“Reproduction interdite”


René Magritte. La réproduction interdite (1937)

The painting I’m going to review in this essay is “La reproduction interdite” created by René Magritte in 1937. It depicts Edward James, a poet and philanthropist who supported Magritte and his work for years, facing the mirror. The title of this painting contains a play of words assuming two ways of reading: “reproduction prohibited” and “prohibited reproduction”, where the latter can be understood as “impossible reproduction”.

In his book “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, Michel Foucault points out one of Magritte’s ideas formulated in “Les mots et les images”, artist’s manifesto written in 1927: “Between words and objects one can create new relations and specify characteristics of language and objects generally ignored in everyday life.” In “La reproduction interdite”, Magritte applies the same principle creating a complex interaction between the picture and several forms of text introduced at different levels. At each of them, he puts the process of reproduction in opposition with its impossibility.

The most obvious opposition can be seen right in the center of the work: the mirror which is supposed to reflect/reproduce the face of the man standing in front of it, does not do its work. It shows him from the back literally translating both significations of the painting’s title. It obeys the prohibition of reproduction, hiding the poet’s face, and demonstrates an image impossible due to the laws of physics.

A text is also present within the picture itself, as in numerous works by Magritte, however not in the form of explicit statements, or of words replacing objects, like in his earlier series. Here he introduces it as the name of specific novel by Edgar Poe, “The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”, depicted on the cover of the book situated to the right side of the man. The inclusion of the Poe’s novel into the narrative gives rise to several interpretations of the concept of “reproduction” in this work of Magritte.

The first layer is the most evident and is certainly associated with the contradictory history of Poe’s work. “The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” was the only novel ever finished by Poe and was crushed by the critics because of its extremely strange form. The narrative starts as a realistic description of a journey to the South Pole based on actual travel notes and Poe’s own experience of sea travel, then becoming strange and absurd. Poe publicly disowned it, calling his work “the silliest book” and didn’t want it to be further distributed. Moreover, the novel itself contains a series of detailed copies of private travel notes, for which Poe even received an accusation of plagiarism. In this way, the presence of the book in the picture can be understood as a “prohibited reproduction” in several senses: as one which wasn’t desired or allowed by its author, and as one containing forbidden reproductions inside of it.

The second layer of interpretation relates to the objectivity of any object which can be reproduced an infinite number of times, such as an image, and especially a book which is an industrially produced item. Thus, the impossibility of prohibiting reproduction is declared.


Johannes Gumpp. Self-portrait (1646)

Meanwhile, a closer look at the ensemble of artist’s works suggests another interpretation of this painting. In many works of Magritte, drawn and real images are mixed up to be interchangeable, which suggests that the reflection in a mirror could turn into a painting. In this case, the conflict remains: formally, the reproduction took place, but the face is still hidden. This way of reading would attribute the Magritte’s gesture to the principle of “mise en abyme” broadly used in the classical painting, especially in artists’ self-portraits. In this sense, an interesting parallel could be traced between “La Reproduction interdite” and one of the the best-known, and the mostly reproduced self-portraits in the history of art: that of the Austrian painter Johannes Gumpp created in 1646. The location of the artist’s figure and other elements on his picture is compositionally similar to the arrangement of the figures in Magritte’s painting. At the same time, the “Self-portrait” contains both a mirror and a canvas, which are merged into one by Magritte. In this sense, as a representative of the avant-garde, Magritte rethinks the genre of portrait and self-portrait, trying to deprive it of its main characteristic feature, the concreteness of the image of a person – whether it is a mirror or a picture, a person does not see himself in it. In the context of the previous reflections on the painting’s title, it can also be understood as a statement of the meaninglessness of the visual reproduction.


“Image vs Text” by Nikita Dobryakov

fHOsVlgAWSk‘Make no mistake: In a space where every element seems to obey the sole principle of resemblance and plastic representation, linguistic signs (which had an excluded aura, which prowled  far around the image, which the title’s arbitrariness seemed to have banished  forever) have surreptitiously reapproached. Into the solidity of the image, into its meticulous resemblance, they have introduced a disorder-an order pertaining to the eyes alone. They have routed the object, re­vealing its  filmy thinness.’


Rene Magritte is different from other artists of the 20th century. Long before conceptualism, his work put the idea on a par with the visual image. Of course, this is still a classic painting, with which Kosuth and company fought so actively, but the art of Magritte made it possible to look at the design of the sign in the way that only linguistics had before it.

A linguistic sign consists of the signified and the signifier. The signifier is a visual or acoustic form, the very sensual embodiment of the sign. Signified is the meaning, the content side of the sign. The first and main characteristic of the relationship between the signified and the signifier is their free connection. Between them there is no dependence, in the word “tree” there is nothing wooden.

What do we see in Magritte? It shows the distance inside the sign itself. The distance between the signifier as a visual image and its verbal expression.

Magritte replaces the visual image with a text image, showing that the meaning does not depend on his sensual image. Seeing the human body and seeing the inscription “human body” we grasp the same meaning. So why draw and load the viewer from a material form? Lawrence Weiner will continue this idea and devote all his art to this way of free play of the signifier.

Weiner creates the sculpture with its verbal description. It consists only of a verbal description of a possible sculpture, pure potentiality. In his case, we are offered the signified, whose signifier is left at the mercy of the viewer and who in the right can complete the Linguistic sign of the sculpture in his own mind. Lawrence always insists, and this is his difference from other conceptualists, that he creates a sculpture. But a sculpture from a special material, from language. Here he addresses the ideas of structuralism.

The specificity of culture is such that when a person is born, he comes to a ready language environment. He can only learn it. An individual does not need to invent a language to express personal experience. Language always precedes. Speaking with words, we say, not so much what the heart prompts, as what language dictates. The world is given to us in language and everything in the world consists of language, of a sign.

The text appears through what happens in the world and in this case it acts as a reference point for the creation of the signifier. Such a point of the zero image is the description text. Weiner uses this to create a sculpture using only one side of the linguistic sign.

Magritte was ahead of Weiner in this regard, but did not bring the idea to the purity of embodiment. Magritte does not reach the purity of the language and places it in the space of visuality, giving visibility and text equal rights. Literally creates them from the same material. It was in this sense that Lawrence Weiner always focused on the material of his work.

In the painting ‘Corp humain’ Magritte creates the signified, that is, the human body, but the signifier does not. He was replaced by the text. With the free connection of the signified and signifying one should not forget that the sign itself in the cultural environment remains unchanged. The word “Body” refers to a certain sensual image firmly established in culture. Rather, to a cloud of meanings, since the specific sensual form of the signifier is given at will to the viewer. Nevertheless, it is limited to a specific set of meanings and Magritte uses not just words or not just a linguistic sign, but the relationship between image and meaning, reinforced by the visual context created by him. Which, as shown later by the same Weiner and Kosuth, can be safely removed. If, in relation to the idea depicted by him, the signifier is freely chosen, then, on the contrary, in relation to the language team that uses it, it is not free, it is imposed.

The language precedes us, the whole world is already given to us in the language, therefore it is possible to replace any part of the world with an equivalent text. Magritte began a mystical direct replacement of the image with a word, dismembered the linguistic sign in two and presented the pure signified. It was Weiner, and not any other conceptualist, who continued the line of Magritte, having completely freed himself from the visual image and revealed the structural primacy of the language over the visual.

“Juggle Word, Image and Object” by Ksenia Gaikova



“Sometimes the name of an object takes the place of an image. A word can take the place of an object in reality. An image can take the place of a word in a preposition.”

I agree with this statement. Our consciousness is very easy to fool. This fact has a lot of evidence. I think everyone remembers the experiment with words, color notations and different colors in which they are written. As long as they are written in the same color as the designation, everything is in order. But if only we change something, for example, write the word “yellow” in red, the word “red” – green, and “green” – in blue, then we are already becoming confused and more likely to call the color that we see, but not the one that is required read.

Perhaps the problem of the interchangeability of the word, image and object lies in the system of teaching children. Remember, in childhood they show us a dog and say: “This is a dog.” But just as much at home, we are shown a picture in our children’s booklet and they say, “This is a dog.” Therefore, all these three aspects of the same essence are fixed in our consciousness somewhere very close.

I thought about this painting called “Forbidden Literature or The use of the Word” (“La Lecture Defanse ou L’Usage de la Parole”), 1936. This picture resembles a rebus that cannot be completely unraveled. Here, the replacement image is not even at the word level, but at the letter level. And you just look! There are so many meanings concluded in word on the painting. A siren in the sense of an emergency alert. And a siren in the sense of a mythological demonic creature in the guise of a woman with avian wings or a fish tail. With their sweet-voiced singing, they knocked the mariners out of the way. In these cases, the finger raised up and the sphere on its end can be correlated with the lighthouse. But this lighthouse is in the room, but not on any cliff on the coast, so it is false lighthouse.

Further, if we discard the first letter “s”, then this word turns into the name “Irene”. Presumably it could be Irene Hamoir. She was a Belgian novelist and poet, the leading female member of the Belgian surrealist movement. She appeared in the journal of the René Magritte. But in the picture we can see the original name. Instead of a capital letter, Magritte uses a human finger, as if he is claiming firmness and resilience. The sphere, the symbol of the world and the universe, hovering above the finger as the final point in this statement.

At the same time, a free-standing finger, a frequent character of the artist’s paintings, is a kind of provocation that helps draw attention to the person and the work. It is immediately possible to admit the thought that it is not “Irene”, but separately perceived “i” and “Rene”, which is an affirmation of the personal name of the artist of this picture. That is very interesting, that all the letters are written on the floor except this “i”. Only this figure casts a shadow so we can understand its volume.

Stair blinded by wall on upper end, thus absurd.Magritte’s stair says: “I am more than the sum of my steps”. Marvellous how Magritte manages to make stairs look absurd. On its upper end it is blocked by a closed wall. No aperture that leads on, no podest, which relates the above to the below. Those who go up here must definitely return. The process in both parts, going up and going down, is devalued, develops nonsense.

The paradoxical communication character of the stairs becomes clear. They are not only connecting different parts of space or rooms, they imply an environmental change from below to up and reverse with all consequences of sight and feeling of one’s body. The finger set up like a monument hints to the principle that is always immanently present in Magritte’s paintings: the twofold and freely floating sphere, his code for complementarity. The nonsense of homogeneous space.

Maybe Magritte insisted so much on separating words, images and objects because they never had children with his wife Georgette, so they had noone to be taught the words. But they had a dog. Magritte went with it only to those cinemas where he was allowed to go with animals. And after dogs’ death, he made a dummy from it – and joked that he would gladly turn everything that surrounds him into a dummy. Magritte wanted to change our view of the world, to take away the bitterness of everyday life. He fled from reality – as through an imaginary door, which he often depicted in his paintings. Therefore, Magritte is so close to all generations: like Dali, he has a fantastic technique, but unlike other surrealists, he showed us everyday things, creating a deceptive effect of ease of understanding.

“Viewer/Partisipant/Critic” by Polina Popova

20th century has questioned all the previously recognized principles of visual art. Non-standard forms, a variety of trends and their methods of expression, continuous numerical experiments with meanings and spaces of steel integral elements of art. Changes occurred at that time determined the further art development throughout the twentieth century to nowadays. New art forms require new forms of it’s representation. Exhibition areas and galleries represent contemporary art, but not always try to carry out a dialogue of art with Viewer. It is connected with art market, because their function is to present contemporary. The museum as a sociocultural institute could  represent contemporary art, discovering and using its educational potential. Criticism of traditional forms of art, the question of the authorship of the work of art itself, the question of the possibility of its completeness developed in art criticism and philosophical aesthetics of the 2—nd part of the 20-th century not always speaks about the role of the viewer in the perception of art. But works of contemporary art involved in general culture began to attract to itself as much attention as possible, began to produce on viewer’s strongest impression and often draw into the game. Often works of contemporary art cause a negative attitude from the viewer, especially in Russia, where such art is still incomprehensible. One of the means of feedback is text. This may be a guestbook,  petition or feedback on the Internet. However, this text, generated by a kind of collective viewing field, can itself serve as a kind of artistic tool, commenting on a work of art. However, at the same time in the field of contemporary art, the viewer exists not only as a passive observer, or as a participant involved in the game, but also as a critic. How important is the perception of the viewer and his understanding, acceptance in the field of contemporary art? Perhaps the criticism of the viewer, drawn up in the text, can be part of the very process of existence and representation of contemporary art?

Cet air

This piece presents a quote from the song “Cet air” of a French contemporary poet and singer Mathieu Chedid written in 2017. The artist uses it to create the self portrait in the tradition of visual poetry (see the photo below). The four lines of refrain are transformed into one which traverses the white page on the mirror from left to right saying:

Part et ne te retourne pas
Chaque fois qu’une chose est sifflée
Un morceau de ta vie est passé
Va et tu le retrouveras

Leave and do not turn around
Whenever something is whistled
A piece of your life has passed
Go and it will find you again

By using this French poem the artist sends back to the period of her life while she lived in Paris in the mid of 2000’s. The rest of the song which was not included into this piece refers to this city in a direct way making this assumption more clear:

Cet air t’en souviens tu ? 
Ce bel instant perdu
D’un Paris qui n’est plus

Do you remember that air?
This beautiful moment lost
From a Paris which no longer exists

It tells about a moment which instantly becomes the past, about the city which is not the same anymore.  The form of the poem tries to show this idea by imitating the travelling line. There is no place where it begins and ends. But in contrast to the real one, this line is looped and can be read infinite number of times showing the eternal changing and its absence. There are only past souvenirs which we recognise in the present, but even they  pass giving chance to the same play to start again.



“Word noise” by Ksenia Gaikova

white-noise“Word noise” videopoem

In our everyday life, we are surrounded by words. They are everywhere: on the walls, above your head, under your feet. Words accompany us on the road, while we eat, play sports, fall in love. Our brain has already adapted to this constant noise of words.
It’s all about the law of James: all unchangeable is not realized. Or rather, about its empirically verifiable consequence – the effect of perceptual saturation. You probably do not notice how you sit, how clothes touch your skin, whether your wrist is under pressure of watches or not. Although, when your attention is put to these facts, you are quite able to assess such an impact.
Nevertheless, the following can be noticed: constant stimulation eludes our consciousness. If existence of this effect makes you doubt, then remember those moments when you come to visit your friends who have pets. The fact that the owners do not feel the smell of their animals is very easily felt by you and we easily notice it.
It is also assumed that everyone can read, since they read this description. But for sure, we can say that no one reads absolutely all the words, phrases and titles that come to his eyes. Only if this person has such a specific task or if he have a special kind of mental disorder.
In this video poem, the author tried to pay attention to the word-noise in the field of his own apartment. These words in the excerpts of the video are one of a billion variants of how words can speak to us and send signals, if we notice them, pull them out of the general context.
That’s no need to look for a special logical connection between the found words. This object – the call to the audience to look for their own poem. Just look around and try to overcome this white noise. Word noise.

“Herodiade” by Ksenia Gaikova


“Herodiade” by Ksenia Gaikova (sound poem)

As basis of this sound poem was taken a passage from “Herodiade” by Stephane Mallarme. Herodias was a princess of the Herodian dynasty of Judaea during the time of the Roman Empire. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Herodias plays a major role in John the Baptist’s execution, using her daughter’s dance before Antipas and his party guests to ask for the head of the Baptist as a reward.

But the important thing is that the Mallarme’s goal was not to describe the famous biblical story, but to embody the new poetics of “drawing impressions”. He began the Herodiade at the age of 22 and worked on it for the rest of his life. The poem was primarily a working out of Mallarme’s aesthetics. The ideas about language, beauty, and art which he developed in this poem had an enormous influence on late-nineteenth century literary avant-gardes.

Two traditional female types, “piquant-passionate” and “soft-gentle” , pass through the poet’s entire work. In Mallarme, they are related to the sun and to water. The “water” beginning is associated with the motif of a mirror, water surface and azure.

The main image of the poem is a mirror. Hence the special type of cipher. Author used substitution cipher called “atbash”. This cipher consists in replacing each letter with another letter that is in the alphabet at the same distance from the end of the alphabet as the original letter is from the beginning. As if each letter is mirrored by its pair. There are several fragments of sacred texts in the Bible that are encrypted using this system. It turns out that this text can also be a fragment of scripture.

The audio reproduction of this poem is distinguished by the fact that the stress and syllable for the most part coincide with the original, despite the fact that the vowels in the Russian alphabet are not symmetrically located relative to the central “п”. Also some voice effects precede and remain after words as shadows and endless reflections in the mirror.

The cold and virgin Herodias is similar to Pure poetry, but completely devoid of creative inspired impulse. So this sound poem was created only by reason, cold estimation and soulless technology.