Strange Apparatus

The Potential and the Pan

Symposium, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts  19-21 March, 2014



I will draw on key concepts as ‘the pan’ and ‘the visual’ (Didi-Huberman), and potentiality and ambiguity (Agamben, Gamboni, Galison) to consider several contemporary art practices that engage in thinking the question of the powers and the potentiality of images by visual means. ‘The visual’ designates a place beyond objectivity that ‘tears’ the visible and resists one fixed meaning to be assigned to the image, which cannot be read as a texture of coded signs. Didi-Huberman insists on considering the presence of images and their affective powers, beyond their interpretation as legible representations determined by assumed (ideological) content. In contrast to the concept of the detail, which claims a descriptive force but fails in its own terms, he proposes the pan, or blotch of paint that undermines, or destabilizes from within the economy of representation. The pan, like the symptom it its psychoanalytic understanding, expresses several, often contradictory, meanings. It oscillates between different possible figures, it implies both a recognisable image and a formless zone.

Such concepts point to the necessity to consider the image not only an object to be interpreted with the certainty implied in the iconographical analysis, but as having a specific agency or eventfulness. The image becomes endowed with potentiality, it is an open place of projection or nodal point into a network. An aspect that Aby Warburg articulated in his iconology of intervals. Giorgio Agamben’s analysis of the concept of potentiality is particularly resonant with the image as a figuration that can be seen as a representation, but it also maintains a potentiality ‘that conserves itself and saves itself in actuality.’ Dario Gamboni, as well, has argued that images are endowed with potentiality, sometimes they don't show, depict, or demonstrate, but present their viewer with ambiguity. Peter Galison’s in his analysis of the Rorschach test of inkblots argues that the inkblot images can be considered as a technology of the self; they either produce the self as ‘a filtered camera’ or ‘a powerful projector.’

The question - what images do? has been a subject of reflection for those occupied with understanding them –art historians and art theorists. But now the identities of those who study images and those who make them becomes increasingly blurred and image-makers  become image-thinkers. I will consider several contrasting art practices which all share a concern with the ‘working’ of images. Rob Johannesma’s ongoing project Probability Spaces investigates the powers of images in a way strongly resonant with Warburg’s iconology of intervals. Philippe Gronon’s series of photographs of versos of paintings flips the plane of representation to create an image of the invisibility present in all images. This gesture indicates an interest with another aspect of the power of images implied in their infrastructure.