In a short story by Jorge Luis Borges a country creates an extremely detailed map that has a scale of one mile to the mile. In short, the map is the same size as the country with all the detail of the country. The map expands or retracts as the empire gains or loses territory.
But then one day the country collapses suddenly and with such rapidity that all that remains is the map. Yet this is not as tragic as it at first appears, for the map suffices in the absence of the country. The simulation is as good as the reality.
Although the story doesn’t go so far, the philosopher Jean Baudrillard imagines what could happen next. The actual country is forgotten, but the map carries on. The simulation now represents nothing. It is its own reality, and it can be manipulated or changed at will. It can be amplified or muted. 
Imagine a city that grows so fast it completely eradicates the natural world. As Joni Mitchell puts it, “They have paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Then one day the people of the city look around and decide that what’s needed are a few trees, some grass, maybe some flowers and shrubs. So they bring them in, dig holes in the pavement for them, grow them and nurture them.
Soon the people of the city begin to shape the shrubs and graft the plants. They are building their own reality, one that mimics the natural world, amplifies it, changes it. Their simulation of reality is more real than the nature it mimics. The actual natural world is long gone, buried under the pavement of the city, but the simulated world is vibrant and growing, and eventually loses its reference to the actual world it replaced.
This view is at the heart of the philosophy of Jean Baudrillard who asserts that in the post-modern world there is no such thing as reality, only the simulation of reality. In such a world objects have no actual meaning, since they have lost their original referent. Consequently, meaning is created through difference – through what something is not (so “bird” means “bird” because it does not mean -”frog “, not-”cow”, not-”stone”, etc.). The object becomes situated in a web of meaning. It is only understood in reference to other objects within the same web, and this complicates things. 
As man searches for meaning he becomes lost, confused, groping through a vast array of reflective referents. Eventually he becomes seduced, chasing one set of interpretations to the very pinnacle of its implications, which is itself a simulated version of reality. This intense focus on a single set of interpretations, a restricted yet overemphasized interpretation of meaning is what Baudrillard terms hyper-reality. 
In the paintings of Harry Sudman the philosophy of Baudrillard resonates. As with other hyper-realist artists, Sudman’s subjects appear so intensely real, so even beyond reality, that the viewer’s first reaction may be to take a step back with a feeling that they’ve been provoked. In a sense they have. The confrontational nature of hyper-realism is owing to the heightened concentration on a single version of the truth, a version we may not be entirely comfortable with, even though we are fascinated by it, seduced by it.
Baudrillard’s post-modernist world view is exemplified throughout modern culture. Wherever a restricted yet overemphasized interpretation of meaning is clustered around a subject that is vague or nebulous we are seeing it. From processed foods to overproduced music. From mega-churches to the news media. We are seeing a set of interpretations intensely and insistently applied – put forward as “the truth”- to a subject whose original referent is vague or elusive.
Baudrillard would say that, to their adherents, these versions of reality are real, more real in fact, than what they are trying to interpret.
Like the map that has come to stand in for the country, they are all that we have. Yet they are subject to manipulation and prone to distortion, and if we are not totally bought into their version of reality, they may cause us to take a step back for a moment, before we become seduced. ♦
Author and Client: This article was written by Malcolm Logan for Sudman Art.com
1 Jean Baudrillard. Simulacra and Simulations. The Precession of Simulacra. European Graduate School.
2 see Baudrillard’s final major publication in English, The Intelligence of Evil, where he discusses the political fallout of what he calls “Integral Reality”
3 Wikipedia contributors, “Jean Baudrillard.”Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Baudrillard Retrieved 2010-02-27
Jean Baudrillard, European Graduate School; Jesus and the Devil, Sudman Art