ON EXIT FRAME GO LOOP
by David Komary


'Again and again, we believe that we are imitating nature, and all we are doing is tracing the form through which we behold it.' (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

'Perspective makes the observer visible - at the very point where he is invisible to himself.' (Niklas Luhmann)


'Where' are the objects of our perception? What is the ontological status of the things we refer to as 'real'? Are they to be located in our consciousness, in our mental apparatus, or rather in 'reality', images of an external 'real world' which exists independently of our consciousness? The thematic point of departure of the exhibition ON EXIT FRAME GO LOOP is this fundamental question as regards 'reality', the relationship between reality and its image, or to be more precise: the structural relationship between images based on perception and knowledge and the (cognitive) programmes on which our construction of 'reality' is based.

The specific object at the centre of this enquiry is the regime of the scientific image, in particular the way in which images were understood in the sciences of the 19th century, when - supported by forms of technical and instrumental realism (based on cameras) - they were attributed a dominant place in a system of authenticity and facticity. This way of understanding images, with its claims of causality and objectivity, is reproduced and re-incorporated in concepts of reality to this day. The authority of representation via camera and the technical specifics inherent to it (homo morphology, arresting the moment, the indexical, analogue trace) consitute a referent of 'reality' that presents itself as the ontological guarantee of its own legitimacy. The argument goes like this: if reality inscribes itself directly on to the camera image, then the image must therefore also be - according to inductive reasoning - a or rather the image of reality. A recursive chain of reality-constituting conclusions is formed, a tautological circle. Within this system of ontological realism, the gaze, vision, marks an explicit boundary between the (erstwhile) dichotomies inside/ outside, subject/ object. 'Reality' is conceived of as something that is independent of the observer, which exists above and beyond perception, metaphysically real. The media and technical equipment used in this naive version of reality are conceived of simply as extensions of the eye, as recording instances of teh outer world in front of the camera. The schema object-camera is seen as analogous to, or even identical with the relationship between the eye and reality. To this way of thinking, the eye acts as a innocent discoverer, which is confronted by things and objects. In this binary system of oppositions, the subject is able to define itself at one and the same time as introverted and sensitive (romantic) and auctorial, superlative (enlightened). However, this stable subject-object dichotomy, this 'metaphysics of the subject' was already being reltivised in physics and neurophysiology during the course of the last century. Einstein's theory of relativity, for example, enshrines the idea that physical processes must always be thought of in relation to an observer and a system of observaation. Space and time no longer represent independent categories, but rather form a/ the space-time continuum. Physical processes always take place in relative dependence on other processes/ objects of reference, or rather - to put it in terms more fitting to relativity theory - other spatio-temporal events. Likewise, quantum theory always regards the processes it investigates as an exchange which is observed, an interaction of effects with other bodies from the outside world. Instead of definitive conclusions, striclty causal functional contexts and natural 'laws' - as in classical Newtonian mechanics - the ideas and experiments of quantum theory involve non-linear deductions and probabilities of variable configurations that can be observed within a particular system.

This brief outline of the history of science and the theoretical models explained above already show that the visual analogy of reality/ image and the schematic opposition of the categories inside/ outside are idealised, simplifying constructions, whose aim is to translate linear causality into predictability. 'It is easy to empirically prove that reality is a construct. The boundary between the body and the outside world seems to us to be fixed and clear, but like all other 'cognitive' boundaries, it is in fact unstable and breaks down if it is not repeatedly reinforced'(1). The logical conclusion of this train of thought is radical constructivism, in which reality is no longer seen as an iconic correspondence between the real world and its image, but as 'functional adaption'. As a result, this particular concept of reality is not 'constructed in a random and irregular fashion by individuals, it s an agreement, the product of communication'(2). In keeping with this idea, Stefan Lux and Katarina Matiasek install recursive, self-referential visual 'dispositifs' that examine 'second grade observation', the observation of observation. Both work on those moments of indeterminacy in the respective casts of their chosen media that 'bind together the indexical trace and the inductive eye in the tautological circle of positivism'(3). The two artists test the central concept of reality using natural models, or rather, using the construct and the constructed nature of that aspect of the 'outside', 'real' world that is commonly referred to as 'natural'. This 'naturalness' also proves to be an arrested referent, a surrogate that has deteriorated into a cipher.

In SPECIMEN, Katarina Matiasek stage-manages video images with reference to scientific photography. At first glance, this work shows the photographic reproduction of a plant, an alga. A still life? The seemingly fixed, arrested image is however undergoing latent, even successive changes, which are almost beyond the threshold of our perception. Instead of effecting the figuration of the (reproduced) form, however, these changes take place in its colour and the media used to project the image: cyanotype after black and white, colour negative after colour print and so on.

A note to the historical reference of this work: Matiasek's animated freeze-image makes reference to the history of science in the photograhical works of the botanist Anna Atkins. In the 19th century study 'Cyanotypes of British Algae' Atkins became, not only the first female photographer, but also the first to produce a scientific book made exclusively using photographic technology, cyanotype. According to Atkins, the aim of the book as a scientific, encyclopaedic album was to deliver 'impressions of the plants themselves' and to make them visually available. The album as a whole, as well as the individual photographs act as autheticating traces of nature, which reproduces itself in the images. It is an attempt to carry out an 'inductive-indexical verification' according to the scientific codes of the 19th century, 'an experiment in positive authentication using the means of indexical illustration'(4). Matiasek's animated cyanotype quotation - as described above - proves however to be dysfunctional as far as self-confirming authenticity is concerned. The single image dissolves into referential latency and visual indeterminacy. It is like a 'shadow', an after-image of itself. The different media channels used change, overlap and interpenetrate each other. As a result, the pictorial referent remains indeterminate and cannot be pinned down with any degree of precision. The authenticity expected or suggested by the (archive) photograph collapses and its status as construct and pictorial reference is revealed. This reference is not so much to a 'natural' object, however such an object is understood, but rather to a particular (historically determined) ideal of how nature should be represented and described. Technical innovation and its instrumentalisation or rather functionalisationn can be read here as historically contextualised, as complexes of ideas which are or can be ideologically determined: 'we have to describe the emergence of an apparatus for determining truth to which we cannot do justice by reducing it to the optical model of the camera. Rather, the camera is integrated in an overarching structure: in a bureaucratic, statistical, intelligence-gathering system. This system can be seen as a complex form of archive. The central artefact of this system is not the camera, but the filing cabinet'(5).

Matiasek's second work also draws on the texture and picture matrix of the album. HABITAT shows pages of a book of photographs in which individual pages are composed in teh style of a Manga comic: like a mask, the texture and layout grid of a Manga has been applied in a layer over a panoramic landscape picture. The grid divides up this image of a totality into a multiplicity of sub-images and individual takes. In theri turn, these 'single' images are then modified like the image in the animation SPECIMEN through the use of various media channels and perspectives. The individual images created by the grid are subject to minimal interventions and alterations that make them into more than mere segments of the original picture. Instead they evoke a particular reading of the original. The 'reader' tacks the seemingly separate imagees together to form a narrative chain. Referentiality is created by the search for references. The way of reading which the grid evokes, a narrative sequence of images which refer to each other, is based on a convention of seeing/ reading, a configuration of the gaze, which determines the way in which 'objects' become visible. By shifting the auctorial point of view here, Matiasek thematises the blind spot hidden in each focus. Whether it be arresting a moment in time, or quoting from an event by picking out a specific detail, the image deemed real can be read as a construct every time. The construction itself and its unobservable nature do not however become clear until we withdraw from the focus of the photograph or observation. By choosing a particular observatory configuration, or by suggesting a particular 'dispositif', mostly what is seen or found in a picture is that which we expect to see or find. 'In this way, the act of looking itself implies that it cannot be deceived'(6).

(...)

The question raised at the beginning as to our perception of an independent 'reality' is revealed in the approaches of these two artists as a desire captured in pictures, an unfulfillable phantom of reality, an image whose constructed exterior must always lead to divergence. 'The 'real' world only ever reveals itself where our constructions fail'(12). Every gaze, every representation of reality contains a constituent blind spot, in which reality eludes reproduction. Real is whatever the image is not, as it were. ''Real' means that whatever is real contains and maintains an intrinsic remnant of the non-describable, the indescribable. This remnant can be imagined as residue or boundary, but also as resource and resistance'(13).

It is this resource, the element of indeterminacy immanenet in every gaze and every concept of reality, which always leads to new differences within the order of reality/ ies, the 'ways of creating the world' (Goodman). The final reference, the desire for an 'ultimate reality', a 'conclusive unity' is therefore deferred into a realm which eludes observation. Its unobservable nature is however precisely that which makes us go on searching, 'that which guarantees that operations can be (autopoietically) continued'(14): ON EXIT FRAME GO LOOP.


(1) Gerhard Roth: Realität und Wirklichkeit. In: Gerhard Roth (ed.): Das Gehirn und seine Wirklichkeit. Suhrkamp Publishers, Frankfurt am Main 1997, p. 317
(2) Paul Watzlawick, Franz Kreuzer (eds.): Die Unsicherheit unserer Wirklichkeit. Piper Publishers, Munich 1988, p. 50
(3) Carol Armstrong: Der Mond als Fotografie. In: Herta Wolf (ed.): Diskurse der Fotografie. Suhrkamp Publishers, Frankfurt am Main 2003, p. 361
(4) Ibid., pp. 368, 380
(5) Allan Sekula: Der Körper und das Archiv. In: Herta Wolf (ed.): Diskurse der Fotografie. Suhrkamp Publishers, Frankfurt am Main 2003, p. 286
(6) Bernhard J. Dotzler: Bildkonstruktionen der Wissenschaft. In: Michael Erlhoff, Hans Ulrich Reck (eds.): Heute ist Morgen. Über die Zukunft von Erfahrung und Konstruktion. Hatje Cantz Publishers, Ostfildern 2000, p. 27
(12) Ernst von Glasersfeld: Einführung in den radikalen Konstruktivismus. In: Paul Watzlawick (ed.): Die erfundene Wirklichkeit. Piper Publishers, Munich 1981, p. 37
(13) Hans Ulrich Reck: Flügelschlag der Sehnsucht. Ein Versuch über das Ephemere und das Denken. In: Michael Erlhoff, Hans Ulrich Reck (eds.): Heute ist Morgen. Über die Zukunft von Erfahrung und Konstruktion. Hatje Cantz Publishers, Ostfildern 2000, p. 181
(14) Niklas Luhmann: Die Beobachtung erster und die Beobachtung zweiter Ordnung. In: Niklas Luhmann (ed.): Die Kunst der Gesellschaft. Suhrkamp Publishers, Frankfurt am Main 1997, p. 103


In: David Komary (ed.): dreizehnzwei 2003-2008 - selected exhibitions. Exhibition catalogue, Kunstraum dreizehnzwei, Vienna. Schlebrügge Editor, Vienna 2008, pp. 26-32