Academic journal article Afterimage

Command CV: A Legend by Default

Academic journal article Afterimage

Command CV: A Legend by Default

Article excerpt

* ROBYN WHITLAW made an illuminating disappearance in Ralph Rugoff's critical writings.

* MICHAEL MANDIBERG is a conceptual artist who uses the Net to explore identity, labor and commerce. His year-long project "Shop Mandiberg" will be included in the upcoming Transmediale festival in Berlin.

Part of the continuing life story of these cloned triplets should be familiar by now. First Walker Evans secured a likeness, and then Sherrie Levine duplicated it, before Michael Mandiberg multiplied it via the World Wide Web. But in each of these permutations, the image itself has survived as a representation despite the media mongering it has been exposed to--an origin is still visible through the captioned layers that lead back to an identity always posited before. Levine fittingly titled her appropriations After Walker Evans and Mandiberg followed suit with After Sherrie Levine, and it is the chronological gesture of this trace that somehow returns to a conception originally secured for what appears to be a repetitive perpetuity. Each subsequent move (presented in a series of removals that are mediated by technology and facilitated by a caption) consequently offers a distortion to the authorship and the object, but this nominative palimpsest also contains the clues to see these alterations with clarity. T he arguments surrounding mechanical reproduction and mutable code are made explicit by the nomenclature that preceded them--not only by the empirically elusive alterations to the object per se--because the very point of these exercises hinges upon the reticent conundrum that these images are perceptively identical while media modulations and attendant captions tell you otherwise.

Curiously, the ensuing conflicts surrounding representation and ownership that have emerged over the years since 1936, when Evans first cocked and released his shutter, are all anchored in the same indexical relations, and it is this redundancy, a threat to every argument on photography, that the captions seek to overturn with proprietary rhetoric. Modestly logged in small print and contextually formatted to fit a heading, the captions no longer serve to simply connote the image with a definite meaning: their role is parasitical to the extent that words no longer serve to explicate the index, but rather intervene to sublimate the denoted message with another rationale. However, this trail of evolving precepts is of course accompanied by material nuarices, allowing each change of words to align itself with an altered substance; from original to copy and eventually the plethora of digital bytes. Placed side by side for comparative purposes then, the triplets assert difference and sameness, repression and expression, in an identity that is pluralistically unique and individually complicated.

In the attendant passage or artistic movements from modern to postmodern, each was conceived at a particular moment and given a new proper name as a diagnostic measure, all, in turn, assuming a singular presence despite problematic contingencies that were effectively internalized through a legend. With each technologically conceived birthday, "photography" critically matured with considerable attention lent to the postmodern dictums of master narratives, appropriation and copying. Simulation theorists, celebrating a cultural mass conception, declared the conundrum of an identity in multiples (dis)solved while social activists pointed to the ineptitude of quotations to offer an alternative politics or vision, lacking the necessary grounding of a revolutionary material dialectic. Many of these same points have been carried through into a digital vocabulary as amplifications (more copies, even less substance), but the extended family, now counting three, evolving from a genealogical strain of "photography" is pe rhaps better subsumed as a repetitive cloning than a progressive production--every semantic conception of difference relies upon the residual seeds of sameness. …

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