Historical Journal


Photo Mannerism

November 11, 1989
Klaus Ottmann

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Marina Abramovic & Ulay
Mac Adams
Jennifer Bolande
Ellen Brooks
Ellen Carey
Dan Devine
Peter Hopkins
John Lamka
Paul Laster
Ange Leccia
Tim Maul
Hirsch Perlman
Josef Ramaseder
Ken Schles
The Starn Twins
James Welling
1.”A former understanding of mannerism can be obtained only if it is regarded as the product of tension between classicism and anti-classicism, naturalism and formalism, rationalism and irrationalism, sensualism and spiritualism, traditionalism and innovation, conventionalism and revolt against conformalism; for its essence lies in this tension, this union of apparently irreconcilable opposites.”
-Arnold Hauser, Mannerism
2. “This is ‘photographic ecstasy’ : certain photographs can take you outside of yourself, when they are associated with a loss, an emptiness…”
-Roland Barthes
3. Throughout the history of art, postmodernism and mannerism are engaged in the same discourse of representation sharing the same stylistic concepts, from chaos, ambiguity, paradox, multi-functioning, inverted spatial effects, superimposition, layering, projection, infinite depth that becomes pure superficiality, and other complexities and contradictions, to the inclusion of the vernacular, the anonymous, and elements of our ordinary life or popular culture. These concepts signify representation in crisis, the failure of representation.
4. “From the very beginning, existentialism defined itself as a philosophy of ambiguity. It was by affirming the irreducible character of ambiguity that Kierkegaard opposed himself to Hegel, and it is by ambiguity that, in our own generation, Sartre, in Being and Nothingness, fundamentally defined man, that being whose being is not to be, that subjectivity which realizes itself only as a presence in the world, that engaged freedom, that surging of the for-oneself which is Immediately given for others.s”
-Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity
5. From the very beginning, mannerism defines itself as an existentialism. It centers on the ambiguity of human existence assuming the existential anti-thesis failure/success. Peter Hopkins’s photographs, floating inside overpowering frame constructions, are engaged in a permanent existential struggle between failure and success.
6. “Mannerism, however, though there was no recurrence or direct continuation of it after its end in the seventeenth century, survived as an undercurrent in the history of western art … Mannerist trends have repeatedly appeared since the baroque and the rococo, and particularly since the end of international classicism, and they are most manifest in times of stylistic revolution associated with spiritual crises as acute as that of the transition from classicism to romanticism or from naturalism to postimpressionism.”
7. The essence of Postmodernism lies in its mannerism (cf. “Supermannerism.” Flash Art, April 1986, and “Mannerism Anti-Mannerism,” Flash Art, December 1986). Postmodernism has to be seen as being part of a series of mannerisms recurring in the history of art. The link between postmodernism and mannerism had already been established by Robert Venturi in 1966: The desire for a complex architecture, with its attendant contradictions, is not only a reaction to banality or prettiness of current architecture. It is an attitude common in the mannerist periods: the sixteenth century in Italy or the Hellenistic period in Classical art, and is also a continuous strain seen in such diverse architects as Michelangelo, Palladio, Borromini,…and recently Le Corbusier, Aalto, Kahn, and others” (Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture).
Following Lyotard’s paradox, it can be said that the postmodern precedes and induces the modern, as far as it constitutes a form of mannerism, while, at the same time, it succeeds the modern, as far as it constitutes an anti-classicism and anti-formalism.
8. The consonance of the High Renaissance
Is present, though distorted by the mirror.
What is novel is the extreme care in rendering
The velleities of the rounded reflecting surface
(It is the first mirror portrait).
So that you could he fooled for a moment
Before you realize the reflection
Isn’t yours. You feel then like one of those Hoffmann characters who have been deprived
Of a reflection except that the whole of me
Is seen to be supplanted by the strict
Otherness of the painter in his
Other room.
– John Ashberry, Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror
9. “Mannerism is not so much a symptom and product of alienation, that is to say, an art that has become soulless, extroverted, and shallow, as an expression of the unrest, anxiety, and bewilderment generated by the process of alienation of the individual from society and the reification of the whole cultural process.
10. Being the direct descendant of the sixteenth century Mannerist convex mirror (Parmigianino’s Self-portrait from a Convex Mirror marks the beginning of late Renaissance mannerism), photography is the mannerist art form par excellence.
Like Parmigianino’s self-portrait, the photograph corresponds to the mirror stage of art, the mannerist experience of “alienated identity” and “fragmented body-image,” as described by Lacan: “The mirror stage is a drama whose internal thrust is precipitated from insufficiency to anticipation-and which manufactures for the object … the succession of phantasies that extends from a fragmented body-image … to the assumption of the armour of an alienating identity.” The photograph substitutes the mirror, the reflection of the Self, for the experience of the Other.
11. This otherness, this
“Not-being-us” is all there is to look at
In the mirror, though no one can say
How it came to be this way. A ship
Flying unknown colors a has entered the harbor
You are allowing extraneous matters
To break up your day, cloud the focus
Of the crystal ball.
-John Ashberry
12. The Greek myth of Narcissus is directly concerned with a fact of human experience, as the word Narcissus indicates. It is from the Greek word narcosis, or numbness. The youth Narcissus mistook his own reflection in the water for another person. This extension of himself by mirror numbed his perceptions until he became the servomechanism of his own extended or replaced image. The nymph Echo tried to win his love with fragments of his own speech, but in vain. He was numb. He had adapted to his extension of himself and had become a closed system.”
-Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media
13. “The predominance of the gilded frame is due, perhaps, to the fact that metallic paint is the material that gives off the most reflection. A reflection is that note of color, of light, which contains no form in and of itself, but which is pure, shapeless color. We do not attribute the reflections of a metallic or glazed object to the object itself, as we do its surface color. The reflection is neither the reflecting object nor whatever may be reflected in it. Instead, it lies somewhere in between those things, a specter without substance.”
-Ortega y Gasset, Meditations of the Frame
14. In Mac Adams’s photographs personal and political reality is reflected as simulated cinematic stagings in the high-polished Surface of household objects. They represent the mirror stage in its most intense state.
In Dan Devine’s sculptures, the mannerist experience of alienation is eluded by the use of self-similar and self-referential materials such as formica and mirror glass. The materialized space of his sculptures thus becomes materialized self-reflection.
A different kind of self-reflection is taking place in the Polaroid’s of Marina Abramovic and Ulay where objects and human figures are reduced to shadows of themselves.
15. “I tend to distinguish in games as well between significant and insignificant rules. The game, one might say, not only has rules but also a joke.”
-Ludwig Wittgenstem, Philosophical Investigations
16. Tim Maul is not a Photographer. He is a comic who works with a camera. His photographs of unpopulated office interiors and domestic situations become jokes because of their familiarity and insignificance. Like jokes, they keep getting retold. Here Maul meets with another non-photographer, Richard Prince, who, in his recent work, takes the appropriative status of the joke literally.
What makes the images in Maul’s photographs seem so interesting is the fact that they have already been seen before. Like the scenes in Godard’s films, they just play with the familiar, the given.
17. “1 understand the word autobiography to mean: writing one’s own life. But perhaps as with so much of Greek, our text is corrupt. I would rather understand it to mean life, writing itself; just as we use the camera must understand photography to mean: light, writing itself.
-Hollis Frampton
18. Superimposition (Ellen Carey, Paul Laster), juxtaposition (John Lamka), projection, pointillism (Ellen Brooks), repetition and fragmentation (Starn Twins) play on the photographic paradox that Barthes described as “the co-existence of two messages, the one without a code (the photographic analogue), the other with a code (the ‘art’, or the treatment, or the ‘writing’, or the rhetoric, of the photograph.”
The works of John Lamka, Ellen Carey, and James Welling combine the mannerist mirror stage with the self-similarity and self-reproduction of fractal geometry evoking the medieval idea of the autogeneous representation of Christ. Josef Ramaseder’s paintings on thermal paper refer in similar manner to the postmodern allegory of art painting itself.
19. “From the beginning of the Renaissance to the end of Impressionism, the aim of pictorial representation was the reduction of sensual experience to its visual elements, the rendering of purely optical impressions and of nothing more than what the eye could take in at a single moment and at a single glance; in other words, the exclusion from the picture of everything merely known but not seen, or seen at a different moment of time from that represented. Mannerism was the only phase of development in which the continuity of this process was interrupted.”
20. “An hour is not merely an hour, it is a vase filled with perfumes, with sounds, with projects, with climates. What we call reality is a relation between those sensations and those memories which simultaneously encircle us … that unique relation which the writer must discover in order that he may link two different states of being together.”
-Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past
21. The photographs of the Starn Twins (who come as close to Proust’s synthesis of two different states of being as one can get) focus on the instability of memory and the ambiguity of history. Their narcissistic memory calls to mind the mnemonic twins in Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat who among other skills, could tell political and personal details of any day of their life from about their fourth year on, “including the painful or poignant anguish of childhood, the contempt, the jeers, the mortifications they endured … without the least hint of any personal infliction or emotion. Here, clearly, one is dealing with memories that seem of a ‘documentary kind’, in which there is no personal reference, no personal relation, no living center whatever.
“It might be said that personal involvement, emotion, has been edited out of these memories, in the sort of defensive way one may observe in obsessive or schizoid types…But it could be said, equally, and indeed more plausible, that memories of this kind never had any personal character, for this indeed is a cardinal characteristic of eidetic memory such as this”
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