Monday 2 April 2018

Picture Post #35: An Omission in Addition

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Tessa den Uyl and Martin Cohen

Havana, Cuba 2018    Picture credit: Patrizia Ducci

As your eye enters this image, it moves between characters, names and signs that we recognise and do not recognise. We have some knowledge of some but not of others, and so, along our limited acknowledgment we move forth, leaping over the unknown parts.

Above a closed entrance on a building, seemingly in disuse, is written the word ‘circus’. Kirkos or krikos in ancient Greek, meaning something curved, something that is happening all around. In Latin, circus means circle. The idea of ‘something’ happening in a circle is whispered to us by the letters of   an alphabet that we happen to read.

What of the two portraits painted? One on each side of the entrance. They seem to enhance the bricks that should keep the outside from the inside. Yet these depictions do not seem to deal with whatever was the forgotten function of the building - if the word circus has, or once had, anything to do with the building at all.

Visible is a form of what is called decay, a melancholic deterioration that somehow relates the images and characters to ‘their’ past. And when a stranger sprouts in their midst, he does not seem to belong  with either the portraits or the building, far less with a circus.

And yet, the presence of the stranger completes this image in which past time is always present time. In this way, the stranger hands us the possibility of revisiting what we think to recognise, what we think we know, and rediscover it as more mysterious.


Keith said...

The eye has a lot to feast on in this image. So, where does the eye land? To begin, I was especially interested in the imposing photo — to the right of the doors of the seemingly shuttered building — of the master of surrealism, Salvador Dali. The self-portrait is iconic of Dali and his flamboyant style of art. I was drawn, probably predictably, to his infinity-shaped mustache — which, with the other features of his expression, evokes the vintage Dali. (The melting clocks variously seen in his art perhaps are a direct, if obvious, connection to the mustache’s playful shape.) Dali’s larger body of work — the depth and breadth of his portrayal of the subconscious mind — becomes an inevitable interest. That imagery prompts curiosity around Dali’s imaginative flights into the quintessentially surreal. There’s a reason, maybe, why Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” remains best known, with its depiction of how time can be experienced outside of science’s dispassionate description of time.

But what followed, for me, was a bit of a head-scratcher: I wondered if the portrait to the left is a young Dali, preening his mustache. And I wondered, more importantly, how the Dali self-portrait to the right — suggestive of his famous ‘psychotropic trips’ into the surreal — relates to Havana and Cuba, whose location is revealed by the image’s credit line. Might the explanation be as banal as a showing of Dali’s art in the building, which may not be shuttered after all? Might the explanation — admittedly itself an indulgence — be suggestive of Cuba’s own modern history, brought to dramatic life through the colorful likes of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara? Or might the explanation of Dali’s photo fall somewhere in-between the ‘banal’ and the ‘indulgent’? Of possibly related interest is the graffiti on the right-hand pillar — which looks like an acronym, but maybe it’s not — and whether it conveys a civil statement. And I wonder what one should make of the handprints on both pillars — if anything beyond meaningless, even vain, tagging. To be sure, the figure seated between the pillars — a tourist, perhaps — appears, at this moment in time, to be distracted from what’s depicted immediately around him.

Tessa den Uyl said...

Images give this opportunity to practice how we distinguish images in images and to become aware of our habitual preferences.

This picture is quite a good example to see how ‘the eye’ choses the recognisable, and we might question: why? Often the less recognisable is the element that hands an image its magic. Isn’t it ‘strange’ that the only living thing seems less ‘important’ in this picture? What does this tell about us? How good are we at seeing wholes and not parts?

docmartincohen said...

Thanks, Keith and Tessa. The curious thing to me about the image is that the RH image seems to be REACTING in a way to the man sitting casually in middle.. That brings the eye back to the man, who seems to be there just by hazard otherwise, typical of many images 'snapped' by tourists, as if saying 'how dare you not think I am amgnificent?!'

Tessa den Uyl said...

The grace of composition?

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Both of the images seem playful. One wonders who they represent: the artist? the culture? the government? And what gave rise to the need for such playfulness?

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