A supremely thought provoking and troubling philosophical painting by the Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte. We are presented with a meretriciously drawn image of a pipe while beneath the neat legend paradoxically informs us that Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe). It seems that before us is less a painting than another one of Magritte’s monstrously banal, and ultimately terrifying, pictorial mysteries.
The pipe drawn with such painstaking exactitude is of course just a representation of a pipe. You cannot hold in your hands, stuff it with tobacco and smoke it, which is surely what is required of a pipe for it to be a pipe. Yet we feel perplexed and somehow obscurely cheated. If it the case that ‘perception always intercedes between reality and ourselves’, then all we can know are images of the world, and images are by their very nature treacherous. All we have is the map, and as everyone knows, the map is not the territory.
“Who wants a world in which the guarantee that we shall not die of starvation entails the risk of dying of boredom?”Raoul Vaneigem,The Revolution of Everyday Life 1967
“In a world that is really upside down, the true is a moment of the false.” Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle 1967
In 1967 the French film-maker, writer and head theorist of the Situationist International (Moving Images, The Hacienda Must Be Built), Guy Debord published an influential book of Marxist critical theory, The Society of the Spectacle, consisting of 221 thesis. Within its elegantly written and rigorously argued pages Debord advanced the theory of the Spectacle. The Spectacle has degraded authentic life and replaced it with mere representation, a decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing. The Spectacle has supplanted relationships between people with relationships between commodities and we passively identify with the Spectacle. “The spectacle is not a collection of images,” Debord notes, “rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” The Spectacle obliterates the past and annihilates the future so that we live in an never-ending present. In this affect-less neuter-time there has been a systematic degradation of knowledge and we are incapable of critical thought, unaware that we are living in a moment in history.
In 1992 Francis Fukuyama in his book The End of History, announced that Western neo-liberalism was the final point in human evolution; it wasn’t going to get better than this and that we were living in a post-historical period: the Spectacle had won.
But of course the statement by the Situationist Raoul Vaneigem quoted above holds true, and after a period when the Spectacle lacked a certain zest and an inability to hold our complete and undivided attention, the world has really turned upside down again. The true is a moment of the false. And we watch and wait with bated breath, in a rapt trance, with a horrified fascination as to what comes next. Maybe this time it will be the Ultimate Spectacle?
The contemporary artist Anna Di Mezza, whose artwork I have featured several times,(Evolution, Questions & Answers with Anna Di Mezza and Double Take) has acknowledged in interviews her admiration for the Italian painter Giorgio De Chirico, whose ground-breaking Metaphysical paintings profoundly influenced the Surrealists. Anna’s latest works are firmly situated in this metaphysical tradition, where the primary focus is to raise questions regarding identity, reality and the creative process.
Transience also possesses elements of Anna’s characteristic Twilight Zone style sensibility. Toward the extreme right side of the painting a portion of a glamorous female face can be seen taking shape, emerging into being. The darker stripe of paint that converges towards the pupil is suggestive of a pencil. The eyebrow is also subject to this effect, though appropriately more reminiscent of a mascara wand. Looking at this painting I get the uncanny feeling that this is a preliminary sketch for an android; that the artist is showing this ersatz figure coming to life before our very eyes. However the reality of images is always fleeting and transitory, fading away when we stop looking, returning only as fragments that haunt our dreams.