There is a great profile and interview with Ma Jian, in this weekend's Guardian on the need for fearlessness in writing, on not bei...
Monday, 1 June 2015
A Book to Wipe Your Arse With
I visited my family in Germany last year for the first time for a long time. It was a rare pleasure to see my aunt and some cousins after all these years.
It was a special pleasure to meet my cousin Laurenz. He's big in facial analysis. He developed the idea of slow feature analysis which is an algorithm (that word is making me shaky already. Remember that only 80% of what you read on this blog is scientifically proven to be true) that creates a continual recognition of a thing, an object, a face whatever the change in the angle of view.
If you look at a chair and walk around it, get above it and go under it, you'll get an idea of what that might mean. Even though you are seeing very different things, you still recognise the handiness of it. You don't always have to re-see it and re-see it, you understand the hand-ness of it.
That corresponds quite closely to philosphical ideas of being - the Kantian noumenal world where a chair is absolutely a chair. the thing-in-itself where the chair is solid in its chairiness.
When I got back from Germany I found Daniel Mayrit's book, You Haven't Seen Their Faces in the post. It's a book of the faces of the 100 most powerful people in London and it gets my slow feature analysis going in that it fits into a pattern of books that feature faces and are openly critical, and almost satirical in their mocking of those in power. You can walk around it and it will seem different but somehow there is a shared aesthetic and sentiment that gives the middle finger to the world.
The most notable of these books are Christopher Anderson's Stump (see my review here) and Brad Feuerhelm's Let Us Now Praise Infamous Men which I reviewed in a post called Photography Filled with Hate (but in a good way) which I'm still rather proud of as far as blog post titles go.
These are fuck-you books and so is You Haven't Seen Their Faces.
The book consists of a series of images that run like surveillance images, but rather than being portraits of looters for example, they are pictures of the most powerful people in the City of London.
The book statement asks:
How much does technology itself affect the reading of the image? Is it the inherent features of this type of technology that confers their truthfulness? What happens when those features are replicated precisely with other devious devices of digital manipulation?
Quite a lot happens. So it's a book about the language of printing and in shares a resemblance to both the distancing effect that the tight facial crops and grain/colour explosions create in Stump, and the sense of sleaze that the duotone and pixel mix has in Let us Now Praise Inframous Men.
And in that sense, the recognition that we have, the slow features that we assimilate are not so much those of faces, but those of printing technologies and the meanings that have been given to them over the years by their use in identifying looters, rioters, terrorists or football hooligans. Here those same technologies are used to malign wielders of power and wealth.
The book is printed on wrapping paper which has a horizontal grain so there is a lining that is reminiscent of analogue TV. It feels like screengrabs are being shown here from some old-school name-and-shame World In Action type show. But mixed in with it there is the basic cover message which is 'Use These Images At Your Own Discretion.' Which given the grab-and-pull nature of the book is a virtual invitation to wipe your arse on these faces. For all the high seriousness of the artist's statements, that is what it boils down to - and that's a good thing.
As for the pictures. Well, they're as rough as you like, with captions detailing positions and wealth, and then added annotations giving updated information on scandals, promotions, connections and controversies they are involved in. 'Sometimes the image is blank because no image is available and on one page there's a post-it note reading Need More Info.
But ultimately, it's not about the pictures, it's about the paper and the printing and the texture of the printed page. Everything looks rougher and feels rougher in book form. It looks like crap on the computer screen, but it looks great in the printed version. That's not because of the image quality. It's practically collapsing into the page (and up your arse?) in the printed version, it's far rougher than you can see on the screen. And that's the way it should be.
Buy You Haven't Seen Their Faces here.