Saturday, 12 December 2009

Reading: 'Seduction, or the Essential Abyss' by Jean Baudrillard


At the heart of this reading is Baudrillard's general theme of art taking banality and waste and turning them into something of value - something that seduces us. That in contemporary western society, we are stimulated by simulation - nothing is 100% original - there are only replica's of replica's. Baudrillard argues that the reason Disney Land is so successful is because it conceals the fact that the United States is one big theme park whilst Disney Land itself is real - it doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it actually is.

That's a general overview but what of this actual text? Baudrillard claims that "Challenge, and not desire, lies at the heart of seduction. Challenge is that to which one cannot avoid responding, while one can choose not to respond to desire." He goes on to explain that "One could conceive of a theory dealing with signs, terms and values on the basis of their seductive attraction, and not in terms of their contrast or calculated opposition."

So we should be judging signs by how much they challenge us, make us take notice and make us question their form rather than simply on their aesthetic or designed qualities. Obviously this has a great bearing on my project, dealing with the presentation of pub signs - many of which I have identified as bearing symbols, the meanings of which have become lost on the general public. Further he adds weight to this by saying:

"Distinctive signs, full signs, never seduce us. Seduction only comes through empty, illegible, insoluble, arbitrary, fortuitous signs, which glide by lightly, modifying the index of the refraction of space".

So I can take from this that we are seduced by signs that stand out - that are out of the ordinary and don't conform to those which we are so used to seeing. But these signs must always be incomplete because only if there is something missing do we have a challenge. What I am aiming to do is to re-educate the viewer by presenting imagery that makes them question why it is exactly that I have presented an alternative image - an image that will make them want to find out the truth, to fill in the gap, to learn the narrative behind the image. In achieving this I will be making 'the world' visible to the viewer.

Baudrillard goes on to discuss the balance and equilibrium of the world and how binary or polar opposites are constantly warring with each other. "Seduction hurls them against one another, and unites them beyond meaning, in a parodoxysm of intensity and charm." Seduction can therefore be viewed as being about surface and appearance - the binary opposite of power which relies on meaning. The Shallow vs. the Deep. But by mastering the appearance of something, by bringing it towards pure appearance and seducing the viewer, we are obtaining the power.

Baudrillard goes on to refer to what he calls 'super objects' - demonstrations of culture where the surface is all important and the content is superfluous. He gives an example in the form of the Pompidou centre in Paris. The exterior of the building is a huge advertisement of the object but what actually goes on inside? The content is largely irrelevant.

Going back then to Baudrillard's illustration of the USA, we were shown contrasting examples of 'Super Objects' in the States. The first was an image of the frankly ridiculous Walt Disney Swan World, designed by Michael Graves and crowned by two 47' high sculpted swans. The inspiration for these swans was the design of a stately home garden by an architect who's name I admit I missed noting down. Anyway the point was that it seemed that somehow if you take something beautiful and make it massive, you somehow make it more beautiful. What you actually get is a massive swan. It just looks so ridiculous. But does it seduce? In my opinion it takes the original line of this post and turns it completely on it's head - it takes something of value and turns it into something banal and actually pretty offensive, but I guess the fact that you have to take notice of something so repulsive does mean that it has seduced. Which is a fact that I'm not happy with as, as a designer I hate it when clients ruin my beautiful designs with their fear of white space. The words "Can you just make this bigger to make it really stand out?" just make me feel quite sick.

The second series of visuals represented the most theatrical and shallow playground of America, former nuclear testing site Las Vegas - a place that relies on surface excesses. After the construction of the Bellagio, arguably one of the the most vulgar statements of decadence in the world, the other more established sites in Las Vegas, notably along the strip, found that their business was starting to suffer. In a direct attempt to make their business's more seductive, they built a roof over the length of the strip that allows for sunsets and night time skies to be projected on them throughout the day - thereby creating the perfect backdrop for their trademark neon signs.

1 comment:

  1. a few thoughts...

    hhhmmm well the problem with the design of all 'art museums ' is how do you create a structure, an enclosure that is secondary to the content... the Guggenheim at Bilbao is such an overwhelming experiense that any art comes off second best... Liebskinds Jewish museum in Berlin - an emotive commission to start with - allegedly captured the dynamics of the Jewish experience so successfully... the emptyness, the loss of hope,the loss of the individual... that it remained empty for the best part of two years as they had no idea how
    to hang the 'exhibits ' . The most extreme example of rendering the building , the 'shell ' anonymous, invisible , was the Barcelona Pavillion by Mies Van der Rohe, 1923 which even then became the icon, the benchmark for minimalism ...

    the Swans , gloriously gross, address another, more mundane problem... being able to identify your destination, your hotel, at a distance... the scale is determined by the fact that they probably have to be seen from half a mile away with tired kids and grumpy wife in tow...
    ok, kids, its over there...

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