Ceci n’est pas un l

Paint on canvas
76 x 60.5 cms

A painting based on Magrittes Ceci ne’st pas une pipe.



  • Redundancy of Symbolism - Charlie Porter SHOW

    Redundancy of Symbolism - Charlie Porter

    Redundancy is the hidden downfall of symbolism. Of their moment, an object can seem so symbolic that to possess it in an act of self-definition. But once that item becomes obsolete itself, its symbolism disappears. Indeed the absence of relevancy can then have a negative mirroring effect on its symbolism, as if to balance out its previous power with impotency. Before smaller cars became desirable as well as worthy, oversized vehicles were loaded with a phallic symbolism so blatant that all hoped that the reality was, “big car, small dick”. Nowadays, big cars are so impractical that its “big car, not even worth having an opinion about”.

    It means that symbolism has an inbuilt nostalgia about it, especially as western culture speeds up. For much of the twentieth century, items had purpose and longevity that allowed symbolistic meaning to gather round them. Its seems the mission of the 21st century to shed life of the unnecessary. It may sound weird to state that of such a materialistic times, but it also seems true: we may buy more stuff, but the sheer volume of what we buy makes us care less about what we then own. If we don’t

    care about something, if we don’t associate ourselves with it, then symbolism cannot build up.

    This is particularly true of a man and his possessions. The male wardrobe, as well as a man’s bits and bobs, were both part of an outfit and also symbols of stature, intelligence and also physical endowment. It was once the case that a pipe, a cane or a bowler hat were loaded with symbolism about a man’s wealth and prowess. The secondary message of male stuff was overt enough for René Magritte to abuse it in “Ceci N’est Pas Une Pipe” as part of the series The Treachery of Images. Magritte was a young man at the time, and his image that mocks the pipe came at a time when speech was entering cinema and the cigarette began to be marketed through movies, intentionally or not, as the modern way to smoke. By the late 1920s, the pipe was losing its symbolism of virility and contemplation, to eventually be replaced with ones of fustiness and even thought-avoidance. To sit with a pipe in modern day life is to pretend that everything is how it once was, and therefore is to avoid

    having to deal with life as it is.

    I am talking here about symbolism of a pipe rather than the use of a pipe itself. I have a strange relationship with pipes that makes this distinction seem important. Until the late eighties, my father smoked a pipe, about which I loaded with no symbolism - I just wished he didn’t do it. I was never attracted to smoking as a child, and have only ever tried a cigarette once, in my late twenties, when a friend asked me to hold hers when we were in a club (this was pre-smoking ban) while she was doing her shoe-lace up, and while she was bent down I figured I may as well bring it to my lips to see what it tasted like. To me, that late on in life, it was like a MacDonalds - entirely ineffectual.

    At the time, I never considered my father’s use of a pipe as odd, outlandish or even self-indulgent, as he didn’t use a pipe as some sort of urban fashion statement - we lived in the country, our family life was fairly isolated, and that was just his preferred way of taking

    in tobacco. Neither of my parents engaged in pop - his preference in particular was for jazz, and I presumed his acceptance of the pipe came from there. Also, his father had smoked a pipe, and I remember a photograph of them both proud with pipes in their mouths, my father a young man.

    I didn’t like my father smoking, and would probably have liked him smoking cigarettes even less. He gave up after he suffered a heart attack in the mid-eighties, the pipe soon forgotten, by me at least, as part of his daily make-up. My father is a painter, and is alone for prolonged periods, working. He has managed to do so just as well without his pipe. Smoking being an aid to contemplation is probably just an excuse conjured by smokers to justify their habit. The mind focuses very well on its own.

    To me, as a child and teenager, the pipe had no symbolism - using it was just what my father did. This might be because he smoked a pipe removed from a context that would imbibe it with such symbolism. Maybe also by this point the pipe was obsolete in popular

    culture, and actually in the farming villages in which we grew up it actually found a less potent and more natural home. When I think of my father, the pipe is not part of the picture. I actually think of him most concentrating on his work. When he does so, I became aware early on that he did with his jaw locked open. I noticed it when I would sit for portraits for him. I notice it now because it is a habit I have picked up - if I am working hard, some people think I am sat there yawning. It is the mouth open that is crucial - you can’t hold a pipe with your jaw stretched out its furthest. Obviously it satisfied my father’s nicotine cravings, but to me the pipe was superfluous.

    As it has proven to be now - I cannot think of the last time I saw a man with a pipe. Cigarettes, too, have been marginalised by smoking bans, and I feel no sadness at this. The modern male wardrobe has softened to become a thing of functionality and comfort - few men manage to wear a suit and still look as

    if they are living right now, but they are the rarity - men in suits tend to look like they wish they could be wearing something else. The male wardrobe has many of the same elements as the female one - jeans, hoodies, trainers - a way of dressing that is a middle-ground between the two genders, hence removing symbolism from what either sex wears.

    Indeed the stuff we carry around has also lost its symbolism in the race to become more useful, more efficient, less burdensome. Try sexualising an iPod, or a mobile phone - pretty impossible. Now try getting on a high horse and claim that these items are an affront to society and our cultural life - a pointless position to hold, since they’ve made life so much better. In their design, these items are not imbibed with symbolism, and nor do they gain any when they enter into public use. Symbolism is one of the great casualties of modern life. It is not one we should mourn.

  • Souvenir - Tony Marcus SHOW

    Souvenir - Tony Marcus

    “He owned nothing. No object, no family furniture, no souvenir. All he had was contained in an old trunk where he kept a few photos and notes relating to his past work.”
    Lydie Sarazin, Marcel Duchamp’s first wife, from a privately printed memoir, published 1927.

    This starkness of Duchamp is liberating. There is a similar resonance in descriptions of his New York apartment; one room, one chair, a basic bed, packing crate and two nails banged into the wall. A piece of string hung from one of the nails.

    If it has nothing to look at, the mind has a better opportunity of being quiet. I don’t know if this was Duchamp’s intention, and pictures of his last home in Neuilly that he shared with his second wife show a much more ‘normal’ looking room. There are shelves and books, art and objects.

    But a souvenir will trouble and disturb the mind. The word is French (it is a verb) and means ‘to remember’. The English noun ‘souvenir’ is the infinitive mood of ‘souvenir’ used substantively. The usage is modern. The word does not appear in The Bible, Shakespeare, Blake, Dickens,

    ‘Moby Dick’ or ‘Alice in Wonderland’. There is a souvenir in Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ (once) and Scott Fitzgerald where usage is plummy and sentimental. Gatsby refers to a photograph.

    “A souvenir of Oxford days. It was taken in Trinity quad. The man on my left is now the Earl of Doncaster.”

    The etymology of souvenir is Latin from ‘sub’ meaning under or near and ‘venire’ to come. The meaning is of something, in this case a memory that comes from the deep of the mind. ‘Souvenir’ then describes an object that will dredge memory (like policemen looking for a corpse in the river).

    It is not common to think of souvenirs as objects that recall lost memory. In regular usage the word hitches itself to snow-domes and ‘tasteless’ (insists Wikipedia) objects linked to tourists sites and capital cities. It is possible these objects ridicule the colossal state monuments they miniaturise and recast in plastic. Or suggest that any place or object that requires a souvenir to remain memorable is therefore, by itself, forgettable.

    But the souvenirs that recall lost memory externalise memory as three-dimensional objects. It is hard to see a

    memory. What does a memory look like?

    Pablo Picasso was fond of Alfred Jarry’s gun. Picasso acquired this weapon after Jarry’s death as a souvenir of his friend notes Duchamp’s biographer. (Although Picasso’s biographer Roland Penrose claims Jarry gave him the gun). Regardless of how he acquired the gun, Picasso took it on night-time jaunts and sometimes discharged the weapon in the Parisian air.

    The gun reminded Picasso of his dead friend, say the biographers. It might be accurate to exhibit the gun and with the label ‘souvenir of Alfred Jarry, author of Pere Ubu’. It might be tempting to say the gun was a ‘relic’ of either Jarry or Picasso although the word ‘relic’ has a specific theological meaning.

    “Orthodox Christians,” explains Bishop Kallistos Ware, “believe that the grace of God present in the saints bodies during life remains active in their relics when they have died and that God uses these relics as a channel of divine power, as an instrument of healing.”

    And relics have a future. In the last days they will be reclaimed and refleshed by the resurrected saints. “The relics were the saint,” notes Patrick J

    Geary in ‘Furta Sacra’. But you could say ‘they are the saint’. They are not souvenirs. Or representations.

    Jarry’s gun is inert. It does not belong to eternity. Jarry’s gun is not Jarry. It is a path to the memory of a dead writer (who will remain dead) and to Picasso’s memory of his friend (Jarry died in 1907, Picasso in 1973).

    If Jarry’s gun still exists and if you could hold it in your hand it would be proof that Jarry (and also Picasso) did exist. It is an artefact or piece of evidence, like the dinosaur skeletons. And it can be difficult for those of us living in the present to believe the Past really happened. We need physical evidence; museums, galleries and archaeologies.

    Jarry’s gun is like Coleridge’s Flower; an object that connects us to another world, in this instance Montmartre circa 1906-1910. Coleridge’s Flower is a meditation (unpublished in his lifetime) that reaches out to Heaven, Narnia and wonder.

    “If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and

    if he found that flower in his hand when he awoke – Ay! – and what then?”.

    But most souvenirs, even if they function as evidence that you have been somewhere are ‘tasteless’ (says Wikipedia) and also kitsch. The word comes form the German ‘verkitschen’ meaning to make cheap and ‘kitschen’ to collect junk from the streets. Kitsch is the ‘commodification of the souvenir,” says Celeste Olalquiaga and ‘the souvenir the commodification of remembrance’.

    There might be some who resist having their memories cast in ‘cheap’ plastic (and there is a reflex prejudice against plastic – Umberto Eco has written about the wonder and beauty of plastic).

    St Mark’s in Venice is to be avoided, I was told on Boxing Day by a young postgraduate student of architecture, because it is tacky, a theme park. But if you walked away from the centre, my student friend advised, you will find strange, watery fields, real farmers, authentic experience.

    This longing for the ‘authentic’ might traumatise an otherwise restful holiday. And there is an appalling egotism in the tourists’ refusal to accept his or her role. But this is a consoling delusion because

    (for some of us) commodified leisure and memory are harder to stomach than commodified transport or education.

    There is an image Gavin Turk has exhibited of a discarded paper cup bearing the image of Stonehenge. And Stonehenge (says Wikipedia) is ‘one of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world’. I suppose you could say its the country’s oldest and most ‘magnificent’ art work.

    Gavin may be having a go at English Heritage, who produced the cup because there might be some leakage, some diminution of value heading back from the cup to the ‘magnificent’ original.

    But then again both the cup and Gavin’s image are perfectly adequate pictures of Stonehenge. And they are calm images. There is no anxiety about authenticity or form.

    When I started this story I wanted to rail against spoons from Ramsgate and a Tower of London snow-dome; now I find myself warming to these objects; they are without angst and they are useless.

    Celeste Olalquiaga, The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury Of The Kitsch Experience (Bloomsbury, 1999)
    Patrick J Geray, Furta Sacra, Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages (Princeton

    University Press, 1991)
    Roland Penrose, Picasso (Granada, 1981)
    Calvin Tomkins, Duchamp: a biotgraphy (H.Holt. 1996)