IMG MGMT: Untitled

by Sean Raspet on October 11, 2010 · 6 comments IMG MGMT

[Editor’s note: IMG MGMT is an annual image-based artist essay series. Today’s invited artist Sean Raspet lives and works in New York and San Francisco. Raspet has exhibited extensively in the United States and abroad. His most recent projects include As If Written In, a solo show currently on view at The Kitchen NY, A Brief History at Art Basel Miami Beach (2008), and The Ones We Work For at Daniel Reich Gallery. Raspet has also participated in numerous group exhibitions including A Relative Expanse at Renwick Gallery, New York, and The Morning News (curated by Lumi Tan) at BE-PART Contemporary Art Center, Waregem, Belgium — both of which were held in 2010. This Tuesday, October 12th, at 7pm, Raspet will screen his new video 20/02 at The Kitchen. The feature length film is a frame by frame rearrangement of the 2002 film Drumline]

I.   In the past one might have imagined that were they to break/puncture a photograph that it would shatter like a mirror, or exhibit a literal rupture—i.e., tear like a piece of paper. In the present, a viewer is more likely to imagine that a semi-intelligent semi-transparent liquid would seep out, itself both a lens and a healing balm. It would subtly reconfigure the image’s silvery surface layers, and implement slight adjustments, making it more palatable to the viewer. It might then become a point of interfacing with a second layer—a portal rather than a punctum.

II.  Our daily life is peppered with little dabs of the sublime. Images increasingly depict a luminous hybrid space of pure [image] circulation—frozen or fleeting abstractions that refer to their own looping trajectories through time. Partially originating in the sped-up long exposure photos of motorways common to the 80s and earlier (while implicitly evoking the contemporaneous build up of the US’s missile program, along with neon signage, the Nike swoosh, the Esprit squiggle, et al.), streaking light effects now augment a substantial portion of production logos, web pages, computer backdrops and advertisements of all sorts. Sometime after their initial depiction of the acceleration within the every day, they became more abstract in form. They began to visualize the nascent information architectures and the implementation of fiber optic cable networks that were carrying this information (images) to various corners of the earth “at light-speed” along an “information super-highway”. In this liberated form (liberated in part by new techniques of digital image production) they served also to visualize and proliferate certain neo-liberal, utopian ideas of the 1990s that heralded a globally-integrated, post-conflict, post-historical epoch (a la Francis Fukayama)—a perpetual now, buoyantly illuminated and weightlessly incorporating all previous stages of development. Arising in this rhetorical climate they formed the backdrop for these attempts to tie the new phase of unfettered capitalism with the liberating promise of geographically unfettered information.

While their motion may conjure to mind quantum collisions, satellite orbits, or a tendril-like, swarming algorithm, the underlying impetus and guiding principle of each jet of light is that of global circulation. It presents itself as one path in a virtual topography of real and imagined networks of information and commerce (presumably, at each given instance, as the suggested path of the individual consumer/viewer—a guiding light in a labyrinthine terrain). It is one component in a complex composed of innumerable points of light, and from the act of pointing, incorporating, and touching upon outside masses. From this continual absorption, it derives its energy and libidinal charge—like a mercurial electron of desire (or a liquefying capital flow). Tellingly these depictions often exhibit a circularity of orbit; a feeding back into themselves in an elliptical (and often slightly erratic—therefore presumably intelligent) self-referentiality. This structure parallels the increasingly self-referential autonomy of financial markets and the information economy as divorced from material production (though not quite).

As a beam of light jumps metonymically, capriciously, from object to object in an advertisement for Sprint Wireless, we can (and indeed we are prompted to) extrapolate each instance of this common motif as part of a larger whole: we imagine that this luminous tendril continues to flow into the Nightline logo, where it then branches off into a Canon and a Windows advertisement before looping around into a glowing Hermes ribbon, which is made from the same spectral plasma as the University of Canterbury’s web page and the iPhone’s screensaver. These images present single facets of an integrated ad campaign/network/mass vision that is continually branching out and incorporating all relevant details and entities into its fold. Each image is a marker that says: “this has been incorporated” or “this is participating” in conjunction with its individual logo.

Not surprisingly these light effects tend to be especially prevalent where the commodity being offered is information, entertainment, or experience as in the case of television news or motion picture production. As such this imagery has done a great deal to develop a public perception towards the idea of a commodity as a pure abstraction. It has helped to map a change in the spatial imaginary and to form an understanding of (and desire for) the experience economy as a visceral sensation. In doing so, it transfers the site of the commodity’s allure from an imagined inner essence to a supporting network that surrounds and propels it. The desire is located not inside but outside in the act of participation within the network, and the accompanying potential for overflowing frisson.

While the network that these images ostensibly refer to is a conflation of a commercial network (i.e. of global shipping patterns and financial transactions) and that of information architecture (both its physical installation and its abstract, imagined pathways, or animating spirit), the unstated prize is, of course, the viewer/consumer’s ability to take part in a social network. From this exchange, a shared economy of experience and knowledge is offered back to the viewer. However, the operation which mediates these activities exists alongside and somehow in between these conceptions: that is to say the parallel network by which images refer to themselves and include other compatible images; acting in ways that are semi-autonomous and distinct from the networks of commercial circulation and information topology. It is for this process that the vast array of light imagery serves as both example and metaphor.

In short, the image of the commodity has been superseded by the image of its channels of exchange, or furthermore by an abstraction for pure exchange (social, informational or commercial). If we imagine these images not separately, but (as is their demand) as part of a continuous phenomenon (or epiphenomenon) the overall effect is to imply an ever-expanding, ever consolidating network of self-reflexive images—images that are about this ever expanding network and that through their proximity to other images, draw them into the network as well. Put another way: rather than a commodity being replaced by its image, the current shift is towards an image being replaced by an abstraction of the imagined network in which it circulates.

YouTube Preview Image

YouTube Preview Image

III. Increasingly, images must have the ability to refer to multiple alternate images within a densely layered proximity. Images are selected and reproduced for their swap-ability, mutability, and modularity—their ability to sit side by side with strangers without disagreement. [1] Color schemes, lighting conditions, et al must be compatible across multiple platforms of dispersal.[2] The specific qualities of images  are progressively more interlinked, moving towards an automatic consensus (or averaging) that defines the neutral terrain through which subsequent images are refracted. [3] In line with the critique of contemporary art that in order to be recognized/successful it must look like contemporary art, an image’s (paradoxical) foremost criterion is that it must resemble an image.

Images that exhibit these qualities of neutrality, sociability, and recognizability are more likely to be copied/dispersed/linked to, creating an environment suitable for themselves and further setting the parameters of future images. The shifting consolidation of image parameters of course does not occur in a linear fashion, but rather happens simultaneously, (and unfathomably) across a network of dispersed images and their derivatives. Increasingly an image refers not to its subject, but to its parameters, it’s meta-image. Multiple images across various platforms spontaneously point to a kind of self-supporting mise-en-scene: an internally consistent, though externally fragmented, microcosm containing a particular on-screen worldview. (This is not necessarily new, but has become a progressively more tangible operation, in light of the increasing rootless-ness of images and their accelerating speed of circulation.)

Like an anamorphic projection, a single image when, viewed from the proper angle, aligns with an assortment of related images to form a momentary, cohesive whole. Here, the angle of view is not spatial, but temporal—it occurs in the flash of recognition upon first encountering the image, and just as quickly fades into the background as a given; the logic of its world having been taken on by the viewer. In this fleeting glimpse the viewer sees reflected within the image the set of all other images that share its parameters and of which it is in some way composed—those images that are ‘cut from the same cloth’. [4] This world-on-screen consists as much of its ostensible subject as of its own specificity as image (or more specifically, of the ad-infinitum reproduction of its particular image parameters).

An image is thus more the result of a process of alignment (with other images) than of reflection (of a given subject in the world). Whereas previously a photograph was believed to offer a fragmentary window onto the world, it now offers an interlinked network of related images that form a semi-autonomous image-world—a partially-enclosed mise en abyme, largely freed from the earthly duty of depicting events (but never the less beholden to its own particular set of parameters as an event in itself). The rootless-ness of images—which are no longer to be situated in a specific stratum—furthermore requires that they are able to carry their world with them (somewhat like their flesh and blood brethren). If images are mirrors dispersed in a circular fashion, pointing inward and reflecting each other, the meta-image is the vacant center that is formed as a result and to which these points collectively refer. It is their realm of (and limitation on) possibility.


[1]Take for example the vague hieroglyphics of stock photography, where a gesture/expression/situation is intended to have multiple inflections. Each of these must be agreeable to any of the numerous ideas that it may be enlisted to illustrate, while also visually agreeable to a variety of color schemes and contexts into which it may be transplanted. Each stock image is a keyword-driven letter in an increasingly systematized alphabet—a system in which the goal is as much to erase specific meaning in its characters (as would be the case for any alphabet) as to form a more general quasi-meaning, or ‘relevance’ in the image’s ability to be linked to and reflected in other images. As a neutral schema, a stock photograph maximizes its potential for use, since the goal is not to reflect a specific fact or instance the world, but rather to participate in its specific meta-image.

[2] An image is taken here to mean not only a photograph or illustration, but also a web template or other background within which it appears—in short anything that appears on screen or within a frame, which then may have further images nested within it.

[3] Naturally, this is a simplification, and there are numerous areas of resistance or indifference to a more general trend towards consolidation.

[4] This is of course a subjective operation, shaped by the individual viewer’s prior experience.


Colin Roe Ledbetter October 12, 2010 at 9:12 am

I am loving this line “an image’s (paradoxical) foremost criterion is that it must resemble an image.”

Hhalle October 12, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Huh. I have been, in my own secret practice, focusing on just this phenomenon of contemporary visual production, and I suppose it was inevitable that someone would cotton on to this before long. Not surprised it’s you. The other thing, however, that you don’t mention exactly is the widespread use of computer-generated lens-flare effects; these too have a basis in a moment of cinema/photographic history, namely Laslo Kovacs cinematography in Easy Rider.

Anonymous October 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm
Hhalle October 12, 2010 at 4:51 pm

technically not the presence of god, but the indecipherable word of god—see Cohen’s Brothers’ “A Serious Man,” the part about the goy’s teeth.

Anonymous October 12, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Stock images are also squeaky clean and upper middle class, like most of our TV shows and movies. The circulation you describe takes place in a rarified, mostly fake social stratum. (Although there are also images of poverty stricken Others used in similar way.) Your essay has some interesting parallels to Marc Handelman’s earlier IMG MGMT essay equating images of skies in defense ads with a vague, magisterial perspective: “In many of the skyscapes of the 20th century, the sky would cease to function as a mere backdrop, but take on a central role becoming an ostensible protagonist of visual and rhetorical effects.” ( )

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