“When we define the Photograph as a motionless image, this does not mean only that the figures it represents do not move; it means that they do not emerge, do not leave: they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies.” Roland Barthes – Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
I’m repeating this image and this quote from my last blog because it came to me that the quote, while it specifically references photography, can apply equally to other branches of the visual arts. It certainly may apply to certain kinds of collage. There are all sorts of reasons for collage. Here’s a link to an article on the history of collage.
My collage is for a project. While it falls as usual under the canopy of Poetic Mapping, I’ve not been able until recently to name the project satisfactorily to myself (and naming is important). There is nothing to do in this situation but carry on working and wait – and pray if you are so inclined – for the name to turn up. And it did, in the form of Caol Ait: Thin Place. A thin place is where one can walk in two worlds; a place where the veil between two worlds is thin; a place where heaven and earth are close together; a threshold or portal.
The collage consists of images of different kinds of prints on paper of plant matter but predominantly eco prints of leaves gathered from around the periphery of the pond in my garden. This is one of my thin places.
The Roland Barthes quote above speaks of the photograph as an image having the quality of motionlessness, qualifying this further as a non-emergence, as a not-leavingness, as an act of anaesthetising and a fastening-down in the [cruel] manner in which butterflies are killed and pinned. I shouldn’t make the pun – but I will – and write that Barthes seems, in this quote, to be somewhat negative about the positive. Ouch.
I saw how the collage could be described similarly. It could be argued that the eco-print process – consisting of trapping leaves as a sort-of sandwich filling between cloth or paper, rolling this up tightly around a rod into a bundle then subjecting the bundle to extreme heat and steam – is a form of cruelty to leaves, unless the leaves have been gathered dead from the ground. The prints (or other types of collage material) have then been glued to a substrate, at which point they are indeed motionless, non-emerging.
But it came to me that in trapping an image in a collage the artist is preserving an observation of something of wonder to him/her (etc) and presenting it to the larger world to wonder at in its turn.
The image does not need to be a replication of plant matter. It can be an impression, a mark like musical notation that triggers a quickening in the artist that will transfer in turn to the viewer.
It’s possible that much art and perhaps especially art that arises from the contemplation of nature, is saying, “Look here at what I’ve found; it filled me with wonder. Is it not wonderful?”
And I wonder at this. At whether – if you believe in a Fall (however you visualise or otherwise structure that for yourself) – a great deal of what was lost in that immense catastrophe, could be called Wonder. I do believe in a great catastrophe. I can’t explain why. It struck me unexpectedly one day, one moment, like a bolt out of the blue and it’s now buried in my bones.
Here’s as close I can get to making sense of that. It’s from the fascinating Metaphysical Bible Dictionary:
Adam in his original creation was in spiritual illumination. Spirit breathed into him continually the necessary inspiration and knowledge to give him superior understanding. But he began eating, or appropriating, ideas of two powers–God and not God, or good and evil. The result, so the allegory relates, was that he fell away from spiritual life and all that it involves.
This definition has distinct echoes of Eastern Spirituality, for me. Food for thought, anyway, if you’ll pardon the pun. Another one.