Simulation and Simulacrum

I think this blog introduced by W.J.T. Mitchell on the course he instructs in Theories of Media at the University of Chicago, is excellent. The process of study is being structured and revealed in an engaging way for not only his media students but for all those who happily stumble across it on the web. The design of the pages are clear, consistent and interesting, framed and headed by the simple movement of relevant moving type creating a nice visual touch. The contributions by students are extremely erudite and impressive and there is a real sense of confidence and authority to their writing. Likewise I love their referencing system which is very useful and mirrors the nature of Wikipedia, the largest open content, free encyclopedia launched by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in 2001. The bibliography on the side bar named as ‘works cited’ is also a very significant element  for academic and professional purposes and even the ‘keywords cross references is a nice little flourish

The philosophy of offering content that can be extremely useful for academic, personal and business research for free is a very powerful one, alluding to the ethos of cooperation rather than dog eat dog competition. It encourages us all to embrace the spirit of win/win rather than win/lose and I personally echo that sentiment. Not only that but the idea of giving something of value away for free is a major component in the psychology of Influence.  Researched and addressed in Influence – The Psychology of  Persuasion by Robert  B. Caldini, this principle of reciprocation states that ‘we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.’ He refers to sociologists such as Alvin Gouldner who reports that there is no human society on this planet that doesn’t abide by this rule or principle.

Lest I digress I shall address the content of the keywords glossary, in particular my response to the definitions given to the words simulacra and simulation. In the first extract (1) Simulation defined variously as a process and technique of imitation or imitative behaviour with an intent to deceive. While simulacrum is described as a static entity which is a mere surface representation of the original with no actual possession of substance or proper quality of that original entity.  The article refers to the historical notion of these concepts and cites Plato’s analyis and criticism in The Republic using the example of the creation of a statue to typify and represent a likeness of its human subject. Camille writes of Plato’s concern that this reproduced  image is a deviation and perversion, a false likeness.

Likewise Jean Baudrillard was apprehensive and believed that the activity of simulation not only created a false reality but was at once even more devious because it destroyed the original by replacing it. He was deeply disturbed by the potential artifice and superficiality of the process of simulation and its resulting product or simulacrum, as if the very substance or truth of reality was removed. He appeared to be concerned  that with the production of an ever more simulated reality with the advent of technologies such as photography, tv and film, the people of a society would lose  a sense of reality and instead be wrapped and held rapt by the surface and superficial in life, mesmerised by the tokens of life. The philosopher and social critic Walter Benjamin termed the missing quality from the original as ‘the aura’ but congruent with his knowledge of Marxism’s materialistic conception of history, believed that the  disappearance of the aura was no bad thing if mass reproduction  of images, moving or still, promoted new modes of critical perception in its audience. In her book, ‘But is it art?’ Cynthia Freeland also presents Benjamin’s ideas that cinema for example created a distance between its narrative and its audience that the viewer recognised compared to  the dynamics and so called ‘reality’ of theatre which he believed was more engrossing. However  Benjamin died in 1940 before cinema photography, radio, tv and game programming had reached its technological and creative simulation heights, par excellence. These technologies are so powerful, so financially resourced and employ the greatest of talent to produce seductive and sophisticated representations of reality. They are deemed ‘hyperreal’ and as discussed in the resource article, are all embracing and pervasive. Information presented by these media are dispersed around us with a mixture of such subtlety and blatancy, that we are no longer able to distinguish the precise medium let alone the origins and integrity of the message. As the author says that life is now ‘spectralised…the event filtered by the medium – the dissolution of TV into life, the dissolution of life into TV? We only have to scan the dominant strain of ‘Reality TV programming’

The writing also very ably describes the concept of simulation in David Cronenbergy’s film eXistenZ which is now on my list of films to see. I think it’s a particularly relevant and current example with the description that the virtual reality videogames that are the the film’s focus, are raised to deific proportions. Working with secondary school pupils I am constantly amazed and disheartened that so many of them play video games on their Playstations for up to 12 hours at a time…and that’s without the tricks of virtual reality. It seems to me that more and more of our youth and adult population are being diverted  from making adventurous decisions about reality through the escape of simulated reality that appears so more fascinating and alluring.

In the second article (2) by Joanna Topor, which is also beautifully written, she concludes that the media itself is responsible for the breakdown of reality because it provides society with simulated events and the reproduction of signs that supposedly constitute reality. She refers to Baudrillard’s concept that the medium for presentation of a message/information is not in fact a mediator or bridge of communication but instead is the message itself and outlines Marashall McLuhan’s (1911-1980) belief that ‘the medium is the message’. It was his belief that the newer media could restore aspects of right-brain creative functioning suppressed by literacy in the sense that new media could promote connectedness and community, ‘the global village’. Older technologies such as ships, printing, railways, carriages, bicycles and cars all catalysed movements of people, their goods and their ideas and experience of reality. Today tv, radio, the telephone and the internet can do the same with no physical movement on our part at all. Of course there are profound advantages and disadvantages to such a development  but I am continually struck by the miracle of it all. I suppose the question for me is how we navigate and temper both the miraculous access to information and other’s experience  of reality with the distortion and intrusion into our own sense of reality. One thing I am sure about is that electronic means of communication stimulate visual and auditory senses but what remains out of the picture is the kinaesthetic awareness of reality. By being passive recipients of  ‘so called’ reality we are disconnecting from our bodies, stimulating the mind but not the body. By being passive recipients of a simulated ‘aspirational society’ we lock ourselves into the theatre of comparison. As differences or perceived differences are heightened we lose touch with our own values and sense of self at home in reality. So I am inclined to disagree with McLuhan that the media is the message in that it ignores content. My sense is that we must demand more inspirational, empowering content that breathes resourcefulness, inventiveness and the goodness of human nature.
Blessings esther


About estherdeangelis

Hi fellow artists I have just discovered that my previous introduction doesn't appear to have loaded. Sigh! and I think it was a lot simpler - sorry folks. 'Art is Healing made Visible" Art has been a powerful ally and tool for self reflection throughout much of my adult life. At times it has taken me into another space where I felt galvanised by life. The process of creation has appeared to me to have been truly magical and a blessing. I have been able to reach out and invite something new and wondrous into the piece – something bigger and more life affirming than me. The same with music – through singing or drumming with others I can access and receive life in exciting, beautiful formations. For me, making art must be about my own journey of healing – moving in a process of transformation from powerlessness and fear to love and wholeness. Moving away from ‘not being good enough’ to ‘being’ and accepting the grace of life as it is in this moment. Along that creative journey I hope to share with and inspire others to a more expansive, loving and potent vision of themselves. Thus it is that I have chosen the theme of Mandala or sacred circles as my focus and catalyst for my art over the next two years. A Mandala is seen as a vehicle and map for the unification and healing of consciousness, used historically as a spiritual teaching tool for realising a sacred space and guiding meditation. I aim to explore some of the ways that the rhythmic and patterned use of colour, sound and form can have to transport us. Historically it has been used for thousands of years in many cultures across the world To date I have created a number of mandalas using digital montage and painted two large mandalas with enamel paints on the bonnets of my two art cars. Creating them I experienced something intensely ancient and yet new - of this time with contemporary materials. This is why I am interested in experimenting with ways of bringing the sacred circle / mandala into a contemporary context. I plan to explore video, some form of digital animation and sound as additional methods in my practice. I am also interested in researching mechanical mechanisms and motors for the rotation of pieces and attempting some form of sculptural or installation work. I would also love to incorporate two further passions of mine – dancing and music making – particularly singing and drumming. At this point my head is bursting with ideas and I feel both very inspired and overwhelmed by my research on this theme so far. I had originally intended that my project use as a framework, the system of the chakras or energy centres of the body. This is a map of the movement of consciousness developed in India over two thousand years ago. I have been working with it, teaching Chakra Yoga and developing a new dance practise, Chakra Dance for the past seven years. So I would like to address some aspect relating to wealth, sexuality, power, love, creatvity, purpose and spirit. I also work with NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and hypnotherapy and I have no doubt that these disciplines will influence my art. Guess what I am seeing mandalas and circles everywhere I look ....... Blessings esther
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