Speechless

In 2018, at the Aby Warburg Institute in London, I discovered a metal filing cabinet that contained numerous glass transparencies. Diagrams, drawings and photographs appeared on the slides that made reference to topics such as proportion, psychology or art. Without an established order, or any documentation and even with different sizes I was finally able to connect several images that seemed to refer to the same lecture.

 

The first slide reproduced the cover of the book "The Perception of the Visual World". The manuscript, work of the American psychologist James J. Gibson, was published in 1950, and actually the book was at the Warburg Library. The text raises a disruptive and experimental thesis on the way we perceive images, a critical proposal with the dominant idea of ​​cognitivism. This line of research would be known as “visual ecology”, and Gibson was the highest representative. Many of the book's photographs were in fact reproduced on the glass slides that I found at the Institute; in addition, there were also other images on art history or even a couple slides that looks like “memes” that did not appear in the book and that were presumably intended to introduce a stroke of humor to keep the audience's attention. There were also two slides referring to a second book, Eye, Film and Camera in color Photography, by R.M. Evans, and an extra one from the same author but different book, “Introduction to color”. 

 

Despite having the books itself and handwritten notes on each of the slides, there was no way of knowing which was the speech that ordered and connected those images: there was no numbering or established order, and without any recording or phonographic file was impossible to know. It was an anomaly, a “speechless” lecture.

 

Was the conference a summary of Gibson's book or was it a critique of his controversial work? Was it Gibson himself who gave the talk? Or was it Gombrich or maybe Gertrud Bing? How could those images make sense? The only thing that seemed clear to me is that the materiality of these slides printed on glass paradoxically conflicted with the immaterial nature of a lost speech, with those forgotten words, with an extinct discourse that once gave them meaning seven decades ago.

 

That conflict, that tension between the objectual and the immaterial, between the document and the referent, between images and words, between photography as an index and language as a structure, not only spoke of photographic nature, but of how photography has served as a discursive backing for numerous artistic practices.

 

My investigation materialized in a series of 12 artworks. In each of them, in a glass case, two images are put into dialogue: in the foreground, printed on glass, we can look at a life-size reproduction of the photographs I took at the Warburg Institute, where my hand holds a slide. In the background, we glimpse blurry images. Those are fragments of photographic documentation of dematerialized art practices from the seventies, where the photographic or audiovisual record was the only part that remained.

 

The discursive and iconographic associations between images, the distance among them, the opacity and transparency make up a visual discourse devoid of words. An invisible speech, constructed through pictures that navigates from the physicality of the image to the dematerialization of art, projecting analogies and conflicts.

Speechless

2018-2020

Estampa

Alarcon Criado Gallery

Madrid Spain, 2020

© 2020 by Ira Lombardía