My Affectionate Gaze
Time and Transformation in the Prints of Ernesto Caivano, Lee Friedlander, Ulrike Johannsen, Shirin Neshat and Kiki Smith
Curated by Katherine Blackburne
February 28 – April 15, 2022
We live singular existences, in the particular and the concrete – today, this hour, this street, these eyes, this year. But we live equally in cycles, in phases of repetition and renewal, of the old repeating itself, and the arrow of time, which thermodynamics tells us heads in one direction only: from order to disorder, from birth to decay, from life to death. (And it is surely not too positive a spin to add to that – from death to new life.) But part of the specificity of our lives, of the cycles and arrows of time which we carry and which carry us, entails the contemplation of those historical horizons without which we cannot understand our own time, or any other for that matter.
Although perception has long been subject to philosophical reflection, it was only in the mid twentieth century that “the gaze” [Fr. le regard] became an object of sustained theoretical attention. We have become well-acquainted with the fact that what we call looking is never a simple act of the retina, of physiological capture and neurological computation. Being irreducibly social, undeniably cultural, the gaze is irreducible to the science of optics.
There are different ways of looking and being looked at: piercing gazes, wandering eyes, blurred vision, and so on. And we also live in a world where our gazes are retreating increasingly to looking at things not materially present – through screens; the world much of the time manifests itself as a glowing rectangle, where the where we are is always somewhere else, while those being seen in that somewhere else are also likely elsewhere…
We see fragments, but the very idea of fragment entails a larger whole, of what gives the seen its sense, of what preceded it and what is likely to come after – or what might come after. Even if there is no sense to be made, we become unconsciously enlisted in that task. Nothing escapes epistemophilia, not even dada.
We do not live in the abstract, even if from our lives we do abstract, represent, make matters ideational, allegorical, place them under the reign of the Concept. And here an unavoidable horizon of living in the concrete entails thinking through – and figuring – precisely those sociological frames which tell us so much about who gets to look, who is looked at, who generates representations and about whom those representations concern.
And so what, in the face of these huge structural forces, can art do? Well, it does what it can. Art in its very essence engages not only with the it is, but the it might be: like science, art is oriented towards the hypothetical. It not only figures life as it is, but life as it might become. In this sense, art itself offers the promise of participating fully in those above mentioned cycles of birth, death, and new life – of forms which might offer us hints and glimpses of not only who we are, but who – if we want – we might become.
Currently on view in the gallery
LeRoy Neiman Gallery
310 Dodge Hall
2960 Broadway at 116th St
New York, NY 10027
For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (212) 854-7641.