“Semantic Ontologies” is a collection of photographs that explores the nature of space, time and memory. As proposed in the theoretical background of this collection, the temporal and spatial dimensions are semantic constructs that do not ontologically exist. This realization has not only epistemological implications but also cultural and political.
Time, Memory, and Intermediate Spaces:
According to theorists such as Benedict Anderson (2006), the temporal dimension is a cultural construct. Each culture builds its conception about time through fragments of reality. The linearity of time suggested in modern Western societies is a cultural phenomenon that didn’t previously exist. According to Benedict Anderson, this is evident in the way Medieval religious figures, for example, are represented with the royal clothes of the Medieval society (Anderson, 2006). That suggests that what mattered most in the narrative was not the creation of a temporality based on a linear perception of chronological time, but rather what mattered was the symbolic value of the cultural objects. Time was regarded as either cyclical, monumental (Kristeva & Oliver, 2002) or theological (Anderson, 2006).
With the advent of modernity, time became conceptualized as a progressive, linear construct. As stated above, this had not only epistemological implications but also cultural and political. With a linear perspective of time, the notion of “progress” became the primary value onto which the Western societies understood themselves. That enabled the European colonialism to justify intervention in places that regarded as “less evolved” by the European standards (Loomba, 2007). The discourse of Orientalism (Said, 1995) or Primitivism (Loomba, 2007) are examples of this phenomenon. Philosophical inquiries raised the issue of “becoming,” and the “End of History” (Hegel).
Nationalism was another ideological implication of the linear perception of time. Historical archives, museums, and other national institutions classified time as a historical construct that suggested a continuation of a “national” past. That along with many other socioeconomic conditions of the 19th century in Europe implied a culturally homogenized past of a “nation” that was “threatened” by the “ethnic Other.” Nationalism has thus replaced hybrid, complex cultures and replaced them with monolithic and sealed collective identities that claimed a false notion about “national purity.” Along with that, nationalism-based wars erupted, ethnic cleansing and mass massacres of so-called “minority populations” were committed. Within the national borders, the peripheral cultures and the linguistic “dialects” had to conform to the “official” cultural authenticity of the national “center.” That resulted in further cultural impoverishment. The “invention of tradition” (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1983) also describes how the national center appropriated the peripheral past to represent it as a homogenized and overgeneralized (temporally and spatially) image of “tradition.”
Modern historiography, national institutions such as historical archives and museums proclaimed the new linear conception of time as self-evidently real. The fragments of past collective experiences were now structured into narratives within a specific symbolic order about a modern culture that is linear, monolithic, and culturally homogenized.
Psychoanalytically, the cultural meaning is always situated within an Intermediate Space*, between an observing subject and an observed object. This Intermediate Space that opens between the Subject and the Object is a space of reconstruction of the experience under a framework of the imaginary. As understood, the past is structured into specific narratives with a particular logic. Those narratives dictate the knowledge and the actions upon that knowledge.
The photographic object is a kind of Intermediate Space onto which memory, time, and space are codified into meaning and existence.
This collection aims to deconstruct the linear constructs that indexically form the space and time in the photographic material. That is done so to criticize the notion that the indexical nature of the photographic object is “real.” Fragments of “real” photographs are deconstructed and reconstructed to form imaginary narratives that are no less “real” than “realistic” photographic material. As suggested, this can work as a critique to any claim that “truth” can be based on linearly “cohesive” structures.
The decision to choose the photographic object instead of any other medium is made so because of the presupposition that “photograph” is an analog to reality. The “truth claim” still works in the mind of many individuals. Photographs were also used in scientific context as a medium to record scientific experimental results. According to Tom Gunning (2004), many claims that the photographic medium is a representation of the “truth” because of the photograph’s indexicality as an analog to reality. The sociopolitical implication of the “truth claim” about photography is more relevant today than ever. Social media, digital networks, and photography-mediated communication that dominate today’s culture form ideological perceptions, and shift opinions. Additionally, photography as a medium is used to imprint – personal, or collective – memories, another central element in this work. Digital photography is also interesting conceptually because it is the medium that does not have any “original”. Digital photography, also, constructs spaces and meanings through computer generated information that have no actual reference to any physical reality.
Photographs of different spaces were taken that were manipulated digitally and manually. The aim was to deconstruct the initial indexical space they represented in their two-dimensional analog to reality and reconstruct it into a collage that would represent an imaginary space made by the restructuration of these fragments of the “reality” they initially represented.
The (Re)Construction of the two-dimensional “space” as a photographic collage, results in a network of semantic elements that are inter-connected through an [arbitrary/cultural] semantic center. The photographic collage that results constitutes a semantic structure of space that is manifested only in the observer’s mind, proving in a sense, that space, time and memory are cultural, semantic constructs. It was already Picasso that used the idea to construct spaces through semantic references in his collages.
*Described more extensively in my PhD Thesis.
Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London and New York: Verso.
Gunning, T. (2004). What’s the Point of an Index? or, Faking Photographs. NORDICOM Review, σσ. 39-49.
Hobsbawm, E., & Ranger, T. (1983). The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.
Kristeva, J., & Oliver. (2002). The Portable Kristeva. New York: Columbia University Press.
Loomba, A. (2007). Colonialism/Postcolonialism. Routledge.
Said, E. (1995). Orientalism. New York: Penguin.