Featured image: Jorma Puranen, From the Series ‘Shadows, Reflections and All of That Kind’, 1997–2002, chromogenic colour print. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Care for the Image – Meaning, Sense, Materiality

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD Candidate, Senior Conservator, Finnish National Gallery, Sinebrychoff Art Museum

This is a summary of the doctoral dissertation in art history defended at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, on 10 June, 2017. Its theoretical starting point is a phenomenologically-based view of the being of the image, in which Georges Didi-Huberman´s work plays a central role. One of the central aims of this research is the critical assessment of prevailing premises in conservation-restoration and technical art history. This study attempts to show that physical art objects, instead of being puzzles to be solved, are paradoxical in nature. Edmund Husserl has shown that image consciousness requires a specific kind of intentionality, similarly, consciousness of the Materiality of the Image presupposes a consciousness of a materiality that is ontologically distinct to the Image.

The study begins with a discussion on the Heideggerian concept of ʿcareʾ (Sorge). For Martin Heidegger, care was the ontological mode of Dasein. It meant mindful lingering, Besinnung, on the beings which are ready-to-hand (zuhanden) and present-to-hand (vorhanden) and have a fundamental ontological significance. It meant care for the sense (Sinn) of Being. Georges Didi-Huberman also discusses the concept of ʿcareʾ. His concept (souci) denotes care for images and imagination, for meaningful, affective encounters with images, and involves solicitation that makes images oscillate. Images do not submit to being regarded as subsistent (vorhanden) intentional correlates of the constituting ego in the sense of Gegenstand. Instead, they become constellations comparable to cloud formations or gas eruptions, which are in a state of continuous, endless motion, pulling us towards their swaying motion. Such constellations can provide only negative certainty, certainty without an object, connaissance sans objet, in Jean-Luc Marion´s terms. The only certainty we are able to glean from an artwork belongs to the region of its beingness, to its physical artefactuality. However, that which makes an artwork has nothing ontic, nothing thinglike in it. With the term ʿImageʾ, I refer to a concept that does not fall within the sphere of traditional art-history discourse. It is my conviction that an image is never alone. Images are always contaminated by numerous other images from various eras. In the words of Jean-Luc Nancy, an image is singular plural. Yet it is all too often approached only in its impoverished form, in Marion´s terms as a poor (pauvre) phenomenon.

We can have knowledge only of objects, not of images. The sensuous manifoldness of images has been reduced to match our finite cognitive faculties. Here, I am not referring to images as signs or symbols as they are understood in iconography, iconology, visual culture studies, semiotics or Bildwissenschaft, and I will not try to give a definition of the concept of ʿimageʾ. Neither am I talking about popular imagery. The Image I am talking about is not a single entity – it is a relation, and it is for this reason that I have chosen to write it with a capital I. The capital initial also underlines the fact that the Image is ontologically distinct (le distinct). When the word ʿimageʾ is spoken, there is no way of knowing about the capital letter – any more than you can hear the distinction between différence or différance. Therefore, I must show this Image to you – just like Derrida had to write down his différance in order to make it known. Thus writing comes before speech – the material sign that is the original mimēsis before any representative function. The Image I am referring to does not represent anything – any thing – that precedes it. It does not represent anything exterior but performs its being of the Image by being an image, a relation.

Featured image: Jorma Puranen, chromogenic colour print from the series ‘Shadows, Reflections and All of That Kind’, 1997–2002, . Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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