Forenzic Evidence of Vision and Being

                   Forenzic Evidence of Vision and Being

Borealis, 01/2011, gouache, synthetic polymer and oil on canvas (stretched), 72″x96″

The word ‘forenzic’ does not exist. It is the misspelled word ‘forensic’ that might evoke another word, ‘frenzy’.  I used ‘forenzic’ for describing the almost palpable or easily traceable evidence of the movements of the body in my paintings. The letter “z” however, seemed to shift the meaning from legal vocabulary to the realm of the mind.

This shift brought about an inquiry into the role of mind and body in the act of painting. Merleau-Ponty’s “Eye and Mind” seemed to be a good source to re-visit for the purpose. “The painter’s world is a visible world, nothing but visible: a world almost mad, because it is complete though only partial” (p.2)

“The painter “takes his body with him”, says Valery. Indeed we cannot imagine how a mind could paint. It is by lending his body to the world that the artist changes the world into paintings. To understand these transubstantiations we must go back to the working, actual body – not the body as a chunk of space or a bundle of functions but that body which is an intertwining of vision and movement.” (p.2)

Merleau-Ponty reminds us that we only see what we look at because vision is attached to movement. What we see around us is within our (or our sight’s) reach. Thus the visible world and the world of our motor projects are both total parts of the same Being. He calls this phenomenon an “extraordinary overlapping” which prevents us from conceiving of vision as an ‘operation of thought’.

How will the imaginary be connected to the vision, to the body? What do we picture to ourselves to be beyond the sea (and beyond the “see-able”) – in the land we have never physically reached? Will it be just projections of some encounters the body and the embodied mind have already experienced?

“… the imaginary is much nearer to, and much farther from, the actual – nearer because it is in my body as a diagram of the life with all its pulp and carnal obverse exposed to view for the first time. …And the imaginary is much farther away from the actual because the painting is an analogue or likeliness only according to the body; because it does not offer the mind an occasion to rethink the constitutive relations of things, but rather it offers the gaze traces of vision, from the inside in order that it may espouse them; it gives vision that which clothes it within, the imaginary texture of the real.” (p.4)

The painter, Merleau-Ponty states, while he is painting, “practices a magical theory of vision. (it makes no difference if he does not paint from “nature”, he paints, in any case, because he has seen, because the world has at least once emblazoned in him the ciphers of the visible.)” (p.5) He mentions here Max Ernst’s words that “the painter’s role is to circumscribe and project what is making itself seen within himself.” 

Though Merleau-Ponty links vision to the body and calls the painter’s act “practising of the magical theory of vision”, he insists that “the language of painting is never instituted by nature”; it must be made and remade. He believes that no means of expression, once mastered transforms it into a technique. The act of painting in his reading sounds as a natural act: “We speak of “inspiration” and the word should be taken literally. There really is inspiration and expiration of Being, respiration in Being, action and passion so slightly discernible that it becomes impossible to distinguish between who sees and who is seen, who paints and what is painted. …The painter’s vision is an ongoing birth.” (p.7) Later on in the article he almost contradicts himself recalling reports of Klee’s colors appearing on canvas as if triggered by natural phenomena as patina or a mold.

But the painters always knew from experience that no technique or perspective is an exact and total solution to the ultimate projection of the existing world which would respect it in all aspects and deserves to become the fundamental law of painting. “Vision reassumes its fundamental power of manifestation, of showing more than itself. … No longer is it a matter of speaking about space and light, but of making space and light, which are there, speak to us. There is no end to this questioning, since the vision to which it is addressed is itself a question. …What is depth, what is light, ti tu ov? What are they – not for the mind that cuts itself off from the body but for the mind Descartes says is suffused throughout the body? And what are they, finally, not only for the mind but for themselves, since they pass through us and surround us?

This philosophy, which is yet to be elaborated, is what animates the painter – not when he expresses opinions about the world but in that instant when his vision becomes gesture, when in Cezanne’s words, he “thinks in painting.” (p.12)

Merleau-Ponty explains that the painter’s vision is not a view upon the outside world, a merely “physical-optical” relation with the world or connection to the world. What the painter seeks beneath the words depth, space, and color is “the inner animation, this radiation of the visible” (p.15). The famous words of Klee that the painter’s goal is not to “render the visible, but to render visible” that the author references at this point might be helpful for the insight into the of body-mind-vision relationship. “Vision is the meeting, as at crossroads of all the aspects of Being…it is impossible to say that here the nature ends and the human being or expression begins. It is, then, silent Being that itself comes to show forth its own meaning. Herein lies the reason why the dilemma between figurative and non figurative art is wrongly posed; … no painting no matter how abstract, can get away from Being. This precession of what is upon what one sees and makes seen, of what one sees and makes seen upon what is – this is vision itself.” (p.18)

One of the conclusions the author arrives at is that “The idea of a universal painting, of a totalization of painting, of painting being fully and definitely accomplished is an idea bereft of sense. For painters, if any remain, the world will always be yet to be painted; even if it lasts millions of years… it will all end without having been completed.” (p.19)

This last paragraph echoes in my heart as I find a sort of justification of my “frenzy” – this urgency that translates itself in paintings either reminding the actual world or totally imaginative ones that however, come to light as a result of my vision that is the crossroads of all the aspects of my Being. My paintings then do not only offer an almost forensic evidence of the body presence, but are themselves the forenzic evidence of my vision as part of my Being.   

Works Cited:

  1. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. “Eye and Mind”, trans. Carleton Dallery in The Primacy of Perception, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964.



Wind Series, #3. 60″x42, gouache transfer and collage on paper, 12/2010


Wind Series, #4. 60″x42″, gouache transfer and collage on paper, 12/2010


“Land is a natural phenomenon… ‘Landscape’ is a cultural construct.” (Liz Wells)

“Places exist out there, external and independent of our thinking of them,

but the concepts we use to organize and interpret places are inventions and interventions of human thought.” (Jean Robertson)   

In this post I am continuing to explore the factors that affect identity and phenomena that constitute it. Today’s subject will concern place as one of the factors with a major impact on the formation and survival of identity. The book Themes of Contemporary Art by Jean Robertson and Craig McDaniel adresses this subject in Chapter Five titled Place. 

“During the heyday of European Modernism in the first half of the twentieth century, the expatriate artist … (e.g. Pablo Picasso or Marcel Duchamp) was a romantic even a heroic, figure who voluntarily chose to leave behind his place of origin for the adventure of living and working in a foreign land. The displaced artists of today are more ambiguous figures… many see themselves as exiles, refugees, or nomads.” (p.176)

What is a place beyond a point on the map? Time and space coalesce in a place. Places contain metaphoric or symbolic meanings that go deeper than the surface appearance of a particular landscape or architectural style. The place or places where one has lived, with their physical, historical and cultural attributes, condition what one knows and how one sees. An artist’s geographic history affects the appearance and meaning of their art. I had been well aware that my idea of ‘distributed identity’ is contradicting the post-Enlightenement notion that something can not be in two places at once till I read this chapter in Themes of Contemporary Art. Several points made by the authors of this book prove that my guesses about the changes an artist identity undergoes after being uprooted or displaced were quite close to the thoughts of my contemporaries who experienced such transformations.

In this chapter I read that “many contemporary artists are responding to specific scenes in front of them or are trying to recapture the appearance or feeling of places they remember. More abstractly, some artists are grappling with ideas of place in a conceptual way… Some theorists of culture have adopted the term space to refer to the social and psychological attributes of a place.”(p.154)

Contemporary art about place is made using a wide array of materials and styles for an equally diverse range of artistic goals. Some artists (like Peter Doig, David Bates, and Joan Snyder) create images of remembered places, understanding the power of places to evoke personal memories and buried feelings. Others might “subscribe to a pantheistic view of nature, a belief in wilderness as a source of spiritual energy”. For them, a desert is not merely a place of little rainfall, and a mountain is not simply a place of extreme elevation. Rather, a desert may be a site for inducing mystic awareness, and a mountain may be cherished as a place of spiritual birth or rebirth.

Landscape as a Metaphor

The authors offer as an example of engaging with the constructed nature of place artists’ inventing settings of their own. This particular point in the discussion interested me the most as I am engaged in creating my ’coded’ landscapes myself. (I also have touched upon the idea of ‘places as metaphors’ in one of my previous posts ”Coded Landscapes in Mediated Visuality”.) “There is a long history of artists who have depicted their own invented dream scenarios and fantasy places (often concocted from observed elements as well as imagination).” (p.169) As an example of one of such artists I chose Matias Duville (“The Expanded Field” post, November 16th), who drew Alaska as an unknown place he had never visited or saw images from prior to creating a year-worth of work.

In creating a simulated place, an artist is engaged in an unusual quest: to create an alternative world that evokes the real one and yet retains its identity as a world apart. Rather than representing or symbolizing an actual place, a simulation offers an intense substitute. Typically, the viewer remains keenly conscious that the simulation is an artifice. “Nevertheless, the skilled craftsmanship and involved conception that went into producing the simulation yeld an uncanny effect: as viewers we feel ourselves transported into another realm brought magically to life within the borders of art.” The authors state that the exploration of the invented environments can include those that exist only in the shared imaginations of the audience.

In-Between Places

Placenessness, dislocation, and homelessness the authors of the book view as “the flip side of place, locale, home, and habitation.” (p.176) While I read this part of the chapter with utter interest, one point made by the authors aroused some doubts: “Some people positively embrace a condition of rootlessness…” In my opinion, this statement might only be true concerning short-term voluntary traveling or changing of locale. Emigration (and the process of immigration) either voluntary or forced (e.g. in case of war or political persecution) is always accompanied by radical changes in the very fabric of identity and hardships for its survival. However positive such an “embrace” might be, the changes are invariably ’seasoned’ with some amount of suffering and pain the personality endures.  

More profound than the temporary dislocations of tourists and business travelers are the experiences of those whose understanding of place is fragmented as a result of moving far away from their homeland. Pulled up by their roots, displaced people must often cross national borders and even oceans. A forced dislocation is an intense experience with both political and psychological effects. The authors of the book name displacement as “one of the central facts of contemporary culture” They also state that “Powerful art is being made by artists who want to bear witness to displacement.” (p.177) Some of these artists are immigrants themselves who have moved to a new country, often with a new language, and practice their art in a radically altered context.

Art about displacement may focus on the journey itself, the condition of being in transit between places with different languages, customs, material culture and ideas – a condition theorist Homi Babha named “in-betweenness.” Artists may explore the meaning and location of borders, boundaries, and zones of transit. They may consider the place left behind (“there”) or the adopted place (“here”) or interactions between both places. Here, in this in-betweenness, in this “interaction between … places” I officially place my own practice as an artist.

The displaced artist retains an emotional connection with the place left behind; “…indeed, the resonance of the original place is often enhanced and intensified by distance. At the same time, the artist is forging a new hybrid identity that draws on the physical surroundings and cultural climate of the new place” (p.178) The authors summarize this chapter by saying that “Imagery in works that are related to the theme of in-betweenness is often syncretic, that is, it mixes or juxtaposes multiple cultural references and ideas.” (p.178)


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