[Catalogue essay for Moritz Gaede's exhibition Stills, at Eye Level Gallery in Halifax, September 1993. Moritz was a classmate of mine at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.]


My Future Plans


My Future Plans

One of the things I plan to do in the future — maybe as soon as I get this little essay for Moritz's catalogue out of the way — is write a piece on the relationship between images and language. In it I will maintain that visual art exists primarily to generate streams of words, each image functioning as a machine of discourse production.



When Language Fails

When language fails us — when we are tongue-tied, tired of speaking, verging on territories as yet spoken — we are forced to sketch out a diagram. When this little doodle is sitting in front of us we can take a deep breath and begin again. We can be more focused now in the sentences that leave our mouths. We are ready to articulate a single new idea.



A Map is a Tool (Not a Machine)

Every image is a map leading through, toward, or around troublesome or problematic language.



Pathological Language

When the hero of Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World says "images are a disease, words heal," he's made a common enough mistake. It's not that images themselves are a disease. But if we see too many of them and don't have the chance to kick back and begin talking we will forget who we are. The organism will become woozy, tipping into some kind of vertiginous identity crisis.



Call of the Wild

There is nothing outside of language. Ask anyone and they will tell you the same. Ask the dolphin, the beaver, the cockroach.




Some artists combine language with image. Gaede is one of these. A single word is placed below a photographic image, etched in glass. Together the word and image set up a system of resonance — each piece is a machine for producing lyrical overtones.




From Charles Kahn's The Art and Thought of Heraclitus:

By "linguistic density" I mean the phenomenon by which a multiplicity of ideas are expressed in a single word or phrase. By "resonance" I mean a relationship between fragments by which a single verbal theme or image is echoed from one text to another in such a way that the meaning of each is enriched when they are understood together. These two principles are formally complementary: resonance is one factor for making the density of any particular text; and conversely, it is because of the density of the text that resonance is possible.



Lyric Machine

The words etched into the glass must be pretty close to the top of the linguistic density scale: utterance, horizon, echo, resonance, figure, moment, twilight, abstraction, mask, freedom, secret. Some of the words might seem to be an instruction for analyzing the image. Others initially may appear as straightforward captions: now it is twilight; this is a mask; here is a statue being transformed by fungus from the concrete to the abstract. But the works do not yield to such simple analysis. Analysis is linear, unidimensional. In analysis, integration does not occur. These works, despite the formal simplicity of the word/image juxtaposition, are polydimensional. They are traps, inviting intellectual analysis but producing instead an experience of a different order — they are a simple apparatus for the production of a bipolar resonance, a machine for contemplation. A lyric machine.



Perpetuum Mobile

The machine runs on the same fuel as all lyrical works: the intuition of coherence. We are forced to consider the relationship between image and word. Whereas Surrealism works from (supposedly) arbitrary juxtapositions, Gaede's are deliberate, carefully considered, constructed (rather than written) as short lyric poems are constructed (rather than written). And because intuition of coherence is not fossil fuel but an endlessly renewable resource, the apparatus can resonate indefinitely for each viewer.



Language as Lack

Lyric strives for the whole in a single gesture. It strives to express the inexpressible experience of being in the world. As Guy Davenport has written: "The real world is what is left unsaid when we have said everything." This corresponds to Lacan's register of the Real, which is constituted by those aspects of being which have been excluded from language (the Symbolic). As Jan Zwicky writes (without direct reference to Lacan) in her Lyric Philosophy:

Lyric is a direct response to the fact that the particular capacity for language-use possessed by our species cuts us off from the world in a way, or to a degree, that is painful.
We experience the burden of our capacity for language as loss — though we rarely recognize that this is the burden, that what we have lost is silence.
Lyric art is the fullest expression of the hunger for wordlessness.




In this work of Gaede's a single highly charged word is used to create silence, to stop the flow of sentences that might otherwise be produced by the photographic images.




The various types of language disorders resulting from brain damage are known as the aphasias. For most of this century suspected aphasics have been put in little rooms and asked to sort vari-coloured skeins of wool. Those with a certain type of aphasia cannot sort the wool by colour even though they are not colour blind. They have lost the ability to use abstract language — they cannot recognize red because the concept "red" means nothing to them. However if the colour is made concrete, if "cherry red" is referred to instead of just "red," the aphasic will understand.

Aphasics are often frustrated that they can no longer experience their physical selves in time and space as they once did. Without the ability to name things consciousness becomes a jumble of undirected, meaningless images they feel they have no relation to.

If we are to say that an image of an apple with the word "apple" printed on it is anti-aphasic, Gaede's work could be described as simultaneously aphasic and anti-aphasic. (Or a cruel riddle for aphasics.) In his work language is used to pin an image to a particular consciousness. But this anti-aphasic movement is countered. The words used in the word/image juxtapositions are sufficiently abstract that they reproduce a type of aphasic reaction in the viewer, a disorientation.

The idea "red" may be difficult for some aphasics to attach to a skein of wool; the idea "horizon" impossibly difficult. Many of the words Gaede uses in these works are both concrete and abstract, both caption and clue. These words flip and slide. In their relationship to the images, they carry the weight of possible but unrealizable narratives. The words are an addition: a construction, a fictionalization, a riddle that would serve as an explanation if only we could solve it. They are the mark of a consciousness terrorized by language, by the inescapable manner in which language co-opts all perception and will not let us just be.