Posts Tagged ‘Jacques Rancière’

Searching the Sky for Rain

May 22, 2020 Comments off

For the exhibition Searching the Sky for Rain at SculptureCenter



Because I, a mestiza,

continually walk out of one culture

and into another,

because I am in all cultures at the same time.

–Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands / La Frontera

No slice of reality can have univocal meaning.

–María Lugones, Pilgrimages / Peregrinajes


[The politics of transfiguration’s] basic desire is to conjure up and enact new modes of friendship, happiness, and solidarity that are consequent on the overcoming of the racial oppression on which modernity and its antimony of rational, western progress as excessive barbarity relied.

–Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic


Screen Shot 2020-05-22 at 6.11.03 PM


Searching the Sky for Rain came out of a series of conversations over the past decade with artists, thinkers, and colleagues on questions around representation and abstraction, identity and identification, inclusion and exclusion, visibility and non-visibility. The language used to discuss the exhibition deliberately rejected the terminology usually used by institutions to address social positions and particularities. The exhibition brings together works by artists who disregard the ways in which the art industry regulates, classifies, compartmentalizes, and essentializes difference into sanctioned categories. This multicultural “appropriation/misappropriation” is, according to Gloria Anzaldúa, “an attempt to control difference by allocating it to bordered-off sections in the curriculum.”[1] The artists in Searching the Sky for Rain defy the fracking of particularities into niche-marketed, T-shirt formulations of “identities” for institutional meaning and value production. These exploitative processes administer domination, forcing heterogeneity into operational packages for the stylizing of a lukewarm cosmopolitanism.

In her essay “Two Kinds of Discrimination,” Adrian Piper suggests how works of art might be able to challenge “political discrimination” by cultivating “cognitive discrimination.”[2] Piper offers a highly technical Kantian analysis of xenophobia before differentiating “first-order” from “higher-order” political discrimination. The former we would find from a full-blown racist or sexist who believes that people of a certain skin color, gender, or sexual orientation are inferior beings and therefore unworthy of the rights that the discriminator and their kind are entitled to only because of variations of race, nationality, gender, sexual preference, or class––“primary valued or disvalued” properties––notions that are irrelevant to their personhood. This form of discrimination, she concludes, represents the “fallacy of equating a partial and conditional series of empirical appearances of persons with the absolute and unconditioned idea of personhood that conceptually unifies them.” Piper formulates higher-order discrimination as the “attitude within which a primary disvalued or valued property in turn confers disvalue or value respectively on further properties of the disvaluee or valuee respectively.” This practice occurs when a person’s manner of talking, diction, style, and pedigree are viewed negatively by the higher-order discriminator, even though such qualities would be seen as either neutral or even valuable had the person been of the same race, gender, class, sexual orientation, or religious or ethnic affiliation as the discriminator. Piper acknowledges that “we can expect that first-order political discrimination and higher-order political discrimination in general are to be found together.” The higher-order political discriminator, through some tortuous psychological disjunction and what she calls “pseudorational” tactics, does not consider the so-called “primary disvalued property”––race, sex, class, or whatever––as the reason for discrimination.

When it comes to art, Piper writes, while it cannot “cure” higher-order political discrimination, it nevertheless can heighten a viewer’s self-awareness, and can “highlight pseudorational failures of cognitive discrimination as themselves objects of aesthetic examination.” To this one might add yet a third form of discrimination in the field of art (or the cultural sphere at large) and that is the epistemic violence of the dominant paradigm that grants the particular positions a limited sphere of representation and “identity.” The marginal, it asserts, can address itself only as it is perceived from the centered position. While the artist in the proclaimed dominant position enjoys a hotline to abstract and structural thinking, others are often accorded only bare biographical facts or storytime “feels” in the critical consideration and institutional presentation of their work. The question raised by Searching the Sky for Rain is: Who has the right to abstraction?

There is a category of artwork that attempts to address the indignation of particular or marginal positions. In challenging viewers’ misunderstanding of such positions, these artworks show how they are projecting erroneous attributions onto a minority or are mistakenly overlooking others. The work, through mimesis, might confirm certain qualities and question viewers’ prejudices, showing how the traditionally objectionable qualities are perfectly human and that displaying them is aligned with the recognized rights of all humans. The work sheds a positive light on otherwise shunned, rejected, or ridiculed characteristics, and it helps the audience understand, and even appreciate, these supposed anomalies, confronting the viewers’ pseudorational preconceptions. At other times, the work confirms what the informed audience knows: members of the minority are the victims of unjust discrimination, undeservingly ostracized and excluded, deprived of rights that should be common to all. Or, as a third alternative, by naming the dehumanizing and discriminatory meaning of terms, practices, and policies, the work presents the destructive effects on the subject discriminated against.[3]

This work for the most part calls for two audiences: those who are aware of, or subject to, the discrimination and the inequalities that the work pertains to, and those who are not. For the former, while the work creates a partial community around shared grievances, it nevertheless falls short of the civic demand for equality and the recognition of this demand by the judicial and political regime. For the latter, the work always remains and operates within the indeterminacy of the art space, which is established––and for the most part accepted––as a place where truth and reality are suspended, conventions and traditions are contested, and there are no limits but those of human imagination and creativity. Piper also acknowledges this condition, calling contemporary art a “paradigmatic experience of cognitive anomaly,” affirming its “conceptual fluidity and inclusiveness” and its post-medium condition, in which there are no expectations or preconceptions that the audience can legitimately bring to the viewing experience. Therefore, the politico-critical content––the indignation––however rooted in the real world, remains within and subjected to the heterogeneous, indefinable realm of contemporary art. In this context, the sites of indignation are metabolized and exchanged through the system of value production, and therefore are equalized with other matters of artistic concern.

There is a third category of audience for this kind of art, represented by the position of white liberals who understand the represented injustices and indignations and by virtue of doing so claims a moral high ground from which they attempt to own and (mis)appropriate the discourse of the marginalia.[4] Not unlike the questions around colonial epistemology, through the exotification and extraction of a particular geographic or cultural position the dominant position owns and leverages the critique that is leveled against itself and therefore maintains its central authority. This condition is similar to what Santiago Castro-Gómez identifies as “hubris of the zero point.”[5] In this formulation, the mainstream cultural authorities claim for themselves the hard-fought civic achievements of minority positions. To rephrase the question regarding the right to abstraction, we can ask who owns and defines the object of critique. Abstraction becomes an attempt to liberate the critical discourse that is constantly defined according to a worn-out center and marginalia dialectics that determine the movement of thought. This is in line with what Walter D. Mignolo calls “epistemic disobedience,” which dismantles the formal apparatus of enunciation and refuses to conform to the totalizing colonial forms of “purposive knowledge-making.”[6]

María Lugones calls the liberal conversation that “thrives on transparency” monologized. She proposes instead “complex communication” that requires an “awareness of one’s own multiplicity and a recognition of the other’s opacity that does not attempt to assimilate it into one’s own familiar meanings.”[7] Rather, “it is enacted through a change in one’s own vocabulary, one’s sense of self, one’s way of living, in the extension of one’s collective memory, through developing forms of communication that signal disruption of the reduction attempted by the oppressor.” Abstraction, therefore, is used here not as the antonym of figuration but rather as a means of addressing or analyzing issues of a time and place by creating new images and vocabularies. These images and words are situated, and artists use the raw materiality of existing conditions (including their own), but that is just the beginning. As Mignolo writes, “Sure, all knowledge is situated, and every knowledge is constructed. . . . The question is: who, when, why is constructing knowledges?”[8] The force of Piper’s practice is how the work upends colonial chronopolitics and interrupts pseudorational binaries that are excavated by cultural institutions and define the forms and limits of enunciation.

The admissible space of art operates on the omnivorous promise of authenticity and autonomy, in which validation and value accrue through the production of difference. As such, difference––identified and identifiable––operates within a “culture that values innovation for its own sake” and generates meaning and value through its indeterminable horizon.[9] In this space, strategic essentialism provides an opportunity to market difference: it is strategic, in the sense that it creates a pathway for inclusion in a highly exclusive, hierarchical, and non-transparent field where nepotism, pedigree, provenance, and social relations provide for a unbalanced economy of access in which minorities and the underprivileged need to generate their own expanded discursive platforms to level the playing field. At the same time, this strategy on the one hand runs the risk of difference for its own sake, which more often than not creates the institutional tokenism of the higher-order political discrimination that Piper warns of, while on the other it dovetails with Post-Fordism and neoliberalism’s aspirational lifestyle consumerism, in which, identities compete for recognition in an increasingly competitive market. This fits perfectly with contemporary art’s territorial expansion and curatorial/institutional novelties.[10]

The institutional relations of art that operate through the essentialization of the producer remains always affirmative, as this is where its means and ends converge; by default it cannot establish a negative relation to the institutional structure where it becomes visible. The affirmation therefore remains contrary to speaking truth to power. The question of art that articulates difference through the apparent authentic identity of the figure of the artist or the minority s/he “represents” is that the singularity of art is subservient to the authenticity of the artist.[11]

When particular identities become reified, in a highly competitive field where authenticity is the primary source of value production, then multiple and convergent positionalities will be vying for limited resources and possibilities for admission and recognition. While in the civic sphere, various threatened and marginalized positions and identities attempt to make their grievances common––demanding their shared unalienable rights[12]––in the field of art, where scarcity equals value, intersectional demands are transformed into competing positions that call for exclusivity. Thus what needs to expand and become common in the public sphere instead contracts and shrinks in the field of art in the service of value production and exchange in the marketplace of ideas. Here lies a contradiction that is essentially based on individual interest: while the exclusionary practice in the field of art generates recognition and monetary and/or symbolic capital, commonizing in the public sphere generates access for a larger group of people. The exclusionary demands follow the hierarchical principles of the dominant order that are sustained only through limitation, managing scarcity, and monopolization of access. In other words, the civic sphere becomes politicized by making rights common while contemporary art becomes (de)politicized by taking rights away or decommunizing in order to serve the exclusivity of an authentic particular articulation.[13]

There is an inherent dilemma with regard to contemporary art as a site for articulating the inequality and injustice facing a minority: while we hold these wrongs to be “self-evident,” they are nonetheless presented in a venue that is governed by indeterminacy, where everything is up for scrutiny and debate, and thus, and to the contrary, are anything but self-evident. The particularities of real-world grievances and discrimination are generalized in the heterogeneity of the art space. Facing the contemporary “deficit of politics proper,” Jacques Rancière remains skeptical of assigning a “substitutive political function to the mini-demonstrations of artists . . . their provocations in situ or elsewhere.”[14] The question is how artworks can deploy a strategic indeterminacy that cracks open and empties out the hegemony that seeks to maintain its discursive sovereignty over the contemporary art discourse.

Charles Gaines’s practice has consistently shown how representation is constructed, is anything but self-evident, testifying that the “line separating representation and the real is quite blurred.”[15] By rerouting tools of objective analysis, Gaines demonstrates that the claims to truth made via the photographic index and logical systems of image and meaning production are malleable and can be used toward different ends. He has also shown how the most impactful forms of cultural enunciation are situated and addressed through particular articulations. His series Faces: Identity Politics, which portrays figures from his philosophical canon from Aristotle to bell hooks, shows how each tectonic shift in discourse is informed by the history of thought while also responding to the thinkers’ particular positioning. The particularities include the postcolonial grievances of the dislocated Edward Said, the post-structural redefinition of historical discourse of Michel Foucault, and the radical pedagogy of bell hooks among others.

By using systems, Gaines further demonstrates that artworks are not merely expressions of the artist’s imagination that “privilege the creative unconscious.” Returning to Adrian Piper, who follows Kant in cautioning against the assumption of privileged access to the self––remarking on “the contingency and epistemic unreliability of the empirical self as a source of information about the transcendental subject to whom the empirical self appears”––she shows how Kant “rules out direct and unmediated knowledge of oneself as an active and spontaneous intellect.”[16] One can only ascertain one’s existence through empirical means, and therefore as an appearance, and can only “represent” oneself as an active intelligence.[17]

This notion of a univocal sense of self is further questioned in the works of Latina/x feminist phenomenologists such as Mariana Ortega, who suggests rather a “multiplicitious selfhood.” Providing a forceful reading of Anzaldúa, Lugones, and others, Ortega discusses the horizon of identification in a project of coalition-building that acknowledges selves that are plural, ambiguous, and contradictory. Her formulation expands on Anzaldúa’s new mestiza, who copes “by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity. . . . She has a plural personality, she operates in a pluralistic mode––nothing is thrust out, the good the bad and the ugly, nothing is rejected, nothing abandoned. Not only does she sustain contradictions, she turns the ambivalence into something else.”[18]

Lugones, following Inderpal Grewal, describes a sense of “self” as “not an individual, not ‘unitary and centered and created out of the binaries of Self-Other, Subject-Object.’”[19] For her, the “importance of the impulse to reject dichotomies lies in the resistance to have one’s plurality and the interrelations/paths among the multiple worlds of sense we inhabit reduced or erased.”[20] This conception of the multiplicitous self further questions the idealization of the figure as a fixed container, given that its position is liminal. As Gaines notes, idealization, lending itself to immediate classification and representation of inclusion and diversity (of a collection/exhibition) and production of value, “can be either positive and negative, any particular theory of marginality can function as well to liberate as to enslave.”[21] The pitfalls of figurative expressionism is that it posits a subject that, particularly in a moment of media fragmentation and multiplication, calcifies positions in a discourse of visibility that proclaims the image as the end product of artistic work.[22] Further, contemporary art as a field of activity is proclaimed free of critical criteria, historical determination, media limitations, and conceptual definitions, and its objects are “potential threats to the conceptual unity of a rigidly or provincially structured self.”[23] Therefore, it is imperative to utilize its indeterminacy strategically and as a location that empties out the all-knowing, colonial, and univocal self claimed by the point zero position. It is a place to reclaim the object of critique and thereby change the terms of the conversation. It also calls for discarding the institutional demands that define the margins of enunciation, and implements imperatives of authentic self-representation in art. This latter imperative has prompted today’s hyper-expressionism, which in the absence of reflexivity poses the “self” as a coordinate with direct access to “truth.” Expression remains affirmative toward the predetermined condition of enunciation and operates within its system of value production and classification.

Against this backdrop, the works in Searching the Sky for Rain advance the subject’s inherent non-sovereignty and unlocatability. As a character in Becket MWN’s audio work Paranoid House puts it, “Anytime individuality is institutionally mandated it becomes a performance.” Lugones notes how this plural understanding of the self enables us to “remake the connections among crisscrossing oppositional subaltern worlds of sense, oppositional to the very logic of subjection.”[24] Tishan Hsu, who since mid-1980s has claimed that “the Self is lost . . . one less thing to worry about,” shows how technology is becoming an extension of the body, expanding the horizons of identification while also producing and conditioning new subjectivities and forms of social control and choreography.[25] The undoing of interpellation does not imply the exploitation of the produced subjectivities of the margin, which are the byproduct of the normalizing order, as this strategy corroborates, validates, and recuperates the generative process of control. Therefore it is through, and only through, a multiplicity of positions that the dominant omnivorous structure is plundered; but the relationship is negative––the multiple takes away from it, empties it out, expropriates (Craig Owens writes of Sherrie Levine that she “expropriates the appropriators”[26]) until it is nothing but a shell of what it used to be, before it all collapses and crumbles.

As Édouard Glissant writes, the colonized are “forced into a long and painful quest after an identity whose first task will be the opposition to the denaturing process introduced by the conqueror.”[27] It is therefore an identity that is built in response to the “process of identification or annihilation triggered by [the] invaders . . . that is, a limitation from the beginning.”[28] To go beyond this limitation, following Fred Moten, the undoing takes place in “not desiring what was not to be desired in the first place.”[29] Not to desire, to rechannel and retool the liberating forces of desire and their jamming and jammed designated frequencies of enunciation. This is the power that, in Foucault’s words, undoes images and “infuses them with an inner transparency that illuminates them little by little until they burst and scatter in the lightness of the unimaginable.”[30] Elaine Sturtevant’s response, à la Bruce Hainley, is to fold  “the situations of self, its various losses, its others and fictions, to test before and after, then and now, oeuvre and désoeuvrement, so that they become, visibly, non-orientable.”[31]

In Tony Cokes’s video Evil.27.Selma, we read how the civil rights movement pre-television prompted a “social collectivity heavily dependent on the imagination,” which created an abundance of “fantasy what-if” scenarios. What is visible in the artwork operates vis-à-vis an absence, and the extant work has an inverse and negative relationship to what the artist has worked against, discorporated, taken apart, and reconstituted. The image stands for what is not shown. As Tristan Garcia writes, “To represent is to absent.”[32] He goes on to note that “artistic representation is that which objectively inscribes absence in matter, or in the real.”

In Searching the Sky for Rain, the project of desubjugation or epistemic disobedience is articulated through works that resist following readily available image templates, relinquishing the pop-up politics of instant visibility: ektor garcia’s hijacking of the social and cultural history of craft, including ceramics and crocheting, which he repositions within the exhibition space; Johanna Unzueta’s inhabitation of the language of abstraction with extracurricular patterns and textile motifs; Carmen Argote’s use of avocado as pigment, inscribing trade routes and agreements, labor and agricultural histories into formal abstraction in paintings confined and defined by the reach of the artist’s body; Mandy El-Sayegh’s feeding of personal, recent, and cultural histories into a metabolizing studio process; Riet Wijnen’s Sculpture Sixteen Conversations on Abstraction diagramming of the artist’s extensive research into positions that have been excluded from the canon of Western abstraction. Eric Wesley creates conceptual strategies, reworking Americana and its cultural myths through (idiosyncratic) logical systems that derail notions of infinity, conceptual purity, and like Gaines’s, emphasize the constructed nature of representations. Shahryar Nashat pictures a sleeping boy, tangentially Middle Eastern, who wakes up to browse Cy Twombly’s catalogue raisonné. Rafael Domenech looks at standardization as a form of oppression and makes it a portal for the dissemination of works. He redefines the building as a machine to make pieces that challenge the apparent functions of materials and structures of containment and concealment. Similarly, Michael Queenland uses the basic units of a transparent and black trash bag to create paintings akin to windows that could be folded, packaged, transported, and rehung; his work with remainder store bargains rephrases the debris of consumer culture of banal obsolescence in a process of material rearticulation. Jacqueline Kiyomi Gordon’s sound blanket tent and audio piece cancels out the sonic reflections of the exhibition space to get closer to an audial void and at the same time emphasizes the impossibility of the articulation of the degree zero position. These projects undermine the modern visual epistemology, contributing to what Paul Gilroy calls the “politics of transfiguration.”[33]

Rindon Johnson asks: “What should we call this form of existence: a constant vista where from one view one can see the cage of one binding state and from another view, another binding state? Come here and have a taste (play to be played).”[34] In the exhibition space, Johnson presents three pieces of rawhide that were exposed to the elements for over a year in a Brooklyn backyard and now split SculptureCenter vertically. The skins are commodities that once formed part of a living being. One hangs from a fluorescent green bungee cord, one over the catwalk, and one in a nook in the basement, all haunting the space with histories of violence that render some lives dispensable. Jala Wahid shows an enlarged jesmonite cow liver simulating displays in butcher shops in Kurdistan: other lives presumed expendable.

Search the Sky for Rain follows the premise that art desubjugates and that the insistence on assigning the work of decentered, liminal positions to prescribed channels of articulation is an institutional discrimination that is the byproduct of the first-order discrimination that Piper writes about. Similar to higher-order discrimination, this partitioning of positions presupposes that the discriminated-against do not possess the knowledge, skills, or capacity for structural, analytical creation that is beyond the scope of their trajectory. That they can address only issues related to the dominant discourse’s presumption of their identity and the ways to express it authentically. That they cannot define, contribute to, or change the terms of the discourse. Partha Chatterjee tracks this to the legacy of the Enlightenment and the construction of “intricately differentiated structure of authorities which specifies who has the right to say what on which subjects.”[35] The institutional labor that needs to be done, to use Anzaldúa’s words, is “punching holes in their categories, labels and theories,” which means “punching holes in their walls.”[36] The frames are not to be simply questioned, they are to be discarded, as they are placed and maintained to regulate and control the direction of the discourse and the avenues of enunciation. Institutions are tasked with implementing and upholding the project of framing the scaffolding to uphold the mandates of subject positioning, surveying, placing, assigning singularity to multiplicity. This exhibition hopes to contribute to the critical project of unframing.


We’ll never know if it’s going to rain until it rains, Rin.




The final line of this text is taken from the title of a work by Rindon Johnson on view in the exhibition.


[1] Gloria Anzaldúa, The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, ed. AnaLouise Keating (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 205.

[2] This and the following quotations are from Adrian Piper, “Two Kinds Of Discrimination,” Yale Journal of Criticism 6, no. 1 (1993): 25–75.

[3] I am borrowing the terminology for the three strategies from Piper’s essay.

[4] “Diversity is then treated as a superficial overlay that does not disrupt any comfort zones.” Anzaldúa, The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, 205. For a possible fourth category whose awareness is heightened by the work that addresses the cognitive discrimination of the dominant order, the question remains, why should the minority’s practice be burdened by the cognitive failures of a self-anointed dominant position?

[5] Santiago Castro-Gómez, quoted in Walter D. Mignolo, “Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and Decolonial Freedom,” Theory, Culture & Society 26, no. 7–8 (2009): 2.

[6] Mignolo, “Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and Decolonial Freedom,” 18.

[7] María Lugones, “On Complex Communication,” Hypatia 21, no. 3 (2006): 84.

[8] Mignolo, “Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought And Decolonial Freedom,” 2.

[9] Piper, Two Kinds of Discrimination, 63.

[10] It is also noteworthy how these strategies, in their prevalence and marketability, disproportionally limit the possibilities for any minority artist to make work that is not solely concerned with their particularity and make aesthetic concerns and any form of self-reflexivity the privilege of the so-called dominant culture.

[11] The cultural advantage of this predicament is the production of new archetypes, which symbolically challenge the dominant cultural icons in a globalized world. Yet more often than not, the new archetypes merely replace the previous ones, while the plot and the values remain untouched.

[12] Call it Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, or liberté, égalité, fraternité.

[13] Some might argue that the exclusionary politicizing of art might create traction in a field where anything goes. However, the issue would be, first, that the right to exclusion would have to be equably expanded to all positions, which would require literally establishing mechanisms of control and policing that decide where to draw the line, and second, it is an act of violation of hard-won liberties, which Suhail Malik calls the “civic virtue” of contemporary art.

[14] Jacques Rancière, Problems and transformations in critical art, 2004

[15] Charles Gaines, in “Interviews: Charles Gaines, Artforum online, posted December 19, 2017,

[16] Adrian M. S. Piper, “Xenophobia and Kantian Rationalism” (1991), Philosophical Forum 24, no.  1–3 (Fall–Spring 1992–93), pdf available on the artist’s website, 21,

[17]  Piper, “Xenophobia and Kantian Rationalism,” 21.

[18] Anzaldúa, Borderlands, 101.

[19] Mariana Ortega, In-Between: Latina Feminist Phenomenology, Multiplicity, and the Self (Albany: State University of New York, 2016), 181.

[20] María Lugones, Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions (Oxford, UK: Rowman & Littlefield), 197.

[21] Charles Gaines and Catherine Lord, The Theater of Refusal (Irvine: Fine Arts Gallery, University of California, Irvine, 1993), n.p.

[22] About the racialization of the figure in art, Gaines notes: “This has a lot to do with the

expectations of representation, expectations of the necessity of the identification of race in works of art, and plays against all those practices that are legitimate, that use the body or use other references of culture, because it minimizes or marginalizes those references around the same politics. So I think it disempowers a whole lot of art that shouldn’t be disempowered.” Charles Gaines, in Nate Young, “Charles Gaines,” Third Rail, no. 13. Third Rail online,

[23] Piper, “Two Kinds of Discrimination,” 65.

[24] Ortega, In-Between, 181.

[25] Tishan Hsu, artist statement, September 1983.

[26] Craig Owens, “The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism,” in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (Seattle: Bay Press, 1983), 73.

[27] Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010), 17.

[28] Glissant, Poetics of Relation.

[29] I paraphrase from Fred Moten, lecture, ArtCenter, Pasadena, December 6, 2016.

[30] Michel Foucault and Maurice Blanchot, The Thought from Outside (New York: Zone Books, 1987), 23.

[31] Bruce Hainley, Under the Sign of [sic]: Sturtevant’s Volte-face (Los Angeles: Semiotext[e], 2013), 300.

[32] This and the following quotation are from Christoph Cox, Jenny Jaskey, and Suhail Malik, Realism Materialism Art (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014), 251.

[33] Paul Gilroy, “It Ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re At . . . ,” Third Text 5, no. 13 (1991): 11.

[34] This quotation is taken from the title of a work by Rindon Johnson, which was screened in conjunction with the exhibition: Among other things (nearby occasions or 8 acts for Jeremy): What should we call this form of existence: a constant vista where from one view one can see the cage of one binding state and from another view, another binding state? Come here and have a taste (play to be played). Hadi writes: All night I dreamed of these lines and couldn’t help it other than believing that dreaming these lines mean I should send them to you; it is coming from an old poem that made sense to me when I saw the cage inside the cage / Birds are free of cages, and cages are free of birds / Where have you came from that causes you to be so free / Although every birds voice is a kind of crying for end of the day / You must sing more since your cry more sounds like the beginning of the day. / I think birds are standing for people, but I’m not sure what the cage stands for. You must know. (I don’t.) Maybe there are things that we should become accustomed to not seeing or knowing (I entered the tunnel of my own will.) I play the song over and over; without beginning and without end.

[35] Mignolo, “Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and Decolonial Freedom,” 12.

[36] Anzaldúa, The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, 205.


The Right to One’s Self-Image

July 8, 2016 Comments off

First published in:  Documentary Across Disciplines, Edited by Erika Balsom and Hila Peleg



As you remember, nitrocellulose can be used to make either bombs, like the anarchists, or roll film, like the Viennese police. Between these two barrages, the anarchistic and the photographic, the human as collective individual explodes.

Friedrich Kittler[1]


This essay is a proposition. It is located between the two concepts of privacy and publicity rights – every individual’s right to their own image and their protection against its commercial use. Its main focus is on the image economy of photojournalism and the position of the photographed subject therein. Does the subject have any rights over his or her image? How do these rights affect the production, exchange, and circulation of a person’s image? In response to the photograph’s universal claim to show the plight and joy of humans to humans, is it possible to imagine an economy administered and regulated by a universal legal structure? How can such a “law of images” contribute to creating a more just visual culture vis-à-vis the common image of humanity?




Every image has a material foundation, and so every image is matter. Aesthetics discusses the surplus of the image, that which makes it beautiful or sublime, or which makes it cute, interesting, poignant, affecting, chilling, or any other kind of adjective used to describe how an image generates an emotional or intellectual response in the viewer. But an image is also a point in a series of material relations and is a part of an economy – what we can call an image economy. This includes an interconnected and diverse network of producers and consumers, distributors and mediators. From paintings and drawings to etchings, photographs, and digital images, all rely on a material infrastructure that is propelled by an industry, economically sustained and managed. In the case of painting, we can think of a chain of materials including the canvas, the pigments, the finish, the paintbrush, the stretcher, the frame, etc.; all those who manufacture, distribute, and sell these products; and also the painting itself as an object that is produced and traded in a marketplace with its own infrastructure and material foundation. This notion of the material foundation of the image goes back to the birth of art history and Pliny the Elder’s Natural History. Writing in 77 A.D., Pliny, as Georges Didi-Huberman explains, proposes a juridical and material conception of the image. Painting was no more than a “material process to be used in finishing the wax molds of the faces of the ‘ancestors.’” This process was to achieve extreme likeness. The image also, in advance of any art historical notion, was understood as a “molding of resemblance destined to legitimize the position of the individual in the genealogical institution of the Roman gens.[2] The materiality of painting as a process to create likeness was paired with a ritual of private law that maintained the legitimacy of the halls of ancestors.

Photography also has an expansive material and industrial foundation, one that ranges from the producers of silver emulsion and celluloid to all the minerals extracted from mines; from the chemicals used to develop and fix the image to all the devices and machines used in the lab; from the paper to all that is required to produce and make it available; and, of course, the camera itself. Photography was enabled by the industrial mode of production and came of age as the economic condition of industrialism became the dominant mode for the production and distribution of goods. Photography is, then, perhaps both a symptom of and metonym for the commodity form. Théodore Maurisset’s lithograph La daguerreotypomanie (Daguerrotypomania, 1839), created only two years after the invention of the technology, shows how a whole economy and way of life was set in motion by the heliocentric image industry of photography. Every human activity is subsumed under the photographic image: every store becomes an image store, every spectacle becomes a photographic subject. All performers, from the tightrope walker to the juggler, become images of themselves. As historian of photography Roberta McGrath suggests, Maurisset “depicts photography as a commercial product and a microcosm of industrialisation itself.”[3] With photography, mechanical production expanded beyond the walls of factories and became available to consumers en masse. In the center of the image stands the Susse Frères’ commercial showroom. Cutting the image in half, it suggests that the photographic studio has become a site of production, situated at the Human actions, the lithograph suggests, are seemingly performed for the photographic image. William Henry Fox Talbot’s photograph Carpenter and Apprentice (1844), which shows two men sawing, paused mid-action, serves as a great example of how the world posed for photography and, as image production accelerated, started to spin to its pace. The camera on top of the studio in Maurisset’s lithograph is also a clock, perhaps commenting on the synchronization of time, life, and labor that occurred with the introduction of the camera.

The image is a site of convergence for all these vectors. It is what becomes visible to the eye – an opening, a window to the world, but one that is built out of its own material architecture. It is said that an image covers or conceals what it is made of, but no more than any other commodity, no more than a table conceals a tree. It is clear that there is a vast network of economic and social relations that inhere in the production of an image. The photographer is only one of the many parties involved in this economy, all of whom possess various degrees of investment and profit. The photographer is a consumer and a producer at the same time, similar to the workers in the silver factory or the owners of the photo lab. All parties consume images, as well as other commodities that contribute to the production and delivery of photography. Thus regardless of the aesthetic discourse, which analyzes the perception of the image by the senses and the mind, every image is a metonym of economic and social networks of production.

As Talbot’s Carpenter and Apprentice and Maurisset’s La daguerrotypomanie suggest, from the outset one of photography’s main concerns was the depiction of everyday life. While the technology at first required the staging of human life for the camera due to extensive processing time, with the arrival of the Kodak box camera in 1888, life’s fleeting moments were captured instantly. The camera penetrated all aspects of life from the living room to the battlefield, from farmlands to mortuaries. It was the camera that placed death back into the stream of life, at a time when modern institutions were sweeping it away from the everyday.

Photography’s ability to capture moments of danger gave rise to the discipline of photojournalism, which captures and distributes images of people in the face of natural and manmade disasters. Included are those photographed knowingly or unknowingly, whose lives are threatened by outside forces, who are about to vanish, or who are stripped of the material, cultural, social, and political layers that protect the lives of human beings. They are exposed to the gaze of strangers. These images use the photographic claim to objectivity to communicate to viewers something that they would otherwise not know about – that is, the pain and suffering of other human beings in another place and another context. Yet, in addition to the dire living conditions depicted, many such photographs represent economic deprivation, a condition outside or on the margins of the economy. Starving children or encamped asylum seekers are not only deprived of many basic human needs such as food, clean water, and shelter; they are further deprived of the possibility to decide how they are to be represented. These people are, in the etymological sense of the word, “exposed”: they are left without shelter or defense, while also being exposed to the camera. The moral and ethical conditions of photojournalism have been discussed at length by scholars and academics: what are the respective roles of the photographer and the viewer in this scenario? What are their moral obligations and what are their responsibilities? What are the rights to one’s image and how can these rights be established, protected, and, if necessary, defended?

Legally, the protection of one’s image or likeness falls under the categories of privacy and publicity law. As Susanne Bergmann explains, the latter is a concept originally rooted in the right to privacy and developed to protect the commercial interests of celebrities. The right to privacy safeguards against “injuries to a person’s dignity and state of mind, measured by mental distress damages,” while the right to publicity aims to protect the potential commercial exploitation of a person’s identity, image, and likeness and thus can be compared to property rights.[4] In the United States, the first to discuss the notion of a right to privacy were Samuel D. Warren and Louis Brandeis, in their seminal 1890 Harvard Law Review article “The Right To Privacy.” Chronicling various laws put in place to protect the individual – from the right to life and property to the regulation of nuisance and libel – they discuss “the right to be left alone,” particularly in the face of rapid technological developments. They write, “Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life[…]. For years there has been a feeling that the law must afford some remedy for the unauthorized circulation of portraits of private persons.”[5] Similar discussions take place around the same time in different parts of the world. Friedrich Kittler, for instance, talks about a 1902 German Reich law granting citizens rights to their own image that “protects them against the misuse of photography.”[6]

Yet cases concerning the right to self-representation are mainly considered through publicity rights. In the United States and elsewhere, such cases focus mainly on the financial interests of the photographer or publisher and whether the subject has any rights to profits incurred by virtue of being depicted in the image. The subject’s property – his or her image, likeness, or personality – is not by default protected by a governing legal body that has established a distribution model for such profits gained; rather, it is only upon filing suit that the court will decide if any violation has occurred and, if so, what kind of remuneration will be awarded.

The first publicity rights case that was brought to the United States Supreme Court involved the 1972 television broadcast of a performance by Hugo Zacchini, a “human cannonball,” at the Geauga County Fair in Burton, Ohio. Zacchini’s fifteen-second act aired in its entirety on WEWS-TV in Cleveland, a subsidiary of Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Company[1]. Zacchini sued Scripps-Howard, alleging that the local reporter “showed and commercialized the film of his act without his consent,” and that such conduct was an “unlawful appropriation of plaintiff’s professional property.”[7] He argued that airing the performance in its entirety would reduce attendance and result in a loss of revenue. In 1977, the Court reversed the Ohio State Court’s initial decision in favor of the broadcasting company, referring to the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, and citing that, “Amendments do not immunize the news media when they broadcast a performer’s entire act without his consent.”[8] Yet, in most cases, the two mentioned amendments generally grant immunity to the defendants in suits concerning privacy and publicity rights. The protection of freedom of speech and thus of artistic expression makes it difficult for plaintiffs to claim any rights to their images. Therefore, the right to privacy stands in conflict with the right to expression and is generally considered a less defensible kind of freedom unless it involves a large enough commercial violation for it to be considered by the higher courts. For example, in the case brought by Erno Nussenzweig, a retired diamond seller, against photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia after appearing without consent in one of the latter’s images, the New York Supreme Court held that the photographer could display, publish, and sell street photography without the consent of his subjects. Nussenzweig claimed that the photographer had violated his right to privacy – as his lawyer put it, his client “ha[d] lost control over his own image” – but the court sided with the defense’s argument that freedom of artistic expression is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.[9] Thus, as Warren and Brandeis noted more than a century ago, unless there is a legal injury, unlike Roman law our system does not account for mental and emotional injuries: “However painful the mental effects upon another of an act, though purely wanton or even malicious, yet if the act itself is otherwise lawful, the suffering inflicted is dannum absque injuria [loss without injury].[10]

While Nussenzweig’s “dignity” was invaded, Florence Owens Thompson felt ashamed by the photograph of her that was taken by Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression.[11] Hired by the Farm Security Administration (FSA), Lange travelled across derelict American landscapes to document the plight of the poor and displaced. In March 1936, Thompson and her family set up a temporary camp in the Imperial Valley in southeastern California after their car broke down near a pea-pickers’ camp. Lange visited the camp and took a number of photographs, one of which became the Migrant Mother (1936), an iconic image of the Great Depression. Yet, years later, in a story reported by the Associated Press in 1978, Thompson expressed how she was exploited by Lange’s portrait: “I wish she hadn’t taken my picture[…]. I can’t get a penny out of it. [Lange] didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures. She said she’d send me a copy. She never did.”[12] In a CNN interview, her daughter Katherine McIntosh said of the photo, “We were ashamed of it. We didn’t want no one to know who we were.”[13] This is yet another example of unaccounted for commercial and emotional injuries suffered by a photographed subject with no rights over her image’s circulation and exchange.

Departing from Warren and Brandeis, in 1964’s “Privacy as an Aspect of Human Dignity,” Edward J. Bloustein proposes that the issue of privacy should be regarded as a dignity tort. He argues that,


the harm caused [by the violation of privacy] is not one which may be repaired and the loss suffered is not one which may be made good by an award of damages. The injury is to our individuality, to our dignity as individuals, and the legal remedy represents a social vindication of the human spirit thus threatened rather than a recompense for the loss suffered.[14]


Bloustein argues that if the Fourth Amendment protects the privacy and thus the emotional and mental tranquility of the individual against government intrusion, the United States does have the legal tradition to protect such rights in civil cases involving similar issues.

Yet every day, the industry of photojournalism produces numerous images documenting human life and distributes them across the globe in newspapers, websites, and other news media outlets. Most of these images are produced without the consent of their subjects by professional photographers and, with the rise of citizen journalism, an increasing number of amateurs. The claims that these photographs make are similar to those made by The Family of Man, the 1955 exhibition at Museum of Modern Art in New York. Curated by Edward Steichen, the exhibition featured “subjects pertinent to all cultures, such as love, children, and death.” It “focused on the commonalties that bind people and cultures around the world” and served “as an expression of humanism in the decade following World War II.”[15] In the words of Dorothea Lange’s open letter to photographers of the world, this exhibition attempted to “show Man to Man across the world[…] to reveal by visual images Man’s dreams and aspirations, his strength, his despair under evil. If photography can bring these things to life, this exhibition will be created in a spirit of passionate and devoted faith in Man. Nothing short of that will do.”[16] The same appeal to human dignity is used both in defense of and against photography’s depiction of the individual in the face of life and, ultimately, death. For instance, in “One Image Right Can Sweep Away Another,” Jacques Rancière notes that genocide and other kinds of human atrocity deny a “primary ‘right to the image,’ prior to any individual’s ownership of his/her image” which he calls “the right to be included in the image of common humanity.”[17] Referring to two proposed bills in France – one prohibiting the publication of images of crime suspects wearing handcuffs and the second prohibiting the publication of image of individuals in “situations that undermine their dignity” – Rancière laments the commercialization of the human image via the proposed publicity laws.[18] He argues that this direction of the law will eventually restrict the representation of the underprivileged who are already lacking representation in the political sphere and as such will also become less visible in the visual sphere. But the question still remains as to whether or not the representation of those in “undignified” conditions improves the “image of common humanity.”[19] This image, which represents all humans regardless of their race, ethnicity, class and geographical location, is an abstract and impersonal construction, independent of any particular representation of a human being under inhumane conditions. It appears that the suffering and the most vulnerable are also the most immediate candidates to represent humanity as an abstraction, while the better off have more power over their representation. In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag questions the construction of this common image on the back of the underprivileged and interrogates how all but a privileged few are subsumed under this image as representatives of their occupations, ethnicities, and plights.[20] The image of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian boy washed ashore at the threshold of the fortress of Europe in September 2015, is not a mere contribution to the common image of humanity. Kurdi’s image, like thousands of similar photographs, needs to be measured against this common image, as it represents what needs to be prevented at all costs.

Everyday, as Maurisset anticipated, millions of images are produced, circulated, and exchanged. Recent technological advancements have shortened the gap between the production and reception of the image, rendering it nearly immediate, in what seems to be the livestreaming of life. New media, with its accelerated rate of transmission and its real-time immediacy, has created a new visual landscape in which image-making carries some of the attributes of speech, as the subject and its photographic representation can occupy the same physical and temporal space. We have arguably entered an age of photographic literacy, as virtually everyone – from a boatful of refugees to tourists in world financial capitals – carries a device that is able to document every fleeting moment.[21] Yet, we still lack a legal infrastructure – beyond copyright – that defines and distributes the rights of the various agents involved in producing and distributing journalistic images. How can one define one’s own conditions of representation in the image economy of a visually saturated post-digital world?

Bloustein notes that we have the legal tools to resolve the notion of the individual’s privacy rights, including the right to one’s image. The question then becomes: what kind of framework, internationally and locally, needs to be developed to implement such a legislative body?[22] Tracking down and identifying every person photographed seems draconian and perhaps impossible. Yet if such rights were chartered and defined, photographic subjects would have the possibility to refer to the legal system and make claims. These claims could be evaluated in a court of law, via clearly defined channels and according to regulations that are agreed upon in international legal systems. What is the subject’s share in the image economy of photojournalism, and how can his or her image be legally circulated? How can the subject (or their legal guardians or heirs) as the owner of their image be legally remunerated proportionate to the commercial value of the photograph? How can one imagine a “law of images” as a “juridical space on the boundary of public and private law?”[23] This is Pliny’s concept of the image, explained by Didi-Huberman as “evaluat[ing] images as just or unjust, legal or illegal.”[24] This concept of the image is one prior to the separation of ethics and aesthetics, unlike the modern discourse on images that insists on such boundaries. A law of images and the subsequent judicial space can provide a legal framework for the representation of every individual, even if it is defined and operates within capitalist social conditions. These laws will regulate the production and circulation of images and provide a pathway for the photographic subject to pursue rights to their own image and its conditions of representation. The sphere of representation is one that operates within the totalizing apparatus of the spectacle. In this sphere, to divert Pliny’s discourse, the concept of the image is one of material and juridical foundation. Therefore, the struggle for representation is guided by and relies on this foundation to be operative. The negation of this sphere as a whole due to its total recuperation under the current dominant social and economic condition does not dismantle it, but rather contributes to the elimination of the underrepresented.

But the image, following Giorgio Agamben’s formulation in the essay “On Potentiality,” becomes visible against its absence; it puts itself forth through darkness into visibility. We can imagine representation and spectatorship as potentiality. “If potentiality were, for example, only the potentiality for vision and if it existed only as such in the actuality of light, we could never experience darkness”; but since we experience darkness, we therefore have the “potential not to see, the possibility of privation.[25] The image economy of photojournalism belongs to the potentiality for vision; it is in the scope of the visible and representable. It falls and functions under the spectacle and is governed by the latter’s rules of production, exchange, and circulation. The common image of humanity is an invisible, negative image, but one that is measured against the visible, against images of the pained and the suffering. Yet, this does not imply that the rights of the latter need to remain unrecognized and unaccounted for. It does not mean that we can abandon the conditions of representation within the current legal and economic apparatus. The subject needs to be redeemed from representation, yet occupy its position within it. It needs to surpass being reduced to an example or mere evidence of human suffering, while at the same time interrogating the conditions that create such states of agony and pain. The image violates that which it represents, existing as a battleground through which the subject becomes visible and simultaneously turns into an abstraction.

Perhaps one can think of privacy rights as the negative double of publicity rights in the totalizing movement of the spectacle: if one can imagine publicity rights as every individual’s rights to their image within the contemporary image economy, the right to privacy is the right not to be represented as such, the right to belong to oneself, to be left alone, set apart, to not belong to the state or the market. It is, to borrow from Agamben, a right to privation. This right to privation is what makes up that abstract common image of humanity and belongs to the aspect of the image that Pliny calls dignitas. This common image needs to be uncompromisingly and constantly constructed, reviewed, and re-imagined – against its totalizing other.


[1] I first learned about this case from artist Kobe Matthys

[1] Friedrich A. Kittler, Optical Media: Berlin Lectures 1999, trans. Anthony Enns, Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2010, p. 145.

[2] Georges Didi-Huberman, “The Molding Image: Genealogy and the Truth of Resembelance in Pliny’s Natural History, Book 35, I-7,” Costas Douzinas and Lynda Nead, eds., Law and the Image: The Authority of Art and the Aesthetics of Law. transl. Peter Goodrich. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p 78.


[3] Roberta McGrath, Seeing Her Sex: Medical Archives and the Female Body. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002, p. 148.

[4] Susanne Bergmann, Publicity Rights in the United States and Germany: A Comparative Analysis. 19 Loy. L.A. Ent. L. Rev. 479 (1999).

[5] Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis, “The Right to Privacy [The Implicit Made Explicit],” Ferdinand D. Schoeman, ed., Philosophical Dimensions of Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 76.

[6] Friedrich Kittler, Optical Media, p. 144.

[7] Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Company, 433 U.S. 562 (1977).

[8] The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, religious freedom, freedom of assembly, and right to petition. The Fourteenth Amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws, and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War.

[9] Philip Gefter. “Street Photography: A Right or Invasion?” New York Times, March 17, 2006.

[10] Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis, “The Right to Privacy,” p. 78.

[11] Philip Gefter, “Street Photography: A Right or Invasion?”

[12]It is important to note that in 1983 Thompson’s cancer fund (the Migrant Mother Fund) was filled with donations from across the country due to the photograph. Further, the wide circulation of the image at the time of its publication did result in delivering food and care to the camp, albeit after Thompson family’s departure. Geoffrey Dunn, “Photographic License,” New Times, accessed November 16, 2015.

[13] Thelma Gutierrez and Wayne Drash, “Girl from Iconic Great Depression Photo: ‘We Were Ashamed,’” CNN, accessed November 14, 2015.

[14] Edward J. Bloustein, “Privacy as an Aspect of Human Dignity,” Ferdinand D. Schoeman, ed., Philosophical Dimensions of Philosophy, Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2007 p. 188.

[15] Museum of Modern Art, “Edward Steichen at The Family of Man, 1955,”

[16] Dorothea Lange’s letter written January 16, 1953 is quoted in John Szarkowski, “The Family of Man,” The Museum of Modern Art at Mid-Century at Home and Abroad. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1994, p. 24.

[17] Jacques Rancière, Chronicles of Consensual Times, transl. Steven Corcoran, London: Continuum, 2010, p. 51.

[18] Ibid., 49.

[19] Ibid., 50.

[20] Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 200, pp. 78-79.

[21] In his “A Little History of Photography,” Walter Benjamin notes how the illiterates of the future will be those who are ignorant of photography; Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, Gary Smith, eds., Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, 1931-1934, Volume 2, Part 2, transl. Rodney Livingstone and Others, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005, p. 527.

[22] Admittedly Bloustein’s argument is rooted in the American legal tradition, and this essay comes far short of a comparative study of the image’s rights internationally. Yet photojournalism, with its global distribution and its multinational media channels, makes universal claims. As such, establishing an international body that protects the rights of photographed subjects seems urgent.

[23] Georges Didi-Huberman, “The Molding Image,” p. 79.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Giorgio Agamben, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, trans. Daniel Roazen, Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999, p. 181.

June 14, 2012 Comments off

There is a series of photographs on AmnestySE Flickr page showing smiling middle class, pretty people holding a sign that simply reads Syria. These pictures are taken in various locations, from streets to offices to bedrooms, some digitally modified, a few show couples, some are more artistic than others, but all share the simple sign-plus-portrait setting. One assumes that what these photographs mean is that these people unite over the Syrian cause (whatever that is), they know that something is happening there which is not “right,” they are conscious about it. The pictures could also imply that the person in the picture is a supporter of Syria. These pictures are also quite similar to mug shots, so they could also imply that the person in the picture is Syria. The pictures could also imply that “we,” people holding the sign that reads Syria, are complicit and acknowledge that we are responsible for what is happening in Syria, it is our lifestyle or our elected government, or the politics that we benefit from, etc, is somehow by some degree responsible for the mass murder of civilians in Syria.

In an inverted way, these images bring to mind a photo collages by artist Martha Rosler that put together interiors of American middle class houses with images from Vietnam war (in the first series) and the war in Iraq in the 2004 series. These images imply that the lifestyle of the American middle class is maintained by a machinery of war and imperial interventions that pave the way for the circulation of goods and resources that support and sustain that given way of life. The images are collected from lifestyle magazines and the war images are inserted into windows and TV screens, juxtaposing these two seemingly unrelated pictures in a single image. But what do these images say and who are they intended for. These so-called “subversive” strategies take existing imagery, usually mass-produced and insert into them a different and often contradictory images and/or messages with the aim to detourn these images/messages and deliver them to their original receivers. But to paraphrase Rancière’s discussion of these kind of strategies, the problem lies in the fact that the intended message is only received by those who already in agreement with the sender, and those who are not conscious of the interrelated nature of the juxtaposed seeming opposition e.g. the reliance of a certain lifestyle on expansionist politics, will miss the message all together. Thus, what these kind of works at best achieve is the affirmative chuckle of the gallery goer and what these gestures lack is a degree of self-reflexivity that acknowledges the position of the producer within the conditions of production and not vis-à-vis such conditions. These images are immediately consumed by those portrayed in the AmnsetySE’s Flickr page, but unlike the work of a distant supporter of a cause, the work of the artist, in the words of Adorno pay “tribute to a hideous affirmation.”