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Physiology of the Impossible - continued...

A realistic naturalist

It would be too easy to accuse Exner of being naive, too easy to diagnose a fundamental misunderstanding of artistic imagination. It is far more rewarding to compare his speculations about the flying saints with his own research on flying. The interesting point is not what Exner tells us about painting but what his approach to art reveals about his own heuristics. One might wonder whether Exner's phantom of a "realistic artist" who aims to give "a meticulously exact imitation of nature" betrays the practice of the realistic naturalist. According to Exner the realistic idea of flight in painting would only be possible with beings that in reality were unable to fly. A realistic artist would have to construct "something", a mere thing, a "monster". Such a monster is Exner's bird-machine: a hybrid made of feathers and a motor, "something" that cannot float but allows the study of the conditions of floating. Thus, Exner's research on the floating buzzard is based on models that cannot float themselves: a self-made bird, an anaesthetized buzzard brought to life by electricity. If they were able to fly they would escape from the physiologist's laboratory.

Reference: Geimer, Peter. 2001. Physiology of the Impossible. Exner meets mythology.. The Virtual Laboratory (ISSN 1866-4784),