Mediamatic Magazine Vol.1#1 Paul Perry 1 Jan 1986

Beauty Farm: Corresponding to Essence

In the zero issue of Mediamatic JOUKE KLEEREBEZEM wrote an critical article about media art. PAUL PERRY remarks on this text. He selected relevant passages of KLEEREBEZEM's article. These are reprinted on the left pages.


beauty form -

For the initial 'zero' issue of MEDIAMATIC magazine JOUKE KLEEREBEZEM wrote an article entitled More tales from the Beauty Farm, where, in broad critical terms, he explains his attitude towards what he describes as the media art concept. Using a hearsay understanding of deconstructive practice to support a flimsy critique, KLEEREBEZEM argues that it is a need for meaning itself that is underlying the supposed dismantling of all significances which is the purported purpose of deconstruction. Seeming to disapprove of currently produced complexity, that is the product made by combining any number of already overseen (mass) and overused (cliche) entities into a new work, KLEEREBEZEM shares with us his insight into the fearful cause of this phenomenon and points out the practitioners error of thinking that their work is viable when it only adds to the rising tide of what he calls insignificance.

The identified need for meaning motivating his metaphysical digressions is in sharp contrast however to More tales meandering course of textual confusion and complexity.

Putting up against the media might represent a fine battle cry for championing the refinement of individual relationships or cultivating personal taste in opposition to the new mass communication authority, but is there really any legitimacy left in this sort of portrayal of an outdated and outmoded oppositional tactic?

In depreciating the value of works created by electronic or mechanically reproductive means we betray our resentment of the missing actualness of the signifier as well as the traditionally absent signified. It is the forsaken presence offered by the middle-man media that meets us half way and accommodates perfectly our desire for sensual information without having to leave familiar surroundings, which is the ear mark of our age. Technical reproduction of events occurring anywhere can reach us instantly. We are able to witness things imperceptible to our bare, unaided sight or hearing, beyond the limits of our senses. Time lapse and slow motion, rhetorical effects once the domain of literature, have succeeded to a place within the visual arts. Some art historians have marked this shift by labelling our time the film age to distinguish it from previous epochs.

Here manifests itself an excess of consciousness orientated on the media and an art inspired by the media. By making use of striding technical possibilities in media art one spreads coordinately, combines from here and there bearers of significance, cites forms of art, takes stock, confronts and finally by doing so, deconstructs and demolishes systems of significance. The supply is very varied and the nature of a choice from this supply now appears to be of the utmost importance. However, as long as these choises only serve to increase this complexity, they remain in essence arbitrary. For complexity knows no ideological pursuit and therefore no relevant choices. It is self fulfilling. The overstressed importance of the choice serves only to keep one's own ranks closed. In this respect it doesn't otherwise distinguish itself from other current principles of selection in fine arts.

In this view an image is only an equivalent sign, an insipid incentive, The creating process makes room for the selecting process. It doesn't concern itself with a significant dialogue between motive and processing, experience and participation, but rather aims at the de-construction of all models that are in essence insignificant.

It may be safely said that our mechanical and electronic age has created conditions, relatively new for aesthetic history, which make it possible to reverse the classical first comes the origin then the copy hierarchy, as well as inverting accompanying themes such as authenticity and authority. Copying allows the interpretation of an origin to happen just as deception ensures the interpretive possibility of something being authentic. These interpretive reversals, visible within the studies of structure and meaning practiced today by each of the social science disciplines, have an opening rather than closing effect. The interpretation of interpretation may find along it's way previously unmentioned features or facts excluded earlier for the sake of convenience, which overthrow the biased order inherent in the system in which interpretation is compelled to operate. Applying no more means than those already given it forces a re-evaluation of our basic notions. Contrary to what KLEEREBEZEM suggests, signification, the process of signing, is not in danger - not drowning, just waving. Confusing the sign with significance is telling: in a topsy-turvy state things once considered of little value are suddenly found greatly important and vice versa. The age old ploy, the attachment of a value of some sort to a particular meaning, a moralistic preoccupation at best, is upset by the sliding/open not fixed/closed play of meaning. Here is the 'dividing game' or jeopardy to which KLEEREBEZEM alludes and falls victim to. Interpretation interpenetrates interpretation at it's critical point of assigning a meaning, just as critique interpenetrates criticism, displaying the rupture in the narrowing gap.

In order to assess and clarify More tales from the Beauty Farm's authoritative statements concerning media-we ought to attempt bridging the gaps apparent in the text by engaging it in a careful reading. The debt that we ought, the owe-ing, implies the gap closing obligation which KLEEREBEZEM fulfills by his ethic of the supposed duty of each of us to uncover and pursue things of value, to recover long lost meaning. KLEEREBEZEM's meaning is itself lost. He is guilty precisely of what he condemns others of doing, combining from here and there bearers of significance - he cites floating biblical references and their interpretation by COUTURIER, which for tasteful reasons remain hidden away in their 'original' French, and uses these as grounds, terra firma, for his case. The telltale use of the motif of orientation and spreading co -ordinately stems from his pre-reading the story of God promising Jacob in Genesis that his descendants, shall be as numerous as the dust of the earth and shall spread abroad to the east and to the west and to the north and to the south. Without directly refering to this prophecy he reinserts its form into his own text, framing it as an insight. His associating the prohibition against the use of hewn stone with the 'essence' of art sacré neglects stating that this commandment was not to be interpreted as universal but was for a specific region as specified a line earlier in the 'original' text and was probably formulated in response to the pagan Canaanite altars which were then made of hewn stone. The conventional theological reading: when all the old testament GODS were in competition for men, JACOB's vision of GOD ordered his altar differently made so that it may be kept distinctive from the rest. KLEEREBEZEM everywhere disrupts his own tale in his attempt to keep it unified.

The media as new 'authority' versus the refinement of individual relationships.

The transforming of an image (model) of one medium into another (photo - drawing, video - photo, painting - video, ere".) weakens any specific suitability of media and materials in giving form to a certain content. In essence it deprives qualities from material and media. Also the reproducing of any discipline into another (architecture as photography, painting as video~ sculpture as architecture), doesn't stimulate a necessary discussion regarding identity nor does it stimulate possibilities and responsibilities concerning a specific discipline. It only serves to show the convertibility of (the bearers) of significance. The end of the discussion form/content present itself by dropping the content, whereas I'd rather have dropped the form. The affinity of the artist with certain media and disciplines is no longer rooted in an essential interest that this medium/material represents for him, but in a mixture of commercial insight, technical ambition, sensitivity for the needs of the time and esthetic delicacy. All this integrated into an intuitive and in essence indifferent north/south, east/west and past/present orientation.

The only relevant choice that remains for the individual is that of solitary and concentrated opposition, in order to obtain from it once again, on its own merits, a cultural choice and its selection and legitimation. So – based upon a reflective relationship with essential affinities and with regards to his fellow man – he regains an individual place in the reality. An intellectual and emotional (ethic) reorientation, to which neither the media nor other forms of organized information can contribute anything.

The polemic against Media as a new Authority begs a scrupulous examination of the functioning of these terms. What are the roles that media plays in our lives? If media be the food of us all: to what extent can we suppose independence from the conditions of it's existence? Media as a word is suspiciously vague and has an ubiquitous undertone, evidenced by the fact that KLEEREBEZEM makes use himself of the word in nearly every manner. Having watched while his intuitive logic pulls a rabbit out of nowhere, we are lead to exploring his text's various operations, intrigued, wanting to know how it possibly was done.

One of the most famous and general oppositions in and by which our thinking is shaped is the opposition nature versus culture. Nature is synonymous to terms like essence, essential, basic, original and primary. Culture shares similarity with ideas like education, development, taste, refinement and civilization. The second set of terms, in human understanding, obviously was acquired later or comes after in importance, adding to and supplementing the first. We are often told for example that the implementation of farming together with a need for security gradually established the prevalence of prehistoric communities and the beginning of culture. Occasionally the second occurrence or term as supplement appears to have completely replaced or taken over the first (as in the case of civilization: the supplement is always applauded and cursed as both benefit and detriment to natural man), hence the awakening of a desire to return to the root, back to the source, back to before the trouble began. In this view nature exemplifies the pure and innocent, whereas man's accomplishments entail the pollutive and the corrupt.

Another traditional opposition which fits this bill and suffers abuse from this way of thinking is the idea of an original thing as opposed to a copy. We all feel an inclination to disparage a copy in favour of the original – a copy always seems second best even though it might, qualitatively speaking, be as good if not better than the 'original'. For argument's sake we could point out that some old pictures and a lot of new ones look, oddly enough, a lot better when they are reproduced. Another example would be the film industry where, because of the high production costs, we can only think in terms of copies- the idea of a single 'original' copy is ludicrous and in language terms also self-contradictory. The same is true of photography – although there only may be one negativ the finished product is the print, which is seldom thought of as existing in the original. WALTER BENJAMIN pointed these things out in his essay Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, over fifty years ago.

In our orientation in ourselves and reality, for which art is one of the means available, we arc – one can see it everywhere – increasingly more exposed to fragmentation as we move towards a complex fate. Even more so, the point of our orientation, at present rather appears to increase this fragmentation as much as possible and accordingly to tolerate it. We ought to adapt ourselves to complexity. To acclimatize ourselves to a state of chaos, we initially ought to make this chaos as complete as possible. At present the fragmentation controls as well as the means for the application of technologies and media, as the opening to criticism of current significances, even of the validity of the concept significance itself. Generally this last form is known as the de-construction of significance.

You'll understand that I've never allowed myself to be Tempted by those two twinkling jewels in the semi-darkness, but at once Ascended the second Staircase to refresh myself with other Sources.

Media in it's strictest sense is a plural form of medium, as in the medium of light, sound, painting, etc. It is the middleman, mediating in the physical connection between object and subject. Inconspicuous and relatively unassuming in this role, media nevertheless gives an accurate account for the form of transmission.

Media in another sense has come to designate the sum total of our present day news, entertainment and information spreading apparatus, it's own singular growth and the increasingly important role it plays in each of our lives. Although the tube forms the predominant example in most homes, this does not mean that the media is television. Media is more accurately the condition through which television, as well as radio and the printed image and word exist. Tracing the word media through it's various senses, from it's between position between object and subject or between nature and culture, we find in it a logarithmic advancement of technological reproduction adding increasingly to culture till it appears to substitute itself and replace culture as an entity in it's own right. Accordingly we can place media in two new oppositions: media versus nature and media versus culture. A strange case develops, a paradox: culture and nature are joined together expressing a stand against media, echoed by KLEEREBEZEM's combination of individual refinement and art sacré in a single oppositional force.

The nature/culture opposition, where the first term enjoyed priority and the second term was an addition, something extra or supplementary, which both helped and hurt the initial state, has become one of the classic examples of supplementarity. Within Derridian analysis the supplement marks both the extra piece and the missing piece. Accordingly culture as an addition to nature can be said to play a part in the 'completion' of nature. It is interesting to observe that while culture has literally usurped the previously dominant role of nature, media now threatens to usurp the role of culture. If, as DERRIDA suggests, unsupplemented nature possesses no truth value for us, there is no original unsupplemented nature – only a desire for it or a myth creating it, then may we not follow through with a corresponding notion concerning the ubiquitousness of media: there is no pure and original culture, no culture without the benefit of media.

What appears to be required is a way to think of media as it functions in all it's roles; it connects object to subject, it defines particular formal disciplines (as indicated by KLEEREBEZEM) in a double movement of restraint combined with an elaborative license, and it inscribes itself in as the precondition of medianess: media as addition to culture, the play of media in insuring the commencement of culture and the corresponding inversion of the culture/media opposition in a question whether culture ever really existed alone and unsupplemented.

In order to grasp this it may prove useful to draw some parallels between the condition of medianess and a seventeenth century synonym the MENSTRUUM. The MENSTRUUM prefigures the conceptions of origin and originality and, as WORLIDGE in his Systematic Agriculture (1669) records, The discovery and application of what may be this proper menstruum wherein each seed most rejoyceth in..., it prefigures the effects of both culture and media. The MENSTRUUM is decidedly not a cause, no amount of persuasion will convince it to capitalize itself as the Real or the true Light, or allow itself to be seen as one of the Sources. MENSTRUUM is not cloaked as a transcendental value, it possesses no truth of it's own, it's worth is found in it's betweenness, it's position is one of connecting and at the same moment separating, as such it represents good ground but it is visible only to us as a sign of the loss of fertility.

If you'd like to quote something: Perry, Pauk. "Beauty Farm: Corresponding to Essence" Mediamatic Magazine vol. 1 # 1 (1986).