Date of Submission
“Yes, at this time, everything becomes image, and the essence of the image is to be entirely outside, without intimacy, and yet more inaccessible and mysterious than the innermost thought; without signification, but summoning the profundity of every possible meaning; unrevealed and yet manifest, having that presence-absence that constitutes the attraction and the fascination of the Sirens.”
I have always been interested in signs, especially road signs and billboards, images and words jutting out of the passing landscape. Ignoring their specific messages, the signs became symbolic of the general link they create between the physical world and the invisible world of language and concept, metaphors for metaphor. My project became about severing that link, subverting the purpose of the signs. looking at them in a way that hides their intended message and makes them only objects, signifiers without their signified, monuments of absence. From behind we see the signs as things in themselves; the abstract message that catches our eye from the road is replaced by the three dimensional form of the sign.
The title of the project comes from Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols. In this text he traces a history of the belief in a “True World” beyond or separate from a world of appearance. For Nietzsche, the formation of metaphors is the fundamental human drive and we now live in a world of signs, no longer able to truly see anything in itself. What we call “truth” is no more than a web of concepts and human relations, fixed and ingrained through usage: “illusions which we have forgotten are illusions.” Truth is perspectival; it is constantly changing and can hide behind the plane of language. In his last and hypothetical stage, the idea of any “True World” is finally understood as useless and has been abolished. We realize that we should accept appearance, untruth, as a natural condition of life, that we should value appearance with truth, signifier with signified, the enunciation with the statement. Life is nothing without the appearance of things.
The photographs are largely taken over several cross-country road trips. Spending weeks alone on the road, I became very interested in the process of my project: the idea of trying so hard to get to the wrong side of something, traveling so far and looking so hard for an absence or lack of something. I liked very much the idea of taking meaning away from the scene in front of me (in the most analog way), instead of trying to bring some outside meaning to it, which is often taken as the project of photography. I was of course, also looking for something in my shooting: an aesthetic presence; taking away meaning while also creating it. From behind the signs, there is a simultaneous feel of presence and absence and the play between the two is what I came to enjoy most about this work.
There is something very photographic about this presence of absence and about creating meaning through taking meaning away. A photograph gives us a feeling of presence, because it is a record of a thing that has been and has a real relationship to it. But, it also gives us one of absence or distance, because that moment is gone and the precise thing exists only in the photograph. There is something inherently subtractive about the medium – the image is given a frame and the moment is frozen, picked out and simplified from the flux of the world in front of the camera. It is of course also creative, information is taken away but what is left takes on a new meaning.
A photograph, somewhat like a sign, creates a link between the physical world and an imaginative, metaphoric one. More like the backs of signs than the fronts, the meaning of my photos is somewhat ambiguous and left to the viewer, not semiotic but aesthetic. There is no singular point or message to the photographs, just as there isn’t any on the signs within them. As the signs become only objects and find a place in the landscapes, the pictures are intended to be able to stand on their own as images outside of any conceptual framework.
The Photographs are all taken with a 4x5 view camera and shown as 20x24” archival inkjet prints. In the book I am making of the project, the front of each page is blank and the images are on the reverse sides so that, when flipping through the book, the slight turn of the head to see the image recalls the initial act of peeking around the signs.
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Oja, Duncan B., "How the "True World" Finally Became a Fable" (2011). Senior Projects Spring 2011. 299.