“Until you step into the frame of a divide, whether racial, economic or other, the words, the calculations and the slow pulse of a printer spitting out excel spreadsheets and dissertations for coffee-stained boardroom meetings to university viva defense chambers simply limit the constituency that they purports to encourage…”
The spectre of economic impoverishment functions in real-time terms differently than it does in statistical analysis or academic tract. Surveys, opinion polls, census reports and growth median charts rarely give an impression of a life lived under the deep duress and entangled despair of financial and racial segregation-often these two categories are seen as a grotesque and unfortunate coupling in the wide margins of the free country of liberty, America which now sags under the weight of collusion and corrosion (SAMO for president). Until you step into the frame of a divide, whether racial, economic or other, the words, the calculations and the slow pulse of a printer spitting out excel spreadsheets and dissertations for coffee-stained boardroom meetings to university viva defense chambers simply limit the constituency that they purports to encourage on what they eulogize by code of non-involvement and the en-spectaclization of what is represented in those zeroxed numbers. These numbers, the binary excuses gold-leafed in 0’s and 1’s should be printed on a shameful parchment as old as the failure to repair these relationships, perspectives or the country of America itself.
Much is made in the times we live in and inhabit in the photography and artworld about “giving agency to” those historically less privileged (insert focus group). Emphatically, this “giving” is remitted to the disenfranchised from the very pulpit from which dominance mechanisms originate and indicates that the power structure that is sought to be “levelled” is indeed simply and infuriatingly continued under a dogmatic pursuit by the privileged to “give” something back to those being represented. This device, this implement of falsity of theory over experience is simply the same ugly battering ram that broke down doors, took children and enslaved people historically-the audience now those forecasted to being manacled to the privileged accoster’s oar inspired to be penitent rather than actually being heard-the “heavy lifting” being mustered by the elite for them.
The new liberator employs the same ideology as previously produced to discriminate, but it is now gilded and tongue-tied in a series of even more disappointing gifts of language that insinuate shockingly that they and only they hold the key to differentiating the problems and the solutions of their keep from a position of privilege. They discuss this amongst themselves just in proximity and close enough to hear, but not so intimate in nature as to have any experience on the matter of what the receivers of their gift should expect or desire or voice themselves. In doing so, this mechanism for the giving back or giving over of agency is simply a whitewash for privileged guilt. It is the same multi-facetted lie that speaks about our cultural institutions returning agency and “de-colonizing” the anointed spaces they operate within such as museums, art schools, and the like. The very callous nature of which suggests that it cannot be taken, but that it must be given (and agonizingly enough that what they have to give is worth the receiving), perpetuates the same tired tyranny of oppression, dishonesty and institutional damnation but is now wisely conditioned with the control of language-the same control of language currently compelled towards the systematic fake liberal transgressions regarding censorship, hate speech and gender pronouns. One now has to look even more carefully and at a further distance to see the person or persons braiding the beautiful contours of the rope into a slipknot for all to hang by so as not to step into a pre-dug grave on their way to inquire directions at the foot of the voluminous-branched tree.
Within this uncomfortable situation lies a set of propositions in which art, and in particular photography, are seen to function through the do’s and don’ts of representation in 2018. It is forcefully alleged that to govern the minute and often very difficult discourse of inter-racial representation, we must carry a scalpel in order to not offend anyone-especially, if we and they are white. By proxy our friendly patriotic and privileged white compatriots within art criticism are sitting in universities lazily basking in their sovereign lack of committing to giving up anything at all, yet pontificating widely at the behest of the same tensions and communications about why this whiteness in particular stands in the way of having a discourse of any real significance, busy dreaming up the next article in which they are given access to trash anyone in ear shot who may be born of the same genetic structure that they painfully espouse as the enemy while sitting idly on the perch of their polished throne. It would be ironic and hypocritical to even dream it up if it weren’t so common in 2018. So, where do we take this discussion? How do we dream through having a discourse between black and white, Latinex and white, Latinex and Black etc. about the racial and economic representation of others? How do we look at privilege? How do we espouse information? What is our audience and how do we avoid some of these pitfalls of voyeurism and invasion of the sanctity of identity? And most importantly, how do we implement some amount of care and concern (can’t use empathy anymore, its been co-opted) in our approach?
“The very callous nature of which suggests that it cannot be taken, but that it must be given (and agonizingly enough that what they have to give is worth the receiving), perpetuates the same tired tyranny of oppression, dishonesty and institutional damnation but is now wisely conditioned with the control of language-the same control of language currently compelled towards the systematic fake liberal transgressions regarding censorship, hate speech and gender pronouns”.
By categorical definition and by some amount of good dialogue, it is extremely difficult for one group to examine another group as it may consist of disturbing the theoretical hierarchy, unless it is a group arranged below that of the observed doing the looking, a sort of backwards investigation of the much overused word(by white privilege in particular) “agency”. In order to qualify a communication, a few ideas can present themselves as guidelines for indirect communication about very direct matters. Let’s not call them rules, per se.
1) You cannot speak for others
2) You must recognize your authorship as maligned
3) Analogous metaphors are encouraged for purpose of distance
4) Distribution is not absolute and is indeed, economic
When I received “Index G” by Piergiorgio Casotti and Emanuele Brutti from Skinnerboox, I had already seen the book on social media, but had not researched the title before asking for it. When it arrived in the mail, I let my mind wander over the formal elements of the book itself- the physical object, the use of color and monochrome and the placement of text of which I never read on my first one or two thumbings through of a particular title. I find that when I read the text ahead of consulting the images, the edit, the flow and speed of material, I often find the practice less exciting, more on grounds that I also happen to hate being told what to think, preferring to see first and be “enlightened” later by the author who is generally not an image-maker and therefore someone I remain skeptical as to their accountability to write on process and image. We have no shortage of these people about, mostly privileged white men who pontificate more than they create. Thankfully and perhaps for better or worse, many of the writers on the medium are people who also make images and have an insight into how the operator and audience function which exceeds the general voyeurism of the academic/critic who has never spent time producing. You may disagree on that, but you are wrong if you do and anybody who writes and makes images will tell you this. All lambasting of academic predators and arrogance of position aside, I felt that this book had a gravity that was hard to place.
When I requested Index G initially, it was because I had seen the very stark monochrome images of empty rooms that looked distinctly American. Dust-outlined, oblong and incongruent faded shapes on the wall where the computer or television previously rested now left as a decaying and unnatural graffiti in an even more unnatural and haunting room-presences of former lives caught, blasted onto the canvas like a child evaporated, whose shadow still clung to the side of a stairway in the aftermath of Hiroshima. The terrain was vague and yet familiar, intriguing and somehow horrific without a soul in sight. The monochrome images of these rooms, where these inhabitants had dwelt with their impositions of empty frame narratives piqued my curiosity as they offered an unusually stark contrast to the color images employed before and the few that came slightly after. The Paul Graham-esque potential of their nothingness and their due implications of geography, economy and possibility became an interesting proposition as few if any offered any presence of real people.
“While leafing through Index G, I began reading the text in bits. It was clear that it was meant to give some sort of narrative impulse by way of a script. The word “script” kept fumbling in my thoughts-the idea that somehow the manufacture of possibility of poverty, race and geography should be scripted”.
While leafing through Index G, I began reading the text in bits. It was clear that it was meant to give some sort of narrative impulse by way of a script. The word “script” kept fumbling in my thoughts-the idea that somehow the manufacture of possibility of poverty, of race and of geography should be scripted. I made the observation that this proposition was a fair question, but that if it were displayed in another medium or if in fact these were film stills themselves, that the outcome of potential problems of position of authorship could be very precipitous to enable with a review. Instead, I was left conflicted rather with how the still images and the script would defy that territory through the employ of a narrative that worked in cinematic detail instead of the photographic. The reason that I came to define some amount of acceptance from it all was points 1 and 3 as outlined above. The subjects became actors, the environment, a location. I had absolutely no bearing as to whether this was the case or not and in qualifying the position to that of a cinematic and implied fiction, I could begin to disassemble, even in still frame the reasons for why this tricky work could be seen as a hypothetical observation over that of a photographic assumption of problematic reportage.
Following in reverse chronology of the points outlined above that I have observed while engaging with Index G, I want to examine how the paucity engaged within the book becomes a inadvertent (perhaps) shield for delineating representation. I think it can be assumed that “photographic truth” and “document” have been widely discouraged in the current era of disinformation and the economics of photographic representation-society at large finds photography less credible than before it seems and yet, it cannot shake that it is in the context of its “medium-specificity” still more indebted to a higher level of representation which still eludes me, than that of other mediums such as painting etc. Photography is the whipping boy of visual culture at once held responsible for reality and truth, then also castigated for its inability to convey convincingly and without accusation. I tend to position my thoughts from the latter position-that photograph has never been and will never be truthful. Yet, I understand that its position must be whipped. Perhaps this is due in large part to having the technology of photography half a century before cinema., which itself seems to elude the bullwhip on grounds of narrative non-representation.
In thinking through Index G with its faux-narrative and starkly empty “sets”, the piecemeal of investigation suggested to me that the reality proposed, no matter how close it resembles contemporary St. Louis and its denizens is in fact a metaphorical skin and that the script/film that will be enabled is to be written by the viewer in its total form, using the images within as a sort of meta-storyboard for which conversations of political and racial economy are implemented from the viewer his or herself without the prejudice of the documentary. In proposing this sequence and edit in the book form and by employing a writer to service the images, Casotti and Brutti have declared authorship, given measure to allow their authorship to be diminished as non-absolute in documentation, created an analogous metaphor to a very serious matter and opted to distribute the information in a script form, which does not completely exonerate his position, but goes a long way as to nullify the discourse that could be levelled against him on representational matters.
Index G is a completely engrossing and very challenging way to look at narrative. Its defusing of representation is applaud-worthy in a time in which artists, writers and people in general are paying more attention to ethical provocations about race, economy, gender etc, but are forced to walk a tight rope in which everybody, including generally sensible people from their own background wish to de-stabilize their well-intended interests. There is too much “don’t” and not enough “do, but do so sensibly” at present. To take a risk on the subject itself invites criticism. We cannot stop dialogue. If anything, we need to encourage how we speak about what is dividing us so that we do not run head long into tribal communities where the age old adage of “divide and conquer” is used to quell voices that are earnestly listening before speaking. This is one of the most important books of the year. Apart from the pictures being hauntingly beautiful, the edit, the sequencing the narrative potential of which makes it an engaging work to use as a tool of communication instead of self-interest. Highest Recommendation.
(All Rights Reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm. Images @ Piergiorgio Casotti and Emanuele Brutti.)