What You Touch Is What You See

Mari Slaattelid
jan. 1999|Article

4 x 4 paintings on square plexiglass panels come into existence as they are received and handed on. The handprints along the edges, front and back, both constitute the pictures and form frames. A frame is to be handled. As opposed to a painting, which is not to be touched, a frame is the ornamental elaboration of a painting's materiality. From within, the empty image points at the frame and assigns it a dual role – tactile and optical.

4 participants in a circle initiate 4 receptions. The receptions occur over a span of time, the literal period of time in which the incomplete, unstable visual material circulates. The untouched squares inside the handprints all tilt slightly to the right. This tendency seems dictated by a law inherent in 4 ways of seeing and handling.

It is a clockwise process. The situation has the same ritual concentration and receptive character as an encounter with art.

Indecently blackened, the panels recall an impression from many years ago. The sight, in Rome sometime in the 70s, of a black marble foot, half kissed away. A perpetual succession of individual touches. Desperation translated into ritual, stone imperceptibly giving way to new kisses, gentle fingers.

After having been received and held, what is passed on is a different painting. The ornamentation thickens towards illegibility. For each encounter, for each act of participation, the work gains in complexity while the result remains unchanged. The meaning is unchanged. The tactile is identical with the optical. On each side of the transparent panels, the tactile and the optical are one and the same ornament. What is met by the skin, the physically intimate, is no more real or corporeal than what is experienced by a smaller part of the same body: the eye. The optical is not abstract, in the sense of being distanced from that which is meant by ìbodilyî. Tactility and opticality are united in one reception of the glassy surface.

To Become Infinite (Blow up)

To develop a background: The backdrop of Leonardo da Vinci's annunciation scene from 1474. The thoroughly cultivated Renaissance landscape is laid out on meter-sized metal sheets, enlarged and examined, as though some irregularity in the black scenery might shed light on Mary's secretive meeting in the park.

The history of art abounds with dark green vegetation against a grayish pink sky. Developed, in the terminology of film processing, in hard or soft contrast, black vegetation against light. Whether the palette is French or Nordic, it is the darkness that makes it effective, the light that is effective. A photographer thinks and sees in these rhetorical terms when manipulating a print in the darkroom.

The angel, the voice, is inlaid in the foliage, in a syncopated movement from the left of Mary to the right beyond the edge of the frieze. Botany has a small part in the biblical narrative, in which the herbarium-like atmosphere displays LdV's scientific inclination. An area spanning several meters is reserved. Here the subject matter is ignored to make room for the improbable landscape in the background. The annunciation is subjected to competition in that attention is drawn to the decoration, the scenic backdrop; a notion on my part drawn from the frenetic copying scenes in Antonioni's film BLOW UP. In the film, the photographer's interest shifts from the nervous encounter between a woman and an anonymous man, to the thicket behind them, where all is not as it should be.

A single movement, one ornament too many, puts the entire picture at risk. Makes the world unstable. A small area in the picture, not part of the figure but the ground, displaces a strong theme by being insignificant. Something unsought, a speck of dust on the lens or in the world, compels one to look more closely, to investigate, regardless of the likelihood of finding anything.

In photography the background may conceal a crime, but not in painting. In painting the background is a relation.

To Name and Not Redeem

A series of executions of a landscape icon, which I previously entitled Template, elaborates on the interpretive possibilities raised by the different variations of the picture. The premise is given in a uniform segment of the landscape. In the tension between titles and pictures ñ in different titles for relatively similar paintings ñ specific interpretations are invited.

The titles speak to expectations. They express a wish for clarity more than they reflect or convey consistent or exhaustive lines of thought.

Black is a representative, neutral marker.

Green is trivial, everyday daylight.

Pale, grayish pink is subjective, unstable, delicate.

A loose symbolism is linked to visual expression, together with an accompanying desire for clarity. The works take a range of conventions at face value and reinstall them in the paintings as if they belonged there. As the titles are enacted, that is, are read off against the pictures, self-awareness is forced on each assertion. Something in the voice provokes uncertainty, or mistrust of what the eye reads ñ of the text, the picture, or both.

Woman Pretending

Art may come to rest on a wall, and remain there in a finalized position.

Or it may be the beginning; may point out a route of escape, where art is an imperative for new art. An order or invitation to something else. A woman, backlit, with a beach in the background visible between tree trunks, is painted in thin layers of white. The title, ìThe Voice. Woman Pretending to be a Painting,î makes reference to Munch's painting ìThe Voice.î The reference lies in the biotope and in the use of a new model in the role of the original.

The new painting follows a line of thought which starts in Munch's painting and then proceeds out of the same painting and into the scene itself. The reference to Munch is a staging of the original, and first and foremost, of the gap between title and picture.

The effect of this gap is the effect of the picture. The appropriation of a familiar painting, fundamental to the Hill and Hertervig works of 1996 and 1998, is not the theme or object here. The intention has been to re-actualize what is extraordinary in Munch's painting, namely the fact that the motif has been given such a title. What could the voice be? A tempered version of the scream in nature, not in the first but in the third person, or female sexuality, woman as such? Who has a voice, but refrains from using it. Who is the absence of her own voice in the painting. A possible voice, distinct as a voice.