Lotta Antonsson

Sans Titre by Lars Erik Hjertstrom-Lappalainen Photo: Henrik Hakansson Sometimes I think about Roxy Music when I look at Lotta Antonsson’s images, early Roxy Music. When I listen to their music I’m not thinking so much about the songs, as their sound. When looking at Lotta Antonsson’s images it’s this, not so much the motif, that moves me—what might instead be understood as the equivalent of the sound of a particular band. In both cases you could of course call it an image, a sound-image or a visual image. And this I will do, but in doing so bare in mind that I am not restricting my understanding of image to a mere representation, to that which semiotics can interpret, but instead something closer to an analogue of the sound which you can hear almost regardless of the melody. The fascinating thing about Sans Titre is that it presents us with something that I would like to call image materiality – a materiality that belongs to the image itself, not to the photograph. For instance, the contrast in Sans Titre is slightly stronger in one of the two photographs than in the other, but it has to be there, it makes the image. The same is also true of the highlights, the ones that make the cheek near the nose fuse with the background and gives the face a sense of being in profile, albeit with two eyes. The shadows, the reflection in the tear, the dark circle in the iris: all of these are elements that make up the image’s materiality. The degree of intensity can vary, and the image with it, but the fact that these features are present is what makes the image, it consists of them. They are the material through which the image is defined and transformed. Even if the image were to be presented as a four-color print poster, the reflection, shadows, and quality of light must be there in order for the image to be itself. The reflection constitutes a certain kind of intensity, resembling a quality that cannot merely be understood as a degree of brightness; if there’s not the glint of a reflection in the reproduction then the image takes on a different materiality. It might sound as if the ontology of analogue photography is deciding things here, a kind of sculpting with light so to speak. But make no mistake, it isn’t. For instance, the quality of the tear’s surface is just as decisive as its contrast against the skin. You can feel in the eye that the tear is lying on top of the skin and paradoxically even that its transparency is a quality that can be felt the whole way through it, down to the skin. When one’s gaze comes into contact with the tear it moves in an entirely different manner from when viewing the rest of the face; simultaneously gliding over and submerging into it like an arm into water. Concentrating like a magnifying glass, one’s gaze aims straight for the depths while the rest of the image allows for your eyes to roam calmly like the low winter light in an apartment, long and drawn-out. These differences are felt through sight itself (not the imagination) and make the image’s materiality apparent to the viewer. It is the tear’s quality as a visual material that isolates it as an element of the image and thereby transforms the image from photography into collage without actual clippings – the visual relation between the tear and the skin is what makes the cutting; the material itself effectuates the collage technique. The tear has its own existence right there, regardless of the woman’s face or emotions. That is why it might seem as if the tear undergoes some kind of inner process along the length of its form, from the darkness at its height to the reflection at the base below, affording a certain movement to the image. Through it, through a spectrum that moves from the darkness to that reflection, the tear emerges as a microcosm of the image. It creates a sense of revision or repetition to the image as a whole, a movement that in turn is echoed by the same image being repeated alongside. This process in the tear itself is paralleled by the work as a whole with the contrast in the right image appearing somewhat weaker than in the one on the left. It is both a repetition and a process, between the two images, just like the tear itself is a process and repetition of the image as macrocosm. This gives a particular time and space to the work where the transformation is static and the space (for example the beginning and end of the tear) is an event; before and after are neutralized through repetition while at the same time the small alterations in contrast reveal a movement of sorts within the repetition. In other words, it is not a question of mechanics but one of dynamics. The image has its own time and space that differs from that of photography, and its dynamic (the continuity in the image) does not belong to that of collage either. On a material level the image contains a continuity of analogue photography in an odd combination with the heterogeneity and fragmentation of collage. The definition instead appears through a process of concentration and dilution that determines the qualities, transforming the material. Forms appear like those in a lava lamp, or like the melody that emanates from a specific sound. One could go through this wonderful image, which really is made up of two “different” images, shadow-by-shadow, line-by-line, and eye-by-eye. It is a composition of small units that at once is both visual and emotional. Nonetheless, I will merely point out how this image moves between the larger discourses that seem to have affected Lotta Antonsson. Perhaps I would like to suggest that Lotta Antonsson’s work generally should be treated as an art of the image rather than photography. She was a student at the height of postmodernism which exploited photography beyond the media-based specification of the ontology of photography. A discovery postmodernism made that I believe is important for Antonsson’s work was that the image is immaterial, in other words, that it was the same image regardless of it being printed on paper, projected, or even represented as a painting. The image was light and fast and could be spread all over the world, wandering from medium to medium, from print to TV program to… This kind of pure image is what I think Antonson is working with – just not in immaterial terms. Postmodernism missed the materiality of the image and instead interpreted it as pure representation. This immaterial image was itself understood to be simply a form of representation. That an image was blinding, distanced, or overwhelming would not have been discussed in visual terms; it would simply have been a question of representation and semiotics. From that perspective, Antonsson’s tear would perhaps be read as a sign, possibly as a palimpsest, but not seen as a material that disrupts other image material and makes the image a collage. Nevertheless, her images should definitely be seen, not read. It’s not about code; it’s about streams, clouds, streaks. With postmodernity the question of the materiality of an image was transposed from the image itself to the materialized image, or “the picture” – the “staging” of the image as “a picture,” as Douglas Crimp put it. It was the procedure that was supposed to capture the materiality of the image. And postmodernism was happy with that solution since it provided a materiality without the modernistic method of going back to photography’s media specificity. The image itself was in other words immaterial and its entire materiality was derivative of the presentation.1 The present-day interest in photorealism does not differ so much from postmodernity as it primarily seeks the materiality of the image in the print. It is as if the image did not hold a reality in itself. The image is still seen as a “representation” of reality and as an image that gets its reality by referring to something in the world (through an indexical, archival, or coded order) and subsequently the image is given a reality of its own as an object. But it is not the image as image, or as photographic image, that is investigated. Rather the image is considered a photograph when it is determined as the object that an image becomes when it is realized through the means of photography, often as prints.2 But from that materiality, the image disappears almost entirely. What remains is only the image-carrying object as object, whose effect on representation then is investigated. In the discourse of both postmodernism and in photo-materialism, a conglomerate of the image as representation and object replaces the image as image and its particular materiality. But even if we know everything about the materiality of the object it is not certain that we attain any significant understanding of the materiality of the image, and even if we code representation in the most eloquent way we might still not have reached the content of the image. This is why Lotta Antonsson’s images continue to float for us, ungraspable yet materially present. However, it is not the materiality of the seashells that we want to comprehend when they lay there on a photograph from a magazine. In that case it is the “staging” or the installation that we must try to understand as image, not the other way around. Lotta Antonsson’s art has its own sensibility, a different sound. Lotta Antonsson – Experiments in Black