C.A.T. Assignment 3
Open College of Arts
By Alyssa Maddalozzo
In this essay I will be comparing the wood block print, “ The Great Wave” by Hakusai with the anamorphic sculpture of found objects by Bernard Pras, by the same name.
“An image is a sight which has been recreated or reproduced, it is an appearance, or a set of Appearances, which has been detached from the place and time in which it first made its appearance and preserved.” – Jon Berger, Ways of Seeing.
Similarities, differences and semiotics.
The movement of The Wave in both images has a fluid harmony, which Hokusai developed through many attempts and years of practice. Mount Fuji in the distance is a symbol of beauty. It remains in the center; it is the grounding-point of the composition. There is a yin and yang balance between the strength of The Wave and the determination of the men of the fragile boat, fighting for their lives. Pras’ attention to detail successfully gives justice to Hokusai’s original composition, both in shape and colour.
The original image is derived from the impression of a woodcut (Ukiyo-e), a technique older than the printing press. It was published sometime between 1829 and 1833 and is only 25.7 cm × 37.8 cm. The original impression of the print can be seen in various collections around the world, including Claude Monet’s house.
Pras’ image is a photograph of an anamorphic sculpture, meaning it could only be seen in one place, from one perspective. Once’s Pras’ sculpture was photographed, it was disassembled and then discarded.
The impermanence of Pras’ sculpture in contrast with the physical imprint of Hokusai’s Great Wave, which is preserved in more than one location around the world, shows the difference between old media and new media — art physically preserved and art discarded, but preserved through a digital memory.
Hokusai’s image was produced to demonstrate the force of the sea, from his own perspective of living on the island of Japan. The Wave shows the isolating and dangerous effect the sea has on the inhabitants, whereas Pras’ reproduction of the image using found objects, most of which are plastic, represents the disastrous effects humans have had on the sea, through the industrial fabrication of plastic, alongside human consumption. The shift of power has changed, from nature to human.
Pras has carefully chosen objects which are not only the correct size and colour to complete the values of the composition: they also hold meaning. For example, the blue lines which create the crescent of the wave are floating devices sometimes referred to as noodles, which could be interpreted as an ironic statement towards the fragility of the wooden boats. Another example are the hands on top of the wave, which introduce a human aspect, perhaps menacing, reaching down towards the boats, threatening their lives. Other symbolic objects include white doves, which demonstrate peace, and wings, perhaps a sign of hope. The various farm animals could be interpreted into a question: what effect has the farming industry had on global warming, the rise in sea levels, the destruction of forests — looking not just to the seas but around the world?
Connectivity and cultural visual language.
The Great Wave is now an emoji, which could possibly be the antithesis of modern visual language. It is the only famous image to have been translated into a the communication tool that all nation’s languages can understand. There are no need for words anymore, when there are small images, the size of letters, even those illiterate could understand.
This highlights the change in attitudes and approaches to visual communication to a hugely broad world, a world attributed to anyone with a smart phone.
There is a 200 year gap from when the Great Wave was first published, to when Bras’ photograph of the anamorphic sculpture was released, so it’s important to look at how they relate to the culture of their time.
In Japan, Ukiyo-e, or woodblock printing, flourished from the 17th -19th centuries, making its way to mainland Europe in 1870 and contributing to the prominent trend of Japonism. Hokusai’s art influenced early impressionists such as Degas, Manet, and Monet, as well as post-impressionists such as Van Gogh and art nouveau artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec.
Van Gogh said this about “The Great Wave” in a letter to his brother Theo Van Gosh:
“These waves are claws, the boat is caught in them, you can feel it. Ah well, if we made the colour very correct or the drawing very correct, we wouldn’t create those emotions.”
Bernard Pras communicates a green message by using the texture and dimension of found objects in his creations and literally turns trash into treasure, relating to a generation who are concerned for the future of their planet, by appreciating the works of past artists. Pras has a platform on social media, where his work is often distributed through blogs. It has a uniqueness, which at the same time has a commercial appeal. It is clever as it relates to a greater audience, who all recognise the re-appropriation of his images.
While at the time of Hokusai, the world looked to the sky, to a spirit, for hope, today’s societies are looking more to social media to bring forth a message of change. Hokusai had a massive influence on Western art, gaining popularity through his beautiful aesthetics brought forth from traditional culture.
Artist such as Pras communicate this language by re-appropriating images, such as Hokusai’s timeless piece, connecting the past to the present by looking into the future, wanting to preserve all three tenses of time.
Looking at time and place in relation to these two images, the permanence of the original Wave has been imprinted not only physically around the world but also in each of our mind’s-eye. The impermanence of Pras’ image is more of a warning, a beacon, a reminder, of what the world was and what it could potentially become.
As Jon Berger said about the reproduction of images, they can be detached from their original meaning to symbolise a change in society, but they can also preserve time and tradition. It is important to understand the context of where the image is viewed, be that on a computer screen, in a museum, or on a postcard. Our place in time, our eye’s view, is a chance to understand each time, a new meaning at that moment.
Ways of Seeing, Jon Berger available at http://waysofseeingwaysofseeing.com/ways-of-seeing-john-berger-5.7.pdf [29-5-17]
Bored Panda, Bernard Pras, available at http://www.boredpanda.com/anamorphosis-perspective-optical-illusion-art-bernard-pras/ [25-5-17]
The Royal Society journal of the history of science, available at http://rsnr.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2009/02/23/rsnr.2007.0039.full [28-5-17]
Van Gogh letters, Theo van Gogh. Arles, Saturday, 8 September 1888.Available at http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let676/letter.html [29-5-17]
Artist Bernard Pras, Euromaxx, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k790ZKhV0Oo [3-4-17]