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I heard Barrett Whatten speak a few months ago, a presentation he called “Against Ekphrasis.” I have been trying to come to terms with this idea since then. Ekphrasis has many extended connotations and nuances of meaning, but its base definition denotes poetry or poetic writing that provokes highly visual imagery. “Against ekphrasis” is a stance that claims the concreteness of words on their own terms: the word “red,” for example, referring not to the color, but to the word. When you extend this idea to media other than words, it leads to an examination of the meaning inherent in the medium itself, stripping away all metaphor and symbolism. (And from here it is a small step to musing about the idea itself as a concrete entity, independent of any referrent – but I digress.)

Yet I pause and wonder if this is altogether possible. Can we ever perceive the medium as sole content independent of its cultural role? Is it possible, for example, to view a photograph, not as a cultural object but as a collection of captured light?

Being an intermedia artist, I am particularly interested in the conceptual boundaries between things. In an installation when you place objects in the same room, they become related. By being in the same perceptual space, there exists between the objects an intermedium, itself a third meaning. Likewise, images seen together cause us to create meanings in their relationships. Words placed in the same perceptual space as these images multiply this effect. Working against ekphrasis, questioning assumed references, stripping away and examining the layers of acquired cultural meaning, is an important deconstructive step in the conceptual processes of creating artwork – it pops you into a new point of view. What really interests me, however, is the step beyond this deconstructive process, when the pieces are reconstructed to create something else.

“Five” video

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3 Comments

  1. This is interesting in that it is an idea that is presumably impossible in literal practice (i.e.,figuratively stripping a word of it’s meaning and treating it as new material, or material that is untouched by previous conceptions) but can, perhaps, yield some artistic fruit within it’s unviable pursuit.

    I found the video interesting. The choice of imagery and pacing was spot on, causing me to interpret what I was seeing and then question my interpretations. It was interesting visually, psychologically, and intellectually. But, when I examine it though the lens of intellect, I realize that I am using your words to create a frame around the work which allows me to relate to it less on an emotive level and more on a analytic one. Therefore, the work becomes more interesting to me though a social context, and resultantly creates a backslide from the original idea, intent, or interest.

    Is this intentional? Interesting in it’s own circular existence? Or is this a hurdle that is to be overcome?

  2. Apparently this is one of those ideas that sticks with you…gnawing at your thoughts. I disagree with my earlier statement about the video not working once you place an intellectual framework around it. Thinking back to the initial watching, it causes you to be incredibly self-aware. You are conscious of forming words before they are formed on the screen, and conscious of applying meaning to the images before the words are complete. Therefore, you are experiencing the concept, and knowing the concept furthers it on an intellectual basis, which does, indeed, create some backslide. But in a conscious way, which is the key. Backslide may be the wrong term, because the experience is not negative…I think this concept of ekphrasis asks for a conscious awareness from both the viewer and the artist, rather than creating ‘art for arts sake.’ In that case, this video and essay combination was a success.

  3. I will answer circuitously. The written portion of the post, created after the video, was an attempt to capture some of the thoughts bouncing around in my head during the time I was making the video. In the process of writing the post, however, I realized that the post itself was another example of the intermedium that is created between things placed in the same space. Once you have read the post, it is impossible to view the video outside of this frame of reference. And this seemed to me an interesting reflection of what was going on in the video itself. So it is indeed rather circular–the prefix ‘meta-‘ comes to mind but I cannot think of the appropriate word to prefix with it. The relationship between the posted text and the video is an example of what the text is talking about which is the relationship between text and image in the video.

    I like the idea about experiencing the concept–that seems right.


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