When I was 7 years old, I was exposed to the artist Matthew Barney’s haunting video piece, Cremaster 3. Visually, the main character (a man covered in white make-up, clad in a hot pink kilt and a crown of cotton candy fluff), and the scenery (the stark white spiraling walls of the Gugenhiem Museum) are very bright, almost kitschy. Judging by the color scheme alone, this is a palette that embodies the meaning of cheerfulness; there was not a drop of dark imagery in the film. However, the spiraling walls seemed to spiral relentlessly towards some unforeseen hell, and the pastel and neon colors are blinding. During the whole of this film, I began to feel that there was an eerie, brooding gloom hanging over me…
In Heart of Darkness, Marlow too experiences a sort of “brooding gloom” in the midst brightness - a bank of white fog, which he notes as “more blinding than night” (39). Accordingly, it is within this white fog that matters become more and more disturbing for the colonists - the opposite of what Marlow and his crew expect.
In Western culture, there are established symbols and meanings for those symbols. For the Europeans in Heart of Darkness, darkness connotes ignorance, death, chaos, etc. But especially in this instance of white fog, Conrad pulls the rug out beneath the feet of typical Western philosophy, as he alternatively uses light to evoke an ominous scene.
Today, as certain colors and logos and letters have come to be associated with finite and marketable meanings, our society begins to reach the limits of originality… So, I truly admire how people like Matthew Barney and Joseph Conrad have ventured to question imagery as we know it.