What does Cubism have to say about a ‘world’ or about objects that may be found there?
Painting that correlates with a world, but a world on the verge of fragmentation where a transformation in the normality of appearances is simultaneous to an acceleration of relations.
Forms merge, submerge and transform into each other in a way that displaces the painting from its role as a representation with descriptive functions, and instead an idealized platform is constructed through which the mind can rearrange a world. In the place of a descriptive appearance imitating a visual matching to a world, the metaphoric register shifts and an abstraction emerges. It is more conjuring than illustrative. It is more evocative than representational. It is through technique and through the addressing of technique that ground is offered in which a material world can find a semblance of something beyond it. This beyond is the understanding of the mind of the painter on-show in the organizing structure of the painting. In its analytic phase, which ought not to be confused with an analysis based in science but more so on a poetic take, the inner light that begins to emanate from the image (and not from elsewhere, an important distinction) becomes a metaphor for human consciousness.
Even if the references of things in the world have taken a back seat, fragmenting into different composites and planes, it is not altogether vanquished. Both Picasso and Braque held onto traces of an object world as normally appears, even slightly. The thing-likeness that is going on with Cubism may be reconstructed into qualities detached from descriptive representations, as if overtaken by the very acts of signification, but traces remain and it therefore stands as a kind of way-station towards further dematerializations. It is on its way, although it seemingly never arrives, at what Aksionov called ‘absolute generalization,’ i.e. the ever more freer work of the signifier. What Cubism claims is that the differences between the particulars are enough in and of themselves to construct a ‘world’ – that a ‘world’ may be constructed out of difference set in relations and that this ‘world’ has no center.
Something happens to the stuff of the world in a Cubist image: the unstable relations are set up in between things. As the objects are re-denoted or re-imagined into a different aspect than illustrative or representational worlds, Cubism sets up an order that attempts to contradict mundane experience. The view is reconstituted into a contrary order – contrary to the usual ways of ordering, and thus affects sense into a kind of epistemology that smashes up the world held in common assumption, or at least held as apriori being what the world ‘is,’ in order to demonstrate that representations of ‘reality’ are not what they seem. Cubism replaces the is with appears-to-be.
With Cubism the thesis/antithesis of Matter and Mind are made problematic, undeciable, and the object-world is made over into matter yet gripping at ‘counter-reality’ as idealized structuring and reducing.
Abstracting from the world, painting gets into a proposal of reducing, emptying-out, blanking-out.The logical conclusion of the Cubist thrust was not carried out by Picasso, although Barque seemed to show a way, and possibly is better associated with the likes of Mondrian or Malevich. This kind of modernity has a streak of idealism running through it, even at its most lunatic focus on material. The concern of Picasso seemed to have been if representation could be salvaged, even if this meant rummaging among the 19th century ruins of mimesis, through which a process of inquiry forming into a ‘world’ could have still mattered. Whereas, what comes after Cubism does away with this sentimentality of previous epochs. The logical conclusion that Cubism initiated in its ‘absolute generalization’ is that at the event where visual information is at a maximum it actually reverses and the object evaporates – i.e. it goes out of vision or sight.
Being absent to the eye. – A notion of the presentation of the unseen. What the 20th century painters discovered was that the system of illusionism had more to its power than perspective: the flattening of the image over a process of 40 or so years before Cubism is testament to that fact. And Cubism knew there was something deeper: through practice it sought to have painting loose itself from representation even further and it did so through making problematic our usual ways of ordering objects, foregrounds and backgrounds, or even clearly discernible separations between entities. The objects of the world cannot really be secured in a picture. The stuff of the world cannot be separated so easily because the relations and forces and interrelatedness won’t allow it. Visual knowledge cannot seize the world completely.
That last line is worth reiterating. The lessons of Cubism ought to probably be remembered as those new vision machines make a run at a totality of seeing — after all, aren’t all the surveying apparatuses, the satellites, drones, mechanized gazes, cctv networks, or the global positioning devices, etc., out do do that? We are everywhere inserting sight for knowledge about what it seen, as if they are isomorphic, but what Cubism demonstrates is that visual information does not stand for knowledge. And it never has. Yet in our age of high technologies we are convincing ourselves that it may. Cubism remains relevant a century on because what Cubism allows us to remember is that there is no centeredness with which everything can be dusted off and demarcated, as if otherness can be held in entirely by the viewer.
Shifting gears a bit, Cubism is also relevant for us today based on what it has to say about that ‘ever more freer work of the signifier.’ Through this, even presence can no longer be secured…
What does this say about a ‘world’ and about the objects found there? One arrives at the radical collectivity at the heart of Cubist vision. What happens in the cognitive manifold (of the viewer) is that the world is undone and its tidy classifications and separations are shown to be a fiction and in its place is set an interrelated mesh of particulars, planes and forces. We can follow a line here or there back into the depth of the picture or up into the front, teetering off wildly into another vision, another impression that never absolutely solidifies. It is fully of Nietzschean playfulness in its fiddling around with multiple perspectives. And then, when the objects of the world begin to verge on disappearance as they disappear from the usual categories of mundane experience, what surfaces is a realm where everything begins affecting everything else, and where the objects of this world can no longer be considered possessions.
The truth of Cubism to be taken on board is not only the relations of seeing but most importantly that these relations of seeing are never rendered complete, which is to say, that there is no absolute position in which vision can be substituted for knowledge about a ‘world.’