Ninjas and Swans are waiting for you behind Maya’s Veil
by Lucie Fontaine
Being undercover is a state of mind. First of all it underlines a desire to be playful, which is revealed by the literal meaning of this metaphor. Who dares to hide under a blanket? In our society probably only children have the freedom and the luxury to play under a piece of fabric – a cover, a blanket, a tent, you name it.
Artists are also allowed to retain this privilege through their position, which is either that of the village’s madman, the prophet, the martyr, the saint, the gifted one or the cursed one. Being special is the most paradoxical of all states – a bless and malediction, depending on whom you ask.
Undercover is not only a state of mind but also a position. Such a position – reclined, lying on the floor, uncomfortable, protected and yet vulnerable – requires mental and physical capability that only very few special people can handle – crawling as if you are suddenly attached to the floor, moving slowly but firmly, trying to avoid being seen.
Again, this is something that artists can do very well, not because they want to be invisible, not necessarily at least, but because this position allows them to see things that nobody could see otherwise. In other words being undercover makes you noticing aspects of reality that are otherwise reserved, perhaps either to animals or to children.
In fact being undercover brings also a special attachment to objects, something that artists know very well, especially because attachment doesn’t only mean fetishism, it also means animism, understanding that things without life, or seemingly without life, can actually have their own life, which we are not aware of. Here Linus’ security blanket from the Peanuts Comic strip becomes the perfect work of art, the perfect tool and I am sure that some member of ‘Speculative Realism’ or ‘OOO’ (Object Oriented Ontology) would be able to explain this better than me.
Beside and beyond intellectualism, we could speak about spies and ninjas, whose modus vivendi and modus operandi perfectly fits the concept. We can also speak about a parallel history of art that is only made by artists working undercover, which takes many shapes: anonymity, collectivity, pseudonymity, fictionality, the possibilities are manifold.
At the same time by discussing this very history, by revealing the truth behind the mask, the veil, the cover, we actually destroy what we are supposed to celebrate. What is in fiction stays in fiction – “don’t wake up the sleeping dog”, somebody once told me.
Mythology is also a great reservoir of actions taken undercover: from Zeus becoming a swan in order to seduce and have intercourse with Leda, the queen of Sparta – which not as a coincidence was depicted by several artists such as Cezanne, Correggio, Rubens – to the Veil of Maya, which, from being a myth related to Hinduism and Buddhism, became a fixture of Western philosophy thanks to Arthur Schopenhauer.
Last but not least, we must remember that the etymology of the Latin word ‘persona’ is in fact ‘character’ or ‘mask’; while in Italian persona means ‘individual,’ ‘person’ in English means somebody, who is constructing an accentuated version of himself.
With this triple link to the same word I welcome you to Under Cover, the 2016 edition of BOS!
Lucie Fontaine, Colmar, September 2016