Sometimes looking at work makes the mind go astray. I remember a Mughal miniature of the Emperor Jahangir (1569-1627) be drawn up from the ocean depth in a giant glass container. He talked of the wondrous scenes he had witnessed, as if visiting an alien world or planet for the first time, and in this, thrown outside of bounded experience. A floating chain of signifying words come to me; below, submerged, other, unconscious, before, deep, float. I need to float in these images and be with these words in order to discover their reserve without attempting to fix anything.
So we are submerged (on the plane of the imaginary), placed underwater into a world bereft of direct forms of speech and thus confined to the space of gesture. The recorded image within this space itself is subject to warping and folding, as if flickering on the edge of being without the certainty of substance. Perhaps such images do not properly coincide with reality, and as such, are closer to hallucinations or reveries. We are not only asked to re-orientate sense but to give ourselves over to the difference implied in this (a being under or the under of being).
Everything is transformed below the surface. History is normally secured because of the certainty of time and place, which gives it ground (indexical certainty), so in the midst of the disappearance of those indices, history vanishes. History as a beat to it, like a quickstep of humanity on the march and without time to lose. Human beings never really catch up with their history, maybe because history is never quite of their making. Below the surface time drifts and meanders, there is no quick step, even if in moments the heart beats faster and the body pulses.
The space that exists below language in its written form is rhythmical, musical and pulsational. It is the sensual reserve of what is called language, a-signifying as opposed to signifying. We are being asked to consider the space below the surface of water next to the space seemingly below language (in turn we are confronted by a disordering of the image, body, space and language). There is of course always something below or beneath all entities. Maurice Blanchot says that beneath each and every image there is a cadaverous presence and that the image comes out of nothing and is marked by this condition. Is this also a way of indicating the deep of an a-temporal reserve? Thus we are given over both to questions that arise from within these works but also to the pleasures that can be discovered as well.
Instead of hearing voices, we see the morphing of oxygen bubbles that trace the articulation of the word, a delay that can be understood as being equivalent to an echo. We are pulled into a relationship of the word to imagined form, and can within this, marvel at its potentiality of manifestation, but like the judgement of the beautiful, we are left in a state of pure suspension in regards to a cognition of meaning.
Cartesian philosophy is an upright (uptight) philosophy, it proscribed optical ordering of the horizon that surrounds or places it as its own constituted centre, which is in turn, a philosophy of presence. In this respect it is a philosophy that is stiff because everything in its scope is placed within a geometrical grid. Clarity, precision, reduction and order are all part of its syntax, so all that is in-between, fuzzy, or merely sensible are discharged from its device of ‘emframing’ (a word used by Martin Heidegger to indicate a revealing through ordering and blocking).
These works remix our circulations, even they turn our sense into circulation, as opposed to set ups. Thus the relationship between the image and the circulation of breath is posited; perhaps breath is placed before thought, which is itself subject to withdrawal. Something else is in circulation; sense, gesture, affects, but in ways that are freed from inscriptive indexes. The image is a mere slice of breath and space, exhibiting itself before and behind the subject.
Why are we lead to associate water with that aspect of the psyche we name the unconscious? Is it that they are both under and seemingly a-temporal?
When we look at a Sugimoto photograph of one of his ocean series we might wonder if this is before or after historical time or alternatively pre- or post-human. It is not so much an image of this or that moment of manifestation but rather is consideration of how time’s potentiality becomes exposed. It is neither the stilling of motion nor the motion of stilling, rather the presentation of the erasure of such differences. As opposed to being a picture or a frame of reality, we are drawn into the illusion fostered by the power that imagines that the world might offer itself to such a view. (Sugimoto removes the view from the viewpoint). If such a thing exists then we might be tempted to say that this is a mode of philosophical photography. Likewise the nuances of Emma Critchley’s work draw us both into concerns with the presentation of the image but also the play between image, language and things. Rather than representing ideas, this work submerges us in the sense of things, the passage from one order to the next, the infinity of relations in ways undermine the gravity of knowing and describing as if known.
Is the body subject to the force of gravity orientated to the horizon that suggests that the finite limit of the body itself finds it’s opening with the infinite extension that the horizon suggests? To be a figure assumes the fidelity of this sense. Submerged below water this sense of the body is not only displaced, but subject to dissolution of habitual orientation. If the body itself is primarily constituted out of water then it might be a case of the body discovering its own element or nature when submerged, thus in turn becoming fluid like water itself. As opposed to a morphing shaped by gravity, the body is pushed and pulled within the fluidity of a volume that commands of the body another behaviour outside of the laws given by earthly dwelling.
Presence and absence are not in opposition, but are instead an unfolding co-exstensivity. It is not that one becomes fish like, even though something of such a possibility is of course proximate, but rather orientation is transformed in ways which would predicate such a becoming-other (Fish-like, spectral, imaginary).
These works stage the elsewhere of being but also the elsewhere of being in relationship to the formation of image. They both record the image in formation but the opposite case, that is, as deformation.
I wonder what these images do? Are they seductive and beautiful, or do they perform a condition, thus inform or scrutinise and thus give rise to insight? Perhaps both of these, but without the certainty that it is either case, or in combination, fully the case, so this leads us to the feeling that there is something that evades or escapes the more obvious conditions of representation. Perhaps this arises out of a condition of surprise because the figures represented cannot really align themselves with their expected depiction. Thus there is an element of being thrown and that the discrete boundaries that keep representational semblance in place have themselves become fluid. Rather than simulating surprise, the images are the type of surprise that normally require simulation. Therefore the images are not surprising, but instead tease with the sensation of surprise because they evade such obvious techniques of presentation. It is like staring into a Chinese monochrome dish in which the light endlessly reflects and refracts in ways that never quite allows the viewer to settle on a static essence of the thing. What I am pointing towards is a condition in between appearance and essence, or put in another way, the play of difference between the two.
- By Jonathan Miles