duchamp, nude descending a staircase no.2

The radical changes in the conditions of visuality under the Anthropocene have brought a new subject position, announced by the reformulating trajectories between impressionism and cubism, and those between cubism and experimental film. While cubism culminated with the antihumanist rupture of the picture plane and converted the visual object, along with surrealism, into “manifestation,” “event,” “symptom,” and “hallucination,” experimental film introduced a mechanical, posthuman eye conveying solipsistic images at the sensorimotor level of perception. The consequence of these developments is that images, as opposed to being subject to our “beliefs,” or being objects of contemplation and beauty, came to be perceived as “the extant.” This involves a passage from representation to presentation, that is, instead of showing a perpetual present in a parallel temporality in order to make the absent partially present, the image has become sheer presence, immediacy: the here and now in real time. Made up of particles of time, wrested out of sensation and turned into cognition, the image deals more with concepts and saying than with intuition and showing.

With its break from the Renaissance point of view, cubism decomposed anthropomorphism. Based on linear perspective, Renaissance perspective had normalized a viewing position as a centered, one-eyed static entity within a mathematical, homogenous space. Creating the illusion of a view to the outside world, Renaissance perspective made the pictorial plane analogous to a window. Images constructed with traditional perspective bestow identities and subjects given a priori, configured by the point of view provided by the picture plane. Cubism, in contrast, turned space, time, and the subject upside down, redefining spatial experience by rupturing the picture plane.5 If classical representation conveys a continuous space, cubism invented discontinuous space by subverting the relations between subject and object, making identity and difference relative, questioning classical metaphysics. The cubist image renewed the image of the world by dissociating gaze, subject, and space, but without estranging them from each other, bringing about a new, antihumanist subject position.6 Moreover, with cubism, temporality—duration—and a multiplicity of points of view became embedded in the picture plane.

With North American experimental (or structural) film in the 1960s and 1970s, notably influenced by Andy Warhol’s filmic work, duration became a key component of aesthetic experience, grounded in an exploration of the filmic apparatus and seeking to make it analogous to human consciousness. By creating cinematic equivalents or metaphors of consciousness, experimental film brought about a prosthetic vision giving way to solipsistic visual experiences.7 A futuristic technoscape, Michael Snow’s experimental film La Région centrale (1971) is exemplary in this regard. In the film (as in all of his work), Snow explores the genetic properties of the filmic apparatus, using it to intensify and diminish aspects of normal vision. La Région centrale shows images from the wilderness collected by a machine specifically designed to shoot the film (De La). The machine was able to move in all directions, turn around 360 degrees, and zoom in and out, reaching places no human eye could perceive before. The resulting footage was independent of any human decisions and framing vision: a three-and-a-half hour topological exploration of the wilderness, a “gigantic landscape.”


Because De La extracts gravity from the situation as well as human (preconstructed or given) referential points of view, La Région hypostazises the cubist relativization of identity and difference and its rejection of a priori space. Furthermore, the film puts forth an experience of matter within, decentering the subject, which is constituted by the experience of the work itself. To paraphrase Rosalind Krauss on minimalism, the film subverts the notion of a stable structure that could mirror the viewer’s own self—a self that is completely constituted prior to experience. That is to say, the film formulates a notion of self that exists only at the moment of externality of that particular experience.9 By presenting every possible position of the framing-camera in relationship to itself, La Région releases the subject from its human coordinates, creating a “space without reference points where the ground and the sky, the horizontal and the vertical inter-exchange.”10 The references to human coordinates are the screen’s rectangular frame and the breaks made by the intermittent appearance of a big glowing yellow “X” against a black screen. Every time the X comes up, it fixes the screen and transfers the movement in a different way or direction; thus, the Xs are the point of view embodying the apprehension of the passage from chaos to form. In viewing the film, the present is experienced as immediacy, a pure phenomenological consciousness without the contamination of historical or a priori meaning; the world is thus experienced as self-sufficient, pure presence, foregrounding an awareness of the presence of the viewer’s own perceptual processes. As Snow stated:

My films are experiences: real experiences … The structure is obviously important, and one describes it because it’s more easily describable than other aspects, but the shape, with all the other elements, adds up to something which can’t be said verbally and that’s why the work is, why it exists.11

In general, experimental film sought to posit alternatives to the mimetical inscription of lived experience into simulacral images (signs) by artistic neovanguardist practices that came to be embedded within the logic of spectacle—not in order to dislodge subjectivity (early modernism) or to constitute subjects by mapping out signs (postmodernism), but by exploring through film the conditions of cognition and perception. And while there is something in the image delivered by La Région that shares something with the condition of thought, it yields a solipsistic subject at the genetic level of perception; beyond auditory or optical perceptions, it delivers motor-sensory perceptions.12 Therefore, the machine delivers a posthuman, prosthetic enhancement of vision, inaugurating three important developments in the history of perception.

First, the machine introduces the incipient normalization of perception as augmented reality and the solipsistic visualization of data. Second, as Donna Haraway posited, the prosthetic enhancement of vision brings about the notion of limitlessness and an “unregulated gluttony” that desires to see everything from nowhere, spreading the assumption that anything can and is seen.13 Third, with La Région, machinic vision becomes an epistemological product of a centered human point of view (with the Xs) without stable reference points, foregrounding the conditions of contemporary visuality. While cubism embodies the antihumanist scission of the subject and the possibility of the construction of many psychical planes, La Région embodies the displacement of the human agent from the subjective center of operations.14 Both epitomize modernity’s fragmentation by mechanization, its alienating character, its inability to give back an image or to serve as a reflective mirror—it can never do this because the antihumanist image is indifferent to me.15 And yet, this was always going to be the fate of an image and of art based on contemplation. These works also attest to the fact that the foundational experience of modernity is to refuse, in advance, the “given” as a ground for thought.16

from “conditions of visuality under the anthropocene and images of the anthropocene to come”, irmgard emmelhainz, e-flux.com

read previous post on la region centrale here