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Chromogenic print 

In αγνwσία a white hand towel lies on a crumpled bedspread. A thin white cloud lies like a thin film over the picture. On the hand towel are five objects lying in a row. They are not immediately visible, but are concealed behind a cloud. (The whole thing is reminiscent of a hand with outstretched fingers.) What I am referring to as a “cloud”, and which is in the foreground of the picture, is in fact a fragment from the background, the bedspread. Once again, duplication: a certain section of the image is transferred to another part of the same picture. Once again, the relationship between foreground and background is undermined. Digital imaging (in what was initially an analogue image) is an approach to image-making that recasts the picture’s materiality, not necessarily in order to distort reality. Despite obvious differences we are tempted here to think back to early photography’s use of post-processing through montage. These were not intended to distort reality, rather the opposite: to render it in a form that was closer to reality than could be achieved with existing photographic techniques. That was the case with Gustave le Gray’s famous seascapes.[1]The early landscape photography’s dilemma was that it was not possible to capture both sky and earth in one and the same picture. The lighting conditions made exposure difficult and required different shutter speeds. If the sky was rendered correctly, the ground turned into an underexposed, opaque surface. And vice versa, if the ground was shot correctly, the sky of necessity became overexposed. These technical difficulties led to the sky and earth being photographed separately, but never in the frame for one and the same picture. Two methods were developed to solve the problem. The one, using cotton wool to create the illusion of a cloudy sky, went no further.[2]The other, more successful solution was a procedure developed by the le Gray just mentioned, in which a glass plate was exposed for each subject, one for the clouds, one for the sea, after which the negatives were put together to form a whole. Finally, the finished pictures was printed out. If we today associate the montage with manipulation and distortion of reality, then the early landscape photographers perceived it not as a less authentic form of photography, but more as a kind of “correction” to get closer to reality. The digital intervention in a photo like αγνwσία is not mimetically motivated or compelled by technical difficulties, but its purpose is nonetheless to capture an aspect of reality. The idea that the intervention in the picture is ultimately what brings us closer to reality consequently becomes attractive.

Here montage is an immanent activity, in the sense that the picture is not composed of materials from multiple sources, but from existing pictorial information, which is redistributed and renegotiated. The significance of the material is accentuated. The picture interrogates itself. To pose questions to a material is to highlight the archaeological, as when we uncover walls or stone paving that someone has laid or when we open a grave. This renegotiation can also be framed as a form of disruption, but a disruption whose origin is irreducible to what is doing the disrupting. The disruption is instead embedded in the material as an immanent risk/possibility. From the Greek word ἀγνωσία we get the concept of agnosia (‘ignorance’, ‘unknowing’) which signifies different types of disruption in the processing of sensory information, more specifically an inability to recognize such information. One example can be specifically incongruencies between objects in the foreground and in the background. The mind itself is not impaired, and it is not a question of memory loss, but rather of abnormalities in the regulation of the level of consciousness. In other words, an absence of conscious sensory perceptions. How would such a loss of consciousness translate into visual representation? How can loss of consciousness be operationalized in artistic praxis, in other words so as to make this process conscious visually? Can consciousness be visualized from within, from its own lack? Is visualization in this sense a method that deals with inconsistent information as being potentially informative? To these questions we want to answer as Fons Elders puts it in one of his nebulous diary entries:

Saturday, September 20th, 1975 […]

I will let this discussion between my eye and my intellect dissolve into a chemical solution in the milky substance right in front of me.[3]

Clouding of consciousness, a state that has been made topical by the pandemic, in which the sufferer has difficulty thinking clearly, is another point of discussion.  The conceptual image of a cloud with blurred edges refers both to the somewhat unclear structure of the mental state and to the sufferer’s experience of having clouded thoughts: the visual acuity of standing in a cloud.

The concept of cloud can thus be read as the non-conceptual remainder of the concept itself, that which is left when the meaning has been exhausted. At this point, conceptualism is alloyed with abstraction. That which is rejected as shapeless is simultaneously that which makes form possible. Clouds are one of the imponderables: something that cannot be touched and whose movements cannot be determined, but whose presence is fundamental for our reality.[4] Something is taking shape and dissolving at the same time. Once again, a form through which something reveals and conceals itself in the same movement. The cloud is a structure that admits this duality. The same dialectic, but with different consequences, is operative in αγνωσία. The motif of a hand with outstretched fingers, that is suggested above, is obscured by a cloud. The cloud is, paradoxically enough, also what generates the hand. The cloud thus has a dual function, as the hand’s simultaneous conditions of possibility and impossibility. The cloud conceals what we perceive as a hand, while simultaneously being a prerequisite for its appearance. ︎

[1] Eugenia Parry, The Photography of Gustave Le Gray(Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago & University of Chicago Press, 1987), 15.

[2] Karen Hellman, Real Ideal: Photography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century France (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2016), 47.

[3] Fons Elders, Air, Water, Fire, Earth (Almere: Bentveld-Aerdenhout Landshoff, 1977), 39.

[4] “Between you and God, there is a ‘cloud of unknowing’.” Thus writes an anonymous English Carthusian monk in the early 14th century. The trope “the cloud of unknowing” opens up an epistemic space that affirms the imponderable quality of knowledge itself. See Clifton Wolters (ed.), The Cloud of Unknowing and other works (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978).