The Power of Images

Maria João Gamito

A Timex digital watch occupies the entire area of an image obliquely projected on an iron plate sculpture resting on the floor, consisting of two parts separated by a narrow vertical slit. The slit inserts into the image the concrete quality that derives from a line, which diverges from the rotation axis of the watch, as well as adding the expectation of the screen. Activated by a hypnotic and droning sound, audible throughout the gallery, the movement of the watch, from which the digits were removed, evokes a potential time represented in the image that brings together the two parts of the sculpture. Using the concepts introduced by Henri Bergson in Matière et Mémoire, the image empathises with the slit, extending itself in it and also becoming an extension of it, to, paradoxically attracted by the laws of gravity, materialise, now as (its) image, on the screen that hosts it.

This piece is entitled Ad nauseam which, similarly to what happens with every image, and as put forward by Bergson, is touched by the memories that guide the body’s sensory-motor mechanisms, as they turn it into the place for representation, here understood less in the sense of space than in the sense of lived time, a subjective time, i.e. in the sense of duration, as Bergson defines it. That time is the time of remembrance which is updated by memory transforming it into the perception of the ceaseless movement of the watch through the discrepant stimulation of the senses and its resulting nausea which is, after all, the nausea that is left from the confrontation between the perception of an object reduced to its condition of image (to its material condition) and the condition of a never-ending present inhabited by the possibility of an absurd perpetual motion machine.

The emptiness that the expectation of the screen inserts into the image is symmetrical to another emptiness that can be formulated as the expectation of the image capable of virtually containing another image. Wall Against the Sea, the piece that gives its title to the exhibition and which, in turn, is taken from a painting by Paul Nash, is a large iron plate sculpture that was diverted from its two-dimensional condition by two parallel vertical incisions that simultaneously maintain its position at 45º above the floor and create, in the empty space below, the 16:9 format of the image that one can deduct is at the other side: the crashing sea in a claustrophobic horizon, with the cadence generated by erosion, against a calcareous cliff of the Baleal beach, filmed with a tilt of 45° corresponding to the angle of the wearing away caused by the sea.

The metaphor (if there is one) comes from a Portuguese saying, that of the soft water eroding the hard stone or of the image attempting to break through the surface of the object on which it is projected and which contains it. The meeting of the water with the wall is equivalent to the meeting of the image with the object screen, which declines its receptive availability to assume a sculptural nature, already perceived in its etymology, of that which is in opposition. Just like walls. Released from its most immediate function, the screen abandons the zero degrees to which the tradition of Western art confined its matter, both understood as the matter of the medium of an illusionist image, and as the matter of the device that in perspective it normalises. And it comes out so that perception can touch it, so that memory upgrades it as an image that confronts the water that comes crashing against it. This image is that of the wall that sustains the sea but it is also the wall that Georges Perec (Espèces d' Espaces) talks about: the wall on which to hang pictures so that it disappears being however from the pictures that it re-emerges.

The possibility of the image containing another image, without any of them having to disappear as images, establishes the notion of the screen overtaking the image, turning it into the screen on which to project. In this case, the screen appears as a projected image on an image that precedes it.

O Dia da Marmota (Groundhog Day) is a 16 mm film that creates a display on a big screen where the blown up image of a small hake biting its own tail has been printed. In Oporto, this type of small hake, which is a traditional fried fish delicacy throughout Portugal, is called ‘marmota’, the same word used for groundhog. The scale of the serigraph fixes the size of the fish’s body on a segment on which the film is projected, travelling through the circle formed by the body with the tail in its mouth.

Made without human intervention (acheiropoieton), the print that gave rise to the serigraph is the image itself, the image as a hostage to its archaeology, a material trace from a fish that, in its future scale, never existed. The film is simultaneously the repeatedly projected image of a (vicious) circle that materialises in the image of a fish and the projection of a repetition perceived as the totality of a time that encompasses the past and the future. When Gilles Deleuze (Difference and Repetition), quoting David Hume (A Treatise of Human Nature), says that repetition changes nothing in the object repeated, but does change something in the mind which contemplates it, he points out its fundamental paradox – that it does not exist except in the difference that is hosted in the mind – but above all it determines how, from it, memory converts the past into the future of the forecast. It is in this closure of the present, coinciding with the state of our body, as in Bergson, that we update the memory of the eminent reversibility of the image of a fish's body superimposed on the body of that same fish. Superimposition of figures and superimposition of images but also superimposition turned into the coincidence of the image and the subject matter, as happens in the last (which is the first) piece of the exhibition. Keystone is a sculpture, again made from a large iron plate, whose title alludes directly to the button on LCD projectors that corrects the distortion in the projected image commonly known as the keystone effect (in Portuguese this effect is known as the ‘trapeze effect’). This distortion converts the rectangle of the image into a trapeze and this is the figure that in the 16:9 format, constitutes the body of the sculpture, which is the body of the image that coincides with its memory.

The memory of the image is then the body of its own power achieved in the metal surface that solidly fixes it turning it into the archetype of all images. The sculpture can only be seen through a glass, which is the only means of accessing the area in which it is placed and this constraint only underlines its condition of image – an echo or harbinger of all others, matter flowing in the passing time, whose fundament to Deleuze resides in the memory that makes it pass.

© 2021 Curtas Vila do Conde