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Ships of Neurath, 2023. R18500

Ships of Neurath, 2023. R18500

Skepe van Neurath [Ships of Neurath], 2023. Mixsed media on linen, 1000x1000mm. 


This work is based on the literary figure of ‘Neurath’s ship’ coined by the science philosopher Otto Neurath (1882-1945).[1] He asks the question of whether an object (or anything else) is still the same after some or all its original components have been replaced, and whether its identity is retained. He bases his theory on the legend of the Ship of Theseus according to which Theseus (the mythic founder-king of Athens) rescued the children of Athens from king Minos, killed the minotaur that threatened them and escaped with them on a ship to Delos. The people of Athens acknowledged and commemorated this heroic act by keeping the ship intact through replacing planks and parts when it became worn and rotted. In The Robot's Rebellion (2004) psychologist Keith Stanovich interprets this concept as the constant revision of one’s convictions. He brings rotted planks in connection with memes that become redundant or outdated.


My transmutation of the Neurath concept is rendered as floating memes in the imagery of boats floating on the sea. It suggests the problematics of borrowing ideas or images and changing it to make it one’s own. Is it still the same as the original? My imagery of ‘boats’ drifting on the sea contains an interpretation of Neurath’s image of boats that are repaired at sea, but in subsequent philosophical discourses it was pointed out that Theseus’s ship was repaired in the harbour of Athens, an analogy that suggests original identity.



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