Questions surrounding reality and thoughts about A5 edits.

Questions surrounding reality and thoughts about A5 edits.

I am super interested in this story with the World Press Photo Awards. It ties in with issues I’ve been looking at and thinking about quite a lot recently. My mum, an ex journalist told me the other night when she was working in SA, it was not unheard of for photographers to carry props around in their bags (what, with all that equipment too?) such as a child’s shoe for instance which they might place strategically at a car accident scene to evoke more of an emotional trigger (Barthes’ punctum) in readers. They were all at it, she said. I’m not a journalist and my own photography is a mixed bag of caught moments and set up stuff, although I tend not to set anything up in Calais/Dunkirk. People are too busy getting on with things and I’m an observer, and I certainly don’t have any desire to make my presence a thing. In fact if I had an invisibility cloak that would be best! (I did witness another photographer asking someone to jump over a puddle so she could re-enact the famous HCB image, which I was quite surprised by, I must say – see the PDF below re my thoughts on photographing in that area. She’s a nice woman. But young and I just think she hadn’t thought such an act through.)  But sometimes someone might ask me to take a picture of them at which point I will say, sure, just move over here where the light is better. Perhaps I want to get a good picture because I am planning to print and give it to the family*. Lines are drawn and I suppose that is the point. With all the current hoopla about ‘fake news’ one can see why this is so contentious. But I would say the journalist in question has repeatedly asked his friends to stand in as subjects and got them to pretend to be things that they aren’t in order to tell a story, which of course is fantastically unethical. But is it ethical to take pictures of people in awful situations in the first place? SA photographers my mother knew back in the 80s were taking pictures of people being necklaced for goodness’ sake, why is that ethical? And what of the burning monk? Why stop and photograph him rather than put out the fire? And would saving him when he didn’t want to be saved be ethical or not? Nevertheless, there is a world of difference between asking one’s mate to pretend to be a prostitute and taking a picture of someone you’re talking to in a spot that is lit more appropriately than the spot she was originally in. Also, captions can carry some responsibility too. We seem to have lost touch with what it is to be genuine. We are like lost little crazy robots who don’t have access to certain parts of our programming.

Language, be it syntactical or visual can either be brimming with substance, or it can be the opposite of that. A lie might be an empty, vacuous vessel (unless instead of the intended content it contains something about the liar). Or perhaps it’s like a nice looking cake which you bite into and find only the contents of the rubbish bin, smooshed up rotten food, or worse. It would obviously be great if people just stopped lying. But that’s not going to happen, so we need to reconnect with a part of ourselves that sees through nonsense. And find the courage to call it out when we see it too. I have often thought, “that’s not true” about things people say, but been too afraid to speak the thoughts aloud and I suspect culturally, we more or less, all function in that way. Because when someone looks at you and says, I see what you’re really saying, it can be quite unnerving. We’re not used to it.

And all of that is made even more complex by the fact that sometimes people’s relationship with truth is rather slippery and all over the place. In other words, they might not know how to be truthful. There’s that word truth we all have so much trouble with….I’ve tried to avoid using it but it’s tricky. There is no truth, we are told. Tell that to someone who has been beaten senseless by an abusive partner.

And – this is really important – we need to stop feeding and creating a desire to consume certain types of image, such as a shot of a supposed prostitute’s arse on the bed, taken from the floor. I mean if someone wins an award for such an image then more photographers are going to take images like that. Surely such a picture is just about satisfying some male sexualised visual desire. The photo award industry have something to answer to there too.

I’m not sure about how this might fit into any re-edits for A5. I have been looking at Plato’s Ideal Real as suggested and started to venture in Derrida’s absence/presence.

Two things have sprung to mind – my son downloaded a game which allows you to build a virtual world from scratch. He has created a family – based on our own. Only he has made it ‘ideal’. In it, his father still lives in the family home and he has the baby sister they all want (lucky me, 4 children!) He is using the virtual world to form a narrative, which is informed by ideal narratives he sees around him. Film, TV and books provide us with ideals where things make sense and there are beginnings, middles and ends (even if they’re jumbled up). This is the direct opposite of Self’s argument which I analysed in A5. A computer games is giving my son the tools to make narrative. He still needs narrative. He seems to need it more than ever, despite Self’s assertion humans are evolving beyond the need for narrative. Outside of narrative, things don’t make sense. They are merely random events.

The presence/absence suggestion is more complex. I have touched on it in an article I’ve prepared for Just Shelter whose work I document in Calais, in relation to the way in which western culture defines itself by how it relates to non-western culture. “I’m not that, therefore I’m this”. I’m not yet sure how I can bring it into the essay but am thinking about it. Here is a draft PDF of the article which I will refer to in a talk/discussion re a slideshow of images from the area responsible-photography-just-shelter-2017

Image (c)SJField 2017

*Added later and re-edited -I have just looked through the slideshow I am preparing for the talk and there are two or three images in the Dunkirk section where I was specifically asked to take the picture. None are great images to be honest, but they show something I want to express to the potential people coming along. In the main, the rest of the images are more interesting, with all their chaos and obvious observational context. I have looked at the initial images I took and really thought about how I impacted on them, if at all. An interesting exercise.

View story at

Photo 50, London Art Fair,2017

IPhoto50 – Made Together: participating and collaborating in photographic practice

“Anthony Luvera, Baptiste Lignel, Melanie Manchot and Wendy McMurdo: four artists presenting work in London Art Fair 2017’s Photo50 exhibition ‘Gravitas’ discuss the importance of interaction, participation and collaboration between artist and subject in their lens-based practice. Chaired by curator Christiane Monarchi.” (London Art Fair, 2017)

It was so timely for me to see and hear the above artists talk about their work. Following my research for A4 I am far more aware of collaborative work and it fits well my previous training as an actor and interest in ensemble. Baptise Lignel in particular described the process of creating his book Pop Pills, all the problems he came up against, the length of time he took to make it, as well the many people involved, not least of who were the subjects whose lives he followed for  several years. Melanie Mancho’s work with her daughter, filming her every month on the same day over a number of years so we can see the process of her growing from a young girl into a young woman was also extremely relevant (Girlhood). I sat with the work after the talk and was incredibly moved by it. Several TV screens of different shapes show the various clips (all black & white and grainy) One of the things I wondered was, what happened on days when her daughter didn’t want to be involved, or had just had an argument with her mother. One clip shows the daughter crying. This is particularly challenging to think about in terms of how an artist appropriates the feelings of others for their work, especially when the feelings are of a child’s and one’s own daughter. I don’t think the answers are easy. Anthony Luvera described an extremely collaborative practice as talked about his work Not Going Shopping. Wendy McMurdo’s work with the school children was relevant too given my own Girlhood work and my interest in social media and how it is impacting on social norms. Something she said stuck in my mind. Wendy McMurdo described how up until the Internet impacted on children’s lives so heavily they were involved in two main institutions, family and school (I’d add the church too although the period she was referring to was by definition in fact quite short-lived since schools as they are now do not had that long a history for the masses, so there is probably only a  bit of a cross over). Now social media takes them into a third realm, says Wendy, where they can wander who knows where with who knows who. I appreciate there are many risks associated with social media and young people (and anyone actually), but I would also argue that it has merely reintroduced something children had before society became hyper vigilant and started keeping children far more watched and tethered (I wonder if this is merely an expression and projection of how people themselves feel – imprisoned by society?) Children can now do digitally what they have done throughout most of history, hang out away from the adults with each other as much as possible from a very young age, in groups that are made up of various ages, which in real life allows for some level of responsibility amongst the older ones towards the younger ones. I’m not sure if there is room for, or a culture of, this to take place online. I have been reading The Dialectics of Liberation, a collection of talks given at a conference in 1967, (so highly relevant in terms of the second half of UVC) and there is a description of balanced systems being skewed. (p.39) These systems are either destroyed or they find a way to right themselves. The planet might take eons to rebalance itself once we’ve destroyed ourselves but it is likely to. I often think the Internet is humanity’s way of solving some of the problems that have arisen due to our exponential and sudden population growth. Over the last 300 years, in one view, and 2000 years in another longer one,  we have grown so much that we can no longer live in small highly connected groups. That has had an effect on the way we communicate. The symbolic is the only system we trust nowadays. We are far less in touch with less external systems of staying connected. The Internet is an attempt to solve the problems human beings are faced with via this social development. Equally,  innate and very human behavior, as far as young people are concerned, has been tampered with so that they are now prevented from getting to know society, themselves, how to relate in groups by recent hyper vigilance. Does Wendy McMurdo’s work shows us the terror we project onto young people as they disappear into a world that adults are not part of [1].

All of the work has been relevant for me since I was working with adolescents in 2016, as each of these artists have done. But it made me realise that my work is perhaps less about that age groups primarily, and more about gender, the shapes we make in order to meet social expectations, and also language.

Material Matters: On making and the physicality of photography

“Five artist practitioners discuss the importance of materiality in their practice, including the manual creativity of darkroom practice, pinhole cameras, alternative processes, and the physicality and sculptural possibility of the print. Panel artists will include Sophy Rickett, Martin Newth, Almudena Romero, Edouard Taufenbach and Dafna Talmor. Chaired by Kim Shaw, Executive Director of Photofusion.” (London Art Fair, 2017)

Again this was a really relevant piece as I consider how I might make my work mine. Almudena Romero’s appropriated selfies, which she takes from the Internet and then prints on mesh using a tintype method were interesting and I compared them in my mind to Richard Prince’s difficult to process New Portraits. Romero manages to connect history with modern technology and so her ‘taking’ of the images appears as less of a defiant act than Prince’s might seem to be. (How interesting, the use of the word ‘take’ – she didn’t take them herself as in “I will take a photograph of you’, but she did take them off the internet… – here language says exactly what it means. When we photograph someone we are taking them, or at least a moment of their existence and storing it away for as long as the process allows. And yet taking a photograph, taking someone, or at least a moment of their existence, from the internet is associated with something different). I have now begun to view Prince’s work as a performance which is about breaking social mores. He’s a performance artist, and his purloined objects are evidence of such. So was the Ivanka Trump image Prince has since disclaimed ever authentic[2]? Because she asked him to do it? Therefore it was merely a display of vanity, grotesque wealth and the nonsense that pervades the art world. Romero’s work on the hand is complex in other ways, less performative and more of a mediation on the words, process and social references to photography. Edouard Taufenbach’s description about his work was interesting but the most fascinating thing for me is that he never makes more than one edition. It made me think a lot about how artists, photographers in particular, maintain an integrity linked to their objects, about the fact that every one can take photographs nowadays and well too, and also edit them very easily. And about methods of reproduction and the loss of Walter Benjamin’s aura. The democratisation of photography is forcing artists to find new ways to make their work their own. Martin Newth’s installations where the camera (multi lensed objects he builds himself for specific views), the image and the subject are all displayed, was really interesting to see, as was the gaudy aesthetic style some of the work.  It was also good to hear Sophie Rickett speak about her current project looking at an archive and I suspect if/when I do Digital Image and Culture I will return to it. I also enjoyed Dafna Talmor’s beautiful repurposed negative landscapes.

Other work I saw

Apart form Lee Machell, who I will return to shortly, I am simply making a list of artists who stood out for me, so I can return to it when their work becomes relevant and I know I’ve recorded it safely.

Hiroyuki Masuyma – After William Turner: A process of layering 100s of images over a Turner original (which is then deleted) to create temporal presentations. Some fascinating details where statues and real people interact in the final image. Really interesting. He believes in time travel and uses his work to recreate a form of time travel as his images seem to move.

Anita Groener – Objects, tiny silhouettes attached to real branches or elsewhere set in shapes, representing migration from an ongoing multimedia project called Citizen. Reminded me of a more delicate William Kentridge trope, who is also looking at the same themes. Powerful and moving, beautiful and thoughtful work.

Redenko Milak and Riman Uranjek – Collaborative collages creating historical representations linking cultural references across the ages, photography, painting, prints, appropriation. Fascinating stuff.

Noe Sendas – Very specific style referencing cinema and photography, female for, surreal, small black and white images of women with shapes ‘turning the subjects into phantasmagorical characters.’ (Carlos Carvalho Arte Contemporanea)

Lee Machell

I liked a lot of the work at the fair but none as much as Lee Machell’s. It was so clever, or at any rate the small collection of objects at the stall came together in a way that was incredibly thought-provoking, with just enough to give clear indications about what the conceptual work refers to whilst maintaining subtlety and finesse.

Capital (2013) is a found picture of the book Capital by Carl Marx (of course the John Lancaster book Capital which references Marx, as well as the fact its set in London, the multi-cultural capital (great novel incidentally) also springs to mind). The presence of this object unveils what is being explored in the rest of the work.

As well, there were two match drawings on cartridge paper. These are deceptively simple circular images where the marks are made with the burn of matches rather than pencil or ink or any other material. Machell uses parts of a slide projector as a sort of stencil to create the works. Finally the slide projector itself is employed to project another image of a drawing into the wall, therefore becoming part of the installation, in a similar way to how Martin Newth uses cameras in his own presentations. The projected image is small so you are forced to be close to the projector as well as the image in order to see it, invading its space as it were, but getting you very much nearer than, for example, a person buying an object in London would be to another who might have made the object in China.

The fact the drawing material is so obviously a consequence of fire, as opposed to charcoal simply being used, links to Levi Strauss’ The Raw and The Cooked, and all that contains. The human fascination with fire is deeply embedded in the human psyche and seems to evoke a primitive reaction in all of us. The relationship between what is made, and what is used to make is on show which, coupled with the presence of Capital, leads one to consider Marxist theory surrounding commodity and relations between worker and end-user. I hope I am not thinking too obviously but the Little Match Girl seems to have a been a key cultural figure in literature that we associate with poverty, selling very low value objects, child workers, Victorian capitalism and social injustice. It would seem that a simple match offers a wealth of symbolic reference. The apparent simplicity of the images belies complex ideas relating to structuralism.

I thought Machell’s art engaging, stimulating and incredibly interesting. He is currently doing an MA at the Royal Academy.


London Art Fair 2017. (2017). Event Programme – London Art Fair 2017. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Jan. 2017].

Liedloff, J. (1985). The continuum concept. 1st ed. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Ham, M. (2017). This Artist’s Shot At Ivanka Trump Is All The Narcissism In One Story. [online] The Federalist. Available at: [Accessed 20 Jan. 2017].

Carlos Carvalho Arte Contemporanea, London Art Fair, 2017, A4 sheet (2017). OBJECT / A | Artists | Lee Machell. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Jan. 2017].

[1] See description in the The Continuum Concept by Jean Leidloff where children spend most of the day away from the adults in large groups exploring the world and playing, which as we know is a way to learn to function in a social situation. This type of existence and descriptions of it can be found in many more empirical studies across cultures.


Assignment 5: What is reality?

What is reality?

 Explore issues surrounding the real in contemporary society. Write an essay of about 2000 words. Analyse the boundaries between the real and the virtual in our contemporary culture.

I will be submitting the complete version of Assignment 5 via OCAs Google Drive for assessment as there are images still within copyright contained in the essay. You can see a PDF without those images by clicking: final-draft-online-version.

A complete copy of my feedback can be accessed here: sjfassignment5creativeartstodaytutorreport

Following are some responses to my feedback (my thoughts in colour). 

  1. This is a well conceived and imaginative exploration of themes flagged in the assignment question. The overall presentation is professional, reflecting a genuine commitment to the area of study. The arguments are suitably varied within an overall coherent structure, and a consistent tone of critical evaluation runs through the whole discussion. I was of course very pleased the opening summary showed a recognition of my commitment and that I had succeeded in presenting my essay professionally.
  2. You might yet look into Plato (ideal as real) Kant (space and time are inaccessible because they are subjective intuitions) Derrida (on the metaphysics of presence – see below) and Deleuze (on time and cinema). A good list for me to be getting on with over the next few weeks. I am very keen to keep learning and pleased to have these suggestions even though the course has finished. 
  3. If you are minded to make further changes an interesting and, to my mind by far the most persuasive yet paradoxical thought about temporality comes under the heading of deconstructing the metaphysics of presence (Derrida). Briefly, we think of the real as just what is present to us – occupying the same time and space. But the present is inconceivable without the past and future to frame it, and inconceivable with past and future as a point of transition from one to the other. Post-structuralists will call it a gap, a cut, or caesura to signal the idea that the present is absent. First of all, this is interesting as I have been thinking about how to approach some practical things regarding a couple of projects, and cutting out the present was one solution, so this it seems would be a relevant action to take. I am not sure at this point about making changes to my essay, although I had said I might when I sent it to MB. This is not because  don’t think I ought to but because I need to use my time wisely, and given the overall positivity in my feedback, I am a bit wary about muddying what is there currently.  I shall read the suggestions and make a decision afterwards since there is some time between now and the submission deadline. If I think I can add to it, as well as retain the thread of my debate and remain within the word count, then I will do so.
  4. What does interactive amount to and is it really a technological phenomenon? Isn’t any old conversation interactive. Yes! I wish I’d made this point.
  5. Your reflections are well-considered according to the criteria of assessment. The main point that comes across is that your approach is polemical. This seems to govern all else. If you intend to remain with that approach you need to be aware of its limitations – I’m sure you are – that bouncing one idea off another may challenge the reputation of an argument but not so its truth, for which you need to drive one argument to the bitter end. I’m genuinely not sure I would know how to avoid polemic, and very confused by what is meant here. Do I intend to remain with that approach? I do not know the answer. I know I am extremely interested in the arguments surrounding writing, and academic writing in particular, and very much want to read Small Arcs of Larger Circles: Framing through other patterns by Nora Bateson, as well as the female philosophers I mention in my reflection who have addressed this. I feel I can’t really make up my mind until I am clearer about the options. It would be hard for me to drive any ‘argument home to the bitter end’ without being vitriolic, I would imagine. I think one would need to know what they think for certain to drive an argument home to the bitter end (although I’m also reminded about my son’s debating club where he is given an argument which he must take regardless of what he actually thinks – is that what might be going on here?) I’m sure there are many things I could argue against to the bitter end. So I have to perhaps look for things I can be brave about, giving me an opportunity to drive one argument to the bitter end, which would require me to stop being ‘wishy-washy’. But how does that address not being polemical? I’m a bit confused about what I’m being advised to do here.
  6. The polemical approach is driven by the learning log which contains a welter of rich and varied material – debated and critiqued on the hoof. I am extremely pleased with the overall tone of my feedback. But I’m a bit unsure of what to make of this final sentence. As my family grows and my life becomes more stable I will indeed, no doubt, be able to approach things in a way that might be described as considered and deliberate rather than ‘on the hoof’. I look forward to such a time, and I’m not there just yet. But how does this stop things from being polemic? Is MB saying I need to think and write about less, as well as avoid linking subjects to my own interests (directly contradicting earlier advice from another tutor?) Do I write too much? Does the blog contain too much? I’m genuinely confused. 

Finally, it was helpful for me to see my notes prior to actually writing the essay which are here and All of my A5 research is available here: I think I managed to plan more than I have done so in the past. I have enjoyed this course very much indeed and am grateful for the support and feedback I’ve received from my tutor and fellow students.



Project 5.3 Being and its Semblance

Project 5.3 Being and its Semblance
  • Look up Schrödinger’s Cat. Make a brief summary (see end of post)
  • In Blade Runner there are a number of instances of references to Lacan’s version of the Gaze. Find six other examples of this in film, TV or other imagary and annotate and make notes on your chosen examples and explain how they fit in with Lacan’s ideas

There are planty of obvious symbols of looking and eyes found in Blade Runner as described, but I would argue that these are overt examples and there are many more covert examples of being seen in all of culture. “Looking and being looked at are identical processes for Lacan – when you look you are also seen; when your are the object of the look you return it, even if only to reflect light back to its source; ‘things look at me and yet I see them” (Four Fundamental Concepts, 109)” (Hirsh, 1997, 103) The concept of the image screen is extremely difficult to fully understand. We can only see the picture if we are in it – if we see it, we are part of it. The object reflects back at us making us and it an interacting relation, neither of which exists without the other. (I notice there is some concern over a translation regarding this.)

  1. Nearly every time you travel up or down an escalator on the London Underground you will be presented with images of women in advertisements for objects and services as diverse as make-up, clothing, theatre, magazines, holidays or phones. The repetition, as the screens (often digital and therefore contain moving images nowadays, or a pattern of changing images that are synchronised) pulse at us on the journey, induces a sort of hypnotic state. Often it seems that the women in the adverts look at us, or invite us to look at them. Their constant presence on the Underground is very much like the scenes in Blade Runner, with high-tech advertising surrounded by dirty and grimy infrastructure as pointed out in the following example. These screens tell us what life ought to look like in our imaginations. (I really like the blog post that accompanies the image I found to illustrate this point…
  2. Ralph Eugene  Meatyard – Meatyard’s work is a complex fit with Lacan’s ideas but Marianne Hirsh’s Family Frames introduced me to the idea of image screens and used Meatyard as an example when she explains that image-screens become ‘visible only through the mediation of filtering screens’, which is how Meatyard’s masks work. Hirsh suggests that the masks work by acting a bit like a successful ‘piggy on the middle’ taking the object and transforming its presence. She says, “Meatyard(‘s) …makes visible what is inherent but masked in the very activity of perception. (Hirsh, 1997; 103) Polly Borland‘s work does this too. She also uses masks and strange outfits, adding to the image screens that already exist, transforming, making the ‘real’ visible by rendering it strange, by adding to, she and Meatyard manage to strip away from the symbolic.
  3. Cindy Sherman’s work seems to be mostly concerned with the image screens of cinema which provide us with a dictatorial idea about what women, and men in fact, should be. Her most obvious examples of this are the film stills, described on as follows:  “Modeling (sic) in several roles, she reveals gender as an unstable and constructed position, which suggests that there is no innate biological female identity. On the contrary, women adopt several roles and identities depending on their circumstances. Therefore, the roles in the Untitled Film Stills series vary from an immature schoolgirl to an attractive seducer and from a glamour diva to a caring housewife. Importantly, her work encourages self-reflection in the spectator. As Sherman argues, “I’m trying to make other people recognize something of themselves rather than me.” (nd)
  4. All family photography – as explored in detail by Hirsh in Family Frames; our family portraits ‘stare’ back at us from walls and mantelpieces reassuring us about our family structures and our own positions within it, even when it’s an uncomfortable place, it’s nevertheless comforting to recognise, according to the objects that we invest in. “The mutuality and speciality of looking, as well as that fundamental masking and mis recognition, are no-where more constitute than in the space of the family. They are fundamental to the familial look, which is institutionalised through the screen of the mask of a culturally and historically specific familiarity…” (Hirsh, 1997; 103)
  5. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is filled with images of a monstrous gaze and the image screen is literally observable as it juts out of computer screens, magnifying faces and the digitally filed records of citizens. Made just three years after Blade Runner, it explores similar themes in many ways – dystopian future, the blurred lines between real and fantasy, what it is to live in a world being constantly observed. It too contains images of the ideal female form. There are also a few eye-shaped edits e.g. where folding curtains form the white of the eye and the fantasy forms the centre – the pupil, serving to give an impression that what we are seeing is in ‘the eye of the beholder’, or rather the protagonist (and perhaps therefore the viewer as he/she relates cathartically).
  6. Un Chien Andalou  – the most compelling and brutal image that anyone who watches this film will recall is the eye being cut edited along with the cloud slicing the moon.  The slicing apart of the visual organ, which as we saw early in the course, is related to eating and reproduction at their most basic levels, is desperately difficult to contain. A surrealist protest perhaps?

Schrödinger Cats – a thought experiment to illustrate how particles can be in more than a single fixed state at any one moment. They can act as a wave as well as a particle and there is always the possibility that these tiny sub atomic elements can be both, until that is they have been observed, at which point they stop being unfixed and are one or the other. Erwin Schrödinger was one of the early physicists and devised the thought experiment, which is now an example of complex science filtering through to popular culture as  seen in Big Bang Theory – It has also been used to make fun of UKIPs ideas about immigrants, ‘simultaneously lounging around on benefits whilst also stealing jobs

References – all online links accessed on 2/1/2017

Hirsch, M. (1997). Family frames. 1st ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, p.103.

Image of London Underground advertising

Polly Borland

Brazil Terry Gilliam, 1985,

Big Bang Theory

Le Chien Andelou

Main image (c)SJField 2016


Project 5.2 Ecclesiastes misquoted

  • Watch Blade Runner, the director’s or final cut rather than the cinema version. 
  • Is Deckard human or replicant? Make notes and give reasons for your answers.
  • Watch The Matrix and make notes as to how far the ideas of the simulacrum inform the film.

Blade Runner  – click for synopsis

I am always happy to watch Blade Runner.  Nevertheless, I hadn’t watched it in some time and saw it with fresh eyes. I don’t think I ever thought of Deckard being a replicant before, although, in a way, when I watched it this time,  the film seemed to be saying the idealised norm doesn’t exist at all except off-world. And what is off-world if not a reference to the idea of Heaven?

Watching it this time, it became very clear to me, especially towards the end that Blade Runner can be read as a deconstruction of the Christ allegory. The biggest clue to this is when Roy takes a nail out of the floor to put through his palm, ostensibly to keep his body from dying for a few more moments, but also as part of the function of the story to introduce the crucifixion symbolism. He then picks up a dove before leaping across buildings, saves Deckard and promptly dies himself – saying, “Time to die”, which could mean because he’s a replicant, but also suggest this is the point in the allegory where he needs to die. A dove, the symbol for peace, flies off as he does. His saving of Deckard mirrors Christ’s dying on the cross to save us from ourselves, which was one of the central points to the story I seem to remember. The deconstruction puts the sacrificed figure in the ‘bad man’ category and the saved one in ‘good’ category. Roy asks, “Aren’t you the good man?” (Now that I see this, I feel a bit dim for not seeing it earlier. It seems very obvious.)

We can surmise that Deckard is a replicant because he has a memory of a unicorn at one point indicating that the memory is probably implanted. But it also tells us on a different level of the storytelling that myth is part of the theme of the film, or the frame within which it should be understood.

Gaff is one of the policemen who comes to find Deckard to ask him to retire the replicants. Online we are told his ‘dislike’ of Decker is because he knows Decker is a replicant*. Gaff also makes small unicorns implying he has seen Deckard’s files and knows what memories he has stored in his head. I’m not sure if Gaff dislikes Decker since he seems to have been at Decker’s home in the final scene and lets Deckard and Rachael get away. He could have ‘retired’ them if he really felt strongly. We know he was there because he left one of his tiny paper unicorns behind. His character is limited due to screen time, and so a struggle to be fully rounded, and he does seem to serve mainly as a function of disposition.

Aside from the above clues to Deckard’s real identity, or rather in conjunction with them, there are plenty of unspoken and subtextual pointers to underlying conflict in him, which could suggest he is an advanced replicant. He seems empathetic towards the replicants. He doesn’t answer questions when asked about his past, leaving us and Rachael guessing. He doesn’t answer about having taken the test himself. He seems reluctant to kill the replicants and appears to be sad when he kills the first female, Zhora Salome.

*Rest assured I resisted the urge to search until after I’d answered the question for myself.

The Matrix

I wrote down some thoughts about the film in a post filed under notes when looking at Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and had watched it before spending some time looking at quantum physics documentaries on Youtube. I also did so before seeing an article about writer, Philip K. Dick  who was convinced he had ‘seen’ that we existed in several realities at once following dental surgery.

“Dick goes on to describe the visionary, mystical experiences he had in 1974 after dental surgery, which he chronicled in his extensive journal entries (published in abridged form as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick) and in works like VALIS and The Divine Invasion. As a result of his visions, Dick came to believe that “some of my fictional works were in a literal sense true,” citing in particular The Man in the High Castle and Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, a 1974 novel about the U.S. as a police state—both novels written, he says, “based on fragmentary, residual memories of such a horrid slave state world.” He claims to remember not past lives but a “different, very different, present life.”

Finally, Dick makes his Matrix point, and makes it very clearly: “we are living in a computer-programmed reality, and the only clue we have to it is when some variable is changed, and some alteration in our reality occurs.” These alterations feel just like déjà vu, says Dick, a sensation that proves that “a variable has been changed” (by whom—note the passive voice—he does not say) and “an alternative world branched off.”” (Jones, 2014)

As I suggested before, The Matrix writers draw on Baudrillard’s writings to such an extent that there is a prop in the film which looks like the book, Simulacra and Simulations, but is in fact a secret hiding place for computer floppy discs that hold illicit games on them. This refences not only the theory but also things which look real are in fact not. The film draws on ideas about simulated worlds becoming more real than actual reality, but there is little to say in the film that any of the worlds are in fact real. Even the one Neo ends up in might be a faked world. However, the faked aspect doesn’t protect anyone from dying because fake becomes the real despite not being so in the first place. The film also draws on developing quantum theories about multiple realities in the universe, The Many Worlds Theory and Hologram Theory. Hologram theory suggests quantum information is held at the edge of the universe and everything we see is a resulting product. As posted elsewhere on my blog, there are those who are convinced this theory will be proved correct. (Solon, 2016)

Of course at the moment it is not possible for a layperson to say either way (unless you have some weird epiphany following dental surgery perhaps). However, some of the themes and suggestions in the film can be seen as metaphors for very real scenarios. The idea that we can affect our physical world via thought is not far-fetched although flying about in an underground station probably is. Alexander Technique teaches you to simply notice habitual patterns in the body, and then to imagine changing them. For example you might imagine the spine lengthening. You should not try to DO this, simply to think about it a calm place and over time the repeated practise will in theory lead to relaxation, which in turn allows the biological parts to take up more actual space rather than being condensed causing pain and what some see as inevitable shrinkage as we age. My own experience while at drama school suggests that following the instructions and practising daily during rehearsal periods did lead to physical changes, or at any rate the perception that they had occurred.

The other thing about the film which links to quantum theory is the way in which consciousness works. No-one fully understand this at the moment, hence the fact questions pertaining to consciousness are known in science, physics and philosophy as The Hard Question.

J. Jones, 2014, Philip K. Dick Theorizes The Matrix in 1977, Declares That We Live in “A Computer-Programmed Reality, Open Culture [22/12/16]

O.Solon, 2016 Is our world a simulation? Why some scientists say it’s more likely than not, The Guardian [22/12/16]

The Matrix Synopsis [22/12/16]

Blade Runner Synopsis %5B22/12/16%5D

Notes: 5.2 Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations

Read Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations and make notes:

“Simulacra are copies that depict things that either had no original to begin with, or that no longer have an original.[1] Simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time.[2]” (Wikipedia, last updated 2016)

  1. “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance.
    It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.” (1) Baudrillard refers here to meta-objects in language that don’t relate to physical objects. At the most extreme end, people’s profiles on Facebook or other digital sites don’t die when they do. It has been suggested the time will come when a computer programme will be able to take the digital data we leave behind and re-create a simulated version of ourselves (although why anyone would want to is the question… ) Mind transfer to a computer is, it is claimed, within reach. At which point existence can move forward entirely as a simulacrum. (Our awkward excreting fallible bodies may no longer hinder us under such circumstances, and I can imagine people being hooked up mentally to some online world while their physical bodies are left behind in some form with tubes taking care of the real stuff) . When Baudrillard wrote this paper in 1981, he can only have imagined the levels of digital reality that we live with now, although he does seem to have done a pretty amazing job doing so. However, language has worked on this level for some time as objects that don’t really exist make up our understanding of reality… i.e. words. Culture surrounding children for instance is a case in point and Baudrillard focuses on Disneyland. He describes this fantasy place as “the perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulacra” and exists to hide the fact that Disneyland is America, just as prisons exist to hide the fact that society operates as prison, keeping its subjects incarcerated. He refers to a map in a story Elsewhere online we are told “A specific analogy that Baudrillard uses is a fable derived from “On Exactitude in Science” by Jorge Luis Borges. In it, a great Empire created a map that was so detailed it was as large as the Empire itself. The actual map was expanded and destroyed as the Empire itself conquered or lost territory. When the Empire crumbled, all that was left was the map. In Baudrillard’s rendition, it is conversely the map that people live in, the simulation of reality where the people of Empire spend their lives ensuring their place in the representation is properly circumscribed and detailed by the map-makers; conversely, it is reality that is crumbling away from disuse.” (Wikipedia) This makes me think about the hoopla that child rearing is infused with, from the paraphernalia surrounding infancy to the terms people use to describe stages such as ‘terrible twos’. This paper is very difficult to get one’s head around fully and at the moment I can sense it right on the very outer edges of my understanding and am constantly alert to the fact that I risk imposing my own worldview onto his theory.
  2. “In this passage to a space whose curvature is no longer that of the real, nor of truth, the age of simulation thus begins with a liquidation of all referentials – worse: by their artificial resurrection in systems of signs, which are a more ductile material than meaning, in that they lend themselves to all systems of equivalence, all binary oppositions and all combinatory algebra. It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself; that is, an operation to deter every real process by its operational double, a metastable, programmatic, perfect descriptive machine which provides all the signs of the real and short-circuits all its vicissitudes. Never again will the real have to be produced: this is the vital function of the model in a system of death, or rather of anticipated resurrection which no longer leaves any chance even in the event of death. A hyperreal henceforth sheltered from the imaginary, and from any distinction between the real and the imaginary, leaving room only for the orbital recurrence of models and the simulated generation of difference.” In this passage the most obvious thing that I think of is money, as we head into a cashless society. We will no longer have coins and notes that represent something of value in the bank. Instead we will have merely the idea of it in digital form being moved around the online world only. Does money even relate to anything substantial you can pick up in the bank any more? I’m not sure it has done for some now. My children want to buy in-app purchases  – they would be paying for a digital event in a game that takes place and then disappears. It feels like giving money away for nothing to me but to them it feels natural to be paying for something that doesn’t exist except as a moment’s experience. What is the difference really between what they want to spend money on and the machine that promised to shove pennies over the edge in arcades when I was a child? Each is as pointless as the other and merely encourages more and more empty spending. But where is the line drawn between meaningless and pointless spending and useful spending? If I buy an apple I can eat it. If I buy a pink-lady apple I can eat it and perhaps enjoy the feeling of having bought a more expensive apple. (Mind you, if I buy apples from Harrods, I wouldn’t enjoy them at all because they might have cost £25 each but it’s what’s in my imagination that stops me from enjoying them, my relationship with money, which as I’ve said is probably quite close to an idea nowadays, although a very powerful one – simulacra )
  3. “Simulation is the operation of a real-world process or system over time”. The internet is possibly a digital version of processes that are organic and animalistic, and in times of less complex, social organisation, it may be argued occurred as a matter of course. Social contagion is the phenomena where ideas and behaviours spread between people and groups in a way that seems automatic and unspoken, and groups need not be in direct contact. Mirror neurones seems to play an important role. Perhaps the internet has brought this potentially* real process into a symbolic, computerised manifestation as the real function of social interaction slowly disintegrates. Is it up to us to make moral judgements about where the interaction is based? In organic consciousness or digital connections? We have a long way to go before we fully understand the processes. (See Deborah M Gordon’s article on ant culture and then end of the division of labour metaphor been applied to human constructed society). However, “To dissimulate is to feign not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one hasn’t. One implies a presence, the other an absence. But the matter is more complicated, since to simulate is not simply to feign: “Someone who feigns an illness can simply go to bed and pretend he is ill. Someone who simulates an illness produces in himself some of the symptoms” (Littre).” (2) Human consciousness is extremely powerful and feigning illness can  lead to real illness. E.g. A culture of sickness it might be argued encourages more illness.

Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulations at first seems bleak and depressing however, I think is important to read it with as little moral value judgement as possible. (what we can understand of it – it’s very tricky to get to grips with) The Holographic Theory that has been developed in quantum physics circles might be connected in a very literal way (which was done in The Matrix) to some of Baudrillard’s ideas. There are even those who insist that a theory suggesting our world is a simulation will be proven at some point in the future. (Solon, 2016) But as things stand, until that branch of science makes more sense to people in the non-scientific world  Adam Curtis’ Hypernormalisation seems a more useful interpretation, where he looks at the themes covered by Baudrillard such as living in a world that is disconnected from the real and finding ourselves affected by economic simulations and the machinations of those in power. As for our online world, an obvious and direct example of how powerful simulated worlds are is in an article about how women feel when they’re sexually harassed online in games. ““No bodies touched,” Dibbell wrote in the Village Voice. And yet, to the victims, the violation was real: “posttraumatic tears were streaming down her face – a real-life fact that should suffice to prove that the words’ emotional content was no mere playacting.” (Wong, 2016) I suppose my problem with the idea that a simulated world is somehow not ‘real’ is because you have to wonder what we mean by real. An actor is still real even if he’s using the words given to him by a writer. The scene he acts in is a real scene. The motions he relies on to convey the narrative are simulated but if he’s any good they will be genuinely felt, alongside another sense of reality managing the mis-en-scene. The All Blacks simulate rage and aggression in the ritualised chanting they do before each game. It then becomes very real and helps them to win most of their matches. The women in the online game felt abused and violated by the  men they were playing with who harassed them. When we see a film, we’re really seeing a real film. The boundaries are not as clear-cut as we may think. It might be argued we simulate civilisation to hide the fact we’re all sociopathic animals who struggle with inner non-civilised drives, some more successfully than others.

Baudrillard PDF –

Wong, 2016 –

Solon, 2016  –

Wikipedia references:

Robert Goldman; Stephen Papson (2003-08-30). “Simulacra definition”. Information technology. St. Lawrence University. Retrieved 2015-08-04.

Jump up ^ J. Banks; J. Carson; B. Nelson; D. Nicol (2001). Discrete-Event System Simulation. Prentice Hall. p. 3. ISBN 0-13-088702-1.