By Gavin Keeney
Gaialight’s DARKLIGHT ELABORATION opens and closes (slams shut) several doors all at once. Foremost amongst those doors it closes is the gauzy, glossy one given to digital photography and its affective regime; that is, its dependence on a type of color that no longer relates to the image itself, but, instead, floats free of the image and introduces a spectral sense of color that overrides the image and introduces a specious range of false or spectral emotion.
While this series engages a range of questions regarding contemporary photography and its excesses (its dependence on factors that exceed the historical determinations of photography), it
is the historical determinations of photography that remain most interesting within the implicit critique of the intelligible nature of the image. And while this historical agency has often been bracketed in the contemporary photograph (and its often outsized modality), what anyone given to placing such things in an historical register sees is the evolution of the image toward a form of irreality that no longer engages the real but instead, along with many forms of postmodernity, distances itself from the real in near endless forms of simulation and deferment.
Goethe’s Theory of Colors (ZÃ¼r Farbenlehre) comes to mind immediately in this regard, especially since this theory of colors was derived from staring into a well and the subsequent realization that color emerges from the interplay of black and white (darkness and light). That his model was decidedly anti-Newtonian (a demonstration that there is no absolute or universal origin for color), and that all color is derived from relative or earth-bound conditions, is telling. Gaialight’s interpretation and critique of color through DARKLIGHT, though based on Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color, does not so much argue for the relativity of color proper, but, instead, forces the image backward, ironically toward its origin and its future, at once, in high-contrast, black-and-white coordinates that justify the series’ quiet claim to photographic knowledge as a type of universal knowledge. Albers’ serial abstraction is almost present here, but what is more important is the serial questioning of the abstract agency of color, despite its relative nature (production by association). Therefore, in erasing it altogether, the DARKLIGHT series introduces vectors antecedent to color while its absence suggests its presence. Such is a new relative position for color: hardly a representational game or house of mirrors, this presence of the absence of color is an absolute statement of the significance of color (by obliterating it).
Half way through Jean-Luc Godard’s Éloge de l’amour, the august and extreme filmmaker shifts from black-and-white film stock to digital color. This is occurs following an elegiac and extraordinary sequence of scenes leading to the denouement at the Brittany coast, where suddenly the sea (via montage) comes in through a window and the shift to digital color induces a delirium of a visual order, the sea washing over the room in which a woman sits at a desk and a lamp merges with the sea and seagulls, waves of color superseding all singular objects or discernable
forms. Godard suddenly drops his guard, and the affective regime of color washes away the last resistance to the impending inundation the world is always at the cusp of. The deluge comes in the form of a capitulation to pure affectivity and its erasure of individual memory.
The historical trajectory of photography is but one-hundred-and-fifty-or-so-years long, while it resides within the near ageless history of the production of images. Yet what we see in the DARKLIGHT ELABORATION is a return by way of Albers to a seminal moment in this short history, albeit a relatively recent turn toward the production of images that no longer take themselves quite so seriously. This moment occurred in the early 1960s, arguably with Warhol, who (despite all arguments to the contrary) was not the progenitor of this shift but its most savvy co- conspirator. In making images that fully engaged with emergent pop culture, Warhol merely conceded well in advance of the postmodern caesura underway (to appropriate Antonio Negri’s term for the period we are passing through) that everything was to be subsumed by market forces. That affect (and its production in related fields, including cinema and architecture) was at first seen as a liberatory excess within visuality, or an end run on discursive and objective orders, is well known. This “moment,” in turn, has now played out, and the possible antidote has arrived in a return to more rigorous and intelligible orders that signal a reengagement with paradigmatic concerns (those concerns never abandoned by artists of the caliber of Godard or other late-Romantics, inclusive of those hiding in the long shadows of modernity’s endless demise).
While all of this seems to indicate that modernism is not dead, it is also instructive to note that the postmodern caesura has not been fully traversed either. To pass out of the last phases of nihilism will require a severe turn into the hallowed corridors of visual truth and its analogue (or origin), intelligibility. The pretenses of the late-modern machine that has permitted affect to substitute for truth, and the pretenses of artists who have embraced that somewhat cheap sensibility in exchange for intelligibility notwithstanding, what appears now is the inexorable shadow of the Zeitgeist (demoted to episteme by Michel Foucault such that it might be subject to a perverse disciplinary action in its own right, a critique of institutions, inclusive of art and its worlds). The doors we hear being slammed shut in the DARKLIGHT ELABORATION are the doors that have been opened since the end of the last end of modernity – not the doors of perception, but the doors of deception. One senses that the very nature of the image is at stake, again, and that digital color is but one example of perhaps hundreds of examples wherein the question of balance is the foremost question worth troubling over.
In the DARKLIGHT ELABORATION we see that very idea of balance teetering on the edge of the abyss (able to slip over or able to return to form new worlds) in the precise elaboration of what is enough (or what is just enough) for the image to speak. In erasing color, Gaialight has also erased all the dubious questions in one very telling form of visual intelligence. Photography’s role in the production of deception, and its concurrent “interpretive” (“critical”) role, is legendary. Perhaps for this reason we should note the origin of Gaialight’s venture into the Albers’ studies that have inaugurated the inquest that the DARKLIGHT series represents; that is, reading Susan Sontag on an airplane while en route Art Basel Miami . . .
Suffice to say that the Zeitgeist moves in austere ways, while the episteme is given to the florid and garish (arguably Godard’s point). While the latter has its moments, we have been through all of that and it is time for something altogether otherwise. It is time, therefore, to discipline and punish the late-modern (late-capitalist) episteme, but without recourse to the sado-masochistic measures of Foucault’s methodology.
A few words, then, about the DARKLIGHT ELABORATION, in the specific.
To push the image back to the austere coordinates of black-and-white, semi-abstract photography is to push figuration back to its inherent frontier at the edge of things. It is things, after all, that matter, insofar as things connote ideas, and vice versa, and it is ideas that move within all forms of figuration, versus affect. The attempt to circumvent this truth has been the pride and prejudice of postmodernity and all attempts to demolish the paradigmatic. The paradigmatic is the realm of ideation (and for this reason it was brought into question, submitted to the most ruthless measures of critique, or simply abandoned). It has lived on the moors ever since . . .
The DARKLIGHT ELABORATION proceeds on two principal fronts at once: the first being its obliteration of color (affect); the second being its decisive selection of a “moment” when the excoriating measures of this process of de-saturation are “arrested.” The choice is an artistic decision that also involves the intelligible. We see in that moment of arrest (the decisive moment of “closure”) the most salient expression of the truth embedded in the image. One could push the process further toward de-familiarization, a classic modernist maneuver, but that would, in turn, overturn the purpose of the elimination or sublimation of color. To say the color remains while all color has been removed from the originating digital color image is to say that the resulting image is an outcome of the critique of color.
Moreover, within the nature of the series is a cinematic quality that arrives by way of the seriality of the operation (another modernist maneuver par excellence). Three of anything is the minimal series (hence the earlier triptychs of Gaialight en route to the DARKLIGHT series). This cinematic force in the series is already given within the history of photography; for it was not long after the invention of photography that moving images were invented. Again we see that contained within this exercise is an improbable critique of the history of photography and its well-known complicity with ideology and discursive orders, progressive or repressive. Perhaps the foremost artist of the proto- cinematic nature of the still image is (and remains) Chris Marker. His exquisite appropriation of montage by way of Dziga Vertov is renowned. If there is a single (literal) moving image in Marker’s La jetée, the manner in which Marker assembles images is entirely shot through with the moving agency of the photograph. An obvious double entendre, moving agency invokes what is at the very center of the DARKLIGHT ELABORATION. These images move in wholly austere ways – and, therefore, they move us. Their formal agency, while predicated on the erasure of false aura (postmodern affect) engages half-remembered forms of visual knowledge – and knowledge moves all things
Albers’ Interaction of Color, first published in 1975, strangely returns us to the triumphs of modernism. Albers is known as much for his influence on American artists as his origins in the premier schools of European avant-garde art and industrial design. Homage to the Square remains his most renowned work, one begun in 1949 and revisited continuously. It is also a series, and, as it invokes the entire spectrum of interests in seriality, it registers something that has long been buried in the pursuit of the singular object of art. If the series excavates a range of formal operations given to any possible singular object (and the 1960s so-called multiple seems to be of this operative, conceptual order), the single image within any series speaks a slightly different truth. If art is derived from things, and intelligibility moves all things, the singular object or image remains of (singular) interest. Within the DARKLIGHT series, then, are the so-called moments (of arrest) that produce the singular image. What we see in the series of highly reductive black-and-white images (yet not as reductive as they might be) is a substitute order for color as affect (or what, in the foregoing analysis of affect, passes as end run on the object of art). The series begins to undo the singular object and sets in motion a very different affective regime. It is possible that this introduction of time to the singular image (by seriality and de facto montage) is also the reintroduction of what has been masked by color as affect.
The sound of doors opening and closing, then . . . Yet it is the origin of the DARKLIGHT series that remains most interesting. The sense that a new order of sense is present through the evisceration of color, plus the patent critique of digital photography are not inventions of a parallel discursive order applied to the work of art under examination. Neither is a reverse teleology of art at work in revisiting the black-and-white image or the series as time machine (Marker’s métier). Instead, paradoxically, the most pleasing and pressing outcome of Gaialight’s DARKLIGHT ELABORATION would seem to be the return of the singular object (minus its artificially imposed affective register,
interpretive or purely visual). These singular images (inspired by immersion in Albers’ critique of color and troubled by the finite and relative nature of color) strangely open on the infinite. Subject matter hardly matters at all in such instances, though it is retained in most cases as a means of not plunging into the abyss of pure abstraction. For abstraction to remain relative is an inordinate trick or gift of the highest artistic kind. One might venture that this was precisely Albers’ point. In the few instances where the image dives off the cliff into the abyss of purely abstract agency we see the relative retained in the form of pattern (a new form of repetition and seriality given to the singular image in/for itself). This latter move further enhances what is always at play in the series – movement between images or movement within images as the first, principal trace of intelligibility, arguably, the origin of all affective regimes, and/or the origin of the world (worlds).
GK/AGENCE “X” (07/25/10)
All images © Gaialight, 2010 / Text © GK/AGENCE “X”, 2010
For a slideshow of the DARKLIGHT series, see www.gaialight.com