Lesson: Urs Fischer: Controlling our Logic, Metaphors, and Semantics

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grades)
  • Subject Area: Art History, English, Literature, Logic, Poetry
  • "Cumpadre," 2009. "Cumpadre," 2009.
  • "Violent Cappuccino," 2007."Violent Cappuccino," 2007.

Introduction

written by Joseph Keehn II

You find yourself at a dead end in a labyrinth with two doors. One leads to certain death and the other leads to the center of the labyrinth where you want to be. You don't know which is which. There are two two-headed doggish-card jesters guarding the doors. They will let you choose one door but upon doing so you must go through it. You can, however, ask one of the two-headed jesters a question. The problem is one always tells the truth, the other always lies, and you don't know which is which. What is the question you ask? This scenario, taken directly from Jim Henson’s 1986 film Labyrinth, as illogical as it might appear, is quite fitting in understanding the methodologies in the discourse of logic and the control we apply to our own psychology, especially in second guessing ourselves. This lesson is inspired by the works of Urs Fischer and his statement about the control exercised by someone’s psychology:

 “[T]he things you want to show, the things you don’t want to show, and the image this creates on the outside. This is the uncontrollable quality of any work. That’s what makes it so difficult to lie as an artist in the long run. In the long run, it is not the story you tell, it’s how you tell the story. Or better, it’s not what you lie about, it’s how you lie—to yourself and to others.” 

In this lesson students will begin by solving some basic logic problems followed by a conversation about syntax and semantics. The lesson culminates with students creating a poem that incorporates logical and metaphorical statements inspired by one of Fischer’s works.

Time

 Two forty-five minute sessions + writing assignment 

Subject Areas 

Art History, English, Literature, Logic, Poetry

Objectives

  • Students will be introduced to logic and some of contemporary art’s fundamental terminology.
  • Students will distinguish between logical and metaphorical statements by creating a poem that uses declaratives and metaphors.
  • Students will further their awareness of the complexities of interpretation through visual analysis of “Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty.”

Vocabulary

Logic is reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity.

Metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them.

Syntax is the construction of words or other elements of sentence structure to form grammatical sentences.

Semantics is the meaning or the interpretation of a word, sentence, or other language form

Quantifier as its name implies, expresses quantity. Quantifiers can be a single word or a phrase and are used with nouns. They can be used with either a countable or an uncountable noun to express amount or quantity.

Universe of discourse refers to the totality of facts, things, or ideas that are implied or assumed in a given discussion, argument, or discourse

Villanelle is a fixed poetic form consisting of nineteen lines—five stanzas of three lines and a concluding stanza of four lines. Villanelle was developed in the nineteenth century and combines rhyming sounds with refraining verses.

Materials

Sylvia Plath’s poems “Metaphor” and “Mad Girl's Love Song” 

Printouts of works in “Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty”

Suggested Procedures

 

1. Consider the following logic problems. In logic, statements are declarative sentences that are either true or false. Not all sentences are declarative, such as questions, commands, and sentences structured in a passive tense. In the following logic problems, have students identify the quantifiers and the universe of discourse for each declarative sentence and then solve the problem.

a. Mary's mum has four children. The first child is called April. The second May. The third June. What is the name of the fourth child? • Solution: Mary. Mary's mother’s fourth child was Mary herself.

b. A mother is twenty-one years older than her child. In exactly six years from now, the mother will be exactly five times as old as the child. Where's the father? • Solution: With the mother. If you do the math, you find out the child will be born in nine months.

c. You find yourself at a dead end in a labyrinth with two doors. One leads to certain death and the other leads to the center of the labyrinth where you want to be. You don't know which is which. There are two two-headed doggish-card jesters guarding the doors. They will let you choose one door but upon doing so you must go through it. You can, however, ask one of the two-headed jesters a question. The problem is one always tells the truth, the other always lies and you don't know which is which. What is the question you ask? • Solution: Ask one of the jesters what the other jester would say, if he was asked which door was safe. Then go through the other door.

2. Have students read Sylvia Plath’s “Metaphor” or another poem that uses the perspective “I am… I was… I will be…” Have students identify the quantifiers and the universe of discourse in the poem. Then have students define metaphor and ask:

a. How does metaphor change our understanding of the universe of discourse? Logic in general?

b. What language/words is the writer using to complicate the logical explanation of the writing itself? What does this tell us about the art of language?

3. Introduce students to the terms syntax and semantics. How do these words contribute to the discussion on logic and metaphor? Double-spaced, have students make five sentences using a logical structure (Refer to the logic problems at the beginning of the lesson for examples). Underneath the logical sentences, have students change the sentence into an interpretative sentence, using the device of metaphor.

4. Introduce students to Urs Fischer. Provide students with the descriptions of the works in his exhibition “Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty.” Put printouts of images of Fischer’s aluminum sculptures on the board. Underneath the reproductions have students develop a logic problem using the declarative voice. Depending on the arrangement an example could be: “There are four sculptures. The title of the exhibition is also the title of one of the works. The second work is titled possible metaphors that the work may be in reference to. Have them provide supporting visual evidence for their deductions.

5. Tell students that the exhibition was titled after one the pseudonyms Stéphane Mallarmé used for the fashion magazine La Dernière Mode, which he wrote, edited, and designed the first eight issues of (starting in 1874). Mallarmé wrote almost everything, using pseudonyms such as Marguerite de Ponty, Miss Satin, Ix, and Le Chef de bouche chez Brébant. The magazine covered theater, opera, dance, music, food, interior decoration, fashion, and fashion theory. The line between real and contrived was thin. La Dernière Mode was a real magazine with a subscription base and a dossier at the police department. But there was a coup de bluff: the first issue included a “letters to the editor” section, which obviously was not possible since there had been no previous issue to respond to.

6. Using the structure of the villanelle, which was formalized as a set structure in the nineteenth century based on previous French modes, students will create a poem inspired by a Fischer work. The villanelle form was at its height during Mallarmé’s publication of La Dernière Mode. Within the poem, students need to use metaphor and declarative voice. The poem will follow the villanelle form:

Refrain 1 (A1)

Line 2 (b)

Refrain 2 (A2)

Line 4 (a)

Line 5 (b)

Refrain 1 (A1)

Line 7 (a)

Line 8 (b)

Refrain 2(A2)

Line 10 (a)

Line 11 (b)

Refrain 1 (A1)

Line 13 (a)

Line 14 (b)

Refrain 2 (A2)

Line 16 (a)

Line 17 (b)

Refrain 1 (A1)

Refrain 2 (A2)

Example: “Mad Girl's Love Song” by Sylvia Plath

7. Have students share their poems and discuss the semantics and syntax of their works. Recap on logic and ask students to respond to the implications of interpretation and metaphor on logical structures. Big question: What are the relationships between logic and aesthetics?

Assessment

Looking at the students’ poems and class discussions, did the students:

  • Provide visual evidence to describe the work.
  • Use both declaratives and metaphors in their work.
  • Distinguish the relationship between syntax and semantics.
  • Question the logic of interpretation.

Lesson Plan: Urs Fischer: Controlling our Logic, Metaphors, and Semantics