COLOURS OF ABSENCE
by Eugenia Lapteva
The Photograph is violent: not because it shows violent things, but because on each occasion it fills the sight by force, and because in it nothing can be refused or transformed (that we can sometimes call it mild does not contradict its violence: many say that sugar is mild, but to me sugar is violent, and I call it so).
— Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, 1980.
The images presented in the work Water meets colour, colour meets water are loaded with violence. The ocean is tinted with natural sugar colouring, causing an array of absorbing patterns to materialise in the waves. As the colours bleed into the sea, the texture of the water thickens and the motion of the waves is (re)defined, revealing its hidden course and complex networks. The crashing waves, which are carefully contained within the camera frame, pull the viewer into a vortex of frozen shapes and novel configurations that are otherwise indiscernible to the human eye.
Arnaud Lajeunie’s photography raises critical questions about the relationship between human beings and nature. Echoing a tradition of interventionist art practice, his work could be read as an experimentation in colour and form, through which the photographer endeavours ambitiously to challenge the natural flux of things and exceed the confines of human perception. With a variety of techniques, Lajeunie stages creative interventions in nature that interrupt the ordinary visual flow and force us to see the world anew through the seductive exactness of human mediation.
In Water meets colour, colour meets water, the fluid waves transform into concrete forms, alluring objects of aesthetic appreciation that can be enjoyed by the informed viewer. Shot from above, the ocean is explored as a material which the photographer is keen to expose and control by means of the bright sugar colouring. The photographs ‘fill the sight by force’, to use Barthes’ words, totalising the oceanic landscape and transfiguring the spectator into a solar Eye that feasts upon the opulent images of beauty.
But there is more to Lajeunie’s images than the sweet and violent satisfaction of seeing. The photographs of Water Meets Colour Colour Meets Water arguably signify beyond the regime of pure perception by appealing, interestingly, to what cannot be firmly known and dominated.
According to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, the notion of an absolute, stable viewpoint belongs to a type of space which is ‘striated’. Striated space is homogenous and characteristic of the State, whereas the space inhabited by seafaring people, for instance, is heterogeneous and ‘smooth’. In a world order constituted by political borders and territorial divisions, the ocean no doubt occupies a unique position. As an undefined space that exists in constant movement, the sea frustrates the possibility for reification. While striated space is static and panoptic, the smooth space of the ocean is essentially unassimilable and haptic.
Photography, by virtue of its representational nature, shares a basic organising principle of modernity which drives cultural, economic and scientific processes across the globe today. According to a tradition of critical philosophical inquiry, this principle, the so called ‘scopic drive’, expresses the human desire to render legible, rational and knowable, the physical as well as symbolic spaces in which we live. Through modern technologies we seek out ways to eliminate the uncertainty of everyday existence by transfiguring unknown phenomena into visible objects or images of pleasure and rational understanding. In the pursuit of certainty, Western thinking has consequently embraced a violent logic that represses all things which fail to adhere to the laws of reason.
In Lajeunie’s series of images, colour appears as a powerful intrusion upon the ocean. On the one hand it stimulates our scopic desire to master the world in sight, and yet on the other hand it releases us from the yokes of perception by encouraging our imagination to roam beyond the bounds of the picture. The red waves conjure up scenes of political violence and the green colour points toward issues of human pollution. Far from being a neutral space, the ocean too is a victim of human power struggles. By disclosing invisible structures within the sea, Lajeunie grants us a passageway into the ephemeral spaces that remain hidden from public view. Be it the fantastical world of our childhood stories or the geopolitical borders of a globalising world, the world outside is coloured with the deep hues of the imagination.
As Gaston Bachelard writes, ‘Imagination allows us to leave the ordinary course of things’. Unless there is no surprise, no unexpected combination of images, there is no imagination, only perception, argues Bachelard. Operating across both contrasting orders of visibility – perception and imagination – Lajeunie’s photographs act as a salutary reminder of the essential predicament that lies at the heart of photographic practice and modernity at large. He uses colour as an emotive tool to dislocate the viewer and space. Suspended in an open realm between smooth and striated space, his images transcend the dominion of unalloyed force by evoking other images, thoughts and sensations which contradict the immediate representation on the page. Lajeunie’s manipulated waves bear the trace of the irrational, expressing the relentless tension between violence and freedom.