Posts Tagged ‘Jean-Luc Nancy’

On Photography People and Modern Times

July 15, 2013 Comments off

Akram Zaatari’s two channel installation On Photography People and Modern Times presents a “subjective story of the Arab Image Foundation” in Beirut. Co-founded by Zaatari, the foundation is a non-profit organization established in Beirut in 1997 with the mission “to collect, preserve and study photographs from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora.” The foundation is an expanding archive with over 600,000 photographs.

A lo-fi version of the piece is available at:

On Photography… features a two-channel installation of interviews with a number of image donors to the AIF, conducted by Zaatari. One screen shows a plot image of a table that includes tapes of interviews, a video camera with the display facing up, a fraction of a monitor display, and images of the photographs donated to AIF by the interviewee. The screen on the right features an eye level image of the same table, where we can now see the monitor, the interviewee, the video camera from the side (but not the display) and the torso of the archivist, whose gloved hands we can also see in the left side image.

On Photography People and Modern Times, still frame

On Photography People and Modern Times, still frame

The image in the monitor and the display unit of the video camera is a moving image, a video of the interview. The archivist however is rendered as a time-lapse video, where the archivist presents photographs in split frames, a different temporal logic that the image that occupies the same surface. At times we can even see the interviewee sitting behind the archive table. A subtitle appears above the image, overlapping the two split screens. The end result is a video, that includes three different temporal logic of the photograph, video and time-lapse video. The piece further includes the linguistic dimension, both oral and textual—in form of subtitles.

The piece analyzes a combination of visual and archival temporalities simultaneously and within a single split screen. It examines the archival apparatus of conservation (note the gloved hands of the archivist), presentation, narration and also the desire of the archivist him/herself. Why to collect, “we lived in a country in which everything was being destroyed and falling apart, and photographed presented a totally different reality,” an interviewee notes and says how in the face of destruction, by collecting photographs “he could reconstruct the past and the present.

The piece concerns how we respond to different modes of engagement with archival material—splinters of historical time’s inscription on technologies of representation and narration. At the heart of the work lies the photograph, and the institution (AIF), the story (the donor’s account), the work (On Photography People and Modern Times), all present various modes of approaching and interpreting  the photographic image, which itself points to a particular moment in time. Zaatari points to the slit between these various modes of engagement, starting from splitting the work itself into two screens. The split between the image—both moving and still—and word, the photograph and video, the still frame and natural frame rate (which itself now varies depending on the technology). The slit between the camera and the display, between the narrator and the narrated. The construction of memory via, archival modes of conservation and presentation, by technologies of memory and recollection. This presents the then of now, the recognition of the past in the present moment, as Benjamin suggests. The image, in Nancy’s formulation, gives presence to an absence. The archive in turn, makes the absence visible.

No one looks the same

August 24, 2012 Comments off

A recent testimonial released as part of the Human Rights Watch’s “Torture in Archipelago” dossier includes transcripts of an interviews with defected soldiers. In one of these interviews published in the September 2012 issue of Harper’s magazine, a former soldier after recounting the case of a captured rebel who was beaten to death with batons noted how his face was completely different before he was taken away. “No one looks the same after we have arrested them.”

To look differently implies an implicit change in one’s personality, even in the colloquial use of the term, it is a symptom of a shift, however insignificant or ephemeral. We are used to deduce from the way one looks if s/he is tired, happy, excited, sad, anxious etc. Ultimately, the changes in the dead body and its gradual disintegration into nature is the final transformation of the human figure: it becomes non-human.

Non-Human Simulation, by Trauma FX

Torture, divorced from its religious and spiritual functions, is the attempt to dehumanize the subject by use of force, turning him/her into something else that does not have the same features and thus the same rights as a human being. This is achieved by disfiguring the subjects and in its extreme iteration, annihilating them. Once the subject looks visually different before the torturer, s/he becomes unrecognizable as a member of the same species. The transformation of the physical features of a person takes place in the surface of the image, it is there that violence visualizes itself, as Nancy suggests. Torture is thus used to proclaim the enemy non-human and as such exempt it from humane treatment as it “looks totally different,” according to the defected soldier.

Done to be seen

May 30, 2012 Comments off

A photograph posted by @SyriaTweet on shows a group of people, from various age groups, one hand flashing victory signs, the other holding a drawing. The drawing is of a UN Observer taking a photograph of a woman under rubble, with a word cloud above his head reading “say cheese.” The UN soldier is documenting instead of saving the victim, thus the drawing implies that camera signifies inaction. Another drawing shows Assad holding a blood stained axe shaking hands with Kofi Annan on a pile of bodies, while posing in front of UN observers cameras. Elsewhere, there is a photograph of group of protestors holding a sign that reads: “UN is killing us.” While the first image suggests that the UN is watching and not doing, the rest imply that not only UN is not “doing” anything, but rather it is responsible for the continued violence in Syria.

The situation recalls the war in Kosovo, where people were killed in numbers in the presence of peacekeeping forces and journalists. It is not that the UN forces are there on the front line marching with Assad forces, but it could be that the drawings suggest that the recent horrific massacre in Houla would not take place in the absence of UN forces. It is the Observers’ media paraphernalia that invites the forces of destruction, it is the camera that visualizes violence, that in words of Jean-Luc Nancy, [violence] wants to leave a mark, wants to erupt into the field of vision and reveal itself in form of an image. While people are murdered in darkness no doubt, but as Virilio notes, there is no war without representation. The massacre in Houla was committed to be mediated, distributed and watched. It is a message to the global community, to the opposition groups and to the regimes allies. It is done to show the extent to which the regime is willing to go to guard its power. (thanks to TK)

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violence as quotation

March 26, 2012 Comments off

Watching the videos coming out of Syria is to say the least, extremely disturbing. It is not that the regime is only wiping out the opposition, but rather it is wiping out the opposition in forms of most gruesome imagery of violence. Rather than images creating a “ghastly distanciation”, these images block any possibility of reflection, they are messages that the perpetrators are sending out to the world, both the local audience and those who watch these videos online. One cannot dispute these images on the basis of the violent acts that were conducted, there is no discretion, no concern for accusations of human rights violations by the international community.

In the Ground of the Image, Jean-Luc Nancy describes how the image is the battle ground between the violence of truth and the truth of violence. Violence wants to leave a mark, wants to erupt into the field of vision and reveal itself in form of an image. Similarly, truth also wants to become visible, it also wants to display itself on the picture plane, it wants to unfold into an image. “The difference is that the true truth is violent because it is true, whereas the other type, its thick double, is ‘‘true’’ only insofar as it is violent. In the second case, truth is reduced to the mode of violence and exhausted in that mode, whereas in the first case, violence is unleashed in truth itself, and thus contained in it.”

Following this description what if we consider violence as a quotation, as a direct enactment of language where the message needs no further translation, the closure of all possibilities for interpretation. Violence as the “ground zero of language, the complete erasure of misunderstanding in form of total domination. That is in order to fully and completely make ourselves understood, for there to be no more “in other words” but “no words” or rather “one word”, no need for translation, no delay or postponement of meaning into the future we wipe out the addressee. Here we reach out for the other pure language, where there is only us and no more of them and all the avenues of misunderstanding are blocked and there’s nothing left to talk about. Silent. Dead. Kaput (SM, That’s The Way We Do It exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus Bregenz).”

After Reformation, in some Catholic churches, the “image” became a quotation. The church found the need to reinterpret the role of images in the faith, thus in some instances, instead of commissioning new images, painters were called to ornament around images that were considered holy by the believers throughout centuries. The image carried its meaning with itself, while its presentation changed shape. Similarly in Syria the images are true only insofar as they are violent, as visual quotations of a message that does not carry the burden of [mis]understanding. Here violence becomes the form of the photographic index.