This Thursday Pete Fleming opens his show YOU COULD CALL IT COMPLEXITIES AND UNCERTAINTIES, WITH OPENINGS at Fotogalleriet in Oslo. Fleming is interviewed in our current issue The Flexible Image Part II: To reflect on our editorial theme of the relationship between the written word and the image, we asked the same questions to various people in the field in our current issue: What makes a great image-text project? How can we bridge the space between ‘the silence of the image and the blindness of language’? Can we reshape our understanding of what a photograph is? Do you have faith in the written word? And finally, what comes after the pictorial turn?
The concept of the flexible image is at the core of my work, which considers the relativity between words, images and objects. Words appear amongst videos, living organisms and sculptural structures, acting as anchor, axis or context for the photographic. A kind of drifting, circular poetics allows for movement across and between the boundaries of definition and clear image. I cannot separate the written from the visual, and see these two forms of readability evolving and existing in symbiosis. This is what I find exciting in image-text publications, situations that transcend a mere combination, and where 2+2=5. There has to be this extra element, a movement beyond and outward. Perhaps it’s in this affective space between image and text that the world can enter and surprise us, and fantastic artworks can open up that space. Chris Marker’s Level 5 (1996) remarkably bridges ‘the silence of the image and the blindness of language’. Watching that film for the first time in a tiny side-street cinema left me stunned.
As Harun Farocki has proved, photography is tied to developments in optical engineering. As a discipline, it’s therefore constantly evolving, along with the methods and techniques for making and displaying images, presently finding itself at the centre of the attention economy. In an effort to understand the effects of new screen technologies as inseparable from the worlds we’re creating, I’ve been producing a series of artworks grouped under the collective title of the ‘word-image-touch-object’. This is a term that’s intended to clarify the combination in a many jointed ‘thingness’, the materiality of the photograph as it moves between servers, finger tips, light emissions and feelings. The ‘word-image-touch-object’ is productive and receptive; it’s rewritten every time it’s read, and it’s entangled in its context: a discursive composite, reliant on its resonance with medium, message and consumer. The haptic and the radiant are embedded into discussions of language, both written and visual, just as technologies, images and words are incorporated into a sense of self.
There’s been a shift in power: from the twentieth-century author and publisher to the host, censor and aggregator. In his book Open Sky (1997), Paul Virilio identified a transition from a ‘world-space of geopolitics’ – local identities, vernacular language, nationstates – to an ascendant ‘world-time of chronostrategic proximity’ of images, analytics and global corporate homogeneity. If there’s conflict within words and images, it may be over time and attention: ‘Slow’ images are negated by efficient ‘fast’ images. The video for Beyoncé’s game-changing single Formation features cuts of no longer than three seconds, an editing format prevalent in social media, and one that resonates with the violence of historical and contemporary cultural editing of Black female voices. If images are the dominant cultural currency, they will resonate with us: through fear and pain, as well as strength and joy.
Resonance relies on multiple surfaces or bodies, a synchronous vibration, an understanding. The action of language includes this movement, whereas, to quote Donna Haraway in The Promises of Monsters (1992), representational practice ‘forever authorizes the ventriloquist’. Recently I saw Susanne M. Winterling’s video Vertex (2015). The piece ends with a camera zoom into a CGI-rendered woven texture, revealing the constituent individual pixels and fragmenting the illusion of the image, reminding me of my collusion in the virtual magic. In response to the forceful strike that W.J.T. Mitchell advocates, I would argue that Winterling maintains a persistent push to reveal awareness, and it is I who is found wanting in my belief in the image. This composite articulation, whereby positions are stated and the roles of author and reader are drawn in relation to each other, is where the image as a social object finds its materiality beyond the dimensions of its pixels. Certain words and approaches to the image may fall out of use, but new forms appear, and I propose that the ‘word-image-touch-object’ is one such emergent direction.