Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Learning to confect our own universes teaches us the skills required to detect those universes within which we ourselves are being confected.

Whoever Reads Bourgeois Newspapers Becomes Blind and Deaf:

Away with These Stultifying Bandages!, John Heartfield, 1932

World War I led John Heartfield to conclude that the only worthy art was that which took account of social realities. Using his bull crystalline camera (See posts August 9th 2008 and June 23rd 2012), he rephotographed newspaper imagery to capture the subjacent truths buried beneath its insidious manipulations of reality. John Heartfield believed much like Malcolm X that, "… the media control the minds of the masses…( and) …have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent…”

Though “taking account of social realities” does not necessarily mean promoting social causes, we had never believed that art should be in any kind of service. Our creative process, which generally begins with imagery that is imbued with highly focused rage allows us to progressively corrode through immediate and specific references, eventually arriving at universal, archetypal form.

Much has changed for us after having lived through a social crises and experienced first-hand the abusive, irreverent oppression of a self-serving, corrupt and violent regime. We find ourselves reluctant to abandon the specific localised references which have provoked our indignation and outrage. We are calling these raw and unseasoned pictures “Agitprop” and they have given our dioptric camera a noble and relevant purpose.

Inspired by Heartfield’s work we used our own bull crystalline camera to rephotograph the “bourgeois newspapers” of our time. The newspaper we selected is a local 4 “S” tabloid derived from the American model of phantastic journalism, “The National Enquirer”. In its role as the official voice of government, the proprietor publishes a completely free edition which is physically placed in the hands of hundreds of thousands of commuters each morning.

The front page story of the issue we have selected concerns a poster which the government’s goon squad observed in the home of Amir Khadir an opposition leader, during a routine raid of the “ideologically opposed” (known locally as “red squares”). A local peepee-caca pop music band had made the naughty poster from Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, inserting the face of the supreme ruler John Charade, on the body of a slain military soldier and the face of the opposition leader on the body of a revolutionary fighter waving a sword.

After the goon squad leaked to the media what it had observed in the opposition leader’s home, the “bourgeois newspapers” could begin to weave the gymnastic contortions necessary for the supreme ruler to appear briefly on the six o’clock news decrying the violence and intimidation implicit in the poster, and effectively displacing the highly focused and widely mediatised debate on violence from the real world of battered bodies, punctured eyes and fractured skulls to the world of cartoons.

Liberty Revisted, June 15 2012

Click on the image to see the bull crystalline view.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

John Heartfield’s Dioptric Camera.

This photograph of John Heartfield’s modified Linhof Technica from the permanent exhibition at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin seems to indicate that Heartfield may have used a Descartes inspired dioptric camera to create the powerfully revealing photographs which, appearing in weekly German illustrated magazines during the 1930’s, helped to undermine Nazi propaganda.

Judging from the photo it appears as though Heartfield did not extract the bull crystalline from the interior humours as Descartes describes in his fifth discourse. This may account for the dark and oneiric formal quality of Heartfield’s images and perhaps even for slight distortions in perspective and scale.

It is not surprising to discover that Heartfield’s photographs, which marked a distinct departure from traditional photography, were created using a bull crystalline camera. Heartfield engineered a new system of representation that radically opposed Physiognomy, the fundamental principal behind faith in the camera's ability to decipher and transcribe truth from the surface appearance of things. In contrast Heartfield’s system captured the intrinsic and otherwise invisible truths buried beneath surface.

Physiognomy was primarily concerned with the human face. The idea that the human face could be intelligible excited scientists and philosophers alike. Such an x-ray into the human soul could also function as a biological lie detector, a barometer of emotional status or as a beacon for psychological disorder. In his famous manifesto, Ich schneide und nähe Gesichter für ein Leben, John Heartfield writes "Physiognomy has taught us that if a man has a hard and downward bending nose of great length then he possesses an arrogant soul, so I will break his nose and push it upwards towards the sky to make him humble".

The photographs below show a comparison of the two opposing systems of representation at work. Alphonse Bertillon applied the fundamental principles of physiognomy to portraiture. His detailed system of anthropometry was designed to objectively discern the face of evil and to distinguish it from the face of innocence without being seduced by beauty, power and stature.

Bertillon’s system did not prove to be terribly efficient at exposing maniacal dictators who murdered and tortured millions of people, but found much more success in revealing the potential criminality of poor French citizens before their crimes had been committed.