The Instability of the Image
Paradise Row, London
19 July - 12 September 2013
Review by Beatrice Schulz
The image is unstable because it depends on an unreliable medium and cannot persist on its own. In Max Ruf’s ‘Untitled (#1)’, a very faint grey-scale wash mounted onto a frame, the only reference to a possible image is in the materials list: ‘My photo notebook and paint thinner on fabric,’ which also describes the process. The image has been dissolved into the medium, then soaked into the fabric, which retains the image in its chemical structure. The stable structure of the fabric and the frame render the dissolution of the image visible.
Analogously, the stable structure of the gallery is able to hold up relatively weak forms. Though images in the gallery may appear unstable, the structures that hold them are not. Ryan Foerster’s ‘Untitled #1’ and ‘Untitled #2’ also begin as photographs. In this case the ‘image’ seems to be the result of chemical, manual or accidental damage. The dates of the works - both 2006-2013 - indicate a duration for their gradual degradation. The photo-paper, rather than holding the image, records the volatile reactions of the chemicals, and the build-up of dirt and scratches. Not the loss of the image, but its transformation: making and destroying the image are simultaneous, all images erase other images, and intention and accident are not necessarily distinguishable.
Marco Palmieri’s prints and painting retain the figure as a ‘figure of speech,’ hinted at by the quotation marks often hovering in the corners of his works. The figure of speech is not to be taken literally; its meaning is rhetorical, referential or suggestive. In repeating certain figures, which are really indexes, over and over again, Palmieri’s images become like self-quotations, referring back and through works. What Giambattista Vico might call a ‘mute language’ is in operation here, performing the act of substitution that generates poetic meaning.
‘The Movement of Plants’, a HD video by Agniesza Brzezanska, is the only entirely digital work in the show. Compared to the other works, the medium itself in Brzezanska’s film is much less relevant. This has to do with the way we read images in the contemporary. HD is the current standard of up-to-date images, and as such, it appears invisible. A medium only really becomes visible once the technology has been superseded.
The development of image-making technology seems to be going in two ways: first, HD and ultra-realism, second, 3D and immersion. Both could be said to be aiming at a more total experience. The desire for a group show to reflect the contemporary condition is a position that can never be fully reconciled with being contemporary, for as soon as you analyse, and try to see what is invisible from within the zeitgeist, you take yourself outside of it. The zeitgeist is visible only in its manifestations; it cannot be a principle for production. For this reason I think painting is a particularly effective medium in which to look for certain impressions or effects of digital images. A painting, not being the native medium of the digital image, is nonetheless able to hold diverse kinds of images in its structure.
The role of critic feels especially circumscribed when a show has already made theoretical claims about itself. It seems as though the curator of ‘The Instability of the Image’, Attilia Fattori Franchini, is trying to grasp the zeitgeist, and there is a certain seduction at work in that attempt. The writer, Francesca Gavin, is distinct from the critic yet appears to do the same work; employed by the curator, she makes legible the curatorial work of research. As critic it becomes difficult to respond to the work without responding to this given theoretical framework. It is interesting to consider how artists working mainly with non-digital image-making are affected by digital technology and the proliferation of images as information, but there is a danger of attaining too much to the spirit of the times, as this spirit is only really visible in its aftermath.