Tag Archives: “Facsimile”

A sort of tomorrow (Stephen Andrews, part 8)

The viewer of “Untitled” who consults the source text for this inscrutable sequence encounters an unsettling reinscription of the New Testament narrative in the guise of a prospective film – a documentary destined for television – whose resonance with the predicament of the seropositive in our own time is unmistakable.  Carson presents the poem in three parts, the first of which, “DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY:  VOICEOVER,” begins with an acknowledgment of the problematic nature of the project:    

Yes I admit a degree of unease about my    

motives in making    

this documentary.    

Mere prurience of a kind that is all too common nowadays    

in public catastrophes….    

But you can see    

how the pull is irresistible.  The pull to handle horrors    

and to have a theory of them.  [Carson, 87]    

The language of justification here figures the irresistible force – which cannot be seen – at the heart of the wrenching prior narrative.  Subsequently, the voiceover details her “theory” (or his, for the question of gender remains indeterminate here) of the Lazarus story:    

                    But then you get    

someone like Lazarus, a man of no    

particular importance,    

on whom God bestows    

the ultimate benevolence, without explanation, then abandons    

him again to his nonentity.    

We are left wondering, Why Lazarus?    

My theory is    

God wants us to wonder this.    

After all, if there were some quality that Lazarus possessed,    

some criterion of excellence    

by which he was chosen to be called    

back    

from death,    

then we would all start competing to achieve this.    

But if    

God’s gift is simply random, well    

for one thing    

it makes a more interesting TV show.  God’s choice can be seen emerging    

from the dark side of reason    

like a new planet.  No use being historical    

about this planet,    

it is just an imitation.    

As Lazarus is an imitation of Christ.  As TV is an imitation of    

Lazarus.  As you and I are an imitation of    

TV.  [Carson, 88-89]    

Rembrandt

The hypothesis that “the ultimate benevolence,” the unanticipated “gift” of more time, of survival beyond one’s appointed term, is bestowed randomly and unreasonably extends to the scandal of the clinical drug trials, and further to the uneven availability and accessibility of emerging therapies based on economic and geopolitical contingencies.  The mimetic relationships enumerated here (“No use being historical / about this planet, / it is just an imitation. / As Lazarus is an imitation of Christ.  As TV is an imitation of / Lazarus.  As you and I are an imitation of / TV”), which are predicated on the temporal disjunction of allegory, recall Andrews’ earlier endeavors, and in particular Facsimile, whose multiple mediations exploit what is lost in translation, the degradation that accompanies the attenuated reproduction of images that are never the same from one generation to the next.    

Van Gogh

Carson’s voiceover goes on to specify what in the narrative of Lazarus remains exemplary for us, here and now.    

          But my bond with Lazarus goes deeper, indeed    

nausea overtakes me when faced with    

the prospect of something simply beginning all over again.    

….    

Repetition is horrible.  Poor Lazarus cannot have known    

he was an    

imitation Christ,    

but no doubt he realized, soon after being ripped out of his    

warm little bed in the ground,    

his own epoch of repetition just beginning….    

          Or maybe my pity    

is misplaced.  Some people think Lazarus lucky,    

like Samuel Beckett who calls him “Happy Larry” or Rilke    

who speaks of    

that moment in a game    

when “the pure too-little flips over into the empty too-much.”    

Well now I am explaining why my documentary    

focuses entirely on this moment, the flip-over moment.    

Before and after    

don’t interest me.    

You won’t be seeing any clips from home videos of Lazarus    

in short pants racing his sisters up a hill.    

No footage of Mary and Martha side by side on the sofa    

discussing how they manage    

at home    

with a dead one sitting down to dinner.  No panel of experts    

debating who was really the victim here.    

Our sequence begins and ends with that moment of complete    

innocence    

and sport –    

when Lazarus licks the first drop of afterlife off the nipple    

of his own old death.  [Carson, 89-91]    

In the poem’s central section, subtitled “LAZARUS STANDUP:  SHOOTING SCRIPT,” the language is no longer assigned to the director of photography, but rather to the implicit and anonymous screeenwriter:    

Lazarus    

(someone is calling his name) – his name!    

And at the name (which he knew)    

not just a roar of darkness    

the whole skeletal freight    

of him    

took pressure,    

crushing him backward into the rut where he lay    

like a damp    

petal    

under a pile of furniture.    

And the second fact of his humanity began….  [Carson, 93]

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Culture, Death, History and historiography, Media, Reading and writing

A sort of tomorrow (Stephen Andrews, part 7)

Biodegradation figures importantly, if obscurely, in the narrative of Lazarus, already alluded to in the line from Anne Carson’s poem cited as the epigraph of “A sort of tomorrow” [“And the second fact of his humanity began”], and again in Derrida’s evocation of the “intense effort of memory” located at the origin of drawing.  Perhaps inevitably, the story of Lazarus (along with other narratives of resurrection and rebirth) has been enlisted as an allegorical precursor by and for those, like Andrews himself, who have been granted a second chance, the new lease – or mortgage – on life afforded by the advent of combination antiretroviral therapies.  In de facto acknowledgement that no static portrait, however mediated, can render the contours of a prior narrative whose own diachrony comprises an unsettling anachrony – life after death, indeed life after four degrading days in the grave – Andrews turned to fresh materials and a reconfiguration of his signature media in his updating of the life and times of Lazarus.  The resulting work, “Untitled” (2000-2001), presents drawings and photocopy transfers of the artist’s own snapshots on vertical strips of transparent mylar that imitate the visual sequencing of analogue film.  In Andrews’ tripartite division of the cinematic succession of images into past, present and future, the narrative begins with a past that is subtitled “The End” (recalling, for readers of this blog, the parenthetical subtitle of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ black-bordered paper stack  of 1990).  The work’s introductory sequence has recourse to the transcultural legend of the phoenix, a story of death and resurrection in which biodegradation is accelerated, aided and abetted in this instance by the artist’s application of a lighted match to a source photograph for earlier work:  an image of an anonymous crowd that figured significantly in his 1998 series hoi polloi.  The image yields, in a matter of several frames, to the destructive force of the flame, until the remaining ashes fade to black.

Subtitled “The First Part of the Second Half,” the central section opens with two mylar strips featuring sgraffito drawings in imitation of the optical soundtrack in analogue film, whose differential position vis-a-vis the image sequence it will accompany is calculated to compensate for the disparate times required for their respective routes through the projector.  The inscription of the optical soundtrack here recalls its precursor in the numerous installations of Facsimile‘s four parts since 1991:  Arrayed beneath the rows of portraits were unfurled player-piano scrolls stamped by the artist with the names of the men and women portrayed and featuring popular songs about love and loss, adumbrating a mute accompaniment.

In “Untitled,” the obscure sequence that marks the place of the optical soundtrack occludes the labour of mediation required to render it.  Andrews first recorded his own voice reading aloud the text of Anne Carson’s “TV Men:  Lazarus,” from the near-contemporaneous volume Men in the Off Hours, into a microphone attached to a computer.  The modulations of his voice were then translated as sine-wave printouts that the artist went on to replicate by hand in the ink-blackened margins of the transparent mylar film strips.  What resulted from a process that might be argued to take its cues from the poem itself (“I put tiny microphones all over the ground / to pick up / the magic / of the vermin in his ten fingers and I stand back to wait / for the miracle”) is modest in appearance (the inaudible soundtrack appears as illegible marginalia) and audacious in conception and ambition (Andrews is seeking, in effect, to draw poetry:  “mixed media,” indeed).

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Culture, Death, History and historiography, Media, Reading and writing

A sort of tomorrow (Stephen Andrews, part 6)

In 1995, Andrews’ implication in the unfolding of the HIV/AIDS pandemic yielded a suite of drawings rendered in oil and pencil and exhibited under the title Album.  The works in this series cross a calendar with a commonplace book, manually reproducing snapshots, letters, sympathy notes and greeting-card images that amount to an inventory of dreams both fulfilled and betrayed, conducted at some distance from the youthful optimism often associated with the promise of the future.  The unframed parchment paper that serves as the drawings’ material support evokes skin, and hence the body that eventually encounters what Seneca, in “De brevitate vitae,” calls “death’s final constraint.”  In the following year, Andrews literalized the allusion to the body readable in Album‘s fragile parchment, resorting to pliant pig intestine as the receptive surface on which he silkscreened familiar, even clichéd images of meteorological phenomena in a series entitled The Weather.  The sunset, tornado, lightning-bolt and wind-tossed waves offer themselves to a cursory glance as givens.  In fact, their complexity resides not in what they represent, but in an interplay of image, medium and material whose effects are not only unpredictable, but incalculable.  These brief landscapes begin by skewing the terms of our received understanding of the figure-ground relationship, cunningly enlisting the body as the surface on which they unfold.  Nothing is more mundane than the weather; yet the artist’s treatment, both conceptually and materially, makes a fresh demand for reflection on what we are perhaps too prone to take for granted.

The diptych “Parenthesis (no gold),” for example, presents both ends of a rainbow, their symmetrical placement adumbrating the invisible arc whose antecedents are inextricably natural and cultural.  For it is virtually impossible to register such an image independently of its palimpsestic overlay, whether the reference point is Jesse Jackson’s coalition, the gay activist banner, or – perhaps most inevitably – The Wizard of Oz.  Thus the stakes of a potentially banal depiction are raised in a way that the work’s title itself confirms:  For what we encounter here is not so much the representation of a rainbow as the figuring of a dubious promise, in the fabled pot of gold.

Read in the context of the new generation of antiretroviral therapies that became selectively available in 1996, the promise figured here takes on a certain specificity.  If in Facsimile‘s commemorative portraits the promise in question was that of the survivor to the dead, emphatically pledging not to forget, “Parenthesis (no gold)” articulates a promise of a different order:  that of longer survival, and with it the prospect of yet more effective treatments, perhaps a vaccine and eventually a cure.  It staked its first claim to our attention at a time when combination therapies including protease inhibitors held out the possibility (predicated of course on access) of a future radically other than the one presumed to that point by the HIV-infected, including Andrews himself.  The Weather, then, administers to its viewers a Wordsworthian “shock of mild surprise,” for the putative landscapes become legible as portraits, and indeed self-portraits.

As Andrews notes in the artist’s statement that accompanied the exhibition of the series in New York in 1997, “New drugs have afforded a ray of hope.  Hope is a fantasy of a future that might continue to unfold before us.  Who can predict?”  The cliché enlisted here takes the specific form of a catachresis:  a “ray” of hope.  As it does so often (so often that we may fail to notice), the language of affect borrows from other realms – the weather, for example – to figure an experience that resists formulation and formalization.  This reliance on the resources of language is evident in another component of the same exhibition:  a series of cyanotypes of a handwritten alphabetical list of names (Arthur, Berta, Cesar….) by which the season’s hurricanes – the unpredictable tempests of 1996 – were anthropomorphized, their force linguistically domesticated.  Tacitly, then, another allusion to The Wizard of Oz emerges, especially if we recall that the film’s storied heroine also has a telling surname:  Gale.  Taken together, these works attest that the black-and-white of the past (which was all along multiple shades of grey) has been sucked up and dashed to pieces by a vortex that has transplanted the very horizon, depriving us of our bearings.  We find ourselves catapulted to unmapped terrain – if not over the rainbow (“no gold”), then at some other point beneath its arc of promise.  Like the artist’s earlier efforts, The Weather thus combines a certain skepticism about the durability of the work itself with an abiding optimism about what is to come.  If biodegradability dictates in advance that this corpus, with its fragile material support, is destined soon enough to return to dust, the force of its attestation, which is irreducible to sense, may prove more resistant to the ravages of time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Culture, Death, History and historiography, Media, Reading and writing

A sort of tomorrow (Stephen Andrews, part 5)

Ah!  Wherefore with infection should he live,

And with his presence grace impiety,

That sin by him advantage should achieve,

And lace itself with his society?

Why should false painting imitate his cheek,

And steal dead seeing from his living hue?

Why should poor beauty indirectly seek

Roses of shadow, since his rose is true?

Still readable under the artist’s painstaking whitewash, these lines from the sixty-seventh of Shakespeare’s sonnets afford a point of entry into a body of work that borrows them, with respect, for purposes of its own.  Their consecutive rhetorical questions begin insistently to develop – like a photograph, perhaps – some of the whys and wherefores of the work that inscribes them:  matters of invention and imitation, truth and falsehood, blindness and insight, life and death.  Not reducible to themes, these concerns operate rather as the pivotal topoi around which each component of Andrews’ Sonnets, positioned in a complex constellation with the others, turns.  Each work in this series, while retaining a singular and idiomatic status, offers itself to the viewer as exemplary:  irreplaceable in its form and effects, but addressing (as Shakespeare’s sonnets address, even as they are addressed) broader concerns of a theoretical as well as a practical order.

For brevity’s sake, then, one image (if it is one) may serve as example:  the 1994 diptych that Andrews calls “Picture This,” a composite gouache portrait layered over partially whitewashed photocopies of sonnets forty-eight through sixty-nine.  For the viewer who is of necessity also the reader of this characteristically palimpsestic text, the title’s imperative translates as a pressing question that is not rhetorical:  Picture what?  For the digitalization of the photographic “original” that preceded its systematic manual reduplication in a subtle palette of greys and yellows renders the question of what appears – the who, what, when and where of reference – indeterminate.  In fact, what we see (or think we see, for even at first glance one’s perception of this work depends to an extraordinary extent on one’s relative proximity to or distance from it, fostering a distinct skepsis or doubt) is an effect of the artist’s superimposition of two images, an act that collapses space as well as time in the diptych’s two dimensions.  A photograph of director Jonathan Demme on the set of the 1993 AIDS-themed film Philadelphia, reproduced in the New York Times, is projected, as in a dream or a hallucination, onto a Polaroid portrait of Andrews’ late lover and muse that was staged in the artist’s studio.  The hands, then, do not properly belong to the head, or with it.  They do not reach out in advance of the unseeing eyes, feeling their way forward through space, anticipating some possible contact to come.  [I am indebted here to Derrida’s analysis in Memoirs of the Blind of the function of the hand in a range of drawings of the blind:  “These blind men explore – and seek to foresee there where they do not see, no longer see, or do not yet see.  The space of the blind always conjugates these tenses and times of memory – but simultaneously” (5-6).]  Rather, they frame the gaze of an absent other.  What may first appear as a portrait that, however mediated and manipulated, retains a mimetic relation to its model, emerges instead as an invented tableau.

Most notoriously and explicitly debated in the second preface to Rousseau’s epistolary novel Julie, ou la Nouvelle Heloise, the relation between portrait and tableau has generally been presumed, in the western aesthetic tradition at least, to be antithetical, mutually exclusive.  According to this conventional wisdom, an image or a text may imitate a particular referent – a person, place, object or event – and so constitute itself as a portrait of sorts.  The tableau, on the other hand, can lay claim to no specific extra-textual referent and hence is fictive, primarily self-signifying.  Underlying the terms of the distinction is the largely uninterrogated faith of the reader in the possibility of determining the referential status of the work at hand.  When we read an image or a written text, seek to understand it, we assume knowledge of and control over its referential and rhetorical modes (as we do when we read the question in Shakespeare’s sixty-seventh sonnet as rhetorical, rather than as real, and possibly urgent).  As Paul de Man argues in his analysis of the prefatory debate over whether Rousseau’s novel is a portrait or a tableau,

The innumerable writings [and images – Ed.] that dominate our lives are made intelligible by a preordained agreement as to their referential authority; this agreement is merely contractual, never constitutive.  It can be broken at all times and every piece of writing [and every image – Ed.] can be questioned as to its rhetorical mode.  Whenever this happens, what originally appeared to be a document or instrument becomes a text and, as a consequence, its readability is put in question.  The questioning points back to earlier texts and engenders, in its turn, other texts which claim (and fail) to close off the textual field.   [Allegories of Reading, 204]. 

“Picture This,” like the other components of the Sonnets sequence as well as the portraits in Facsimile, unsettles not only the question of its own referential status (in a way that does not allow for the closure of a final reading), but the very logic of mutual exclusion, the either/or that has long governed our understanding of the distinction between portrait and tableau.  No less than Rousseau’s novel, “Such a work can be read as the ‘portrait’ of its own negative gesture.  It follows that, if the work indeed represents objects qui ne sont point, then it is the ‘portrait’ of the subject’s initiation to this knowledge…the portrait of an impossible tableau”  (de Man, Allegories of Reading, 199).

It may be that Andrews’ own initiation to this knowledge is legible in the allegorical self-portrait incorporated in the series under the title “W.”, the cryptic initial that serves as his self-inscription and signature.  It is allegorical in that it “portrays” a certain blindness on the part of the artist to the predicament figured in the work.  Like the beloved in “Picture This,” the bereaved lover depicted here is unseeing, whether wittingly or not.  In this instance, it is a question of neither the “dead seeing” nor the “false painting” cited in Shakespeare’s verses.  Rather, the work is rigorously true to the terms of The Draughtsman’s Contract, enunciated by the draughtsman himself in a memorable speech that draws upon the “ambiguous evidence of an obscure allegory” in Peter Greenaway’s film to situate the figure for the artist “in the space between knowing and seeing.”  It is a contract that proves binding for the viewer as well:  “Painting,” like drawing, “requires a certain blindness…. Perhaps you have taken a great deal on trust”  (London, BFI, 1982).

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Culture, Death, History and historiography, Media, Reading and writing

A sort of tomorrow (Stephen Andrews, part 4)

If these portraits are of lives lost, of friends and comrades no longer accessible to perception, the relation of image to model in this instance cannot be conceived according to the representational criteria of mimetic fidelity.  Fidelity to memory is of another order, and operates otherwise.

The manual translation that produced these pixelated portraits (the marks were left by a jeweler’s screwdriver applied to the oil- and graphite-coated beeswax) was not that of a hand following the prescription of a model.  The movement of memory left these traces, so many notations for future reference.  Facsimile documents what was virtually a state of emergency in an affected community – the artist’s own – in the early 1990s, respecting the specificity of individual instances even as it locates them in a geographical and historical context.  The series format itself attests to this history’s unfolding over a critical time:  The quasi-mechanical enumeration, case by case, is not dialectically resolved, comes only arbitrarily to a close, and could conceivably go on indefinitely.

But how can a crisis go on indefinitely?  The portraits ranged in Facsimile‘s four parts address this question both to members of the community in question and to those at some distance (spatial or temporal) from it, who may imagine themselves untouched, even immune.  As Thomas Keenan notes in a conversation published in 1991 under the title “The AIDS Crisis is Not Over” (a text that, like Facsimile, retains all its pertinence decades after the fact),

There’s a way in which the telling of the story, the testimony of the affected community, functions or can be received as an accusation, by those who thought they were uninvolved.  The testimony is an address, which means that it’s a provocation to a response.  And that’s what they don’t want to give.  They don’t want to respond to the person who has called – for responsibility.  When someone says “I don’t want to hear about it”… they are telling the truth.  They are creating themselves as something insulated in its generality from the specificity of the address, by disavowing any involvement with the one who appeals.  [American Imago, 1991]

In the commemorative portraits gathered under Andrews’ resonant title, the appeal comes to the viewer not only from before and beyond the grave, but from the moment at hand.  It is a call to recollection and to responsibility, one that we ignore at our own risk.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Death, History and historiography, Media, Reading and writing, Tech

A sort of tomorrow (Stephen Andrews, part 3)

If at the time of the portraits’ rendering the models were absent from the artist’s field of vision, they were vividly “present” to his memory.  Indeed, Facsimile makes a compelling case, by and for example, for locating the origin of drawing as such in memory rather than in perception – or more precisely in a perception that partakes, from the first, of memory, “an intense effort of memory that evokes and calls back to life – a memory that says to everything ‘Arise, Lazarus'”  (Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind:  The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins, 1993, 48).  Baudelaire agrues the same case in “L’art mnemonique”:  “tous les bons et vrais dessinateurs dessinent d’apres l’image ecrit dans leur cerveau, et non d’apres la nature” [“all good and true draughtsmen draw from the image written in their brain, and not from nature”].  The conceptual figuring of memories, including those of past perceptions, as images inscribed in the mind leaves little room for nostalgia and its attendant pathos, and Andrews’ portraits are remarkably free of both.

A number of further mediations involved here, to which the series’ title likewise recalls us, remain to be reckoned with.  Prior to undertaking the first part of Facsimile, the artist was absent from Toronto, away from home and his habitual locus of production, and he first received the source images via transatlantic fax.  The painstaking sgraffito portraits are thus copies (the drawings) of copies (the faxed images) of copies (the photocopies), of copies (the newsprint) of copies (the half-tones) of copies (the snapshots) of an ever-receding original, and indeed their deliberate visual recitation of already degraded images conveys to the viewer an unmistakable sense of the wearing-away of what they nonetheless powerfully evoke, and with it a reminder of the inevitable lapses that compromise the work of memory.  As critic and curator Annette Hurtig observes,

The likenesses thus produced repeat the inadequacies of the faxed images.  Their imperfections protest memory’s failures.  Andrews’ loving, meditative replications, with their varying degrees of image degeneration, make Facsimile a figure for the unreliability of memory, as well [as] a metaphor for and an enactment of grieving.  A visual elegy for friends, loved-ones and a beloved lost to AIDS, Facsimile laments the way the limitations of memory leave us doubly bereft.

“Facsimile,” then, also designates the technology of reproduction and transmission that inhabits the portraits, both in their resemblance, especially from a distance, to the fleeting registrations of a laser printer, and more fundamentally as a condition of their very possibility.  Andrews’ series thus inscribes a long history of thinking technology as prosthesis, on the model of an extension of the human body, a supplement to its physical limitations, as well as the ambivalence that has shadowed this history.  The technology that extends the body’s force, provisionally compensating for its frailties and shortcomings, of course also confirms these failings, recalling them to reluctant and fallible memory.  The ultimate vulnerability of the body is death, that limit with which technology has always been intimately linked.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Death, History and historiography, Media, Reading and writing, Tech

A sort of tomorrow (Stephen Andrews, part 2)

The critical force and historiographical import of Andrews’ project may be traced to Facsimile, a four-part series begun in 1990 and first exhibited in 1991.  A consideration of what the title itself gives us to think affords one opening onto the complexity of this work and the challenges, even the imperatives, it continues to pose for the viewer.  “Facsimile” is first of all the making (from the Latin facere) of a copy or likeness (similis), the work of imitation constitutive of portraiture.  Read through Andrews’ title, the images ranged here are understood to refer themselves to models that they reproduce or represent by way of a particular medium and material:  in this case, drawing on bleached beeswax tablets coated with oil and graphite.  From the first, however, these portraits trouble conventional premises about the fundamentally mimetic relation of art to nature, image to model.  For these “copies” are made not at one, but at several removes from their “originals,” and remarking the specificity of the resulting distances, spatial as well as temporal, is part of the project here.  The “Proud Lives” to which these likenesses recall the viewer are those of men and women now dead, commemorated in a regular feature of that title in the Toronto bi-weekly Xtra!, which publishes photographs of and tributes to members of the community lately lost to HIV-related illness.  Andrews’ images, then, have their antecedents in these photographs, snapshots donated by the survivors.  The multiply-mediated gazes that look out from these portraits do so from a then and there that is divided from our own here and now not just by the passage of time, but more radically by death.  They address the viewer from that other time and place, from a past that remains, in ways to be elaborated and analyzed, determinant for our present and our future.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Death, History and historiography, Media, Reading and writing, Tech