COLDNESS. At a certain point Theo Angelopolous’ 1995 drama Ulysees Gaze presents us with a snowbound landscape littered with the stillness of frozen figures, seemingly real people become-monuments scattered across a field of vision. The strangeness of this image is not its improbable poetic or its political allegory but the violence of its stasis. So it is with Simon Finn’s formalism. The tone of Finn’s dark world is catastrophic, fixated on entropy and images of demise, of the watchtower, the alarm, and the vengeance of the infinite — the tsunami, the flood, of an antagonistic Nature carrying everything before it. The persistent content is one of the optics of emergency.
Finn’s sense of emergency hovers throughout his work from the first and it is relentless. Except that it is not real. Central to it were images, for example, of a generic ocean wiping out a generic pier. It begins in the deathly stasis of the first image, computer generated, not of a thing in the world but the concept of a thing from artificial intelligence by which the world itself and its appearance is from the beginning representation. In this sense the vortex of self-reference is completely trapped in its totalising referential field. The watchtowers are no real watchtower in the world but a generic composite from the landscape of data, a cipher. The mise-en-scene is one the self-laceration of the world-concept in its dissipation. The world is erased in its image. Roland Barthes in an entirely different key. Subsumed in its empire of signs, the erasure of the world by representation is the writing of the fear of life, an infinite regress of a miasmic representational virtuality every reference ricochets from falseness to falseness, a world without realities except in their own terms: that is, a formalism. Finn’s images of ocean are not from water but from photographs of water, or from the virtual simulation of water, which requires no external first state, simply code.
If the subject is an oceanic idea, the subject itself is a representation of a representation. Plato condemned art as subaltern because of this. If the world is a cast shadow of the real, as he would have it, then art is a representation of a representation and degenerate. In the regime of data, the representation of a representation is from threefold into an infinite regress, representation of a representation of a representation…. The attempt by art to capture the infinite in the idea of the infinite is vain, except in terms of its own formalism, which is endemic, viral.
With Finn’s oceanic leanings, three immediate references are evoked — Leonardo da Vinci’s Deluge drawings, Veja Celmins’ drawings and Gerhard Richter’s paintings. With Richter the paintings of the ocean from photographs exude the life of an observed as a fragment of the appearance of reality, animated by the vitality of his painting and the romance of his colour. With Celmins and Finn this is reversed — it is the reality of appearance, that is of representation alone. It is black and white. Finn is closer to Celmins in that the water has no horizon line and is therefore not placed, but her renderings are subtle and soft, suggestive of water itself, whereas Finn’s waterworlds are completely dry, signs for water, a violence lodged in its stasis, the illusion at a distance dissolving into an aridity close up, the dryness exacerbated by their renderings. They are scorched with coldness. They could be the surface of the moon. The complication is from the sense that the surface is that of being seen from underwater, the surface vision from drowning.
It is the mise-en-scene of the schematic. The elegant curves of Leonardo da Vinci’s Deluge drawings are its antecedents, seemingly concerning the catastrophic but contradicted by symmetry, by the codes of his formalism. Even Finn’s animations contradict the meaning of animation, that is, of being alive. They are not, they are simply in motion, in the hands of Finn rendered according to the Zeno paradox as an inescapable succession of frozen moments where movement itself is unattainable, a fiction of succession. Movement is replaced by mere succession. His renderings are cold and heavy. The register is demonic. In Dante’s Inferno, hell’s centre, its ninth circle, is not fire and brimstone. It is ice. Hell is life locked out in coldness, in stillness. Nothing is animated except for the beating of an ice trapped Satan’s six Satanic wings blowing its coldness through eternity.
The circles of hell in Dante are calibrated to sins. The ninth circle is treachery and in the Medieval imagination the greatest sin is treason against God. What Finn presents is the catastrophe of the problem, the violence of the truncation of life in Nature by the treason of its concept. The so-called Pathetic Fallacy is when Nature as a circulation of energies with only a physical logic is falsely attributed human qualities as though it is a consciousness possessing emotions and values. The vengeance of Nature against its concept, what Finn has represented as the cut of the optic cone, the viewing frustum particularly relevant to computing by which everything outside the field of vision is severed from our understanding, is proposed as the consequence of irrecognition of that excluded content which amounts to the force of life. Finn’s version of the Pathetic Fallacy. Except that his point is to turn the Pathetic Fallacy on its head. What is revealed is a psychosis of repression. The oceanic is to be understood in the psychoanalytic sense as an overwhelming. The laceration of the understanding of Nature by us is our self-laceration. The vengeance of Nature is the vengeance of us against ourselves by virtue of our own limits. It is self-vengeance, all too human. There is no exit from our own finitude. Nature is us and in us. Or from his Finnitude. What Finn is luxuriating in is the coldness of Nature in us, an absolute delight in dissipation and dissolution, in demise, in rendering the infinite static. Something sadistic is in Finn’s jouissance. He sees the necessity for a beyond to the frustum, the optics of the cut of understanding, but his revelry is in the cut itself. He is toying with Art’s perpetual romance with death.
‘Beyond the Frustum’ Simon Finn
Curated by Paul Northam
VAC | La Trobe Visual Art Centre, Nov. Nov 12 -March 2017
LUMA | La Trobe University Museum of Art, July 20-Sept. 23, 2016