Untitled (Work) //

"The image speaks to us, and seems to speak intimately to us of ourselves . . . In this way the image fulfills one of its functions which is to quiet, to humanize the formless  nothingness pressed upon us by the indelible residue of being." 
                             –Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature

The space of appearance works through logics of resistance and survival, through which a form is iterated, lost, and (re)affirmed–remaining in the transformative. How does the work of art demand that one surrender oneself into the unknowable? And what does it mean to allow oneself to be imbricated in the powerful poetics of form?  This piece grazes the moment when the work of art reciprocates one’s look: the inoperable instance when one witnesses art see them; the immeasurable moment when one’s eye is suspended; the inarticulate feeling of losing–dissolving–oneself of the “I” of the body, and the many forms of knowledge it carries. This is not to say that the “I” remains forever lost by the work of art. Rather, that the “I” is lost for a moment and transformed by that very loss and retrieval.

How does the work of art demand that one surrender oneself into the unknowable? And what does it mean to allow oneself to be imbricated in the powerful poetics of form?

When I first wandered the galleries of a museum, I came across images of a figure against a ceiba tree and impressed into soil, sand, and water. Each image particularized the repeating figure. One was of this body’s outline, indented into a shoreline and filled with bunches of red flowers. The silhouette and flowers were arrested in movement, between appearing and being disappeared by the oncoming sea tide. The flowers somehow appeared more living than the figure, joined together by a forlorn-ness that pointed toward the scale, boundaries, and matter of the body. They were corporeal in one sense and yet displaced, haunted with the loss of that very corporeality. What they carried in un-nameability could not be seen optically. Instead, they held something missing that worked by lingering. The image carried a looming residue that exceeded definition. This romantic insistence on performing loss demanded to be seen through an expanded field of vision, through which looking must function outside of ocularcentric logics of sight.

The image resisted visibility and disavowal, engaging the visual material in front of the eye and the substances behind the thorny lines of optical perception. This thing also reminded me that I was not alone because it was there, doing the work of looking at me. A certain psychic loss occurred as a result. I was confronted with the knowledge of the extent to which my vision is bound by the multitudes of refracted representations that do not do the work of demanding critical viewership. This dismantling of my sight was necessary in being taken by the mystery of an indecipherable something. I’m still unable to read the image by the many establishments of art theory. My unforgettable and young encounter with this image continues to perform through the invisible demands of absent particular things.

Whereas ocularcentrism tends to focus on something’s surface appearance and thin representations, vision is the work of the body and the psyche. Vision concerns itself with the limits and possibilities of sight. By extending sight beyond the ocular, critical forms of looking constitute a way of being and imagining in the world. By operating at a place where the body, psyche, and social meet, vision points one toward the seen and unseen.  There are images in the expansive space of appearance which insistently work through this inarticulable mystery–revealing the facticity of the unseen, remaining in a place of unresolve, never complete. They point toward an understanding of how form can always be abandoned, (re)attended to, and cared for by series of open-ended enquiries. If one allows oneself to oblige to the work of art and be in the unsettling place of never quite knowing or becoming, then practice can create, hold, and be a space of revolution.

In a world where modes of looking (at and away) make relations appear, how ‘we’ see–or navigate our specular vision–must come into critical question. How can one negotiate visual practices which appear to blind or suspend one’s eye from facts missing in representation? The politics of sight and representation have high stakes within social and political structures that operate through the law of“seeing is believing.” These crises of sight and representation are all too often revealed through instances of state-produced violence and murder. Practices of state violence evidence that the currency of “seeing is believing” is valued­ and monopolized by the state’s power to manage life and death. In the face of culture’s visual pathologies, how can one jeopardize the “I” to hold the fact that there is always more than what the eye can see? Furthermore, how can the understanding that the eye relates one­­–me, here–to another in space move one through constellations of possibility and revolution? This is the work of imagining something else and more through the situatedness of the immediate.

Art has the power to make the unseen seen by working through the form’s disappearance and (re)appearance. Furthermore, art reveals the great inadequacies and potentialities of the image—how something is always lost in articulation and always already in transformation. These poetics have the capacity to move one through a place of leaning in closer, dissolving into, and loving process. If the work of art can be understood as a site of meaning making or meaning itself–where form, representation, and audience meet at a break–then it can be the transformative time and space of practice unfolding.

Jackie is a recent MA graduate of the History and Theory of Contemporary Art program at the San Francisco Art Institute. Her work examines how art at the intersections of smell and vision can point toward an understanding of subtle, yet powerful politics in contemporary visual culture. Before moving to the Bay Area to pursue graduate studies, she worked in arts and education institutions in the U.S. East Coast.