The images exhibited by our museums and gaIleries today can, in fact, be classified into three major categories. First, of all, there ís what might be called the naked image: the image that does not constitute art, because what it shows us excludes the prestige of dissemblance and the rhetoric of exegeses. Thus, a recent exhibition entitled Mémoires des camps devoted one of its sections to photographs taken during the discovery of the Nazi camps. The photographs were often signed by famous names - Lee Miller, Margaret Bourke - White, and so on - but the idea that brought them together was the trace of history, of testimony to a reality that is generally accepted not to tolerate any other form of presentation.
Different from the naked image is what I shall call the ostensive image. This image likewise asserts its power as that of sheer presence, without signification. But it claims it in the name of art. It posits this presence as the peculiarity of art faced with the media circulation of imagery, but also with the powers of meaning that alter this presence: the discourses that present and comment on it, the institutions that display it, the forms of knowledge that historicize it. This position can be encapsulated in the title of an exhibition recently organized at the Brussels Palais des Beaux-Arts by Thierry de Duve to exhibit 'one hundred years of contemporary art': Voice. The affect of the that was is here apparently referred to the identity without resídue of a presence of which 'contemporaneity' ís the very essence. The obtuse presence that interrupts histories and discourses becomes the luminous power of a face-to-face: facings, as the organizer puts it, obviously contrasting this notion with Clement Greenberg's flatness. But the very contrast conveys the meaning of the operation. Presence opens out into the presentation of presence. Facing the spectator, the obtuse power of the image as being-there-without-reason becomes the radiance of a face, conceived on the model of the icon, as the gaze of divine transcendence. The works of the artist's painters, sculptors, video-makers, installers - are ísolated in their sheer haecceity. But this haecceity immediately splíts in two. The works are so many icons attesting to a singular mode of material presence, removed from the other ways in which ideas and íntentions organíze the data of sense experience. 'Me voici'. 'Nous voici" 'Vous voici' - the three rubrics of the exhibition make them witness to an original co-presence of people and things, of things between themselves, and of people between themselves. And Duchamp's tireless urinal once again does service, via the pedestal on which Stieglitz photographed it. It becomes a display of presence making it possible to identify the dissemblances of art with the interactions of hyper-resemblance.
The device of the installation can also be transfonned into a theatre of memory and make the artist a collector, archivíst ar window-dresser, placing before the visitor's eyes not so much a criticai clash of heterogeneous elements as a set of testimonies about a shared history and world. Thus the exhibition Voilà aimed to recap a century and ilIustrate the very nation of a century, by bringing together, inter alia, Hans-Peter Feldmann's photographs of ane hundred people aged 0-100, Christian Boltanski's installation of telephone subscribers, Alighiero and Boetti's 720 Letters fr0m Afghanistan, or the Martins' room devoted by Bertrand Lavier to exhíbíting 50 canvases linked only by the family name af their authors.
Contrasting with the ostensive image is what I shall call the metaphorical image. Its power as art can be summarized in the exact opposite of Voici: the Voilà that recently gave its tiUe to an exhibition at the Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, sub-titled 'te monde dans la tête'. This title and sub-title involve an idea of lhe relations between art and image that much more broadly inspires a number of contemporary exhibitíons. According to this logic, it is impossíble to delimit a specific sphere of presence isolating artistic operations and products from forms of circulation of social and commercial imagery and from operations interpreting this imagery. The images of art possess no peculiar nature of their own that separates them in stable fashion from the negotiation of resemblances and the discursiveness of symptoms. The labor of art thus involves playing on the ambiguity of resemblances and the instability of dissemblances, bringing about a local reorganízation, a singular rearrangement of circulating images. In a sense, the construction of such devices assigns art the tab that once felI to the 'critique of images'. Only this critique, left to the artists themselves, is no longer framed by an autonomous history of forms or a history of deeds changing the world. Thus art is led to query the radicalism of its powers, to devote its operations to more modest tasks. It aims to play with the forms and products of imagery, rather than carry out their demystification. The thís oscillation between two attitudes was evident in a recent exhibition, presented in Minneapolis under the title 'Let's entertain' and in Paris as Au·delà du spectacle. The American title invited visitors both to play the game of an art freed from the criticai seriousness and to mark a critical distance from the leisure industry. For its part, the French title played on the theorization of the game as the active opposite of the passive spectacle in the texts of Guy Debord. Spectators thus found themselves called upon to accord Charles Ray's merry-go-round or Maurizio Catalan's giant table footbaU set their metaphorical value and to take a semi-distance from the game through the media images, disco sounds or commercial mangas reprocessed by other artists.
The unífying principle behind these strategies clearly seems to be to bring about, on a material that is not specific to art and often indistinguishable from a collection of utilitarían objects or a projection of forms of imagery, a double metamorphosis, corresponding to the dual nature of the aesthetic image: the image as cipher of history and the image as interruption. On the one hand, it involves transforming the targeted, intelligent productions of imagery into opaque, stupid images, interrupting the media flow. On the other, it involves reviving dulled utilitarian objects or the indifferent images of media circulation, so as to create the power of the traces of a shared history contained in them. Installation art thus brings into play the metaphorical, unstable nature of images. The latter circulate between the world of art and the world of imagery. They are interrupted, fragmented, reconstituted by a poetics of the witticism that seeks to establü.h new differences of potentiality between these unstable elements.
Naked image, ostensíve image, metaphorical image: three forms of 'images', three ways of coupling or uncoupling the power of showíng and the power of signifying, the attestation of presence and the testimony of history; three ways, too, of sealíng or refusing the relationship between art and image. Yet it is remarkable that none of these three forms thus defined can function within the confines of its own logíc. Each of them encounters a point of undecidability in its functioning that compels it to borrow something from the others.
This is already true of the image that seems best able, and most obliged, to guard against it - the 'naked' image intent solely on witnessing. For wítnessíng always aims beyond what it presents. Images of the camps testify not only to the tortured bodíes they do show us, but also to what they do not show: the disappeared bodies, obviously, but above all the very process of annihilation. The shots of the reporters from 1945 thus need to be viewed in two different ways. The first perceives the víolence inflicted by invisible human beings on other human beings, whose suffering and exhaustion confront us and suspend any aesthetic appreciation. The second perceives not violence and suffering, but a process of de·humanízation, the disappearance of the boundaries between the human, animal and mineral. Now, this second view is itself the product of an aesthetic education, of a certain idea of the image. A photograph by Georges Rodger, displayed at the Mémoires des camps exhibitions, shows us the back of a corpse whose head we cannot see, carried by an SS prisoner whose bowed head shields his face from Our eyes. This horrendous assemblage of two truncated bodies presents us with an exemplary image of the common dehumanization of victim and executioner. But it does 80 only because we see it with eyes that have already contemplated Rembrandt's skinned OX and all the forms of representation which have equated the power of art wíth obliteration of the boundaries between the human and the inhuman, the living and the dead, the animal and the mineral, all alike merged in the density of the sentence or the thickness of the pictorial paste.
The same dialectic characterizes metaphorical images. These ímages, it is true, are based on a postulate of indiscernibility. They simply set out to displace the representations of imagery, by changing their medium, by locating them in a ditTerent mechanism of vision, by punctuating or recounting them differently. But the question then arises: what exactly is produced as a difference attesting to the specific work of artistic images on the forms of social imagery? This was the question behind the dísenchanted thoughts of Serge Daney's last texts: have not all the forms of critique, have not all the forms of critique, pIay, and irony that claim to disrupt the ordinary circulatíon of images been annexed by that circulation? Modern cinema and criticism claímed to interrupt the flow of media and advertising images by suspending the connections between narration and meaning. The freeze-frame that closes Truffaut's Quatre cent coups was emblematic of this suspension. But the brand thus stamped on the image ultimately serves the cause of the brand image. The procedures of cutting and humor have themselves become the stock-in-trade of advertising, the means by which it generates bath adoration of its icons and the positive attitude towards them created by the very possibility organizing it.
No doubt the argument is not decisive. By definition, what is undecidable can be interpreted in two ways. But it is then necessary discreetly to draw on the resources of the opposite logic. For the ambiguous montage to elicit the freedom of the critical or ladies gaze, the encounter must be organized in accordance with the logic of the ostensive face-to-face, representing advertising images, disco sounds, or television sequences in the space of the museum, isolated behind a curtain in small dark booths that give them the aura of the work damming the flood of communication. Even so, the effect is never guaranteed, because it is often necessary to place a small card on the door of the booth making it clear to viewers that, in the space they are about to enter, they will lead knew how to see and to put the flood of media messages that usually captivates them at a distance. Such exorbitant power attributed to the properties of the device itself corresponds to a rather simplistic view of the poor morons of the society of the spectacle, bathing contentedly in a flood of media images. The interruptions, derivations, and reorganizations that alter the circulation of images less pretentiously have no sanctuary. They occur anywhere and at any time.
But it is doubtless the metamorphoses of the ostensíve image that best express the contemporary dialectic of images. For here it proves decidedly difficult to furnish the appropriate criteria for discerning the proclaimed face-to-face, for making presence present. Most of the works put on the pedestal of Voici can not in any way be distinguished from those that contribute to the documentary displays of Voila. Portraits of stars by Andy Warhol, documents from the mythical sectíon of the Aigles du Musée by Marcel Broodthaers, an installation by Joseph Beuys of a batch of commodities from the ex-GDR, Christian Boltanksi's family album, Raymond Hains's stripped posters, or Pistoletto's mirrors - these scarcely seem conducive to extolling the undiluted presence of Voici.
Here too it is then necessary to draw on the opposite logic. The supplement of exegetical discourse proves necessary in order to transform a ready-made by Duchamp into a mystical display or a sleek parallelepiped by Donald Judd into a mirror of intersecting relations. Pop images, neo-realist décollages, monochrome paintings, or minimalist sculptures must be placed under the common authority af a primal scene, occupied by the putative father of pictorial modernity: Manet. But the father ofmodem painting must himself be placed under the authority of the Word made flesh. His modernism and that of bis descendants are indeed defined by Thierry de Duve on the basis of a painting from his 'Spanish' period - Christ mort Soutenu par les anges - inspired by a canvas of Ribalta 's. Unlike his madel, Manet's dead Christ has bis eyes open and is facing the spectator. He is thus an allegory for the task of substitution assigned painting by the 'death af God'. The dead Christ comes back to life in the pure immanence of pictorial presence.8 This pure presence is not that of art, but instead of the redeeming Image. The ostensive image celebrated by the Voici exhibition is the flesh of material presence raised, in its very immediacy, to the rank of absolute Idea. On this basis, ready-mades and Pop images in sequence, minimalist sculptures or fictional museums, are construed in advance in the tradition of icons and the religious economy of the Resurrection. But the demonstration is obviously double edged. The Word is only made flesh through a narrative. An additíonal operation is always required to transform the products of artistic operations and meaning into witnesses of the original Other. The art of Voice must the based on what it refused. It needs to be presented discursively to transform a 'copy', or a complex relationship between the new and the old, into an absolute origin.
Without a doubt, Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma affords the most exemplary demonstration of this dialectic. The filmmaker places his imaginary Museum of cinema under the sign of the Image that is to come at the Resurrection. Ris words counter-pose to the deathly power of the Text the living force of the Image conceived as a cloth of Veronica on which the original face of things is imprinted. To Alfred Hitchcock's obsolete stories they oppose the pure pictorial presence represented by the bottles of Pommard in Notorious, the windmill',. sails in Foreign Correspondent, the bag in Marnie, or the glass of milk in Suspicion. I have shown elsewhere how these puree icons had themselves to be removed by the artífice of montage, diverted from their arrangement by Hitchcock, so as to be reintegrated into a pure kingdom of images by the fusing power of video superimposition. The visual production of íconic pure presence, claimed by the filmmaker's discourse, is itself only possible by virtue of the work of its opposite: the Schlegelian poetics of the witticism that invents between fragments of films, news strips, photos, reproductions of paintings and other things all the combinations, distances or approximations capable of eliciting new forms and meanings. This assumes the existence of a boundless Shop/Library/Museum where all films, texts, photographs and paíntings coexist; and where they can ala be broken up into elements each of which is endowed with a triple power: the power of singularity (the punctum) of the obtuse image; the educational value (the studium) of the document bearing the trace of a history; and the combinatory capacity of the sign, open to being combined with any element from a different sequence to compose new sentence-images ad infinitum.
The discourse that would salute 'images' as lost shades, fleetingly summoned from the depths of Hell, therefore seems to stand up only at the price of contradicting itself, transforming itself into an enormous poem establishing unbounded communication between arts and mediums, artworks and iJlustrations of the world, the silence of images and theír eloquence. Behind the appearance of contradiction, we must take a closer Look at the interaction of these exchanges.
Jacques Rancière/The Future of the Image/Part 1: The Future af the Image/ 'NAKED IMAGE', 'OSTENSIVE IMAGE', 'METAPHORICAL IMAGE'
edit in Grammarly by Dejan Stojkovski