Allegorical Character. Part 1, James McCann

Здесь я говорю об аллегорическом персонаже. Я изучал тему аллегории в течении пяти лет. Хотя это историческая тема, я думаю это имеет отношение к современном искусству.

This is a contextual research piece about Allegory as a field of Art Historical Study and as a Methodology for Contemporary Practice. I am going to allow myself to be loosely associative with these texts. For one, I feel this befits the subject matter, and secondly one of the frustrations I have had in this research is trying to compartmentalise this amorphous subject while retaining its obliqueness and interconnectivity.  It is a complex subject and one that is not easily defined, that being said I though as an introduction I would focus on the idea of ‘Allegorical Character’ as it relates particularly to the field of Performance Art.

Bronzino 1545 An Allegory with Venus and Cupid

Bronzino’s Painting Allegory of Venus and Cupid is always an excellent referent when beginning as discussion about Allegory as a subject. Although it is a work saturated with referent and disparate elements, it’s over all ‘meaning’ remains obfuscated largely by means of its excesses. This is illustrative of two important facets of Allegorical discourse, one is the concept of what Walter Benjamin would term the ‘constellational image’; Benjamin makes reference to the mosaic, as being a process by which an image holds an imagistic totality while simultaneously, still retaining the individuality of all its constituent parts. This theory of the ‘constellational image’ and simultaneity, is used by Benjamin to undermine the theory of romantic art as ‘the symbol’ which holds a fixed meaning through the passage of time. The Allegorical Image is a literary image if not a literal image, obfuscation and decipherment are an essential part of its construction as well as it’s reception. The relation of The Artist or Allegorist to the Image is further developed by Benjamin through the figure of ‘the alchemist’ and most evocatively in the construct of ‘The Alchemists Liar’ which quite obviously doubles here as ‘The Artists Studio’.

The second pillar of allegorical discourse made stark in this painting is the problematic question of ‘allegorical agency’. Meaning, what are the confines and limitations of the fictive allegorical world in lived reality? How is idea embodied? How does Man become Idea and vice versa? This proximity of the fictive to ‘the real’ is one of the formative questions of literary theory, one of the many fields in which allegory is discussed. It is also a question that highlights much of the religious significance of allegory. Of course for Catholicism the Deification of the Saints, or Eucharistic Transformation are not Allegorical processes, but for myself, as a Performance Artist, these questions are illustrative of the fascinating dynamic between The Idea and The Real.

Performance Art is a unique context in which the relation between the fictive and real world agency are muddied, the idea and the ‘embodied’ live event indistinguishable. The figurative depictions of Allegorical characters in the above Bronzino painting are fascinating, particularly ‘Deception’ hiding behind the cherub, her hands are on the wrong way and her head seems to be detached or in some regard, floating. The second character I would draw your attention to is ‘Oblivion’ in the top left hand corner, whose head appears to be disintegrating. Deception and Oblivion, a perfect microcosm of a critical mode which avoids definition at all costs but more than any other bends toward destruction and madness.

At the risk of going on too long I think I may continue this exploration of ‘Character’ into my next post. Here are some images of a Performance piece I made while thinking about these issues of embodiment and idea. The piece consists of banging bronzes together, a kind of finger hammer poking this face, reminiscent of a death mask, in the eye. I was thinking about George Orwell in 1984, saying the future was a boot kicking a human face for eternity. This crude joke, the temporality of bronze pointing to eternity, and of the imminence of performative action combined for this work.

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