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Chapter 16: Plato’s Cave

Plato’s analogy of the cave is fundamental to my practice because it can be used as a base to describe my thinking. It has been that way from the first art video I did in collaboration with Kristian Sinkerud, the film was called ‘Reality’ and was about a family eternally trapped in a room worshipping a projection of their future selves. It was filmed in 1999 at the Christian boarding school Danvik Folkehøgskole in Drammen, Norway.

The short summary of Plato’s analogy is this, a group of people are chained within a cave, behind them is a fire that is used to create projections of objects on to the wall. The shadows that the prisoners see is the only reality they know, and if they turn to look towards the light they get blinded, telling them that the best choice is to only look at the shadows. One day a prisoner is dragged out of the cave and it is slowly revealed to the prisoner that reality is more than shadows and that the sun is what illuminates the world, whilst the fire in the cave was but a simulacrum of the sun. The liberated prisoner sees it as there duty to return to the cave and tell everyone that reality is more than they know. On returning to the cave they stumble and fall through darkness as they are no longer used to the light within the cave. The prisoners who see this can but conclude that it is dangerous to leave the cave.

I see everyone involved in Plato’s cave analogy as prisoners, from the group who are physically chained to those who created the system for their own benefit. Paradoxically I believe that the group highest up in the hierarchy are the most imprisoned, even though they are aware of the illusion. That is because they are dependent on the system to maintain their lifestyle. In contrast, the lowest member is not dependent on the illusion, since they simply do not know.

The prisoners whose only reality is shadows are the passive consumers of society and their heroes are the prisoners who endure the heaviest chains, whilst the fools are the ones with the weakest bonds. The group of people who are employed to maintain the illusion would see themselves as rightfully chosen to rule over the prisoners, they understand the construct and use that knowledge to elevate themselves, at the same time they are more dependent.

A prisoner who foolishly turns away from looking at the shadows towards the light will get blinded by its intensity and feel great pain. The fragmented glimpses one gets of the objects would be alien and confusing. The obvious conclusion for this prisoner would be that the shadows are a clearer representation of truth. The other prisoners who saw what happened would perceive such a person as a fool and confirm the righteousness of there reality. When the prisoner returns to look at the shadows they will know that the correct path is to strengthen one’s bonds.

I believe everyone involved wants the system to be maintained because it is safe in that the future is predictable and one is provided with short bursts of happiness, but everyone needs to leave the cave to grow. Within the cave knowledge and truth are seen as static, some know more, some are mislead, but there is nothing else beyond the system, all truth is known. There are only preachers because all information that is passed on is final and not to be questioned. The system evolves within a Beta Alpha pattern, the leaders change, but the construct stays the same.

The artist is a prisoner who escapes by taking on the attributes of the fool to see reality outside of the cave. A place where knowledge is the lens through which we understand and see truth, and one understands that the lens is flawed, that it might have a bias and the only way to see more of truth is to improve how one sees. A place where one must struggle by living activity, so that one can sustain growth, exploration and happiness.

The artist has three choices, to stay and live outside of the cave by himself and be happy, to return to the cave and become a dishonest person who helps maintain the illusion or the artist can be an honest person who understands they have a civic duty towards one’s fellow prisoners to create work that can enable them to leave the cave on their own fruition. If the prisoner chooses the third option, they must become the teacher who does not care if anyone listens.

One can not be forced to leave a prison one is not aware of, nor a prison one chooses to live within.

 

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