[De]Code: Images and Their Structures

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How do we decode the images that we see? For example, when we look at an image, how do we distinguish an object from the space surrounding it? How do we know whether the image depicts a part or a whole? How do we infer its temporality? By what means do we interpret its scale?

This exhibition gathers together books filled with images that ask these questions and, in some cases, force viewers to test their own presumed answers. The featured works refer out to the world and into themselves, each functioning both representationally and self-referentially. These thirteen books comprise a view into systems of image-making and image-reception that is less comprehensive than it is exemplary; less scientific than it is anecdotal. Yet this arrangement of disparate materials helps to elucidate a truly fundamental concept: the images we encounter can never be neutral.

Curated and designed by Anna Fishaut

Selected Works

60 Fotos, L. Moholy-Nagy (1930)
L. Moholy-Nagy: 60 Fotos
Edited by Franz Roh
Berlin: Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1930
TR650 .M6178 1930 ARTLCKS
Palais du Louvre et des Tuileries, Edouard Baldus (ca. 1875)
Palais du Louvre et des Tuileries: Motifs de Décoration Intérieure et Extérieure
Heliogravures by E. Baldus
Paris: Ve A. Morel & Cie, [1875?]
N2030 .B25 1875 PT.1 ARTLCKL
Isometric Systems in Isotropic Space, Agnes Denes (1979)
Isometric Systems in Isotropic Space: Map Projections from the Study of Distortions Series, 1973-1979
By Agnes Denes
Rochester, N.Y.: Visual Studies Workshop Press: Distributed by the Book Bus, Visual Studies Workshop, 1979
N7433.4 .D45 A4 1979 ARTLCKS
Picturesque Views in England and Wales, J.M.W. Turner and H.E. Lloyd (1832-1838)
Picturesque Views in England and Wales
From drawings by J.M.W. Turner
With descriptive and historic illustrations by H.E. Lloyd
London: Moon, Boys, and Graves, 1832-1838
NC242.T9 A4 1832 F V.1 ARTLCKM
Christo: Running Fence, Gianfranco Gorgoni/Calvin Tomkins/David Bourdon (1978)
Christo: Running Fence: Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-1976
Photographs by Gianfranco Gorgoni
Chronicle by Calvin Tomkins
Narrative text by David Bourdon
New York: Abrams, 1978
N7193.C5 A44 F ARTLCKM

Additional works on view:

Paul Cézanne Sketchbook, 1875-1885 [facsimile reprint]
Introduction by John Rewald
Translated from the French by Olivier Bernier
New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1982
NC248.C37 A4 1982 ARTLCKS

Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line: Best of Thirty-Six Attempts By John Baldessari
Milano: Giampaolo Prearo/Galleria Toselli, 1973
TR654 .B273 1973 ARTLCKM

Svolgere la Propria Pelle 1970
By Giuseppe Penone
Edited by Franco Mello
Photographs by Claudio Basso
Torino: Sperone, 1971
N7433.4 .P46 S86 1971 ARTLCKS

128 Details from a Picture (Halifax 1978)
By Gerhard Richter
Halifax, Nova Scotia: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1980
TR658 .R53 1980 ARTLCKS

Fuchun san jü tu [facsimile reprint]
By Huang Gongwang
Tokyo: Nigensha, Showa 56 [1981]
ND1049 .H917 A64 1981 F ARTLCKL

The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite
By James Nasmyth and James Carpenter
London: John Murray, 1885
QB581 .N2 1885 ARTLCKS

The Things that Animals Care About, and
By John Gossage
Tucson, Ariz.: Nazraeli Press, 1998
N7433.4 .G68 T55 1998 ARTLCKM

Clea Rsky
By Bruce Nauman
S.l.: s.n., 1969?
N7433.4 .N299 C62 1969 ARTLCKM

Space / Solid

60 Fotos, L. Moholy-Nagy (1930) A viewer’s ability to discern a specific element within an image is dependent upon that element’s contrast with the objects or spaces or shadows that surround it, a juxtaposition that is guided by the composing hand of the image-maker. The relationship between the object and its visual environment is a single, silent element in a more complex arrangement. But when an artist makes this relationship a primary theme, the image assumes a self-reflexive quality. The viewer is asked not to take this pictorial element for granted, but to view the image as a constructed zone.

In the case:

60 Fotos (1930), published as the first number of Franz Roh’s series, Fototek, was an occasion for László Moholy-Nagy to demonstrate a modernized, re-sensitized, and utopic mode of image production. The eyes could see, but the camera could create new visual relationships and extend the possibilities of the human visual system. Most notable in the present context are his photograms and inverted images, both of which give a deep concreteness to that which is typically light—space, highlights—and an ethereal airiness to objects usually grounded by their solidity.

Removing the transparency of the space that surrounds objects was one of Paul Cézanne’s primary projects. His sketchbook from the years 1875-1885, filled with lines and cross-hatchings, shows evidence of his consistent consideration of what it is that defines a landscape, a chair, a rose, a sleeping child. Conversely, it is evidence of his investigation into what defines the space that surrounds these pictorial elements.

John Baldessari’s humorous set of photos entitled Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line (Best of Thirty-Six Attempts) (1973) is less explicitly investigative [of?]the positive and the negative than the two works above, yet its treatment of the subject is actually quite dynamic. If there is a straight line formed by three balls in the air, Baldessari’s project seems to ask, does it exist when one looks from a different angle, or does that [implied] solid structure—the line—simply disintegrate? How does solidity hold together, especially when alternate views suggest its contingency? When does solidity simply fade back into space?

Near / Far

Clea Rsky, Bruce Nauman (1969) Images that take the proximate or the distant as their foci are a common part of visual culture; in the simplest and most traditional of terms, they are still-lifes and landscapes. Less common are images that have been created to complicate the difference between these two views, or to force a view that is so near or distant as to make the viewing convention strange.

In the case:

Agnes Denes’s Isometric Systems in Isotropic Space: Map Projections from the Study of Distortions Series, 1973-1979 (1979) is composed of drawings that superimpose the ultimate landscape—the globe—upon objects that are of an intensely human, still-life scale: “the egg;” “the hot dog,” “the snail;” “the lemon;” “the doughnut.” The resulting drawings are playful yet mathematically precise: schematic drawings of impossible concepts.

The scientific text The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite (1885), jointly authored by James Nasmyth and James Carpenter and first published in 1874, is a particularly peculiar instance of the near and the distant intertwining. The pristine photographs that seem to document the moon’s craters and mountains are actually of intricate plaster models made by Namyth; the scale (in miles) indicated at the bottom of most of the images is therefore at once instructive and illusory.

Bruce Nauman’s artist’s book Clea Rsky (1969) is a set of views without scale; the blue, cloudless atmospheres could be anywhere, to and from any height. Or they could be nothing but planes of blue, not distant skies at all; views without focus.

The Things that Animals Care About, and (1998), a set of photographs by John Gossage, relies upon its title to make its subject clear and its strangeness apparent. The black-and-white views of weeds, clouds, and trees become defamiliarized as Gossage imposes the perspective of an animal upon the viewer. For what is low down at the ground for a human could be body-height and straight ahead for a rabbit or insect; what is for us distant but fathomable could be for it remote, unknown.

Static / Dynamic

Fuchun shan jü tu, Huang Gongwang (ca. 1347-50) A painting or drawing, photograph or print is a still image, unanimated in any literal sense. It’s natural, therefore, to assume that the image is figuratively still, too. But images incorporate traces of time in one way or another; almost without exception. The three works shown here, all panoramic landscapes, illustrate this point by presenting sweeping views with breadths (physical or conceptual) so extreme that they seem to extend into time. Each presents a view that has a surface—a subject and an image—but point toward a depth—a second point of encounter. Interpreting this type of view is often a two-step process: a glance at the surface, then an entry into it.

In the case:

Huang Gongwang’s Yüan Dynasty handscroll Fuchun shan jü tu (Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains) (ca. 1347-50) is a panorama that was not meant to be viewed in its entirety in a single glance. Fourteenth-century viewers would have understood that the process of unrolling and re-rolling the scroll was an integral element to understanding the depicted landscape. The result was (and certainly continues to be) an image that combines physical and mental motion. It is a visual presentation and procedural exercise of what the artist and his Taoist contemporaries considered their philosophical roles in the physical landscape.

In his Picturesque Views in England and Wales (1832-38), J. M. W. Turner illustrates scenes that he and his colleagues would classify as picturesque; that is, views dramatic, wild, vast, and, most importantly, suitable for translation into a painted image. On a second level, however, Turner’s inclusion of human figures within each scene allows the viewer to assume a vicarious place within the image. Upon taking this place, the viewer can approach the view on a vastly larger scale than could ever fit on a canvas or a page. This requires a great conceptual leap: from observation to participation.

Christo’s Running Fence (1976) is a panoramic work that not only implies vast scale but embodies it. It is ungraspable in a single moment because such a breadth of view is not humanly possible (except for perhaps from the air). The project’s presentation in book form (entitled Christo: Running Fence: Sonoma and Marin Counties, 1972-76 (1978)) is therefore a weak approximation of what it must have been like to view the bands of white fabric streaming across Northern California—yet it is also, in fact, its own rich, unique view. The documents and essays housed within the book provide a deep context for the project and its conceptual duration (four years in length). The ideas and controversies leading to the work become abstract panoramas in their own right.

Part / Whole

Svolgere la Propria Pelle, Giuseppe Penone (1972) An image, if it is meant to be representational, is necessarily only a segment of what the view could have been. What exists in the world (or in the artist’s mind) before representation must be bounded somehow if it is to be represented. The three works here bring that issue to the fore. Each is a set of details in book form that is meant to be viewed collectively. As such each book asks: Can all of these individual segments constitute a whole? What is that whole?

In the case:

Gerhard Richter’s 128 Details from a Picture (Halifax 1978) (1980) is a collection of close-ups of a painting by the artist. By virtue of the book’s title and the placement of four images on each page spread, it is clear that no detail is meant to be viewed as a discrete entity. Yet the implied whole that they jointly represent, the “Picture” whose own title is never given, is withheld and must exist outside of the pages—an abstraction.

During the construction of the New Louvre in the late 1850s, Édouard Baldus photographed each new, distinct architectural element before it was applied to one of the buildings. The results are compiled in three vast volumes, Palais du Louvre et des Tuileries: Motifs de Décoration Intérieure et Extérieure (ca. 1875), in which each detail, floating on a black or white background, is given its own page. Because they eventually became parts of larger architectural structures, the details’ existence as discrete, ghostly and background-less still lifes no longer has [have] any grounding in reality. The subsequent totality that they helped to form has subsumed the elements.

Svolgere la Propria Pelle (To Unroll One’s Skin) (1972), Giuseppe Penone’s inch-by-inch documentation of the surface of his body, is equal parts abstract and representational. Pressed under a piece of glass, each sample of skin becomes disembodied; when one envisions the samples reconstituted, it is, perhaps, into a human that lacks any specific identity. Penone has created a new anonymity.

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