‘Ritornello,’ is a series of images depicting a constructed landscape. I will attempt to interpret the work and describe some its theoretical positions. I will outline how the form of the work shapes how it should be read and I will relate to the work in terms of how it may contribute toward the appropriation of a vital materiality framework into photography of the landscape.
‘Ritornello’ consists of two square photographs and three text components. The visual images are similar to stereoscopic images. This similarity could also be associated with the virtual, 3D environment, a space that has no physical presence and the unconscious image that is the embodied virtual image.
The work suggests the process of returning to the same space and experiencing a modified encounter with what is there. With a return a new image is formed, based on experience of the previous image. In essence the ‘Ritornello’ is the most rudimentary form of representing practice in response to my research question. The work interpellates a subject viewer and causes them to see each image in relation to the other image. As subjects we understand the signifiers within one image in a modified way once we are interpellated by the previously read signifiers in the paired image. As viewers are not being presented with any new information, it is the same information, it is our interaction that creates the newly formed work.
The work also incorporates three textual elements. These refer to the construction of the work, a journey in which two people travel through a place, the rational activity or thought processes involved in creating the work.
Taken as a whole the work creates a space for interpretation. It uses spatial relationships and visual ‘tricks’ to propose new images for the viewer. It directly quotes an unattainable three-dimensional space onto a flat surface. Simultaneously the two images formed from a single photograph create a third landscape, an impossible and partially repeated landscape.
I have outlined five criteria that my work should meet in order that it functions in a specific way and incorporates the viewer into it.
- The work should suggest a discussion about itself: it should ask ‘why does this work exist in this form?’
- The discussion should be a part of the work and there needs to be a space within the work into which the discussion will fit.
- The space created in the work will sit between other forms of representation and it may be occupied to create something that joins them or that keeps them apart. This process may happen during contemplation of the work.
- Contemplation of the work will induce expressiveness in us whereby we are asked to align ourselves with the work.
- Alignment with the work may never reach a conclusion – we must necessarily keep talking or discussing
These questions set out the specificity of the work I have produced and intend to develop. It may also useful to consider the specificity of landscape and the function of photography in relation to it. Photography operates as a discursive framework – it tells us what to look at, it informs us where to stand. They present us with specific narratives, occasionally at the expense of others. They may also be used as pictorial tools, reconstructing our perception of space.
The camera itself acts as a device for framing. It operates by translating of vantage point, frame, proximity, lighting and distance into images thereby transforming or mediating our encounters with space and objects. There is limited scholarship relating to the use of photographs as a pictorial tool that mediates experience, I will bring these together drawing on theories of New Materialism. Looking at how images, the camera and the computer are used to reconstruct space brings me to a number of other questions. What happens to space once it has been photographed? How does a landscape tell its story within a photograph? How does photography picture spatial experience? Once we have a photograph can we dispense the object, with space, altogether? Against a background of increased image acquisition in the digital age I may also ask whether photographs are even necessary in a world of Big Data. Lev Manovich has already developed the Museum Without Walls project by translating images into code.
I am not looking at the gains and losses of how photographs transform or mediates our encounters but I am reviewing the experience of being in the landscape as opposed to an experience that shows landscape images. Ritornello attempts to present two provocations – this is not how landscape is experienced and this is not how photographs are experienced. It is misrecognition, a structuring absence that precedes photographic meaning. Suggesting that any meaning is displaced from images themselves into discursive formations both before and after any encounters with image.
This could suggest a need to understand a non-material vitality as opposed to object-orientated-ontological philosophies. This would require an understanding not of the things themselves, in this case photographs and photography but how we understand these as objects. However, firstly I will need to set out an understanding of photographs as non-human actants – as things.
Jane Bennett, in her book Vibrant Matter theorizes a vital materiality. It is an attempt to eliminate the divide between subject and object, opening a way for a critical analysis of the relationship between humans and things. It explores the agency of ‘things.’ The work attempts to reconsider the differentiation of passive matter (things) and vibrant life (us). This differentiation is described by Jacques Ranciere as the ‘partition of the sensible,’ and within aesthetics it contributes to “the structure and manner in which the arts can be perceived and thought of in forms of art and as forms that inscribe a sense of community.” (Ranciere – the Politics of Aesthetics, p14). The word ‘partition’ is sometimes translated as ‘distribution’ and Ranciere is using it to describe forms of inclusion and exclusion. Similarly, the term ‘sensible’ is used to identify what can be sensed. What he is suggesting is that there is a common agreement established within a community that is based on shared modalities of sense perception. This partitioning Ranciere refers to, creates a division between what is seen or heard and what is not. It defines what is visible and what is invisible. It is supported by what he describes as the consensual, whereby what is perceived or sensed is accorded a mode of interpretation in order to find meaning. He uses the term dissensual in order to describe a disconnection or fissure in what we sense, in the sensible order. For Bennett Vital Materiality proposes that agency is distributed in the form of an ‘assemblage’ created from a variety of actants and I suggest that subject/object dichotomy she seeks to remove is part of a consensus of inclusion and exclusion. Vital Materiality is a proposed agency of the dissensual, creating a rupture in what we commonly sense or perceive.
How do these claims relate directly to images of the landscape and specifically to the creation new forms of practice that point toward, work that operates as part of the dissensual? Landscape’s common or consensual representation is described by Liz Wells, in her book ‘Land Matters,’ as one where “photographers persist in exploring place in terms of histories, geographies and geologies, focusing on the interaction of people and environment and on shifting ecologies . . . with widespread concerns relating to environmental change, imagery relating to land and place has re-emerged with renewed socio-political orientation.” (p xv). It is arguably these consensual terms through which landscape is depicted that contribute to a common perception. In addition the codes of a romantic, painting aesthetic are also deployed in images of the landscape even those that claim dispensation on the grounds that they articulate a political perspective. However, a dissensual or vital materialist image of the landscape should express the distributed agency of human and non-human forms. How could this be achieved? I propose that one way of eliminating the divide between subject and object, would be to create images of the landscape that re-create the conditions of looking ‘otherwise.’ Such a work would suggest a lack of congruency between landscape and image. It would implicate and expose the viewer as contributor to the construction of a different landscape, one that is prompted or formed by representation. In effect, a dissensual image of the landscape would ask how a human and non-human assemblage endures and how that oppositional binary construct of human and things is reinforced through consensual representations. Its goal would be in understanding not an image of the landscape but landscape-as-image. From this position we can work towards forming a dissensual practice. A practice that will by its nature disconnect us from the consensual perception Ranciere identifies.