Ken Wentworth

Reference

What do pictures want?

Posted on March 26, 2007 at 5:21 AM

'Pictures are things that have been marked with all the stigma of personhood and animation: they exhibit both physical and virtual bodies; they speak to us, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively; or they look back at us silently across a gulf unbridged by language. They present not just a surface but a face that faces the beholder. In short, we are stuck with our magical, pre-modern attitudes toward, especially pictures, and our task is not to overcome these attitudes but to understand them, to work through their symptomatology. If we indeed are living in a time of the plague of fantasies, perhaps the best cure that artists can offer is to unleash the images, in order to see where they lead us, how they go before us. A certain tactical irresponsibility with images, what I call 'critical idolism' or 'secular divination', might be just the right sort of homeopathic medicine for what plagues us.

 

 

Walter Benjamin concluded his meditation on mechanical reproduction with the spectre of mass destruction. The dangerous aesthetic pleasure of our time is not mass destruction but the mass creation of new, ever more vital images of life-forms  terms that apply figuratively, as we have seen, to everything from computer viruses to terrorist sleeper cells.  The epithet for our times, then, is not the modernist saying, things are falling apart, but an even more ominous slogan: things come alive. Artists, technicians, and scientists have always been united in the imitation of life, the production of images and mechanisms that have, as we say lives of their own. Perhaps this moment of accelerated stasis in history, when we feel caught between the utopian fantasies of biocybernetics and the dystopian realities of biopolitics, between the rhetoric of the post-human and the real urgency of universal human rights, is a moment given to us for rethinking just what our lives, and our arts, are for.'

 

Mitchell, W. J.T, What do pictures want? The lives and loves of images. (2005, University of Chicago Press)

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