Such would be the successive phases of the image:
it is the reflection of a profound reality;
it masks and denatures a profound reality;
it masks the absence of a profound reality;
it has no relation to any reality whatsoever;
it is its own pure simulacrum.

Jean Baudrillard – Simulation and Simulacra

Essay

When we fly these days (which I do not recommend, just stay where you are), the airport terminals are now configured such that one has to walk through the duty-free store in order to reach their plane. As rule it is aggressively bright and there are screens positioned directly in the line of sight that ceasely play glossy video advertisements for the products therein.

One of the moving images caught my eye: the one where a lady rides a horse up a flight of stairs. It turns out the lady in question is the mononymic Zendaya, and that this is an ad by Lancôme, promoting their Idôle fragrance:

Perfume commercials are sort of enjoyably bonkers, I suppose in an attempt to convey the inimitable properties of their scent in a visual medium. Whatever Idôle smells like, I’m sure it isn’t the pungent, but not unpleasant, essence of horse sweat.

But the interesting question isn’t whether consumerism is Very Bad, or whether advertising corrodes and denatures the actual experience of joy, fellowship, love and lust, etc. The interesting question is what can we do about all that. How do we go beyond critique to creating something can manifest a rebuttal to the empty promises of consumerism.

About Idôle

It’s in this spirit that I’m working on Idôle, a video art installation. In converting representation-without-reference into pure non-representational experience, I’m attempting to create something with some value and meaning as pure experience. Running the machine backwards, if you will.

In execution, this is still very much a work in progress. The hardware is a proof-of-concept that I built to figure out the technology and what the RGBW addressable LEDs can do, but I hope to develop it into a full-size installation. I’m also figuring out a color profile that will display the video colors accurately. In the example videos below, there is currently about a one second delay between the video and the generated patterns– I figured out how to fix that but didn’t want to take new videos.

Exhibit

For the media inputs, I’ve selected five 30-second commercials as an exhibition which demonstrate Baudrillard’s concept of the third and fourth-order representation.

1.

We have the original genesis of this concept, the Idôle commercial by Lancôme. Lots of subtle pastels which show well with the RGBW LEDs.

2.

Marlboro cowboy commercials. What cigarettes have to do with cowboying I don’t know, but this was a very effective ad campaign judging by the adoption of Marlboro cigarettes by the ‘country’ kids in high school. The ‘city’ kids smoked Camels.

3.

An ad for McDonald’s promoting their seasonal Mariah Carey (???) menu.

4.

I can remember this Marines recruitment from my childhood, and thinking even at the time that it was completely bananas (no video of the generated patterns for this one):

5.

Walmart Spark of America commercial. At one point it shows the small town main street that Walmart has destroyed, which is just a real piece of work (no example of demonstrated patterns with this one):

Conclusion

There is a logic in the hypertrophy of image in these selections: they are often fundamentally distasteful products. Most of the Marlboro cowboys died of smoking-related cancer. McDonald’s is not actually food. Walmart’s business model forces their employees onto public assistance just to survive; meanwhile the Walmart heirs have more wealth than the bottom 50% of Americans, combined. If you don’t want to work for Walmart, sign up for the Marines, get a $10,000 signing bonus and the promise of free college, but in the meantime get shipped off for some forever war. This is all Very Bad, but it’s also an emporer-has-no-clothes situation.

The piece is titled Idôle, named after the perfume whose advertisement first grabbed me as I hustled through the duty-free gauntlet. But it is perhaps a bit more apt than that. An idol is a physical manifestation of an abstract concept. It is not a representation, as it contains some part of the power it manifests. You cannot copy it endlessly as you can with a representation. Likewise, the real is always here, right now, unfolding in its infinite variety. It can be represented with varying degress of accuracy, but never captured in a representation. It is always possible to dig through the strata of representation to reach the bedrock of the real.

Thanks for reading, please leave a comment below and I will try to respond!

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