ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, 09|17|2011 – 02|05|2012
Life Worlds and Image Worlds

Do You See What I See?


Pong, Elodie »After the Empire« 2008. Video, excerpt, 2:00min. photo © Elodie Pong and Freymond-Guth Fine Arts

What image occurs to us when thinking of the keyword “tick, trick and track”, and what trailer, when recalling “Star Wars”? We most likely think of the same thing. The Flat World Theory, is how Harvard professor, Theodore Levitt referred to it: by the globalized economy, the world becomes a homogenous space in which things are produced and consumed indiscriminately en masse – even the same pictures.

An analogy may be drawn between Levit’s theory and 1960s Pop Art. Roy Lichtenstein‘s comic Kitsch and Andy Warhol’s silkscreen icons prophesized the triumph of the seemingly culture-indifferent pictorial world of pop and consumer culture. Boris Groys represents a somewhat different approach: today, much like tourists, he writes, pictures are en route throughout the world. One grasps the significance of this when viewing the video work After the Empire (2008) by American artist Elodie Pong: an Asiatic Mickey Mouse dances with itself, Batman and Robin approach one another in Swiss-German and a coke-sniffing Pinocchio leisurely takes in the american financial news.

The fact that global pictorial worlds not only level out local traditions, but that the local similarly always inscribes itself into the shared pictorial repertoire, was something Swiss artist Christoph Büchel also experienced in the example of Mickey Mouse. He couldn’t believe his eyes when, on visiting the Website of Palestinian Media Watch, he discovered a video broadcast by Hamas television company, Al Al-Aqsa, of none other than Disney’s flagship Mickey propagating Jihad. Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass (1863), van Gogh’s The Siesta (1889-90) and Millet’s The Gleaners (1857) likewise come across somewhat strange when the artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsooks presented them to a group of Thai farmers for interpretation. As Rasdjarmrearnsooks reports, whereas her students were incapable of expressing what they saw out of sheer reverence for the masterpieces, the Thai farmers drew entirely new parallels: thus, Millet’s famers in the fields were reason to assume that insects were sought after in the earth in foreign countries as well. When contemporary art draws on pictures we all know, then frequently so as to remind us that we usually use our cultural perception like a pair of glasses. It thus makes sense to say that Theodore Levitt got it wrong: when local and global picture repertoires both reflect and distort, then what we see are not really the same things, but a dialog on the question “Do You See What I see”?.


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