"Walpurgis Night" by Paul Klee from the Tate Modern
While crusading the Tate Modern few of the artworks did something to my eyes, perhaps because of the flashy and meaningless arrangement of the collections. In Camera Lucida, Barthes says something about rendering photographs works of art, thus making them harmless. I experienced some of this harmlessness at the Tate: the quantity of artworks and the self-consciousness of their display made me lethargic and powerless to react, interpret and engage with their politics. Art’s power was simply attenuated, in fact, I forgot what art was supposed to do to us in the first place.
I was lost in the Tate, I didn’t know if I was there to see the artworks, to see the artworks as one or to see the Tate and its artworks. I felt tricked, I didn’t understand why the rooms were arranged in such and such way, and their arrangement made me feel like an interpretive imposition. It was not until I came across the “Poetry and Dream” (another interpretive imposition by the way), that I reached the climax I was looking for when I entered the Tate. The climax didn’t have to have a name, it simply had to be a realization of an intentional object.
Paul Klee’s Walpurgis Night was that object. The painting says nothing and everything, because the lines themselves are almost of an arbitrary nature. They simply intersect and go in all directions. Yet, we see some sort of intentionality in the lines, for they produce shapes that can be recognized as signs to the human eye. It was the production of these shapes that puzzled me. Several questions arose when I stood in front of Klee’s painting, namely: what is the source of signification of the lines? Are the lines themselves the producers of meaning? Are they physical signifiers? Or, does meaning emerge from within us, being thus related to cognition?
Whereas I don’t restrict myself exclusively to any of the possibilities neither do I answer the questions myself (there’s no excuse to lethargy, but I do appreciate remaining in doubt sometimes), I confess I found it impossible to return to the moment where the lines signify nothing, to the moment when they’re just lines. I guess Merleau-Ponty did have a valid point in saying that perception and consciousness are too intertwined for us to distance ourselves from the object, alas, the moment is gone or it never existed. The remainder was the aesthetic appreciation of this work of art, and regarding that I have very little to say.