Essence and Model
Published in Peter Halley, Collected Essays 1981-1987. Edition Bruno Bischofberger Gallery, Zurich, 1988.
One can refer to it as either post-modernism or as neo-modernism, but what is characteristic of this order is that the elements of modernism are hyper-realized. They are reduced to their pure formal state and are denuded of any last vestiges of life or meaning. They are re-deployed in a system of self -referentiality which is itself a hyper-realization of modernist self-referentiality - though it is now detached from the modernist dream of revolutionary renewal. In post-or neo-modernism, the syntactical elements do not change. The vocabulary of modernism is retained, but its elements, already made abstract, are finally and completely severed from any reference to the real. In this hyper-modernism, the modern is never discarded. It is simply replaced by its formal double. Typical of this process is the transformation of the modern city. Paris, Boston, and New York are not changed. (It is characteristic of modernism to precipitate change - the widening of streets, the filling of marshes, the building of monuments.) Such cities simply become their formal double. They are enclosed by the surrounding post-industrial universe and transformed into theme parks of the modern where one goes to see vestiges of the public, such as subway trains and parks, and of the social, at cafes, for example, or at theatres. In the same way, art is replaced by its double, by objects and images duplicating the "art-effect". The universe of the double is achieved by transforming every element into a model of itself. The modernist concept of essence with its referent in nature is further reduced to the state of the model, in which form alone, stripped of meaning, remains. In this way, the universe of the model is the final ruthless realization of the modernist impetus to idealism. In particular, the abstract becomes the real, and the entire environment becomes a model of the environment. All other realities, especially those of specificity and transcendence, are either excluded or they are encircled by the model and transformed into models of themselves. Thus, there is not only the reality of the model, but there is also no reality other than that of the model. Consequently, developers produce cities that are models of cities, architects produce buildings, that are models of buildings, and artists produce works of art that are models of the idea of art. Likewise, in this universe, by virtue of psychology and physiology, human beings can be only models of human beings, while public opinion polls, multiple choice tests, and telephone answering machines determine that communication can be only a model of communication.
The operative force behind the establishment of this realm of the double and the model is the ascendancy of the principle of circulation. The vestigial remains of physical motion are inscribed within the systems of circulation of automobiles, pedestrians, and goods. Modernist knowledge is transformed into information, which circulates on TV, in weekly magazines, and through the electronic circuits of the computer. Metaphysics becomes the endless circulation of signs through the chutes of an unrreal mental space.
Finally, hyper-modernism is defined by closure and circularity. Modernist nature is enclosed in the nature preserve and the game park. The modem city is ringed by superhighways and embedded within the circulatory network of the subdivision. And the earth itself, initiallly defined as a globe by modernism, is encircled, in the hyper-modern, by the orbits or artificial satellites with their arrays of electronic sensors.
In modernism, the signifier was detached from the signified - but this was done as a means of giving power and restoring life to the signifier. In hyper-modernism, the signifier is not only left open to the signified, it is left free to attach itself to an endless sequence of signifieds. But this hyper-modern situation describes a hermeticism more complete than even that of modernism. No meaning is final, and signifieds are arrayed, one after another, in endless, circular procession. The circle is the meta-sign for the hyper-modern.