Cratylus’ Gift


Cratylus: (Κρατύλος, Kratylos) is the name of a dialogue by Plato. Most modern scholars agree that it was written mostly during Plato’s so-called middle period. In the dialogue, Socrates is asked by two men,Cratylus and Hermogenes, to tell them whether names are “conventional” or “natural”, that is, whether  language is a system of arbitrary signs or whether words have an intrinsic relation to the things they signify.

The individual Cratylus was the first intellectual influence on Plato.  Aristotle states that Cratylus influenced Plato by introducing to him the teachings of Heraclitus.

Gift has two meanings. The exhibition is a present but it is also the expression of an intrinsic competence.


The range of meanings of an art piece is practically boundless to its spectators. Foremost, the art prompts “ein Spiel”. The question is: what kind of play or “Spiel” does it initiate? What follows is a meditation on what the exhibited art is and does. 

When light hits the surface of a water pool, the water waves will scatter the incoming light in an infinite number of directions. The viewer is overcome by the many paths of the light, the scattering of the color and the impossibility to focus on one image out of the multitude of reflections that impinge on our senses.

The scattering of light on the liquid surface is wonderful. The uneven exterior of the water mass twists and turns the environment that it mirrors.  We may have clear memories of the experience. Even a glass of unmoving clear water right in front of us has these almost magical qualities. Form and color are intertwined and twisted, and it is just about impossible to imagine the many shapes and colorful shades that you thought you knew so well. But the mind keeps searching. The visual movements are too swift, the reflections too wobbly to stabilize into one constant shape or “Gestalt”. Figure and background conspire to become indistinguishable. It is hard to envision the multifaceted light. The perceived light is full of meanings but we get so confused that even our imagination falters. The possible overwhelms the actual.

The dancing light evokes a Jazzy feeling or “Gefühl”. The perceived light becomes a kind of (silent) Jazz.

Envisioning the Jazz of looking

Why is it so hard to envision the scattering of the light on the dazzling water? What gives it its apparent magical qualities? In my mind I see myself dancing with the silent, visual tunes, moving in accordance with the polyphonic rhythm of the scattering of the light.

But the regularities are not quite regular and the silent music of light is without a conductor. The waves of color travel into infinitely many directions. The photons that strike my retina form a Jazzy composition. I am struck by its sublime qualities: caught in the light I know no longer what me is doing the seeing. I go with the light, but the image does not tell me where I am. I am overwhelmed. Yet I am neither lost nor adrift. My body stands firm while I am disoriented by the sheer multitude of ambiguities.

Completing the image

The eyes of the spectator searches for stability, yet faces a multitude of ambiguities. The searching does not stop. The first-person perspective is questioned: what do I see? There is no object to focus upon. And unlike the Neckar cube there is not the image of two interlocked and stable but mutually exclusive shapes. The art in front of the onlooker is static. Unlike the water in the pool, there is no movement in the image. There is only movement in and of the onlooker’s discernments. Unlike the Neckar cube there is a multitude of gestalts, not one switching pair.

So how will you complete the picture? What “pre-shadows” the imagination and keeps wandering through the multitude of ambiguities? What first-person understanding will complete the image?

Playing with apperception

What happens to apperception, i.e. to the coming to awareness of what we see right where we stand? Or considered from the first-person: what assumed self complements the Jazzy play of (not quite) figuration and (not quite) abstraction in the 2D space? The exhibition wants to bring the unceasing improvisation of perception to the surface. It may be that apperception itself, our lens of past experiences, is questioned as we look.