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SEEING / or CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT

 

(A Conceptual Photographic Installation – Cerj Lalonde)

1986  /  2001  /  2002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEEING / or CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT

(A Conceptual Photographic Installation – Cerj Lalonde) 

Concordia University

Montreal

(Suzanne Leclair : professeur invitant.)

November 10 1993

By 

CERJ LALONDE

 

Let us study this installation. Let us penetrate its core so as to enter into what it represents, enter the realm of what this picture and its representation symbolize. Now that you’ve joined in, you are surrounded by a large number of eyes. Not only do you have to look, you are also trapped and forced to progress into an object which entirely covers us, encircles us as if we were a body in a gigantic womb.

However, the black walls could be a sign of an undefined opening, a possible reference to infinity. This possible reading of the notion of infinity is also supported by the three different formats of eyes applied and by their irregular disposition on the walls, thus granting a sort of perspective, or, at least a certain depth of field.

Let's now consider something we know for sure: the opposition in this installation between what painting as medium has to offer, an image, and the contrast it operates as opposed to the reality of a photographed “cut-out” of an eye that genuinely exists or existed in a concrete human reality. This contradiction may indeed lead us to wonder if, in this particular environment, it would have been appropriate to represent the photographed eye through another medium: painting. I believe that in this particular case, a series of painted eyes would not have conveyed the essence enclosed in that of a photographed eye. 

A spatial atmosphere, a puzzling silence, an unfathomable blackness, an invasion of eyes, an uncommon and unexpected area, an exploration of the paradigm of vision,  a journey from sight to insight,  a shift from viewing to being viewed,  an invading depth, a profound perspective, a personal infinity or sheer infinity exemplified, a body in motion laying an eye on other eyes, a work keeping an eye on you, a vision expressed through everybody’s eyes, all this is part and parcel of what this installation is about. At first sight it looks like eyes gazing, you take a closer look and see a “room with a view”, eyes meeting eyes, eyes everywhere. We can deduct that the same eye is everywhere. We cannot distinguish if it is a man’s or a woman's eye. Its age is uncertain. We face a kind of a-temporal and anonymous eye, looking at eyes. Therefore we are lead to reflect on the function of sight and the notion of vision. In order to decipher the intent concealed by these eyes, we are invited to oppose the large variety of ways of looking: to gaze, to glance, to stare, to observe, to view, to scrutinize, to watch, to examine, to perceive, to foresee... However, some eyes are looking without any apparent emotion, as if neutral. They simply look like eyes looking with a floating attention.  Why is that? We all know that eyes are le most revealing screen of our emotions! That may be why, this purposely empty looking eye, duplicated everywhere, gives room for numerous interpretations evermore so since it enables a viewer to project any emotion into these eyes.

A thousand interpretations are possible. It all depends on how we look at it, on why we look at it and on when we look at it. We may not want to look. One may reflect his own negative feelings or thoughts in his understanding of some specific elements of the installation. In which case, this installation would highlight the shaping of our reading of life, through a sort of echo effect, between our interiority and our understanding of any subject or work. Some could only see this installation as staging the notion of an exhibitionist pleasure. Some others, on the contrary, could feel the discomfort of a voyeuristic encircling, and could experience a paranoiac anguish.

This installation can be viewed and experienced either as a peaceful place or as a hostile setting awakening inner antagonist forces. We obviously are being looked at by others, by the crowd, by society or by history itself. We feel observed while we are ourselves observing. We feel we are the target of critical observers even when we look at ourselves in the mirror. The mirror reinforces and gives a new perspective to the action of looking and the feeling of being looked at. It can serve as an “escalation” in the amounts of looks exchanged therefore providing a new atmosphere. It also grants an embedded structure to the work, a sort of Russian doll effect, blurring the reasons for and the significations of the initial look.

 

These eyes seem identical and are not grouped in pairs which can increase the difficulty of any attempt at reconstituting faces. Despite its realness (it is the picture of a real eye), the eye becomes abstract and turned into a confusing symbol in orbit. 

                It is clear that this installation, through the presence of these eyes, conjures up the fundamental questions that have always concerned human beings of all times. The human “eye” should be read as a metonymy. This work does not deal with the owner of the photographed eye (the eye on the wall); it deals with humanity and its vision. Human capacity and tendency to pass judgments could well be the focus of the work. “Judgment” is the guide line provided by the full title of the installation (“seeing or critique of judgment”). The visitor is provocatively invited to pass judgment on, by and through the installation he is trapped in. The title serves as clue to see through the installation. This way, the work becomes an illustration in progress of one of its major theme: the important role and the interrelations of both sight and insight in the unfolding or in the molding of human (/visitor’s) judgment.  How do we come up with a concrete “critique”? What and how do we judge? By being lead to come up with such questions, the visitor becomes part of this closed loop: judgment/judging/being judged. This blurring between subject of the installation (“critique of judgment”), object of judgment (work-art-what is there to see), subject of interest (Humans), and subjects interested in the work (visitors) who are themselves turned into objects of study judged by other visitors amplifies the already unique atmosphere of the installation. It contributes to grant a philosophical undertone to the art work. It plunges into people’s emotions and personality, questions their “Judgment”. This subtitle interaction aims at respecting everybody’s ideas and at driving them slowly but surely to penetrate others’ judgments. Consequently, this installation is a means to lead people to exchange ideas, disapprovals, feelings, and emotions. In other words, it is an invitation to read the word through different eyes, to see with a different perspective.

The loop back effect is also achieved through iconic devices. Signs to be looked at refer to what we are doing: looking. The eyes on the wall impose feedback by forcing us to look. What are these eyes looking at? Do I look like that when I look at someone else? Am I being judged by these eyes? Why am I looking at eyes that will not answer back? Do I like to be looked at? Why? What about these people around me? What do they see?  How do they perceive me? What criteria lead their perception of me? What are the clues I can read trough or those I cannot read through when I look at these eyes on the wall? Therefore, the loop starts from the wall and ends on the wall. A million questions rest in the work and echo the million questions one can ask himself when facing this installation… The loop never ends…the questions will always fuse. We are visual receptors, and to try and read through the world is like trying to read through this work of art; but are we opposing here appearance to reality? Is the installation a biased representation, an attempt at mirroring reality or an invitation to come up with our personal vision of the world through sight? Does what I see give me a sense of déjà vu? What, before “Seeing”, had already been seen?

This environment made of inscriptions, of signs, of series, of the multiplication of an eye taken from a dismembered face deprived of its genuine appearance, all of this should lead us to consider this place as an environment. It brings us to a reflection on the meaning of “vision”, on the sense of sight (of seeing), and also questions our understandings of visual arts as a coherent system, as a phenomena or/and as an institution.

 In order to illustrate my point, let me quote Michael Dufresne: "The effect of this reflection specific to contemporary art, weighs on the artworks destiny. ...One of its first effects is that the work of art, because it is, if we can say, conceptualized, detaches it from what we call reality. It takes its distance all the more so if this reflection is one of a critical order, I would even say of a political order."

It has been said that the true political function of art genuinely resides in this critical consciousness triggered by artistic creations. Today, we live in a world where people are bombarded with an always increasing number of different images, where scoops, high tech gadgets, new ideas, new commercial concepts and new technologies reach outrageous proportions to satisfy a blasé audience always eager for new visual experiences.  This escalation is what my work tries to illustrate in order to denounce it. My purpose is to provide an exit in order for people not to fall into the grip of such a value-breaking media machinery which has succeeded in achieving a quasi total domination of people’s life.  The icons and objects represented in my installation are more inclined to give birth to a new understanding of the world than to a new (artistic) object of interest amongst the many others on the “market” (as Scheffer might have said).  My intent is not to “sell”  ideas or objects. I wish to open people’s eyes on what they do not have the time to reflect on, to give them different perspectives to meditate upon, to liven up their critical abilities, to detach them from a self-centeredness that distances them from their real self,   to involve them in the creative process of communication through high tech devices they already know how to use. In other words, I don’t use icons of modernity to enter the spiral of this novelty craze but rather to better communicate on the collapsing values of our ancestors.

My purpose is to give perspective to all view points and to value each one so as to better represent the kaleidoscopic vision and understanding people and eminent figures have of our world. I try to apply, integrate and oppose different views (Lacan’s, Panofsky’s…) on various issues such as the role and function of art and objects, as well as the functioning of objects in art and its relation to our sensory and mental perception of these objects. I try to be a unifying vector, not a divider who would position himself on one particular point of view. Let me shortly review some of the view points I am thinking about.”)

Panofsky, for instance, said at the beginning of the century that all this consists in repeating that a picture's signification can not in any way be reduced to what it shows the viewer; that the "image" (imago), or "figure" is not in the medium, in the work of art, but in the mind of those who look at it, in the intention, he also believes that art exists only by the way we look at it. Phenomenology supports this belief.

This understanding can appear quite evident, but there is an almost opposite trend, which locates all the dynamics in the object. Wolflin, for example, defines, in art history, two main stylistic unities, by analyzing form only, without ever referring to external consideration inherent in the artwork itself. Lyotard, to take another more contemporary figure, maintains that the work of art, as an object, does not have any principles of organization outside itself. However, he also considers that the "figure", or the "figural operation" proceeds "from another stage than the one of the pictorial language guiding its production. He adds that it is the expression of another meaning, which is not present in the art work in the same manner as is present its immediate significance." It is on this specific point that we can understand what Lyotard means by "figural operation" which for him "reveal the same characteristics to which Freud had recourse to when positioning the unconscious order" (at the stage when desire is starting to emerge in our unconscious). Desire is results from an unreachable object of desire, the un-attainability of this sought target makes our wish fall into the realm of fantasy. Absence is a major element in the understanding and the existence of desire, which ought to be expressed through a scenic presence.  Moreover, Lyotard places the function of expression not at the level of knowledge, or of beauty, but of "truth". The power of a pictorial inscription is to keep open, free the signifying field so that truth can become a representation: that can raise the desire to see desire. Incidentally, Heidegger might not be so far off here affirming that art is an essential relationship with truth if taken as an "unveiling", a sort of epiphany (révélation, décèlement) of the real.

An "unveiling" to expose the truth ingrained all around us , "sight" as a tool contributing to this unveiling…all these elements remain close to the eye, therefore it would be interesting to mention Jacques Lacan’s statement referring to the relation between the activity of looking and the eye. I believe he has developed an original analytical approach concerning psychoanalytic findings on the concept of representation by structuring its organization around the visual function (drive). Lacan stated in the context of a research for truth (Du regard comme objet petit a, in Les quatres concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse) that, in the philosophical tradition, the development of the subject seems to be located at the level of the real and the appearance (Plato) and that it is centered in the origin of perception though our sense of sight. Lacan reminded us that, Merleau-Ponty, in his book The visible and the invisible (1964), considered the vector of this philosophical tradition to be in the eye – as a function (an organ). Phenomenology deals with the regulation of form, which is governed not only by the eye of the subject, but by all its expectation, its movement, its muscular emotion, in brief its full presence oriented to what one calls its "total intentionality". Philosophy seizes an essential element of consciousness in its relation with the representation in what we call a kind of "I see myself seeing myself". I embrace the world in a perception, which seems to come from the immanence of the "I see myself seeing myself" (I see myself see myself). However, Lacan maintained that the essentials of the relationship between being and appearance (which was conquered in philosophy by the field of vision) would be elsewhere. He distinguishes the function of the eye and the function of looking, indicating that it is in this distinction, in this "schism", that the drive happens at the level of the visual domain (champs scopique). The consciousness, in its illusion of the "I see me seeing myself", finds itself in this reversed structure of the look. The interest the subject taking in its own "schism" may be related to what determines this schism, which becomes a privileged object, a kind of primitive separation, what Lacan call the object a . This object a is something that has been separated from the subject and which is to be reconstituted. It is equivalent to the symbol of the gap; in psychoanalytical theory this gap is a component of what is called: the anguish of castration.

To quote Lacan: "In that measure where the glance (the look), as an object a, can symbolize the central gap expressed in the phenomenon of castration, and that it is an object a reduce, by its nature, to an evanescent function - it leaves the subject in the ignorance of what is beyond the appearance - this such characteristic ignorance of all the process of the thought by this way constituted by the philosophical research." 

 

 
     

 

 

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