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Aby Warburg, Bilderatlas Mnemosyne, Tafel 39 (recovered). Photo: Wootton / fluid.

“The art of fixing a shadow."

Pliny the Elder’s Natural History tells the story (also echoed by Turner) of the Maid of Corinth, who “was in love with a young man; and she, when he was going abroad, drew in outline on the wall the shadow of his face thrown by the lamp.” This scene, which has been represented often in Western art (fig. 1), expresses both pictures of desire in a single scene; it has its cake and eats it too. The shadow is not itself a living thing, but its likeness and projection of the young man are both metaphoric and metonymic, icon and index. It is thus a ghostly effigy that is “fixed” (as in a photographic process) by the tracing of the outline and (in Pliny’s further elaboration) eventually realized by the maiden’s father in a sculptural relief, presumably after the death of the departed lover. So the image is born of desire, is (we might say) a symptom of desire, a phantasmatic, spectral trace of the desire to hold on to the loved one, to keep some trace of his life during his absence. The “want” or lack in the natural image (the shadow) is its impermanence: when the young man leaves— in fact, when he moves a few feet— his shadow will disappear. Drawing, like photography, is seen to originate in the “art of fixing the shadow.” The silhouette drawing, then, expresses the wish to deny death or departure, to hold on to the loved one, to keep him present and permanently “alive”— as in Bazin’s “mummified image” in the film still.

Of course, this last remark suggests that the picture could equally well be read as the symptom of a wish for the young man’s death, a (disavowed) desire to substitute a dead image for the living being. The picture is as much about “unbinding” the bonds of love, letting the young man depart, disintegrating the imaginary unity of his existence into the separable parts of shadow, trace, and substance. In the world of image magic, the life of the image may depend on the death of the model, and the legends of “stealing the soul” of the sitter by trapping his image in a camera or a manual production would be equally relevant here. We can imagine the young woman coming to prefer her depicted or (even better) sculpted lover as a more pliable and reliable partner, and rejecting the young man should he ever return to Corinth.

Mitchell, W. J. T.. What Do Pictures Want? (pp. 67-68). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

1. Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson, The Origin of Drawing, engraving from Oeuvres posthumes, 1819. Photograph courtesy of The University of Chicago Library.

2. Passersby, Covertness_Oil bar on Linen_34x22cm_2013

For what, actually, is "the face"?

A history of the face? It is an audacious undertaking to tackle a subject that defies all categories and leads to the quintessential image with which all humans live. For what, actually, is "the face"? While it is the face that each of us has, it is also just one face among many. But it does not truly become a face until it interacts with other faces, seeing or being seen by them. This is evident in the expression "face to face," which designates the immediate, perhaps inescapable, interaction of a reciprocal glance in a moment of truth between two human beings. But a face comes to life in the most literal sense only through gaze and voice, and so it is with the play of human facial expressions. To exaggerate a facial expression is to "make a face" in order to convey a feeling or address someone without using words. To put it differently, it is to portray oneself using one's own face while observing conventions that help us understand each other. 『FACE AND MASK』 - Hans Belting

The difference between face and image recapitulates the difference between presence and representation, for representation implies that the face itself is absent. Yet the living face produces an expressive or mask-like representation in order to show or conceal the self. Human beings engage in the representation of their own faces. We all embody a role in life.

1. Left : Men in Black: International (2019) 
2. Right : David Altimed - Crystal System (2019)

In the series "Passersby" there is no shadow on the wall of all the painted heads. 27 July 2019

《Passersby》연작에는 모두 그려진 머리가 벽에 드리우는 그림자가 없다. 그것은 흰 바탕을 공간으로 설명하는 장치로 작동하면서, 동시에 그려진 얼굴 실루엣을 하얀 벽에 드리운 어떤 실재의 그림자처럼 재현하는 기능도 갖는다.

안-루이 지로데-트리오종의 《그리기의 기원》에서 실루엣 그리기는 사랑하는 사람을 붙잡으려는 소망, 그를 현존하게 하고 영원히 '살아있게'하려는 소망을 표현함과 동시에 청년과의 이별로 실재를 떠나보내며 그려진 청년의 그림자라는 죽은 이미지로 살아있는 존재를 대체하려는 욕망(큐피트의 모습으로 등장하는)이 혼재한다. 즉, 청년을 떠나가게 두고, 자신이 그린 혹은 조작한 연인을 더 온순하고 믿을 만한 상대로 좋아하게 됨으로써, 그의 존재의 상상적 통일을 그림자와 흔적, 물질이라는 분리 가능한 부분들로 해체하는 것이라 볼 수도 있는 것이다. 

이 장면은 욕망을 소유하는 동시에 충족시키고 있는 것이다. 그림자 자체는 살아있는 것이라 할 수 없다. 그러나 그림자와 청년의 유사성과, 그림자 청년에 대한 투영은 은유적인 동시에 환유적이며, 도상인 동시에 지표index다. 따라서, 이미지는 욕망에서 태어나며, 욕망의 징후라 할 수 있고, 사랑하는 사람을 지키고 그가 부재하는 동안 그의 생명의 흔적을 유지하려는 욕망의 환영幻影이자 유령같은 흔적이다.

《Passersby》연작에서 얼굴은 우리가 얼굴로부터 알아낼 많은 정보의 결핍을 갖고 있다. 예컨대, 인종, 성별, 나이, 얼굴이라 명명하면서 얼굴을 얼굴이라 부를 수 없을만큼 해체된 형태 따위다. 여기에 얼굴 위의 가면의 층을 걷어내려는 의도가 깔려있다.

1. Left : Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson / Origin of Drawing, 1829 
2. Right : Passersby, A pretty face, 25.5x39cm, Oil bar on Linen, 2017

- Addition and Subtraction.  「Immortality」 — Milan Kundera

In our world, where there are more and more faces, more and more alike, it is difficult for an individual to reinforce the originality of the self and to become convinced of its inimitable uniqueness. There are two methods for cultivating the uniqueness of self: the method of addition and the method of subtraction. Agnes subtracts her self everything that is exterior and borrowed, in order to come closer to her sheer essence (even with the risk that zero lurks at the bottom of the subtraction). Laura’s method is precisely the opposite: in order to make her self more visible, perceivable, seizable, sizable, she keeps adding to it more and more attributes and she attempts to identify herself with them (with the risk that the essence of the self may be buried by the additional attributes).

매일 점점 더 많은 얼굴들이 등장하고 그 얼굴들이 날이 갈수록 서로 닮아가는 이 세상에서, 사람이 자아의 독창성을 확인하고 흉내 낼 수 없는 자기만의 유일성을 확신한다는 것은 쉬운일이 아니다. 자아의 유일성을 가꾸는데는 두 가지 방법이 있다. 덧셈 법과 뺄셈 법이다. 아녜스는 자신의 순수한 본질에 다가가기 위해, 자신의 자아에서 외적인 것과 빌려온 것을 모두 추려냈다.(이 경우 연이은 뺄셈 때문에 자아가 0이 되어버릴 위험이 있다.) 로라의 방법은 정확히 그 반대다. 자신의 자아를 좀 더 잘 보이게 하고, 좀 더 파악하기 쉽게 하고, 좀 더 두텁게 하기 위해서, 그녀는 끊임없이 새로운 것을 덧붙여 그것에 자기를 동화했다(이 경우 덧붙은 속성들 때문이라는, 자아의 본질을 상실해 버릴 위험이 있다) - 「불멸」 - 덧셈과 뺄셈, 밀란 쿤데라