Notes for ‘The World Turned Upside Down’
It’s a bit disorientating to see these commonplace houses buried upside down in a muddy flooded field. Of course they’re not buried but reflections but they’re still disorientating. As an image it’s hard to know what’s the foreground and what’s the background. Of course such things don’t exist on a flat surface; it’s all made up; all dirty tricks. In the painting of the same subject, what makes it worse is the shiny paint. It’s a reflection painted in gloss paint, which in itself reflects the real world: your face, the irritating light behind or above you reflecting off the surface of the board. It’s an image of the world you know, the world you thought you knew. Nothing about it makes any sense and thinking about it too much is silly. But being silly is serious stuff. Acting the fool, playing the idiot are the central themes of the carnival; the day off; time and the world reclaimed for yourself. Historically these days were handed down to the working class, to labourers and the oppressed by those in positions of power: the wealthy, the monarchy, the keepers of law and order. And, of course, taken back again once the fun was had. Less common and more dangerous is when these days are taken and not given. The last few years have seen hints of such days and there is a whiff of fear blowing on the British breeze. When those at the top end up at the bottom we might say that the world is turned upside down, that there has been a revolution. Of course the wheel can turn full circle and it often does. But nothing is ever quite the same again.
In a rare concession to the pictorial arts James Joyce hung a reproduction of Vermeer’s ‘View of Delft’ in his Paris flat. What did this modernist, this great upsetter find so fascinating in this painting? A view of a city seen from distance, a sense of ordinary lives being lived out day to day, a glimpse of what the world would like turned on its head. Proust meditates on the painting too in ‘In Search of Lost Time’. His attention is drawn to a patch of yellow wall and he sees in it a quality – possibly a reality – so weighty it is equal to his own existence.
But our world can turn upside down without any one else feeling a thing. A parent dies, a home is lost, a whole way of life scattered. The everyday can look very different depending on where you stand in the landscape; what looks stable can turn unstable at the flick of the wrist, what is day can turn to night in the snap of the fingers and what is real can turn into an image in the blink of an eye.