Syndrome of The Man on Horseback

What is the idea of the project?

There is generally a strong belief that the world is just the way it is. Simply put, we divide our thoughts into reality or fantasy. This project had started only from the urge to question this. Does the world exist in a certain way, or do we shape it according to what we believe about it? As I started my essay about the human psyche, I quickly understood how vast and overwhelming this subject can be (as vast as is the human psyche, in fact). So I needed to go into something more specific, in order for a project to be understood (at least at a certain degree). Politics has always been an interesting subject to me, because by way of seeing how a place is governed, we can learn a lot about humanity. Among other subjects in the essay’s bibliography, there were some studies of human relationships and power. According to a prominent theory I read, we can basically divide people into two categories (in terms of political power): People who want to lead, and people who want to be lead. This is a very extreme theory of course, but it was used by way of explanation for example, of why the Nazi ideology caught on so well. In particular, the people who want to be lead, according to my readings, are attracted by people who seem to be in power. That is how the Man on Horseback came into my mind, as a Napoleonic figure.

Where did the idea come from?

Originally the reason I wanted to question the bounds between reality and fantasy, is because I got influenced greatly by the seminars on phenomenology, the open work, and all this atmosphere of different ‘ways of seeing’. I will not go into much detail about those subjects, as they are very well known. The only thing I want to mention is this: There have been many interpretations of what the word Phenomenology even means and I would like to give an explanation based on the roots of it. The word itself originates from the word phenomenon, which could be roughly translated into the way that something appears to be, or look like. How does one make the connection between phenomenology and politics though? The answer is now simple to me. The world itself appears to be in a specific way, because humanity sees it that way, and the way we see the world, that way we organize it. From the most influential politician to the most unknown housewife, we live the way we think we ought to. But what happens when our beliefs about how we should live, change? These questions lead us to others. What could our beliefs change into, and by who/what? Can we control what we believe?

How is the idea embodied in the work?

The one problem about trying to influence people into questioning such fundamental beliefs is that first I would need to make the viewer observe him/herself. I would need to make the viewer take a metaphorical step back, out of the body and look at them looking (and thinking). Going back to the symbol of the Man on Horseback and its theory, I wanted to use it as an example of a symbol that makes us believe something when we see it. That perhaps that man had a history, he was someone important, and subsequently he had some sort of power. The idea was that immediately when we look at that image, we would think of so many different things associated with him, that nobody ever told us. Then a question arises: how personally do we take it? After a first impression though, the viewer could start looking at the surroundings. That is when the faded sentences come into view, and even while we are not sure if they were meant to be there, we still read them and get influenced even further about what we are supposed to believe about that man on the picture (even when the letters are not clear, still, are they not in the composition?) They say: “the syndrome of the man on horseback. The need to believe in a just world, the tendency to follow whoever is in power, the urge to believe they are rightfully there.” All these are good enough to direct the viewer into the subject, beliefs in politics, but they are not enough to create the desired effect. That is why there is a table in front of the viewer, with a small replica of the whole space where the viewer is. And there is, a person, looking at a small replica of the painting. But the images are different. From the big one, half finished, only starting to form on the canvas from the bottom right corner up, to the small image of the man which is completely finished. I wanted this to indicate the idea that images and even symbols take time to form in our minds, and by the time we reach the point of observing ourselves who observe, the image has a complete meaning in our minds.

Does it work?

Inviting other people to tell me what they thought of the project, I got very different reviews. The first thing they all saw was the painting, as intended. At a point when the letters where not yet faded out though, the viewer gave the painting a slight glance and then went on to read about it. Not wanting to make things too obvious, I decided to fade out the letters, and give them the slight idea that they might not even be intentionally there. This worked on the person who looked at the installation later. She read them even as she asked me whether she should or not. Two of the three people who saw the project related themselves to the little girl in the replica space, and wondered about the effect that gave them. The third told me she didn’t make the relation, because she kept turning around the space to look at everything from different perspectives. What she got was that The Man on Horseback the little girl was looking at, had probably some important story to that girl, relating from father relations (the way she was looking at the image) to religious imaging, because of the way the table was laid. On a first glance this seemed to me as if she got guided to something completely unintentional, until we started talking about the project and I realised that without her thinking about it, I had made her start wondering about human relations and the power in between (may it not be politically influenced, it was in other ways, such as religious beliefs and family). She did however notice that the man seemed to have a martial background.

What would I keep/change?

Even at this point I am not sure myself whether I should change anything or not. It seems to work in a satisfactory manner, but the only thing I would change it having a lot more people to see it before I could say it’s finished.

Influences and bibliography.

My bibliography started with books on psychological studies1 and the continued with a number of writers. Umberto Eco novels, ‘The Name of the Rose’, ‘Baudolino’, ‘Prague Cemetery’. I also went into Italo Calvino, Mr Palomar, who has a very different way of understanding the world. (ie the walk on the beach, the calculating of the waves, the bird’s song in the garden etc). In another novel, The Castle of Crossed Destinies, the stories of the characters are read in tarot cards. I also read The Non-existent Knight, and the Invisible Cities. After that I went into The Open Work by Umberto Eco again; all these books are about beliefs and it is interesting to see how they change the appearance of the world towards the characters in them.

1 ‘Revolution in a Can Revolt is Back in Style’ , ‘Justice and the Politics of Difference’, ‘Political Psychology’, ‘Political Psychology Key Readings’, ‘Social and Psychological Bases of Ideology and System Justification’, ‘Social Psychology of Politics-Ideology and the Human Image’, ‘The Age of the Crowd-A Historical Treatise on Mass Psychology’.