Sunday, 21 May 2017


It happens regularly: a movie is made about a true circumstance. Just why this occurs is puzzling: is it to re-live the drama; to popularise the intrigue; to make money from the story; to entertain? Often, living people are portrayed by actors to re-enact some personal trauma or unusual experience which is depicted and promoted by the film. The journalist's trite question is usually: "How does it feel to have someone playing your role?" Is this art following life; or life art? Events are sometimes 'improved' upon, to make the story a better narrative, tweaked, with more dramatic drama or coherence, or just more 'interest.' Sometimes life has to be ‘improved’ in the reviewing. The scheming is called 'poetic licence.' These are strange times where reality is turned into flimsy visions, dreams, for entertainment, distraction. The rather perverse interest in aeroplane crashes is frequently channelled into these re-creations, to dramatise, 'dreamatise,' reality. Events in history frequently appear in this guise too. Might one call it: the ‘but for the grace of God’ syndrome?

Then there is the opposite approach of this endeavour, where dreams are made real; visions are materialised. The example that stimulated these thoughts was Salvador Dali's melting clock, that dreamlike vision that gained popularity, some might say notoriety, in his Surrealist paintings. That haunting image became an icon of Dali's aesthesis.

Then one day it appeared: the real 'melting' clock ‘made form.’ It stood on the shelf of a designer's store that sold smart furniture, most of it in replica form. Where do all of these replicas come from? One is reminded of the replica, or 'reproduction' watches, bags and sunglasses that have become the subject of secret winks and nods in the souks; and now, with less guile, these fakes are proudly displayed in the fashionable 'High Street' stores. Strangely, with the usual irony of fashion, it has become stylish to carry and wear things clearly identified as replicas, and to be noticed doing so.

The thought has occurred previously – see : given this unique commercial arm of manufacturing that has been adopted by the new interests in style, now voguish, it could be possible that the originals and the replicas might all come from the same factory production line. Why might a manufacturer not show an interest in grabbing all of the market where his products are involved, instead of allowing others to intrude into his potential profits – pristine or not? Maybe there is a range of manufactured 'seconds' that fill the fake market?

Consider a Patek Philippe watch. These, as originals, are valued in the thousands of dollars; but the secret, tatty shoe box that is slyly brought our from behind the crumpled curtain in the souk store, reveals a fake PP watch that can be purchased for less than one hundred dollars. Would, could, anyone set up a manufacturing line to reproduce every part of these watches in such meticulous similarity, almost identical to the original, and sell the watch for what is a paltry amount when compared with the original figures? It appears to make more sense to conceive of the circumstance where the same factory makes the original perfect watch, skilfully and carefully, and the fake, pretend one, fast and carelessly. It might almost be seen as an advertising perk.

There are various styles of 'melting' clocks; this one is fixed in time

So what is the real melting clock? What is the real life story? The latter is easier to identify as it involves flesh and blood; but Dali's clock: which is real? Is the painting real, or the replica? A ‘real’ replica? The difference between the 'real’ replica as the movie character and the lived life appears comprehensible if one suspends one’s reasoning; but what is the 'real' toy promoted as an accompaniment to a film, e.g. a Star Wars ‘merchandising’ toys, when it is materialised out of light into tangible form?

In all of this fuzzy world is a twinness, a confusion; a muddling that creates an ambiguity between desire and reality: the idea and the object. The movie is the ephemeral concept, like the painting. In the production of things represented by these mediums, media, one gets the illusions of light and paint transformed into solid substance: frequently real plastic that creates a tangible object with some different degree of permanence in our world that can be perceived and manipulated physically. The thing becomes an engineered fantasy.

The reverse occurs when a movie recreates a life, or other experience, or an occurrence – lived experience is fantasised - but the more significant impact is in the ‘dream-made-object’ lineage, such is its persistence in our lives. The 'dream' object shares space and time, touch and smell, with everything else in our physical world, even with our other dreams and perceptions, and ambitions, that can layer more onto the concept through the object and its inter-relationship with 'reality' and our hands, our bodies. The vision gains a weight that makes it different to its original manifestation made in mind. The thing is now here, a part of me and my world being.

More 'melting' clocks that tell the time

Yet there is something strange in this transformation; something unnecessary, perhaps trivial. It lies in the intent. Why has this been done? In the same manner as a movie recreation begs this question, the making of things out of dreams, visions, imaginations, does likewise. Might everything be best left as the concept, a dream dancing a haze, a daze, as reflected light off a screen or a canvas? Is the idea stronger, more resilient than the 'actual' thing made 3D and tactile, complete with texture and weight, and its operation; its workings?

Clocks become styled shrouds fitted to the standard box

Note the 'shadow' foot

The Dali clock comes with another layer of complication: it comes with real time. The clock works. Was Dali’s point otherwise? The standard ‘Made in China’ black plastic box of clock workings has been shrewdly fitted into the moulded ‘melting’ clock. One soon realises how ephemeral the thing is; how it will soon, maybe in only a few years, become trash, a broken clock, with gummed-up workings or a shattered frame. What then? Might it hold more relevance in this state? The reality of the illusion is discovered: that the original is far more persistent, more rigourous than the 'hard copy.' The painting and the movie hold more power and mystery than the solid object that demystifies presence and idea; transforms it into another something in space and time. Likewise for the historic movie, but contrariwise: the re-enactment degrades real life; real-life experience becomes a shroud made to please, to entertain, distract, in spite of the ‘honour’ of being selected for such replication. The story supersedes life. Does all of history do this?

Both strategies create kitsch that offers only shallow, distorted reproductions for things real and substantial in their own circumstance. Depth and dimension are altered, dragged into a new ‘real’ context. It is the word that confuses: the real and the real; its reality and reality. One ‘reality’ in its ‘real’ world is the ephemeral; the other, ironically, is the solid reproduction, the tangible thing itself: here now as a ‘real reality.’ What we end up with is a semantic confusion, which is really our world today.

We need to place concepts and objects, experiences and feelings into their own specific contexts of reality so as to maintain depth and meaning with coherence. The fun-and-games of word play should be kept for comedy. It does nothing to help us understand our world other than by puzzling happenstance. Politicians manipulate words all the time in debates, using confusion to complicate both understanding and expression. We need to decide where we stand: is our real world one to be debated, played with; or is it the ephemeral and uncertain phenomenon that holds being and resonates in being there?

Once we forget the solidity of words and understand experience and its depth and meaning, then the rest of this 'real' world will appear as a sham. We need to look and feel, slowly, carefully, without premeditation, to see.

This understanding becomes a critique for our architecture today that seems to rely just too much on words for its interpretation, its meaning: there is too much rationalisation, logic in the explanations that shape form, space and place, replicating substance. We might get better outcomes if we listen to the silences behind space and form, and place, presence, and become inspired by these rather than spending our time gambolling with smart wordplay made form. This so-called ‘creativity,’ also considered ‘originality,’ becomes a real gamble with outcomes and their experience, and leaves us all spinning like a top, calling for attention while responding to the same scream, as we find ourselves left in a void, not knowing space or time, or persistence, or even considering these matters. Perhaps we do need to pause and ask, and ponder, like the poet of old, the Psalmist (see 8:4): What is man, that thou art mindful of him?

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