in there, out here. that should be the title of this text.
deep underground, scientists are trying to reconstruct that which essentially has no past. not a smooth transition, but a leap like those involuntary perceptive shifts caused by the necker cube. on or off, before and after. like the birth of a child, or an objectless pain; no sense of a past. now it’s here, before it wasn’t.
in 1969, ten years before i was born, vito acconci scribbled camera as grasp, photo as storage on a blackboard. when printed just the right size, and hung at a certain height, the guns here on display can be apprehended. as opposed to seeing an expanse of blue sky, or a landscape after a snowfall, the experience of these guns is embodied; intimate, like pain. the resistance of the trigger against one’s index finger, silky metal in the palm of your hand; cool to the touch most likely. we have an innate ability, compulsion even, to turn the simplest of means into the deadliest of weapons through fantasy and projection. though we know these guns are just images, our galvanic skin response will give us away.
photography then as the extension of an eye, of the hand. a child the extension of ourselves, of our genes, our mistakes. at times, when nina looks at me, its as if i’m a stain, a blindspot in her field of vision. as if that part of her gaze that’s coded by me creates some kind of an inclusion as stains in diamonds are called.
apprehend this; Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmn-ckssqlbb11116. this is, or was, a name given to a swedish child in 1996. the boy’s parents could have been overly protective, creating a name impossible to speak, take in vain, or misuse. they could have had the old testament in mind, creating a word lacking vowels as a kind of homage to he whose name shall not be spoken. it could also be viewed as the ultimate freedom, a shattering kindness if you will. on account of its seeming randomness, it can be tied to no identifiable referent, nothing to live up to. the child stands groundless in front of the gap we all face, but which a well-functioning designation sutures for us. in his book all the names, Jose Saramago opens with the following lines taken from another: you know the name you were given, you do not know the name you have.
In chapter three of camera lucida, barthes proposes something which by and large has functioned as a point of no return, rendering moot every attempt at discussing photography’s nature. after explaining his unease at being torn between a critical and an expressive language he says; I was bearing witness to the only sure thing that was in me (however naive it might be) : a desperate resistance to any reductive system....why mightn’t there be, somehow, a new science for each object? a mathesis singularis (and no longer universalis) ?-
here we are. rather than keep a mourning diary on behalf of photography, we should remember the term barthes himself used so often as relating to that part of language that did not easily lend itself to being tied down. slippage. photography’s slip of the tongue. Brfxxccxxmnpcccc and so on. its generous ambivalence, and capacity to be anything should be reason enough to pursue this doubtful medium with such insistence. redemtpive precisely in being caught between an expressive and a critical stance.
one of the first images recorded of me could for all intents and purposes have been a stock photo. i’ve seen it numerous times before in family albums. in it, my parents are bathing me, the hands of my father supporting the neck of a newborn who can not do so himself. thirtytwo years later the same image more or less. this time, my hands are holding nina’s neck.
shortly after her birth, i witnessed, from the vantage point of the bathroom door, my parents, the one’s in the abovementioned photograph, bathing her, my daughter. it was like witnessing a scene i should not have been privy to, as if i were trying to reclaim something that was not mine to begin with,; something experienced but never properly inscribed.
accompanying my previous exhibition in this space was a text begun in january of 2011. the current one was begun in january of 2013. now, a gun is displayed on a table, in the place where my mother once hung. for all my talk about observing one’s observances, the abovementioned text, whose smile is that you’re smiling, failed in its task. like stories we tell ourselves in order to keep up apperances, this text spoke to an unfulfilled desire about the possible reach of the work, and the inability to monitor the structure and method of how i observe; that is, of what that matrix, or internal logic that steers and guides me in the work consists of. and yet, though the relation of text to image was farfetched, it becomes clear to me that this failure was the ONLY way to account for observance as something more than visually apprehending the world. not what do we see, but how do we see, made manifest through failing at such a mundane task..
for quite some time, the working title for this show was enclosed circuit. it did not occur to me that that designation would have effectively been a kind of repetition. i’m unable to learn from my mistakes it would seem. observance spoke to the idea of a closed circuit rather than the current enclosed one. neither did it occur to me at the outset, that the abovementioned text served as a blueprint for the current exhibition rather than as a natural accompaniment for the previous one.
in the summer of 2012, having just started work on this show, i was consumed with jealousy, alain robbes grillet’s novel. in an essay written years after this publication, grillet noted that what’s truly remarkable about the world is that it simply exists; its presence and irrefutable thereness. as an echo of these words, elaine scarry wrote a generation later that the most crucial fact about pain is its presentness. not a distinction between presence and absence, but between an immediate, graspable presence, and one which can only be inferred. certainty and doubt. in there, out here.
in his mourning diary, a journal kept after the death of his mother (and incidentally while preparing for his book on photography), barthes writes on nov. 28 1978: a cold winter night, I’m warm enough, yet I’m alone. and I realize that i’ll have to get used to existing quite naturally with this solitude, functioning there, working there, accompanied by, fastened to the ‘presence of absence’.
twenty years after barthes’ death, a slender volume was published bearing the title why i love barthes; a collection of things grillet had written about his friend, who long before the musings of camera lucida, would write prefaces and appreciations of grillets work. barthes, whose lines grillet would learn by heart in order to recite them.
testimony to the fact that speaking a name, taking it in your mouth so to speak, is a kind of ownerhsip, certain cultures forbid speaking the names of the newly departed. in others, everyone is given one secret and one public name. speaking, breathing, digesting and excreting; ownership and appropriation. not only did grillet take the words of one roland barthes in his mouth, learning them by heart in order to recite them out loud, he would do so in the bath; naked presumably.
grillet’s writing has been described as a theory of pure surfaces, a description which might as well have described a photograph. would the exact same words, in the same exact order, have produced in me such an acute sense of jealousy if the title were love, or fatigue, rather than this sweet sickness? isn’t it only in hindsight that the words appear to reflect the story’s supposed subject?
the words chosen, the methods of description; these have no intrinsic jealousy. we are given descriptions, nothing more. the insistence of which, their recurrence, testify not to a factual truth, but to the sense that however groundless the narrators presence appears to the reader, there are in fact grounds for jealousy here. or?
jealousy is the story, if we can call it that, of a man who lives in a house with his wife. or so we think. in this house, the man, as far as we can tell, is never acknowledged. he never speaks, yet the descriptions are his, their sentiment the same, regardless of whether we’re seeing stains left on a wall by a squashed insect, or his wife and the man we take to be her lover keeping up apperances as nothing more than affable neighbors. there seems to be a complete confusion here as to the status of the relationship between the figure and ground. in fact, we can’t in any sense be sure if there is any figure here at all. neither can we be certain that there are grounds here for jealousy at all, EXCEPT for the unmistakeable presence of the word jealousy written on the book’s cover. a word which in the original french could mean blind as well, as in the device shielding our rooms from the rays of the sun. the words chosen to relate any and all given situations are so common, so malleable, as to prevent us from seeing that the title might simply be a ruse. just words. gullible us, desperate for a ground to cling to create this jealousy.
-it takes a glance at her empty though stained plate to discover that she has not neglected to serve herself.- jealousy pg 45
in the autobiographical barthes on barthes he says that its not polysemy (multiplicity of meaning) which is praised and sought out; it is amphibology, duplicity; the fantasy is not to hear everything (anything), it is to hear something else. we’d rather bask in our closed circuits of unattainable fantasies than be confronted with the unruly, destabilising and potentially castrating ‘anything’. this confrontation with the limits of one’s horizons the most stifling acknowledgment of all.
is it this that makes the guns here on display so seemingly impotent when compared to earlier works i’ve made of potential weapons? is it as simple as the real never being as good, as enticing, as the fantasy? its as if the earlier weapons (often not weapons at all, but potentially deadly objects nonetheless) whispered, beckoned; fuck me. the current guns, real as they are, against the ultimate projection screen don’t whisper at all. closer to hardcore porn than the erotic novellas of the ealrier work, they command. the injunction is to fantasise in public. permission granted, your deadly fantasies are state-sanctioned so to speak. the need, or desire for duplicity indeed. though the greenscreen can be anything, its impossible not to let the guns determine the space, create the ground. the green leaves us with nothing, no clues as to what lies ahead, no stains pointing to what came before, and the guns, they leave no room for us.
the character of silence, after a snowfall: sound dampened. the crunch of footsteps not yet seen or heard, but imminently trackable thereafter. the light, in all its possible colours, once diffusion has abated, undeterred by comparison to an otherwise daunting variety of objects that seem to posess hues of their own: the play of light.
these lines, written by d....., were to be published as part of an essay in skyldfolk; it was never finished. i am left with four pages of notes. when i moved away from the city in which i met him, he gave me a book on memes with the inscription: in hopes our memes will meet in the future, regardless of where our flesh might be. they won’t. it won’t.
in that text referred to earlier, in a room at the park hotel two years ago, i wrote down the following: my room at this hotel looks out onto a park. the ease with which the hotel lives up to its name sparks a kind of envy in me. envy and disappointment. the name says it all. there’s no room here, no space for you. last summer, in a hotel room indistinguishable from this one, in a different city, it dawned on you that the space you’ve wilfully submitted to thinking of as your own for the night was only yours properly speaking the day before your arrival. once settled, you’re the excess to be discarded in favour of tomorrows resident. a year or so after this, that is, last year, i found a similar thought in the writings of kaja silverman. if what connects us to others is the certainty of death, then this is also what allows space for these others.
an autistic boy i worked with would include himself in every drawing he made. not as a person with legs and a head, arms etc, but as a diagram. a square with an x inside, the lines of which would bisect the square in opposite directions. what was apparently impossible to account for became a site and a presence. here, this, a stain.
how seldom we ask what x, or what gap did my presence fill. what was I as a child, a stand-in for? up to a certain point, the people and objects in our life could be read as so many transitional objects. the reassuring tone of a lover puts us in mind of mother, a blanket assuages the unease brought about by the closing of the bedroom door at night, or, we’re told, you’re just like my father. doesn’t a name function in much the same way, elegantly filling in the gap left wide open by our appearance on this plane even before we realise there’s any lack to be filled? little Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprx-vclmnckssqlbb11116 indeed. this name referencing nothing but the wide open road to chaos that we all at best can contain. how ridiculously (shatteringly) honest then these parents, in the words of grillet yet again, committing that greatest of crimes; to remark the separation between man and the things of this world without trying to relieve or smooth over this looming fact.
however foreign and strange, a name generally gives a sense of familiarity, of some sort of bond. isn’t that what’s lacking in this name? isn’t it, as a name, doomed to bring us face to face with the gap separating them from us, rather than smooth it over?
a cell creates from within itself the necessary precondition for perspective: a boundary, a closed circuit. in there, out here. wouldn’t it be nice to be able to see others as we do a cell through a microscope, like the birds-eye view of the child mentioned above? and yet, what we encounter instead is of course a wall, as if we’re forever immersed in the same gooey liquid from which we came.
a baby is nothing, if not a stain-producing machine: gastric, cloacal, created from the mixing of genital effluvia. is not then, a photograph (assuming now the metaphor of chemical means at origin although we are mostly in the realm of ones and zeros) itself a stain of sorts? where initially we deal in the realm of light and shadow, the rendering of relative permanence to the image results from exposing chemicals to each other to generate the fixed shadows we store that moment with. umbilical is derived from umbel, a mushroom like shape acting as a cover under which to hide. our mothers womb, exposure to light after lurking all those months in the shadows. have you ever been present at the birth of a child? the symbolic cutting of the umbilical chord, a toughness of flesh one was not prepared for. once the baby is detached, washed clean of the stains from blood and other secretions, we’re left with a whitish pale, waxy substance known as vernix caseosa. we come protected, enclosed.
for a while, right around the same time as photography became housebroken, agoraphobia was all the rage. one result of the growth in large metropolises round about was the diagnosis commonly referred to as a fear of open spaces. properly speaking, agoraphobia was the onset of anxiety when a given inhabitant was about to cross one of the many open squares in the city, and as such, i think we could venture the thought that this had as much to do with enclosure as it did with open spaces. for those accustomed to the tight alleys of old towns, there was obviously nothing new in confronting the look of a stranger; and, no doubt, these same people would be used to crossing large expanses of open landscape without suffering a panic attack. and yet, the ‘new’ in these crossings, i can only guess, was a hybrid of these two. by projecting the image of ourselves crossing the square, to ourselves, as a pure figure within a ground which first appears as an expanse but which in reality was a highly restrictive space (a square), the result was self-consciousness in the pop psychology sense. an unease brought on by a projection as to how one’s image is received and judged out there. given the status of those around as strangers, not only can one not find an answer to this with any level of certainty, the very idea that anyone at all cares is mildly ridiculous. though i’ve yet to encounter anyone diagnosed with said illness, it would seem this specter is haunting us still. some of us spend an inordiinately large amount of our lives with this self-aggrandisement, this literal paranoia resluting from a complete lack of faith in others. incidentally, if we were to project the subject crossing the square from two different sides, we would get a diagram resembling the abovementioned x within a square.
while agoraphobia was making the rounds, a Monsieur Bertillon was busy devising a system whereby a crime-scene could be properly studied long after the blood on the carpet had been washed away. by using a specialised grid superimposed on the glass plate, and customised for a given focal length, a photographed scene could be faithfully reprodcued in three dimensions.
last night, after stubbing her toe my daughter looked up at me not simply in order for me to alleviate the pain. her look a plea that I apprehend and grasp the pain in the same way she did, is testimony to the fact that her separation is far from complete. how do you hurt? this same naivete holds for our relation to the image as well, especially in our attempts to create a faitfhful illusion of space, not in the sense of how it ‘really’ was, but in how the space appeared to us; this translation, or substitution smoothing over the rupture.
we are prone to experiencing pain, i mean space, where there is none. doomed in fact to experience flatness as space in the same way as a given image can’t help but put us in mind of whatever. distortion is inscribed into our experience of the world, and yet- take away this screen and what are we left with? like children loyally clinging to an abusive parent, we cling to this distortion because its the only ground we know. the inability to see things for what they really are a defense-mechanism, or survival skill.
after the onset of language, of sight, all those things most of us take for granted, there is no turning back, no unfuck so to speak. however hard we try to revive or replace the three dimensions of reality with the measly two of the image, space is irretrievably lost; our attempted rescuscitation nothing more than desperate attempts at relieving the shattering knowledge of our own death. a thing reduced to to the sum of its parts, its body, its agent of death and its stain; the only image i’ve made so far from which there is no recovery is the squashed opilione, a complete reduction. death with no hope of revival, none of the usual relief or deferral brought about by the camera. photography, contrary to popular opinion is not the agent of death, but of the undead. this last fact made all too obvious in those family photos from the late 19th century of a recently departed (in most instances a child), propped up among the remaning family members, visage static. no x for them.
in the winter garden photograph, Barthes found his x, that unfathomable but instantly apprehendable presence of his maman after her death. the same barthes who was holding out for a just image of himself, not just an image. The only possibility he saw for such a picture would come, not from the indifferency of the photomat, but through love. in his mind the only one who could fix such an image would be his mother.
n i n a . these four letters have become instantly recognisable, as something more than the sum of their parts; like a smell, it’s a knowledge of sensation rinsed clean of thought. it is this x, revived at a moments notice, which lives on after we die. it will not bring us back to life, but, like the undead, it will haunt those left behind. how strange then it must be to experience the condition known as capgras syndrom whereby an emotional response vis a vis a loved one, a cherished dog or some other familiar person is suddenly and irrevocably lost. the spell linking us to those closest and dearest has been broken: they appear as perfect copies (impostors even), but copies nonetheless. the sum of the parts but nothing more.
sometimes, as Silverman (again) notes, all it takes to get the war machine up and running is a whiff of likeness. how are we to understand the idea that identity presupposes a subject identical to itself? the more an external object resembes the subject, the more it undercuts the latters claim to be unique and autonomous. joining these two then, as an x, we could say that the creation of identity presupposes a subject constantly at war with themselves.
both kleenex and xerox have battled generification, a term used to describe the process whereby a trademark or a given name ends up standing for the general category of the thing; its x lost by virtue of being ubiqitous. and yet, isn’t this the secret desire of every parent? that the childs name become synonymous with some trait or other (a favourable one naturally) ? starting from the generic you begin your descent through a process of disidentification and disambiguation to set yourself apart..
according to a study published in the southwestern journal of criminal justice with the leading title hegemonic masculinity and mass murderers in the united states, out of the 28 subjects fit for inclusion in this category, the average age was 32, whilst 71.4% of the subjects were caucasian. in order to be fit for inclusion, the basis of one’s mass murdering had to in some way be related to feelings of one’s manhood or personhood being threatened. how often we hear, in the aftermath of a school shooting or some other similarly tragic episode, that we must try to understand. to bridge the gap separating them from us, in the process recognising how this evil is inside all of us. given my age, the colour of my skin and my proclivity for being easily offended (taking umbrage), i should be better equipped than most to understand these school shooters (a term not necessarily reserved for those pimply faced adolescents, but defining a trope of the killer). as if the only way out of this fucking impotence is to make a name for oneself, or desperate, blind violence. or the two in combination.
so what violence isn’t blind, desperate, spawned from impotence? in a model home, there is balance between the figure and the ground provided; the latter allowing for certain safe parameters within which to excercise any number of possible choices with regards to who we wish to become. a matter simply of filling in the blanks: what more could we possibly want? synapse by synapse, the world is shrinking while our horizons are expanding, or so it goes. and yet, isn’t what we take as expansiveness simply that the ground leading up to the horizon is littered with what look to be choices in the making? an infinite number of pseudochoices, supposed evidence of our right to excercise our free will as freefloating subjects.. however much of an illusion, or palliative, this ground is, it supports us.
the green screen is not simply a site of absence, it is vacant, virtual, in a state of not yet determined. some of us don’t know what we’re so angry about- the only thing certain is that we are. there are no grounds, simply an unease, a premonition. looking at these figures against this ground makes it obvious (however much we’re prodded to imagine, to fantasise!), that what we’re dealing with here is nothing but a number of possible configurations determined by a system in which the parameters always stay the same. like the ideal, free assoicative space of psychoanalysis, the perimeter (the ground) is forever determining our words, distorting our view. here, free means nothing more than endlessly playing within the bounds of your own horizon; like turning on googles personalised browsing, and what you thought was your gateway to a world of objective information is nothing more than a tour around your own tawdry desires.
should we accept the phrase, repeated ad nauseum, that we are a generation with nothing to fight against, no values to uphold etc? our horizons do not expand. with true freedom there would be no choice. the consequence of our paltry excercises in freedom is freedom from everything. this ‘nothing’, this lacking ground made to appear as a something must be pointed to as the nothing that’s there. like the man who approached me in a hotel lobby, his right sleeve tied in a knot beneath his shoulder. i was unable to look away from, or at, that nothing.
in jealousy there is, in grillet’s own words, no complicity, no secret understanding, between the hero and his surroundings. nor is there any between the reader and him. we never enter his mind; he asks nothing of us, least of all to fuck. depending on who we are, we feel for him or not. if there’s one thing in the whole of this book that makes us feel for him (universally i’d say), it’s that his presence is, to those present with him, utterly inconsequential. he simply is, there. he is never adressed nor looked at. a stranger would seem a fitting description in the sense one imagines a dismayed lover saying to the couples therapist that ‘she treats me like a stranger’, and yet, i’m put in mind of a definition of a stranger i read somewhere recently: that of he who comes today and stays tomorrow. wouldn’t this also be an apt description of a child? she who comes today, from nowhere as it were, and stays tomorrow and tomorrow, and tomorrow.........always wholly seperate, but excruciatingly and inescapably close?
if we take a physiognomic approach to images, expecting to find some kind of intrinsic or deeper nature on the basis of ‘facial features’, it would seem that infants, as prelinguistic beings, should be easier to photograph than those of us marked by a life lived. what would it take for us to, in the words of grillet, be objective, not in the sense of total impersonality of observation.., but free from the constraints put on us by the interference of psychology, science, language etc? to have in effect what merleau ponty called the medical gaze, the right to see everything without the duty of appreciation?
the more familiar i become with the images of infant nina, the larger the separation. these images, literally speaking to the idea of infants being those unable to speak, do not speak. we learn nothing about her; here, distance and neutrality do not allow the subject to speak, so what are these images of? could we content ourselves with the idea that presence itself is strange enough to merit our attention? as with his most famous work, last year at marienbad for which he wrote the screeenplay, certain scenes and tableaux’s recur throughout jealousy. stains in a....’s plate, the squashing of the centipede. there’s an insistence at work here, hammering down the same utterance as it were, from different angles of view. the same story with inconsistencies occuring at different places. interestingly it’s not these different angles of view that end up making the picture complete; even though the same scene is seen again and again from different angles, with an added look, an observation that hitherto had gone unnoticed or some other detail not seen in previous turns of the dial, this adds nothing to a sense of truth. in fact, quite the contrary. it is the insistence with which the thing is pursued that testifies to to the fact that when it comes down to it, though everything else might be false, distorted, at least the presence of the event in some way or another, did occur. the presentiment that something must be pursued, and nothing else; something around which all our actions revolve. this is the only available ground at our disposal. the only thing graspable.. there is something there to pursue, something we could call desire perhaps.
follow your desire i’m sure was never meant in the sense of the palliative relief effort it has become whereby any and all urges (what we think we want), must be satisfied immediately. by not asking us what we want, this very question becomes all the more pressing in jealousy. like an amorous lover in pursuit of his object, the more the person in question fails to acknowledge us, the deeper and more pressing the desire. following the bread-crumb trail of your desires, past the object, past what you thought you wanted, is of course potentially shattering. one loses one’s ground.
it occurs to me that zizek might have read grillet in order to have furnished the following: the jealous lover is someone who wants to be present at the scene of his absence. that was the feeling i had that day, by the bathroom door. i was present where I, for lack of language and cognition, was absent. the feel of my parents hands against nina’s wet skin superimposed or grafted onto my own sensory apparatus. an experience i had but which was never inscribed. true to the typical parent living vicariously through their offspring. feeling those hands of support on my daughter as if it were my own neck being held steadily.
this is what photography does, it is this that makes me come back to barthes again and again, his desperate resistance to any reductive system. i imagine him sitting at his desk reading baumann’s book on modernity and ambivalence though that volume was published ten years after barthes death. the beauty of barthes thought of the singular science for each object resides in its very impossibility. if left alone, the objects and people, the meanings generated; they will overwhelm us. the need to prohibit the world speaking its ‘anything’ is the overarching subject of baumanns book. ambivalence in his view, is the polysemy at the heart of things that all modern actions revolve around. the ideal consequence of this project of domestication would be a giant filing cabinet filled with all the things that make up the world, all its meanings, its objects and a cross-referencing function worthy of a borges story. and yet, its the very impossibility of such an undertaking that not only makes ambivalence unavoidable, but which essentially assures that there will never be a shortage of ambivalence, of ‘anything’. it’s as if Barthes was blindsighted by his writing on the subject of photography- as if what he wrote in chapter three didn’t quite register. that in fact a photograph can never be anything but a singular object. the attempt to pin it down, to force it into parameters it has pre-emptively succeeded in expanding to infinity is simply to enact a kind of violence on it. however much we try to persuade ourselves of the language of the image, a photograph is the much sought after expansiveness that we are promised at every corner. like those things we desire most of all, they bring us face to face with truths we can not possibly recover from. however far from the scene of the crime the photograph is, however illogical the associations it spawns, a given interpretation can never be wrong,