Posts Tagged ‘ritual of (non)spectatorship

30
Jul
12

Artwork: ‘Transit’ series by Katrin Koenning, Melbourne

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Transit is a stimulating body of work by Melbourne artist Katrin Koenning that documents mostly everyday journeys. As Koenning notes, “It is concerned with the space that lies between destinations, routines and obligations – the space between distances, if you so like,” where strangers are thrown together in an intimate space. The outcome of these encounters is mainly silence. In these works photography and the depiction of the lived world becomes the primer and reference point for a mediated existence, one based on longing, desire, reverie, absent presence and the phantasies of daydreams.

Compositionally the work is strong. Koenning shows an excellent understanding of the construction of the image plane and the use of colour, light and dark complements her intellectual enquiry. This much is given: these are excellent images that immerse the viewer in a visual dreamscape. What I am more interested in here is the transitional spaces of the journey, the traces of light that reflect back to us the concerns of the photographer and the conceptual ideas upon which the work is based.

Even when people are asleep in these photographs (which they sometimes are) it is as if an internal image, a day dream, a subconscious image is projected into/onto the external world in an act of scopophilic [the desire for pleasurable looking] voyeurism. It is as though our daydreams are inscribed in a physical location and we identify with this imaginary image and take it for reality.1 “This specific joy of receiving from the external world images that are usually internal… of seeing them inscribed in a physical location… of discovering in this way something almost realizable in them”2 becomes one reality of the journey. We become possessed, possessed by the phantasies of our daydreams, possessed by desire for this imaginary image.
Paradoxically these daydreams, the longing and yearning of the inner voice for a better place to be, for a holiday, for an escape from the drudgery of everyday life (for an imaginary, hallucinatory image) promote an escapism in the traveller and the absenting of presence that can be seen on any tram or train, any day of the week in cities throughout the world. The enactment of absent presence is usually performed through technology of some kind – a book, headphones, smart phones that connect to the internet, conversation on the mobile which is mainly gossip and texting – that distract people from having a quiet mind that leads to the contemplation of Self. The fear of silence is the fear of quietening the chattering voice in your head, being afraid of what you might find. The act of non-engagment is supplemented by the necessity of avoiding eye contact with fellow travellers, of making conversation, of engaging with strangers in any meaningful way. Hence the silence of forcibly intimate spaces.

The photographs that make up the series Transit form a theatrical space, a dramatic space where the people in them are separated from the outside world, neither here nor there, present but absent at one and the same time. This ritual of (non)spectatorship begins long before we begin our journey: the preparation, leaving the house with headphones and iPod, iPad, iPhone and I. This is followed by the ritual of buying a ticket (or not), boarding the train, tram, bus, plane or car being an effective way of transforming time and space. Our practices of mobility, that is our acts of moving are constituted in our acts of staying. What we take with us (for example our passport when we go overseas), always takes our place of residing, of staying, with us. Travel becomes the enactment or enfolding of bodies that move and bodies that stay, of stability.3 As Mary Louise Pratt has observed recently, the Western subject is an autonomous being with inherent conditions attached to its body and mobility is the privileged figure of its freedom, the proof and performance of its liberated state. In the metaphor of flow there is the enactment of freedom.4 Ironically, in the flow of travel envisaged in these photographs there is a dis/placement of desire onto the object of our (non)attention: in other words if we observe the world and desire it (as in the woman looking out of the window onto the distant view of the city, below) we displace our desire onto the object of our affection. If, on the other hand, we ignore the distant vista (as in the man playing with his iPod while the world flashes past outside, below) we displace our own presence through non-attention and our desire becomes a narcissistic attraction to Self. The remainer (who remains) and the remainder (what is left) is dictated by the place and placedness of the encounter, the interdependent modalities along the points of un/freedom (displacement of desires onto other may, in fact, not be freedom at all!)

In a sense, and I use that word advisedly, these images become trans-sensual, hovering between one desirous place and the next, between one condition or possibility of becoming and another. Here I must note that I see a philosophical difference between ‘transit’ and ‘in transit’. ‘Transit’ suggests a pre-determined path between point A and point B: for example in the transit of Venus that recently took place the path that Venus would take was already mapped out, even before the event happened, even if Venus was absent. The DNA of the journey, its blueprint if you like, is already formed in the knowledge: we are going to Collins Street, Melbourne, the path immanent in the tabula rasa of the journey even before it has started. ‘In transit’ on the other hand, suggests an amorphous space that has no beginning and no end. There is no boundary that defines the journey, much as in these images “amorphous thinking in visual terms is inextricably bound up with sensation and perception. In many ways, how we think is how we see and vice versa.”5 Perhaps the series should have been called In Transit, for the images visualise a conception of boundary and form that is constantly in flux, emanating as it does from the subconscious desires of the traveller. These are scenarios for an intuitive vision of an amorphous space that image a lapse in time, where energy and information, light and shadow, harmony and form challenge an absolute identity, the pre-determined path.6

Projection of inner desires onto the actual world becomes the locality for the contemporary mythologies of values, beliefs, dreams and desires.7 In a Buddhist sense, in the longing of an individual to effect his or her liberation this flow of sense-desire must be cut completely. Instead of a desire to possess the object of their longing and then to be possessed by that desire (desire to possess / possessed by desire) we must learn, as Krishnamurti has insightfully observed, not to make images out of every word, out of every vision and desire. We must be attentive to the clarity of not making images – of desire, of prejudice, of flattery – and then we might become aware of the world that surrounds us, just for what it is and nothing more.8 Then there would be less need for the absenting of self into the technological ether or the day dreams of foreign lands or the desire for a better life.

The strength of this work is the trans-sensuality of the photographs. Their trans-sensuality initiates differently configured constructions of the world, one that will not allow the world to simply be displaced by a lack of awareness, a lack of presence in the world. The photographs physically queer the performative aspect of the actor upon the stage, allowing the viewer to understand the process that is happening within the photographs and then NOT construct alternate narratives of longing and desire if they so wish. What they do for the viewer is collapse the boundaries between the subjective and the objective, between the conscious and the subconscious, inducing in the viewer a glimpse of self-actualization,9 whereby the viewer has the ability to enjoy the experience of just being. As the viewer becomes the person in the photograph (by understanding the experience of being, not by making an image) the permeability and lack of fixity of the boundaries between self and other, between self and amorphous space, between self and the physical world becomes evident. We become aware of the suspension of time and space in these momentary, (photographic) acts of transcendence. These wonderful, never ending moments.

Dr Marcus Bunyan July 2012

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Many thankx to Katrin Koenning for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs Untitled from the series Transit (2009 – ) © Katrin Koenning.

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“Transit documents people on mostly everyday journeys. It is concerned with the space that lies between between destinations, routines and obligations – the space between distances, if you so like. While I travel and observe, I write down snippets of overheard conversations. Old ladies talk about the weather, teenagers gossip, you hear laughter and bits of stories in amongst the monotonous sighing of the train or the mourning sound of an aching ship. Mostly, you hear silence – strangers are thrown together for a short while, forced to share an intimate space. They rarely talk.”

Artist statement

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1. Leonard, Richard. The Mystical Gaze of the Cinema: the Films of Peter Weir. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2009, p.23.

2. Metz, C. Essais Sémiotiques. Paris: Klincksieck, 1977, p.136 quoted in Leonard, Op. cit.

3. Pratt, Mary Louise. “On Staying.” Keynote speech presented at the international conference Travel Ideals: Engaging with Spaces of Mobility. July 18th 2012 at The University of Melbourne.

4. Ibid.,

5. Navarro, Kevin. “An Amorphous Image Process,” on Rhizome: Image Theory website. January 19th 2010 [Online] Cited 29/07/2012. rhizome.org/discuss/view/44895/

6. Ibid.,

7. Leonard Op. cit., p.56.

8. KrishnamurtiBeginnings of Learning. London: Penguin, 1975, p.131.

9. “It must be noted that self-actualization is not necessarily related to vocation or career choice … From Malsow’s (Maslow, A (1970) Motivation and Personality. New York, Harper & Row) standpoint, self-actualization is not primarily concerned with results of a particular kind of activity – it is concerned with the experience of the activity itself – not the composition but the composing – not the work of art but the creative process by which it is produced – not the taste of the food, but the creativity in the cooking of it. This is not to say that the product has no importance. What Maslow is emphasizing is the fact that the self-actualized persons is fulfilling his potentiatlities in the act itself. A byproduct of this creative act is a unique outcome. He may admire the result of this process. But the enjoyment of the process itself is also extremely important. The ability to enjoy the experience of being, therefore, is one of the essential capabilities of the healthy individual.” (My italics)

Benson, Lou. Images,Heroes and Self-Perceptions. Englewood Hills, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1974, pp.352-354.

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Katrin Koenning website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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