Painting and the rest of the world.
A Courbet painting, executed in 1865:L'atelier du peintre. Allégorie Réelle déterminant une phase de sept années de ma vie artistique (et morale). The issue is the following: how do you make the world enter the painting; or, but it comes back down to the same thing: how do you make the painting stay and the painter come out of his workshop; Courbet described that painting, in one of the Lettre à Champfleury, of January 1855 as an endeavour to show "how the world comes to him to be painted". We can observe from each side of the painter, different individuals belonging to two radically different social spheres: the artistic one, with the collectors, patrons, poets, apprentices and the one on the other side of the frame, the more frivolous compagny, representing everything that is not artistic.
It is a representation of the artist and of art in society but also of art in the workshop: painting is put forth like a practice in an exterior situation and in close proximity with the world- the frivolous, mundane but also artistic one- it is defined by its bond and also by its distance with it; the painter is an interface, a passage, an untransferable space that opens on the different spheres of reality. But we can only be struck by the distance that exists between "these models", the one that the artist is suppose to reproduce in his frame and the image painted: a pastoral, mythological scene with some flecks of allegoric signs; the image does not in any case reflect the social reality that the painter is confronted to at the left of the painting.
Courbet describes the painting like a "real allegory": an antinomic concept in reality, since an allegory is suppose to be the symbolic representation of an idea and thus should expose this idea through various images not including any particular contigencies - everything needs to be justified in order for the idea to give its full meaning to the painting. Thus this image-speech, leaves aside all possible realism, seeing as it would invoke different unsignificant contingent variations: all speech's that the allegory has to expose in all univocity.
The master plan of Courbet was to allegorize by means of reality, in an image that claims all memisis that the platonic traditions rejected because of the impenetrability of presenting adequate ideas. It was doubling the idea of reality, to present an idea in all its transparency, meaning in all the possible distance that separates the world frivolous or not; In other words: a real fiction. And it deals with history since the art triptych that Vergara exposes here, like in the painting of Courbet, switched up with different modalities, exposing characters who, by all means, are "historical".
Marx, Engels et Wiertz, readied up as for a fair, tend to appear like an imitation of the original but only because it is shown on video, he is sometimes covered by small light, impatient mouvements, while the tip of his paintbrush runs accross the surface painting or just brushing with the idea of painting. Thus it really should be painting the painter in the act of painting, to represent the representation in itself;
Everything starts probably from the 19th century. Paris was the radiant capital, outshinning the rest of Europe and the recent birth of Belgium with its liberal constitution on painting. We know how sour the belgium painter Wiertz, named "the philosopher with a paintbrush", became when his "Patrocle" was refused by Paris for the 1838 Salon, even though it was accepted a year later but only to be severely criticised. We know the excessive size of his canvas's, growing even bigger with the diminishing success he got in Paris. We also know how Marx, under pressure from Prussia, was chased out of Paris and came to live in Bruxelles, where whilst also pursuing his political activities , he drafted his Manifeste.
Bruxelles an outcentered space that just came out of chaos and revolution and that will stay a ground that will have given birth to a unique and famously known manifesto that will influnece the european and the world's history. It is in this context that the philosophical and economical figures (and Wiertz himself who was named the philosopher with the paintbrush" tried in his own way to meditate philosophically whilst painting reflecting on social and political themes) can appear as a turn around illustration that creates a shield for art history: a turn around which by its center presents itself as the instance of determination of good or cheap taste, which finds itself criticised but also admired and stimulates for that reason an original creation which tries to find new esthetic rules. Thus d'Ensor: "les suffisances matamoresques appellent la finale crevaison grenouillère".
It deals with painting but also with History: the triptyc here represents characters whose names have been registered and transmitted - why?- some left in the shadows others elevated to be a dignified memory, having a right to leave a trace, a posterity: an idol like an ancestor.
Here, it is the images of Marx, Engels and Wiertz that we see: litterally speaking clichès representing the most famous celebrities; images of Epinal. But by the simple act of re-doing, of using visual aids, everything is changed: now, it is not the characters that are visible, but more the act in itself of representing them. It is thus the motion of Courbet that reappears, the painting that comes back as a form of a job, coming back to accomplish the impossible task of representing reality, that river endlessly flowing, and yet not always a river: water flowing and the brush that can only express the figures on the canvas; the Heraclite that would make the picture. We can also refer to the Clouzot movie (Le mystère Picasso, 1955), following Picasso during his act of creating, fixing on his film the intermediate images: the painter erasing when everything seemed perfect, starting over, multiple figures succeeding one after the other, as if the main point resided in the act of painting - finally Picasso paints.
But here, we are completely transfixed by the brush in its failure to represent reality and it is then time that appears the center of the piece of art: nevertheless if the endeavours and the hesitations of Picasso show a succession of possible images, here it is only a pur passage of temporality which will not lead to any new images. "Dame Painture", always young yet to always take up the same task. Impossible. Always the same little piece of yellow wall to paint: why?
Painting and presence
Here again the issue of a portrait occurs . It functions just like an instance of production of the memory; and for that reason it always covers up the reality of a forgotten layer. There was a moment where the image of these characters was put forth on a prop (canvas, or argentic paper), but of that fragment of time, nothing lives on, only a ghost of an image. She can only exist and function like a memory trace and only in a way where she turns her back to him and forgets. Better: it is the image itself that will be registered and not the moment of its fabrication- another extra piece of existence and of power of the image compared to reality. There is only images. At the beginning of book X of "La République", Plato compares a painter to a man who wanders with a mirror in his hand reproducing images from around the world. A fabricated illusion, that only attracts appearances and gives a very low vision of the Idea in its purest form. He inaugurates here a very dicrediting vision of a pictural mimesis which will persist for a long time and that Vergara here flips back: a mirror painting which shows the power that a surface retains, its capacity to demonstrate the presence yet in the continually differed absence- endless images of images where the original would even be missed; the world then becomes the workshop of the artist, an immense canvas, where everyting comes to be painted, reflexions of reflexions, until the original object disappears - a giant kaleidoscope.
A painting of the act of painting and not of its subject: a turn over that shows the contingencies that the final image will never show, erasing, by nature, all aspects relating to reality. An involontary mouvement of the model, the singularity of its aspect, the temporality of the filmed image, the eventual accidental variation of light, everything resurfacing, to better construct it from the interior. It is the painted image that is produced whilst at the same time the personne is erased: by the game of the paintbrush on the nearly still picture, is constructed an image that isn't one appears a character that isn't one and a painting that isn't one.
Fiction, painting, history.
Thus we can then be struck by a very strange impression: we can observe a gap between the image and a reality that always escapes, yet insists at least as a "point de mire" of a broken canvas, a sensation of being in the presence of the characters represented, all the while the model being clearly exposed with a certain distance.
Because of the use of this video, it is the images of these famous men, Marx, Engels and Wiertz, that reappear. Sometimes a disguised person appears, miming a person that really exists, in order to give the impression that the person is present. All this in a reality completely pushed aside by the logics of representation, at the very core of the image, who denies itself and provoque by presenting itself like "pure mimesis". The model imitating its model, a double game of interlocking mimesis's and by doing so creates a reversal: the individuals filmed are the characters represented, it is the real Marx, Engels and Wiertz that are looking at us.
Then, an involontary mouvement, the weight of time and everything falls back and the mimesis reappears: disguised as if going to a fair, it is once again the chosen model by Vergara that we have in front of us. A blinking presence of historical people, behind the characters, that appear and reappear through these screens - looking back, we could probably see a hint of humor, this "surface" art described by Deleuze in Logique du sens, floats an air of the limits of visible sens and determines the functions of these fluctuations the status of what appears on the sceen (Marx/ a stranger/ Marx / a stranger...), an echo, which could be a that same moment where the child experiences for the first time the epiphanic game of gazing- or both at the same time: Marx, Engels and Wiertz appearing and reappearing: hidden!/ hello!/ hidden!/hello!...
A representation that takes seriously the question of presence. Indeed, yet in reality, every one of those eye-catchging games have been done before. It is then probably the use of this dialectic representation to try to bring back to the present these characters and what they represent: a certain idea of the links between art and reality, of the status of the artist in the world, especially in its political and social aspects. And from that point of vue, exposing Wiertz and the philosophers of historical materialism in the same tryptic is a significant act.
Mimesis painting only reproduces unreal aspects, we all agree: it becomes fiction. Nevertheless fiction also produces reality. If the birth of Belgium provoked a need for images, it was to be able to give a vision of reality in the light of creating a collective memory, in this recently born state: official history as fiction. Or propaganda, your choice. But at the same time, fiction cannot be a power tool for history: only the one of utopia and of revolutionnary speech's echoing all through out the 20th century.
Fiction, a power tool for History, against a fictional state history. And between, from allegory to utopia, appears all the different possible dosages between the images representing power and the power of images. In this tryptic, the objective is to not only bring back to reality the reality fictions that these characters have created but to also show that the present is also composed of impossible things that can later be retrospectively shown as possible things.
Thus, once you let these images reproduce themselves, they be images of power or those who confront themselves to power, the ones of memory or those of fiction, the issue of significance settles in, in all its cruelty or humor: a stubborn sens that moves along, all through History, what we see and what we believe to have seen, what we know and we think we know.