La Societe Anonyme (by way of Jose Luis Brea <>) on Thu, 16 Jul 1998 16:16:12 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> "An Image Should Always Be Read Twice" (Lsa42)

A review of: "An Image Should Always Be Read Twice" (Lsa42)
La Societe Anonyme

"As a 'problem' picture, Connemara Landscape functions as a visual riddle
which might require a conceptual leap for its solution".

Michael Newman, quoted by Paul Sztulman in  Short Guide, dX, published by
Cantz, 1997.

Firstly, let us state that 'An Image Should Always Be Read Twice (LSA42)'
is allied directly to Connemara Landscape, a work produced by James Coleman
in 1980. Nevertheless, this is a non-conformist and rebellious allegiance
which rereads the original work in an intentionally subversive way.

Even if we cannot think that the putting forward of some defence of the
idea of originality could possibly be amongst Coleman's intentions, by
prohibiting the reproduction of the work, however, he seemed to be
proposing the opposite. The reproduction of Connemara Landscape was in
effect something explicitly prohibited: the following declaration by the
artist appeared both in the catalogue entry and alongside the projection
itself in situ (curiously protected by copyright): "Connemara Landscape,
1980, is to be experienced as a projected image. The artist kindly requests
that the image is not photographed or visually recorded ".

Does this ban on reproduction suppose a simultaneous defence of the idea of
the original? Only in a perverse sense, yes. We may not consider this a
defence of the idea of originality with reference to the object of origin;
after all, the supposed original does not possess the qualities of an
object, as we are, in fact, dealing with nothing more than a projected
image, itself a re-production.

However, to some extent the piece produced a certain restoration of the
notion of the original -although in this case it was not so much linked to
a reference to an object as to an "experience". The experience itself of
immediate contemplation, of direct reception.

It was over this that Coleman brought into play an effect of absolute
control (even to the extent of copy protection with the help of the museum
attendants), establishing a regime of supervised singularity. It is the
direct experience of the work -the manner of contemplation- and the
specific manner of its reception which Coleman set out to stipulate as
unrepeatable, and it is through this that he hoped to re-establish an
auratic regime of controlled uniqueness based on the regulation of the
limited scope not of an object but rather an "image".

We would always be able to ask "of what? An image of what?". The existence
of a title, so descriptive as to be almost referential, and even the epic,
narrative character of Coleman's work, tend to lead us towards this
question. But, however much we enquire, this question remains inevitably
unanswered and our gaze eventually flounders before this tension which
remains the work's only "latent" content. Connemara Landscape, 1980,
presents itself as the projection of a single slide in a dimly lit room
consisting of a tracery of lines and curves projected onto the gallery
wall, a light drawing, the figuration of a sort of abstract cryptogram,
vaguely Kandinsky-esque, neither directly identifiable nor legible.

The purpose of "An Image Should Always Be Read Twice (Lsa42)" is to
dismantle this arrangement of mechanisms -to transgress the rules laid down
by Connemara Landscape, 1980. For a start, "An image Should Always Be Read
Twice (Lsa42)" places the forbidden object in public circulation,
reproducing the projection whose position in the regulated space of the
museum prevented it from being photographed or recorded. La Societe Anonyme
photographed (perhaps illicitly) the projected image and a reproduction has
now been placed within reach of anyone (albeit a reproduction of inevitably
poor quality, given the conditions under which the photo had to be taken).

The main point is that with this act, the cycle which Coleman's prohibition
had paralysed, the process of reading, has been reactivated. The original
piece placed emphasis on the contemplative gaze which favoured the
attention of the viewer. Confronting an enigmatic image, the viewer found
himself impelled to try and decipher the sense of what was to be seen.

The problem is that the attention demanded was condemned to frustration,
necessarily left in suspense. If the piece poses a problem, it also
deprives the viewer of the necessary elements for its solution. Once the
viewer has departed from the space, she is unable to relate to the work, to
the image, except by a surely ineffectual effort of memory; she lacks the
instruments which would enable her to go beyond seeing, that is to say: to
read the work, to reach an interpretation. Connemara Landscape brings about
what might be called the intensified gaze -perhaps even rather too
trickily- but what is clear is that such an intensified gaze does not
constitute a reading, is not in itself an interpretation, does not offer an
opportunity to decipher. Anyone who has read Lacan -but also any child who
asks that a fairy tale be read over and over again in exactly the same
words- knows that what converts any material effect into meaning, a legible
sign, is precisely its condition of repeatability, of being reproducible.

It may be that the resolution of the "riddle" posed by Connemara Landscape
does require a conceptual leap. There is one which we have already
suggested. We are referring to the fact that the viewer might arrive at the
discovery of the presence of her attentive gaze as the essential
constituent of the intensified moment of experience, and in it recognise
the motto of the piece. However, a further possibility exists which is, to
our minds, a more perverse one -perverse because it reads against. What the
piece demonstrates is that there is no reading or even a complete
experience of seeing -when reproduction has been done away with.

This is the reading proposed by La Societe Anonyme, paraphrasing Deleuze's
famous suggestion. "An image should always be read twice".


[Translated from Spanish: William James]
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