Simulacra and Simulation, Monotyped

A few months ago, at the suggestion of a good friend of mine, I read Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard. It's a work of French postmodern theory (I read a translation), so it's not exactly light, beach-reading material. I'll have to read it a few more times to really absorb it, but basically the premise of the book is that everything we know, symbolically, physically, etc., is a copy of of a copy of a copy. What's more, these copies conceal the fact that there is no original, if there was ever any at all. Truth is the realization that there is no truth, because everything's a copy of a now non-existent original.

I'm simplifying things very grossly here, but you get the idea.

I was thinking about the book while I was working in the studio one day, and decided to sort out my ruminations on simulacra through a trio of prints. I began by opening my sketchbook to my Mourner drawings, which I had done as a curatorial intern in Dallas.

Some pages from my sketchbook.

The Mourners are alabaster figures that adorn the tombs of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless, two dukes who ruled the province of Burgundy during the 14th and 15th centuries.

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Image Courtesy of

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The Mourners as they appear installed on the tombs. Image courtesy of

They were on exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art while the tombs were undergoing renovation in Dijon, and throughout the exhibit I would go down at the end of the day and sketch them.

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The Mourners as they appeared in Dallas. Image courtesy of

The Mourners are considered the sculptural representation of the funeral processions that would have accompanied these dukes to their thrones, when nobles and other prominent court figures donned heavy black robes and processed solemnly. The sculptures, in a sense then, are copies of the original, transitory event. What is more, the figures I drew are the sculptures surrounding the tomb of John the Fearless, the son of Philip the Bold. John was so taken with the carvings on his father's tomb (done by no less than the workshop of the legendary Claus Sluter) that he commissioned a replica for himself. The sculptures I drew, then, were the John the Fearless figures, which were copies of the Philip the Bold figures, albeit with contemporary 15th-century flourishes and additions.

To sum up, what I was drawing were tomb sculptures, which were copies of earlier tomb sculptures.Those earlier tomb sculptures, moreover, were copies of a transitory funeral procession. My sketches, in turn, were copies of the sculptures I drew, and the prints I made from them were copies of the sketches.

Have I confused you yet?

Anyway, I started by printing a monotype made from intaglio ink. I might have gone with a different technique, but this was the quickest one to execute. I chose mourner #38 because it was a back view; I wanted to have the truth be hidden, obscured from the viewer.

After this initial monotype, I printed the plate a second time to get a ghost.

I then ran the plate through the press a third time to get a second ghost. This one was barely legible at all, which was exactly the point.

Now that I had my faded ghosts, it was time to obscure them with additional copies. For the first ghost, I decided to draw mourner #14 over it, which I had sketched in profile, as though it were turning toward the viewer. Using pen and ink, I deliberately added more detail to this drawing than I had in the monotype, partly because it was easier to do so in this medium, but also because Baudrillard argues that copies are hyperreal, more real, more tangible, than the original (which is nonexistent to begin with). The effect reminded me of Old Master engravings, albeit less controlled (I'm no Old Master).

I took this idea even further with the third print. This time I chose mourner #16, which had been facing me frontally when I drew it. For this drawing I went all out with detail and modeling. Basically I wanted to make this look as naturalistic as possible, though it could have been better, admittedly.

But I deliberately deviate from the sketch, because I left the face blank. Why? Because underneath all these layers of hyperreal copies, there is no original, unaltering truth. Terrifying? Perhaps. Compelling? Certainly.

In retrosprect, I should have used mourner #38 for all three prints, further underscoring the idea of everything being a copy of a copy of a copy ad infinitum. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. Still, it was an interesting exercise.