Sunday, 18 August 2013

This may not be the real world that we think it is ...

When I was a child, because my Dad was in the army, my family and I spent short periods of time living abroad in a number of different places. This involved a lot of travelling. At that time I had the uncomfortable feeling that we never actually travelled anywhere at all. I couldn't shake the idea that when we got into an aeroplane at, let's say, Luton Airport, and then landed in Germany, we hadn't actually left the ground at all. All that had happened was an unknown group of (possibly alien) manipulators shook the plane around a bit to make it seem like we were flying, and while that was going on, all the scenery and people were moved around. When we got off the plane some hours later, believing ourselves to be in Germany, we were actually still in the same place we had always been - but we didn't recognise it, and all the (maybe alien) people had started to talk in German.

The feeling stayed with me for years (and if I am honest, has never really completely gone away) and was reinforced when I read a sci-fi story about just such a delusion suffered by the main character. In the story, it transpired that he was not deluded, but was really living in a constructed reality as part of a mysterious experiment by aliens. And more recently the film "The Truman Show" has put another spin on a similar theme.

In September 2011, Fiona and I made a visit to Liverpool with friends Susan and Leigh, in part to see an exhibition of works by Rene Magritte at the Tate Liverpool. I was most familiar with Magritte as the author of the painting "La Trahison des Images (Ceci n'est pas une pipe)" ("The treachery of images (This is not a pipe)"). I occasionally used it in Photography classes to encourage students to consider what an image is:

Me (passing round the picture): "What is this?"
Student 1: "It's a pipe."
Me: "Anyone else?"
Student 2: "It's a picture of a pipe."

Back to the Tate exhibition. Much of Magritte's work focusses on the problems of perception, and the pieces in the exhibition that I found particularly fascinating have titles that seem to be significant to their meanings. "Evening Falls" seems an obvious double meaning, referring both to the setting sun outside the window, and to the broken shards of glass littering the floor. "The Human Condition" though, with the easel in front of the window, is more enigmatic. These two pictures, being more 'landscapey' than much of his work, got me thinking about the ideas of place that they aroused in me, and recalled my childhood paranoia about never actually traveling, and which I equate with my uncertainties concerning my control over my life.

This led to the idea for the picture that I have called "Memories of Childhood" (above). When I made the picture, I had not got a photograph of a suitable window; but I remembered that I had some interior views of a Shepherd's Hut from a holiday in Dorset in 2010. I thought that one of the pictures would suffice for a first trial - what would it be like to discover that my fears from all those years ago were justified, and that everything I do is being monitored by some other being, peering in through a gap that occasionally appears in the fabric of our universe? To add to my present confusion, some current thinking about cosmology, and some arguments about perception, lead me to a supposition that the world depicted in the Wachowski Brothers' movie "The Matrix" may not be that far off the mark!

The second image (to the right) is an early attempt at recreating the "Evening Falls" image, made from the view from Susan and Leigh's room in the hotel where we stayed in Liverpool. (Or should that be "made from an image of the view from Susan and Leigh's room in the hotel where we stayed in Liverpool?)

Things are not what they seem.

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