The eye on the finger

The eye on the finger

2018-10-17T11:57:58+00:00 By |

We are used to trust images blindly. The disassociation of senses that occurred more than one hundred years ago led to the predominance of vision. It also brought about the birth of a tailor-made viewer of a spectacular1 consumption society, where everything has to be exposed for us to see. Guy Debord accurately warned us: “The spectacle, as a tendency to make one see the world by means of various specialized mediations (it can no longer be grasped directly), naturally finds vision to be the privileged human sense which the sense of touch was for other epochs; the most abstract, the most mystifiable sense”2.

The ocularcentric pattern has ended up civilising vision in todays’ Western World; to such a degree that anyone thinks about him/her self in terms of an audio-visual product. Vertical sovereignty, supported by surveillance and control technologies, has established a kind of subjectivity that pierces screens under the logic that all the areas of our lives must be displayed. According to Theodor W. Adorno, it is our “Peephole Metaphysics”. The visible above the logos has colonised our whole perceptual mechanism by forcing us into a scopic regime that has damaged our sensoriality and generated malleable, passive and noncritical eyesight. A paradigmatic case of this hypertrophic vision is the sequence that opens the film Un perro andaluz (An Andalusian Dog), when the razor cuts off an eye that is staring at how a cloud does the same to the moon. It is an effective metaphor used by Buñuel and Dali to challenge the ocularcentrism by frustrating visual pleasure and, meanwhile it breaks down anaesthesia.

According to Hito Steyerl, images are “dangerous devices of capture: of time, affect, productive forces, and subjectivity”3. The action of registering, mixing and editing them on video may become a worthy instrument of resistance, in the middle of the technological overexcitement we are experiencing. This would enable the possibility of offering new narratives emerging from the pure subjectivity, from spaces of uncertainty that allow us to discern the images that belong to a world that is more and more congested by them. In this sense, the projects gathered here seem to go deep into the condition of the visible by pondering over the way we look, by exploring the remaining elements in its blind spots, and by questioning the eye hegemony as the true-maker. On the other hand, the video´s nomadic and hybrid nature allows creating from fragments, performing different timings. In doing so, images are subject to an “archaeology of the present” operation, in order to extract from them not only what is related to the time they were produced in, but also all what is to be interpreted at the current time.

Gabriel Hernández´s video installation places us in two spaces that precisely call different times simultaneously. The artist suggests a perception that splits the visible referral by means of two screens located thousands of kilometres from one another: an activated one at a house in Paris and a signified one at the exhibition room in Las Palmas. One space to inhabit and the other one, to look. The video displayed here shows a black fixed shot with a soundtrack as background. There is nothing to be seen. A voice-over transmits us a distant and seemingly objective chronical of the other video. Thus this one is out of the visual field which ends up provoking a short-circuit in our perceptive system. N. and L. are the main characters. We access their privacy and their ways of being through a sequence of images aseptically described: pictures, furniture, decorative objects. In the meantime we are figuring out what they are saying or thinking according to their conversations, memories, actions and habits. The voice portrays connections with their lived experiences, whereas we behave as mere voyeurs. And here lays a paradox: we cannot see and therefore we act as mere blind recipients. The signified, by means of language, becomes again the signifier and so, remarking the gap between the visible and the sayable. Our capacity to see is closely related to our ability to describe with words. Perhaps that is the reason why Gabriel Hernández has chosen to explore the close relationship between eyes and language. This implies certain permeability between vision´s natural and cultural4 components as well as a permanent questioning of reality.

When the visual commands the rest of the senses, these become almost suspended –or even deleted- in the memory. Therefore it is urgent to decolonise the vision; a task that, according to Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, starts by “setting the vision free from the language bonds and reset memory from the experience as an indissoluble whole where mind and body senses blend”5. In this sense, Yapci Ramos has conceived a multichannel video installation supported by five screens where we can see five different faces looking directly to the camera, while sounds of privacy moments of pleasure are heard. The artist subverts the genre commands imposing a normed, confiscated and stigmatised sexuality that, above all, must be kept out of scene6 so that we access through the ear to what shouldn´t be shown. The decency imperative, basically applied to women, has led to supressing and silencing any chance of desire or phantasy and to hamper its purpose of providing wellness to others. Virginie Despentes expresses it in a conclusive way in her King Kong Theory: “we women are formatted to avoid getting in contact with our wild side. Before anything else, we have to adjust ourselves to the others ´needs, to prioritise the others´ satisfaction. Our sexuality puts us in danger. Before recognising our sexuality, it has to be experienced, yet every woman´s sexual experience implies for her to be excluded from the group7. I don´t mind undermines the conflict between private and public and suggests the return to body-subject which is created by itself and connects with its own jouissance. It takes us before people who enjoy and seek for their own satisfaction; people who explore the desire deep inside themselves and express pleasure and sexuality from their individual experience.

But in any case vision is always multidimensional and therefore image editing tools can be very effective when analysing the leading representation polices. Cayetana H. Cuyás takes a look at the media itself to suggest a reflection about the exposure system that prevails in a patriarchal society like ours, with a complex narrative that begins with the following statement: “The World´s History starts with Adam and Eve naked in paradise. I do not believe that Eve was created from Adam´s rib. I believe that you do not wipe out anything by covering it because it will shine in the darkness”. Making obvious that something is hidden is a way of revealing it. Thus all women displayed on the video have a black rectangle covering their eyes. The artist makes the covering obvious and highlights whose vision has conducted HISTORY with capital letters. We can hear simultaneously testimonies of several image specialists whose task is to make themselves or others such as the gallery owner, the influencer and the photographer visible. Their testimonies about the need to create, to be recognised, to be visible interweave with Monalisa´s interventions –whose name enhances the position of the object before the creator-subject- performed by the author, who sometimes acts as the narrator-researcher. She also covers her face with a gorilla mask (a clear gesture to Guerrilla Girl) probably to question those identities created by the hyper visualisation of all aspects of life in vulnerable environments. If the so called universal History consists in the eastern white man´s long old tale, La HIstoria de la Historia may refer implicitly to those territories of exclusion that have been left out of that dominant story. In them, images might be able to become again embryos, beginnings or dawns that contain something only found beyond vision.

David Pantaleón also presents a proposal based on fragments and the experience with new narratives that, in this case, are made up from archives as baseline. The artist reapplies filmstrip fragments from different sources to perform a video installation named Nacionalismo. From the bottom of a Canary Island chest, an echocardiogram registering the heart movement, activity and beats is to be seen in the first place. This sequence is displayed side by side with images showing the birth of a volcano –concretely, the Teneguía eruption in La Palma Island in 1971- whose lava formed a karst that expanded the island´s surface. We can observe here a measuring instrument against an unruly explosion. The split vision of both sequences gives a new meaning and resonance to the images, as though the human heart movement sprang from the inside of the island itself. David Panteleón explores the forms to suggest a new approach to the notion of nationalism away from its current overuse. To do so, he sketches a new conceptual drift between inside and outside. The montage of collision or conflict between two outwardly disconnected fragments that are placed side by side –similar to Einstein´s films- is a resource that allows drawing a brand-new meaning. That implies moving the images into a different level according to how we read and understand them. This may validate the idea that every document holds at least two facts. The first fact always seems to be insufficient8, thus working with archives turns out to be quite interesting as there is a great poetical potential to be added to its dialectical power.

Finally Pedro Déniz, with that extreme honesty which characterises all his work, retakes his own video archive to explore both body and emotional pain and its limits, in the attempt to embrace trauma and suffering as the axis crossing all geographies. Hurdle (haikus) is a video installation included in the context of the Meridianos simbólicos del dolor (Symbolic Meridians of Pain) project, which is inspired in a saying printed on a sugar packet: “grass is always greener on the other side”. The proposal is materialised by means of symbolic visual haikus or haigas in video format that last less than one minute. They are displayed by two channels on one corner of the exhibition room, and thus, facing each other or communicating to each other. The access is blocked by barbed wire conveying that pain is inalienable since “nobody suffers in the other´s body”9. Haiku is a poetic form consisting in juxtaposing images which intends to go beyond the boundaries of language from the principle that the main things are those unsaid. His communication form is, subsequently, invisible. Pedro Déniz looks deeply into this idea by adding to his video installation a series of compositions labelled with different texts that contain messages partially veiled by sticking-plasters, which suggests small distortions in the language to prompt ambivalent meanings. By covering or making some characters invisible, the meaning of words change. Likewise the appliances we typically use to protect wounds, paradoxically, they end up annihilating its sense or, in any case, the alter it perhaps as a way of resistance against our indolence.

According to the dictionary “to put the fingers in someone´s eyes” is “to intend to make someone believe the opposite of what is hold as true”. It is after all about questioning dogmas or trues and adopting a position of uncertainty as baseline. To put the finger in someone´s eye´s aim is not only to discomfort or shock but to open a gap for questioning spaces, out of the field of vision and that is occupied by other senses. There is always something hidden in what we see; something that cannot be grasped only with the eyes.

Prohaska´s style –the eccentric filmmaker, photographer, fiction painter and main character in Ricardo Menéndez Salmón´s novel Medusa- aimed precisely to that: “To show the world just as it is but adding a very slight disorder in it, a tiny correction that blows up the image interpretation from the inside. However it helps unveil with a strong intensity what the image hides10; to slightly stain the veil to reveal what it hides10.

The artist Eva Lootz proposes us to explore the vision peripheries and to look “out of the corner of our eyes” to notice that there is often something smuggling into the visible image. “It is from the areas out of focus where the unnamed slips in”11. In her own words, it is about forcing perception from the sense of touch, hearing and time. A call to sensibility to pair again the eyes off with the rest of the body until the whole perception system is reunited and restarts its own grammar. This is called “peripheral vision”12 which instead of detaching us from the world, it brings us up back to it. Very similar to Merleau-Ponty´s approach, for whom all what is visible is sculpted on the tangible things13. Vision can sail over surfaces but it can also boost or activate other senses in order to finish with the sluggishness and take control over our subjectivity. Just as to put the eye on the finger.

Marta Mantecón

1 Cfr. Jonathan Crary: Techniques of the observer. On Vision and Modernity in the 19th Century. Cendeac, Murcia, 2008. p. 39.

2 Guy Debord: The Society of the Spectacle. Pre-Textos, Valencia, 2008. p. 43.

3 Hito Steyerl: The Wretched of the Screen. Caja Negra, Buenos Aires, 2014. p. 176.

4 Cfr. Martin Jay: Downcast eyes: The Denigration of Vision in the 20th Century. Akal, Madrid, 2007. p. 16.

5 Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui: Sociology of the Image. Tinta Limón, Buenos Aires, 2015. p. 22-23.

6 “Honest people have their eyes castrated. That is why the fear obscenity”, in Georges Bataille: History of the Eye. Coyoacán, México D.F., 1994. p. 43.

7 Virginie Despentes: King Kong Theory. Melusina, Barcelona, 2011. p. 88.

8 Cfr. Georges Didi-Huberman: When Images Take Positions. A. Machado Libros, Madrid, 2008. p. 41.

9 Chantal Maillard: Against Art another Imposture. Pre-Textos, Valencia, 2009. pp. 124.

10 Ricardo Menéndez Salmón: Medusa. Seix Barral, Barcelona, 2012. p. 55.

11 Eva Lootz: The visible Is an Unstable Metal. Árdora, Madrid, 2007. p. 41.

12 Juhani Pallasmaa: The Eyes of the Skin. Gustavo Gili, Barcelona, 2006. p. 10.

13 “…every movement of my eyes— even more, every displacement of my body— has its place in the same visible universe that I itemize and explore with them, as, conversely, every vision takes place somewhere in the tactile space.” Maurice Merleau-Ponty: The Visible and the Invisible. Nueva Visión, Buenos Aires, 2010. p. 122.