Artists

‘If the map is opposed to the trace, it is because its whole orientation is towards establishing contact with the real experimentally. The map does not reproduce an unconscious closed on itself; it constructs it. It contributes to the connection of fields, the freeing of body without organs, and their maximal access onto the plane of consistency. . . . The map is open, connectable in all its dimensions, and capable of being dismantled; it is reversible, and susceptible to constant modification. It can be drawn on a wall, conceived of as a work of art, constructed as a political action or as a meditation. . . .’

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: On the Line

The Orientalist, perched atop a freshly hunted crocodile, holding a gun like a staff, posing imperiously; a gaze, surveying an unseen land, performing for eyes we do not see….! I reach him through a short memory of a pastel - an origin? - now lost to me. As with the Orientalist, I can begin only in the middle and yet, unlike him, without a trace, I must construct my own map. As I peer through a small view-finder, a brocileur’s lens, an objectif from the European Renaissance (though not a remnant yet), a small patch of light magnifies the luminous side of this slide…. I find that I can no longer look at this image of image, directly; I find that in looking at this image I am no longer one but two. The gaze invariably slips into an ‘outside’. In looking at the image I look at its ‘outside’ where another subjectivity, apprehensive and heavy with breath, witnesses the sudden alienation of its own space. I discover myself within the narrative space, within the margins of this ‘outside’. In this slippage of gaze, I am both an objectif as also a historical subjectivity. It is here, in the space of this paradox, that I will construct Vivan’s work as both a political action and a meditation….

In the Orientalist, there is a frame which is vertically split from the middle. The middle, however, is adduced, like the perspective itself, in its denial. And yet, unlike the perspective, it is denied as unity and not as an a-centred narrative. Here, in fact, the metaphysics of unity and in the perpetuity deferred infinite where all narratives converge under the hegemony of a certain realism is exploded in the a-centring of the middle itself. Thus, the Orientalist himself stands almost precariously close to the torn middle trying as much as to save himself from this ritual split as to enforce a false converging onto him. The mimetic unity of the point at the other end of perspective is now reversed. The Orientalist is no longer a trace; he has now become a map. In perhaps his desperate moment of play with the artist, he hurriedly sutures the split frame at the wrong ends. He reframes the image -his own-with the ‘line of power’ that the dead crocodile (Is it dead yet? Why is death, as always, caught in the last grimace of life?) might hopefully come to signify for the ‘other’; the Orientalist stops the space with his body, ‘cuts’ it into the middling order that it may not spill beyond the techno-narcissistic façade of his ‘self’. For, isn’t his journey but a horizontal enterprise? And yet the space to his right shoots up, as if in a high-angled overview as forest becomes rhythmically dense. But then, this may also be a space dotted with signs of prowl. And also contours remembering a nascent map in someone’s short-term memory. The space to his left opens up onto a flattened sea now receding into colour. (The objects and spaces are ever so close to colour, here.)The boat at the sea-shore is almost willing to capsize in its last grimace before death (like a bull at the fag end of its physicality--groaning and snorting--before an indifferent matador). But this also the tilt of an aerial shot. The women reversing the earlier motif of ‘life-in-death’ in their nudity and sickness and fatigue, sharpen even further the ‘line of power’ on which the Orientalist stands perched fully clothed in health, and posing as health…. The space, though quiet, moves invisibly and spills out of the frame onto an ‘outside’ where a historical subjectivity witnesses its own sea-shore becoming unfamiliar territory under a still, unchanging light even as the Orientalist ‘poses’ his culture (clothes, gun, indifference: health) as against the darkness of the hunted crocodile glistening under his feet, the sea as a thin, flattened gauze, the woman listless in their nudity and the boat now almost a totem--vestiges all of a vanquished nature (raw, antiquated power, nudity: sickness and death)…

I wonder if it is possible to conceive this mobility in Vivan’s work also in terms of paradoxes of sounds and silences. In this transformed geography, ears pick up totally new sounds and in strange depths. In this transformed geography, ears pick up totally new sounds and in strange depths. There are reverberations of distances even in the most mundane sounds that emanate from the boat. And these are not just sound perspectives. In the mobile performance of the image--in the frame spilling out of itself--just as there is an unseen ‘outside’, likewise there is an ‘unheard’ sound between the ‘outside’ and the image. In this sudden relationship, the ears have not as yet synchronized fully with the new spectacle--of the boat arriving on the seashore before an ‘outside’ and, conversely, of a landscape unfurling before the Orientalist. The journeys bring in their wake an entire range of sounds and silences that may have been heard but not known and vice versa. A certain still quality of unchanging light now also begins to emerge as rather a certain quality of lighting (this switching is stretched even further in his recent charcoal drawings exhibited as “The Long Night” series) as when the familiar sounds are flattened by a quietude that has begun to throb with movement somehow. It is through this mobility, of things in the middle, of an a-centred narrative that a sense of time (if not of history) is created. However, this mobility does not aspire to produce a metaphysic of naturalism. Within the map of these journeys, the sound, for instance, would be heard in quietude and silence in the midst of turbulence.

This reversal of the classical image is stretched in yet another way. The movement spilling out of the frame does not attempt to capture the objects in the materiality of their bodies. There are no concentrations of weights in objects and they do not seek to locate traces of a fictional discourse in themselves. Instead, the materiality is released in an excess of a choreographic play and, in this way, a reference to this choreographic play and, in this way, a reference is created on the map ‘outside’ whereby the image-narrative is constantly a-centred. We may also understand instances of quotations in Vivan’s work in reference to this choreography--a mobility and a middle! The use of colour, for instance, is not an exampleofderivativequotation for it does not attempt a design of unity where an idea or an emotion keeps every element in check. It is, on the other hand, part of the dissolution of contained materialities, of the choreographic excess whereby a new space--an ‘outside’--is sighted. These are not contained frames (perhaps, the softness of pastels is particularly apt within the context of the Journeys) and the ‘outside’, therefore, is created on a critical map. In the process, a highly involved dialogues opens up across various narratives ; within a short tem memoryof the spectavized event; around the traces of colonialism and across the maps of dismantled perspectives. The narrative, as such, begins to live within the polemical tension that obtains between the mobility of the image and its ‘outside’.

Published in the Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 17-18, June 1989, p. 141-143
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