In the cave.
Objects of
‘visible kind’.1

At the exhibition, we are displaying unfinished works by craftspeople from the association Nów. New Craft Poland. Some are objects which were never completed; the artists have worked on others recently and interrupted this work to show them at the exhibition. All have been frozen in time, stopped at a certain stage of the creative process. We don’t know what they were supposed to be like. Their finite form remained solely in the sphere of imagination. This is why the works are described in a conditional mode, which specifies figures by implication–maybe patterns, maybe aspiration. What is implied? Which pattern is it? What is the aspiration? These questions are answered by the artists themselves – in the space of the exhibition, there are links to video interviews with the craftspeople.

The arrangement of the exhibition is supposed to incite the visitor to consider this collection of objects and the relationship between the artists and viewers in the context of the cave allegory. Let us assume that here we see the interior of Plato’s cave. The most common, simplified interpretation of the myth of the Platonian cave assumes that the world is divided into the sensory and extrasensory world. The materiality is volatile, hence transient. The non-material world is eternal. We have access to the world of the senses (of the shadows) which surrounds us. This world is real for us, but it is not genuine. It is only a reflection of the actual world (the one that casts a shadow). Starting from this premise, we propose several ways of thinking about the exhibition. At the end of the text, we include explanations of concepts that may prove helpful.

Let us try an exercise during which we think the works of the craftspeople are shadows on the walls of a cave, therefore reality as we know it–the sensory, palpable world. While the outlines on a glass pane are those things that cast shadows from outside the wall, therefore, they are ideas. They are the truth to which we do not have access and will never achieve in the sensory world, where material things are transient; they emerge, they perish and change in time. Never [shall we achieve that], even if we were perfecting skills in the everyday, arduous labour ad infinitum. The ideal is like a blinding sun – you have to shade the eyes to be able to see. What is the significance in this scheme, the fact that the works shown at the exhibition are unfinished? What is the role of the artist in these circumstances?

Now, let us approach it the other way around. Maybe the works visible on the low wall are the ideas that cast shadows? Which way is the reflexion cast? To the wall, or to the glass pane?

In the Platonian cave, there are many other levels which Plato himself depicts graphically. Here is a sketch as interpreted by the philosopher Janusz Jaskóła2. (see sketch at the top of the page). Let us equate it with our exhibition.

Another way of interpreting this might be the following: the cave contains objects of the ‘visible kind’, which are divided into things and their reflections or flat representations. Things, or what occupies space as a three-dimensional shape3, in this case, are the unfinished works of the craftspeople. They have not yet reached the ideal and it is not clear whether they can achieve it in the sensory world. The outlines on the glass pane are their flat representations–they are two-dimensional and therefore do not fully occupy space. There is more falsehood – pseudos in them, or less truth understood as being. They are ‘less real’, maybe less existing. These are rather substitutes of being4. Behind the works of the artisans, on the wall (symbolising a Platonian cave), shadows appear, depending on the light (the Sun). One can think of them as another level of flat representation. ‘Things in themselves’ are not included in this way of understanding.

Let us look at it another way: the unfinished works of the craftspeople remain to be objects of the ‘visible kind’, and the outlines on the glass pane are ‘things in themselves’, that is, images deduced from visible things by means of reason. Reason is the sphere of thought associated with visible things. ‘Plato distinguishes reason from intellect (Nous), for which the subject of thought are the figures themselves’, writes Janusz Jaskóła in his work Światy możliwe jako uprawomocnienie filozofowania. Platon. [The possible worlds as legitimisation of philosophising. Plato.] Intellect does not refer to visible things, but to itself–’it deals only with what is strictly intellectual, but which is precisely the framework of the world’s possibility of being (the Good) and all forms of its recognition, from what has the least being, from the most false (thinking in images) to the truly cognitive reason’5. Whereas on the wall of the imagined cave, behind the work of the craftspeople, depending on the light (Sun), shadows appear, which can be understood as reflections or flat representations of visible objects6.

What does such interpretation exercise give us? Are any of them [interpretations] better? Is any level, any way of cognition better? And finally, is a finished piece better than an unfinished one? Something is only better if it is better than something else, but what can be compared? To compare, to liken means as much as to equate two things. To put two equal things side by side, one of which performs better and the other worse.
What if there are no two equal things to put next to each other? In the non-ideal world of the ‘visible kind’, it is difficult to find equal things.

Title: In the cave. Objects of ‘visible kind’1
Venue: 217 Piotrkowska Street, Łódź
Dates: 14-23.05.2021
Participants: Anna Bera (The Whole Elements), Arkadiusz Szwed, Monika Dąbrowska-Picewicz, Monika Skorupska (Mosko Ceramics), Olga Milczyńska, Square Drop, Tartaruga
Curator and scenography: Anna Bera
Organizer: Łódź Design Festival
Visual identification: Wojciech Domagalski
Photos and videos: Radek Zawadzki / Projekt Pracownie
Production: Stowarzyszenie Nów. Nowe Rzemiosło: Małgorzata Herman, Monika Dąbrowska-Picewicz, Wiktoria Podolec, Łódź Design Festival

Plato’s allegory of the cave, engraving from 1604 by Jan Saenredam

Glossary

> Plato’s allegory of the cave

‘And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: –Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets. (…)And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent. (…)Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave? (…)To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.’7

> ‘Objects “of the visible kind” are divided into less numerous things among them (that which finds full space as a three-dimensional entity) and all their reflections or flat representations (two-dimensional, i.e. not fully occupying space, thus containing more falsehood – pseudos)’8.

> ‘Things in themselves’ are images that derive from things of the ‘visible kind’. Janusz Jaskóła explains: ‘It is, for example, a square to which the one from the visible world can only be similar (it contains more falsehood), for example, uneven sides, or sides in general, which in the area of the objects of mathematics (ta aritmetika) have a thickness equal to zero, it can also have a reflection–which possibility degrades its original form’.9

> Intellect is something ‘which thought itself touches by the power of dialectics, when we make certain assumptions, but not as summits and beginnings, but really as rungs under our feet, as points of support and rebound, in order to ascend to the summit and the beginning of everything, to touch it, and finally to descend again, holding on to that which itself holds on to the summits, without using any perceptual material at all, but only the figures themselves through themselves, and coming up to them and ending with them’.10

> ‘The Good is what gives to that which exists – the existence, and to that which strives to know – the cognition’.11

> ‘Light (Sun) is what gives sight (the senses) to that which is sensory’.12

References

1. Janusz Jaskóła, Światy możliwe jako uprawomocnienie filozofowania. Platon,[Possible worlds as legitimisation of philosophising. Plato] Wrocław 2000, p. 164
2. Ibid, p. 163
3. Ibid, p. 164
4. Ibid
5. Ibid, p. 165
6. Ibid, p. 164
7. Platon, Państwo, [Plato, The Republic] trans. W. Witwicki 1997, 2773 {English translation of Plato’s The Republic by Benjamin Jowett, 2017}
8. Janusz Jaskóła, Światy możliwe jako uprawomocnienie filozofowania. Platon, Wrocław 2000, p. 164
9. Ibid
10. Ibid, p. 165
11. Ibid, p. 162
12. Ibid

Władysław Witwicki, Empedokles
Plato’s allegory of the cave BY Markus Maurer

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