Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jacques Rancière on Michael Fried

I mentioned Michael Fried here. I quote from Jacques Rancière's "Painting in the Text," one of the essays collected in his The Future of the Image (Verso, 2007, trans. Gregory Elliott, first published as Le destin des images, Editions La Fabrique, 2003). To be honest, I haven't digested his writings really well yet, but it appears interesting. Here he discusses about Albert Aurier's text on Gaugin's Vision du sermon, and then argues "The ideal plane of the painting is a theatre of de-figuration, a space of conversion where the relationship between words and visual forms anticipates visual de-figurations still to come." He goes on:

I have spoken of theatre. This is not a 'mere metaphor'. The arrangement in a circle of peasant women with their backs to the viewer, and absorbed by a distant spectacle,obviously puts us in mind of the ingenious analysis of Michael Fried, inventing a pictorial modernity conceived as anti-theatre, as an inversion of the motion of actors towards the audience. The obvious paradox is that this anti-theatre itself comes directly from the theatre--very precisely from the naturalist theory of the 'fourth wall' invented by a contemporary of Gaugin and Aurier: the theory of a dramatic action that would pretend to be invisible, to be viewed by no audience, to be nothing but life in its pure similarity to itself. But what need would life in its pure similarity, life 'not looked at', not made into a spectacle, have of speaking? The 'formalist' dream of a kind of painting that turns its back on the surface that is peculiar to it, could well be nothing but the other side of the same identitarian dream. A pure painting, clearly separate from 'spectacle', is not the 'interactive' site calling upon the audience to finish the work denounced by Fried. Theatre is first and foremost the space of visibility of speech, the space of problematic translations of what is said into what is seen. Accordingly, it is quite true, it is the site of expression of the impurity of art, the 'medium' which clearly shows that there is no peculiarity of art or of any art; that forms do not proceed without the words that install them in visibility. The 'theatrical' arrangement of Gaugin's peasant women establishes the 'flatness' of the painting only at the cost of making this surface an interface that transfers the images into the text and the text into the images. The surface is not wordless, is not without 'interpretations' that pictorialize it.

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