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Because there is more:
It is as if the image protests against its own framing. The predetermined, entirely familiar and accepted form – the familiar zooming in on the main ‘character’ – who has nevertheless been adopted in a somewhat changed manifestation , no longer suffices. The child brazenly looks ‘outwards’, a forceful emphasis on the glance in the image achieved by the identical positioning of the eyes: green, dark brown or deep blue. This almost exaggeratedly fierce looking focuses on the viewer and the photographer, and his or her private demands and wishes with regard to the image, but it also queries the generality of the latter’s framing which is so common and subconsciously familiar. The harmony inherent in the image is disrupted in favour of directly questioning the instrumentalisation of that same image. As if the photograph you observe is simultaneously divested of its structure and sovereignty by the glance its counterpart finds in your seeing. The mechanism is reminiscent of Velasquez’s implicit painting of the watching royal couple in Las Meninas (1656). But where, in particular in Foucault’s analysis of the painting , Las Meninas demonstrates the structure of the representation and the separate instances which determine this, where King Philip IV and his wife Mariana constitute a present yet passive audience for the spectacle occurring in front of them, symbolised by their painted impression behind the working artist’s back; the viewer and the viewed become one. The spectacle is the photo, in all its heterogeneity and he or she who looks at it. If in the past the fraying of the parties involved, the viewer, the maker and the model was revealed, we now assume the viewer is emancipated , familiar with the formerly separated positions and the responsibilities these entailed. The shock this role reversal resulted in has unknown dimensions. This touches all those involved in the illusionist game; the tamer and the bear who has unexpectedly placed its paws on the tamer’s shoulders: the wild animal suddenly towers over the tamer who had control thus far. The audience waits with baited breath. Because if the animal ignores the conventional distribution of roles between master and slave, then it might be capable of a great deal more. It might vault the raised sides which separate the ring from the stands. And then what?
What are the consequences of hierarchies shifting? What happens when a model steps out of its context and queries the viewer’s commitment? When the person who posed leans forward from his frame and puts his hands on the viewer’s shoulders? For years now, the previously ‘silent’ viewer has also been a user of the photograph and someone who actively interprets it. On the one hand, the daily use of the photographic image shows that its meaning has been appropriated. It is this premise which serves as the point of departure for the photographic experiment. Control has been relinquished. The activity of the viewer who, quite naturally, copies the entrenched dealings with images, is now – in that same photographic image – confronted with his own isolation as a model. People will object that the photographer’s intervention is still required to reverse these roles. And they are right. However, does not the anonymity of every pair of eyes – which are formally interchangeable and the uniformity of the portraits viewer’s recognise themselves in – suggest that the viewer is the photograph’s potential maker? This – I would like to posit– is how heterogeneous the previously comforting ‘ideal’ image has become.
A second consequence of the emphasis on that same use of photographic images is that we can now re-explore the photograph’s options. As if you first had to be reminded of your quasi-obvious dealings with photographs before being able to view the image ‘differently’. Measured using the criteria of familiar use, the photograph hides another anachronism: the image formally refers to a history which has not yet been told and of which the ‘results’ are - as yet - a mystery. The various elements which can be found in a photographic image such as its clarity combined with the ‘age-old’ framing elicit new rules or laws suggested by that same diversity. Alternatives along the fault line, in the lacunae between then and now. This is how the young faces show you the established order: time is reversible, this image points ahead. The radical refusal to accept der Lauf der Dinge [the linear course of history] draws from coincidence’s intercession as in the eponymous Fischli & Weiss installation, but also in Stéphane Mallarmé’s arguments, from whose ‘poème en prose’ un spectacle interrompu philosopher and sociologist Jacques Rancière derived the image of the bear and its tamer . The story takes a twist thanks to an unforeseen event. Existing scenery is demolished literally and figuratively. Lines (framing) intervene in ‘our image’ which leaves only fragments visible of what revealed itself in its entirety in our memory: that recalled experience. But also: openings, mistakes, overlaps and ‘inaccuracies’ as well as the possible ‘accidental’ or ‘alternative’ bringing together of and collaboration between factors which, previously, were not the photograph’s own, become visible in what was related as a linked and closed narrative. The photographic image visually translates the meeting between the formerly oft asked question: “Where are you from?” and the current quest: “Where are you heading?”. Today’s ‘born traveller’ or ‘exotic’, the journeying individual who can make his home anywhere and in and after his confrontation with the intense diversity of the environment is capable of returning to himself , uses the image to contemplate his next moves. As in every experimental research, the question is more important than the answers. The option is kept open, a result or definitive objective seems not to exist. The destination remains unclear: this image could have been made ‘everywhere’. Which, reversed, once again does not imply that ‘everything’ is visible. Communication only exists in the non-aggregation which forces and stimulates variety to be translated time and again. However it also houses doubt: how universal is the model, that image structure and our dealings with it which are here interrupted and simultaneously shown?
Mallarmé describes the moment at which the bear, after its act of mastery, goes down on all fours again as a silence, a hush in which the audience are briefly and consciously confronted with their own, precarious fate now that the danger has passed and their emotions are calm once more. This moment of consciousness, this ‘charming’ realisation that all dimensions and coordinates have been/can be abolished is that of the ‘spectacular’ calm or challenging silence in the children’s glances. When conventional, concrete handholds prove fictional, the uncertain future also becomes a source of confidence. That is the consequence now all barriers have disappeared. And so Mallarmé saw the imposing, upright animal as a reference to its stellar homonym, the Great Bear.
-Of the tamer and the bear
-Ilse van Rijn | September 2010
1-The circle, the halo with which we encircle a familiar face on a group photograph is here translated into a rectangular frame. Please refer to journal, Motive Gallery, November 2010
2-Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses. Une archéologie des sciences humaines. Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1966, pp 19-31
3-After: Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator. London/New York: Verso, 2009 )
4-The example is referred to in Jacques Rancière, Le destin des images. Paris: La Fabrique éditions, 2003, pp 138
5-Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Der Lauf der Dinge, 1987
6-Stéphane Mallarmé, ‘un spectacle interrompu’. In: Oeuvres complètes. Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1945, pp 276-278
7-Nicolas Bourriaud, The Radicant. New York: Lukas & Sternberg, 2009. In particular pp 64-66