Posts Tagged ‘Julian Beever’

Cultural Slippage

December 17, 2009

           OK, I admit it. I click on those little side features of MSN, Yahoo news, etc. A recent one was about Liu Bolin and his “invisible man” paintings. ABC‘s actual description of this was that the “painter hides in his own work.” That this is the work of Liu Bolin is of no concern (it is his work). That this is a painting is another matter. That he is a painter is even more questionable. That these are photographs of an environment where Liu has had himself painted, camouflaged, is unquestionable. In a reverse form of one point perspective, Liu is so masterfully painted that the marks covering his body continue the visual appearance of what his physical presence would normally conceal. Hence, only the subtlest shadowing reveals his form within the environment photographed. But there’s the rub. It is only from this singular camera lens perspective that the camouflage is so successful. From any other angle, the visual disjunction becomes more and more apparent. So describing it as a painting does an injustice to those who paint. But then again, Mr. Bolin does not paint (“Liu is so masterfully painted”). Indeed, he is the support for the painting, the human canvas, which is to say, someone else has to paint him, someone else must make the decisions necessary to pull off this trompe l’oeil. Saying that it is through Liu Bolin’s agency that the “painting” (photograph) succeeds is to elide the existence of the actual painter (and likewise not give that person credit as the artist, the painter of this illusion).

           The issue here has nothing to do with artists or painting. Rather it has to do with the abbreviated memory of Rene’ Magritte’s The Treachery Of Images. Increasingly we are describing photographs OF paintings or sculpture AS paintings or sculpture. Not just describing them as such, but treating them as such. Like the actual painter of Bolin’s work (the assistant who acted as Liu’s agent in accomplishing his “vision”), the actual paintings and sculpture photographed become elided if this slippage persists.

           Edgar Mueller and Julian Beever are sidewalk chalk artists in Europe. Among other things they create “holes” in the sidewalk; the illusion that another world opens up on the surface of the pavement, one that could be “stepped into”.  Again, the street art illusion only works from one angle, masterfully at that. The photographs of these works likewise are very compelling. Again, they need to be taken from a specific angle (though not as rigidly specific as Liu’s). However, in their use, there is never any misperception or misrepresentation of who is the artist and what was the art. The photo’s are never more than a documentation of the work (with photo’s of various viewers’ participation with, or reactions to, the chalk paintings as part of the exposition). Though virtual reality may have been only a glimmer in the eye of the roaring 20’s, Magritte’s The Treachery Of Images is worth reconsidering in the light of virtual reality’s ubiquitous hegemony.