Saturday, April 20, 2013

What is it like to lose oneself in the image?

San Francisco detective Scottie Ferguson gasps and about to lose it as  his dream of the ultimate beauty is about to emerge from his bathroom (Vertigo, director Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

"It's more a nursing of an image that haunts me, and letting it sit and breed in my mind…" 

This is the reply given by artist Robert Gober in a 1993 interview when asked about the strangeness of his work where he sets up his sculptural objects in what he called "dioramas."  Whether it is a section of a body -such as a man's leg- that appears to be sticking out from a white wall, a disembodied torso-like object that is half-male half-female flaccidly propped up, or the distorted cribs that he calls "traumatic playpens,"  I get a sense that something traumatic was witnessed or felt- so much so that no amount of verbal complexity could pronounce it, and that the only recourse is to transform the experience into a highly sensuous and physical reality.  His installation of sculptured objects qualifies as that reality.  And it's a reality with an overarching sense of loss.

The sublime moving image dreamed by Daria (Zabriskie Point, director  mIchelangelo Antonioni,  1970)
Daria, who loses herself in the contemplation of the sublime blow up above. 

And so in matters concerning works of art, when I hear the word "lose" and "loss," Gober's work is the first thing that comes to my mind. But he is merely one among many artists throughout history who have broached the subject of loss.  As long as radical shifts occur from one cultural, social and political movement to another, perhaps it is reasonable to think that the artist who happens to stride that shift cannot help but feel and internalize the kind of aesthetic, theoretical and symbolic earthquakes and aftershocks that come when their meaningful contexts undergo frenetic transformation.  

There's Nicolas Poussin painting his "Et in Arcadia Ego," living in a time of religious conflict and excessively increasing monarchic authority in Baroque France, and so his execution of this painting must be in acknowledgment of the lost virtues of the restraint, rationality and order of the classical Greco-Roman past.  And of course, there's Edvard Munch who painted "The Cry," one of the most iconic paintings that emerged from Modernism- an almost unbearable, anguished and visceral scream from one whose psychic life cannot cope amidst the dramatic industrialization, urbanism and resulting loss of social cohesion that defined modern life.  

Even I myself am implicated in the use of loss as premise for some of my own work in the past- through the subject of nostalgia and displacement- as I tried to locate myself geographically, and subjectively into the new country I had immigrated to.  

Dr Ellie Arroway in the moment before she loses herself, along with a lifetime of cultivated doubt,  when she encounters the moving image of her deceased father (Contact, director Robert Zemeckis, 1997)

And not to mention Postmodernism! With defining qualities such as skepticism, unease, doubt, and excessive self-criticism and consciousness, what is ultimately lost in the postmodern condition is faith.  

US Army Captain Benjamin Willard hasn't lost it yet, and contemplating but barely reaching the accurate image of the unspeakable thing that happens later (Apocalypse Now, director Francis Ford Coppola)

"Loss" and "lose" -not only are they carriers of negativity in the verbal sense, but even numerically.  

Can "lose" and "loss" ever mean otherwise?  Can their implications be reversed to potentially uphold a narrative of positivity, and in turn uphold some value that we desire to attain? 

Because when values are the matter of discussion, it is "gains" and the "victorious" that we are conditioned to believe as worthy of our attention. We live in a culture fed into by the cult of the victorious, and in so far as this is concerned, anyone negating its treasured values will find themselves sectioned off into the outskirts of the glorified arena of perpetually competitive unrest.  

But what if we disconnect "lose" and "loss" from its widely accepted set of implications and locate it in some place where it can, sort of, shine.  On the other hand, "loss" already exists as a virtue existing with the varied scriptural, mystical and societal values of humility, charity, and self-sacrifice.  So perhaps the conversation here is to carry on the idea of "loss" as a virtue with a potential force and systemic usage as that of the "victorious."

Cecilia, embodying Robby's image of desire, stand in the presence of her beholder (Atonement, director Joe Wright, 2007)

Robby, losing it, in the presence of the image of his desire (Atonement, director Joe Wright, 2007)
Having said all this, in the impulse and the desire to lose oneself in the image, what is lost and where does the transformation lie?  Assuming the image is a visual or mental embodiment of our ideals, desires, beliefs, fears, ambition and so on, and at the same time also keeping aware of the inability of the image to uphold a stable meaning, to "lose" oneself in the image would be the greatest act of blind and ultimately romantic heroism.  To lose is already an act of privileging the other, perhaps out of a greater love for the other than for oneself.  But to lose to something that is fleeting, something that is an abstraction, something that is a mental construction, something that may or may not exist, something whose meaning and loyalties may fizzle off or lean elsewhere- to lose in this manner is the grace through which our completion and becoming mysteriously take place in the heroic act of our forced self-incompletion.  

Patrick Bateman, in the utter and complete surrender of the self to the image (American Psycho, director Mary Harron, 2000)

1 comment:

  1. We are defended against being unselfconsciously lost with constant affirmation and mirroring issuing from our Iphones.
    But the loss is the momentary metabolizing of something that needs to change.
    As Picabia said: our heads are round so our thoughts can change direction.