The magic of the image

Some reflections about my painted landscapes and the use of pictures of landscapes

The Image

“The significance of images is magical. The magical nature of images must be taken into account when decoding them. Thus it is wrong to look for ‘frozen events’ in images. Rather they replace events by states of things and translate them into scenes. The magical power of images lies in their superficial nature, and the dialectic inherent in them – the contradiction peculiar to them – must be seen in the light of this magic.”
Vilém Flusser
In my landscapes I’m often starting with the picture of a landscape. That can be a picture of a mountain, a horizon, a riverbank or a moor. These pictures inspire me to paint the part of the landscape that you can’t see. This picture is an image of a landscape. Landscapes have become the most important theme in my work as a painter. The horizon is for me the most significant part in this landscape because heaven and earth are connected in this horizon. The horizon is for me the image of the relationship between heaven and earth, it makes the sacral dimension of reality visible. I’m speaking in a metaphorical way, searching for an assumed sacral or spiritual dimension in the landscape, like the Zen-Buddhist painter.
The magic of the image, so Flusser, works in my paintings. I use this kind of magic to explore the landscape and to invent an new landscape. This is a kind of sensation, fully aware of the effects that the image has on the perceiver. I’m playing with this effect. I use it to deepen the understanding of the landscape. What you see at last is a painting, not a picture . You see the picture only when you focus and concentrate on the painting where it is found. The picture becomes an image when I use it as a model. This model is only the starting point for my painting.
Flusser says: “Images are mediations between the world and human beings. Human beings ‘ex-ist’, i.e. the world is not immediately accessible to them and therefore images are needed to make it comprehensible. However, as soon as this happens, images come between the world and human beings. They are supposed to be maps but they turn into screens: Instead of representing the world, they obscure it until human beings’ lives finally become a function of the images they create.”

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In my paintings the image is just the starting point. It works as a stimulation to invent a new kind of landscape, a new image, that is the painting. So the image creates through my hands a new image of the world. It doesn’t represent the world. It represents only my search for the sacral dimension. Flusser criticizes the fact that people are not aware of the fact that the images they created, become part of their world as if this world exist only in this images. Flusser calls the effect of the image magical but he underlines the danger that we neglect this effect. The image works, the image is significant for our meaning of the world. The image is a kind of summary of a position we take in reality. So the image is a complex of meaning. It is for me a way of dedication to the landscape and its sacral dimension. Therefor I’m a painter of landscapes!
Flusser warns us not to adorate the image. He calls that idolatry – we forget that the image is only an image, some way of seeing reality, but not reality itself. We are living, so Flusser, in a society where the power of imaging has taken over. We live in a world full of images, and our world is an image-world. Technical apparatus make it possible to create new images, like the camera and the computer. Software, programs, are responsible for a whole new kid of images. Flusser calls them technical images. Artists use them to create new images. They reflect about the use of images in our world.
“Human beings cease to decode the images and instead project them, still encoded, into the world ‘out there’, which meanwhile itself becomes like an image – a context of scenes, of states of things. This reversal of the function of the image can be called ‘idolatry’; we can observe the process at work in the present day: The technical images currently all around us are in the process of magically restructuring our ‘reality’ and turning it into a ‘global image scenario’. Essentially this is a question of ‘amnesia’. Human beings forget they created the images in order to orientate themselves in the world. Since they are no longer able to decode them, their lives become a function of their own images: Imagination has turned into hallucination.” (Vilém Flusser)
I’m still old fashioned. I’m making my paint with pigments, a binder and water. I only use the picture as a result or product of this image-making apparatus. I put this image in a new situation: as part of an old way of perceiving the world by painting it. Post-modern? Yes because we can’t go back behind this technical innovations. I’m trying to decode the image of a landscape and give it a new code. A code that fits in my view of the world. That I’m communicating with this text. To understand a little bit where my landscapes are going about.

John Hacking
2013

Vilém Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography, London 2000 (Reaktion Books)

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