Thin Air

By Frailey, Stephen | Artforum International, November 1993 | Go to article overview

Thin Air


Frailey, Stephen, Artforum International


The trilling wire in the blood sings below inveterate scars.

--T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton"

A photograph is usually described first by naming what is visible and tangible before proceeding to that which is parenthetical or ephemeral; the photograph's mimetic capacity tends to lead it away from the fleeting and elusive, from the province of music or poetry. But Adam Fuss' images traffic primarily in peripheral sensation. Less representational than percussive, certain photographs suggest sound--a plucked string or a minute fluttering of the vocal chords, emerging from the throat in a wordless hum. Others inhabit a place between enigma and science, suggesting embryology and reproductive processes in images of delicate radiance.

One group of pictures shows coiling concentric circles: halos of vivid color radiating from a central point of light, they seem to pulse with a deep optical ringing. They speak of invisible impulses that imprint themselves on the nervous system, or vibrations in the air that register under the teeth.

In another group, the circles radiate from the center like ripples around a droplet falling into liquid, but the tone of these pictures is low and throaty, muffled and monotonic, like the lowest keys of a piano. In yet another, viscous droplets, like molten braille, have the density of mercury dribbling across a magnetic field. They seem to emit a pinging beyond the range of human hearing.

Some pictures are about gravity and temperature, from glacial blue to verdant green, from a curdled, metallic smear to a fungoid, moldering one. Some are buoyant as helium, others cling like barnacles.

Some are soft, thin, humid. Most are subtle, but others are heaving and turbulent: water as an engulfing tide that drowns us within a claustrophobic sponging of oxygen. …

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