; ; 3 Apr 2017

Relativity and Acts of Transgression

– Path Ahead Closed – Deep Water – No Access – by Matilde Audisio

‘Footpath Closed Ahead’, photograph by Matilde Audisio

A fact is generally considered as something that is known to be true. A fact is a reality that can be proven with certainty, with results that can be reproduced over and over to prove the truth of which the fact stands for. Ironically, truth and reality are relative – facts are proved by a certain type of reality and are understood to be ‘the truth’ by a specifically delineated, pre-determined ideology.

By over-riding these facts we actively engage in acts of transgression. Through acts of disobedience, going beyond the threshold of a boundary line or disregarding authoritative signage presented in the form of facts, does the meaning of such facts become warped, or re-appropriated?

Scientific fact is often considered to be of a ‘higher’ truth. This is due to the meticulous extent that specifically designed investigations have gone to, in order to prove its validity, successfully producing reliable and reproducible, specific results. In other words; if the boundaries and formula responsible for the production of the fact had not been carefully, often painstakingly organised and accepted, the fact would have no factual basis. By unpacking this process, we are able to see that even the production of facts is in a way a kind of artificial construct, making even ‘facts’ an exercise in relativity. Facts, broken down into a series of accepted, (be they) relative truths can also be considered through semiotics as indicative of arbitrary signs.

Furthermore, it is commonly recognised that fact can only be thought of as factual if it is ‘known’. If we agree to consider the terminology of ‘known’ as a human construct, a ‘known’ fact implies that the number of people that are aware of it, is multiple not singular, making the fact shared. In this sense; does the fact only become a fact when it is known by more than one person? ie. I know that [… this apple is red] it may only be me looking at this apple and thus only me that knows it to be red. However, the process of factual establishment within this context is still plural; if someone else was to come into contact with this apple, as it stands now, in front of me, they too are very likely to agree that the apple is red, as we share a common understanding of the concept of colour. We do not simply know it is red, we believe it to be red [1] based on these accepted frameworks imposed on us by society. In this light, does a fact’s truthfulness depend on plural or numerical acknowledgement and acceptance as well as formulaic, reliable reproducibility?

The idea of perception is often based on a sense of feeling. Feeling, being almost synonymously attached to the concept of emotion is generally considered not to be factual (certain or truthful) as it is not quantifiable and cannot reliably be reproduced and thus proven. Yet fact, being based on a pre-determined formula was at its inception a kind of perception. eg. Deep water (3 metres). As a pedestrian walking over a body of water via a small bridge we can generally accept that such a sign is fact: 3 metres within this context, is deep water.  This becomes accepted by the immediate potential of a specific set of implied circumstances – falling in the water; the spatial context for this sign gives it a factual basis though association with the high likelihood that the swimming capabilities of most people crossing this bridge will generally be low. Contrastingly, 3 metres of water is not deep water at all for many other activities (eg. sailing, scuba diving, etc) thus proving factual relativity to context and the pre-determined framework with which it is measured.

‘No entry’, photograph by Matilde Audisio

Unpacking Fact Development

Is the ‘Deep Water’ sign intended to be considered as an absolute truth or is there a commonly accepted undercurrent truth-hierarchy at play? Often coupled with the words ‘No Diving’ or ‘No Swimming’, ‘Deep Water’ becomes a command, designed to impede action; breaching this fact-turned-authority would be an act of disobedience and transgression. At which point does the power of the legitimised fact ‘No Swimming’ dissolve? Breaching a fact and in turn a boundary in the case of emergency however, may be exempt from the associated violation, further suggesting that the nature of fact, however exacting at first glance, can also in some way embody malleability.  The factual basis for the statement ‘Deep Water’, as we have considered, is relational at its core, yet coupled with direct warning signs is now representative of power structures and the tension between correct and incorrect behaviour. There will be no physical or bodily interaction with the water, the air-water boundary will not be broken in the immediately apparent way, thanks to the authoritative voice of control under the guise of safety regulation and information. The physical sign itself can arguably become a fact, as it is a signifier of a pre-determined protocol designed by an accepted establishment. The sign is a fixed point, reinforcing the commonly static nature of fact, yet its omnipotence is commonly contradicted by the disregard for this imposed information.

Is this control under the guise of information? Based on the aesthetic of such a sign, usually presented in the form of white text on an alarm red background, often alongside yellow and black exclamation marks in triangles or red barred circles, I would argue, that this fact is more authoritative than informational. It is important to note however, that my argument for this is highly warped by my own existing context – I have grown within an environment that supports and nurtures the learned acceptance of such signs and recognises this particular type of authority. My experience however does not exist in a vacuum, and is deeply entangled with international, and arguably global, elements of acceptance and for this system of signs and signifiers as facts. The ‘Deep Water’ sign acts as an arbitrary symbol [2] The relationship between the signifier and the signified functions only through the context of pre-agreed rules, much as facts are also based on an shared agreement about their meaning. To follow, meaning is also in part formed precisely where the sign is placed physically, spatial location cements the sign as an icon, an index [3], in the case of ‘Deep Water’ physical location supports the fact’s authority.

Acts of transgression in relation to a statement derived from ‘fact’ can in turn be manipulated if the boundaries for the fact’s structure are altered: eg. 3m of water is not too deep for […x] making the facts legitimacy fictional [4] If we are to break the concept of ‘Deep Water’ down not only linguistically, but through the physical violation of the rules implied though the statement of this fact, does this fact become void? Can such a fact be defiled, stripped of its accepted certainty through a calm, bodily act of resistance such as swimming? By disproving that the water is too deep to swim in, (signified by the sign and implied by the statement of this fact) the fact in turn dissolves, as the parameters giving structure to its formulation are washed away, in the gentle current of a water-based anarchy.

1. DuChamp, Marcel, Duchamp Du Signe (Paris: Flammarion, 1975) p.185

2. de Sassure F. Course in General Linguistics (Fontana, 1974)

3. Crow, David, Visible signs: An introduction to semiotics in the visual arts (2nd edition) (required reading range), 2nd edn (Lausanne: AVA Publishing SA, 2010) pg. 31

4. de Certeau, Michel and Steven Rendall, The practice of everyday life, 3rd edn (Berkeley, CA [etc.]: University of California Press, 2011) pg.177

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