Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Space As The Only Image (part 1)

A city that seems to only come close to functionality when confronted with exceptional situations, relies on constant and focused shifts from a space-inhabited city to an image-inhabited defined city. A proper comprehension of this reality needs not only a scholar's apprehension, but more essentially a citizen's. Since the image and the space in a war-inhabited space like Beirut, are not only complementary but also interchangeable, one needs to study their separate existences and modes of functioning. Those situations that provoke this shift vary from the common to the rare, the universal to the specific, the natural to the radical.

Part I: War, when there is no time for the image.

The image projects only space.

A space undergoing an imminent deterioration (a war space) does not project a future image (like a structure or space being built). Its future image, is: One: Too well-known to be conceived. Two: Too catastrophic to be conceived (both physically, and as a moral-crusher).

The image(s) of a space in crisis assumes a certain objectivity that is very difficult to doubt. That is, both filmed and photographed spaces in crisis (spaces during war for example), come across as objective portraits of a deteriorating space. An image becomes as factual as the actual space because the image shifts meaning. It no longer is the image as the representation, but the image as proof, and that is probably why all war photographs look the same. A dead body in a bombarded building in Sarajevo looks like a dead body in Iraq. Space that are "unbuilt" gain back their primitive constituent: the very material it is made of, and only when space has no choice but to project its purely physical aspect does the image lose its features.

It is even possible to say that an image projects only space in these circumstances (as opposed to projecting its existence and functions as an image) because it is only "ethical" to do so. War leaves no time for the image to develop as an autonomous entity, although it permits space to be an entity that is quite self-sufficient. A "war-space" is self-explanatory and ultimately self-refrential, a "war-image" is dependent on the "war-space" and since the image is portraying a space that is self-explanatory, the image assumes an obligation to portray the space in a very short time, as a space of conflict. In other words, the image has to be a sort of a mediator between the space and those who can not experience it directly, and for that reason, a "war-image" is indispensable to comprehend spaces ravaged by war. The difference between "experienced" space and "seen" space, at times of war, is a difference of intensity. A "war-image" being a mediator, doesn't suffice to describe an entire space. We tried panoramic photographs, successive photographs, time-lapse photographs, but the main obstacle is that experiencing space offers, rather imposes, a momentary impression of it. Experienced space, even if seen in parts, or at different times, is always a whole, a succession of wholes, a seen "war-space" is always a fragment.

The only "time" war offers for the image, is a time that is "inclusive". The printed images (posters, pamphlets...) in war-time are only functional as images because they are only made possible under certain spatial circumstances. A spy or an activist fleeing a "war-space" leaves, as a trace, an image (a graffiti, a pamphlet, a poster). A photographer arriving at a "war-space" takes an image that is both conditioned by the limitations of the penetrable space and the time it offers before it gets altered, or even destroyed. We all know war photographs that are "spontaneous", a photograph taken at the exact moment where the space bore witness to a change in it. This is not a matter of chance only, it is more so a matter of the permissibility of space. 

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