Distribute images, dissolve worlds – On Good-TV

“There is a time for images, a right moment, when they can appear or insinuate themselves…”1 I like that sentence. It says something about the activity of the image, it’s waiting, something about the special time that it requires.On top of that, it says it in the voice of Ecclesiastes: “There is a time for everything.” As everyone knows, the “everything” of Ecclesiastes, the nothing new under the sun, is highly ephemeral; an earlier translation of The (swedish) Bible said it was all “vanity” in. Despite the fact that Ecclesiastes is quite exhaustive in his enumeration of all the vanity that there is a time for, he does not mention that there is also a time for the image. A time that comes and goes. Perhaps because the image endures, like a little sun.

 

This Image is No More

I saw it only once – GOOD TV’s exhibition at Sinne in Helsinki. I would have liked to see it lots of times.This exhibition, which was supposed to present an image via the spoken word, had its own slowness and its own suddenness. The image that is being told has its own incubation period. In its way it reproduces the exhibition’s own, strange, self-relationship in time: “This Image Is No Moreis an exhibition that began the day after the opening…2 WTF?! So, the exhibition did not begin with the opening, but the day after. During the opening, GOOD TV arranged an incident on the street outside. It was to constitute the image to be retold by actors during the exhibition period. So, the image that “is no more” was presented at the opening, one might think, and is no longer there when it makes it into the exhibition, which begins the day after. No, it is not going to be all that simple.

I will begin with something less convoluted instead. Time, image and distribution seem to be key elements in what GOOD TV does. From the start it was the name of a local-TV project that Juan-Pedro Fabra Guemberena, Loulou Cherinet and Michele Mausucci were running on the Öppna Kanalen (Open Channel) in Stockholm. Their programme was to serve as a gallery for showing art, art that did not look like the rest in Stockholm’s still quite homogeneous gallery offering. 2 x 1 hour every week throughout 2004-2008, that adds up to quite many hours of art.

TV distribution totally changes the images’ spatiotemporal relations, whose standard in fact still is constituted by a here and now for an individual viewer. In TV they do indeed take place in the same now, but also in different heres, and for an audience that, in principle, has to be seen as a mass audience, i.e. each individual viewer becomes part of a collective subjectivity. Even though it was a small local channel, the programme could reach 350,000 households in Stockholm.

 

Since 2009, GOOD TV has instead been the name of a group or a collaboration that has devoted itself entirely to conveying images verbally – presumably one of the very oldest of arts. The ancient Greeks had a word for it – ekphrasis – and brilliant works of ekphrasis are made occasionally, for example, by Akira Kurosawa in the film Rashomon and by Manuel Puig in the novel Kiss of the Spider Woman.

For GOOD TV, however, cultural history is not the most important reference point. I see them not as researchers of a discourse, so much as of things that have to do with the very intimacy that exists in the narrator situation, face to face. The personal status of the material, the desire behind the form, must always come out. The press release mentioned an experience that Juan-Pedro’s mother had in Uruguayan prisons, where they retold films to each other. These retold images were visually more powerful than the original. Thus, GOOD TV’s idea of ekphrasis (maybe it is in fact the idea behind all ekphrasis) actually comes across as making claims that are in fact peculiar, or at least noteworthy: there are visual images that are richer than what any eye could ever be able to see. For them intimacy seems to be one of the conditions of production, just like invisibility. One wonders what visual quality an image possesses when it transcends the limits of our body? What is a truly inorganic, inhuman image? And what is the life that relates to that which the senses cannot deal with, and which actually, as Juan-Pedro said of his mother in the prison, needs these living images “so as not to go under”?

 

So, from the day after the opening onwards, an actor retold the image of what had happened in the street. This took the form of a conversation, we might say; the actor went around the gallery, pretty much like a spectator, and began chatting with someone. So, not a stage, but a tête à tête. Sinne was filled with props that did not really constitute an installation or exhibition, no proper space. One might almost want to say that the air had gone out of the room, there was a spatiality in collapse in there. This gave a slightly abandoned impression. You Tube clips on the theme of Finland were running on a large screen; on another was documentation of the rehearsals intercut with images from the opening. So, there was a direct display of the material there, but no form. The props were supposed to help the actor to come up with associations that would bring out the image, perhaps to suggest it. But they were also supposed make use of a personal memory, along with a fresh item from of the news of the day. The image would thus be new every day, and be developed over time, almost like a moving image.

It follows from this description that the artists place their work input at a certain distance from the finished work. They create the initial image; they select the actors who are to convey it; they lay down certain rules for how the distribution is to proceed (what types of associations can be made, whether the image is to be brought to life by alluding to a smell or, perhaps preferably, to a taste etc.); they frame the space in which the distribution is to take place. But in other respects they are not involved in the interpretation process. Hence, it is the distribution that makes the image, not the artists who have designed the distribution. The distribution/form is the art, but the art is realized in the image, which is in the spectator. “To make an image from time to time […] Can art, painting, and music have any other goal, even if the contents of the image are quite meagre, quite mediocre?”3- The actor otherwise had three role interpretations, three temperaments, to choose between. So, three possible images every day, or three different temperaments for the image. As to whether the different roles were bound up with the three languages – Swedish, Finnish and English – in which the image could be mediated, I have no idea.

This distance between the artist and the finished image in the hearer, between transmitter and recipient, conception and reception, is echoed in the reception itself. Between believing that one has got an idea of the image and the point when the image is actually there, there is an indeterminate time. It was precisely this that the exhibition seemed to be counting on; on the way that the image, when it was delivered, would require its own specific time to be taken in. This would not be experienced until a considerable time later, when it ‘no longer exists’. Perhaps it is precisely this time lag, or the imperceptible internal distribution in which the image acquires increased impact, that is referred to in the exhibition’s title: This Image is No More. This is an enigmatic phrase that articulates an oddness in the image time: “This image” – ostensibly this image here (and now) – is no more, it does not exist. It is impossible to think of a situation in which this can be said. Indeed, one might perhaps want to say this about a hallucination, as a way of exposing it. But then one would not have called it an image. An image is specifically that which has an intermediate status, which is neither illusion nor object – perhaps because, as Deleuze says, it “is a process”, it is its own obscure distribution process. It is actually also something that one immediately recognizes specifically as an image, and does not mistake for the thing itself.4 So when one tries to disabuse someone of their belief in a mirage, one tries instead to get them to realize that it is an image that they are seeing. To say, and to point to, this image, and to assert that it no longer exists – how could one rely on anyone who says that?5

There is a fundamental unreliability about good art, which makes it put in an appearance when it wants to, or else to withdraw without in any way indicating how long its effect will last. It comes when it comes. In photography theory attempts are made to explain the special character and impact of photographic images by showing how they inspire confidence. And this may well hold true for most applications of photography, but not for art. Annika von Hausswolff is entirely correct when she writes that art’s “magnificent capacity has to strike you in the form of a meaningless gesture, only then can it give rise to the existential vertigo that defines – not the work – but the experience. Remember that art is not something to count on.6 Art is unreliable, it has a striking meaninglessness or emptiness that means that it can strike and actually exist in close connection with the essential. But it is not something to rely on, trusting in it can in no way be a condition for its reception, and the essential may not be good for you. So trust and reliance may be a way of overcoming unreliability, but then one overcomes the art at the same time.

The lesson: one cannot rely on having seen any art when one has been at an opening. And in this case ewe know why: the image was a sensory one, nothing that went beyond the capacities of our human sensory organs. Whereas this is precisely what an image in art is supposed to do. The evening of the opening seems to have served as material for the exhibition, which is not documentation of a work that was supposed to have taken place during the opening. First and foremost, the opening and the exhibition work together to create a rubato, a movement within time, an acceleration or a slowing down that means that the exhibition does not begin with the opening, but afterwards, and that the image that is here is not itself, has not attained its potency. People who came to the opening did not get any art, but themselves became extras and material that made possible a disruption of time. Artists cannot constantly keep on delivering.

But if we cannot trust art, how are we to relate to it? Perhaps by being intimate with it. Intimacy without trust, that is what art demands. What we have here, however, is an entire exhibition that seems to put all its resources into conveying an image that does not appear to the spectator until later, but then perhaps the spectator has to allow the image to free itself of its contextual safety net, and land in the middle of their own passivity and absent-mindedness. In my case, the image only arrived on the morning after, when I was quietly walking away from the airport bus in the grey morning weather.

Bang! The image.

I had made an experience of the image. I was making the experiencing. The image was there, on its way. And once it was made, it turns out that the new image, in turn, is hard to retell, it is a secret that not even the person giving it understands, despite the fact that it bears traces of the site of its conveyance, and of the way it was conveyed. The image is not private, but in contrast it is specifically intimate.

It is not unusual for people to say that art creates worlds. This exhibition taught me something else: when the image arrives, as it did for me there on the street on the day after, it dissolves a world. Art frees us from the world that we are stuck in. Maybe only for a moment, but that is enough for reality to slacken its grip a little for a short while. I had been disturbed, I had been through a rubbato. The image came in passing, and suddenly there was only my head facing upwards, the sky and the figure a. Hard to distinguish my head from the sky and the figure, I believe that all three are actually incorporated into the image. Quite meagre, quite mediocre. But so real and intense.

Why is the image so hard to reproduce? Because it does not consist of figure and ground, but of figure and abyss. That is why the head in the image, the point or position of the act of seeing, is still not a point of view or a perspective – what kind of perspective can one have on an abyss? The figure is not isolated, despite its solitude, but, on the contrary, it is released from that which binds it, which bound it. The image is the process of dissolution – retell it without reapplying the binding process if you can! In short, the point, the sky and the figure, are hard to reproduce in their interconnectedness. Furthermore, the figure begins to form connections with the props in the room, with individual passages of film that one saw there, with words that were said. What happened in the gallery is reorganized with the figure as its central point, the figure that in my case was the actor at precisely the moment when he was swinging a scythe; linked to that is something he said about ice hockey, the feeling of what he said, but also something that is my sense of the uncanniness that I associate with the narrator in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker, who suddenly, through swinging his arm, indicates to the children, or perhaps only to the reader, that he himself is one of the figures in the fairy tale, the worst of them. This is actually precisely the undecidable moment between reality and fiction in the narrative that I remember, or am now constructing, and attaching to the image. And this is a part of the image’s movement, its way of coming into being, of detaching itself from the image of Sinne that I remember. The figure leaves the empirical context, it is not through remembering what happened that I come to understand the image, but through seeing the effects that the figure has on my own experiences, memories, imaginings and hopes. For a while, it becomes an accomplice (a borderline type, I would think).

It was perhaps the most interesting exhibition I saw that year. In any case, I have probably never seen anything like it, which in itself is sufficient for it to be a memorable exhibition. But this exhibition has something more. When an artwork dissolves a world, a feeling of immense liberation and of something earth-shattering comes over you. Everything is elevated and between head and sky there arises a fine, gently crackling indistinguishability. Big words, perhaps, but quite litteral and without images, and besides, besides: why would one otherwise bother with art? To discuss it? To be an exemplary democrat by virtue of participating in ideally transparent structures and non-hierarchical relationships? Hardly. It is for the absolute exceptions that we are there, the rare, one-off occasions when the world goes under for us. It is for this going under that we need images that the eye should not be able to see, and it is the unreliability, which does not confirm anything, but instead dissolves connections, that only intimacy can help to emerge. At the same time, it is quite joyful, it is the glimmering of a new dawn, perhaps of a day that never comes, but still. It is when the whole of the system of priorities, which biopolitics and habit and inescapable egocentricity have etched into everything that I am, is obliterated for an instant (or for whatever time the image actually takes), it is then that one has been involved in art.7 (And it was perhaps for precisely that reason that Schopenhauer said that art liberates us from the body. Today, one would probably rather say that, through art, the body liberates itself from that which governs it.8) It is not that one is oblivious to the world when art happens, on the contrary; it is its centring that vanishes before one’s vigilant gaze, and hence its shape, its values – everything is evaporated. Then it really shows its vanity, and that, as it says in another translation of Ecclesiastes, it is “smoke”. Perhaps this happens so as to make room for another, but one cannot bother about that at that point, not now when the image is being distributed, this image that itself is one big “no more” and the joyful contours of vanishing. This Image = No More. Basta così!

 

Lars-Erik Hjertström Lappalainen

 

This text was first published in this book, in Swedish, English and Finnish, March 2014.

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1Gilles Deleuze, L’épuisé p. 77 in Samuel Beckett, Quad et autres pièces pour la télévision, Paris: 1992.

2It was Juan-Pedro Fabra Guemberena – together with Loulou Cherinet and Michele Mausucci, the authors of the work – who wrote this sentence in reply to a critic on Facebook.

3Deleuze, ibid. p. 71.

4This, the image’s immediacy as an image, consciousness that it is an image that one is dealing with (including memory images, or imagined ones) is what Sartre seized on as the property of the image that earlier theories had missed; empiricism and rationalism and their successors in psychology had no means of theoretically distinguishing between an image and an object, between a memory and a perception. See his L’imagination. In this context one could perhaps mention Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy in which he puts forward the idea of the Apollonian condition, in which one is specifically aware of the status of the image in, for example, dream images.

5This could, of course be said if there were an image in the image. But that is not the case here.

6Processer, catalogue for a group exhibition at Kalmar Konstmuseum, 1995.

7David Foster Wallace maintained that the real value of a liberal arts education is learning that you are not the centre of the world. See his address: This is water. http://moreintelligentlife.co.uk/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words

8See Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation §38 and especially Nietzsche’s “physiological” interpretation of the liberation of the body through art in On the Genealogy of Morality, Third essay §5-7. http://www.inp.uw.edu.pl/mdsie/Political_Thought/GeneologyofMorals.pdf



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