It is interesting to note the true manipulative power of semiotics. This is a photo I have taken in a store which specialises in selling ‘legal highs’ and drug paraphernalia. All of the paraphernalia displayed above is illegal to have on person, however simply by placing a flower in some of these items, and sticking a very small label underneath reading “vases”, the context has been changed and sales of such glassware is made legal.
This is such a blatant exploitation of semiotics and it is ironic as anyone, including police officers who walk into the shop are going to understand the intent of such items due to the context of the shop, given by its other product.
These flowers and tiny labels create a curtain like visage protecting this market from the law.
One of the biggest changes to affect Art and Design today is the perpetual rise of technology. Technology allows us to quickly, effectively and efficiently alter the context of an original piece of art and design: through physical means of photography, scanning and other forms of replicating and also intangible means such as the internet and other digital platforms.
If one were to moralise many conclusions either positive or negative can be drawn: the ability to spread or replicate an image allows the freedom of viewing; these pieces of art and design can be enjoyed by anybody in almost any corner of the Earth, however this happens to remove them from their original context. Some would say that this robs the original piece of its awe. In the past one would have had to pilgrimage in order to see an original in all of its grandeur, most likely within an ancient chapel a top an altar, whereas nowadays replicas can be found on postcards, fridge magnets and within the omnipotent servers of ‘Google’.
The image above: on the left sits an original Victorian peice and on the right it’s marketable replica. I have photographed both of these pieces of art in the Auckland City Art Gallery, and then (very, very roughly) ‘photoshopped’ them into one image. This is an example of how quickly an images context can be manipulated. The context has been altered four times over in just the image above, firstly the original Victorian has been printed to be sold in the Gallery’s shop, second I have photographed both images, third I have spliced the two photographs into one image with Photoshop creating a close proximity conotating a contrast between the two photographs and finally I have uploaded the image to WordPress on the internet to a blog discussing semiotics. If one was to analyse any of the images at these different stages a new meaning would surface each time.
Within semiotics exists the concept of a ‘Meta-Text’. This is something which is fundamentally and universally understood, regardless of the context it is within. One of the most prominent examples of a Meta-Text is the idea of religion.
I have posted a video as an example (a very poor and somewhat biased example. The clip and series has received much critique and I believe it may have been scholarly discredited due to a lack of prominent sources)
This may demonstrate the idea of a fundamental similarity or truth (taken with a grain of salt) resulting in these ‘Meta-Text’.
This ‘V’ Energy Drink campaign is an interesting example of how context can be used in a marketing sense. The poster on the left has been posted around the city and contains little to no information as to what the ‘wanted poster’ is actually about.
By posting this piece of design on bulletin boards and in alleyways the campaign leaders are emulating 1800’s Wild West wanted posters. This seems contextually misplaced in today’s society and effectively draws attention due to curiosity.
The ‘wanted poster’ on the left however is not enough to fully articulate the idea behind the advertising campaign. A clever use of semiotics has been used to sell the idea in that the consumer needs to see the poster on the right, connect the two together and then feels a sense of achievement or self validation and feels encouraged to look further into the promotion.
Semiotics, the study of signs, or interpretation. This is a field of study focusing upon the innate human ability to interpret just about anything in this world. We can read just about any object or concept as a ‘Text’.
These meanings we can interpret from these texts are not fundamental, they are removed, assigned and manipulated through context.
Take for example the picture above, from an average persons point of view they can deduce that the subject of the image is male, average height and that image is current (modern) due to the clothing. If one was to take the analysis of this text further one could surmise that due to the basketball singlet he is a sports player or fan, or that due to the long unkempt hair, beanie and tattoos that he is an art student.
However if the context of the image is changed, to that of mine as the photographer, the meaning or interpretation changes altogether. The context behind this image for me is that this is my long time friend and flat mate, he is currently also a graphic design student and at the second of taking the photo and me writing this entry, he is a small piece of my assignment on semiotics.
The context of this image could be manipulated in many other ways: if one were to be playing reggae music in the background, he could be interpreted as some sort of drug addict.
If heavy metal music was playing in the background he could be seen as a band member, or degenerate.
If the image was cropped or focused in upon his tattoos this image could be read as an advertisement or exhibition for tattoos.
All these different ways of reading an image, all the connections we make between context and reality fall into the field of semiotics: reading signs.