Re: [-empyre-] multi-perspectival / cultural hegemony of space

On 07.06.03 18:04, "John Klima" <> wrote:

> i've always been very fond of medieval space, particularly bosch's
> garden, where the top of the frame is back, the bottom front. looking at
> it with contemporary eyes, one sees things stacked up like a pyramid
> rather than converging into the distance.
Difficult to conceive of Bosch as Medieval. He is really early Rennaisance.
As you say elsehwere, a transitional figure. I was thinking more of things
like 10th or 11th C. illuminated manuscripts. Of course we could also
discuss Byzantine art...a transitional form in the other direction, away
from the "pseudo-democratic" envelope of perspectival space towards the
Medieval notion of a space of subjective culturally determined value.

> indeed medieval artists, as well as artists today, are faced with that
> 2d xy surface of the canvas, and in our case, the screen. it would be a
> riot to create a medieval rendering system, where object placement is
> algorithmically determined by cultural signifigance, dogmatic such as
> that is. but it certainly can be argued that composition has always been
> heavily weighted by the cultural signifigance of the things being
> framed, regardless of the sophistication of the perspective.
Medieval renderer? I did a whole series of tapes in the 80's that did just
that (A New Life, Temptation of Saint Anthony, Mass Violin Suicide,
Pandaemonium, Voices) . Discontinuous and fragmented spaces, each with their
own 3D coherence but the overall frame fractured.

> i feel, arguably of course, that the compositional traits of medieval
> painting have less to do with cultural signifigance and more to do with
> a naivet of spatial understanding (naturally the individual viewer
> brings to the apprehension of the work their own bias - you tend to
> place more emphasis on the cultural reading of a work, and i the
> formal).
There is nothing naïve in Medieval thinking, least of all about space. They
had a very sophisticated take on things with fractional shadings of value
that we today, in our blunt and materialist world, find hard to appreciate.
It is we that is naïve in believing that an empirically arrived at
perception of the world might even begin to approach what it is to be. It is
this that so many Islamists, and many others on this planet, find so
disturbing about Western culture...and one can only have but a lot of
sympathy for them.

> if, as you suggest, fundementally hegemonic conventions determine how we
> see things, and how we believe things actually are, it would in a rigid
> sense, stand to reason that medieval society thought that things things
> with signifigance are actually larger. i cant imagine that is what you
> are suggesting, as i can't believe that the medieval person thought this
> as well. 
I would argue that the manner in which Medieval people represented the world
was actually a model of how they "physically" saw it, just as is the case
for us today. If you are going to argue that there is such a thing as
progress (that is, trot out the Modernist line that we approach truth
through an iterative process of improvement) then you will have lost me
right from the beginning. I am an arch-relativist. For me there is no
"truth", of any kind, nor any progress...just difference of arbitrary value.
There is a chasm between our world-views.

> cartesian space does not represent an arbitrarily arrived at world view,
> determined not by how things are, but by the force of western greed and
> self-rightousness (the axe you have the tendency to grind). if that were
> so, it would stand to reason that the spatial systems employed in
> chinese landscape painting would have worked equally well at putting a
> person on the moon. without renaissance perspective, we would still
> assume the moon was not terribly far away, made of cheese, or
> what-have-you. you know, there prolly actually is this thing called
> reality, that actually does play by certain rules, that we are endlessly
> in the process of trying to understand, and that though we are all
> limited by our cultural background, sometimes we just get it right. i'm
> not trying to suggest that cartesian space is the "correct space" i'm
> sayiing its a really really really useful space, a close approximation
> of our everyday perception, regardless of the culture that produced it.
One has to ask whether putting somebody on the Moon is necessarily of
import. Another West/East example here would be gunpowder. The Chinese
invented it and found it was great for parties. The West then appropriated
it and found it was really effective at killing people and destroying their

Your acceptance that there is "prolly" something called reality, to me,
tends to suggest an easy going approach to life that will likely keep your
blood pressure low but will pay few dividends when it comes to seeking a
plurality of perception.



Simon Biggs

Research Professor
Art and Design Research Centre
Sheffield Hallam University, UK

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