“Latency is the introduction to the possible, to the state of becoming.”–Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige
Photography has strange qualities. These qualities highlight, or rather, obscure the natural process of memory. What is the mediation at work between seeing and remembering? Art has always placed an emphasis on seeing, determined to collapse the natural boundaries of the eye. Seeing as representing and thus as transforming, disfiguring and interpreting. Remembering, on the other hand, is to make sense of the original, in the crudest immediacy of its unfurling; to a certain degree remembering implies to cease from seeing. Cutting a frame out of the singularity of an event and freezing it. While apparently dynamic, memories remain fixed in a timeless chamber, at the same time that the objective content of what is being remembered is in constant flux and subject to change.
One thinks always of family albums; the sacred vessel of collective memories. Photographs are about both seeing and remembering. We’re allowed to see in them things that have passed, and also those that no longer exist; things that have been long destroyed. The photographic accident is less stable than the pictorial eye. It presents truths, yes, but it is only because of that that they’re alterable and even falsifiable. One of the things I most vividly remember from my childhood was flying a kite with my father and brother. My father used to spend days making the perfect kite from scratch, with wood and string and thick plastic film. Then we drove to the highlands, between the mountains and a lake, and flew the kite for the entire day. When I grew tired, I ran into the forest, picking up pine cones and sleeping on a carpet of grass looking into the white enamel sky.
Years later, when I had forgotten about the kite, I learnt that the mountain had been the scenario of fierce gun battles while I was away, and then I suddenly wanted to remember it. In detective-like form, I scanned dozens of family albums through the years, trying to find the photographs that would match my memories. To my disappointment they were all blurred and out of focus; lacking the immensity that I thought they had. I wanted to re-arrange them in different orders and manipulate the details in such a way that my memories would come back to life. I hadn’t thought about it for several years until I saw Turkish artist Lara Ögel’s exhibition “1+1=3.” Ögel nevertheless is not a photographer, but a skilled archivist that collects not photographs but images as they’re being discarded. Her practice is not to retrieve the past but to re-stage the owner-less.
Every discarded photograph is already a ruin, and a monument to the impermanence of the things we see. By collecting discarded photographs and re-assembling them, removing them from their emotional ecosystem, Lara Ögel is not attempting to preserve the ruin in the way one would collect the past or how an archaeologist would reconstruct the lives of others. Her practice irrupts in the cycle of memory and challenges—often with violence—the ownership not of the photograph but the original image. While materiality remains and is easily adaptable to new configurations, the original image remains remotely unavailable not only since the moment it has been discarded but since the irruption of the event itself. The labor of memory is set in motion only once the absolute extension of the instant has disappeared into a transition; only then can images really appear.
In different series, and particularly in “A Series of Reactions”, Lara Ögel is performing the task of writing, a writing inscribed at the margins of art, but this writing is not simply annotating but rather what Derrida calls “écriture” (scripture rather than writing): The time of the photograph and the spatial generosity of her drawing and painting merge into a linguistic continuum. The latent temporality of the image is showing through in such a way that the image is no longer equal to itself; hence the title of the exhibition 1+1=3. Two juxtaposed images mutate into a third, whose origin is unknown and whose referent is neither of the two images but a point in time that remains undisclosed also to the artist. From the perspective of the viewer the photograph doesn’t stand still; it opens as a question mark once its objective past has been resolutely closed by interpretations.
Lebanese artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige have articulated what latency means in photography: “Latency is the state of what exists in a non-apparent manner, but which can manifest itself at any given moment. It is the time elapsed between the stimuli and the corresponding response. The latent image is the invisible, yet-to-be developed image on an impressed surface. The idea is that of the ‘dormant’ – slumber, slumbering – like something asleep, which might awake at any moment.” Ögel’s latency is not present in the actual instant of the photograph but on the labor of collecting the uncollectable, for it has been already discarded and forgotten. Thus: “It is not a defined territory, but a diffused state, uncontrollable, underground, as if lurking, as if all could resurface anew.”
The risk here is not having lost the original images—for these images are not original, but finding the archive of the present more true to the referents than the original. I often toyed with the idea of sending Lara Ögel photographs from my father’s kite in the hope that she would scissor the kite out of the fog and the yellowing print, and re-insert it into pristine landscapes. At other times I thought that maybe one day she would find photographs with the landscapes of Bahrain, the last place where I lived, and without knowing she would re-stage them with other memories, scissoring out the original faces or covering them with letters that another anonymous and owner-less photograph, received once. What would be the result? Perhaps it wouldn’t be truer, but most probably very loyal to the way we would like our memories to become present to ourselves.
The visual element in 1+1=3 was strong but minimal and by no means defining. The strength is derived from elsewhere than optics; here latency is based not on the objective content of images but on the possibility that they are not closed visual fields. It is not the disappearance or absence what makes her interventions latent, but rather a presence that can only be confirmed by tearing apart, scissoring, scribing over. Her notebooks are very personal, riddled with the curiosity of an onlooker that does not want to save the image from being discarded; contrariwise she is further contaminating the image and freezing it at the moment of its extinction. The extinction however is never complete and the artist is fully aware of this latency: The truth of the image is likely to be revealed at any moment. Images cannot be ultimately discarded. Sometimes they come back and haunt us.
1+1=3 by Lara Ögel was on show at the atelier UNKNOWN, April 28-30, 2013. Images 3 & 4 courtesy of Zeynep Beler.
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