Tag Archives: simulacrum

Exhibitions: Olafur Eliasson and Nan Goldin

Both the Eliasson and the Goldin exhibitions are currently on at the Tate Modern, so it was easy to combine them in a single visit, although they could not have been more different in approach and aesthetic. First the Eliasson one, In Real Life.

Reviews of the exhibition have been a bit ‘Meh’, despite it being one of the most successful shows the Tate Modern has ever put on. It is huge and spreads out over the whole site and I am quite certain we missed some of the works en route. Eliasson is a bit like Wolfgang Tillmans in that his interests spread across a wide variety of subjects, from the very basics of what we eat and how to provide light for children in developing countries to get to school, right through to the most metaphysical concepts, and like Tillmans there was a great variety of media and activities, not all of which we engaged in.

Personally, I was quite blown away by much of the installation work, but for very specific reasons. I did not go to see it because of where I am in my own studies, but it fitted perfectly in to where I am at present, in particular his use of gaps and mirrors and the ideas he was exploring in some of the works around what is reality and where does it become the simulacrum. Some example will be explained below.

As you enter the hallway for the exhibition, one of Eliasson’s trademark mirrored light sculptures commands attention. While the sculpture itself is interesting in its complexity, what really grabs the attention is the shadow version seen on the wall behind it. That shadow version has a clarity that is hidden by the complexities of metal, glass and mirrors in the real version.


I loved the two contemplative works, Wave Machines (1995) and Beauty (1993), which invited the viewer to take time to become mesmerised by the movement within them, but felt that both would be better appreciated without the crowds of other visitors. Your Uncertain Shadow (2010) was a fascinating display of colour and movement created by the visitors themselves and providing much entertainment for all. Big Bang Fountain (2014) was another piece which required attention, although the strobe lighting very soon made one feel a migraine might be coming on. Din Blinde Passager (2010) went to the other extreme, by removing all visual information in a sea of thick coloured fog, through which the voices of other visitors could be heard and whose shapes occasionally loomed out of the gloom and then disappeared again. Your Planetary Window (2019) created a patchwork of varying images of the view outside the building as seen through a variety of angled mirrors, and felt very much in tune with the work I have been doing on gaps, mirrors and integrating patchwork ideas into visual work.


Finally, and for me the pièce de resistance, was How Do We Live Together? (2019). A semicircle of black steel was set into the space, and a mirrored ceiling completed the circle. Everyone who entered the room stared up at the mirrored version of reality rather than looking at the real version right in front of their eyes. Further added to this was the way everyone was taking photos of the mirrored version, and the whole piece became a comment on our relationship with the world. It was utter simplicity in its concept, but very effective in what it said.



The Nan Goldin, her very famous early work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, was a combined exhibition of images and a slide show accompanied by the music of the time period, and was a totally different experience from the Eliasson. I have seen various images from the series before, but not them all en bloc and their appeal is more clear when seen together. Each of them alone appears like the sort of snap that gets taken at many a drunken party, but together they spoke of a nihilistic lifestyle of drink drugs and sexual misadventures, peopled by famous faces from the 1970s and 1980s. I am not sure that Goldin’s work would have had the success it did had she not moved in the circles she did, but there was no doubt it was compelling. So much so, that the audience in the tiny screening theatre hardly changed at all while we were there – people were content to sit and let it all wash over them as an immersive experience, one which I felt was much more affective than the collection of individual prints alongside.

Assignment 4 – Reflections on the digital self.

As shown in the course materials, this assignment is Part 1 of a project which will be completed in Part 2 (Assignment 5). To this end, it is not a finished piece of work, but an outline of the ideas and test images I have been considering, which will then be refined and resolved in Assignment 5.


The posts below relate to the early ideas on the work and are shown in date order with the oldest one first. They include many of the test prints and initial visual ideas that were considered for the work.








Explanatory text

My ideas for this assignment began with the concepts of blurred reality and Plato’s Cave. I am interested in how the world we have in our minds is in fact mediated through the internet, and specifically through the algorithms and marketing strategies that we are subject to in our internet searches, and which are specifically personalised to our individual tastes, as indicated by our search histories. This came from reading this article on how our searches are used by companies to target us. ‘Your digital identity has three layers, and you can only protect one of them.’ (Szymielewicz, 2019)

These ideas spawned a series of images using flexible mirror tiles inside a Perspex cube to create strange apparently digital landscapes, but which were in reality images of how the different mirrors recorded each other’s information.This led on to some images where people were inserted into the mirrored landscape, but also some where transparent printed layers were overlapped with images from my own archive in which I had juxtaposed positive and negative versions of the same scene to represent what is reflected back to us by the internet and also the ripple effect of our usage.


At this point, I began to insert some photographs of the internal workings of the computer as transparent overlays, with their connotations of alternative worlds and miniature cities (referencing Google Maps again, as discussed in my piece for the OCA Edge-zine (content available here) and this seemed appropriate to include in the overall concept.

So, where am I now? For the last six weeks at least, I have not been sure where the assignment was going, but following discussions with fellow student Kate this week, some clarity has appeared, with two specific elements coming to the forefront. Firstly, combinations of images which mix transparencies with others printed on paper seems to work well and they solve the problem of how to draw all my ideas together. Something else that has specifically been bothering me was the apparent lack of visual unity within the long list of images, and I think I have now resolved that one by using a specific colour palette, mostly consisting of faded pastels. Secondly, the overall concept seems to have resolved itself into a series focussing on inward journeys into the machine, and thus into a world where reality is fluid, separate from the world we occupy when not connecting with the internet and where the reflected view of ourselves has been altered. One of the outstanding issues I have with the series is whether to anchor each group of images, or whether to simply display them all and to allow the viewer to mix and match them to make their own connections.


Particular themes which are represented within the work are positive and inverted images, the mechanics of the computer and the concept of transparencies and partial  images as incomplete pictures of a theoretical world.

Along the way, I have had to exclude some images to which I am strongly attached, and this has been hard, but was necessary to clarify the series. In particular, I wish that I could have found a way of integrating the two below, the first because it was the initial concept that began the assignment work and the second because I feel that it strikingly illustrates the idea of filter bubbles and echo chambers inside the internet world, but at present they do not appear to fit in with the series,.


The single most influential photographer for this piece of work has been Mark Dorf, whose concepts I reviewed in this post last year. Dorf has been working for the last decade on pieces which consider our relationship with the World Wide Web, using elements such as overlays, gaps and tears, and the work resonates strongly for me, especially his early series Axiom and Simulation. Other photographers and artists whose work has been encountered along the way and which have contributed ideas to the project are:


Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and simulation. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press.

Deleuze, G. and R. Krauss (1983). ‘Plato and the Simulacrum.’ In: October 27: 45-56.

Dorf, M. (2011) Axiom and Simulation At: http://mdorf.com/axiom-simulation/ (Accessed on 28 September 2019)

Jantzen, E. (2015) Unity of Time and Place. At: https://www.ellenjantzen.com/unity-of-time-and-place-2015 (Accessed on 28 September 2019)

Museo del Prado. Bosch, Hieronymus (1450-1516) The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych. [online] At: https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/the-garden-of-earthly-delights-triptych/02388242-6d6a-4e9e-a992-e1311eab3609 (Accessed on 11 September 2019)

Szymielewicz, K. (2019). ‘Your digital identity has three layers, and you can only protect one of them.’ In: Quartz.com At: https://qz.com/1525661/your-digital-identity-has-three-layers-and-you-can-only-protect-one-of-them/ (Accessed on 28 September 2019)

The Art Story (nd) Dan Graham Artworks. At: https://www.theartstory.org/artist/graham-dan/artworks/#pnt_6 (Accessed on 28 September 2019)

Taylor, M. (2019) Work. At: https://maggietaylor.com/work/ (Accessed on 28 September 2019)


Demonstration of technical and visual skills

The concepts for this work have been difficult to pin down visually and to some extent are still unresolved. While I am happy with the images and the general layout, they are not fixed and there is scope for further exploration and the need for a decision about whether to formalise the layout, or to allow the viewer to make their own connections.

Quality of outcome

I remain confused about whether the series works or not, and suspect that this is partly because I have been too close to it for too long. I also have some doubts about whether the use of inverted images is a sensible way of creating an alternate world view, or whether it is too forced/hackneyed.

Demonstration of creativity

I feel more relaxed about this element of the work. Having used some techniques and ideas that are definitely outside the norm of the standard photographic image. My method of working is to play and experiment towards an outcome, as opposed to knowing clearly what I want to achieve at the start, as I feel the former is a more open way of exploring the concepts concerned.


The work fits quite neatly into the philosophical notions of Plato’s Cave, Baudrillard’s Simulacrum and Foucault’s Panopticon.