As Yet Untitled (TriStar Horse), video projection in water vapour, 2008
Last week I was lucky enough to see this singular, striking and elegiac work by Banks Violette, currently showing at Maureen Paley. And whilst it doesn’t reproduce particularly well, I hold that in its favour, because the art-work itself embodies a rare and subtle complexity that can only really be grasped through the encounter with it. The work comprises of a moving-image of an endlessly galloping horse projected onto a curtain of water vapour, emanating from a ceiling vent and noisily sucked through an extractor positioned below — in fact, the whole space is dominated by highly visible and audible industrial-scale machines, that breathe life into the image — a system of inputs and outputs. Not only this, but the vapour is ‘sculpted’ in a third dimension by an array of fans. This lends a certain amount of illusory substance to the form of the horse, giving it a holographic quality. It appears to be endlessly materialising, whilst simultaneously returning to the ether, like some sort of spectral, ectoplasmic corporeality, continually called into quasi-being; a continuous becoming or return. This is an eternal return of life-affirming differences. This is not the eternity of figure or form, but of dynamic process; it is the eternity of variation, rather than the eternity of homeostasis.
The horse itself is in fact the Pegasus, better known as the corporate ident of TriStar Pictures — but the loop/refrain is roughly amputated, so that the wings never unfurl. It gallops with a perceptibly stuttered gait, eternally animated (or re-animated, should I say) by the machines that serve as its life-support system. Indeed, Violette states:
I have used the image of the horse repeatedly, it’s an image that falls into that category of images that are void-exhausted and over-determined and drained of life through overuse. This idea of a void image is a constant throughout my work; the idea of an image seemingly unable to exceed the weight of its own overuse, yet somehow, once in a while, capable of reanimation. And, like a zombie, reanimation results in a negative return.
He does seem to convincingly achieve this stated aim and he somewhat resuscitates the ‘exhausted’ and fixed corporate image. Upon encountering the work you are struck how he returns the complexity of a living organism to what has been rendered dead through familiarity. Rather than a further evacuation of the image there is a revitalising principle at work — although, mechanically maintained. This is especially evident close-up, as you see that the body of the horse is composed of chaosmic eddies and fractal swirls of vapour, incessantly in motion. And whilst the ‘trace’ nature of the work could lend itself to a Heideggerean/Derridean reading that Being and Presence are not compatible, there is also a Nietzschean affirmative, recurring and vitalising principle evident. The motion of the complexity of the vapour is poetically analogous to a living horse, like one of Nietzsche’s ‘swarming’ mobile metaphors. Nietzsche, in The Gay Science, reminds us that our metaphors must be adequate to the world, in order to model it better:
298: Sigh – I caught this insight on the wing and quickly took the nearest shoddy words to fasten it lest it fly away from me. And now it has died of these barren words and hangs and flaps in them – and I hardly know anymore, when I look at it, how I could have felt so happy when I caught this bird. (The Gay Science, Book Four, p239)
This is Nietzsche’s timely reminder about the importance of and paradoxical nature of our attempts at representation; in order for art to perform effectively we should not ‘kill’ that which we seek to represent.
The problem of representation is that same that Nietzsche encounters in metaphor. For him metaphor is the mask of appearances behind which there are only more metaphors; more masks, more illusory ‘truths’. Truth is a ‘movable host of metaphors’. Therefore metaphor only becomes problematic when it becomes representative of ‘Truths’, fixed in concept and unmovable (like the TriStar Pegasus). This happens over time, what was fluid, becomes ossified; in other words, clichéd. This also happens through language itself, which reduces the continuous flow of nature and leads us to a perspective that is simplistic, separating objects in the world from each other (atomism). This is why Nietzsche privileges poetics, to allow his metaphors to remain continually mobile, more like the homogeneous flow of nature.
Likewise, Banks Violette successfully reinvigorates the ‘void image’, lending it a ceaselessly fluid, yet teetering, life; a ‘movable host of metaphors’ that is analogous to a horse in motion. Meaning then swarms and is never allowed to rest. This poetic modelisation renders the nature of a horse more adequately.
Guattari would no doubt see Banks Violette’s machinic assemblage as an instance of autopoiesis, through which the virtual is coupled to the real, resingularising the homogenized corporate image, rendering it fluid once more. So it is perhaps important to emphasise the technical aspect of the work — the fact that its ‘means of production’ are neither hidden or obscured — as I feel that its importance isn’t secondary. The material apparatus somewhat grounds the flightiness of the image, fashioned from air, light and vapour. The machinic element also confers a certain ‘non-human’ enunciation, which like a zombiefied return, endlessly and artificially ‘reproduces’ the image, never allowing it to die. Guattari usefully reminds us in Chaosmosis that machines themselves embody a two-fold or double articulation. He states, in reference to machinic autopoiesis (opposed to the merely allopoietic machine under Varela’s description) and in contrast to a purely structural understanding of machines that is ‘haunted by a desire for eternity’ (i.e endless reproduction):
The machine…is shaped by a desire for abolition. Its emergence is doubled with breakdown and catastrophe — the menace of death…the difference supplied by machinic autopoiesis is based on disequilibrium, the prospection of virtual Universes far from equilibrium. (Chaosmosis, Chpt 2. Machinic Heterogenesis, p.37)
So it carries within itself its own functionality and destruction (a kind of auto-antagonism), not just endless replication or return of the same. We see a process of production, transformation and destruction. This emphasises the machine’s important potential for rupture and openings; an ontological transversality that eludes ordinary discursive games. In essence, the deterritorialising ‘abstract’ machine resists structural signification and maintains relations of alterity; an alterity that Banks Violette’s work seems to fluidly affirm.