The Ethics of Ambiguity

The title of this series is wordplay on Simone de Beauvoir's book, The Ethics of Ambiguity, in which she forces the reader to face the absurdity of the human condition by developing a dialectic of ambiguity which will enable him not to master chaos, but to create with it. I want to take something ordinary – here, a philosophy book, and deflect our perception of it. By obscuring the original text of the book pages then writing random, suggestive words and phrases on the dried paint, I pose a question of what is visible, what is not visible, what is perceptible, what is imperceptible.

 

I prefer to play on the idea of ambiguity. The liminal, the spaces in between. Of the absent or hidden, the imperceptible, the unspoken – the things felt but unseen. What are the aspects we don’t see when we look at an object—aspects present nonetheless? For example, text by its very nature refers to images that we cannot see, that are not there, but that we can imagine when we read a book. I am interested in presenting the absence rather than the content and leaving it to the viewer to fill those gaps with his own knowledge, history, and imagination.

 

Appropriating a pre-existing text and obscuring the original document serves to act as a mirror for the ideas, needs, and desires of the viewer. The hidden words act as a metaphor for the subconscious – an awareness and the thoughts that exist just under the surface, almost out of reach, barely perceptible. The “unspoken” I believe exists in us all. As the words are concealed and the paint eventually dries, small, seemingly trivial details – random words and phrases emerge, as if bubbling from the subconscious, while the larger picture and context are erased. The pieces become a palimpsest of sorts, subverting and transforming language, creating a new form.

© Cynthia Grow 2019

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