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Sunday, 7 August 2011

Clara Turchi at Bayeux for the months of August and September 2011 - Part II

Bayeux, 78 Newman Street, London W1T 3EP


The installation of my work (which replaced a previous exhibition by Ellie Davies) is almost completed. New pieces have been added to the show, a few are yet to be installed.


All the images in this post ©copyright:Clara Turchi
Selection from You Are Everyone's Horizon

First and last from The Physical Impossibility of Memory in the Mind of Someone Living; in the middle Photo Synthesis of Time #1 (Enlargers)

The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living

For The Guardians and The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

Untitled from For The Guardians

Untitled from For The Guardians

Untitled from For The Guardians

Untitled from For The Guardians

Selection from Photo Synthesis of Perception (Man Walking Backwards) [50x5000cm]. Inside Window

Selection from Photo Synthesis of Perception (Man Walking Backwards) [50x5000cm]. Outside Window

Selection from Photo Synthesis of Perception (Man Walking Backwards) [50x5000cm]. Outside Window

Self Portrait with Birdy Broach (manipulated Polaroid)

Self Portrait with Birdy Broach (manipulated Polaroid)

From the Hips (lightbox)
All the images in this post ©copyright:Clara Turchi





Friday, 5 August 2011

Showcase of my work at Bayeux for the entire month of August - 78 Newman Street, London W1T 3EP

More photos to come (this is just me some days ago with my phone - no, I don't have an Iphone - getting excited during the installation of some of my pieces).

Untitled from For The Guardians, 2010

From The Hips, 2005

Photo Synthesis of Time #1 (Enlargers) and Artist's Shit, 2010


Photo Synthesis of Time #1 (Enlargers #9, #8, #7, #2)

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Any Photographer's Blues

A personal essay about photography. May 2011
[Adaptation from the title Any Woman’s Blues (a Novel of Obsession) by Erica Jong (1990)]
Reflections on the impossibility of the memory
Yesterday I thought that I would be able to describe something only if I had the thing in front of me. Let alone writing about something: I would not want to rely on my memory in this exercise; I would want to have pen and paper, there and then, when I am in front of it. I realise now that I was just thinking of photographing something with words instead of silver grains. Almost as I wanted to negate the possibility of the memory, or at least the possibility of my memory.
I really don’t want to rely on my memory to describe objects or people. It is not that it would be too much of an effort to remember them; it seems that I do it because it is too deep the pain involved in remembering something that has existed in a moment in my past. 
But this must be a contradiction! Because I normally photograph that thing, and print the image, and look at it, and linger on it, sometimes I kiss it, and I talk to it, still, there, dead, trapped in its own past on the photographic paper.  And it should be this ineluctability of the image to scare me the most instead of the remembrance of that thing. 
But in a certain way, with photography it feels like I posses it, the thing, as it has been, in the past, undoubtedly dead, but completely under my control. It is because the photographed subject is there and dead that I can control it: in any other way, it would be subjected to the capricious and volatile character of the memory and other mental processes. It is the ‘almost’ of the memory, which shares the same regime with love and life (Barthes, 2000, p.66), that terrifies me.
The murder
Death is the only human situation we don’t have recollection of. It is embedded in us as the original state from where everyone comes and to where everyone goes. Death excludes memory, negates it. We cannot have any remembrance of this state without experiencing it: and if we experience it, there cannot be any memory of it anymore. That is, because memory is an intrinsic quality of life, Barthes even says that it is the substitute of life (Barthes, 2000, p.93). 
Photography too excludes memory. Actually I photograph precisely to avoid the memory.
It is wrong what people believe, that photography is an instant art, always available, bare, offered to satisfy any instincts of the photographer, ever. Photography is, instead, a delayed art because we photographers, differently from painters, sculpturers, musicians and writers, cannot create, or better, cannot take a photograph from our memory. We can take a photograph of some of our memories, which usually means to reconstruct, physically, even if only in the search of the right composition, what we remember before immortalising it.
Critics and curators such as Charlotte Cotton refers to this certain type of photography (the constructed tableau, the directorial mode) as ‘too late’: a photography in which everything ‘can be attributed to the intent of the artist’ (Klein ed., 2009, p.103). Why can the concept of ‘too late’ be applied to a type of photography that withdraws from memory and not to painting that always, even if to different degrees in different paintings, literally draws from memory and the intention of the artist? Because when the photographer has finished to reconstruct the recollected scene, it is in that precise moment that vanishes the last glimp of life of the thing represented. Which in fact can remain alive only in our memory. Alive because it is only there that it can keep on changing and being modified by our experiences and mental processes. 
I believe this is exactly what the photographer doesn’t want to do: he doesn’t want anything to be changed and, ultimately, to be affected by time. For it to be possible he needs the subject to die in front of his eyes, following the modes he only has decided, a modern version of the freudian myrmidons of Death (Freud, 1961, Pag.33). And in the same instant that he negates memory and substitutes it with the image, his intellectual desire is to negate life with its caducity: every image is always ‘too late’ because it is too late for the subject to be alive when we look at it arranged in a photograph. The photographer has already performed the murder.
The resurrection
Photography is always a negation of something (all the other points of view) in favor of something else (the chosen point of view). It is the negated thing that keeps on living whilst the photographed one dies. 
It comes to my mind the struggle of Barthes in going through the photographs of his dead mother,  in search for the one that would be truly her, that would encompass her true being. The one that would, in his words, ‘resurrect’ her (p.64 et al.) 
At the beginning of his search he keeps on saying that ‘he couldn’t find her’ but I think that what he could not do was to re-find her in freudian terms, that is, he could not re-find the object (whose presence is already in the ego, i.e. it has already been accepted as ‘good’ by it and introjected in it) to convince himself that she was still there (Freud, 2001, p.237).
And then he found the Winter Garden picture. The picture that resurrects her, that made her there again, immortal, a non-dead, an undead: for Barthes, the fetish par excellence. But what is it that makes her a living dead? It is that the Winter Garden picture is not a fragment of her anymore, one where only one or only some aspects of the person are depicted, and dead, whilst others are left outside, leaving and breathing in our memory. It is a photograph where the soul of the subject is exposed, shot, killed in its entirety: immortality only occurs through the annihilation of any hints of life in the subject.
It is death, then, what we ultimately try to re-find in photographs, because it is the only way for the subject to resurrect. 
The resurrection of the subject is when the photograph “becomes alive”. It is not that the pictures is suddenly doted of a life; it is that we can construct and project alive sensations and sentiments on it. It is like if we ‘let it speak” to us. More fragmented is the image and less complete is the range of alive responses we can project on it. If a portrait captures, to say, a person in an angry moment or expression, that photograph will always be angry with us, every single time we look at it and receive back its look. We will not be able to project, for example, happiness on it, so we will not be able to feel any happiness in response. But when we find our Winter Garden photograph, where all of the subject is truly dead, that picture, that very person depicted is so completely there and dead that it becomes the tabula rasa of our ego and we can project everything on it, even life, a new life.
My Ariadne! My Frankenstein.
I found my Ariadne, I found my Winter Garden picture. 
No, I am lying, I have created it. I am the photographer, I wanted it. And beyond alchemy and magic, what I have wanted was to resurrect a subject that is still alive. And I killed it. What can I do now if not waiting for my own death?
The more I become involved with photography, the more I realise that it is the meta-language of death. 
Other than just talking about death or dead people from an alive perspective, photography can actually explain death and its characteristics, as only a dead subject, been born and being living dead, can do.
As Jesus Christ is the christian meta-language of God, because from Him he derives and with Him he shares all the holy characteristics, photography shares an impressive number of characteristics with death. For instance its disconcerting, disturbing, frustrating flatness that hides everything, from the hand of the artist (‘resulting in a radically impoverished mode of criticism’ [Bedford in Klein ed., 2009, p.9) to what is actually depicted in the picture (‘however hard I look, I discover nothing’ mourns Barthes [p.100]). Photography and death don’t hide, but they don’t say what they let us see either. They affirm the ultimate distance between the  viewer and the subject, probably negating once and for all Benjamin’s theory of the loss of the aura. The viewer’s consent, action or power, is inverted into mere participation (Levinas, 1998, p.4). They also affirm the impossibility of the memory, for to have memory there should be life and to be life there should be a future. But there is no future, in both of them; there is only a congealed co-presence of past and present, what is in front of us and what has been once, for sure, with no possibility of modification anymore (to avoid any doubts, digital manipulation is for me what colour is for Barthes, a make-up for corpses).
And still, precisely for this reason, it discloses the door to immortality, as, if the future of the immortal being was still possible and so forth uncertain, we would not be sure of the reasons of its immortality.
My Winter Garden is called You Are Everyone’s Horizon. Like the latter it is the long, thin line that wraps any man’s visible world, the long kiss between earth and sky, human and celestial, the long journey through which every men wander, from life to death and back. This is what this photograph is to me. 
I sit in front of it and I see the hedgerow of Leopardi’s Infinito (1818-1821)the fence that occludes part of the view and, for this reason, allows the mind to contemplate the infinity. I see the ‘devouring light’ of Turner, as his soul is completely bare in it, offered to the viewer, without eyes that return the look and set boundaries to the sight. 
It drags me to the other side, or better, it drags me to  a “side other”: because I don’t know yet which side of what, but for sure his eyes have never touched the surface that I touch with mine when I look at it. There is no point of contact in the middle between the viewer and the subject; the contact is in a “space other”, that is beyond the negative, a space the viewer is invited to dig in. 
I am Odysseus in putrefaction: no Circe advised me how to escape the enchanting song. My siren sings and I sink into its blue sea (and that couldn’t be closer to the truth, for the subject of the photograph, my subject, is immersed into the blue, like in dreams or in the water). I force myself to remember that he is alive. He is not a photograph, no, I can kiss him, I can talk to him in person. He is in the other room at the moment. He is probably working on his computer. But instinctively, compulsively, I kiss the photograph before remembering him being there. I sometimes talk to it instead of him... 
‘The photographer is caught between his desire and his intellect’ (Wise, in Klein ed., 200, p.84), between the subject, alive, and the negation of the subject (in a previous essay - SEE NEXT POST - I sustained that photography is a compulsion to repeat an event that is already present in us, the death, but in order to develop the anxiety that will prevent a future traumatic neuroses to happen - i.e. it is a compulsion to repeat the very act of forgetting that the subject is alive so when death will arrive we will be sufficiently ready to receive and accept it). In my case it feels like I have succumbed to the intellect: in an extraordinary turnaround of events, the living being becomes the picture of Dorian, showing age and crime and illness, whilst the photograph flourishes again and again, undead, immortal, fixed in its evolution, like in a loop: from life to death and back, all the time.
Any Photographer’s Blues
The truth is, no photographer would act on the shutter if he wasn’t deeply in love with the subject in front, be it an object, a concept, a surface or, even more, a person (it is of no difference if the photographer is simply the executor of the love of someone else towards something else). The agony starts when this love is being transferred to a proxy, the image (which is also a proxy to death) instead of being channelled and expressed, as opposite to repressed, toward the living subject. But it is also a well known fact the impossibility for mankind to grasp and explain deep and intense feelings of love. And what is You Are My Horizon if not a long, blindly passionate, love declaration?
In the essay I previously mentioned, I had advanced that photography is a death practice that serves a life instinct, implying that the two forces, love and death, not necessarily have to work in opposition but can become altruistic: they can actively act to pursue the aims of the other primary instinct too. Using the meta-language of death to express love and affection might seem, at the least, a bizarre choice, and definitely one that causes struggle and obsession; but maybe this is precisely what can help us to make the leap that will bring us closer to Eros. The difficulty for the photographer, or at least for this photographer, me, is then to accept it: to accept that through the mode of death we can aim at life and that we are the privileged dancers of the ballad of love and death. 




Bibliography
Barthes, R. (2001) Camera Lucida. London: Vintage
Brøgger, A. and Kholeif, O. (2010) Vision, Memory and Media. Liverpool: FACT
Costello, D. and Willsdon, D. (2008) The Life and the Death of Images London: Tate
Freeland, C. (2010) Portraits and Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Freud, S. (1961) Beyond The Pleasure Principle. New York: W. W. Norton & Company
Freud, S. (2001) The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Volume XIX. London: Vintage
Gage, J. (1969) Colour in Turner. Poetry and Truth. London: Studio Vista
Gross, J. ed. (1991) The Oxford Book of Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Guibert, H. (1996) Ghost Image. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press
Hamilton, I. ed. (2000) The Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Essays. London: Penguin
Jussin, E. (1989) The Eternal Moment. New York: Aperture
Kemp, S. (2004) Future Face. London: Profile
Klein, A. ed. (2009) Words Without Pictures Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Kozloff, M. (1987) The Priviledged Eye. Essays on Photography. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press
Levinas, E. (1998) Collected Philosophical Papers. Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press 
Milani, R. (2009) The Art of the Landscape Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press
Sumner, A. (1989) Ruskin and the English Watercolour. From Turner to the Pre-Raphaelites. Manchester: Whitworth Art Gallery
Wylie, J. (2007) Landscape. London: Routledge







Giacomo Leopardi (Italy, 1798-1837)
L’Infinito (1818-1821) 
Sempre caro mi fu quest'ermo colle
E questa siepe che da tanta parte
De'll ultimo orrizonte il guardo esclude.
Ma sedendo e mirando interminati
Spazi di là da quella, e sovrumani
Silenzi, e profondissima quiete,
Io nel pensier mi fingo, ove per poco
Il cor non si spaura. E come il vento
Odo stormir tra queste piante, io quello
Infinito silenzio a questa voce
Vo comparando; e mi sovvien l'eterno,
E le morte stagioni, e la presente
E viva, e'l suon di lei. Così tra questa
Immensità s'annega il pensier mio:
E'l naufragar m'è dolce in questo mare.

The meaning:
Always dear to me was this lonely hill,
And this hedge, which from so much part
Of the ultimate horizon the view excludes.
But sitting and gazing, boundless
Spaces beyond that, and more than human
Silences and profoundest quiet
I in thoughts pretend to myself, where almost
The heart is overwhelmed. And as the wind
I hear rustle through these plants, I such
Infinite silence to this voice
Go on comparing: and come to mind the eternal
And the dead seasons, and the present
And the living, and the sound of it. So through this
Immensity is drowned my thoughts:
And being shipwrecked is sweet to me in this sea.
Faithful rendering by Lorna de Lucchi:
I always loved this solitary hill,
This hedge as well, which takes so large a share
Of the far-flung horizon from my view;
But seated here, in contemplation lost,
My thought discovers vaster space beyond,
Supernal silence and unfathomed peace;
Almost I am afraid; then, since I hear
The murmur of the wind among the leaves,
I match that infinite calm unto this sound
And with my mind embrace eternity,
The vivid, speaking present and dead past;
In such immensity my spirit drowns,
And sweet to me is shipwreck in this sea.



Beyond The Death Drive






March 2011


Photography in light of the Death Drive
What is the practice of photography if not the adult re-enactment of the Fort-Da game of Freud’s nephew? What is the lens if not the act of throwing the desired object away, to keep a distance from it? What does the photographer do if not compulsively repeating the act of renouncing the object of pleasure, only to find it again behind the curtains, when the negative is processed? 
In the analysis of Photography under the light of the death drive, the first reading we can attempt is that Photography is characterised by a compulsion to remember: very often the photographic practice, professional or amateur, is directed toward the same subject [It is important to precise that within this essay we use the term ‘subject’ to mean the subject of the photograph, being it a person, a landscape or a material/immaterial object whatsoever] through its spatial and temporal changes; the potentially unlimited  number of reproductions assure that what is depicted will never be forgotten; the lens is the instrument of choice which avoids the occurrence of the wound, i.e. one of the event that reduces the outbreak of traumatic neuroses.
If we are to agree with this view we then need to ask ourself what it is that the photographer has a desire to remember. ‘What drives you two girls to cut from the mobile continuum of your day these temporarily slices, the thickness of a second?’ asks the protagonist of Italo Calvino’s The Adventure Of A Photographer, ‘the life that you live in order to photograph it, is already, at the outset, a commemoration of itself’ (1958).
What the photographer desires to remember is death. And what he desires to remember is dead as well. ‘Strictly speaking, the person who has been photographed - not the total person, who is an effect of time - is dead. (...) Photography, by virtue of the objective suggestions of its signifier (stillness, again) maintain the memory of the dead as being dead.’ (Metz, 1985).
The mode of this desire is the photograph, a relatively small object reproducible a potentially unlimited number of times. A potentially immortal object that testifies about what is not there anymore. Which protects from the loss and affirms the loss undoubtedly. A fetish, a symbolic castration.
At this regard, Slavoj Žižek offers an interesting reading of partial objects in The Pervert's Guide to Cinema - Lacanian Psychoanalysis and Film (2006, 24m:20s):
‘The fascinating thing about partial objects, in the sense of organs without bodies, is that they embody what Freud called death drive. The death drive is not a striving for annihilation, no! The death drive is almost the opposite: it is the dimension of the undeath, of the living death, something which remains alive even if it is dead; immortal in its deathness. This dimension of diabolic undeadness is what partial objects are about.’
With the act of photographing, in truth, the photographer transposes the memory of an absence to an object that reminds him of a death, he transposes death. The photographer wants to be traumatized each and every time by the memory of the death of the subject precisely for the purpose of transposing this death into an object that protects him from the traumatic event itself. The compulsion to photograph is in reality the compulsion to forget that the subject is dying, and ultimately to forget the subject. 
The photographer’s desire is to rationalise the death of the subject. Through the lens he establishes a certain distance from it, and through the lens he can decide upon what it is important to him in the world (what is important that don’t die). He wants to capture an original state of the subject which is beyond time and the caducity of life: ‘Photography (...), like death, is an instantaneous abduction of the object out of the world into another world, into another kind of time (...)’ (Metz, 1985).
The act of photographing then figures itself as an ego-instinct whose desire is to come back to an earlier state, a regressive, conservative instinct that tends to re-instate a precedent status quo. Photography is strictly a death practice.
Every time the photographer acts on the shutter, he is re-enacting the death of the subject, he is pre-staging in his mind the traumatic and unavoidable event of its death in order to avoid the rise of a future traumatic neuroses. ‘All representation is a form of death (...). The power of the image comes from its telling us what is to come’ (Townsend, 2008).
As death can be certainly described as an original state of inertia that is common to all matter before and after it becomes matter, it is innate in all of us and we don’t need to remember it: ‘(...) the power of the image as the power of death does not wait for death, but it is marked out in everything - and for everything - that awaits death’ (Derrida, 1996). Our bodies know that we will return to that state and know that it will be a traumatic event. But this can be considered a traumatic event only to the extent that it acts against certain cells of ours that respond to the life drive. It seems as in the photographer it is these cells’ desire to pre-stage the death of a subject in order to continue to live when the traumatic event will happen.
Freud writes about the compulsion to repeat in retrospective mode, as the repetition of a traumatic event already happened in the past ‘in order to develop the anxiety whose omission was the cause of the traumatic neuroses’ (1961, p.26).
Photography is a compulsion to repeat an event that is already present in us, the death, but in order to develop the anxiety that will prevent a future traumatic neuroses to happen. In the specific it is a compulsion to repeat the very act of forgetting that we are alive so when death will arrive we will be sufficiently ready to receive and accept it (the notion of acceptance implies one of moving on in life). We are looking at a death practice (a real compulsion to repeat death) that serves a life instinct.
The Death Drive in light of Photography
The question that is at the origin of this essay, what does the theory of the death drive explain about photography, is now to be reversed. What does Photography explain of the death drive?
Freud affirms that the Pleasure Principle, a secondary process, serves Thanatos (1961, pag. 57), the death drive, a primary process, and that at the same level of Thanatos there is another primary process, Eros, that is driven by life instincts. These two primary processes work in opposition to each other.
What the practice of photography seems to prove is that there can be a certain degree of dependence between the two primary processes. This imply that it is possible for one to use the other in order to achieve its primary purposes. It seems as the death drive can be used for life purposes. 
At this regard I have interviewed Richard Swatton, psychotherapist at The City Psychotherapy Service, London. His view on the death drive is illuminating, for he believes that the death drive is ‘a productive source of evolution’ (2011, 59m:56s):
‘But there is a deeper or a more inclusive way to look at the death instinct: life proceeds by a series of deaths. [Richard gives now a panorama of the major changes that occur in the life of a person: a series of deaths and re-births of the ego]. The idea is that all crisis can be seen not from a regressive point of view but from where you are headed. (...) So the death instinct viewed in that terms is a productive source of evolution. (...) So you can die to an old life and be reborn. And that is a more modern and progressive view about the death instinct: It is healthy but it can become decidedly unhealthy when the person refuses to die.’
The death drive becomes a healthy force, a healthy drive which we need in order to live.
This doesn’t contradict the fact that the ultimate purpose of life is to die. In fact, by finding an example of a death instinct that serves a life one, we can certainly affirm that the opposite occurs too: the orgasm, La Petit Mort. During the orgasm we regress to a state where the conscious system doesn’t apply. We regress to a state that resembles death. This is a life instinct (sexual instincts are life instincts) that serves the purpose of death. And the opposite at the same time: a death drive that serves the very purpose of the prolongation of life (since it is in the communion of cells that life is preserved).
On page 33 of Beyond The Pleasure Principle Freud affirms that the life instincts were originally the myrmidons of death, asserting a certain predominance of one instinct (the death one) on to the other (the life drive). This is just before he rejects his own theory for one of opposition between the two.
In this categoric opposition between forces we can possibly read the most intimate struggle of a father that has just survived the death of his ‘Sunday child’ Sophie in a world  struggling after the First World War, on the verge of collapsing under the Second World War.
The example of the practice of photography proves this opposition wrong. The primary instincts work together, they become altruistic: they don’t only act to pursue their own objectives, they can also actively act to pursue the aims of the other primary instinct too.
By eliminating the opposition between the two instincts, what becomes central is how to use them. The dynamic opportunities arising from the possibility of altruistic (instead of opposing) instincts are at the basis of choice and creativity, therefore saving art from being just an expression of the repression of the primitive Oedipal Crime into the unconscious. 
We would like now to propose a practical example of this conjugation of primary instincts and nothing appears more appropriate than referring to the practice of appropriation in the body of work of John Stezaker, a survey of whose oeuvre is now on show at the Whitechapel Gallery’s John Stezaker exhibition.
John Stezaker’s work masters the art of appropriation in its collecting-mode of already available images and in its collage-mode of re-assembling them together. 
The practice of appropriation is, within the photographic art, the one where the presence of death is the most evident, it being a death practice the most compelling. Historically its birth is marked by the release of Barthes’ The Death Of The Author: ‘the voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death, writing begins’ (1967). The interesting concept that Barthes advances in his short essay is the central point that the reader assumes in the fruition of the work of art as well as in the very production of meanings and interpretations of it. It is the birth of the reader. The photographer dies as the author of the image and re-born as the reader, the interpreter: ‘I remember I begun collecting things in which I began to see [to read] the manifestation of an archetype. (...) At that time [mid ‘70s] I used to talk about things taking on the vantage point of the consumer rather than the producer of images’ (Stezaker, 1997 in Evans Ed. 2009). Talking about his Marriage pieces during an interview with Gallois and Herrmann, carried in occasion of the John Stezaker exhibition, the artist affirms that it is precisely because the images don’t merry perfectly that the beholder has to participate in creating the marriage, that is, the image.
The practice of appropriation is also tightly intertwined with the one of collecting: in Stezaker this is manifest in its simplest form of grouping together different images that already exist (its existence being a necessary quality of the object that has to be present at  the moment of collecting, in order to be collectable); in other practices such as, for example, Richard Prince’s, the act of collecting is exercised trough re-photography. During the interview with Gallois and Herrmann Stezaker states that he thinks of the collection ‘as the “afterlife” of the image; there is a deathly aspect to all collections”; but in particularly to his collections as, he explains, ‘I collect from what has already had its day, its moment of currency’. Despite this he says that he still ‘get a sensation [of]  its aliveness [of these images] (...)’ (2011).
Another way to read the art of appropriation is through the pieces that it produces, ‘a vampiric re-animation only. They are the undead’ (Mellor, 1998). This recalls the definition of Žižek of the partial objects and that of the undeathness of the fetish along with its origin, the taboo. And again Stezaker confirms this view: 
‘the big question for me was why my fascination always seemed to take me beyond the contemporary world, into something that came from the recent past but nonetheless a world that no longer exists. I felt that this relationship with old images was almost taboo. (...) I was interested in the obsolescence, the point at which they become illegible, mysterious, at which they touch on another world’ (2011).
The point they touch is death, after having lost their function and their context: they are images out of time and out of currency. This is the state of inertia of the image, the death in which it is latent the prospect of a new life. And Stezaker’s gift of a new life comes through the ultimate ceremony of their death. He, in fact, cuts, omits, covers up, blinds them, voids and disfigures them in a rite that seeks their eternal death and, with it, their immortality. ‘Death is rather a matter of expediency, a manifestation of adaptation to the external conditions of life’ (Freud, 1961, p. 40). With no life, death doesn’t occur. Through the final, definitive celebration of his images’ death, through a second annihilation of the subject, after the one perpetrated by the oblivion that accompanies the passing of time, through his compulsion to repeat the death of these images, he gives them a new immortal existence. ‘I feel I have returned these stereotypical figures to a certain kind of humanity, that I have breathed life into them’ (2011).
Stezaker’s oeuvre is not the manifestation of the opposition of Eros and Thanatos, but of them working in unison, of the altruistic nature of the primary instincts. In his work the two forces find an equilibrium that is as firm and delicate as the cut of his Blind I, 2006, the first image at the Whitechapel Gallery exhibition: the blindness of the man is present only in a thin, precise cut in the paper, a quick blink of the eye, what it takes to die. And whilst the image travels on this line that is the passage from life to death, at the same time it finds another route, a route to infinity, as the line becomes a cut in the perception of the perspective of the image and a door sprang open on immortality.
It seems superfluous to say that not every appropriationist practice, and photographic practice in general, are as successful as Stezaker’s in finding this equilibrium of primary instincts. What it is not superfluous to repeat, though, is that by eliminating the opposition between the two instincts, the riddle to be solved by the new generation of artists becomes how to use them altruistically in order to disclose creative opportunities.
Bibliography:
Appignanesi, R. & Zarate, O. (2007) Introducing Freud. Cambridge: Icon Books
Ariès, P. (1976) Western attitudes toward death : from the Middle Ages to the present. London: Marion Boyars
Barthes, R. (1967) The Death of The Author. Aspen, n. 5-6
Crimp, D. (1993) On the Museum’s Ruins. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press
Derrida, J. (1996) By Force of Mourning. In: Brault, P. & Naas, M. Eds. (2001) The Work of Mourning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
De Duve, T. (1994) Echoes of the Readymade: Critique of Pure Modernism (Foucault on Duchamp). October, Fall
Dial HISTORY (1997) Directed by Johan Grimonperez. USA: Other Cinema [Video]
Evans, D. ed. (2009) Appropriation. London: Whitechapel Gallery Ventures Limited
Freud, S. (1961) Beyond The Pleasure Principle. New York: W. W. Norton & Company
Harris, J. Ed. (2010) Inside the Death Drive. Excess and Apocalypse in the World of the Chapman Brothers. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press + Tate Liverpool
Kul-Want, C. Ed. (2010) Philosophers on Art from Kant to the Postmodernists. New York: Columbia University Press
Mellor, D. A. (1998) Media-Haunted Humans: Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, John Stezaker. In: Evans, D. Ed. (2009) Appropriation. London: Whitechapel Gallery Ventures Limited
Metz, C. (1985) Photography and Fetish. In: Wells, L. Ed. (2003) The Photography Reader. New York: Routledge
Mey, K. (2007) Art & Obscenity. London: Tauris & Co.
Roudinesco, E. (2008) Philosophy in Turbulent Times. Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze, Derrida. New York: Columbia University Press
Stezaker, J. (1997) Interview with John Roberts. In: Evans, D. Ed. (2009) Appropriation. London: Whitechapel Gallery Ventures Limited
Swatton, R. (2011) Interview. London, 21 February. [Richard Swatton is a psychologist who works at The City Psychotherapy Service, London. Richard is a Freud expert and agreed to be interviewed by me on the subject matter of the death drive. The interview took place in his office and lasted one hour and 10 minutes. Transcript of the interview available]
The Pervert's Guide to Cinema - Lacanian Psychoanalysis and Film - Presented by Slavoj Žižek [full version 2h: 23m] (2006) Directed by Sophie Fiennes. London: P Guide [Video]
The Thin Red Line (1998) Directed by Terrence Malik. UK: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment [Video]
Townsend, C. (2008) Art & Death. London: Tauris & Co.
Virilio, P. (2003) Art and Fear. London: Continuum
Virilio, P. (1991) The Aesthetics of Disappearance. New York: Semiotext(e)
Whitechapel Gallery (2011) John Stezaker. London: Ridinghouse Whitechapel Gallery






John Stezaker - Blind I, 2006