Sunday, 10 May 2009
Work from Reversed.
“When something is not there, possibilities open.The tête-à-tête is an intimate meeting. It may be a way for us to meet our beloved or look at a picture that speaks to us. We are face to face or eye to eye with the person or the picture, rather than opposite them. I am looking at you at a moment when you are looking at me looking at you. Our gazes cross but their crossing cannot be captured; the dialogue with the picture takes place outside all representation.
However, representation may include a moment where one sees the other: we may look at one another or one may look at the other without the other seeing him or her. We may, of course, also observe ourselves or someone else in a mirror. In such cases, however, we are not eye to eye with ourselves or with the other. Our own face and our own gaze are never actually visible to us. I am of one flesh with the world, and ‘my body sees only because it is a part of the visible in which it opens forth’, as Maurice Merleau-Ponty says in his book, The Visible and the Invisible. I cannot, however, see the contours or gestures of the body in which I dwell in this world in the same way as others see them. Even to see my own back is difficult. And yet my being in the world consists of gestures, body positions and facial expressions, and my observing I-is immersed in my own experience of the world.
Immersed in the world, we are looked at from everywhere, even before we make the other the object of our gaze. Nowadays children are watched in the womb even before they make their first kick felt. I am watched, but what is a gaze? When someone turns his or her back to me demonstratively, I see a resentful gaze. The gaze is not the eye, i.e., the organ of vision. It articulates. In the field of vision, the gaze is outside; I am looked at, I am a picture. As the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan wrote, ‘What determines me, at the most profound level, in the visible, is the gaze that is outside. It is through the gaze that I enter light and it is from the gaze that I receive its effects’.
When we look at the picture of someone in a state of hypnosis, or asleep, or dead, the psychoanalytical question arises: ‘We see dreams, but do we watch them?’ Pictures of a person who is asleep, dead or hypnotised expose a body that is not being exposed with the purpose of being looked at. The pictures both show and hide a dormant threat, the threat of dissolution, nullification and loss of control. Even though we know that we are permitted to watch, we still feel ashamed. We find ourselves eye to eye with something that ought to be invisible. The pictured people do not look, though clearly, they see with their mind’s eye. Are we looking at a soul in the nude, comparable to a nude photograph taken surreptitiously?
When the soul or the inner space become nakedly visible, the position or perhaps rather the attitude of the body makes it apparent. In her book, Reading Rembrandt, Mieke Bal studies Rembrandt’s drawings that describe a sitting nude as a mass of flesh – which is what the body becomes in a state of complete relaxation. The whole body expresses indifference to being seen; it is not available for eroticism; it lacks any exhibitionist intent. There is nothing on the background, only the background, a surface that signals the intimacy of the woman’s position. A veil ought to be drawn to shut her from the view of the spectator.
At the same time, the lack of posing exposes a mask or veil with which the body makes a picture of itself and becomes like itself. Lacan uses the expression ‘to make oneself seen’. But it is possible that the subject does not pose as an object in order to be a subject, but simply chooses not to represent.
Silent or Quiet?
Freud’s teacher Jean-Martin Charcot had thousands of pictures taken of hysterical people in the photographic laboratory he founded in the hospital of Salpetriere in the middle of the 19th century. Charcot was a visualist who believed in what symptoms, gestures and postures can tell and registered what he saw in his theatre of living pathology. Freud was more interested in what is not seen or is only seen as holes. He began to study the psychic topography under the surface of the skin, where a visual study of the members of the body is unable to penetrate. He calls the unconscious ‘the other scene’. It is a scene on which things are often left unrepresented.
To represent the unrepresented or to leave unrepresented? The gaze outside seems to guarantee that there is more to see than what I see: the invisible returns from the world back to the subject, thus opening a state of visibility. In a photograph, we may be able to see how visibility becomes visible and while looking at pictures, we may become aware of the conditions for possibility of visibility. However, visibility does not simply mean that we are able to perceive something that is either absent or present. Objects, perception, images and imagination are involved in visibility, but visibility is not reduced to reproductive representation. There is also imaginary representation, where the structure of desire as well as various unreal objects, such as daydreams, phantasies, melancholy or shadows enter the picture. Loss of control, relaxation, a vague recollection, involuntary movement and flight into the world of daydreams seem to imply a flaw or deficiency of some kind. They do not aim for the sublime or look for the unnamed; instead, they represent non-representation.
Speech and memory may act in the same way. As interruptions. They may be completely void or full to the point of exaggeration. Yet all speech demands an answer, as memory demands recall. The answer, however, may well be silence, where the void makes itself heard. In that case, we look outside speech for some reality or something represented that could fill the void. We let the body think and analyse its gestures, positions or behaviour in order to find what is not said. We study the reverse side and feel with our gaze the living material of human hair. We feed the eye’s insatiable appetite with rich colours. We play music in order to hear the dance. The unseen and the unsaid brought out by a marriage or rather engagement of the senses, i.e., synergy, are answers to our failure to remain quiet.
Speech, pictures or memory may be void or they may show their reverse side. When expressing the observed by means such as these, they seem to be speaking of something that – though it may resemble a lived experience deceptively close – yet does not fully coincide with it. They bear evidence of past powers that have been pushed aside by events making their choices at crossroads. The Finnish language uses the word katsomo (‘the looking place’) to denote locations where people gather to follow various events. The word in English and many other languages is auditorium, the hearing place. When one looks at an empty katsomo, one sees oneself seeing. When the katsomo is quiet, one can hear hearing. One is eye to eye with the fact that something may take place or be swept away. – Pia Sivenius thanks to Galerie Poller