Last week I introduced Guy Debord’s concept of The Society of the Spectacle as a critique of the relations between people driven by the production and exchange of images, accelerated by a culture of visuality in which the image has replaced the commodity as the main object of desire. In The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord stresses, images should not be dismissed as flimsy and superficial spectacle because they actually embody social relations. Debord’s concept is usefully applied through what I have called An Anthropology of Images, Anthropology, as a discipline, tries to understand the complexity of images in human consciousness and behavior by studying people in a changing world and its relationship to them.
The anthropology of art is the exploration of art objects within culture and the anthropological approach to art in general. The anthropological study of images has been largely dominated by art historians who gave images their definition. Anthropology’s interest in the visual aspects of human culture is dominated by cultural meaning and theories to what an image represents. The relationship of an object in context to culture and the agency of what art is doing within culture is what anthropologist aim to define, as art objects are part of material culture that mediates a response to culture. My discussion of the anthropology of images focuses on the connection between mental images and physical artifacts.
Firstly I want to look at the anthropology of the image, some of the issues around the image, how anthropology interprets image. I will briefly look at what is art, what is an image and how we see art and image. The study of image is rooted in socially constructed meaning both culturally and individually as art is a connection of multiple connections. The object is not just an expression of an individual’s will however, it is the connection of different relationships; that is art is not the object of expression but the outcome. Anthropology treats art as a symbolic medium, e.g. art as an action within a social function.A symbolic image that has been projected into the material world.Art is socially constructed. It depicts something about the culture and the individual and how the image is being made and how it is being used. For anthropology visible symbols are embedded in a constructed and natural environment, thus everything that is material has reason to exist and a purpose. Objects are observable from a constructed cultural reality and are framed by our understanding of culture.
Last week I asked What is an image? As well as Where is the image? I asked these questions in order to explore is an image exists in our gaze or only in our memory and to what extend is it on the material object? I went some way to offering a response by stating that: you can hang a picture, but you can’t hang an image. To summaries I put forward the argument that the picture is a material object, a thing you physically destroy. An image is what appears in a picture, and what survives its destruction – in memory, in narrative, and in copies and traces in other media. The picture, then, is the image as it appears in a material support or a specific place. This includes the mental picture, which appears in a body, in memory or imagination. The image never appears except in some sort of medium or other, but it also transcends media, what can be transferred from one medium to another. The question “What is an image?” can also be approached from an anthropological position.Art History usually answers other questions, as it studies the work of art (be it a picture, a sculpture, or a print), an object tangible and historical which allows for classification, dating and exhibition. An image, on the other hand, defies such attempts of reification, even to the degree that it often fluctuates between physical and mental existence. It may live in a work of art but does not coincide with it. The distinction between image and picture is pertinent here, in the sense that it allows us to sharpen the quest for the image in the picture. On a more general level, the question relates to the image in a given medium, be it photography, painting or video.
Immateriality of the imageImages need embodiment in order to acquire any kind of visibility. In this respect, a lost body is exchanged against the virtual body of the image. Here we grasp the roots of that very contradiction which will characterize images forever: images make an absence visible by transforming it into a new kind of presence.
We live in bodies in which we generate images of our own and therefore can also play them out against images in the visible world. The body this therefore a medium.Thus the image becomes a cognitive process, that happens within a structured cultural context (cognition: the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses)This approach to grasping images, and the myriad of their meanings and purposes, is exemplified by Hans Belting. He states that the significance of images only becomes accessible when we take into account the medium and the body.
The mediality of images is rooted in a body analogy. Mediality is the missing link between images and our bodies. Images happen between us who look at them, and their media with which they respond to our gaze. Images rely on two symbolic art which both involve our living body: the act of fabrication and the act of perception, the one being the purpose of the other. In other words the gaze is the force which turns a picture into an image. The image draws meaning from the gaze, much as the text lives from reading.
Images, (film, photography, sculpture etc.) are often studied by re-applying theories of semiology.Signs in relationship to objects.The symbolic, which is a sign as a convenient representation of the object.The icon as a sign that takes the role of the object.The index, the sign of the object comes from the object itself.It has to be said however that visual production and experience in general often tends to be confused with the image in particular, and this is where the view comes form that the image has to be identified as a symbolic entity (therefore also an item of selection and memory) and to be distinguished from the permanent flux in our visual environments.
Semiology, according to Hans Belting, does not allow images to exist beyond the controllable territory of signs, signals, and communication.Semiology doesn’t take into account the interaction between endogene and exogene images (internal and external representations).
Images form both networks of societal cohesion and have the power to ignite political and passions. Images create values and are a core resource for elaborating cultures.
What kind of relationships can images have to objects? Does an image contain information about the thing it bears a likeness to? Can an image actually embody an idea? Or do images actually distract us from ‘real things’, real problems and concerns? Could we live without images? If not, why not? If we live in a society, like we do, where their millions of people and places you never see, do we need images to give us a collective identity? And when I use a term like “collective identity”, isn’t that a kind of image too, that makes us think of the ‘Nation’ as some kind of big whole?
“The iconic presence of the dead nevertheless admits and intentionally stages the finality of that absence which is dead” Hans Belting. Towards An Anthropology of the Image. (2005)This work by Hiroshi Sugimoto is part of a series of photographs, which were made in various wax museums around the world, especially at Madame Tussaud’s in London.Sugimoto photographs the wax figures. This interplay of two media intentionally subverts and destabilizes the photograph’s indexicality ( ‘indexicality’ refers to the physical relationship between the object photographed and the resulting photograph). The boy we expect to see in such a picture, yield to their lifeless doppelgaenger who nevertheless looks very much alive.
Hans Belting points out that we expect the death of a public figure to be a target for the news. The picture of the deceased is not meant to stay in our memory thereafter, but it meant to introduce the dead in their new (only picture based) status. The picture occupies the place which dead individuals would have continued to occupy in the mass media, if they had still been alive.Death is one of those images which only lives in our thinking and our imagination, and it will remain an image, since we do not know what death really is. We could speak in similar terms about space or time. It is what we refer to as an intangible type of mental image.
According to Hans Belting: “the mask is the most brilliant invention which ever occurred in the making of images and represents a telling commentary on their meaning. It epitomizes the simultaneity as well as the opposition between absence and presence which so much has characterised the majority of images in human life.”The mask exposes a new face by hiding another whose absence is needed to create this new presence.
All representations are necessarily a blend of fiction and reality, and this demonstrated in, for instance, the work of Jeff Koons.“Postmodernism is a game played with images in which experience of the real is supplanted by depictions of it.”Sarah Kent. Problems of Picturing (1984)
In almost every field practical and theoretical knowledge about how images originate, function, are exploited, their history and their effects is an essential prerequisite for acquiring image competence in the digital age.
Historical derivations that go far back into art and media history are tied in intriguing ways to digital art/images. Walter Benjamin in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” pinpoints with prophetic clarity the implications that development of new reproductive technologies in visual media would have on the world. The notion of the art object as something precious was quickly deteriorating in the face of mass reproduction and distribution. The reproducible nature of digital images raises many questions about the authorship of art.
As repositories of knowledge and instruments of communication the importance of image (media) continues to grow in our globalized society. Images neither exist on the wall, or the tv, nor only in our heads. They cannot be extricated from a continuous exercise of interaction which has left so many traces in the history of artefacts. But of course, this interaction even continues in the digital age.Commonly hailed as the father of video art, Nam June Paik asserted in 1965 that the television cathode-ray tube would someday replace the canvas. Known as one of the major proponents of the Fluxus movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Paik's interest in the phenomenon of electronic communication led him to make predictions about how the technological changes were going to affect our daily lives. Forty years removed, we now understand the prescience of Paik's concepts of the "global village" and the "electronic super highway" were, which foreshadowed how technology would come to connect diverse cultures at high speeds in the pre-Internet age.
We do at times ignore the medium when searching for the image, as if the image exists on its own. McLuhan emphasized the way in which media molds our psyches to interact with the environment and with each other. It is important to note that for McLuhan "media" did not merely include printed matter or electronic media or even artwork, but also tools and artifacts. ("We shape our tools and they in turn shape us.") According to McLuhan's theory, technologies alter the manner in which we habitually process information.McLuhan’s dictate is in life with Rancière, who discusses specific strategies for artistic creation, but his aim is never to confine these strategies to a specific medium or working method. In doing so, he explores the range ofimage creation, how different strategies and media transmit images, and to what effect. What transmits the image, the carrier or host medium…No visible image reaches us unmediated. As Belting points out, physical images are physical because of the media they use
In anthropological terms, any argument of dualism which separates internal interpretations and representations is rejected. Hans Belting: “There have never existed physical images without the participation of mental images, since an image by definition is one that is seen (it is only one ‘when’ seen).”(In his signature installation "Enlightenment Compressed" (1994), a bronze statue of Buddha sits to reflect upon his image on a television monitor. The Buddha meditating upon himself points to the self-reflexivity of the experience of the television viewer - a wry comment that equates the TV viewing experience to the practice of Zen meditation as means to achieve a higher level of consciousness.It also discussed the relationship between the material figure and the digitally reproduced image of the figure and what it is for one to confront its counterpart.)
Ranciere’s analysis of operations in image creation and image relations. He discusses what he terms the ‘dialectical montage’ and the ‘symbolic montage’ as two ways of artistic production that reveal something hidden. Whereas the dialectical montage has as its aim the revealing of a secret truth.. In discussing the dialectical montage he references Martha Rosler’s series Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful. This example makes plain the aim of the dialectical montage as a strategy, to make a direct visual connection between two distinct worlds.
The symbolic montage assembles the various elements as a mystery or as an analogy. The symbolic montage operates as a strategy of visual analogy, or a strategy that specifcally creates an air of mystery. One can think of the Surrealist’s use of collage to evoke the uncanny as a symbolic montage strategy.
Cindy Sherman creates confusing cross-references between different media, up to the point that we can no longer safely allocate image and medium. Her Untitled Film Stills are pseudo film stills which simulate films but are mere photographs.
Iconoclasm, as the violence against images, only achieves to destroy their medium-support, i.e. their tangible and visible bodies. The destruction of the Saddam statues at Bagdad which was performed like a symbolic victory over the tyrant. The purification of the collective imaginary however could never control what it ultimatley intended, the oblivion or the contempt of the destroyed image in the minds of people. As such this is what is called Symbolic iconoclasm, whilst this may act to deny the image its public presence, it fails to annihilate the mental images which inspired it.
Hans Belting argues for a critical iconology
The Future of the Image | Week 2
THE FUTURE OF THE IMAGE Week 2: An Anthropology of Images Deborah Jackson
AN ANTHROPOLOGY OF IMAGES In The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord stresses, images should not be dismissed as flimsy and superficial spectacle because they actually embody social relations.Andreas Gursky. May Day V (2006)
AN ANTHROPOLOGY OF IMAGES Nam June Paik. Reclining Buddha (1994)
Anthropology treats art as a symbolic medium, e.g. art as an action within a social function. A symbolic image that has been projected into the material world.Man Ray. Noire et Blanche (1926)
IMMATERIALITY OF THE IMAGEImages need embodiment inorder to acquire any kind ofvisibility. In this respect, a lostbody is exchanged against thevirtual body of the image. Herewe grasp the roots of that verycontradiction which willcharacterize images forever:images make an absencevisible by transforming it intoa new kind of presence. Christian Boltanski. Personnes (2010)
BODY AND IMAGEMarina Abramovic The Artist Is Present (2012)
MEDIALITY OF IMAGES Images happen between us who look at them, and their media with which they respond to our gaze. The gaze is the force which turns a picture into an image.Barbara Kruger. Untitled (Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face) (1981)
SIGNS IN RELATIONSHIP TO OBJECTS• The symbolic, which is a sign as a convenient representation of the object• The icon as a sign that takes the role of the object• The index, the sign of the object comes from the object itself Marc Quinn. Self (1991)
ENDOGENE IMAGES AND EXOGENE IMAGESSemiology does not allowimages to exist beyond thecontrollable territory ofsigns, signals, andcommunication Grayson Perry
Images form both networks of societal cohesion and have the power to ignite political passions. Images create values and are a core resource for elaborating on our cultures.Mierle Laderman Ukeles. Touching Sanitation (1979-80)
IMAGES IN RELATIONSHIP TO OBJECTS • What kind of relationships can images have to objects? • Does an image contain information about the thing it bears a likeness to?Marc Quinn. Genomic Portrait (2001)
“The iconic presence of thedead nevertheless admits andintentionally stages the finalityof that absence which is dead.”Hans Belting. Towards AnAnthropology of the Image. (2005) Hiroshi Sugimoto. Diana, Princess of Wales (1999)
SYMBOLIC EXCHANGE The picture occupies the place which dead individuals would have continued to occupy in the mass media, if they had still been alive.
ABSENCE AND PRESENCE The mask exposes a new face by hiding another whose absence is needed to create this new presence.Paul McCarthy. Painter (1995)
MEDIALITY AND REALITY“Postmodernism isa game played withimages in which theexperience of thereal is supplantedby depictions of it.”Sarah Kent. Problemsof Picturing (1984) Jeff Koons. Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988)
MEDIALITY AND REALITYIn almost every fieldpractical and theoreticalknowledge about howimagesoriginate, function, areexploited, their history andtheir effects is an essentialprerequisite for acquiringimage competence in thedigital age Jeff Wall. After "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue (2001)
THE GLOBAL VILLIAGE As repositories of knowledge and instruments of communication the importance of image (media) continues to grow in our globalized societyNam June Paik. Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii (1995)
“THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE” Marshall McLuhanRancière explores the rangeof image creation, howdifferent strategies andmedia transmit images, andto what effect. Dick Higgins. Intermedia Chart (1995)
“There have never existed physical images without the participation of mental images, since an image by definition is one that is seen (it is only one „when‟ seen).” Hans BeltingNam June Piak. Enlightenment Compressed (1994)
IMAGE CREATION AND IMAGE RELATION What Ranciere terms a „dialectical montage‟, is used in Rosler‟s work as a strategy, to make a direct visual connection between two distinct worlds.Martha Rosler. Bringing the War Home, House Beautiful (2004)
IMAGE CREATION AND IMAGE RELATION What Ranciere terms as a „symbolic montage‟, assembles the various elements as a mystery or as an analogy.Yves Klein. Leap into the Void (1960)