Another studio visit and resulting exhibition text:
I owe you the truth in painting and I will give it to you
…d’un seul pas franchi…
The small problem of truth has been occupying me recently: the truth in painting, as promised by another “sauvage raffiné,” Paul Cézanne. A long time ago, it took a painting by Vincent van Gogh, Old Shoes with Laces (1886), for the German philosopher Martin Heidegger to recognise what this truth might be and for him, the artwork became defined through its revelation of this truth. We now consider ourselves too sophisticated to think that a painting of some worn-out shoes reveals something so profound about the peasant woman’s being that there is no other way this can be grasped. And yet a little of this heideggerian desire remains. I find we still look for truth in painting despite thinking it unlikely. Or at least, I do.
At the height of the pandemic Stefanie Ullmann would walk and run in the rose gardens at the Isar, in May, when the magnolias are in bloom. These caught her attention – I remember how bright that spring was, and how vibrant the greens. But again it took a painting by van Gogh, this time, Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass (1888) for her to begin painting from memory a series of small canvases with flowers. A second series of watercolours followed. The oil paintings share van Goghs’ shimmering green-yellow palette as well as his strong horizontal and vertical lines.
When I look at these paintings I find myself standing in Heidegger’s shoes. There is a truth in Stefanie Ullmann’s work that has to do with his schematic definition. On the one hand he claims, art has long been thought as formed matter, in other words as a “Zeug,” translated by Derrida as a “product,” more commonly in English translations of Heidegger’s essay as “equipment.” And these paintings here, especially the abstract ones, have this workman-like quality of being built, almost brick by brick, layer by layer. Occasionally Stefanie Ullmann even uses a spatula like a masonry trowel. And yet, as Derrida in his interpretation of Heidegger’s argument rightly notes, an artwork is more than a product or Zeug because it does what no other product can – it resembles a thing, “Ding.” It is as if it were not produced. Thus, an artwork is a product that is also more than a product, because it crosses over, steps into the realm of the thing. In the same way, Ullmann’s paintings enjoy this self-sufficiency. Despite their lightness, they feel as sturdy as earth or rock or tree, untouched by human hand.
The point of painting is – for Van Gogh, Heidegger, Derrida etc. – that this step crossing from thing to product and back again occurs within. Painting shows how tightly things, Zeug and artworks interlace.
What is the truth?1 Now there is a metaphysical question for you. Hardcore baby, yeah. That’s what we are talking about. What. Is. The. Truth. Heidegger turns around and points, there – there – to the temple, a Greek one I guess but no one really knows, or cares, as it really doesn’t matter; he points to the temple nestling among rocky hills, its columns in picturesque disarray. We can see it on Paul Valentin’s holiday snapshot. The temple as a work of art sets forth the truth. If you are looking for the truth you can find it there.
When I first encountered Heidegger’s essay as an undergraduate, “The Origin of the Work of Art” was presented to me as a critique of representation, specifically of mimesis. I admit I didn’t get it at the time. Now that I do, Heidegger does clearly state that the kind of truth he associates with the artwork has nothing to do with a painter’s capacity to produce resemblance. Truth here is not marked by the distinction between the model and the copy, the original and the fake, and in this sense his argument is anti-mimetic. Instead, he looks to the point of origin of the art work, and finds truth (with the help of van Gogh’s painting) in the way being is revealed. “Aletheia”, he claims, is the Greek term for the “unconcealedness of beings.”
This means we do not look at an artwork in a habitual way, as a thing or a piece of equipment. Heidegger rejects the interpretation of the artwork as either a substrate bearing traits, a manifold of sensations or as formed matter. These for him are various forms of assault on being. He argues that not to fall under the spell of this violence, we have to look at the temple and see how it both creates a world for us, in the sense of giving our lives its meaning, and also shelters this world by placing it back firmly on the earth, which only through the creation of this world emerges as ground. The temple as the work of art is Aletheia.
Paul Valentin creates his temple of of the Greek goddess Aletheia using digital software. It has the usual pediments and carved reliefs of mythological figures. He then, also digitally, breaks this temple up, fragments it, ages it artificially and destroys it. He takes up these fragments – still digitally – and reassembles them in workshop that shares many of the same visual conditions as the Lothringer 13 Studio space, like some kind of virtual archeologist. The reassembled fragments are photographed, printed and scattered across gallery room.
Thus there is no truth in Paul Valentin’s temple. Even the snapshot we see is a composite of an old photograph and an ai generated image, with some photoshopping in between. His temple does not, cannot, reveal anything. It is not even there. And yet it shows how mimesis is always at work, even in Heidegger’s argument. How does Heidegger reject the three modes in which we tend to think the artwork? By looking at how their claim to truth compares with the artwork’s truth, its revelation of being. Isn’t this also what mimesis is? I mean, isn’t the relation between a model and a copy not so much about resemblance as it is about good and bad resemblance – to what extent is the copy a faithful one? Isn’t it the copy’s claim to truth that we compare? Far then from producing a critique of representation, Heidegger’s comparison of different modes of thought would seem to fall down mimesis’s slippery slope. He too succumbs to its power. What is the truth? There is no truth, honey. Only simulacra. Paul Valentin shows that the question we need to ask is how does this simulacra work.
For full effect, please read in the voice of Tom Cruise’s character in Magnolia (1999). If you haven’t seen the movie, watch it now.
GiG Munich is really happy to continue working with Lothringer 13 again this year, and will begin the new series of exhibitions – Thought in Practice – at the Studio space with the exhibition “Doxa,” by Paul Valentin. The series aims to bring together different artists, who share a strong interest in philosophical concepts and who make these concepts the focus of their artistic practice.
Paul Valentin’s work has long dealt with the questions of metaphysics, such as the concept of truth, nothingness, or the structure of reality. Similarly in this Lothringer exhibition, “doxa” refers to the Ancient Greek definition of opinion, opposed to the much more serious and worthy “epitome” or knowledge. The exhibition consists of digitally-constructed fictional temple of Aletheia – the Goddess of truth in Greek mythology. Its fragments are not the 3-D artefacts found by archeological teams on a remote site, but the flat illusions, created, artificially aged and distressed by the artist using computer software. In this work Valentin presents truth as something that is always made: fragments of a temple that first had to be constructed before being destroyed.
Paul Valentin is a German artist currently based in Munich, working primarily with video and animation but also occasionally with music, digital relief and sculpture. His work has been presented at the European Media Art Festival, Haus der Kunst, Museum Villa Rot, Centro Cultural Moçambique, Sluice Biennale London and Exchange Rates Festival in New York. He was awarded the Karl & Faber Prize in 2019, as well as the Academy Association Prize that year and the Scholarship for fine arts by the City of Munich in 2021.
GiG Munich setzt auch in diesem Jahr die Zusammenarbeit mit der Lothringer 13 Halle fort. Die neue Ausstellungsreihe “Thought in Practice” startet mit der Ausstellung “Doxa” von Paul Valentin. Ziel der Reihe ist es, verschiedene Künstler:innen zusammenzubringen, die ein starkes Interesse an philosophischen Konzepten haben und diese in den Mittelpunkt ihrer künstlerischen Praxis stellen.
Paul Valentin beschäftigt sich in seinem Werk seit langem mit Fragen der Metaphysik, wie dem Begriff der Wahrheit, dem Nichts oder der Struktur der Wirklichkeit. Entsprechend bezieht sich “Doxa” auf die altgriechische Definition von Meinung in Abgrenzung zu dem viel ernsthafteren und würdigeren “Episteme” oder Wissen. Die Ausstellung besteht aus einem digital konstruierten fiktiven Tempel der Aletheia – der Göttin der Wahrheit in der griechischen Mythologie. Bei den Fragmenten handelt es sich nicht um 3-D-Artefakte, die von archäologischen Teams an einem abgelegenen Ort gefunden wurden, sondern um flache Illusionen, die der Künstler mit Hilfe von Computersoftware geschaffen, künstlich gealtert und verunstaltet hat. In diesem Werk stellt Valentin die Wahrheit als etwas dar, das immer hergestellt wird: Fragmente eines Tempels, der erst gebaut werden musste, bevor er zerstört wurde.
Paul Valentin lebt derzeit in München und arbeitet hauptsächlich mit Video und Animation, gelegentlich aber auch mit Musik, digitalen Reliefen und Skulpturen. Seine Arbeiten wurden auf dem European Media Art Festival, im Haus der Kunst, im Museum Villa Rot, im Centro Cultural Moçambique, auf der Sluice Biennale London und auf dem Exchange Rates Festival in New York präsentiert. Er wurde 2019 mit dem Karl & Faber-Preis ausgezeichnet, ebenso wie mit dem Preis des Akademievereins im selben Jahr und dem Stipendium für Bildende Kunst der Stadt München im Jahr 2021.
Lothringer 13 Studio, Lothringer Str. 13, 81667 München
I have long, straight hair, slightly dry at the ends, too seldom cut. When I read or write, I tuck the loose strands behind my ear. It is always present, over there, too much to count yet infinitely countable. Oddly, I think of hair when I read Brian Massumi’s definition of the virtual (“Envisioning the Virtual” in The Oxford handbook of Virtuality, 55-70), and not only because of his arguments about value (because you are worth it!). For he opposes the virtual to the actual, rather than the natural or the real, and explains through Whitehead’s opposition of the sensuous and non-sensuous. Hair is sensuous because it exists over there, ready to be counted. There is a reference to space – counting unfolds in time. But hair is also virtual I guess, because it also appears to perception all at once: I do not have to pick a strand and start counting. Hair is there in one fell swoop, or rather swoosh. I already have a rough idea of a number – through habit, previous knowledge and earlier, other experiences. But as soon as I try to locate and fix this dimension – to grasp it in my hand – this virtual aspect disappears into the actual. Massumi describes the non-sensuous as having “a strangely compelling, shimmering sterility” (60) and this makes me think of the hair in this exhibition, Electric bodies shooting through space, silky white curtains on which the video work, Her do, shimmers.
In her work, Janna Jirkova plays with the natural and the artificial. Natural are our bodies: nails, mouth, belly, hair; artificial is the technology, both high and low tech, she attaches to her body in cyborg-like fashion. The electric bodies shooting through space are us, joggers wearing headlights in the dark, Major Tom floating in a tin can. But it is not that technology functions as some sort of extension of our body and its capacities, rather, Jirkova shows how our bodies are already artificial (and by extension, the artificial is already also natural). “Self-prosthetic” is Massumi’s term (64).
The English labels Jirkova reads out in her video, “pretty package… high performance …. the type I like” – but also negatively, “broken … malfunctioning” – are ways to describe both: the human body and technology, the natural and the artificial tangled together in language. On the shimmering screen, we see purple hair being used to tickle a belly, except that the hair is another video projection and the belly, a plaster cast. Again, she touches her navel, but this is on a mobile phone screen, forward facing, in a pouch of a rubber apron, worn over a white protective suit. “Samson, Samson, show me your hair!” Her hair, the hair of the empress Elisabeth. There is body hair shown as a video of a fern unfurling, and the abstract red and pinks are made by placing fingers over the recording device. Jirkova sets out to produce a field of tensions between different modes of existence, actual and virtual. These are tensions that come with the contrast between the sensuous and the non-sensuous. As Massumi argues, modes do not add up to anything – they do not form anything. Experience emerges when the pressure becomes unsustainable and these tensions break (62).
Through this intensive force field all of our experience is conditioned. What we bring to the conditional field phenomenon is our tendencies, in which they are a formative factor. Only these tendencies can be either natural, in the sense of a genetic predisposition or artificial, as in learnt. For Massumi, art and technology merely extend the body’s pre-existing regime of natural and acquired artifice, “already long in active duty in producing the virtual reality of our everyday lives” (64). We are caught between our tendencies in an intensive force field of emergence, indeed like “motes,” “caught up in a tumult of non-Newtonian motion” (Beckett, Murphy, Chapter 6).
Lothringer 13 Studio, Lothringer Str. 13, 81667 München
GiG Munich is happy to announce that the third of the exhibitions series ‘Re-collection’ at open on the 25th of November at Lothringer 13 Studio, ‘Electric bodies shooting through space’ featuring the work of Janna Jirkova. Save the date and hope to see you there!
The strange elements of Janna Jirkova’s latest video work Her Do, are some of the most physical and tactile parts of our bodies: our hair, nails and belly. They are always over there, here, hair ready to be fiddled with, or stroked or smelled – a belly button to kiss or to tickle. Nails to be bitten. I pull out a hair out of my mouth. But in her video we see them projected or on a mobile phone screen, as a plaster cast or an unfurling fern leaf. They are real and yet not real, direct and mediated. They are no longer over there, filling our space, ready to be touched, but appear, as it by themselves, a result of a tension between what is sensuous and what is not sensuous that for Brian Massumi constitutes virtuality.
Janna Jirkova, * 1991 in Munich, studied sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich from 2012 till 2019 as a student of Olaf Nicolai. She is the recipient of several grants, including the Erwin and Gisela von Steiner foundation project grant and the young art/ new media project grant of the city of Munich in 2021. In 2022 she received funding from Stiftung Kunstfonds. Her most recent exhibitions include the group exhibition Limonare at Orangerie München (2021) Titanen, Drachen Eisberg, at Halle 50 at DomagkAteliers (2021), Going Nowhere at Cafe Cosmos (2022) and the Debutanten presentation at Galerie der Künstler*Innen, combined with a catalogue release.
Lothringer 13 Studio,Lothringer Str. 13, 81667 München
Last night I tried to think of the first animal I can remember. My grandmother’s black, shaggy dog perhaps? Or earlier, as my mother would say, the jellyfish that stung me on my wrist. I was only two then. Or earlier still I remember the fish on the beach I would make out of the warm sand. But maybe I am thinking about this wrong, maybe it is not about the actual animals I might or might not remember, but rather that all memories belong to the animal kingdom. Maybe memories are like animals.
First of all, there are the individual memories of different things that happened to us, personal memories like family pets, domesticated. Zuza Piekoszewska shows a small landscape of fields in the early morning mist as described to her by her parents. Elsewhere she remakes a kind of very specific dish cloth her mother used in mid-90s Poland, pastel, striped, homely. Julia Klemm’s lions do not prowl but play around the rubble like kittens. The lions though are a different type of memory. They belong not just to us, but to our culture, much like in the taxonomist’s biological classification, a species belongs to a genus. These animals are ordered along evolutionary lines, significant events of our shared past marking out a historical trajectory. These lions that Julia Klemm gathers, derives from 3D scans of bronze and stone lions dotted around European capitals, traditional symbols of strength, courage and nobility in our Judeo-Christian tradition.
Finally there are the memories of the pack, memories like the swarm of cicadas that emerge all together and so suddenly, after 17 years of underground sleep. History has no place for such memories; this kind of animal is missing from the taxonomist’s classification systems. It is less about individuals, identification and contextualisation and more about how to think the animal as already a population. Memories are never single – there is never the one lion. An animal before it is this or that animal, my animal, yours and ours, is an animal like another, but also different. I mean lions as the same but also as mutants, the repetition of genetic material always harbouring mutation. These memories of the pack are always unknowingly carried with us. I am a product of memories I do not even remember; we are a multiplicity of memories that history cannot contain. The most interesting things happen in between the lines, in shared proximities where the discernibility of points disappears. As Deleuze and Guattari write,
The line-system … of becoming is opposed to the point-system of memory. Becoming is the movement by which the line frees itself from the point, and renders points indiscernible…(Thousand Plateaus, 294)
Here becoming is an anti-memory. To really learn how to remember animals, we must first forget.
Lothringer 13Studio, Lothringer Str. 13, 81667 München
When I try to recall something or other, I do not immediately think of animals, though perhaps I should. I think of things that happened and other things that happened before that: points on an ever distant timeline. A line of evolution, of successful pairings, of inherited traits. But what about all those other things I don’t remember? Unclear, awkward pairings, stolen encounters in the night? Different species, no offspring, yet also a closeness and an intimacy.
Animals on my mind is the second of GiG Munich’s ‘Re-collection’ series of exhibitions at Lothringer 13 Studio, featuring the work of Julia Klemm and Zuza Piekoszewska, in collaboration with Lectwo, Poland.
Julia Klemm (*1983 in Backnang) lives and works in Munich. 2010 she began her art studies at the AdBK Munich with Prof. Norbert Prangenberg and graduated 2017 as a master student with Markus Karstieß. In 2018 she received a scholarship from the Bavarian State Ministry for Education and Culture, Science and Art for a six-month stay at the Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris. She has exhibited in Munich, Cologne, Düsseldorf and internationally, in New Jersey, Rome and Beirut. Klemm is represented in the collection of contemporary art of the Federal Republic of Germany and is currently participating in a group exhibition in the Bundeskunsthalle Bonn in 2022.
Zuza Piekoszewska (*1996) completed an BFA in Photography at the University of the Arts Poznan and a MFA in Fine Art Media in the Szczecin Art Academy. At Łęctwo Poznań she had solo exhibitions ‘You are a little soul carrying about a corpse’ in 2020, and ‘Ready to hatch’ in 2019. Her recent group exhibitions include ‘The Discomfort of Evening’, Zachęta, Warsaw, 2022, ‘Material fatigue’ at the 17th International Triennial of Tapestry in Łódź, 2022,‘We breathe the remains of everything that was’ organised by GiG Munich and Łęctwo at Lothringer 13 Studio, Munich, 2022, ’The earth is flat again’ at the Museum of Art in Łódź, 2021 and ‘Lebenswelt’ at the Bovisamare Via Mercantini, Milan, 2021.
Animals on my mind
Wenn ich versuche, mich an etwas zu erinnern, denke ich nicht sofort an Tiere, obwohl ich das vielleicht sollte. Ich denke an Dinge, die passiert sind, und andere Dinge, die davor passiert sind: Punkte auf einer immer weiter entfernten Zeitlinie. Eine Linie der Evolution, der erfolgreichen Paarungen, der vererbten Eigenschaften. Aber was ist mit all den anderen Dingen, an die ich mich nicht erinnere? Unklare, ungeschickte Paarungen, gestohlene Begegnungen in der Nacht? Verschiedene Spezies, keine Nachkommen, aber auch eine Nähe und Intimität.
Animals on my mind ist die zweite Ausstellung der Reihe “Re-collection” von GiG Munich im Lothringer 13 Studio, in der die Arbeiten von Julia Klemm und Zuza Piekoszewska gezeigt werden.
Julia Klemm (*1983 in Backnang) lebt und arbeitet in München. Sie beginnt 2010 ihr Kunststudium an der AdBK München bei Prof. Norbert Prangenberg und macht 2017 als Meisterschülerin bei Markus Karstieß ihren Abschluss. 2018 erhält sie ein Stipendium des Bayerischen Staatsministeriums für Bildung und Kultur, Wissenschaft und Kunst für einen sechsmonatigen Aufenthalt an der Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris. Sie stellte bisher in München, Köln, Düsseldorf sowie international u. a. in New Jersey, Rom und Beirut aus.Klemm ist in der Sammlung zeitgenössischer Kunst der Bundesrepublik Deutschlandvertreten und 2022 an einer Gruppenausstellung in der Bundeskunsthalle Bonn beteiligt.
Zuza Piekoszewska (*1996) absolvierte einen BFA in Fotografie an der Universität der Künste Poznan und einen MFA in Fine Art Media an der Kunstakademie Szczecin. Im Łęctwo Poznań hatte sie die Einzelausstellungen “You are a little soul carrying about a corpse” im Jahr 2020 und “Ready to hatch” im Jahr 2019. Zu ihren jüngsten Gruppenausstellungen gehören “The Discomfort of Evening”, Zachęta, Warschau, 2022, “Material fatigue” auf der 17. Internationalen Triennale der Tapisserie in Łódź, 2022,“Wir atmen die Reste von allem, was war”, organisiert von GiG Munich und Łęctwo im Studio Lothringer 13, München, 2022, “Die Erde ist wieder flach” im Kunstmuseum in Łódź, 2021 und “Lebenswelt” im Bovisamare Via Mercantini, Mailand, 2021.
As part of Various Others and in collaboration with Temporary Gallery, Centre for Contemporary Art, Cologne
Milchstr. 4, 81667 Munich
09.09.2022 – 29.09.2022
There is a call. In the light, in the dark, it doesn’t matter. I stop and look around. I see the caller and I answer. I answer because I know that the caller is calling me. The person they are calling is the same person I am. I identify myself in their call. I understand and I respond appropriately. And in doing so I confirm that the identity they have given me is the right one. But there is another call, one that for Deleuze and Guattari opens a different, passional regime: someone calls, but this is not me. They call someone else. I still stop and look around but I do not identify myself with the person being called and I feel … I do not know exactly, but Deleuze and Guattari would say, betrayed. Oh, how I would like to be the one who is being called! Providing there is a fascination with the caller, I want to identify this unknown person, I desire this betrayal. This too is a powerful bond.
Then there is the third call that Deleuze and Guattari do not write about. Someone calls and this call is meant for me, but I do not answer because it seems too obvious, almost too stupid. They cannot be really calling me, or are they? Are they really, now?
All three ways of calling are apparent in the work of Hannes Heinrich’s and Buket Isgören. There is a moment of recognition: this, there, is a depiction of a flower. It is rendered in such a way I recognise it as such. There is also a moment of betrayal, especially apparent in Heinrich’s work, when he rubs charcoal across the object he covers with canvas, desiring a closeness that the object does not give. Isgören too painstakingly colours in her leaves and petals. And then there is the call that is too much; it is too direct: flower, chair, shoe, hoody. In Heinrich’s latest work, the object he has drawn and rubbed, is cut out in order to once again gain a third dimension and become solid.
Hannes Heinrich is a Munich-based artist. He studied in Munich, graduating in 2017, Klasse Kneffel. His most recent exhibitions include: ‘Part of a process,’ Galerie Jahn & Jahn, Munich (2022); ’Die ersten Jahren der Professionalität, BBK, Munich (2022); ‘The Shade, Kunstverein Kirchzarten (2020) and ’Ruinous Times’, Ruine München, Lenbachhaus Munich (2020).
Buket Isgören is a Turkish artist who lives in Cologne and works at at Kunsthaus KAT18. GiG Munich learnt about her work through Aneta Rostkowska, the director of CCA Temporary gallery. Aneta visited GiG Munich and left the pamphlet accompanying the 2020 exhibition ‘Florophilia’. The strength of the writing lead GiG Munich to contact Aneta, who then agreed to collaborate with GiG for Various Others. She then suggested we show Buket’s work together. Buket Isgören is autistic and this presented the challenge of how to write about art in the theoretical way characteristic of GiG, but in a language that is simple. The exhibition will be accompanied by language workshops, inviting participants to translate difficult texts to simple German. This is in the spirit of Temporary Gallery and its focus on social context.
Zuza Piekoszewska, Natalia Karczewska, Magda Starska, Grzegorz Bożek, Paweł Marcinek und Przemysław Piniak
(curated by Łęctwo)
31.07 – 19.08.2022
Lothringer 13 Studio, Lothringer Straße 13, 81667 Munich
Many of you here know GiG from its days at Baumstr. 11. Some of you might even remember the last series of exhibitions there, ‘Thinking Nature’ featuring artists such as Elke Dreier, Johanna Strobel, Kalas Liebfried, Julia Klemm, Justin Liebermann, Lilian Robl and many others. This exhibition is a continuation of that series, but with a slight shift in focus: instead of thought, the theme is memory. How it relates to our thinking about nature remains unchanged.
For this exhibition, GiG invite Lectwo from Poznan, Poland, and its director, Przemek Sowiński to be the curator. He in turn responded to the theme through this idea of ‘breath’ as something physical, something shared and something transformative. We breathe out slowly when we hear something surprising – we inhale sharply in fear. Together with our heartbeat, breathing structures our sense of time, each breath already past, present and future. If when thinking, the concept of memory often becomes too much like the concept of history, a series of events arranged according to importance, the memories held in a breath have a linearity free from such punctuation. They are alive.
As an introduction to the exhibition, Dr. Sebastian Truskolaski traveling from Berlin, kindly agreed to hold a brief discussion of Adorno’s short text, ‘Heliotrope’. We chose thistext together as a good way of engaging with the themes of the exhibition: breathing, memory, nature (Heliotropism being the ability of plants to turn towards the sun). The text takes the shape of Adorno’s childhood memory. A glamorous aunt comes to visit, carrying suitcases with stickers from exotic locations. Little Theodor breaths in the heavy scent of her French perfume and is immediately transported to the world of grown-ups, which is also a long-lost fairyland. The child at once gains access to a foreign land, and recovers what he once had.
To enter Paul Valentin’s installation at the Rosa Stern Space – A Piano Plays In Another Room And It‘s Raining – is to step into a Plato’s cave of sorts. Awaiting you are two classic Corbusier lounge chairs in a darkened basement room. Feet up and immobile you are meant to look up at the projection on the ceiling. This is, like much of Paul Valentin’s works after Nichts from 2019, digitally animated, and in this sense is a simulation rather than some kind of camera recording. But instead of shadows of people and animals cast by objects, “wall implements wrought in wood and stone,” we see only another space, another darkened room (Plato, The Republic, 747). There is another, deeper cave in which we finds ourselves, “an ampler, stranger and deeper world,” that no longer adheres to familiar Platonic rules (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, § 289).
We enter this world through a room with a lighthouse outside the window. The light from the lighthouse runs across the rain covered window in the dim artificial glow, a phone rings, its green light blinks. The room we see seems very familiar to us and I do not just mean us gamers, who would recognise it from the 1996 classic,Lighthouse: The Dark Being. There is now a whole category of objects that seem more real when computer generated: raindrops and puddles, shiny little things out of plastic, soda cans, shattered glass, flames, plugs and sockets, fur and dust, and it is these that Paul Valentin collects, like some kind of digital Wall-E. So familiar are these computer generated things that they, and the rooms in which they live, have acquired a sheen of nostalgia, the aesthetic of liminal spaces, with its own wikipedia fandom page. Accompanying us is a suitably melancholy piano sound track and the hum of rain in the distance.
From this first shadowy room we move on to another and then another, always following the invisible camera, always staying in the rain. One room seems enormous, filled with forgotten film equipment, stage sets and props. In this room we see both the camera, a classic Arri Alexa mounted on wheels, and what it films, a wooden model of a classical building, brightly lit. But we also seem to see what is inside the wooden model, with its cornices, columns and tympana – its tapestries and parquet floor. And here too is a camera, momentarily visible to us when sparks fly from a broken power cable. When the camera follows a single coffee drop down from the machine to the floor, then above and below along the cable leading to the elevator and ventilation shaft, we enter the final space, a modern-looking bedroom upstairs. Zooming onto the vase with flowers next to the bed, we seem to be back again inside the wooden model from the beginning, with its tapestries, petals falling in from a hole in the ceiling.
Every time there is a film cut and we move from one room to another, our understanding of the spaces shifts. What seemed to us a stage set at the beginning, with false walls and fake rain, is at the end shown to be an actual lighthouse outside. This lighthouse seems to be both within the large space of the warehouse and within the wooden miniature model.There is a vertiginous circularity at work here that belongs to the gaming world rather than the film, and the first impression of the work is that of a YouTube game walkthrough, the camera movement determined by a click or sequence of clicks on the various objects – an updated and sophisticated version of classic point and click games likeMyst. We see the objects from all possible camera angles, all the different aspects: inside, outside, above, below, behind, as a stage set, captured on film, in the dark, in the light etc. The technical wizardry is breathtaking. Paul Valentin is not Plato’s puppeteer, standing behind a wall holding up simple wooden and stone objects infront of a fire so that they might cast some shadows on a wall, but rather Plato’s artist, if such an artist were at all possible: consider how he is described in Book X of the Republic, the maker of all the works of all other workmen.
For this is he who is able to make not only vessels of every kind, but plants and animals,himself and all other things – the earth and heaven and the things which are in heaven or under the earth, he makes the gods also.
This is the “extraordinary man,” “a wizard no mistake,” who Plato reveals to be nothing other than a painter.
Of course, the painter is not really such an extraordinary creator, because he is not really the maker of all these things. The painter’s concern is appearance only, and we as the gullible audience are tricked into believing his illusions. Paul Valentin revels in playing this role of the trickster, as is already in apparent in work such as Beyond the See.
In this work, we are presented with an image of a few sailing boats bobbing gently on a lake. The sky is blue, the water still, and that is enough already to put in mind a scene out of the Truman Show. And sure enough, the image is revealed to be more complicated than at first glance, the sailing boats not boats at all, but a series of complex intertwining computer generated structures that only look like boats when the slight breeze allows them to be viewed together from the one perfect angle.
In a scene in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Admiral Croft complains to the heroine Anna,
Here I am, you see, staring at a picture. I can never get by this shop without stopping. But what a thing here is, by way of a boat! Do look at it. Did you ever see the like? What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that anybody would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that? (202)
No one in their right mind would want to sail on one of Paul Valentin’s boats – the very idea is ludicrous. He doesn’t even try to make his boats seem believable to us. Instead he shows that things which might look like boats do not have to be boats at all. What we see is not what we think we see or know or understand. Plato’s puppeteer from the cave, his painter of beds and tables – but the figure perhaps closest to Paul Valentin, is that of the Sophist, defined by Plato as someone who is an imitator, but not a “sound one,” an imitator with “a crack” in his iron, a queer fellow indeed (Plato, The Sophist). A Sophist imitates the appearance of wisdom in his arguments, but is not actually in possession of wisdom. He spins his arguments until we are left bewildered and confused, rather than any more knowledgeable. In his short essay “Plato and the Simulacrum” Gilles Deleuze compares the Sophist to Proteus, the constantly changing, ever-shifting God of the sea, a T-1000 only possible with developments in CGI.
For Valentin’s project is very much anti-Platonic one, despite the numerous classical references to works and objects that are Platonic in spirit (is that a portrait of Socrates I see in the dark? is that Athena’s owl, the symbol of wisdom?). We tend to think of Plato’s theory of the forms in the most simple manner: there is a thing and the image, an original and a copy, the model and the simulacrum. And when looking at the world around us we believe ourselves to be as dispassionate and objective as an 18th century naturalist that Jane Austen would recognise, distinguishing the differences between things in order to categorising them correctly as a certain species belonging to a certain genus. But as Deleuze argues in “Plato and the Simulacrum” the goal of the Platonic project is not of distinctions between species, but rather distinctions between claimants. The decisions involved are only superficially of the careful naturalist, and rather must be understood as value judgements, with all the problems such value judgements involve. In our encounter with a thing – platonically speaking – we must decide to what extent its claim to authenticity is a real one: to what extent is this thing that we see, not just a copy, but a true copy of a perfect original. In other words, we establish a narrative of foundation, with an original, unchanging foundation that gives our claim its value, theobject of a claim, and a claimant – us. Or, as Deleuze describes the Neoplatonic triad, we establish an unsharable, the shared and the sharer – something almost impossible in the world of digital animation and open source programmes, in which new tools, animated objects and sequences are shared openly. The unshakeable foundation is that according to which claimants are judged and their claim measured. It is also however used to hunt down the false claimant, the bad copy, the simulacrum.
In Deleuze’s reading the simulacrum is bad, not because it is the lowly copy of the copy, as it would seem from Plato’s metaphor of the bed – there being a perfect bed of the gods, the bed made by craftsmen that follows this perfect model, and the bed of the painter, the imitation, “thrice removed from the king and from the truth” (Book X). Rather, the bed of the painter is a bad copy, because it is a false claimant, refusing the authority of resemblance. When Deleuze defines the simulacrum as the “image without the resemblance” ( this does not mean that resemblance is not at work – indeed as is also apparent in the work of Paul Valentin, it can be argued that the simulacra is nothing but resemblance. The point is however, that it is not the right kind of resemblance, the good resemblance of the object to the idea. Indeed, the problem lies in what we have seen to be the case of Paul Valentin boats: the fact that the painter’s bed has no need of the idea of the bed at all, and makes no recourse to the modality of understanding, whether knowledge or opinion. Admiral Croft dismisses the painting of the sailing boat in the window, because the depicted boat does not match the knowledge and experience of a sea faring vessel that he has acquired over the course of his naval career. He compares the painted boat with the sailing boats he knows and judges accordingly. In contrast, Paul Valentin is only interested in what Deleuze would describe as the “effect of resemblance” (49). He would be the crazed and demonic naturalist, who only looks at the patterns and surfaces and the differences in appearances, completely uninterested in how a species may relate to genus.
Deleuze describes the simulacrum as something vast – and this is true of both pieces, A Piano Plays In Another Room And It‘s Raining as well as Beyond the See. A world consisting of appearance only is necessarily enormous, encompassing endless multiple and different points of views – for after all, anything and everything can be copied by the painter. It is the animated world of video games and rooms opening onto another; it is also the world in which the resemblance to a boat is only one point of view we have of complex intertwining structures. To see the everything-at-once of all appearance involves not just wizardry, but also a madness. Those boats, are mad, as is the intoxication of flying from one room to the next, of The Piano Plays.
Deleuze associates this madness with modernity (51). Modernist work like that of Joyce, offers not different points of view of the one story, but rather a series of different and divergent narratives, as if to each point of view corresponded a new and different landscape. The video game seems to me the natural successor of this kind of modernist aesthetic: it is not, as with film, that the various story lines combine to form the one narrative, but rather, it always the simultaneous affirmation of multiple and often contrasting perspectives. It is a world in which a lighthouse can be both real and part of a stage set, inside and outside, miniature and vast. Whether modernist or not, all the works that in this way affirm heterogenous series as divergent, present a world view that is not the Platonic one based on sameness, likeness and identity. In the Platonic world view, any difference between individuals is a matter of first establishing identity. Things have to be the same, before we can detect differences. Identity for Plato would be something pre-established. But in Paul Valentin’s divergent world of the simulacrum, identity is presented as the product of disparity. It is not pre-given; it is made.
When all narratives, all heterogenous series are affirmed as equally valid there can be no distinction between the original and copy. It is the false claimant that triumphs, no longer false because in no need of a foundation to confer validity. But as Deleuze argues, the simulacrum not only overthrows Platonism (53). The false is also the power through which Platonism, as in the world of representation and identity consisting of the same and the like, is constituted. According to Deleuze’s logic, it is because of the simulacrum’s play with effect, that we can think in terms of a resemblance in the first place, and thereby establisha relation between the original and the copy.Or rather resemblance is the word we use when we think of the world platonically, rather than in terms of the simulacrum. For Deleuze, the simulacrum is Nietzsche’s concept of the Eternal Return, in which orderly representation is overthrown and chaos reigns unimpeded. There is the still “deeper cave” behind Plato’s cave is foundation-less, with no light and with no thread we can use to find our way outside (53). What returns is the divergence of all series as divergent.
With this Deleuzian twist, we can say that it is the painter of the “shapeless old cockleshell” that holds this vast false power. It is because of his skill, his play with resemblance and appearance that Admiral Croft can use his acquired knowledge to make his comparisons – it is because of what the painter does that a carpenter can make his bed or table. The same force is at work, and more so continues to be at work. In the deeper cave of Paul Valentin’s work, we are accompanied by a piano soundtrack. This is not part of the animation itself, but is played separately according to an algorithm. The same few piano notes and short sequences of notes are repeated randomly, always in different combinations, meaning that each time we view the work, the diegetic sound accompanying the projection will be changed. At one point, the room with the lighthouse might seem mysterious, at another, melancholy, yet again, tense. Or in the silence we might not notice this particular room at all and move our attention to the next. This is Paul Valentin’s final Nietzschean gesture, his way of affirming the power of the different.