In Philipp Lachenmann’s comprehensive Los Angeles exhibition at ACE Gallery, “Delphi” has two immediate connotations that elicit a temporal disjunction that entails a wish to see something conventionally invisible. One is the site of the ancient oracle, which the artist visited and photographed in preparation for the exhibition. Of Delphi, we read of seekers from the remote past who, by means of the oracle, wished to see the most invisible thing of all: the future.
But Delphi is also the name of another device for a peculiar kind of vision. It is one of an ensemble of particle accelerators at CERN, distinguished from the others as the one whereby physicists successfully were able to confirm the existence of the Higgs Boson, the so-called “God particle” common to all matter. It is in the nature of this way of seeing that scientists cannot actually observe the collisions of subatomic particles, but can read the traces they leave ex post facto. This temporal disjunction between the perception of an object that transcends time; the agent’s perception of it post hoc and in real time; and our later perception of the agent’s act, is an analogue of the aesthetic act that pervades the formal and medial diversity of Lachenmann’s work.
Here, the artist serves as the prime agent of a transcendent vision; the medium, the tool for its realization; and the resulting work of art is a metonym for the narrative of its revelation. In Lachenmann, this revelation does not so much pertain to what an object is, i.e. its quiddity, its “what-ness,” according to the old Greek dichotomy, its existence—this would be an immanent vision contrary to the spirit of the project. Instead, the work strives for that other transcendent pole of the dichotomy, “that by which something is:” it’s essence.
Nowhere is this more evident in Lachenmann’s work than in his treatment of media-as-referent—a veritable catalogue of this class of his work appears in this exhibition. Relevant examples are those works that seem at first to present themselves as marks on canvas, the traditional medium of illusionistic painting. Upon closer inspection, we find that the ground of the “painting” comprises no paint at all, but only the literal materiality of silver leaf, a surface distinguished by its graduated reflectivity: the closer the viewer draws to it, the more explicitly it reflects. Correspondingly, it loses its image reflectivity altogether, with the distance of approximately the length of a human hand. As such, the field fluctuates between literal reflection and the conveyance of mimetic representation in accordance with the relative distance of the oculus, a condition that, in turn, successively constitutes and dissolves the picture plane.
Upon this surface, we find another illusion, a mark that appears to be a giant brushstroke. But, as in the case of the field, this first impression is a deception. The source of the apparent mark began as a brushstroke captured by a camera, enlarged and scanned in high resolution, and cut into a stencil to be applied by spraying. By this means, the most fundamental constituent of the traditional medium of illusion itself becomes the object of a layering of conjuring techniques of making and application. Taken together, these means apply a brushstroke to a canvas without painting it, in such a way that the canvas becomes no longer a single material embodiment of a painting, but a device by which to evoke a nexus of attributes that constitute a tool with which to perceive the medium’s essence (the “that-by-which-it-is”). This aesthetic retains reference, but the referent is both the medium itself and its historicity.
Organized by Drew Hammond and Joaquin Ramirez, DELPHI_Essentials is the second of a projected series of Metonymic Narrative exhibitions in various Los Angeles locations.
Metonymic Narrative: wherein the materialized art work is a metonym for an inherently dematerialized narrative of the artist’s own invention or choosing.