IN ABSENCE OF THE FIGURE
Text by Alissa Bennett & Curated by Michael Clifton
Writer, has contributed texts to publications such as “frozen Tears,” and has written critical texts for numerous shows and exhibitions. Her work can likewise be found in video artist Sue de Beer’s pieces Hans Und Grete and Disappear Here. Miss Bennett continues to contemplate the implications of completing a novel (tentatively entitled And Distance Shifts) and allowing it to remain a ghost by avoiding the process of publication. Bennett lives and works in Brooklyn.
When the figure dissolves, space and time unravel to fill its void. The rupture it creates can displace memory and restructure evidence of past existence. In absence of the figure, the formal properties of color, composition and form gather strength to illustrate Abstraction’s drive to disembody. As onlookers of the transition, we lend personal history to the newly cast forms in an attempt to fuse a dismembered past to the present.
Visual artists Richard Aldrich, Mark Grotjahn, Sergej Jensen, Thomas Kiesewetter, Gedi Sibony and Katja Strunz fold time and space in exciting new ways. They represent a rising group of art makers who work outside the shadow of the figure. Bearing casual resemblance to Russian Constructivism and Modernist mark-making, the surface of their work carries the patina of abandon, locating its point of creation in an unfixed time and place.
New York Based, occasional curator / writer whose recent exhibitions include ‘Culturecounter’ at Gavin Brown Enterprise and the gothic inflected ‘Scream: 10 artists x 10 writers x 10 scary movies’ which traveled from Anton Kern Gallery to the Moore Space in Miami. As a co-conspirator of Maurizio Cattelan’s The Wrong Gallery, he has organised projects with artists Gedi Sibony, Cameron Jamie, and Philippe Perrot among others. Along with Jamie, he has conducted interviews with artists Torbjorn Vejvi, Yoshua Okon, and Monika Sosnowska for the supplemental Wrong Times publication. Over the next month, Clifton can be found buried under back issues of Artforum, Frieze and Artnet as he prepares to write the ‘Art and Art Exhibitions’ compendium for the 2005 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica.
Melancholy befits the muse of an object suspended in time, and though signs of an uncertain decay gild much of their work, these artists enact a modern alchemy of aesthetic and temporal transformation. In peeling back the layers of recent art history they reveal new directions in art making. Through a variety of mediums and techniques, their unique brand of gorilla formalism recasts the discarded matter of Modernism’s past and propels it into the contemplative now. —Michael Clifton
The first time I went there, I did it for you. The second time I went, well, that time was just for me. I mean, you go to these places to bring something back, right? Like pressing “rewind” for a hundred years or something, except that you don’t really know what song you’re looking for; it’s more like a feeling that the tape is keeping a really big secret and you’re the only one capable of finding it. This time, the last time, I made sure that my eyes were open so that I would remember that I brought the book that you said would protect me, and that I felt things with my hands and not with those fragile psychic hallways that I would never let you see. Those places will be quiet now, and I’ll never ask you to come with me again—but there’s something final that I want you to do for me. Just remember how alone I looked the last time we were together, and try to hear with your memory the perfect effect of my silence as we both unravel into the future.
Thomas Hobbes asserted that memory was little more than the gradual degradation of the experiential, the slow transformation of the moment from physical truth to psychic necrosis. The spatial swell that inevitably rests between the now and the future, between you and me, will act as a force of annihilation; it will swallow, brutalize, bury, dissolve, dismember. As sensation flees the body and denies the evidence of contact, our cognitive centers fight for reconstruction by suturing together the fragile, threadbare remnants of fact. The ‘Frankensteinian’ product that results, what we collectively refer to as “memory,” is little more than a dream constructed of disparate parts reconstituted to bear witness, to testify that love and childhood and trauma and death are, in fact, real, and not simply beautifully executed sleights of hand.
There are, however, those apparatuses that facilitate the transmogrification of moment into object, apparatuses that work toward a denial of the violence endemic to temporal progression. The Shroud of Turin, for example, is said by believers to bear the transposed image of a crucified Jesus; it stands as evidence, for some, of the physical world’s potentiality to stall the moment, to trap time within space. Faith and vision are here united across a shred of rotting fabric, and love and the promises of eternity are finally held hostage by the material world.
I have a roll of film full of photographs from the first night we met, and although I have considered developing the images, I will instead keep them safely locked inside their plastic tube, protected both from the devastation of light and the failure of my memory. What I mean to say is that as the impact of your body is gradually absorbed deeper by my own until it inevitably slips from my senses, I will let my image of you fade, the contours of your face dissolve, and the color of your eyes weaken without resistance; I will let you go, but only for the moment. Distance contracts even as it expands, and every movement away brings you back closer to the beginning, closer to me. I let you disappear only so that I can have you new once more, and I forget you for the unfathomable pleasure of remembering, once our circles cross again.
There is a photograph of my grandmother that was taken in 1934, when she was sixteen. Though her charm and beauty are obvious, immediate, the allure of the image rests in the less visible qualities of a gaze that casts her as shy, young, and clearly in love with an invisible photographer who was almost certainly my grandfather. It is this image that acts as the visual point of reference for my love of her, a picture of a girl now much younger than me whom I never knew, a girl whose face is slowly dissolving, disappearing into the immateriality of a ghost-world, which somehow acts as a surrogate for the woman I knew her to be. I know that this girl was never my grandmother, just a heartbreaking stranger staring into her lover’s eyes across space and time, but it’s quite simple to find myself in her gaze, easy to locate my own image reflected back through the paper.
My grandmother died in her bedroom, and one day at some point in the following weeks, when my mother began clearing out drawers and cupboards, sifting through the endless layers of her parents’ past, an undisturbed music box on the other side of the room began to play. For a moment, this box became my grandmother—the weight of the jewelry it held mirroring the useless weight of a small, abandoned body—as though the simple union of photograph and tangled wreckage of necklaces could result in a reunified person, the marriage of ether and object. It is in this way that the incidental aspects of one’s life become the sign of that life, how a tire track on the highway becomes a permanent site of grief, how one photographed moment or an impossible knot of unimportant jewelry can become you for the rest of time. You will be re-materialized through your secrets, made whole again by vehicle of all of those things that you never intended for anyone else to see, and from this there is no escape. When you slip into silence, just remember that only your breath goes with you; your echo, the transparent double, remains.
Delete/ How to Make a Perfect Ghost
When my brother was in sixth grade, he told me that our neighbor put on nine pairs of sunglasses and looked into the blackness of a full solar eclipse not realizing that the plastic that shielded him from the invisible light was insufficient, and that his retinas would be seared, his vision permanently damaged. I imagine that when he closed his eyes after staring into the sky that he could see the phantom outline of a gradually disappearing sun, a slow black plate moving in over the afternoon like it was finally the end of the world. I bet that picture still lives, imprinted on the inside of his eyelids in electric shadow when it’s dark and he’s alone, and I bet he knows better than anyone how easy it is to make a perfect ghost.
The drive to deny death essentially descends from an irreconcilable narcissistic impulse, and the anxiety related to the premature burial was symptomatic of the fear that the individual can be much too easily erased, replaced, or forgotten beneath the weight of the earth. The inaccessibility of the buried body functions precisely as the source of its desirability, and this is doubly so when experienced in tandem with questionable mortality. One might still locate warning bells resting atop graves old enough to remember a time when death was an uncertain event; these objects remain emblematic of the drive to recuperate, to rediscover, and to rescue that which lies behind the opacity of the screen. They remind us that the deleted body retains its potential for action, that the depth of the grave is not vast enough to deny the peal of a desperate call for exhumation, and that love, above all, has an inestimable capacity to trigger the spectral return.
Jacques Lacan identifies the “mirror stage” as the moment in which the individual is able to integrate his psychic and corporeal realities, the second in which self-location congeals through the illusion of a reflected (and unrefracted) image of the seemingly “whole” self. The phantasmic collision of interiority and exteriority offers us a glimpse into the impossible world of unification, triggering a desire to identify the inaccessible reflection as a perfect replication of the self. Love, as it turns out, is simply an extension of this impossible and inconclusive circuit, and the drive to locate our double in the remote other will ultimately prove to be a futile, though compelling pursuit. Just as the space that exists between the mirrored image and the subject, between the copy and the original, evades absorption, there remains (by necessity) an unsealable hole between the self and the object of desire. In an attempt to re-create the perfect illusion of wholeness generated by the mirror, we look to love, to the other, not wanting to realize that we cannot be filled by that which we cannot reach.
Should the drive to reach the other overwhelm our understanding of desire, there is one option that presents itself. Becoming the other, though not typically recommended, is one means of rupturing the divide that excludes us from full contact. Should you choose to take this route, you will become the shadow, the replication of the object of desire, and as such, you must be appropriately prepared to watch who you were disappear forever; you must dissolve in both space and time. If you assume your role as the dark phantasm, the unreal mirrored image, it is our suggestion that you annihilate all evidence of your former self that retains the potential to deny your new selflessness. This is the only way to ever ensure full contact.
…watch the numbers fall farther and farther away from me until it feels like I was never even there in the first place, but that’s the trick about distance, I guess. You just disappear into it. There are ways to save yourself, though, ways that will keep you from dissolving in space or vaporizing in time, ways to make sure that you have some armor so that people will know that you’re real, and ways to adjust your internal odometer so that it rolls backward toward the start, instead of forward toward the end. That’s what’s always scary—knowing that progression isn’t really bringing you anywhere except farther away from the place where you started.
I used to have these complicated fantasies about making a time capsule and burying it in the backyard, loading some perfect metal box with fake information about myself so that I could impress someone who hadn’t even been born yet. The point of it was that I was looking for a way to be safer, to guard myself against the moment when the miles shifted to an uncomfortable number that I couldn’t turn away from, and I knew that the only way I’d ever be able to stall time was by sealing it up and hiding it in the ground. What’s weird is that even though I never did it, once in a while I have this vague feeling that some kid living in my old neighborhood is about to find it, and it makes me nervous because I feel it’s not time yet—I haven’t gotten deep enough into my numbers for that second I saved to be dug up and resuscitated. What I really hope is that the time capsule I never buried stays hidden forever, that no one ever finds it by accident when they’re ripping down the house or putting in a swimming pool. I just want it to stay where it is, the biggest secret I ever kept hidden inside its metal box, safe until my numbers return to a perfect line of zeros.
Once I heard that if there was ever an earthquake in New York City, the subway tunnels would snap like tubes of glass, just crack and collapse at some arbitrarily unlucky point, everything on either side sliding, falling toward a center of catastrophic gravity. I imagine how clear and empty some parts of those cars would look, evacuated of both material and purpose, clean and free until you reached the point where everything collected in unrecognizable heaps of black excess. These points would be monuments to how the forward-bound trajectory is potentially subject to a devastating, though rare, failure: time, although generally interpreted as the ultimate aggressor of the material object, can in fact crumble under the weight of space. Someone would search the ruins with a flashlight, direct a stream of concentrated light over surfaces that were alternately exploded or compressed, violated by the impact, and sift through the wreckage looking for hidden glimmerings: watches, wedding rings, photographs, empty baby strollers, you know, any kind of proof that something human lies beneath the vast annihilation of the wasteland. Decay is a promise that I can make to you, entropy is the most enduring gift of nature, but don’t forget that destruction simply veils an endless collection of moments, that damage is always synonymous with existence.
Untitled (Yellow Butterfly Over Red), 2004, courtesy: Anton Kern Gallery, New York
The Shivering Man, 2003, courtesy: Anton Kern Gallery, New York
Zitelose, 2005, courtesy: Galerie Giti Nourbakhsch, Berlin/ Private Collection, Photo:Galerie Mehdi Chouakri, Berlin
Untitled, 2003, courtesy: Oliver Kamm 5BE Gallery, New York
Untitled (green), 2004, courtesy: Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles
Untitled, 2003, courtesy: Canada Gallery, New York