The earliest images humans ever fashioned were not of something. They were something. The images didn’t represent something else, they were something else. Sitting on the long tail of the history of imagery (which is also the history of human culture), we can’t shake off the preposition ‘of’. There’s an image or a picture of … fill the rest of the sentence. It’s a semiotic prison that has also released the forces of language and unlocked the human capacity for displaying what is absent. This is to human cultures what teleportation is to science-fiction worlds.
The human sign from which representation descends was an insurrection against death. Death as absence, death as silence. There is nothing in nature compelling humans to revolt against the destructive effect of time. The image of, as opposed to the image that, was one of the earliest human revolutions. It gave rise to language, writing, religion, literature and the richness of human culture. As soon as humans realised that an absent reality is not absent for long, but may be brought back or up through signs and images, then nothing was going to be the same again.
There are icons everywhere, from the street to our computer screen. The root of the word icon means likeness, to look alike, a faithful representation of something else. Our lives are iconic, since they are built on these representations. Something stands for something else in a hall of mirrors. Some of the icons are ready-made, others we make ourselves. We chase the void away by putting icons in its place and fertilising the land.