The As Is When Prints

Eduardo Paolozzi/Ludwig Wittgenstein by JP Burns

Wittgenstein in New York (1964) by Eduardo Paolozzi 
© Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation, Licensed by DACS 2007

The Eduardo Paolozzi I am interested in is the one who made the As Is When prints. These were a series of abstract images made out of appreciation for the life and work of British-Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

In the same vein as Paolozzi sought to give a body to his enthusiasm for Wittgenstein, I want to give a body to mine for his As Is When. I want to do this by enacting something, rather than just describing. I’d like to try a double-picture, or parallel in prose. One is about the impulse to collage and the other about what Wittgenstein can mean to artists, and to attempt to imagine for myself Paolozzi’s particular mythical version. I want a picture of each, side by side. I want to say something about collage aesthetics by the manner in which I write, because this is the manner in which I am thinking, in parallel.

The purpose of a parallel is not to create direct comparisons (of this point to this, this object with this) but to picture what is next to each other in reality as next to each other here.

Instead of a meaning of collage we should think of it as a language. Glueing scraps of paper next to each other is arbitrary. Representing the world beside itself, as the mess of images it is, is valuable. It teaches us something of a language that was always there. Namely, it teaches us to appreciate it in itself.

There is a Paolozzi, father of Pop-Art, working in Britain twenty years before the height of Pop of America. I am not interested in him. Nor Sir Eduardo, maker of Tube stations and murals. There is a lyrical image-maker, concerned mainly with correcting the linear hierarchies of normal seeing in the life somewhere. When he is seen, the rest of the work shifts in its bed a little. A family resemblance starts to appear throughout his work which is otherwise disparate and various.

Eduardo was not born a wrestler nor a poet.

By the time his family were killed by a German submarine while being sent to Canada for being too risky to stay in Leith, a photograph was taken of him.

Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi (1924-2005)

This is not that photograph.

You may speculate on the importance of the British-something identity, that Paolozzi admired that parallel in the life of Wittgenstein.

They ran an ice-cream parlor. Being born Italian, they were dangerous.

Eduardo was born in Scotland. He was more European in his natural inclination toward Dada and radical surrealism than in his Italianism. He was as culturally French as anyone who prefers Rimbaud to Wordsworth, though thinks Keats is ok. He disliked the heroic, and that is what I mean by French. It is something most French people would not recognise as French, but Americans that admire Claude Dubuffet perhaps would. The heroic is bad because it doesn’t like surprises.

The Whitworth Tapestry (1967)

I remember looking at The Whitworth Tapestry. It was up as part of a tapestry show at the Whitworth that celebrated the technique. It is a fundamental means of image making shared by so many cultures all over the world. It is a slow and deliberate art. Interesting then that Paolozzi approached it, when the project was commissioned by the gallery to commemorate the big interior renovation of the building in the 60’s, with his impulse to collage in full flow. To put things together with haste, or at least to capture something of the haste in which images are seen to live together. The putting together of quick and slow (image and technique) is in itself a layer of collage.

The cinema as a medium, you could say, invented collage. This was by accident. It was necessary to cut up reality to put it back together again. Dziga Vertov knew this, clearly, and celebrated it, while Hollywood worked tirelessly to cover it up. Life will be a straight line, whether it likes it or not. This is the general rule of Hollywood narrative, yet it is a straight line made up of a nonsensical mess of time. It is perhaps no coincidence both Paolozzi and Wittgenstein spent a lot of time in the cinema.

I could talk about the phenomenology of the cinematic mind and the ubiquity of the cinema, the language it taught us to see reality in, how this led to the conception of collage, which led to the inception of fragmented seeing, the seeing of the collages that are already there, assembled wherever, but now I have.

Clearly, this will be informal. It will be process in a row. Actually, it’ll be in two, and they will be looking at each other, hopefully in silence.

Susan Sontag described her idea of a writer as someone who is interested in everything. It strikes me that this ideal can equally be applied to the artist with an inclination toward collage. To be truly omnivorous of culture is a mission in itself. The collage object could be seen as an artifact of this process. It could be to collect ways of looking at things, more than to collect the things themselves, and to put them beside each other, in contrast and in harmony. This would show us something about the arrangement of reality. This outlook is necessarily an equalising force. It denies hierarchy of value ie. any model of aesthetic theory. The only ideal is to include more than one denies.

The collages of Paolozzi need not be interpreted as comments on popular culture, but studies of nature essentially related to any other impulse to draw what is there. What is here is not just a time and place, but a near infinite web of images of elsewheres and whens. These are not just the images of magazines, films etc. but memory, story, self-awareness. The layers of presentness will go as deep as you allow them. The problem of representation is the same. The limit is your choice of what and ability to answer the question: how to include?

The visible inclusion of the marks of process within a work is a hallmark of Paolozzi’s work. The As Is When prints are an interesting example of this. An innovative and technical process of replicating collage material in screen-print form was developed by Paolozzi and his printers. On close examination one can see the minute accidental details included from the original assemblages such as overlaps, inaccurate cuts and imperfections in the scrap images used. The printers will have had to go out of their way to include these. They add to the pile of images, the sense of being a pile of images. The details tell us that the process of picturing reality is part of the process of experiencing reality.

In looking over the As Is When prints again now, I am struck by their complexity, both on simple visual terms, and in terms of their conception as portrait. Though some, like Wittgenstein the Soldier, and Wittgenstein at the Cinema Admires Betty Grable use moments of the biography as a focus, they still do more than just mythologise.These as anchor points in the imagination of the artist more than points of description. Even these prints do not resemble Wittgenstein. It is too simple too, to say that they act as diagrams or illustrations to the philosophical concepts.

In trying to define the personal portrait, the picture of the internal bundle of association I have come to describe something of the mechanics of the As Is When prints. Each takes a different point of focus in what is a large entanglement of intangible detail. Part of my process of seeing them is the asking of the question: what is the structure of our sense of a person. This is probably an unanswerable question, but as according to Wittgenstein, this does not mean it is not a valuable one. The unknowable is really the unsayable. The unsayable can only be shown.

It is not easy to make a portrait of the life and thought of Ludwig Wittgenstein. One could start with Ludwig in isolation, solving the problems of philosophy in a hut of his own making on the Norwegian coast, or the melodramatic Ludwig of Cambridge begging his students to help me! when he took a misstep in his philosophical soliloquy, screaming at them when they couldn’t. One could, but these are mythical images, parts of a story.

A portrait promises something else, a sort of essential likeness. A true picture of a person is perhaps impossible. The essence of a person is an unquantifiable unit. It does not exist. Yet, when an important figure in the life of another is mentioned (say a parent, a favourite artist), or even just thought of, a strong sense of essence is invoked in the mind of that other.

In language, generally, we have names. We can use the name of a person to refer to whatever picture(s) the listener or reader has of the person in question. These pictures can, and most likely do, massively vary in nature. A name though, is not a portrait. It’s definitiveness is not due to its capturing so singularly the essence of the person. Names of people work because, in terms of precisely what it is they refer to, they are completely flexible. A name for any object conjures an image. The image summoned by the name of a historical figure in the individual mind is a bundle of whatever personal connotations they personally have attached to it: famous photographs, quotes, emotional recollections of how the work, ideas, images made us feel etc. Yet if one were to try and paint this subjective bundle of essence alone, would we be able to call it a recognisable likeness?

There is an image of Ludwig in a cinema in New York. It is not a photograph, but a mythologised piece of biography. It is referenced often. He used to love the movies, apparently. He would sit in the front row so there was nothing between him and the giant screen. Now this is appealing, the philosopher at the movies. That’s the kind of image that draws the affectionate intellect of artists so they can wonder about what was going on in his head. Here the philosopher assumed he went there, into the dark hall of mindless stories to calm himself, to think clearly. I picture Paolozzi thinking: well, he loved movies.

The life of Ludwig is intense. I hope pieces of it will perhaps coincide by chance to the pieces on Paolozzi on the parallel side. I will try not to orchestrate these collisions. I will also, as practically as I can, write about both Eduardo and Ludwig simultaneously, going back and forth between the columns as my thoughts do. This kind of dual immersion, having books on both open together on the desk, feels to me like a kind of mental collage in itself. I want it this way. It is making me see more in the As Is When prints.

I would like to know more about how Paolozzi pictured Wittgenstein. I can find very little on this particular angle. Perhaps the As Is When prints are all we need. Perhaps it is too easy to settle on Eduardo daydreaming about what Wittgenstein was daydreaming about in the daydream of a Hollywood movie.

I wonder also what Wittgenstein would have made of the work of Paolozzi, had their lives crossed over. Wittgenstein, by implying throughout his work that he had solved the problems of philosophy by proposing that there are exact limits to language and therefore to what can be thought, implied that there are extra-meaningful facts of reality that can only be shown. Surely then, he had special reverence for the powers of art to show what can not be said?

In his later philosophy, he did. What the Tractatus lacks in specific subject matter (everything is referred to in the absolute most broad and abstract statements) the later Philosophical Investigations redresses. Aesthetics and the value of artistic work is explicitly discussed, though still in general terms and not in reference to particular work or artists. I imagine it is this later Wittgenstein that was valued by Paolozzi. Instead of describing a strict and consistent model of language and its relation to reality, the Investigations lays out a concept of multiplicity: that language as a whole is built of an uncountable multitude of language-games, each of which has its own rules which define what is and is not true within each game. The problems of communication suggested by this idea, become even more complicated when applied to the visual arts. That art can have meaning at all seems an impossibility, yet it evidently does. It is perhaps more that those meanings can not be described, translated into language.

Wittgenstein acknowledged the value of the world as beyond the value of its constituent parts. The world’s value comes from a sense of its whole. At first glance one would assume the value of a collage is in its celebration of the individual items it is assembled from, but really its value comes from the fact that those items belong to the wholeness of the world. A sense of the world is a sense of the wholeness of the world. The desire to like all objects, or at least amass the largest vocabulary of appreciation one can, seems to me to be what is on the wall when looking at a Paolozzi.

I had wanted to draw on a sense for assemblage rather than simply the physical technique. I think to cut up text is a very different activity to cutting up images. By creating collage an artist like Paolozzi uses their sense of dissonance as it is in the world to inform their sense of the composition. In short, it still comes from the impulse to picture what is there, which is everything, overwhelmingly so. In cutting text, I think the temptation to create surprising images for their own sake is too great. I am more interested in embodying the way of seeing the world that collage gives to us, that things are next to each other before we force them to be.

That the world is various, seems to be what is inherently meaningful about collage. Fundamentally, I think this is the language it wants to speak. In place of irony and clever contradictions, we would have simple heterogeneity; the putting together of what is disparate. In place of isolated meanings, or simple bizarreness, we would have pictures of the separateness of reality as a whole.

There is a strong image in Wittgenstein’s writing that can represent the nature of shared meaning within a piece of art. This is the famous ‘beetle in a box.’ The analogy goes thus: a person has a box that only they can see into. In this box there is, what they call, a beetle. This person wants to describe this ‘beetle’ to another. This other has a box of their own in which there is something. This something, they call a ‘beetle.’ The speaker and the listener have only their own private ‘beetle’ as reference. How can they ever know what resemblance the word has to the thing in the other’s box?

Now, a variation on this: say the first speaker is an artist, and their beetle is the particular feeling they feel is contained in their work, its ‘meaning’ as it were. When the listener asks the artist what their work is about, she answers beetle. The listener says back ah, beetle, yes, peering nervously into his own empty box.

It is in this sense that the names of people can also be said to be abstracts. They do not necessarily refer to ‘the physical body of the human in question’, but the bundle of impressions that comes to the surface with them. These are not still objects.

Ludwig is an enjoyable name to write. That is one aspect of my bundle. Wittgenstein makes me feel slightly embarrassed. I feel a certain self-awareness of being a young(ish) middle-class white male bringing up a stereotypical hero-figure of my sad little clan. The intellectual anti-hero, grumpy, rich and resolute, impossible to understand. It’s embarrassing. That is part of the bundle, along with the desire to resist myth and demolish the cult of genius. With this last, comes an image in the language of collage. Perhaps this impulse is part of the value of all collage, to point a cannon at the cannon.

Perhaps it is wrong to conceive of these bundles as objects at all. They are completely fluid, obviously, and can change so easily as our associations and feelings toward a figure can. But it still seems entirely possible to create poetry from tapping into them as if they were true holdable things.

I am aware of letting process take the front seat. I am also aware of the fact that this process is essentially one of trying to get to the bottom of my subject. At the same time I am reluctant to conclude. My argument is for inconclusion. I am thinking of throwing away the ladder, once one has climbed it. I am also thinking about a young Ludwig flying experimental kites outside of Glossop, Derbyshire, and of visiting the inn he lived in. These little pilgrimages are something we all think about and do once in a while, to clamber toward an isolatable point. We desire the object, the findable. We are often disappointed, we’re used to it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s