The Image in Its Absence

Auteur / Author: 
Johanna MALT (King’s College London, Angleterre)
Jeudi 25 Août 2011 - 15:15


This paper will explore the notion of the second-order image in relation to casts, imprints and traces in modern and contemporary art. Casting and the making of impressions emerge in the twentieth century as artistic practices in their own right, having previously mainly formed part of the artist’s training, or been seen as “lower” forms of representation, achieved by mechanical copying and resulting in objects that are at once too specific and too generic to be works of art. Modern artists (including Duchamp, Dali, Bryen, Penone, Convert, Quinn and Whiteread) exploit these practices in many ways, but the resulting works share a preoccupation with presence and absence, and are often read in terms of loss, nostalgia and melancholia. They are indices, recording a moment of presence now lost, and as such also lay a secular claim to the logic of the holy relic. 
My paper will examine what is at stake for the viewer in constructing an object by its absence. For if the absent thing or body which has left its trace can be seen as a second-order presence, channelled through a talismanic object marked by touch, it is also a second-order image. For Sartre, in L’Imaginaire, all experience of art, insofar as it involves the imagination, entails constructing something by an act of negation; by the negation of the world which does not contain the thing imagined. The material “support” of the work of art is thus doubled by the work itself, which is “un irréel”, not reducible to that support, existing not in the mode of “conscience réalisante” but that of “conscience imageante”. These indexical works using casts and traces literalise this doubling of the real object by an absent imaginary one, and, I will argue, allow us to reflect (without passing through language?) on what we are doing when we look at any work of art.