Monday, June 23, 2014

On Dead Things and Scannerwerk

Looking at Hanne Sharkey's Scannerwerk, (   (I have decided to call it that, without consultation with the artist.) the first question that comes to mind is how to place the images. They are all in blank space, hanging in the void, except the image of the mouse held in Hanne's hand. I shall come to that in a while. Looking at the remaining three, hanging dismembered and obviously dead in the void becomes an intellectual exercise for they are like insects encased in amber. One does not wonder how they died, or how they ended up hanging in the void. They are presented to me, and I look at them as such.

Hanne Sharkey Scannerwerk, Exploded Bird (?)

The question then becomes, to what end? Is it an exercise in composition? Is it a statement about life, or worse, about the artist's life? Since I am not a psychoanalyst, and don't really care much for unloading my interpretation of symbols on people, unless terribly pertinent, I shall look at them as platonically removed from ideal form. For example, look at the image with the bird and the feathers strewn around it. If the bird was not obviously flattened, one would almost argue it was flying, with some vigor, since it shed feathers. Let us go further down the platonic path.

All images, and indeed all artwork, are like onions (all good ones at least). They have many layers, meant to be analysed, consumed, wept over, in succession. You can not claim to reach the middle before you have consumed the first layer. Here, in the work, looking again at the Exploded Bird (for a want of a better title, since none were supplied), the first layer we see is that of a bird, almost in flight, or at the moment of its death, like Robert Capa's image of the dying spanish loyalist.

Robert Capa; The Falling Soldier

The feathers at the same time give the impression of movement, even though they are static (most probably because the bird is in such a dynamic pose), but also of clouds in a starless night. It is as if the image was taken in the wild, using an extraordinarily large flash, while trying to hunt the bird with ack ack guns.
The second layer we see, is of the bird, preserved in death, like a memento mori. It is dead, and now embalmed, preserved, in the photographic amber. Its death, as its life is commemorated surprisingly sympathetically. (for the scanner's light is passionless, cold, and objective. It refuses such artifice that a camera operator could use, like lighting set ups, and expressions.)
The third layer is that of platonic forms that the bird strikes. Is the bird the perfect bird? For only the perfect bird would deserve to be commemorated in life and death by such an image. It seems the bird was such a perfect bird, for it is reproduced in such detail. The bird has become a scientific specimen, for study by undergraduates in coldly lit biology labs, smelling of formaldehyde. Is the Sharkey Scanner such a lab? A biohazard site that dissects roadkill for the progression of art?
The fourth layer is that of the compositional forms. The image can be reduced to abstract forms.
The compositional weight on the lower left of the quadrilateral is balanced by the overextended speckled line, whimsical, that extends to the top right. The red and yellow circle in the the quadrilateral is mirrored by the speckles in the line, almost desaturated versions of the red yellow circle.
So on and so forth do the layers progress.
In such a manner, can all images in Hanne Sharkey's Scannerwerk, and indeed all image be analysed.

What strikes me is the singular image of the dead mouse held in a disembodied hand. I invite you to peel apart the image onion here. Do it for your own edification.

Done? Ok. Now what strikes me as intriguing, and possibally as a progression from the other three images, is the use of the hand, which supposedly belongs to Hanne. We can't know, and we don't really need to know (atleast for this analysis. A critic who works with the theories of Lacan, or a surrealist would have a field day). What is important here is that the hand grounds the image. The rat is no longer in space. It is held by a hand. It is held tenderly, in an almost motherly manner. The blood could have buggered that impression, but it is not the hand of the murderer that is holding the mouse. It is the hand of the person who interred it. The image no longer feels like a lab tray, reeking of formaldehyde. Now, it is a intimate sight. The grey aura that surrounds the hand before the black field has permeated the mood of the image, while the slightly nicotine stained nails speak of sadness that permeates the to be funeral. It is as if in its final moments, the rat curled up in the hand for warmth. Of all four, this is possibly the most emotional photo.

The question now becomes not one of merit, for it is obviously there, but of how. The use of a scanner versus that of a camera is interesting, and indeed pertinent to the discussion. Arguments, valid, could be made that a scanner is a camera. It is, but a camera less mediated by a human. It is cold, objective. It supplies its own light, doing away with the photographers tricks of modulating light. The light is cold, straight, direct and revealing. A scanner's camera, with its constant movement is like a scalpel, cutting the image into sections, recording it, and then mashing it together to create the finished image. In doing so, it brings about an image that is more then the subject. It is a mechanically examined image, that puts the subject to closer scrutiny then the naked eye can provide.
The scanner photography project comes to mind1, where the image is not only a record of the subject, but also its motion, vis a vis time. Inadvertently, the scanner has granted the image another dimension. Some might argue that the same dimensionality is also given to a camera image after a long exposure, but that is not the case. Possibly the closest analogue  to photographs taken by scanners would be images of racing cars taken by Lartigue, with the oval shaped wheels2

Jacques Henri Lartigue

It then becomes a question, whether Hanne, by using a scanner, is a photographer, or something else. By loose definition, I could concede that yes, she is a photographer, because she is creating images using a camera. However, I would argue that the images are photographic only in the “look”. In the sense of creating images, she is not a traditional photographer. She arranges the subject on a surface, and then lets the technology take care of the rest. That in no way is me denigrating her process. It is instead, an alternative avenue to image making. The image making process is mediated by a machine, that has no emotional bias (the question of whether it is biased towards one subject or another is a separate topic, and in short, I think, Yes. More on that in some other essay.) Thus, the image created in this man machine interface, while separated from the artist's intent by the machine interface, gains a life of its own, precisely because it is separated in such a manner. [More on this topic in later posts. Still developing this idea. Look forward to thoughts on a scanner vs a camera, and their artistic potential, used separately, or in conjunction.]
As for the four photos, I would argue they have merit individually. As a group, there is only trivial coherence, due to the subject matter. Simply putting dead things together not a series make. But I have a feeling that this is not a series yet, but a group of images, that are a work in progress. And a series of work that shows much potential.


2  The oval images were because of the shutter, which would lead to different parts of film being exposed at different times

No comments: