A Philosophical Exploration of Oliver Herring’s Photo-Based Sculptures: When Seeing Becomes its Own Object to Be Seen
Reproducing an image by means of resemblance has a long historical trajectory in fine art. As mature as it is, numerous interpretations accompany this particular form of art production. One of them, probably the oldest explication, subscribes to the idea of bewitching optical illusion. Legends tell us how ancient civilizations understood this art and set the verisimilitude criterion for its evaluation. A well-executed image deceives viewers’ eyes to the extent that they confuse a mere illusion with reality. The best executions of these “make-believe” images are often praised for their impacts on animals to make a fatal error, such as birds pecking at painted grapes by Zeuxis in ancient Greece, or birds recklessly flying into a pine tree mural to rest on a branch painted by Solgae in ancient Korea. Since the murals no longer exist, we can’t experience their stunning presence. But the message of the legends is clear and it has set a tradition in fine art that we now call trompe l’oeil. However, trompe l’oeil is only one way to understand the age-old phenomenon. Aristotle, for example, soon came to describe it as mimesis (likeness), developing his aesthetic theory of shock, tension, and catharsis. Revisiting this issue, Oliver Herring points out a contemporary meaning of mimesis as an activity of self-reflective reconstruction. Herring’s life-size portrait sculptures, named for their real-life counter-parts Wade and Wade 2, both made in 2006, and Cheryl made in 2007, are rare examples par excellence that constructively visualize the conditions (and the meaning) of a true representation. The sculptures demonstrate that making an image requires the processes of observation, comparison, deconstruction and reconstruction. By analyzing Herring’s sculptures, the paper proposes that mimesis is a productive act of constructing an image that works as a lens through which we share the world and reality.
Keywords: Representation, Truth, Trompe l’oeil, Mimesis, Self-reflective reconstruction, Construction, Reality
Curator, Visual Arts, Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning