4.05.2012

This Glorious Entanglement: On Rebecca Goldfarb's "Only ____" at Eli Ridgway

Images don't line the wall; they punctuate it. And while photos in a one-person show do usually have a connection — a style or theme or subject matter — these are even more explicitly linked: they are literally strung together.


We are not looking at photographs per se; these are not first and foremost images of anything. Our first move is not to approach the individual images but to take in the scene as a whole. After all, there's  string emanating from them. These images seem more like moments of an event than they do representations of something.

The familiar signs of framing — matting, geometry, signage — are all missing. The string that travels from within the images and moves beyond the images is the frame of a sort. As it traipses, the string creates a space within this space — a space that is neither the space of the room nor the space of the images, a spectral but palpable space. Whereas a frame fixes its object in place, this string-frame is in motion, forging connections, stipulating boundaries, constituting an event. 

But what is this event?  The title, "Only ______" suggests reduction, simplification, a revelation of something obvious: It's only....what?  How does one even say the title of this show — Open Blank? With pronounced pith, the title refuses our attempt to assume this art, to take it up in one fell swoop, to know it and name it.

The map that's inscribed on one wall is not an explanation. It is as much the territory as it is a map: it's become part of the show, folded into the event, a stop on the tour rather than the guide to the tour. 

What, then, is happening? As we move in closer to examine the individual images, we are privy to a an obscured intimacy: a naked woman on her knees but turned away from us; a naked woman extending her frame, again away from us; an old writing desk, all the drawers shut. These are private moments, inside moments. But our voyeurism is deferred by shadow and posture. These images do not reward or answer us when we look within. On the contrary, as the string takes leave of the image, it asks us to follow a path outwards.

So let's follow the string to see where it leads us. We find the string in multiple places. It is in the different images as there are pictures of string. And then there is the material string that winds through the space.

But there is a third string, as well, one that is neither virtual nor real, both virtual and real: this is the string that exists at the surface of the image. It is neither in the image nor outside the image; it's as if it's inscribed itself on the surface of the photograph. (That's a strange phrase — "surface of the photograph" — as a photo is always a surface.)
This string moves from the inside of the image, through the surface and into the space, and then back into a different image. It is weaving together distinct planes — surface and depth, image and image, and, if not viewer and artist, then viewer and image, artist and image. 

This weave is not a straight stitch. It is knotted and tangled. How could it be otherwise? This winding, knotted string maps the impossible calculus of the movement from inside to outside and from place to place, image to image, traversing the infinite fold of becoming, that pleated plane that marks the private from the public, the inside from the outside, the depth from the surface, the map from the tour.

This is the entangled event of art, of creating and consuming, that movement from an obscured interiority — of both artist and viewer — to the light of day and back in an infinitely complex algorithm. We are strung along and, in the process, woven into the event: the spectral space forged by the string now includes us. 

Goldfarb gives us a certain architecture of the experience of art. This is a phenomenology of art, its creation and consumption, in which there is no true depth: it's all surface, pleated and woven together in elaborate, complex ways. Not everything is revealed; there are obscure corners that are hard to make out. But they are not deep, only hidden by pleats of light.

This show offers a blueprint of the art event, stripped of its content, of its dramaturgy, of its narrative. What is left is only ________: a glorious entanglement. 

3 comments:

umpolung said...

I really like this (both the images and what you wrote about them). And what I'm about to say may be way off (I'm very unknowledgable about art criticism), but this work also seems to be a statement about the very act of criticism itself.

Blanks make us feel uncomfortable. In the calculus of concepts, we like to differentiate, to discretize the continuous into something we can grasp without having to chase after the ever-evolving concept. This work resists that tendency at every turn, for once you step close enough to see the images, you are framed by the string that extends from it! You cannot stand back and read the caption and look at the work in isolation. The very act of looking demands participation. Yet, the participation is limited, for there are other parts that you still cannot access despite this (the turned-away figures in the photos, the closed box). It is both invitation and warning: you're invited to step inside, but you can only go so far.

And you could take that even further. If frames constitute boundaries between image and viewer, where is the boundary here? In the close-up you show, some of the lines are nearly perpendicular and look like a coordinate space, while others are balled up and going in every different direction. So which boundary is the right boundary? Not only can you not count them all or describe them all, but also you cannot even see them all — they become more distant and faint, yet they are divergent, not convergent. They vanish, but not to a vanishing point. If you try to describe it as "that thing over there in that rectangular two-dimensional space," you end up describing yourself. To the degree that you frame it, it frames you. In this sense, it's almost a reductio ad absurdum of frame itself.

umpolung said...

The frame is always an afterthought, a garnish for the raw bits of canvas and staples. No artist puts a framed canvas on an easel and begins painting. What if some paint gets on the frame —? the boundary is breached. So maybe just as you see only the frame when you've taken away the image, you only see the image when you've taken away the frame. To think of anything in between, some mixture of frame and picture, is still to see the image, but imperfectly. Language seems frame enough, with its rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. To then use words to frame an image seems awful: like Xeroxing a copy and then Xeroxing that copy. Details are degraded, edges rounded, and lines faded.

Of course, this hardly means that you cannot talk about it at all. It's just that you can never wholly capture it, and you should never act as though you have. Just as with the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle, observation entails perturbation. Describing this work (or any work!) without acknowledging this is to overshadow the artist’s work with your own.

If criticism acts as a kind of re-framing (from visual-space to language-space) then maybe the more generous sort is more of a re-flection, or a mirroring with words. So what does it mean? Only _____.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Whoa. This is awesome, beautiful, smart: these two comments, together, make a fantastic essay. In content, it sounds a lot like Derrida in "Parergon" in Truth in Painting. But I like yours better, to be honest: more lived through, perhaps. Thanks, in any case.