Object’ by Meret Oppenheim (MoMA, 2019).

 

These new objects have lost what gave them a role in our society, and exist now almost as a separate classification. As much as objects are defined by their objective function, and established specific roles, (i.e. a spoon exists so it can spoon), the physical differences between objects are often minimal. The interchangeability of many of our most recognisable objects can be better visualised when considering the rules of topology.

Topology is a branch of mathematics ‘concerned with the properties of space that are preserved under continuous deformations, such as stretching, twisting, crumpling, bending but not tearing or gluing.’ (Wikipedia, 2019) In topography, two spaces are homeomorphic if ‘one can be deformed into the other without cutting or gluing.’ (Wikipedia, 2019) Using this logic, each tool or implement in a cutlery set is homeomorphic, and can be shaped into any other. It is as if some of the most distinct tools and contraptions were created by shaping the same blob of matter. Objects, however, exist both in our minds and the physical world. An extensive map of every object plots each one’s individual role. Therefore, the apparent differences between objects are made more significant by roles allocated to them within this map, yet physically remain interchangeable. The vast network of concepts and associations linked to a spoon and fork dramatically distances them, regardless of their physical similarity.

 

 

 

Figures 5 and 6 (left to right) (Wikipedia, 2019). Within Topology, a mug can be continually deformed into a donut. 

 

The map we’ve created has more power than the underlying reality. Our society is lead by governments, brands and laws, all of which have far more power and significance than the physical reality we are all ignorantly living in. This map extends to all objects and its detail has become overwhelming, even more powerful than the their physical reality. Baudrillard confirms this in ‘The System of Objects’, mentioning ‘there are almost as many criteria of classification as there are objects themselves: the size of an object; its degree of functionality … ;the gestures associated with it (are they rich or impoverished? traditional or not?); its form; its duration …’ (Baudrillard, 1996, p.1)

Rachel Whiteread re-contextualises a range of every day objects by stripping them down and presenting solely the space held inside them. The vast range of classifications relating to these objects are therefore removed, reducing the object to its purest, and most permanent form. She is described as an artist who ‘frees her subject subject matter – from beds, tables and boxes to water towers and entire houses – from practical use, suggesting a new permanence, imbued with memory.’ (gagosian, 2019)

 

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Figures 7 and 8 (Above left to right) (Tate, 2019) ‘Untitled (Pink Torso)’ and ‘Untitled (Air Bed II)’ by Rachel Whiteread. 

 

In the case of a bath, must it be in a bathroom, or in a specific vessel, or in water? These classifications exist so we can collectively agree that an individual has in fact has a bath. However, these classifications have become more significant than the bath itself.

In ‘Bath’, I have stripped our mental map of the bath, leaving behind a single, objective category relating to all baths – a volume of liquid. This is the only classification relating to our concept of the ‘bath’ that is concrete and consistent; true for every bath that could possibly exist. The ‘bath’ that exists in our collective imagination, a mass of categorisations and associations such as warmth and cleanliness, often means the underlying reality is obscured. 

 

Bath.jpg

 

‘Bath’, by Zak Berry 

 

Plato’s Tent 

In the allegory of the cave, Plato depicts ‘human beings living in a underground den’, who have been chained up ‘and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning around their heads.’ (Plato, p.9, 2017) A fire behind them illuminates a wall of the cave in which shadows are projected onto from passing objects. This is their reality, as it is all they have ever known. ‘The inmates of this place do not even desire to leave their prison, for they know no better life.’ (Wikipedia, 2019) By chance, one of the prisoners escapes and observes true reality for the first time, which is completely overwhelming.

Doug Aitken’s installation ‘Mirage Gstaad’ uses mirrors to make a house interchangeable with the landscape around it.  The outside reality wraps around a human dwelling, and seems fitting as the modern day equivalent of Plato’s Cave. The images of reality on the walls of the structure are reflections, similar to the shadows on the wall of the cave.

 

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Figure 9 (above) (303gallery, 2029) Doug Aitken’s installation ‘Mirage Gstaad’. 

 

In an initial shoot, I lined the inside of a tent with mirrors, which reflected images of a reality onto a blank tapestry hanging in the centre. Similarly to the mirrors in ‘Mirage Gstaad’, they imitate the moving cutouts of objects in front of a fire, projecting silhouettes of a shadow reality onto a wall.

 

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The allegory is often used to describe our perception of reality, in which we can never experience its objective truth. We will forever perceive the world through our limited senses. Everything we observe is an intangible reflection of the real world. The shadows projected onto the cave wall also represent our map of reality, which has now become the manufactured reality we live in. The inter-subjective ideas we so commonly argue over, including country borders, religions and governments are just as substantial as the shadows in the cave.

There are two differences when using Plato’s Cave as an analogy for the society we live in today. Firstly, we haven’t always been trapped in the cave, yet our extensive mapping of reality has meant we have imprisoned ourselves. Also, now we are trapped in this shadow world of our own design, we cannot simply escape by breaking our bonds. In order to dismantle the prison, the prisoners must be convinced that their reality is an illusion, a formalised network of inter-subjective ideas. In order to convince humanity of this illusion, the masses would need to unite in a shared belief of something more powerful than the prison. This would involve the formation of another map of intersubjective ideas, trapping us in the cave all over again. This idea is best summarised in Sapiens, where Yuval Noah Harari states, ‘There is no way out of the imagined order. When we break down our prison walls and run towards freedom, we are in fact running into the more spacious exercise yard of a bigger prison’. (Harari, 2011, p.133)

‘Plato’s Tent’ is a series of photographs depicting a tent structure, in which projected images make up a manufactured reality. A prisoner sitting within the tent structure would be fully immersed in the high levels of detail reflected on each wall. The images used to make up this artificial reality are a form of map in themselves. Each pixel of the image is plotted as an accurate representation of the colour and light intensity of true reality. The enveloping nature of these maps surrounding a prisoner imitates the extensive maps that lay over our reality.

 

Plato's Tent (3)

 

 

Plato's Tent (4)

 

 

Plato's Tent (2)

 

 

Plato's Tent (1)

 

‘Plato’s Tent’, a series by Zak Berry 

 

Furthermore, the tent is captured in photographs, which adds another layer of representation on top of the projections already cast on the walls – a representation of a representation if you will. This re-enforces the paradox that by escaping our complex map of reality, we create a new map in the process. 

 

Projections 

Reality is composed of a system of objects, which humanity perceives through a map that places them within a larger conceptual network. If the map is exactly in line with the objects it is lain across, we cannot distinguish the object from the map. Borges fable describes this concept, telling the fable of an empire that drew ‘up a map so detailed that it ends up covering the territory exactly.’ (Baudrillard, 1981, p.1) The empire and the map become so intertwined that they are indistinguishable, and the real cannot be separated from the imaginary. It makes sense then, that if we separate objects from reality, we therefore remove them from this mental network. The map which previously enveloped the object has now been shifted, so we can observe the object on a purely objective level.

The following artists take objects and separate them from their everyday contexts. This isolation removes them from the network of conceptual associations surrounding them, so we can observe these objects in their purest form. In the case of Haim Steinbach, his practice is a ‘staging of objects in formats that underscore their presence both anthropologically as well as aesthetically.’ (Whitecube, 2019)

 

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Figures 10 and 11 (Above left to right) ‘it is III – 1’ and ‘charm of tradition’ by Haim Steinbach (Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, 2019) 

 

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Figures 12 and 13 (Above left and right) ‘Cod and chips to take away’ and ‘Chip Tray’ (gavinturk.com) Two transformations of ‘rubbish’ into bronze sculptures. 

 

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Figures 14 and 15 (Above left to right) ‘Pink Narcissus (version 1)’ and ‘Self Imposed Mystery’ by Tim Noble and Sue Webster (timnobleandsuewebster.com) 

 

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Figures 16 and 17 (Above left to right) ‘Acedia’ and ‘Literary Carrot’ by Oliver Richon (rca, 2019) 

 

The Utah Teapot, created by Martin Newell, was the ‘first real world object used in computer graphics’, (Summerville, 2019) and has become iconic within the computing society. It is featured in animated films such as ‘Monsters Inc’ and ‘Toy Story’. By recreating this object digitally, its traditional narrative has been removed. It no longer exists within a greater system, and exists solely as an individual object.

 

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Figure 18 (Above) (Dunietz, 2016) 4 different original renderings of Martin Newell’s Utah Teapot. 

 

The following images were taken in preparation for my final piece ‘Projections’. The compositions of plastered objects accompanied with an untouched one were greatly inspired by Jonny Briggs, and his piece ‘Trompe L’oeil’.

 

Pig Head on Mirror (1)

 

 

Pig Head on Mirror (2)

 

 

White table in grass

 

 

Still Life with Peach

 

 

White plate with Apple

 

In my final piece, ‘Projections’, I photographed a series of objects and removed their individual narrative by isolating them in a monotone, stark environment.

 

Chip Tray .jpg

 

‘Portion of Chips’ by Zak Berry 

 

Toast Rack

 

‘Toast Rack’ by Zak Berry 

 

Tea Cup

‘Tea Cup’ by Zak Berry 

 

Pig Head Projection

‘Pig Head’ by Zak Berry

 

Decanter (1).jpg

‘Decanter I’ by Zak Berry

 

 

Decanter (2)

 

‘Decanter II’ by Zak Berry

 

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‘Glass Bowl’ by Zak Berry 

 

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‘Broken Glass Bowl’ by Zak Berry 

 

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‘Broken Fruit Bowl’ by Zak Berry 

 

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‘Red Pepper’ by Zak Berry 

 

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‘Cake’ by Zak Berry 

 

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‘Salt and Pepper’ by Zak Berry 

 

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‘Still Life’ by Zak Berry 

 

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‘Milk Jug’ by Zak Berry 

 

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Fork (5)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fork

Fork (3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘4 Forks’, a series by Zak Berry

 

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‘Dinner Table’ by Zak Berry 

 

Conclusion 

These objects each have significant roles within a larger intersubjective framework or map. The dominant intersubjective idea connected with this series of objects is that of value. I have chosen objects dictated by what the map has established as ‘valuable’. Value is part of a larger map of intersubjective ideas, including concepts of right, wrong, the natural and unnatural. These concepts are formed not from objective reality, but the reality we’ve constructed in our collective imagination. In ‘Sapiens’, Yuval Noah Harari mentions, ‘In truth, our concepts ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ are taken not from biology, but from christian theology. The theological meaning of ‘natural’ is ‘in accordance with the intentions of the God who created nature.”

As this map of inter-subjective ideas continues to grow in complexity, it increasingly dominates the reality we all inhabit. Without an established map of reality to guide us, the human race could not function the way we know it, and the networks of trust, trade and information we have set up would break down into anarchy. These maps have become more valid than the reality they represent. The projections have become more valid than the object underneath. As Ecclesiastes stated, ‘The simulacrum is never what hides the truth – it is the truth that hides the fact that there is none. The simulacrum is true.’ (Baudrillard, 1981, p.1)

 

Bibliography 

303GALLERY, (2019), Selected Works – Selected Works – Doug Aitken | Artists | 303 Gallery [Online] Available from: https://www.303gallery.com/artists/doug-aitken[Accessed: 20/4/19]

BAUDRILLARD, J (1981), The University of Michigan Press

BAUDRILLARD, J (1996), The System of Objects, Verso

BRIGGS, J, (2013), Jonny Briggs [Online] Available from: http://www.jonnybriggs.com[Accessed: 14/4/19]

CAROL, L, (1895), Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, Macmillan Publishers

DUNIETZ, J, (2016), The Most Important Object In Computer Graphics History Is This Teapot [Online] Available from: http://nautil.us/blog/the-most-important-object-in-computer-graphics-history-is-this-teapot[Accessed: 25/4/19]

GAGOSIAN, (2019), Rachel Whiteread | Gagosian [Online] Available from: https://gagosian.com/artists/rachel-whiteread/ [Accessed: 3/3/19]

GAVINTURK, (2019), Gavin Turk | Home [Online] Available from: http://gavinturk.com/artworks/tags/Packaging[Accessed: 23/4/19]

HARARI, Y (2011), Sapiens, Vintage

MOMA, (2019), MoMA | Meret Oppenheim. Object. Paris, 1936 [Online] Available from: https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/meret-oppenheim-object-paris-1936/ [Accessed: 15/2/19]

PLATO – [Translated by Jowett, B], (2017) The Allegory of The Cave, Enhanced media publishing

RCA, (2019), Professor Oliver Richon | Royal College of Art [Online] Available from: https://www.rca.ac.uk/more/staff/professor-olivier-richon/ [Accessed: 25/4/19]

ROSE, J, (2015), Man Ray, The Gift (article) | Surrealism | Khan Academy [Online] Available from: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-1010/art-between-wars/surrealism1/a/man-ray-the-gift[Accessed: 15/2/19]

SUMMERVILLE, J, (2016), This Teapot Is The Most Important Object In Computer Graphics History [Online] Available from: http://yupthatexists.com/utah-teapot/ [Accessed: 25/4/19]

TANYABONDAKDARGALLERY, (2019), Haim Steinbach – Artists – Tanya Bonakdar Gallery [Online] Available from: http://www.tanyabonakdargallery.com/artists/haim-steinbach[Accessed: 23/4/19]

TATE, (2019), ‘Cadeau’, Man Ray, 1921, editioned replica 1972 | Tate [Online] Available from: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/man-ray-cadeau-t07883[Accessed: 15/2/19]

TATE, (2019), Rachel Whiteread – Exhibition at Tate Britain | Tate [Online] Available from: https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/rachel-whiteread[Accessed: 3/3/19]

TIMNOBLEANDSUEWEBSTER, (2019), Tim Noble & Sue Webster [Online] Available from: http://www.timnobleandsuewebster.com[Accessed: 25/4/19]

WHITECUBE, (2019), White Cube – Artists – Haim Steinbach [Online] Available from: https://whitecube.com/artists/artist/haim_steinbach[Accessed: 27/3/19]

WIKIPEDIA, (2019), Allegory of the Cave – Wikipedia [Online] Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave[Accessed: 16/4/19]

WIKIPEDIA, (2019), Nuage articulé – Wikipedia [Online] Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuage_articulé[Accessed: 15/2/19]

WIKIPEDIA, (2019), Topology – Wikipedia [Online] Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topology[Accessed: 19/2/19]

WIKIPEDIA, (2019), Value Theory – Wikipedia [Online] Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value_theory[Accessed: 21/3/19]

 

Critical Review

The project proposal anticipated the majority of my final project. Much of the early research I made into objects inspired ‘Bath’. Likewise, although it wasn’t the conclusion to my project as planned, I created ‘Plato’s Tent’, manufacturing a projected reality inside a tee pee. The proposal laid the foundations for much of my later thinking. These foundations lead me to investigate inter-subjective ideas such as value, read ‘The System Of Objects’ by Jean Baudrillard and discover Borges’s fable which depicts a map as detailed as the reality it is laid across. I was able to formalize much of my early thinking relating to the authenticity of our society towards the end of the project. I imagined our society as a specific map of reality, made up of a network of inter-subjective ideas. This concept helped me in planning a final series of photographs to conclude the project, entitled ‘Projections’.

As expected there were some differences in the work I set out to achieve and what was eventually completed. The idea of creating a set of objects with no function, or no ‘object-hood’, was initially very exciting. However, I later realised many surrealist sculptures such as ‘Cadeau’ by Man Ray, investigated the very same idea, and I didn’t believe these sculptures commented on the human inclination to map reality. On a more basic level, to create a fully dysfunctional cutlery set involves high levels of skill in metal work and sculpture, skills that I do not have yet.

In my proposal I had planned a series of sculptures investigating our associations with objects. This sculpture series would involve me identifying common aesthetics in objects considered as ‘posh, childish or tacky’. By juxtaposing these aesthetics with nature, which is free from our materialistic evaluation, I would expose these associations as illusory. I believe this still to be a valid idea, yet I had a problem when identifying these common aesthetics. Not only would they be hard to replicate in conjunction with nature, but the aesthetic that I labeled as say ‘tacky’ was fully subjective and personal. For these reasons, I decided to contrast the inter-subjective and commonly established associations of value with nature instead. During this time, I was reading ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari, which discussed the questionable value of gold, and the mystery as to why a substance of no intrinsic value could have such importance. Gold became the visual language describing the inter-subjective idea of value within my piece ‘A Valuable Log’.

After multiple failed experiments with sculpture, I created ‘Plato’s Tent’, which was far more successful. A conversation with the artist Henry Hussey helped me fully realize that my present strengths lie in art involving light. My projection series in the last project, ‘This Is Not a Meal,’ included the strongest images. After realizing this, I planned a final shoot, a series of ‘valuable’ objects cast in projections. I am pleased with the images from this shoot. They successfully interrogate both the authenticity of reality and the maps we have built of it, and are strong as a series. I believe ‘Projections’ demonstration of my skills as a photographer and light artist.

 

End User Context

‘Projections’ helped me define my current practice as photography rather than sculpture/installation. It is a photographic series, and the installations involving projection and plaster sculpture are only set up to be shot in front of a camera. As photographs, the composition can be framed within a clinical, monotone background, and the full detail of the projection can be seen. By reducing the subject matter to two dimensions, these objects become representations or maps of the original. We observe these images as maps, similar to those that we use to construct our reality.

For exhibition, my work will be displayed as 5 framed prints. These will be accompanied by a short extract from my essay outlining the concepts in ‘Projections’, giving the audience a greater level of understanding in the ideas behind my work. Everything we observe is part of a larger inter-subjective map of reality. For this reason I choose to display a series of projections highlighting the multiplicity of this map. In the same sense, I may compile my images from both ‘Projections’ and my similar previous project ‘This Is Not a Meal’ in a book, an atlas of our maps of reality.

 

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