The Other Side of Drawing
C’est toujours les autres qui meurent… (it is always other people who die)- so writes Marcel Duchamp on his tombstone in Rouen. Is this simply just the last witticism, from an array of witty sayings of this 20th century artist? Years later, in a television interview, Yeshayahu Leibowitz would say things of a similar nature, but not necessarily to amuse: death, he would argue, cannot be placed on the continuum of human experience which transpires on the timeline of our existence. Consequently, a reality which is called death does not exist, there is only lack of life. Kant, so it seems, also shared this way of thinking. Two hundred years prior, in his lecture on anthropology, he related to the linguistic aspect of these insights. According to Kant, since no one can experience his or her death, the thought “I no longer exist” cannot exist; nothing can be thought if I don’t exist. He thus claims it would be a contradiction to assume a subject that negates his or her existence while speaking in the first person.
The English word scalper sounds similar to the word sculptor. Among the archaic actions done to the human head, like turning the skull into a vessel or the use of it for the performance of various rituals, the action of scalping is the only action which does not necessarily kill. It is an action performed on the other side of the head, not the face which is so identified with the human presence. The action of scalping like turning the entire body into a vessel, removes the cover of this organ enabling a chilling look into the interior of a living head.
In an article that he wrote at the beginning of his specialized training in neurology at a Viennese hospital, Sigmund Freud describes how in lab conditions one can see the nervous system in the brain completely and concretely by dipping tissues from the grey matter into a certain solution. Later, on the way towards the formulation of psychoanalysis, in attempts to trace conceptual imprints in the psychological system, Freud abandons this concrete way of thinking in favor of thought which has no chemical reaction, and examines the ways of imprinting the conceptual in the human consciousness in a completely different way. Thus, while at the outset Freud was interested in physical manifestations of the nervous system, he will later go in a different direction that in essence does not deal with physical recordings that can be observed in lab conditions but rather the imprints of the activities in the psychological system. He shows how external understanding of the system penetrates internally through sensory perception.
Some of these perceptions will not leave a trace in the system but some will leave imprints, like traces slit onto a wondrous writing pad. These are unconscious imprints, traces of unconscious memory that don’t have anything in common with conscious memory. Freud shows how, despite the fact that they were seemingly erased, the traces in these wondrous writing pads can be seen if observed from a certain angle and with proper lighting. In a similar way, something from the traces of unconscious memory can be established through the speech of a subject during analysis or through formations of the unconscious. In other words, things imprinted in the psychological system are not available for direct observation but will appear in coded manners. The way to interpret these formations, for example, a dream or a joke, will be through unraveling the handicraft of the joke or the dream in order to get to its roots, to observe it from the other side.
Monotype printing is a strange kind of printing: you spread paint on a hard plate, like glass, for example. You then attach a sheet of paper to it and draw on its reverse side. The resulting print is of course a mirror image of the original engraved drawing. This is different than the common printing technique whose goal is to duplicate and distribute, here the print is unique and cannot be reconstructed. Besides the unique quality which characterizes the monotype, it has another advantage: the slits which were engraved may appear on additional prints created from the same plate, thus the plate preserves something from everything that is imprinted on it.
Casting is a three dimensional equivalent of printing. Here too, the outcome, in this case the sculpture, is an inversion of the mold which produces it. But in this present exhibition, the mold doesn’t just produce the shape of the mass which congeals inside of it; wood cuts, which are on the interior sides of the mold, are saturated with ink and imprint figures on the surface of the sculpture, figures that are engraved on the plaster while it is still in liquid form and appear on the surface of the final outcome.
“The human language constitutes a kind of communication in which the sender receives his or her message back from the recipient in an inverse form.” Thus, argued one of the participants in one of Lacan’s seminars. Lacan warmly adopted this claim and repeated it several times in his writing. The claim refers to the way the truth of a subject arises from speech in analysis, but in a different way than the things that were thought to have been said. The unconscious, said Lacan, in one of his famous sayings, is understood like language. It can be found on the surface at all times but it is coded, and analytic knowledge allows us to listen to the words which arise from a subject’s speech, despite his or her intention to say something completely different. A subject who is split between ego and the unconscious is the one who is present in the gap between what is said and what he or she thinks has been said. An awareness of this gap enables us to understand speech which is seemingly not possible: for example, I am a speaker who speaks of the absence of existence. While a negation like this creates for Kant a contradiction which cannot be, Lacan shows how this negation presents exactly the opposite, the appearance of the subject of the unconscious in language.
The word “hayot” in Hebrew is ambiguous: it is both the word for animals and also the present tense of the word to live in its feminine, plural conjugation. Both meanings exist simultaneously; women who live are animals, or are situated on the boundary between human existence and some other existence. It is interesting to note that the letters which form the English word-HAYOT, are not influenced at all by their mirror image, so this word has no other unreadable side. Now a new meaning can be added to the word when it reverts back to Hebrew as heyot and thus assumes the meaning- being.
Efrat Biberman, June 2015