The Body of a Painting
7|1| – 18|2|2017
Bodies among images
How easily we forget about our bodies, yet we are surrounded by a plethora of its images – in advertising, the virtual realm and even in more abstract ways. The image itself becomes a body, an entity of its own, or more precisely it is personalized in a more profound way- what we feel, what we bear or what we fight against is the image we are identified with.
The relation between image and body has, of course, a long history, but right now it may require a new, more serious account. The relation is not only metaphorical – the image is also the body that we share. If we cannot share our self-image, our social and cultural body, there is not much hope in communicating other meanings.
Painting is necessarily carnal or even erotic – it is no accident that it affects our body by its size and verticality, dragging us through the space. If painters invest not in representing something but into the work with the medium itself, it is a type of surgical labour. They are not trying to hide the process or materiality of the painting, to make it transparent so that we see only the content. The painting itself is present and all the strokes, gradients, edges and sutures create not only visible shapes but also clusters, sediments and organs.
One of the most interesting concepts elaborated by the philosopher Gilles Deleuze is probably the ‘body-without-organs’. Here Deleuze does not have in mind an actual human body, nor just a metaphorical one. The body represents for him the material, the virtual, which subsequently accepts form and expression – it is the field of the matter and the possible. Our bodies and images are, in such a respect, at least potentially void and therefore pregnant with possibilities. But they are instantly inhabited by our self, our culture and habits. We are becoming ourselves, in the course of which we loose our possibilities and our body-without-organs. Art can deliver us, at least for just for a moment, to this original body.
When I met Jaromír Novotný, he recounted all the specific steps in his work while hanging and moving canvases, display cases or shelves. He set and combined, connected and divided individual pieces in the course of which they gained traction and aesthetic weight. Abstract compositions became figurative, not as singular canvases but within a certain space and in relation to other bodies.
How easily we forget about our bodies and yet we are primarily our bodies, we and our images. When for instance a young girl is becoming a woman, according to Deleuze, the body and the virtual is being inhabited and filled with history, morals and gender. The girl, and her body in general, are not defined by age and sex – it is a body-image not a „real“ body. Bodies are determined by their aptitude for and rates of change, by their ability to cross diverse fields, sensitivities and velocities. We are constantly in the flux of becoming, but we are not only getting older, we can get younger as well – we can go through different places and rhythms, we are able to enter various relations and affect other bodies.
Nonetheless the transformation of the young girl, which for Deleuze still remains a line of escape, representing a certain liberation in the face of the disciplining powers of society, family or economy, now becomes a pinnacle of consumerism and spectacle. The young girl represents the self-image of a commercialized society, in which youth, seduction and even beauty become a matter of labour and consumption, production and distribution. In such a situation art strives to fortify itself against the low and popular on one hand but on the other it willingly accepts the strategies of professionalization and marketing.
All these problems may seem at first to be remote from the abstract and precise work of Jaromír Novotný but in thinking so we would once again forget our bodies. We would be oblivious to all the divisions and cuts, sewing and stretching of the fabric, insertions of objects and organs inhabiting the body of a painting. Similarly, we are constantly forgetting the fact that economical and social pressures apply at first to our bodies. Indeed, our body is complex, stretching itself in multiple ways between the image and the viewer.