“The link has always been affected by a symptom ⎯ that of an oscillation or pulse.”
Alain Badiou, Art and Philosophy, “The Handbook of Inaesthetics.”
At the horizon of the International Center of Photography’s 2010 “Perspectives” exhibition we approach works that according to the wall text by curator Brian Wallis “open onto networks of reception and pulsing flows of information.” These words carry a distinctly quantum valence, of a pulsing, imaginary flow of images, that in a infinite multiplicity appear as a wave, resulting in a configuration where five photographers generate a field of consciousness that we might call “visuality(i)” or perhaps dispositif.
In this arrangement photography represents representation against a backdrop of a discipline “in crisis.” It is a crisis that yields variegations of histories, as opposed to History. From another point of view it may be said that the works on display meld languages and bodies, and that these images arrive as half-born specimens from the world of ideas. Within this schema the individual work of art becomes a receptacle for the labor of comparison, sabotaged by the bad faith of opinion and the travesty of effectuality. If we were to oppose this view, we would argue that vision is only an epistemological proposal, subject to a convulsive state of looking, a sustained pulse. Visuality as pulse has a history as an episteme, allowing concepts to traverse the mechanisms of objectivity. Visuality is an ideological apparatus in four parts: Seeing the visible (sight), the opposing impossibility of sightedness (blindness), anxiety over the lack of sight (blindness in sight), and sight as seeing the invisible (sight beyond sight).
We participate in a quartet that as a metaphor we understand as a grotesque spiral, as opposed to an eternally achiral mirror. We cannot straighten this metaphor of seeing since it relies on a crooked perspective in order to exist at all, a metaphor is a mental picture, and as such, presents reality askew. This is the only sure knowledge we may have of the One: It is that truth, the adherence of object and subject, shares the same location as freedom.
This image of the image must not be a communicative transmission in the code of psychoanalysis, but a truth. The present writing is meant as an incursion via the fourth element of the grid, seeing the invisible (sight beyond sight), to apply the vision of a saint, as divine seer, and to tear a cut in the fabric of the real, and see through in the sense of perspectiva to the real Real. This is called extremism, or in another idiom, this is hardcore.
This act of looking is, in a manner of speaking, a choice of weapons, and is as likely to be brought to use as an AK-47, a piece of outsider art, a camera, a dead baby, or a skateboard. If these things seem incongruent, it might only need explication that the idea of racial formation ran alongside with the history of collecting abnormal specimens, and as such, links to a certain discourse regarding superiority. Or we might add how the American cowboy drawn to rapturous life by Matthew Porter mimes elements of Romanticism, which in turn resonate in acts of suburban resistance, or in Maoist insurgence(ii) , or in the subtractive negation of the unviable and soulless fetuses in Lina Herzog’s grim collection. Perhaps all of these things share the aura of lost causes.
The coordinates of Carol Bove’s installation at the direct center of the exhibition space might be a perspective from which to explore how ideology turns on an axis, if provided the freedom to move in relation to a given point, and might help us imagine the gallery turned upside-down, raising the ocean up over the land in a way, tilting the balance to reverse the tide. While this view of the exhibition and how it works is but an outline of an infinite territory of allusions, it may be correct and applicable to the analysis of that structure, and as such, we should ask how do we subject the proposal to the power of truth? By what means can we achieve this outside of the question of visuality?
As a system of ordering objects in the world and placing them under organizational power a perspective is a field wherein objects separate from themselves and are made subject to the Other. In this way, the ordering of things is symbolic(iii), and as such, items in extreme recess are rendered as unseen, and the qualities of visibility are accorded first to the proximal and “at-hand”. This does not mean that any perspective, even the perspective of having no perspective, keeps anything secret, however. Indeed, the blocking of items in space, the occlusion and half-veiling of things, the fading from view of one thing or another, or temporal obscurations, do not make objects themselves cease to exist, but only not to appear. This transitive appearing, within the guidelines of a given vantage, does not limit the potential appearance of the as yet unseen, or exclude a certain “blind sight” or intuition of things beyond the seen or see-able. In fact the perspective of multiple perspectives leads directly to the use of intuition to ascertain any view at all. This means that the nominal condition for seeing within the schemata (cf.) of visuality is the freedom to move from one perspective to the next. Symbolic interchangeability is no less than the view of perspective itself, the perspective of perspective. The stated intention of the ICP show is that the content is not thematic, and where themes establish themselves they do so according to that theme. So, to pass a line of sight, or to refract a viewpoint back onto itself follows the stated intention of having no thematic intention.
In this way we might see the pulsing links between Ed Templeton as skateboarder and as photographer, bent on a rebellion against the laws of physics and the laws of conformity, or connections between mutation and colonialism. The intuitive factor, the means by which one can see using any perspective as opposed to any other, or in a combination, interchangeably, is both a roll of the dice and a skill to see what is written in the stars. According to this intuition, schisms unite as the plenary One, and a chorus sings difference as différance.
The joining of body and language is, again, the fourth part of seeing, and is an idealized singularity that breaks apart as an object comes under view, as though refracted in a kaleidoscope. The resulting disorientation can be unrecognizable but it is the vision of the real. As such, ‘Perspectives’ seeks a consolation between an anti-humanistic historical index and a work of art that maintains sovereignty as subject and object. It is here that the conceptual ground slips away if it can only be in the appearance of seeing that visuality exists at all.
Visuality is not the conduit for seeing, nor the aggregate presence of all perspectives, but is the dialectical potential and the procedure for active viewing, which may also be seen as a resistance to a single given viewpoint. The question is how well does ‘Perspectives’ make sense of colliding views? Does it encourage collisions? And where frisson does occur what happens to the energy created? It can feel like the gallery setting for exhibiting pictures has reached a nadir(iv).
Whatever smashing takes place the chaos produced will serve as no record without some sense of observance, and that observation registers in neither the index, nor the everyday, as long as the contestation of categories is seen as in an anxious flux and in need of regulation. In the same way as in other areas of epistemology, the view one takes determines the outcome of a given observational process. The ontological prerequisite cannot be transferred in these circumstances, except when subject is subject to the truth, and not epistemology. Where ‘Perspectives’ fails, if it does, is where viewing fails, as a blind accumulation of indexical relations, or as an attempt to imprecate viewing itself. Viewing should become subject; a faithful subject should resist, making a convulsion. The intersections and enjambments outside the gallery possess images with the power of the unseen. A gallery image is but a corpuscle that contains resistance to blindness. The monadic air of a photograph displayed in a public space sometimes fails as a display of content, but never fails as an example of being subject to display. Suffusing the subject, building it up or educating it, as a kernel inside another system, is what every photographer does when they take a photograph. It shows how a visual item can succeed in provoking the secret buried in perspective, and can explicate that secret is void.
And another truism follows, that nothing is secret. The zenith of the visual is the evocation of the Other, the throbbing viscera of response for which there is no single origin. It is hardly the fault of the work of art if this is not achieved in a gallery setting, nor the fault of critical practice, nor the fault of the analysis of mass ornament. The responsibility lies in the power that governs the photograph in situ, that is, at the site of the event where the presentation of the image in its traditional orientation of theatrical subject, or acting object, requires an educated reverse, requires a flip of the tables, an overturning, or ideally a disappearing act, so that the psychic order of perspective itself may formally undergo the same process. This is a question of superstructure making a demand on us that we must be ready for, as always.
i. See Nicholas Mirzoeff, On Visuality, The Journal of Visual Culture, vol. 5 no 1 (2006): 53-79.
ii. I am probably wrong to make the attribution to Matthew Porter. In his Paragraphs on the Photographs (After Sol Le Witts’s Paragraphs on Conceptual Art), he addresses what I imagine are my paragraphs, and makes clear that viewing is a precondition, and that a zeppelin and a cowboy represent an absurd collision, that is, they are “two things that never met.” I am taking Porter’s attestation with a marked skepticism insofar as it is printed across from a letter written as fiction by Ian Svenonius, entitled Possible Letter From John Wayne to Jane Fonda. In the letter, John Wayne tries to enlist Fonda as an icon to “would-be panthers, the Maoists, the Trotskeyites, the losers, the addicts, the beatniks, the long-hairs and the draft dodgers”. Both texts are printed in the catalog “Matthew Porter: High Lonesome” (M+8: Los Angeles, 2009-10).
iii. See Erwin Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form (New York, Zone Books, 1991) and Keith Moxey, Perspective, Panofsky, and the Philosophy of History, “New Literary History.Vol. 26, Number 4, (Autumn 1995): 775-786.” The timbre, to use a synaesthetic term, of words like power, symbolic, perspective, concept, visuality, comportment, etc. has the force of what was once called imperative, and was even referred to for a time as “the photographic”. The contestation, as it is called, over such issues is rich soil. For a solution we might begin with Man a Machine by Julien Offray de La Mettrie, written in 1748. The philosopher George Santayana, according to M. H. Abrams in his classic book The Mirror and the Lamp (Oxford University Press, 1953), called what was done in the name of the philosophy of art “shear verbiage.” That category recalls philosopher Harry Frankfurt and what he deems bullshit in On Bullshit (Princeton University Press); the bedroll of words and keywords are all boilerplate, what Blake Stimpson fears as “ersatz philosophy.”A concerned reader will benefit from Stimson’s essay A Photograph Is Never Alone from the volume “The Meaning of Photography” ed. Robin Kelsey and Blake Stimson (Williamstown, Stanley and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2009). Other readers less agonized over the fate of photography, but interested in the regime of objectivity, or what is called “the escape of perspective,” should pour over Objectivity by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison (New York, Zone Books, 1999). Those seeking how ideology interacts with works of art on institutional display will gain greatly from “Public Photographic Spaces” (Barcelona; Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2008) and “Museums and Memory” ed. Susan Crane (Stanford University Press, 2000). Given these readings the map of any museum becomes consonant with relations worthy of public discussion. It may be argued that the notes for this essay were conceptualized prior to the fact of writing, and that is so, and it is a supernumerary function of that writing that this note is in-itself a discursive machine of seduction and revolution. A point of insertion, and a note within this note, ideally includes everything outside of the text, and reportage of the iterations that this writing underwent. One reader in particular preferred the use of “schema” as opposed to “schemata” and suggested removing “a” from “a perspective is a field wherein objects separate from themselves.” The difference is profound, and was given body in the reader’s question: “I know that you are interested in exploring multiple perspectives (and/or multiple ontologies) but I wonder if you mean “a” here, since you are talking about perspective in the “Renaissance” sense?”
iv. This is not a class or method, nor negation, this is not nothing, and it applies to everything under the sun. She says that I don’t know how her heart feels, and I try to make the argument that I do and I don’t… I have found it educating to read Hong-An Truong’s critical writing; beginning with a review of Dinh Q. Lê at P.P.O.W., see http://idiommag.com/2010/02/dinh-q-le-at-p-p-o-w/. A man on Broadway sings “and one thin dime won’t even shine your shoes…” I help him get his wheelchair across the street. What do you want from me? Blood?