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Extracts from:  Peter Nesteruk, A Rhetoric of Time in the Arts: Eternity, Entropy and Utopia in Visual Culture (2011).




From:  Chapter Three: Photography and Identity:

The Image of Captured Time.       




Contents: Black and White Photography, the Washington Dome (Congress), 'Children looking up at Ronald C. Moody's Midonz (Goddess of Transmutation)', Robert Rauschenberg, 'Odalisque' (1955-1958), 'Monogram' (1955-1959), Anna Mendieta, Silueta Works (1970s), Christian Boltanski, 'Demande au Père Mariano' (1994), Marcus Harvey, 'Myra' (1995), Karen Finley, 'The Vacant Chair' (1993) and 'The Circle of the Ancestors' (1995) by Amalia Mesa-Bains.



The special case of Black and White Photography.


Long after its time had apparently expired, when the time for its most perfect -its ‘classic’- realisation had already past, the genre of black and white photography continues to thrive. Why? What permits its survival into the age of colour and digital reproduction? I want to suggest that this survival, its charm and its force, is due to the particular sensitivity of black and white photography to the representation of time. Just as in the history of art many effects of meaning are traceable to the painterly use of time, so with the history of photography.[1]

All photographs have a special relationship with the past, this is their time of making (insofar has they have a relationship with reality, a record of a referent) this might be called their first meaning. However the significance of the image lies in its second or figural meaning and so on the form of time it represents. This sense of represented time may come from within time (past, present, future) or from ‘outside’ time (the sacred, surreal or dream time). So in temporal terms the black and white photograph may be said to exist in five broad modalities (after our, human, experiential relationship to time): Classic (past); Documentary (present); Oracular (future); Sacred or Sublime (the outside of time as eternity); Surreal (the outside of time as the time of dreams, of the imagination). These may be found in combination in different parts of the photograph, or further nuanced by other factors (image content, context, title, etc).

The ‘Classic’: the Past Valourised. This is the most popular form of the black and white photograph in the West and those cultures influenced by its cultural history (as attested to by the consumption of framed images, posters, and postcards). The potential pastness of any black and white photograph is first of all suggested by its relation to its past history as an event that has always already happened. Another reminder of the past lies in the history of the genre itself; black and white was an early stage in the history of the technical recording and reproduction of the image and so the first language of the documenting of the past as past. The formal–rhetorical aspect of the black and white photograph begins with its fundamental contrast with the colour image -colour as the way we see the world and ends with the temporal ‘mood’ of the black and white image as read from its content and its means of expression. If colour suggest the present, then the distancing effect of black and white configures the ‘flavour’ of the past, rendering it as an image seen at one remove - an image that mimics memory. If the actuality of the past (recorded event) is foremost, then we are in the realm of the documentary image (the presence of the past as present): if it is the temporal sense of the past that is to the fore, then we have a ‘classic’. The ‘classic’ effect precisely consists of the predominance or insistence of this memorial effect. An effect that is responsible for creating the aura of the past, a sense, or illusion, of something that has survived; a sense of (ever)lastingness; an island of the past in the present. A capturing and transport of the past (the presence of the past as past), this special sense connotes a record (which is actually a creation) of value. This sense of pastness, of what survives in the memorialising process is accented in black and white photography, where it comes to mean: what is worthy of survival. What is valuable; what is ‘classic’. (As what is recorded becomes… what is worth recording).

The ‘Documentary’ photographic image. Yet how does the documentary photograph work in black and white, when our everyday reality is normally perceived in colour? Technically the event of any photograph is always already in the past; in this sense the black and white photograph’s initial effect of ‘pastness’ is truer than the colour photograph’s claim to immediacy – yet this effect should also count against the use of black and white photography to reveal the present. In fact, the black and white format -the setting apart effect- confers value, in effect reframes the content, offering it up to the viewer as important, worthy of selection, worthy of our attention, ‘newsworthy’ (an extension of the image-making process itself). Furthermore the lack of colour conveys thoughtfulness (again the sense of a remove), a seriousness colour images often seem to lack. The remainder of the present effect is due to the nature of the image-content itself. We are called to recognise the content as ‘timely’ in the sense of present interest or of recent origin, so forestalling the temporal reading of pastness (as the ‘usual’ meaning of black and white when opposed to the presence of colour). These two semiotic aspects of the photographic sign working together offer us a sense of the event captured, a kind of ‘present preserved’ (or ‘pastness deferred’) where the relatively short time lag can be forgotten in the construction of a picture of ‘what is going on’ – a kind of documentary ‘event-horizon’ where the time taken for the arrival of the image can be ignored (the event is chronologically well in the past by the time we see the recorded image). The black and white image, here with its sense of the ‘reported present’ or ‘present continuous’, is the key to the ‘gritty realism’ effect; to presenting a present which is lacking in colourful embellishment, so told in ‘black and white’ – the rhetoric of black and white as the ‘colour’ of truth.

In summary, the origin of the documentary image in black and white photography has bequeathed to us a code, a habit of thought, of reading, that still remains even in our world of colour reproduction. This code is anchored however in the lack of immediate presence (lack of colour) of black and white. This effect is constitutive of the black and white photographic experience and now (particularly in the West) usually points us away from the image as a record of recent time (and so to the ‘Classic’ effect, the past as art, or other effects such as the ‘Surreal’ - in effect to the ‘art photograph’). With the documentary image however, this lack of presence (lack of colour) is read as a proof of its existence as a record of the actual, usually recent, past (black and white as the illusion of directness through indirectness).

The ‘Sacred’ or Sublime photographic image. Often found supporting the classic effect of the black and white photograph is a sense of the sacred. The picture is felt as ‘timeless’ – as if transcending history. However this sense of the sacred is a sense ‘this side’ and not a pointer to a place ‘elsewhere.’ Access to the outside of time proper, a pointing to the impossible category of ‘not time’ is found by reading space as pointing to another time, a time outside of time, eternity (the difference perhaps between a type of Beauty felt to be ‘timeless’ and the Sublime). This effect can be signaled by: the sky, the heavens, an upward movement or diagonal (the image’s bottom right to top left) or line of sight, an empty space, white space (or black space) and the varieties of horizon. The reference point is impossible, is eternal; the genre is the ‘Sacred’.

The second genre reference to the sacred can be found in the portrayal of the ‘micro-sacred’: the genre of finding transfigured moments in the everyday, in unlikely places and details. This discovery of the sacred in the details of passing life is also to be found in more intimate examples of the landscape genre and ‘Still Life’ – as well as the decorative images that the latter has inspired. Indeed decorative forms, patterns and images can also be read as carrying a trace of the eternal in their formalisation, their ideal status as measured by their distance from the concrete and temporal.

The ‘Surreal’. In some ways this form is as old as experiment and juxtaposition in photography and had already achieved in the ‘thirties the notoriety that has given this category its name, ‘Surrealism’. This is the genre of the unusual, the de-familiarised, or un-canny (familiar, at home, yet frighteningly ‘not-at-home’, so unfamiliar). Recently exemplified in the surreal back and white images of the internationally renowned Japanese photographer, Kon Mitchiko, where fish and vegetables configure human and other forms – resulting in an art of strange anthropomorphism whose effect upon us can only take one name… the ’Surreal’.

If normally content-led due to its reliance on defamiliarisation (content of expression), this category nevertheless uses the temporal qualities of the black and white image (means of expression) to push its sense of removal in time even further away; from the past to the very edge of time, into the time of dreams. The surreal-type photograph is formally identifiable by its tradition-breaking juxtapositions. Structurally and semiotically speaking we are presented with the double negation of ‘not-not time’ (neither inside nor outside). Phenomenologically, that is in terms of our experience, we perceive something ‘inside’, here before us, which feels ‘outside’, outside of the range of our normal experience - perhaps ‘normally’ limited to the realm of fantasies or dreams. Both ‘outside’, but also, ‘not-outside’. With no pointers guiding us to the thought of infinity, we are left with an experience which is just unreal, ‘this side’ – the ‘Surreal’ effect.

Seeing the future; the ‘Oracular’ image. The temporal genre of question and invitation, amelioration and hope - as well of anxiety and foreboding. Formally speaking, the future can be found in the abstract, the veiled and indistinct, in the sense of a lack of presence as bearing future meaning – as carrying the feeling of an anxiety for the future. As well as the depiction of a situation yet-to-come, such photographs may also suggest the sense of an ideal, of things as they should or could be, as opposed to how they are. The black and white image as oracle. Extending this idea, it is also possible to conceive of the oracular black and white photograph as an interrogative voice, asking the question, ‘will it be like this?’

The moods of black and white photography may well be reducible to codes of reading established in the history of the genre; codes which nevertheless bear an uncanny affinity to the temporal types of our being. The rest of this chapter will deal with specific images as part of the wider role of the photographic image in art.  



Ana Mendieta.


I would now like to consider the work of an artist, who, whilst continuing in the tradition of marking landscapes, is in many ways regarded as the anti-thesis of (largely male) land artists such as Robert Smithson, Walter de Maria, or Michael Heizer. The topic for the remainder of this section will be the photography of Ana Mendieta, who died tragically just as fame and reputation were beginning to reward her art practice. Rather than focusing upon a single work, as with most other analyses in this study, I will deal with the implications of a set of repeated features that define a period in Mendieta's work (if not her collected work in its entirety). To this end I will concentrate upon the Silueta Works of the 1970s.[2] Mendieta's art typically consists of photographs and video footage of human shaped niches or apertures that she has (often using her own body as a template) incorporated into various natural landscapes. The role of these absences, of the niches, imprints, and tracings, within her photography and of her photography as a form of absence itself, has been discussed in primarily spatial terms, in terms of 'somewhere else' or 'not here' and not (apart from the addition of a largely extraneous biographical element) in temporal terms, where 'not now' implies some other time, or some other kind of time.[3] A third, and crucial, form of absence is unambiguously temporal, the absence of the making of the art work, the thought of which making presupposes the past as the place of this activity. This absence is especially important in Mendieta's work because the making is so often linked to a ritual, which takes the form of a journey into the wilderness, and which culminates in the making of, what often appear to be, consecrated or hallowed places (her work on video, for example, consists of recordings of 'ritual' making).

       In the photography of Ana Mendieta, then, the viewer is presented with two absences: the presence of a niche, an empty form implying an absent body, as depicted in the photograph; and the photograph itself as an absence, as not the art object or event itself, but as the record of the represented art-object or event. However both of these spatial absences also refer to the past (Barthes has already divided the photograph into 'reality' and the past, or memory, the real reproduction and the absent event).[4] Indeed these absences are usually experienced as having the function of a deixis 'pointing' elsewhere - indicating a double origin outside of the text. The photograph acts as a record of what happened 'before' (and may no longer exist): the empty space acts as record of event/body that may have been there 'before' - both therefore refer the viewer to the past. Lack of presence (as a definition of the photograph itself, and of the significance of the form in the photograph), performs its usual symbolic function of evoking time, of allowing the mind to temporalise the forms before it. The absence depicted within the photograph permits one to raise the general question of the photograph itself as an absence and of the rhetorical effects this (non)relation may evoke.

       However the relatively 'realist' reading of the 'past' into these relations, where both types of absence are marks or records of past events, does not exhaust the temporal options open to the viewer. Nor do they explain the effect of the photographs, which seem to go beyond being a simple record, or evocation of memory, or loss - whether of consciousness, humanity, woman, or of implied author as fallen, as victim of the fall into sexual division, or of the division between society, history, and culture, and nature. The suggestion of a ritual origin would, at first sight, confirm the reading of absence as an evocation of the past, however, as the pre-eminent function of ritual is the unification -and self-recognition- of self with community and cosmos, and not just its record, this unification must also carry a futural intent. Indeed the rhetorical reading of time as presented through relative absence in the text always permits the interpolation of a future option - although this will always depend upon other textual and contextual elements (for example, the event depicted as the product of ritual).

       Photographing the future. A idea ready-made for utopian (or dystopian) readings. What might this strange formulation mean in the context of these photographs. If we read the presence of each photograph as the temporal absence of the event, as itself an index of the future, then we have, in effect, a photograph of the future; that is, a photography of desire, of prophecy, of hope - a photography in subjunctive mood. The utopian gesture is always implicit in such a reading; the rhetorical anticipation of the future in the text is its condition of possibility. If this consideration of the photograph as such provides the general grounds for a futural frame, then the particular futural options available within this frame will be indicated by the particular lack of presence as depicted within the photograph. On this reading the figure of absence in the photograph signifies future openness, a potential for development, and an index of possibility within a more specific frame of reference. This reference may, as we saw with the implications of the past option, indicates forms of gender politics (also the personal politics of the artist as woman) along with numerous readings depending upon the particular political frame. A temporal reading also implies that the just placing, or appositeness of the context in which the absent figures may be found, may be read as indicating a just place in time, or a just time, in which the problematics indicated by the absent content may be resolved, a time which is yet to come. 

       The two levels of absence and their temporal deixis taken together carry an urgent sense of the potential and possibility of cure and resolution. Yet if our experience, or anticipation, of the future, and its locatability in the fabric of the text is especially important to readings that wish to go beyond simple referentiality (in practice, a reference to the past) to include critique and development - as well as to explain the viewer's intuition of future implication, then there remain yet other relations of time to help explain the impact of Mendieta's work.

       So far we have looked at the land/mark opposition of the photograph as a ground/figure relation, where the figure has been, however, more defined by absence than by presence, and which, in turn, has led to the attribution of the temporal correlate of present to ground and that of past/future to figure. However, the figure/ground relation may also be itself read as a figure for the nature/culture opposition. On this reading 'nature' becomes land, 'ground' in all of its senses, the natural environment, leaving 'culture', by contrast, as that which employs a sign, mark, or figure to communicate signification. Absence is read as a cultural mark, or mark of culture, a contingent sign (with contingent meanings) as opposed to nature's given or pre-existing forms. However the nature/culture opposition also carries its own temporal significance; that of temporality and its exterior: history and eternity. If the natural and the timeless are intuitively felt to go together and are, as a result, often found together, then they are usually employed together for their rhetorical function as references to what is unquestionably good and true (that is, not dependent upon contingency).[5] The photograph's recourse to eternity as the ground upon which its inscription is made, may suggest that the meanings which are being sought are also forever true, are eternally ethical or good. Conversely, it may suggest that all human cultural striving is not only transient, but that its beauty (like its truths and its ethics) may indeed depend upon this contingency (both options are on offer). What is clear, is the photograph's reliance upon temporality through the rhetoric of eternity and so upon the sublime as a source of meaning as part of its general effect and that any interpretation must come to grips with these factors. 

       Over and above the reference to culture as general human history, the photograph appears to focus upon feminine history - or rather its absence- as indicated by the manner of the forms employed and their relation to the artist. If women's history is in question, then women's time is pre-supposed.[6] The embedding of these forms in nature, in eternity, now suggests a re-appropriation of nature as eternity (as a reference to last things or to the most general horizon available), and therefore of the sacred as a defining element of the eternal. The special sense the depicted figures and their contextual grounds convey, a sense of being out of time, as partaking of the eternal, also indicates, insofar as Mendieta's figures are figures of herself, that we read her art as a re-sacralisation of the self, and perhaps even as a commentary upon personal identity - whether as individual or human identity, or as female identity - as dependant upon the sacred. It is here that the temporal route to the sacred joins the connotations of ritual and of the hallowed or uncanny effect of the shapes Mendieta employs - reminiscent as they are of empty graves, and therefore suggestive of a death in the past and a resurrection into the future. The photographs where Mendieta included herself enclosed within a grave-like niche further reinforces the sense of last rites and a gesture beyond - it is interesting to note that, in such photographs, she obscured her own identity, putting it into question and retaining the sense of absence featured in the other photographs of the Silueta Works series (Inside the Visible, p. 164).


The lack of presence implied in the forms employed in Mendieta's photographs and their concomitant sacral connotations are the primary source of effect, and so of the photographs' affectivity, for the viewer of Ana Mendieta's art. In this discussion, these effects have been approached by a questioning of their temporal co-ordinates. I have tried to show how any meaningful interpretation of the photographs and their impact (their aesthetic value), must rely upon a combination of temporalisation (the ascription of past, present, and future) and the rhetoric of eternity as time's sacralised beyond in its ideological or cohesive form (without sacrality 'eternity' simply remains a theoretical postulate of experimental physics, a sense not productive in aesthetic interpretation).

       The question of the photograph -the artwork as we receive it- as itself a representation, and so as a window upon time, has been addressed in terms of its relations of temporal absence, of the latter's possible valencies, and of their impact when allied to similar relations within the text. The function of framing within the frame of the photograph and the temporal implications it may carry, has also been examined; the appearance of uncanny or enigmatic spaces and enclosures had lead to a linking together of various forms of temporality and the notion of the sacred. The findings of this discussion has implications for the interpretation of windows, pictures, televisions (a mise-en-abime), or other such forms of interior re-framing within the artwork (the implications of this issue will reoccur in the chapter on architecture which follows). The sacred, identity, and temporality are again found to exist in a relation of interdependence. The theme of the re-appropriation of the sacred as a political value for minority and identity politics is everywhere implicit in Ana Mendieta's work. This issue remains pertinent in the art of the 1990's and beyond into the twenty-first century and this chapter will conclude with the contrasting of recent works involved with the question of identity against other, more traditional -and more commercial- forms of art (1990's post-conceptual, 'shock conceptualism', as exemplified by Saatchi's 'Sensation' exhibition).



Marcus Harvey, Myra.


Marcus Harvey's painting of Myra Hindley, 'Myra' (1995), is taken from a photograph taken from a past context - a part of popular gothic culture, or an icon representing a mass taboo, which was constructed around this person arising out of the murder and torture of children.[7] The re-use of her picture in art caused the same kind of public disquiet as the use of another photographic image as art in the mid-nineties, that of Jamie Bulger being led away by his young murderers-to-be. Both images were reframed from one discourse, reportage, (supposedly dealing with facts) into another, that of art (a discourse not primarily factive, but where wishes and dreams often have priority of place).  Reportage may be read as a discourse which parallels the linguistic mood of the indicative (the propositional 'it is'), where facts only are supposed to predominate and consumption is supposed to be pleasureless: art appears, by contrast, to be governed by the other major linguistic mood, the subjunctive, where various notions of expectation (and so pleasure, of the 'would like') and normative notions (of morality, the 'ought', or enlightenment) are predominant. As can clearly be seen, the discourse of reportage, is expected to be based upon past fact (although this may not, of course, always be the case); whilst the aesthetic discourses are expected to be based upon a pleasurable experience which should, we tend to believe also yield future educational or civilising values (even genre painting or photography such as history, or portraiture, or landscape, do not in practice, conform to pure fact). A world of facts is opposed to a world of pleasure and virtue.

       Two effects with definite temporal significance may already be noted. First, in the artwork under question, the past is re-used for present shock: no future pay-off is found (unless it be the simple confirmation of the viewer's superiority to the person represented). Second, this relation is not only a effect of borrowing from the past, but also a result of the mimicking of, as well as borrowing from, the discourse of reportage, where, despite the artistic techniques employed, the relation to time remains the same. The process of putting-into-art has not given the work a future value, or moral lesson, nor has it begun the work of mourning, nor working through, nor even does it constitute a memorial to the victims; it simply engineers a shock effect by juxtaposing genres, or mixing discourses. Simply blowing-up the picture would have been sufficient to achieve this effect (however this had already been done with other atrocities dating back to the era of the Vietnam war). Like the Hindley picture, the Jamie Bulger picture also was aestheticised by the additional use of colour (change of tone or tinting) and texture. However, these manipulations are usually associated with visual pleasure, which is felt to sit uncomfortably with the subject matter of the Hindley picture and its origins (as also with the Bulger picture). The artist has also included a temporalising effect through the techniques he has employed to render the Hindley photo-portrait into an art work.

       The chief technique used to render the photographic image into a painterly image is the use of the repeated form of child-sized hands. The Hindley image is made-up out of children's hands. The very construction of her image refers to her crime. However the reminder is surely superfluous. The very infamy that made the image use-worthy means that no-one capable of responding to the painting would not also know of the history of the person represented. The hands do refer back to the past crime in a kind of cause and effect relation (the effect of the hands points back to the cause of the crime; a kind of metalepsis, in rhetorical terms). The crime is figured by the presence of the hands in the picture; but what kind of reference back is this? The present shock of the image is, by these means, only reaffirmed; it is a matter of reinforcement of affect, and not the (always partial) release of remembrance and learning that leads to futural precaution. Furthermore, as the semi-present element in the picture, the hands also refer to the past on a formal or experiential level: the image of Hindley is present, and the, harder to discern, images of the hands are less present, are 'behind' the image, are its background, its past. Again reinforcement of affect (the picture's effect) seems to be the only result of this presence of a past horror. If there is, perhaps, a moment of memory, it exists only to refresh the impact of the picture as the breaking of a taboo. Myra Hindley's image is now juxtaposed to its own means of rendition. Might not the semi-presence of the hands have a futural figural deixis? Formally this is certainly possible. Yet the effect of this temporalisation is only to suggest more of the same, more of the same tragedy, more of the same kind of crime, given the absence of a purifying temporal frame that would re-contextualise the events alluded to by the picture. (But such a frame would precisely rob the picture of its shock value, and so of its notoriety).[8] 

       It is precisely through the reference to children's, that is the victims', hands, then, that the picture's shock-value -also its financial value- is constructed. The past is used to bring horror to the present. The future exists in no recuperable rhetorical form except as repetition; we are returned to horror. If the painting's message and its temporal implications end in the eternal now of the outraged present, this is also a part of its shock value (as of its exchange value). What ever might be said about the tabloid press and their (ab)-use of this image and the attendant moral outrage for purposes of circulation (and much could be said on this issue), it is important to note that the outrage the art-work provokes has to do, precisely not with the person, Myra Hindley, nor with the original event, nor with the suffering associated with it (continuing in the persons of the relatives left behind), but with its blunt use to gain notoriety. The public protested against the collapse of the complex moral temporality of loss into the simple now of shock. The market has not yet entirely sundered the memory of pain into a pure commodity.  Even by means of the transmission belt of art.

       If the Hindley picture contains the germ of an interesting idea, it stops short at pure shock, is satisfied with pure novelty. No further re-positioning is attempted. In fact the picture mirrors precisely the use of the image made by the tabloids; it differs only in its aestheticisation and its art-institutional position. At best, then, one might argue that the picture highlights the tabloid, or popular cultural, appropriation of the Myra Hindley photograph (one in which, in contradistinction to other photographic images of her, she looks particularly frightful) as populist folk-devil (or, that difficult formulation to resist, the deserving, or already guilty, scapegoat), and that the artwork only highlights this appropriation. However this highlighting is achieved at the cost of blindly repeating the tabloid operation - its complicity must therefore be regarded as total.

       This complicity extends to many (but not all) of the works classifiable as the 'Young British Art' of the 1990s, and accounts for pretty-well all of those works which have achieved public notoriety. If these artworks can be referred to as a kind of post-conceptualist trend, it is as a trend this time shorn of politics, as of the original path-breaking, or institution-busting, of Dada, or of Conceptualism proper. Lacking is the historical freshness which was such a notable feature of the the (pre-first world war) avant-garde and the neo-avant-garde (the 50s and 60s) of which the current trend is a clear echo (along the lines of the Neos of Abstract and figural Expressionism or painting, and the continuation of found-object Minimalism, both of which have now been joined by Post-conceptual trends - in America represented, in their different ways, by Jeff Koons, Bill Viola, Cindy Sherman, Mike Kelley - to indicate a continuation into the next century of the late twentieth century's major artistic trends, themselves only the latest aspects of the twentieth century's main aesthetic innovations).

       From the point of view taken in this study the works of this recent trend are 'low' on time, are 'thin' on temporal effect, and so on temporal affectivity. Such artworks are limited precisely by their short-term impact, which delimit or refine the aesthetic experimentation of modernism -or the continuation of these trends into postmodernism - to pure novelty. It is as if the strictures of Formalist criticism on newness or defamiliarisation (first current at the beginning of this century, then disseminated as Structuralism) have returned to haunt current art-practice. Art has become simple shock, has become the crudest defamiliarisation; as a result art comes to rely evermore upon current social taboos to provide it with its subject matter. In this way art comes to echo the evolution of the media 'sound-bite' and the tabloid pun in becoming a 'image-bite' or a kind of dumbed-down rebus. However, the test is not only that these works act 'immediately' and 'in an instant' - finally an art has occurred that actually works, or achieves its notoriety, by working, or attempting to work, in this way, by exemplifying the ideology of the instant. The rub is that such works also begin to age immediately. Much of this trend has now become collectable, has become institutionalised, and has become the new canon which is now taught to, and imitated by, art students across British institutions of Fine Art. As a result the most daring works by Damien Hirst have come to be regarded within a very few years as trite and dated. Their power to shock has dissipated, and they now appear -somewhat ironically- as merely another in a long line of monuments along the ever receding path of shock. Such works witness no more than yet another stage in the catholic process of the broadening of what can be called art - a mere spreading of the boundary of the acceptable without any other intrinsic value. Hirst's cows, shorn now of their original impact, invite only the repetition of tired critical allegories of Nature and Culture (current at least since the event of Pop-Art), and somewhat obvious comments on the relationship of the inside and the outside and their revelatory inversion in such works (loosely borrowed from deconstructive rhetoric).



See also: Articles of Black and White Photography on Website.




Copyright, Peter Nesteruk, 2011.

[1] See Peter Nesteruk, ‘Black & White Photography in China: the Rhetoric of Time as a Definition of Genre’ (in Chinese/中文) , in The Pixel: Journal of Photography (5: 2010) Beijing, China.

[2] Examples of the Silueta Works can be found in Ana Mendieta; A Retrospective, Exhibition Catalogue, (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1987), and Inside the Visible: an elliptical traverse of 20th century art , Exhibition Catalogue, (London: MIT, 1994).

[3]  See 'Bloody Valentines: Afterimages by Ana Mendieta,' Inside the Visible: an elliptical traverse of 20th century art , Exhibition Catalogue, (London: MIT, 1994) pp.165-171.

[4] 'What the photograph reproduces to infinity occurred only once', Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, (London: Flamingo, 1984), Trans. Richard Howard (p. 4). Barthes view on time and the photograph remain in general caught between the present thing and the presented past event; the future (or the future of the photograph's original event as present consumption) points only towards death - future readings of the photograph remain therefore in the realm of the eternal repeatable present of the photograph as thing (pp. 94-97). Barthes does indicate in one place what the role of temporality in the reader's experience might be when he describes the effect of looking at a photograph of the road to 'Beith-Lehem' : '...but three tenses dizzy my consciousness: my present, the time of Jesus, and that of the photographer...' (p. 97).

[5] Of course, nature is also cyclic -a type of time- and therefore, like the river banks or snow Mendieta employs, is also transient. As noted 'eternity' is a rhetorical or strategic value and not a referent.

[6] See Julia Kristeva, ‘Women's Time’ in The Kristeva Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986) pp. 187-213. Regarding some of the 'feminine' content used in Mendieta's 80's work, these are representations of, or resembling, female primary sexual characteristics, openings, etc, and so not absences in the same way as the work under discussion - it would therefore be incorrect to make too many analogies between them.

[7] Marcus Harvey, 'Myra' (1995), acrylic on canvas, 396 x 320cm, the Saatchi Collection; in Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1997).

[8] The effect of recontexualisation away from YBA, and 'Sensation', and a recontextualisation in a collection or exhibition where moral justice was the major theme could, in theory result in a reading of the work as one promoting the remembrance of the children victims and not produce mainly shock effects. Whilst this reversal is theoretically conceivable, the absence of features which work through the picture would appear to deny this option. Indeed when the picture was shown in New York, to an audience unaware of any contexualising background, the picture appeared to have no impact what so ever…