No matter the intention involved in the placement of the camera/apparatus, in composition, performance or accident, at a certain point photography is an autonomous process, and human access is not possible. As we recognize this, the fluid boundaries of the index are recast and the claims exacted for the truth or verisimilitude of what has ‘happened’ before the aperture or lens of the camera, the ‘event’ captured by the framing apparatus, skips over this void to subsequent manipulations (tonal gradations, pixel depth, codecs, digital artifacts, false color processes) of the ‘photograph’ as an evidentiary trace. While classical notions of the phototonic impress on a sensor or sensitive surface as an unproblematic index of the ‘real’ have been eroded or dismissed in recent theoretical discourses, the concomitant recognition of the ‘constructedness’ of the image still preserves, in the technical and material autonomy of physical processes, an indexical ‘data stream’ that remains to some extent beyond human manipulation. While the representational conventions employed in making this information visible, causing it to appear, may harbor some bias or prejudice, truth-claims, or even a desire to fit happily within taxonomic or paradigmatic armatures or established theoretical configurations, the field destabilizes, and such easy or habitual attributions are compromised.
(annotations on some works, possibly in progress)
By Thomas Zummer
This is especially so when working with found footage, archives and even stock footage, compilations from multiple sources or suturing ‘effects’ and CGI. By reconfiguring the apprehension of ‘data’ sense as an indefinite multiplicity—introducing pluralities in thinking secondary sensory information as evidence, consequence, potentiality or ground—the work redefines the possibilities of thinking via the deferred technics of the visual, the mathematical, the material or conditional. In so doing, such works also tacitly interrogate the genealogy of re-presenting technics, and narratological habituations, that have formed the history of the appearance of medial ‘objects,’ and engage in a configuration of possible worlds, and to different methods of apprehension, new forms of visualization, exceeding established theoretical/empirical/conceptual/aesthetic speculations.
Technically reproduced images are always belated; even the most proximate coincidence of live transmission and recording has a discernible, if minute, lapse. This structural condition of media is often dismissed or suppressed in order to situate an indexical claim to the verisimilitude—the ‘truth’—of the photographic/cinematic image. In addition to media’s spatializing operations, there are also what might be described as chronotopological operations. [The reference is to Bakhtin’s notion of the chronotope, or literary shape of time.] But the release of the artefactual image from its ostensible referent only increases with time and distance. ‘Found’ or appropriated (or purchased/produced) footage is laboriously conscripted to the artificiality of narrative coherence, often by ‘announcing’ itself as plausible, or holding to forms of recognition as a naturalizing and familiar trope.
What if you didn’t do that?
Sid Iandovka & Anya Tsyrlina, in their multiple approaches to the image and its exigencies, often proceed in just such a manner, suspending or displacing the common reflexes and unconscious tamperings with (im)possible semblances and inferences, to let an image, whatever it might be, just be what it is, or be something else, without being inscribed into a regime of sense that further violates or tethers it to a foreignness that is not its own. One could say it is a method of apprehension of image, sound and sense that is both abstract and empirical at once, an approach that admits the strange dispositions of the image without covering them over to configure a reference that has never been; theirs is a method that proceeds by paradoxically leaving images alone, or perhaps more accurately, by gently and generously allowing a different alterity and different exteriorities latent in media to come out. Allusion, metaphor, catachresis, metonymy, anaphora, all continue to work, configurations that make the artifact legible, pleasurable, inspiring or engaging.
Where such writers as Blanchot, Foucault, Lyotard, Derrida, Nancy, understood the contemporaneity of writing as an incessant traversal, moving to the exterior of the ‘text,’ and thereby defined the present configuring of writing by ‘breaking the frame’ of conventional referential naturalisms and naïve realisms to address an ‘outside’—Foucault’s ‘transgression’ or Derrida’s ‘hors-texte’ are exemplary instances—Iandovka & Tysrlina locate the outside of medial artifacts (it’s neither what nor where you might think, not an ambient ‘off-screen space’ that holds place for or mediates the world/non-world of images); they show that it is much stranger, more dangerous and inexplicable—in spite of its ubiquities—than we might ever have thought. The duo reinvent cinema, a (re)thinking [logos] of origin and regulation [arché] that, in often astonishing ways, ‘begins again.’ They are the most necessary sort of ‘primitives,’ and like other ‘outsiders’ (e.g., Leslie Thornton, Chantal Akerman, Harun Farocki, Ericka Beckman, Tacita Dean, Marcel Broodthaers) their works distend, extend, transcend, reconfigure and disfigure the possibilities of moving images.
This citationality, this duplication or duplicity, this iterability of the mark is not an accident or an anomaly, but is that beyond (beyond normal and abnormal) without which a mark could not even have a socalled ‘normal’ functioning. What would be a mark that could not be cited? And whose origin might not get lost in the process?
...a face appears, the surfaces where and when it takes up residence are indistinct, at times obscured; focus and motion trace the range of its disposition, and sometimes it is obscured by a superimposition, a partial ‘frame’ or architectural element that comes momentarily into focus and occludes the face...
We try to apprehend, grasp, the appearance of this visage, but it alludes us. When you walk along a street or through the spaces of a city, you glance at innumerable faces; unless you know them, or there is something anomalous, attractive or threatening, you gaze glances off them and they are forgotten; this is a commonplace in how we attend to the appearance of a face. From a neurocognitive perspective, while facial recognition is one of our earliest accomplishments, unless there is something that stands out, we treat faces as a kind of schema which we readily configure to a regime of sense in order to elide, consume, engage. When a face appears within a technical apparatus, a re-presentation, there are common apprehensions (mimetic identification, mirror-neuron system activation, apprehension of token or type) that form the field within which these sensibilia are linked to memory and expectation, character and narrative, etc. In the long, unnamed, section where the previously noted face appears, fibrillates, and persists, we find ourselves reflexively attempting to grasp this appearance, to suture or tether it to the construction of a figure, in a narrative, having a referent, to ‘whom’ something happens, or that progresses, transforms, or disappears. It does none of these save the latter, and that is accomplished in a strange way. We are deprived of the possibility of consumption or relay—we are not allowed to grasp, nor do anything with this image; and then it disappears, however strenuous our attempt to circumscribe and contain its ‘presence’ by linking it to a world—imaginary or real, interior, exterior, evidentiary. In this disposition it is a privativum, an image that negates or denies any form of anaphoric closure, that always remains ungraspable in its dynamic and enduring presence, constituting what one might describe as a perfect articulation of the negative sublime.
Iandovka & Tysrlina are among the very few artists who recognize, understand, and—perhaps most importantly—permit the strange and tacit artifactualities of medial procedures and artifacts to come to the foreground, to ‘open up,’ and become salient and sensible, to withdraw from conventional spatialities and let a work take place, ‘on its own terms,’ unsteady and strange, untethered to familiar, predictable orders of mediated perception and consumption. No matter that you are fascinated and transfixed (these works are immediately pleasurable and transporting) and none of the usual presumptions and expectations are met. It takes deep courage and inspiration to so carefully and intricately configure sound and image, and then leave it alone.
It is an unexpected form of abstraction.
The Oxford English Dictionary attends to the definition of ‘abstraction’ in this rather curious manner:
“...how to understand abstraction :: to draw away
(at first, like its Latin original, a participle and adjective):
drawn, derived, extracted; withdrawn, drawn away, removed, separated—even secretly, therefore: to ‘secret’—sometimes to purloin.
[withdrawn from: contemplation, matter, embodiment, practice, or particular exemplars]
... and so, subtility, as a withdrawing from the actual, the concrete, the commonplace...or, in a more common sense, not knowing what (one) they (might) say / after the appearance of...or with numbers, those which have no denomination annexed into them; a compendium, one thing “drawn from others” a smaller quantity containing the virtue or power of a greater [that is to say: the virtual or the potential of a greater/exterior/other]
An image, of cast shadows, captured in a trace, an image whose arrestment secures the index of capture as a claim to truth or to the verisimilitude of what has (after all) passed away, of what we might say (with some risk) continues to pass away (as if what is gone persists in that negative interval, as if the presumed continuity of its passage grounds such absence as the very promise of recall).
A state of being withdrawn: in this sense, all images are abstract. And, in the consequence of this sense, we are constrained to take up, again, the question of ‘surface.’ 1
...there is something that more resembles a film, or work of media art, which bears the working title Girl, that gracefully construes archival fragments, possible scenes, imbricated into the potentialities, or maybe even—for us—the prognostications of narrative.2 Here too, time and space are both entangled and undone; . . . a face appears, is lost, only to reappear repeatedly, its reinscription tracing the contours of different, if incomplete, spaces. Who is she? It is impossible to know, or to make of her appearance even an imaginary or fictional presence; ‘she’ and the spatialities she ‘occupies’ are too insecure, too destabilized for that to occur. There is a kind of ablossen (withdrawal, or absentation) of the image in the same moment that it refuses to be erased or negated, or fully disappear, but lingers on, a spectral haunting afterimage confirming the problematic artifice of identity and recognition.
The retinal response, based on a physiological mechanism, is not a metaphor, or an index, but—ironically—a useful model for the explication of the formation (and even the ‘persistence’) of our habitual mental images, our mentalities. The conditions and productions of subjectivation with which we are complicit in our engagement with the technical dispositif are of this sort: an apparatus of which we are an inextricable part, whose anticipatory presumptions secure the possibility—that is to say, the promise—of our pleasures. It is a play of shadows, flickering sensibilia that we take to be, or to have been, real.
Between the prolepsis of initial impression (a ‘fore‐shadowing’ or ‘fore‐sight’) and the analepsis of cognition, the physiological/cognitive process of seeing organizes, and in a sense, creates, perception. Seeing, therefore, consists (occurs) in the interval, the time intervening, between impression and fixation, of the ‘event’ or configuration of events that allows us to focus on a fragment of the visual field. It is a process that begins in an indistinct (reflexively unmarked) past, which it nonetheless ‘retains’ or carries into the present. In this sense seeing comprises, over this minute span of time, a mnemonic function as well as a harmonization and resolution of the tensions within an ‘image.’ Image resolution, no longer conceived spatially, in static terms and concepts, is reconceptualized temporally as the provisional stabilization of visual effects through mental or technical processes (sublimation, repression, amnesia, editing).
Iandovka and Tsyrlina’s repetitions and retentive misprisions bring about a revelation of the unstable doubling of bodies/figures/surfaces that short‐circuits the stabilization of image, sound, narrative, pleasure, by addressing, at a structural level, the nonsynchronous occurrence of impression and perception. In a sense, they undo time and space—that is to say, the deictic extrapolations of spatiotemporal coordinates that we habitually assume as stabile, and through which assumptions we ourselves are inscribed into the medial apparatus—to release the instabilities of images. Their work is a remarkable and revelatory, inspiring, necessary, and at times even unpleasant, process. The interventions of digital post-cinematic processes releases image, sound, sense and reference in entirely unexpected and unprecedented ways.
Let’s not forget, either, that there is no such thing as ‘fixed sight,’ or that the physiology of sight depends on the eye’s movements, which are simultaneously incessant and unconscious (motility) and constant and conscious (mobility).
San Sebastián, Spain/Basel, Switzerland
In another work of indefinite duration (or perhaps it is, or was, or might be part of another work) there is a superposition of image and effect, multiple layers of what one might call image-effect.3 It is not a simulation of the ‘real’ or naturalization of image or narrative, but a remarkable and heuristic opening of the image-field/surface and audial/sonic field, and so, in this way it extends or expands the range of inter-articulation without ever collapsing into a ‘story’ or abstraction, or indefinitely pleasurable and consumable image. A man, obscurely, walks toward the ‘camera/screen,’ endlessly, through multiple skeins of effects, a strange technical scrim, oddly reminiscent of the structural/material fabulations of Robertson’s phantasmagoria, only more intense, more relentless…
...o yes...and S&A have the most extraordinary, beautiful, cat...
Thomas Zummer is an independent scholar, writer, artist and curator. He is a professor of philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS and an artist and lecturer at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. He has been a visiting professor at many institutions including Brown University, New York University, The New School, Transart Institute (Linz), and Hogeschool Sint-Lukas (Brussels). He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
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1. Author’s note: This text is derived from (most of) the consecutive definitions of ‘abstraction’ found in the OED. As such, it is a strange, hybrid, rhetorical form, a kind of paraphrase, or parataxis. I have used different versions of this text in a number of published and unpublished papers, to make a variety of different points, so to remark on both the repetition and difference of this configuration tethered to (sometimes very) different contingencies and arguments should help to clarify the range of what we might mean when we refer to abstraction. This is especially true in works such as those of Sid Iandovka & Anya Tsyrlina, and others, who continue to tamper with the limits of media artifacts in such remarkable ways. This text is modified from its first iteration: Thomas Zummer, “Within and Without Recourse: On Leslie Thornton,” unpublished manuscript, a paper read at an evening of screenings and conversations with Leslie Thornton, curated by Brian McCarthy, 16 Beaver, New York, April 2010. All of the definitions of ‘abstraction’ are from the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Vol. 1.
2. Zummer is here referring to Iandovka & Tsyrlina’s film that would come to be titled All Other Things Equal. —ed.
3. Zummer is here referring to an in progress version of Iandovka & Tsyrlina’s video (e)scape goat. —ed.